Time to start prepping for Halloween
August 7, 2018 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I recently rewatched - and loved - "The Mummy" (1932) and, with autumn and Halloween on the horizon, I'm feeling the need for a deep-dive into the black-and-white creepy. Tell me about your favorite spine-tinglers of the pre-color era.

I've seen the classic Universal monster movies, and have very likely seen any of the films with big-name stars of the era that have had any kind of revival / visibility in the last 20-30 years, or the "classics" (e.g. "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", "Nosferatu"). What I'm looking for here are films that might have escaped my attention for being long out of print, B movies, movies built around now-forgotten stars, pictures consigned to obscurity because of offensive stereotyping, or foreign films that may not have gotten any exposure in the US at all.

Bonus points for pre-code films, preposterous, baroque Orientalism, silent films, and for ones where decent prints are available to stream.
posted by ryanshepard to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 10:55 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been reviewing a lot of classic films on a blog (I will not self-link in here, but can Memail you that if you want). Some that you may dig:

The Black Cat, which claims to have been based on an Edgar Allen Poe story but it absolutely isn't. Instead it is about obsession and revenge, with a little flaying and Satanic sacrifice thrown in. Also Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff appearing together for the first time.

Freaks isn't a monster film, but it's definitely horror.

Vampyr is a German film from 1932; one of the few vampire films that isn't based on Dracula. There isn't any obvious "the monster reveals itself" moment as such; the feel is more "creepy lingering dead" than anything else, and strangely reminded me of what it was like to attend a performance of Sleep No More. I dug it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ha ha - came in to recommend The Black Cat!

You may also love the series on the original monster movies, episodes 115 thru 120, of the You Must Remember This podcast.
posted by jbenben at 11:34 AM on August 7, 2018

I too came to recommend The Black Cat!

I would also recommend Dead of Night (sorry, on phone and can’t link), largely for the last sequence with Michael Redgrave and the ventriloquist’s dummy, although I love the whole picture.
posted by holborne at 12:12 PM on August 7, 2018

Silent film The Penalty (kingpin - a bare-faced Lon Chaney - seeks revenge on a grossly incompetent surgeon; horror, suspense; full description)
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:16 PM on August 7, 2018

I'm not sure if this qualifies as the kind of horror you were looking for... but I've always been partial to Them!.

"We may be witness to a bibilical prophecy come true: And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth."
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:17 PM on August 7, 2018

Best answer: Mad Love (1935) - Peter Lorre's first American film, also has Colin Clive in it, involves improbable surgery and wax statues that (maybe) come to life, is extremely quotable. ("I have conquered science - why can I not conquer love?")

The Devil Doll (1936) - Basically, the plot is the same as The Count of Monte Cristo, if M. Dumas had included a lot more crossdressing and shrunken people. Has a great female mad scientist.

Murders in the Zoo (1933) - Creepy pre-Code violence, no one making this movie knew much about snakes but it's still fun.

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) - Contains exactly one very good scene and maybe the rest of the movie isn't worth it for that scene but hey, it's only an hour long and there's an ape. (Or a guy in an ape suit.)

The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) - Fay Wray before King Kong! Creepy waxworks!

I know you mentioned that you've seen the big Universal Horrors but if you haven't watched Dracula's Daughter or Son of Dracula, I recommend you try them out. They aren't...good, per se, but they're interesting.

Possibly also the Dr Mabuse movies?

Also, yes, definitely, The Black Cat, if you haven't already seen it.
posted by darchildre at 1:14 PM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Possibly also the Dr Mabuse movies?

I'd call Mabuse a bit of an edge case, there are a couple of creepy moments but it's mostly a crime-underlord drama kind of thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:31 PM on August 7, 2018

The original 1960 13 Ghosts features Margaret Hamilton, of Wizard of Oz fame.
posted by FencingGal at 1:39 PM on August 7, 2018

posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 3:36 PM on August 7, 2018

The Mummy (1932) sets a high standard, it's one of the best horror films of that era, and recommended for anyone else who hasn't seen it.

When I was into classic cinema I became a big fan of Peter Lorre, often cast as villain or weirdo, but stealing scenes and showing depth & sensitivity whenever his directors and writers let him get away with it. The Face Behind The Mask (1941) is one film where he plays the leading man, pulled into a life of crime by circumstance.
posted by ovvl at 4:42 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Spider Baby would make a good double feature paired with the aforementioned Freaks.
posted by mannequito at 6:39 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Plan 9 From Outer Space is a horror movie on multiple levels.
posted by flabdablet at 9:04 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

The other movie regularly presented as a double bill with Plan 9 in Worst Movies Of All Time nights is, of course, the incomparable Robot Monster.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 PM on August 7, 2018

Oh! I forgot The Old Dark House (1932), aka the other movie James Whale made with Boris Karloff and Ernest Thesiger! Possibly haunted houses, creepy mute servants, the funniest line reading of "Have a potato" you'll ever encounter - very good stuff.
posted by darchildre at 9:54 PM on August 7, 2018

Best answer: Forgive me if any of these are too obvious, but these films will take you from the sublime to the ridiculous ...

The Phantom Carriage (Sjöström, 1921) Supernatural fable with spooky, rich in in-camera FX work
Häxan (Christensen, 1922) Delicious silent "history" of witchcraft, Satanism, etc. in a boundary-pushing documentary format
Island of Lost Souls (Kenton, 1932) This is the stone-cold classic on this list, but I figure if you somehow haven't seen it, you must
Sh! The Octopus (McGann, 1937) Just a lark -- a comic creature feature set in an old lighthouse with a bit of surprisingly decent FX work. Co-stars Hugh Herbert, whose wacky "hoo-hoo" schtick was an inspiration for Daffy Duck
The Leech Woman (Dien, 1960) Underseen but classically conceived horror movie about age, beauty and death
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (Green, 1962) Campy but still disquieting living-severed-head yarn has a few things to say about the way men treat women in this world
posted by Mothlight at 10:20 PM on August 7, 2018

Carnival of Souls (1962) - An independent film made on a low budget that still looks amazingly creepy with an amazing, creepy organ score

The Innocents (1961) - British film based on The Turn of The Screw - creepy kids in a haunted house

The Spiral Staircase (1946) - Another psychological thriller but the main character is a mute woman
posted by Polychrome at 1:41 AM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Until five minutes ago I could have sworn I saw an old black and white movie called "Brides of Dracula" when I was a kid that scared the crap out of me. It was definitely not Dracula, and it was definitely not the 1960 Hammer "Brides of Dracula" because we had a color television and it was in black and white. So I don't know what it was, but it should be on the list.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:47 AM on August 8, 2018

I want to believe that lagomorphius' young self was watching Santo and Dracula's Treasure, but that's just me.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:23 PM on August 8, 2018

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