With Black and White Frights month winding down here at Nightmare on Film Street, what better way to off this incredible month of classic films than counting down one of cinema’s longest running genre—the mystery?
The mystery genre dates all the way back to early 1900s with silent film adaptions of Sherlock Holmes. These adaptations would later lead to successful adaptations of Poe’s The Gold Bug in France in 1910, officially kicking-off this time tested genre.
The mystery genre has seen a pop culture mini-resurgence with modern big screen releases like Murder on the Orient Express and Knives Out. Horror fans have always had the luxury of enjoying this genre in various forms, whether that be from the popular Giallo’s of the 60s and 70s, or in the slasher whodunnit’s popularized by Scream in 90s and early 2000s.
It would’ve been incredibly easy to fill the following top-ten with Giallo’s and the All-Star cast mysteries of the late 70s. However, I decided to restrict myself and stay in the “Black and White Frights” theme and only picked films dating before 1960.
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10. The Lodger (1927)
The first “Hitchcock” film according to Hitchcock himself. The Lodger, Hitchcock’s silent film masterpiece, tells the story of a stranger whose move into a boarding house comes simultaneously with several murders. If you have never watched a Silent film, The Lodger is a perfect starting point, Hitchcock’s use of visuals tells everything you need to understand the story and it’s characters. This gorgeous film deserves an audience with mystery and horror fans.
9. Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
After murdering the husband of his mistress in a way to make it look like a suicide, Julien Tavernier remembers a detail left unfinished at the scene of the crime. This twisting French noir, is a perfect jumping on point for anyone interred in the French New Waves films of 50s and 60s.
8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
Basil Rathbone’s first Sherlock Holmes film and still one the best ever brought to the screen, Hound is the closest any Holmes adventure would come to being horror, which could explain why it’s my favorite. Rathbone would go on to play Holmes in a number of films, but in my opinion this 1939 adaptation is still the best. I also recommend checking out the Hammer remake starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing from 1959.
7. Rashomon (1950)
Director Akita Kurosawa’s Rashomon is not only a fantastic film, but is easily the most copied mystery structure in the genre’s history. Rashomon presents with a brutal murder, and four varying accounts of that murder. Highly influential and incredibly dark for its time, Rashomon is worth any mystery fan’s time.
6. Laura (1944)
If you’re like me, you love a good double-feature, and no film matches better with Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) than director Otto Preminger’s Laura. When a detective investigating a brutal murder becomes obsessed with the dead girls photo, what follows is an interesting psychological study wrapped in intriguing murder mystery. Laura is a must watch for fans of Hitchcock and classic films.
5. D.O.A. (1949)
“I want to report a murder.” “Who was murdered?” “I was.” If that doesn’t hook you into the madness that’s D.O.A, nothing will. Featuring one of the best openings in the genre, D.O.A tells the story of Frank Bigelow, who’s been poisoned and only has days to solve the mystery of who did it. The film was remade in the 80s staring Dennis Quaid, but the original still packs a bigger punch, and features darker ending.
4. The Ghost of Sierra de Cobra (1964)
My sleeper pick of the list, The Ghost of Sierra de Cobra (1964) has a unique history. The film starring Martin Landau was originally intended to be a pilot for a paranormal investigator show titled The Haunted (the Pilot is included on the Kino blu-ray). Thankfully for us, when the show failed to go beyond the pilot, it was reworked into a feature film. Sierra de Cobra tells the story of an heiress who is a afraid of being buried alive and has phone installed inside her tomb, and sometime after her death the phone rings. I can not recommend this film highly enough—it’s the true definition of a lost masterpiece.
3. Rebecca (1940)
In 1940 Hitchcock adapted Daphne du Maurier’s novel into one of the gold standards in mystery films. Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who marries a widower only to find out that she must live in the shadow of his former wife, Rebecca, who died mysteriously several years earlier. What follows is suspense and touches of gothic horror as only Hitchcock can deliver.
2. Les Diaboliques (1955)
I was introduced to Les Diaboliques through its 90s remake starring Sharon Stone (I don’t recommend starting with that version). Diabolique tells the story of a wife and mistress who scheme to murder their husband/lover, but what happens when the body goes missing? The pacing may seem slow by today’s standards, but the tension that builds is unmatched in the genre. Don’t let the subtitles keep you from watching this masterpiece.
1. Psycho (1960)
Yes, another Hitchcock film. The sheer amount of genres that Psycho bridges could easily make it number one on any top ten list. Hitchcock manages to mash noir, mystery, psychological horror, and the slasher genre (yet to be defined) all into this masterpiece of cinema. Psycho is a film that everyone knows the twist, and yet it never loses it impact or shock value.