10 Classic Scary Movies to Put You in a Halloween Mood
Vampires, witches, werewolves and monsters of all types have come to be associated with the Halloween season. What better way to celebrate than to sit in a darkened room while you huddle beneath a blanket, alone or with a friend, and watch a classic horror movie. These vintage films from 1922-1945 did not rely on buckets of gore or explicit dismemberments of more modern day fare. They more often created an unsettling mood using lighting, shadow, suggestion and your own imagination. Ranked in no particular order, these classic horror films that have stood the test of time.
Frankenstein (1931) / Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Boris Karloff would forever be associated with the horror genre following his portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein's malevolent creature. The makeup designed by Jack Pierce allowed Karloff a full range of facial emotions. With only a grunt or growl, Karloff was able to evoke sympathy or terror in his initial portrayal. The monster learned to speak in Bride but lost that capability following what is thought to be his ultimate destruction at the end of the movie.
Many critics considered Bride to be superior to the original film. In addition to the plot to create a mate for the monster, we also meet the quirky Dr. Pretorious, portrayed by Ernest Thesiger, who has created artificial life of his own, albeit a bit smaller in scale. Elsa Lanchester played a dual role as Mary Shelley in an introductory prologue and, later, as the unfortunate bride. After meeting her intended mate, she uttered what has been called "the scream heard around the world."
The Wolf Man (1941)
Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. Larry Talbot, portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr., learned how prophetic those words were following a return to his ancestral home. The film made Chaney Jr. a star, and he played the character in three later movies. The scenes of the werewolf stalking his prey among the fog-shrouded trees created an atmospheric masterpiece. Makeup genius Jack Pierce designed the iconic look for the werewolf which, reportedly, required 10 hours to apply.
Bram Stoker's bloodthirsty Count has been portrayed by many actors since the silent era, but Bela Lugosi's elegant and iconic performance set the standard by which all future vampires would be judged. Lugosi played the Count on Broadway before bringing the character to film. Early scenes when Mr. Renfield, played by Dwight Frye, is welcomed to Dracula's decayed, web infested castle created an eerie atmosphere seldom matched, and Lugosi's performance is mesmerizing. Though most of the violence occurs off screen, Lugosi creates a threat of inescapable danger simply by the gaze of his eyes and the menace of his outstretched arm.
This silent classic is considered one of the most influential films of its era and the inspiration for many vampire films to follow. Unlike later depictions of suave, sophisticated bats in human form, Max Schreck's portrayal of Count Orlock features pointed ears, claw-like fingernails and long fangs. There is no mistaking the evil he represents. The film was loosely based on Stoker's novel. A scene in which Orlock rises straight up from his coffin remains as creepy today as when it first shocked audiences nearly 100 years ago.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
While this classic story has been filmed numerous times beginning in the silent era, perhaps the best version starred Frederic March who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the doctor with a dual personality. March's simian-like makeup as the depraved and murderous Hyde is clearly distinct from his appearance as the kindly Jekyll, unlike some other filmed versions. Director Rouben Mamoulian creates a menacing atmosphere of London at night when Hyde is on the prowl.
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Karloff and Lugosi teamed up in eight movies. Their final collaboration was this version of Robert Louis Stevenson's story directed by Robert Wise. Karloff portrays John Gray, a grave robber who procures bodies for Dr. McFarlane's research in 19th century Edinburgh. When the doctor's assistant, Joseph (Lugosi), learns that Gray has committed murder, he attempts to blackmail the body snatcher. Lugosi's role is small, but his scenes with Karloff evoke a creepy mood. Karloff's performance ranks among his best.
Director Tod Browning cast actual circus sideshow performers in this cult masterpiece that was widely banned upon its initial release. The cast included conjoined twin sisters, a pair of microcephalics and a nimble human torso who could light a cigarette despite having no arms or legs. The troupe of uniquely talented players plan a terrible revenge on a beautiful trapeze artist, Cleopatra, after she cons one of them into marriage solely to obtain a large inheritance. Cleopatra plots the demise of her new husband while carrying on an affair with the circus strongman. Their revenge will truly make the deceiving Cleopatra one of them.
The Black Cat (1934) / The Raven (1935)
The Black Cat paired Lugosi and Karloff for the first time in a story of murder and Satanism. When two honeymooners are stranded at the home of Herr Polzeig (Karloff), they become unwitting pawns for a devilish ceremony in which Poelzig plans to offer Satan a bride. Dr. Werdegast (Lugosi), discovers Poelzig's secret and rushes to thwart the unholy plot in one of the most shocking movie climaxes of the era.
Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's classic poem, The Raven stars Lugosi as a doctor who becomes obsessed with a former patient. He disfigures the face of the escaped killer (Karloff) to coerce him into assisting the plot to capture the woman and dispose of her father and fiancée by use of some classic torture devices the doctor has recreated.
These films may not assure a good night's sleep, but they represent the best from the golden age of horror. They showcase unforgettable performances from leading actors of the genre and, if you need inspiration to create your own haunted house for Halloween celebrations, these timeless films offer the perfect inspiration.