Black and white horror movies have a hold over me that other types of horror do not. They convey a greater sense of dread on screen. The dark shadows, the effective use of lighting, and inventive ways of creating eerie sounds are what make these kinds of films still relevant to the genre.
Whether it’s unknown creatures, child killers, creepy housekeepers, or traditional ghost stories- these films all have their place. They have influenced generations of film fans to make their own films, write their own spooky stories or even write about them at length, just as we do on this site. Now, go grab your favourite Halloween candy and join me as we explore 10 of the best black-and-white horror movies that bring a pure sense of dread.
10. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Oh lord, this film still creeps me out after all of these years. Robert Mitchum plays serial killer Harry Powell, who is masquerading as a minister. His entire goal is to obtain $10,000 from an unsuspecting and naïve widow Willow (Shelley Winters). This film is incredibly uncomfortable purely because of Robert Mitchum’s unsettling performance. If this film doesn’t have you on the edge of your seat the entire time, I don’t know what will.
9. Onibaba (1964)
This is a film I recommend going into blind. All I knew about Onibaba is the infamous mask that is used in the film. This is a slow burn, and that isn’t a bad thing. Director Kaneto Shinto really lets the audience immerse themselves in the scenery. There are a lot of long shots and there is a lot there to let your imagination run wild. The entire film possesses a creepy atmosphere that will keep you guessing until the very end. Your mind is left to wonder and the film isn’t going to spoon-feed the audience, it will make you work for it. And trust me, it’s worth it.
8. Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
We have a gang of scientific explorers on an expedition searching for fossils, but what they didn’t prepare for was the Gill-Man. Sure, his name may sound kind of ridiculous, but when we see him swimming directly under bathing beauty Kay (Julie Adams), that ridiculousness soon turns to fear. The idea of not knowing what is beneath you and not knowing just how close they really are to the tip of your toes is truly terrifying.
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7. The Tingler (1959)
Dr Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is a pathologist who captures a parasitic creature that lives in humans. This creature, otherwise known as “The Tingler,” feeds on a person’s fear. The more you feed it, the bigger it gets and it can eventually crush a human’s spine. I know the concept can sound absurd, but what really makes my skin crawl is the subtle nuances in Chapin’s behaviour and the motivation behind what he does. This is a film that still holds up, as it manages to balance horror, 1950s’ Sci-Fi and a tiny bit of comedy, wonderfully.
6. Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Surgeon Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) is incessantly trying to give his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) a new face after it became deformed in an accident that he caused. Dr. Genessier goes to maximal lengths to give his daughter a new face, but surely this won’t work, right? RIGHT? There are a lot of things to find unsettling about this film. Firstly, Dr. Genessier’s guilt becomes a toxic obsession and we see it manifest on screen. And lastly, we see how beauty standards affect Christiane and how it almost turns her into something empty, as if she is merely the walking dead.
5. The Bat (1959)
Murder Mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead) and her live-in assistant Lizzie Allen (Lenita Lane) rent a house in the countryside, and this isn’t any old house. In fact, it had recently been a grisly murder scene committed by the killer known only as “The Bat”. What works so well with this film is that there are some incredibly tense moments when we see “The Bat” constantly breaking into this house. However, these tense scenes are balanced wonderfully with comedic timing, subtle nuances, and wonderful dialogue. This one is a hidden gem you need to seek out.
4. M (1931)
If you want a film where less truly is more, look no further than M. Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) is a child serial killer who has continuously evaded captivity. When poor Elsie (Inge Landgut) is murdered, this is where it becomes the beginning of the end for Beckert. This film is extremely uncomfortable in parts, especially as we see the way he lures his victims. It all feels a little too real. Knowing that Beckert is the child murderer from the start only makes the audience’s level of trepidation increase the longer he roams free. This one is well worth your time.
3. The Innocents (1961)
Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) becomes a governess to two orphaned children: Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin). Since their uncle (Michael Redgrave) is never on the property and has no desire to be a parental figure to the children, it is up to Miss Giddens to lead the way with little-to-no information. At first, this film is quite cheery and a little light. But as an audience, we can feel the dread looming over the picturesque scenery. We soon learn more about Miles and Flora’s play pattern and it becomes clear there is something seriously wrong. The Innocents is extremely dark in its themes, and there are some very unsavory innuendos throughout that will make you feel discomposed.
2. Cat People (1942)
Serbian fashion illustrator Irena (Simone Simon) recently marries Oliver (Kent Smith) and everything appears to be moving along swimmingly. That is, until she becomes obsessed with the idea that she is a descendant of an old tribe of cat people. The cinematography in Cat People is beyond lush. Everything feels as if it’s velvet on screen. This isn’t a film that relies heavily on music to create suspense, and that makes it stand apart from a lot of films of that era. You can see the influence this film has had on modern horror cinema, especially where suspense is concerned, but in my humble opinion, there aren’t many films that can do it better than Cat People.
1. Rebecca (1940)
Newly married couple Mr. & Mrs. De Winter (Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine) are starting their new life together by living in Mr. De Winter’s family estate, known as Manderley. Upon settling in their new life together, Mrs. De Winter clashes with the eerie housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), and has a suspicion her new husband still pines after his dead wife, Rebecca. But it all goes from bad to worse. There is always an unnerving sense of dread surrounding the film, and it will keep you wanting more. In classic Hitchcock fashion, the suspense level is high, well thought out, and executed seamlessly.
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