Unlike today’s scary movies, the horror films from the 1950’s and 60’s actually leave something to the imagination. These five black and white thrillers can still hold their own when it comes to giving goosebumps.
Carnival of Souls
A 1962 cult classic starring Candice Hilligoss as Mary Henry, a professional organ player who cheats death in a car accident only to find herself haunted by a ghoulish man. At first, the man appears mostly as a reflection, but as the film goes on he grows more and more threatening. The usual cheesy effects are absent from this production, which relies on atmosphere, well-timed scary music, and effective make-up to send shivers up the viewer’s spine. The scenes at the creepy old abandoned carnival where Mary is beckoned by the ghoul are actually quite well done for a low budget horror film.
Led by an expert on paranormal activities, three strangers gather at the supposedly haunted Hill House to test its supernatural authenticity. Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), convinces the owner of the old mansion to let him study the place by inviting people who have experienced brushes with the supernatural to stay there. He gets only two responses, one from Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris), a meek woman with an inferiority complex, and the other from Theodora (Claire Bloom), a sophisticated city dweller. Also joining the party is Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), the young man who stands to inherit Hill House.
This film is far from being dated despite its age and features fine acting and effective cinematography. Hill House is quite a chilling atmosphere and its supernatural activities are positively eerie in places.
A 1963 production with William Campbell, Patrick Magee, and Luana Anders. In the film, Louise Haloran (Anders) is a scheming young woman who keeps her husband’s accidental death a secret while she pays a visit to his family in their Irish castle. Her motive: to ingratiate herself with the eccentric and wealthy mother-in-law–and hopefully make it into her will.
As part of her malicious plan, Louise decides to play on her mother-in-law’s obsession with Kathleen, the Haloran daughter who drowned as a young child. She thinks she can convince Lady Haloran that Kathleen is trying to send her messages from the other side. But her plans get permanently sidetracked when a murderous maniac begins haunting the grounds and brutally attacking the family members.
Night of the Living Dead
This 1968 cult classic stars Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea as two of the seven people hiding in an old farmhouse during a return of the dead as flesh-eating zombies. Tension builds as the strangers fight about the best strategy for staying safe. Should they bolt themselves in the basement with firearms or try to make an escape in the old pick-up truck? Meanwhile, the zombies are doing their best to tear their way inside the house. Effectively scary zombies and some decent acting make this film worthy of more than one viewing.
A 1959 film featuring Agnes Moorehead as Cornelai Van Gorder, a mystery writer who lives in a town that’s being terrorized by a killer known simply as “the Bat”. Legend holds that the Bat has no face and possesses claws instead of fingers. With a dark and stormy night to help the atmosphere, this film offers a few startling moments. Suspects abound, the most obvious seeming to be Dr. Wells (Vincet Price), a physician and scientist who conducts studies on bats.