Best Horror Movies of the 1960’s
The decade of the 1960’s was a period of transition for horror moviedom. More and more the genre was becoming driven by who was behind the camera rather than in front of it. Filmmakers like; George A. Romero, Roman Polanski, and Alfred Hitchcock were changing scary movies forever in this decade. That being said the genre icons who were always guaranteed to draw audiences like; Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee were doing some of the best work of their careers. Studios like; Universal, AIP, and Hammer ruled horror cinema, at the same time indie filmmakers were proving to be a force to reckon with as well. Terrifying films being made internationally were also spreading throughout the world to find global audiences. This would be the decade horror would change forever.
Psycho (1960): Naturally we will start with Alfred Hitchcock’s revolutionary thriller which inspired the slasher genre. While on the run with a large amount of stolen cash, Marion Crain checks into the Bates Motel, run by the boyish Norman Bates and his “mother”. While we are led to believe Marion, with whom we have spent the first act with is our protagonist, she is brutally murdered in the film’s most famous scene. In the ensuing investigation into what happened to her and the money, more people make a visit to this mysterious inn and never check out. Alfred Hitchcock did something unheard for a director, when given absolute free reign in making this film, instead of going all-out he instead chose to challenge himself with a small budget and limited sets. Psycho proved to be a game changer as the monster was not from outer space or gothic literature, but was the charming unassuming boy next door.
Eyes Without a Face (1960): When scrolling through lists of the most disturbing films ever made you will undoubtedly see this French cult classic. With his daughter, Christiane’s disfigured in an accident, Dr. Genessier sets out to restore her face through any means necessary. While Christianne dons a face mask and spends her days with her father’s dogs, the mad doctor conducts his horrific work. With his assistant, Genessier kidnaps young women who he brings back to his laboratory, he proceeds to remove their faces in the hopes of grafting them onto his own daughter. Eyes Without a Face is truly a shocking film which just barely squeaked by the censors. An American cut of the film was released in 1962 which, as you can imagine, cut out several minutes including moments in the infamous face removal surgery.
Village of the Damned (1960): One of the landmark films of the “evil child” ilk of horror. In a quiet English village, a strange event is linked to the birth of a number of blonde-haired blue-eyed children. The father of one of these children, Professor Gordon Zellaby, learns that his village of Midwich is not the only community where this has happened. He watches as the children grow in physicality and intellect far beyond their years, yet show no sign of true human emotion. Soon enough, these youngster band together and use their mental abilities to manipulate the citizens of Midwich. Zllaby knows that the creepy kids pose a great threat, and in a suspenseful and memorable standoff must confront them. In a move quite ahead of it’s time, director Wolf Rilla filmed Village of the Damned in a very documentary-inspired style which only adds to the creepiness of the picture.
Peeping Tom (1960): Hitchcock was not the only director making proto-slashers at this time, as the British film Peeping Tom also played a role in pioneering this style of horror. Karlheinz Bohm plays Marl Lewis, a troubled repressed man, due in large part to his own sexual hang-ups as well as being the subject of strange experiments in fear when he was a child. Now as an adult, Mark stalks innocent women with his camera and brutally murdering them, ensuring that he captures their final agonizing moments on film. When a beautiful young woman named Helen moves into a room he is renting out, the two begin to grow closer and it is only a matter of time before Mark exposes her to his twisted hobby. Both disturbing and revolutionary, Peeping Tom was a watershed film for the horror genre, even though it does not always get the credit it deserves.
Jigoku (1960): The horror movies made in Japan during this era tended to be creepy ghost stories usually with a moralistic theme. Pioneering filmmaker Nobuo Nakagawa decided that he would inject his horror films with a level of brutality never seen before. This is showcased perfectly in his groundbreaking Jigoku. Shiro is a fine upstanding young man, so upstanding his professor has given his blessing for Shiro to become engaged to his daughter. Unfortunately Shiro’s best friend is a rebel with a bad attitude and forces him into being an unwitting accomplice in a hit-and-run which leaves a man dead. Being haunted by his friend’s crime, begins to effect Shiro and those in his life, even when he tries to escape going back to his home village, he cannot escape it. By the film’s third act, this once promising young man and everyone he has encountered dies violent deaths and ends up in Hell. Amidst all of the depravity and horrors he encounters, Shiro learns his now deceased fiancé was pregnant with his daughter. He must face the torments of the underworld alone in the hopes of saving the soul of his child. Jigoku contained over-the-top levels of violence, never before seen in Japanese horror and further inspired future directors of the country.
Curse of the Werewolf (1961): Despite being the biggest name in monster movies during this era, Curse of the Werewolf would surprisingly be the only werewolf film produced by Hammer Studios. Trusted Hammer Horror player, Oliver Reed, finally got bumped up to the lead role as Leon a young man conceived under horrific circumstances which would doom his life. Though he is eventually adopted by a prominent family who tries to give the young man a normal life, it seems he is cursed with supernatural animalistic tendencies. Though his adopted family is able to keep the beast at bay, Leon must eventually move away and start his own life and inevitably the lycanthropy makes a return. The film is one of the most highly regarded entries in the Hammer Horrors and is still one of the most beloved werewolf movies.
