The early days of filmmaking were a strange time. Like with the early era of the internet, people were just throwing things against the wall to see what stuck. As a result, you get both German Expressionism and 11 mediocre adaptations of Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde (between the years of 1890-1939, there have been 40 in total). For this list, I decided to focus on 5 films from this time that are genuinely enjoyable; they’re not necessarily what a stuffy film professor would make you watch. That being said, here are my top five retro horror films:
- The Fall of the House of Usher (1928, Epstein version)
Based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe, this film is about a man invited over to the crumbling and strange mansion of eccentric Roderick Usher. Like most of these films, the visuals are the most engaging part, and are sure to creep you out.
- The Unknown (1927)
If I were to base this list on storyline alone, I would put this on the top. A runaway convict disguises himself as an armless knife thrower for a carnival, where he falls in love with fellow performer Nanon, and tries to garner her attention no matter the cost. The pacing is quick, which is rare at this time. It’s not as scary as some of the other movies, though it’s few horror scenes are terrifying.
- Nosferatu (1922)
I know I said I wouldn’t use films your film professor would give you, but there is nothing like the vampire Count Orlok. His physical appearance is chilling, and the film makes great use of it. Nosferatu follows Count Orlok as he becomes interested in a new resident of his estate agent.
- Hands of Orlac (1924)
I had to include at least one film by prolific film director Robert Wiene. An organist loses his hands due to a train accident and has them replaced with a criminal’s, which turn out to have a mind of their own. Director Robert Wiene made the first full-length horror film, The Cabinet of Caligari, though he perfected his craft here with haunting visuals and an intriguing story.
- Murders in the Zoo (1933)
Considered dark at the time, Murders in the Zoo follows a crazed zoologist killing the lovers of his wife using his animal knowledge. While dark then, it’s pretty standard now. Nevertheless, this film includes plenty of grisly murders and a terrifying antagonist to keep you up at night.
Top 5 Retro Horror Films (pre-1940s)
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