Sometimes horror fans make the mistake of craving only the cutting edge of horror. The rationale might be that as movies get more and more "extreme" they can only get scarier. But here are seven horror movies from the "classic era" and before (let's say pre-"Psycho") that should shut them up. Here are seven old horror movies any scare fan should see.
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"
Generally considered the first horror movie ever made, this German nightmare will put to rest any doubts you might have about old horror movies not being scary. Everything from the performances to the story about a mad doctor who forces a hypnotized slave to murder at his command to the shadows that were painted onto the sets of a twisted, unnerving edge. Watch it with the lights off for a true taste of silent-era horror.
The other twin fountainhead of silent horror is almost as frightening as "Caligari." The story is a little more familiar-it's essentially an adaptation of "Dracula," and a more faithful one to the spirit of Bram Stoker's novel, at that (Dracula is supposed to be a disgusting beast, not a suave Eastern European). Several generations of audiences have been scared sh*tless by this classic, so why not you?
"The Black Cat"
The Universal horror films of the 1930s are famous for monsters like The Invisible Man and Frankenstein's Monster, but they weren't all supernatural horror films. This movie is a lot more realistic, and thus a lot scarier – at one point featuring Bela Lugosi carving Boris Karloff's face with a sharp instrument (this is shown in silhouette, but it's scary enough as it is).
"The Leopard Man"
We would be within our rights to populate this list exclusively with the thrillers that producer Val Lewton made in the 1940s – he was just that good. But this is one of his most underrated movies, a dark, scary mystery about a series of gruesome murders committed by either an escaped leopard or a leopard-obsessed madman. The outstanding set-piece of the movie comes right at the beginning – a chilling murder sequence shot from the other side of a door, blocking our view of the helpless victim. In a sinister touch, we do see some blood gush underneath the door, but by then it's too late.
Henri-Georges Clouzot is sometimes referred to as "the French Hitchcock," and this is probably the premiere film which earned him that title. The movie mixes the genres of murder stories and ghost stories into one terrifying blend – the most famous scene featuring a re-animated corpse in a bathtub is only one of the chills to be had here.
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
1950s-era paranoia in addition to a terrifying horror movie about an alien invasion. The debate over the "true meaning" of the movie, whether it's anti-Communist, or anti-conformism, or whatever, almost misses the point of how truly scary this movie is, especially if you turn it off before the studio-mandated "happy ending" comes on.
Then again, movies about giant monsters can be pretty scary too. Especially if, like in "Them!," the monsters are kept hidden away for almost the entire first half of the movie. If at all possible, you should try to go into this movie without knowing the real nature of the threat, that some grotesque murders have been committed out in the California desert, and the only witness is a little girl who's been traumatized into incoherence. One hint: They're still scary more than 50 years later.