Nine Black and White Chillers from the ’50s and ’60s

The Innocents

Whether or not you accept this as an actual genre, I greatly enjoy every one of these strange and often disturbing little movies, and recommend them to all.

  1. The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961). Based on Henry James' Turn of the Screw, this film stars Deborah Kerr as a Victorian-era governess whose young wards may or may not be possessed by the two people who had died horribly some time earlier. An elegant, dark, and disturbing film; a possible influence on David Lynch (especially The Elephant Man - Lynch even used the same DP, Freddie Francis).
  2. Village of the Damned (Wolf Rilla, 1960). Not to be confused with John Carpenter's insipid 1995 remake, this is an excellent gothic horror/sci-fi fable about creepy towhead children with glowing eyes and strange powers who invade an English village. Featuring scary child actor Martin Stephens, who also starred in The Innocents.
  3. Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962). Twilight Zone-ish tale of a loner (the forgotten Candace Hilligoss) who escapes a car crash - or does she? - and finds herself pursued by eerie visions of ghouls. Remarkably well-acted low-budget film, shot in Kansas. This was also remade, but skip that and watch the original.
  4. The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963). Not just another variation on the "strangers spending a night in a haunted house" theme, this moody (though occasionally pretentious) film features fine acting (especially by Claire Bloom, whose lesbian character slipped past the censors) and a terrifying use of subjective sound. As always, avoid the remake.
  5. Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1959). A plastic surgeon seeks to repair his darling daughter's horribly disfigured face... by kidnapping another girl and grafting her face onto his daughter's! Beautiful and melancholy French scarer, with a gross-out facial surgery scene that would drive even Face/Off fans up the wall.
  6. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955). A bomb upon its release, now heralded as a classic. Robert Mitchum is a psychotic preacher chasing after two young children who hide a cache of stolen loot. An insane film, best known for its expressionist style, haunting music, some unforgettable river scenes, and a sensational performance by Mitchum.
  7. Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968). Hardly the campy gore-fest of rumor, this film - shot in a stark, realistic style that gives it even more of a nightmarish tone - is intelligent and thought-provoking. Kudos to Romero for having the daring (in '68) to cast an African-American (Duane Jones) in the lead.
  8. Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (Cyril Frankel, 1960). Good luck trying to find this ultra-creepy little shocker, where one of the founding fathers of a small Canadian town also happens to be a child molester. An intense and highly uncomfortable film to watch. Barely released at the time it was made, due to its obviously unappealing subject matter, it remains possibly the lone "serious" film by British cheapie horror studio Hammer.
  9. Spider Baby (Jack Hill, 1964). A wild ride! Some idiots come across a spooky house inhabited by a strange family of childlike weirdos. Two sexy girls, a bald and incoherent brother, Lon Chaney Jr. in his last good role, loads of kinky, campy humor... You've got a winner here. Check it out.