Island of Lost Souls (1932)
We start our list going way back. This is a movie adaptation of “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, but it has its own charm about it. It’s a classic science fiction movie in which an island is used to experiment on human beings. This one stars Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, and others. It’s a classic affair that features exactly what you’d expect from an older horror flick, but it’s the actors that make this one come alive. Lugosi here is great, even if you can only see him as Dracula in your mind.
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
Film noir doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it should. You should definitely take a look at how horror and noir mix into a very interesting format. In this one, you are treated to a story of mystery. Who is the stranger on the third floor? A reporter wants to know, and he’s got to deal with a variety of issues before he can figure out the puzzle. Peter Lorre stars, and definitely creeps you out in this haunting portrait of classic cinema.
A true adaptation of the original vampire novel, this is a silent picture that is creepy as all hell. It uses a lot of light, shadow, and music to invoke the beauty of the novel from Bram Stoker. It’s a classic that some find boring, since it’s not updated or highly technical. It’s a silent move that is absolutely a thrill to watch, and if you grew up with this before you read the novel or you saw the many vampire movies that came out after, you still get a little nervous tingle when you see the vampire.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
This is another classic, and if you haven’t seen it, you really need to look at how it’s set up. The cinematic elements here are hands down some of the best. Robert Wiene does a brilliant job of making an expressionist horror film here. It’s got a lot of artistic elements and pushes the notions of horror cinema in such a unique fashion. It’s hard to really paint the proper picture here, but it’s definitely one of the best uses of light, shadow, and mystery in the silent film era.
Love him or hate him, Roman Polanski has a knack for creating atmosphere and horror through his movies. While this one is not quite like “Rosemary’s Baby”, it has some of the same signature moods and styles that Polanski is known for. Release in 1965, this is a move that really gets creepy as the plot focuses on memory, and trauma. The creep factor is turned up through the loneliness of apartment living, lighting, shadow, which really create a serious art piece here. If you haven’t seen this one in the “apartment trilogy”, you need to check it out. It went to be nominated for BAFTA Award.
The Red House (1947)
Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck make this movie come to life. Sure, Scorses remade it, but this is the real version you should be watching. This is a strong contender for the best book adaptation. James R. Webb’s novel gets transformed into a scary movie about a stalker. This movie is a tightening wire around the neck, and it really pulls you in with great acting, clever cinematography, and a performance from Mitchum that is well worth praise. If you haven’t seen this one, you owe it to yourself to check it out.