Pit and the Pendulum (1961): The 1960’s saw horror icons Vincent Price and Roger Corman collaborate on a series of films loosely based on the tales of Edgar Allen Poe. Their adaptation of the Pit and the Pendulum has become a favorite among horror fans during this period. Upon hearing of the death of his sister Elizabeth, Francis Barnard travels to the castle of his troubled brother-in-law Nicholas Medina. Beneath this castle is a torture chamber, the influence of which is felt almost supernaturally by those in the house. Especially the chambers most gruesome device the swinging blade of the pit and the pendulum. It is believed the power of this macabre place drove Elizabeth to her death, and while Francis looks for answers Nicholas is tormented by her spirit. It is all revealed to be a ruse, but the damage is done to Nicholas’ mind as he embraces to horrors of the torture chamber. This film is largely responsible for turning actress Barbara Steele into a full-fledged horror star. Vincent Price plays things relatively tame for much of this flick, but when it comes time he turns on his trademark sinister charm to his best.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962): In what is arguably Bette Davis’ finest performance, the actress plays former child star “Baby” Jane Hudson. Blamed for crippling her sister, Blanche in an accident when they were teens, Jane assumes the role of her sister’s keeper in their twilight years. After years of living in her sister’s shadow and being blamed for Blanche’s horrific accident Jane finally snaps. A helpless Blanche comes to live in fear of her controlling sister’s madness as Jane cuts her off from the outside world and gleefully torments her physically and mentally, including trying to feed Blanche a rat found in the basement. However, as more and more people begin to suspect something Jane is driven to increasingly desperate measure. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, famously played on the real life feud between it’s legendary leads, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford who bother delivery absolutely stunning performances.
Carnival of Souls (1962): What was intended to be your standard low budget horror flick for the drive-in, turned into a chilling masterpiece which still inspires fear in moviegoers. A drag race on a bridge leads to Mary coming uncomfortably close to death and sets her life on an unexpected path. The young woman moves away and finds work as a church organist in a small town, but is soon haunted by the eerie vision of a pale man in a black suit. As she tries to escape this mysterious new presence, Mary finds herself mysteriously drawn to an old abandoned carnival. Due to the creativity and pioneering mind of director Herk Harvey, Carnival of Souls featured a disturbing and creepy visual style unlike any other horror movie of it’s era. Many acclaimed filmmakers have pointed to this flick as a source of inspiration and in recent years it has been rediscovered by a new generation of fans.
Captain Clegg AKA Night Creatures (1962): Part of a series of pirate-themed movies from Hammer, Captain Clegg is often cited as one of the most underrated flicks from the legendary studio. Captain Collier and his crew of sailors find themselves in the seaside village of Dymchurch, the supposed resting place of infamous pirate Captain Clegg. Collier and his men are there to investigate a possible smuggling operation, only to discover the townspeople live in fear of supernatural Marsh Phantoms on horseback who ride through the surrounding swamps. As the investigation deepens, the Marsh Phantoms ramp up their campaign of terror and Collier learns there may be more to Clegg’s fate than originally believed. This film is beloved for the fine performances of Peter Cushing as the local parson and Michael Ripper as the strange coffin maker; as well as a memorable twist ending.
A Comedy of Terrors (1963): A comedic horror film featuring the talents of scary movie staples; Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone. Conman Waldo Trumbull has taken over a funeral parlor from his father-in-law, the problem is it only has a single casket. He enlists the help of two-bit criminal Felix Gillie to run a scam where they unceremoniously dump the bodis of their clients and simply resell the coffin to the next person. When business begins to dry up, Trumbull and Gillie decide to make their own customers in the form of the wealthy, Mr. Phipps. When Phipps’ widow absconds with his fortune without paying for the funeral, Trumbull is on the hook with his landlord. Naturally the plan to add said landlord to their list of victims goes awry as he survives and now knows what Trumbull and Felix are up to. This would tragically be one of the final films from movie icon Peter Lorre, but he truly played a crucial role in one of the finest horror/comedies ever made.
The Haunting (1963): From legendary director Robert Wise comes a creepy adaptation of the Shirley Jackson classic the Haunting of Hill House. For nine decades the infamous Hill House has become infamous for the spirits which haunt it’s halls. This proves to be the perfect place for Dr. Markway and his reluctant wife to carry on experiments into the nature of the supernatural. Slowly but surely the spiritual presence in the mansion makes itself known to Markway and his associates. His wife, Grace in particular catching the brunt of the paranormal activity in the home as it slowly begins to drive those inside mad. Naturally distilling a complex story into a single film has led to criticisms that the plot is difficult to follow, but Wise’s masterful direction and a moody atmosphere more than make up for any shortcomings.
