To get you in the mood for All Hallows’ Eve, we’ve collected some creepy classics for your viewing pleasure. A bit of horror, a smidgen of laughter, an unreliable narrator or two, and a big dollop of Alfred Hitchcock make for the perfect recipe of spooky movies.
Note: As is the case with any list of non-contemporary films, please remember that these films reflect the values of their time. At no point in history were racism and sexism excusable and we do not condone the stereotypes, caricatures, or imprudent humor that may be reflected in the movies listed here.
Bela Lugosi as Dracula has made up so much of our cultural consciousness regarding the Transylvanian Count. A foreshortening of the Bram Stoker novel, the film retains its creepiness despite being almost a century old, thanks to its expansive sets and classical score. Its technical limitations may not allow it to be as in-your-face as more modern horror, but no collection is complete without this original.
This will be the first of a few Alfred Hitchcock films on the list. Rebecca is based on the 1938 Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name. The young Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine) returns to her husband’s English estate as its second mistress. Constantly overshadowed by the glittering reputation of the first Mrs. de Winter, the new bride is haunted by the memories of Rebecca and the hold she seems to have over Mr. De Winter (Laurence Olivier) even from beyond the grave.
Rear Window (1954)
A professional photographer (James Stewart) finds himself confined to his New York apartment after breaking his leg on the job. To while away the long hours, he amuses himself by using his camera’s telescopic lens to people watch from his window. As the neighbors go about their lives, little suspecting that they are under surveillance, our confined hero begins to suspect that one of them may have murdered his wife.
To Catch a Thief (1955)
When jewels go missing on the French Riviera everyone blames John Robie, the Cat (played by Cary Grant). A once infamous burglar, Robie insists he has retired from the life of crime but, when a new spate of robberies begin, Robie must catch the copycat if he’s to prove his innocence. Set on the sunny Cote d’Azur and littered with sparkling gems, this film is not nearly so dark as some of Hitchcock’s other films but it remains a thrilling chase to the mystery’s resolution.
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Vincent Price, the Prince of Horror, stars in this camp classic that has no connection to the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House. Because that’s not at all confusing. Price stars as an eccentric millionaire, Frederick Loren who has invited a series of strangers to a party held in honor of his wife, Annabelle. For the party, the Lorens have rented a house renowned for its paranormal activity and they have offered each guest $10,000 IF they will stay the entire night in house, which will be locked from the outside at midnight. Five strangers, their strange hosts, and unnumbered ghosts and horrors waiting for them throughout the night.
Arguably Hitchcock’s most famous film, Psycho begins as a fairly straightforward crime drama. Secretary Marion Crane embezzles $40,000 and skips town. On the road from Phoenix, Arizona to California, she stops at the unassuming Bates Motel. The modest establishment is managed by a young man and his elderly mother. It’s here that Marion’s plans for a new life will go horribly awry.
The Innocents (1961)
A Gothic horror to rival more modern thrills, The Innocents is based on Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw. The film stars Deborah Kerr as a governess taking her first appointment to two orphaned children whose distant uncle serves as their guardian. Sent to live in a remote country house, the governess begins to feel that there is some strange presence that poses a threat to the children. As their caretaker, she feels obligated to protect them from these ominous specters.
The Notorious Landlady (1962)
For something a little more lighthearted, let Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak provide a few thrills and a good deal more laughs. Diplomat Bill Gridley returns to London and, in need of housing, lets a flat from a widow. It is only after he’s moved in that Gridley begins to notice the local chatter regarding his mysterious and attractive landlady. The higher-ups at the American embassy must soon delude Gridley that his new landlady is a suspected murderess. This film eventually devolves entirely out of its mystery genre but the slapstick antics are worth it.
*A special note about this film. As is the case with many films of bygone eras, they come with bygone values. This film has misogynistic humor aplenty, always at Novak’s expense. We’re not endorsing these themes in suggesting the film but recognize that there may be other enjoyable aspects.
When Regina’s (Audrey Hepburn) husband is thrown from a train, she learns that she knew almost nothing about her murdered husband. At his funeral, she is approached by three strange men, the American CIA, and French police, all centering her in a mystery of stolen Nazi gold. But whom can she trust?