by Rosalie Lewis
OK, I have a confession to make: I’ve spent most of my movie-watching life too scared to watch scary movies. After I saw The Sixth Sense in the theater, I slept with the lights on in my room for a month. When my college roommate dragged me to see The Grudge, I spent most of the movie averting my eyes to the glowing red Exit sign instead of on the screen. When my Stephen Dorff-obsessed cousin brought me to FearDotCom, I “watched” with my hands in front of my face (not the worst choice, in retrospect... that is not a great film). I watched The Crazies on mute with subtitles, because somehow not having to hear the creepy music and noises made me feel safer. For years, the only way I’d watch a horror movie was in the safety of my cousins’ living room, surrounded by other people.
At some point, though, my fear evolved into appreciation. Maybe it was the ten years of working at Disc Replay with some of the biggest horror aficionados you could ever meet; maybe it was just a desire to conquer my own trepidation. But eventually, I gave into the siren song of the scary movie. Still, my tolerance had to be built up slowly. I started with classic films from Alfred Hitchcock, delved into silent spookiness with things like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and fell in love with the Universal Horror monsters. For some reason, older movies -- especially those in black and white -- could be menacing without freaking me out for days on end.
These days, I enjoy sampling horror from all eras and countries and subgenres. Bring me the bloody, the psychological, the effects-laden, the creature feature, the mermaid musical (more on that another time). But I still have a lot of affection for horror movies that can pull off legitimate scares in black and white. The movies below rival anything made in the last ten years when it comes to terror, despair, twists, and gore. Sure, a bit more may be left to the imagination... but have you met your imagination? It’s a dark and twisted place that’s customized to your specific phobias. So honestly, relying on that is probably more terrifying than just spelling it all out on screen.
Let’s do the time warp again, and take a tour of five incredible black and white classics that will leave you shivering.
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932
Watch via: Amazon rental (or take your chances on YouTube)
The Body Snatcher
Directed by Robert Wise, 1945
Watch via: Online rental (various) / Criterion Channel
Directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot, 1955
Watch via: Criterion Channel
Eyes Without a Face
Directed by Georges Franju, 1960
Watch via: Amazon/iTunes rental
Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Directed by Robert Aldrich, 1964
Watch via: Online rental (various)
Flash forward about 40 years, and now Charlotte is a recluse with odd habits and no friends, save for her loyal housekeeper (the inimitable Agnes Moorehead). Her beloved plantation is scheduled for demolition thanks to a new highway being built, so her long-lost cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) comes to town to help her pack (much to Charlotte’s disdain). The disturbance in routine leads Charlotte to have some extremely off-putting visions/nightmares/hallucinations (or are they), including severed heads rolling downstairs and random body parts lying around and strange tunes emanating from the parlor piano. Is she crazy, or is something more sinister going on?
If you’ve seen and loved Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, you know that Bette Davis is capable of hideous heights in the name of performance; and she is one intense dame in this film. Agnes Moorehead is the secret MVP of this movie, and she got nominated for an Academy Award for it. Plus there are excellent turns from Joseph Cotten and Olivia de Havilland, who tread a fine line between shifty and well-intentioned. This movie does not hold back on the balls-out batshit banana pants content.
So there you have it! What are your favorite black-and-white bloody masterpieces?