When people think of horror films, it’s usually movies like The Exorcist, Frankenstein, Nightmare on Elm Street and so on that come to mind. Of course, there’s nothing terribly wrong with those movies, but if you’re like me, you want to know what else is out there. So today, I’ve decided to gather up five movies that aren’t normally recommended, ones that might not be absolutely terrifying, but have their own charms, or more precisely, their own horrors. All six are quite good in their own way, and all are very different from each other. I don’t know about you, but I”m not a huge fan of gore. I prefer suspense, ambience, weirdness, or frightening ideas. These horror movies cater to those tastes.
Anyways, here they are, in no particular order:
Bride of Frankenstein (1935): This is a movie that succeeds in its strangeness. I for one enjoy this film much more than its better known predecessor Frankenstein. Bride of Frankenstein reunites much of the cast of the first with the original director, James Whale. This time around, the film is made with a larger budget, thanks in part to the popularity of the original as well as the success of The Invisible Man, also by Whale. Here, the budget is put to strange uses. The beginning scene will likely delight and confound literature fans, as it features Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron talking by a fireplace. Mary Shelley confides she’d written more to the tale of Frankenstein that was never published. The film is then meant to be the lost manuscript. There’s a thousand reasons why this makes no sense, but just go with it. Bride of Frankenstein is one of the weirdest movies out there. There’s a completely random segment involving miniature people living in jars, played for comic relief. There’s also my favorite movie line of all time. Frankenstein looks dreamily into the camera and says “Friend… Good…”
Carnival of Souls (1962): Here is a perfect example of doing more with less. Carnival of Souls was made with a fairly small budget, which is evident right away. There are no recognizable actors, and it’s shot in black and white. The quality, tone, and ambience of the film are very similar to The Twilight Zone. Still, this movie manages to be quite scary, not only by its use of offsetting camera angles, ghosts, and eerie organ music, but because it actually forces the reader into thinking of their own mortality. Most horror films gloss over the reality of death. This one steeps the viewer in it. The plot itself is like a lucid dream. It begins with a car careening off the side of a bridge. Of its passengers, only one survives, a young woman who seems very traumatized by the event. To get her life on track, she moves to a different town, but begins seeing things… Anyways, this is a scary, unsettling film, and from what I remember, there’s not an ounce of blood in it. Definitely recommended.
The Tingler (1959): If you’re looking for something high on camp, The Tingler is the film to watch. This is directed by William Castle, who directed the better-known horror film House on Haunted Hill, also starring Vincent Price. I’ve seen House on Haunted Hill and honestly wasn’t that taken with it. The Tingler was much more to my liking. It’s about a small town that’s plagued by a weird creature that attaches to people’s spines and kills them when they are afraid. Vincent Price, looking directly into the camera, explains the only way to survive is to let out your fear by screaming. Here’s the funny part: in the old theaters, the studios set up a gimmick where, during the scary scenes, the seats would actually vibrate! Or tingle… Believe it or not, this cult classic is actually quite scary at times. Film buffs will be shocked by how blatantly the ending steals from the French classic Les Diaboliques.
Trailer for The Tingler:
The Hour of the Wolf (1968): If camp or kitsch aren’t your thing and you want something more artful out of your horror film, I’d highly recommend this Ingmar Bergman film The Hour of the Wolf. Ingmar Bergman is a celebrated director, largely for his movies like The Seventh Seal, Persona and Scenes from a Marriage. The Hour of the Wolf is an unusual film for Bergman because it fully embraces the horror genre, while many of his other films have a subdued horror element. The plot involves a depressed painter (Max Von Sydow) living in seclusion with his wife (Liv Ullman). While walking around alone, the painter starts meeting strange people who may or may not actually exist. These meetings become more and more bizarre until he’s invited into a mansion where things definitely take a turn to the macabre. Some movie fans will be put off by this film if they haven’t watched Bergman before. The first third is somewhat slow, but the last third is among the scariest things I’ve seen. It’s also my belief this movie heavily inspired Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining.
Here’s the trailer for Hour of the Wolf:
Parasite Mansion (1960): Technically, Parasite Mansion isn’t a movie–it’s an episode from the 60s anthology show Thriller. It’s fifty minutes long though and greatly resembles a low budget movie, and it’s in fact better than a lot of the horror films I’ve seen. The plot involves a young woman having car trouble while out driving in the boonies. She’s taken in by a hillbilly family living in a decaying, decrepit mansion. What’s fun about this episode is that it has a heavy amount of 19th century style gothicism thrown in, including locked rooms and a madwoman in the attic. Surprisingly scary for something that aired first on television. Thriller can be found on Netflix streaming.
The Innocents (1961): If you’re looking for something smart to watch that’s heavy on atmosphere and vague dread and light on random jolts and violence, watch The Innocents. It’s very closely based on the classic Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, except with 20th century psychology thrown in (similar to how Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet borrowed much from Freud). This is a very well made film with a standout performance by Deborah Kerr. Film students will benefit from watching this, as much of the film relies on backlighting and there are many unusual camera angles.
I’ve written a book titled The Madness of Art: Short Stories. It’s a collection of stories that each relate to the theme of artistry and the madness it endgenders. It incorporates many different genres, such as fantasy, sci-fi, coming-of-age and thriller. It’s available on Amazon and through Barnes in Noble in paperback and as an ebook.
Are there any lesser known horror films you would recommend?