Horror movies today are a lot more shocking and violent than they used to be. This push for increasingly gory films came about in slasher films from the ’70s and onward. While most people know classics such as Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday The 13th, it’s important to know the history of what was viewed as scary before people needed to be shocked with extreme violence.
Iconic monsters and villains such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster or the Wolf Man were truly scary at one point in time. Reflecting on the films that created these characters gives a look into what society’s fears were at the time.
Below are 10 horror movies made before the ’70s that you should watch if you’re a dedicated horror fan.
Most people consider this to be the first Frankenstein film. Although there’s a silent short film version that came before this, the 1931 version is the best telling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. The film feels like a slow burn, but as you get toward the end where Frankenstein’s monster tosses a girl in a river and is chased by the townspeople, it’s got tons of action to make it worthwhile.
The beginning of vampire lore begins with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but in the film world, it began with Nosferatu. The film had to alter some things about the novel due to the Stoker Estate refusing permission for the adaptation, but nevertheless, Nosferatu kicked off this subgenre in horror filmography. Twilight fans should take note and learn what led to the possibility of vampire romance stories to be told.
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1913)
The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic one. While there are plenty of versions of the story you can watch on film, the 1913 version stands out as it’s the only one where an antidote for his dilemma is almost discovered. The movie is twisted and disturbing despite the fact that the filmmakers didn’t have the technology in the early 1900s to make amazing visual effects like they do today.
If you’ve ever heard someone chanting “One of us!” over and over again, you’ve probably not questioned it much and understood it to be a reference to joining a group of sorts. Well, the origins of that phrase come from 1932’s Freaks, which is about a group of circus sideshow performers. While it was originally banned for “exploiting” disabled people who acted in the film, it’s viewed today in a much more positive light.
The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)
One of the all-time greatest psychological thrillers, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari focused on an insane hypnotist who uses his expertise to carry out murders. The film’s twist ending that reveals it was all the delusions of a madman led to a new subsection of psychological horror films and helped give recognition to Germany within filmmaking at the time.
Everyone knows the music from the shower scene in Psycho, but not as many people have actually seen the movie. It’s viewed as one of the greatest movies ever created and pushed the boundaries of what kinds of violence and sexuality could be portrayed in film. Plus, it essentially started the slasher genre.
Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
The original zombie movie, Night Of The Living Dead is George A. Romero’s first film in his long-running collection of zombie films. Sure, it’s a lot cornier to watch than Dawn Of The Dead or Day Of The Dead, but seeing where zombies really joined the cinematic realm is a must-see.
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
Horror movies feed on what people fear at a given time. While we may not think of mummies as scary anymore, they were in the 1940s. The Mummy’s Hand isn’t the original birth of the mummy monster, but it’s the most well-known and spawned a ton of sequels.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Similar to The Mummy’s Hand, werewolves are a fantastic example of a Hollywood horror character that used to be truly terrifying. The Wolf Man horrified audiences when it came out and shows all of the classic tropes of the character. It became more successful than the first mainstream werewolf film, Werewolf Of London, which was regarded as too similar to Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde at the time it was released.
The Body Snatcher (1945)
If you’re a true horror fan and don’t know who Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are, well, you don’t know enough about the history of the genre. The duo’s final film together, The Body Snatcher, is easily one of their best and most shocking. It involved a whole lot of grave robbing, murder and attempts at experimentation on bodies, which are still horrific to watch today.