Paranoiac (1963): Boasting a script from prolific screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, this psychological horror film proved to be the perfect starring vehicle for Oliver Reed. After the tragic death of his parents and the apparent suicide of his brother Tony; Simon Ashby has confined himself to a life of drinking and awaiting his inheritance. However, his plans are shuffled when Tony returns, claiming to have faked his suicide and is ready to claim the inheritance over his troubled brother. Simon suspects that the timing of his supposed brother returning is more than a little suspicious and begins looking closer into this man. This is a thriller full of twists all driven by a stellar performance from Oliver Reed.
Blood Feast (1963): Herschell Gordon Lewis was the undisputed master of splatter during this era, and this flick introduced moviegoers to his violent ways. A deranged caterer is preying on women in the Miami area. With each kill he makes, this serial killer takes a body part of his victim with him, this is being done as part of a ritual to resurrect and an ancient Egyptian goddess. These bizarre and violent murders are being investigated by Detective Pete Thornton, who is noticing a pattern which draws him closer to the killer who is hellbent on resurrecting the goddess, Ishtar. With Blood Feast, Gordon fulfilled his dream of being a true filmmaker and in the process shocked and horrified audiences with the amount of blood and gore he gave them.
Masque of the Red Death (1964): Another installment in the Vincent Price/Roger Corman Edgar Allen Poe films, this one brings to life the wealth of visuals the author already filled reader’s imaginations with. The Satan worshipping Prince Prospero has planned a way to remain safe from the horrific plague of the Red Death which is ravaging the countryside. He plans to remained sealed up in his castle along with his hedonistic associates, and the kidnapped village girl Francesca. He decorates the rooms in his palace with colors corresponding to the cycle of life which eventually ends in the black room. While he is master of the revelry occurring within the walls of his castle, little does he know an ominous red cloaked figure is waiting for him and awaiting a chance to enter. Corman always ranked this among his favorites in his filmography as he really went to great lengths to make it an enjoyable film. Aiding him in this visually magnificent film is famed director/cinematographer Nicolas Roeg.
Blood and Black Lace (1964): One of the early milestone films of Italy’s giallo horror from one of the masters of the movement, Mario Bava. Having grown tired of standard whodunnit’s, the legendary director wanted to put his own touch on a murder mystery. A famous fashion house in Italy, holds a host of secrets and one woman has recorded everything in her diary. When a masked killer emerges and murders the model, this diary goes missing. Police Inspector Sylvester enters the picture knowing he must find the diary which must hold some clue to the murder. As it makes it’s way around to different character, the same chilling faceless killer is there to brutally murder anyone in their path to getting it. In the end the killer’s identity is revealed in a climax bound to shock anyone.
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964): Herschell Gordon Lewis brings his talent for blood and gore to the American South for this hixploitation classic. A group of Northern travelers find themselves guests in the Southern town of Pleasant Valley just in time for their centennial celebration of when the town was destroyed by Union forces during the Civil War. At first everyone in town from Mayor Buckman down is more than pleasant to these Northern visitors, but of course there is a sinister undercurrent. One by one the visitors to Pleasant Valley are killed through hilariously macabre means and cannibalized by the townspeople. Those who survive make their way to the nearest sheriff to explain what happened, leading to a truly shocking ending. This darkly funny splatterfest is an absolute blast of a movie, and even made my list of the great hixploitation movies of all-time (HERE).
Onibaba (1964): A prime example of the eerie cautionary tales early Japanese horror was famous for. In the midst of a war in feudal Japan, two women on the outskirts of society make a living out of killing soldiers and selling off the stolen equipment. They are soon joined by their neighbor Hachi who stirs up tension among them. One night the older of the two women crosses paths with a samurai who wears a horrific demon mask which he claims is to protect his good looks, though it is revealed he is horribly disfigured underneath it. Using the mask and the samurai’s robes, she begins to terrorize her younger companion by night trying to keep her away from Hachi. As expected the mask has a supernatural evil about it, which only brings death and sadness to the two murderers.
Repulsion (1965): The movie largely credited for putting renowned director (and piece of human garbage) Roman Polanski on the map. Carol, lives in a London apartment with her sister, Helen. The relationship between, Helen and her lover repulses Carol, but if you think she would find relief when the couple leaves for a vacation you are very wrong. Alone in the apartment, the young woman’s mind begins to play tricks on her. As her mental state continues to crack she; imagines receiving threatening phone calls, watches food rapidly decay, sees arms extending from the walls, and even imagines a vicious attacker coming for her. Driven to insanity, a returning Helen has no choice but to have her sister committed. Through it all there definitely lies a deviant sexual undertone, which coming from Polanski makes it all the more disturbing. The final shot we are left with, is a haunting one which has been debated by film buffs ever since.
Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966): After much convincing from Hammer, Sir Christopher Lee once more donned the iconic cape to reprise his role as Count Dracula. Picking up where 1958’s Horror of Dracula left off, a group of four English travelers find themselves at the infamous Castle Dracula, being watched over by the caretaker Klove. As one would expect this is simply a trap, and after a macabre blood spilling ritual from Klove, Dracula is resurrected to once again begin a reign of terror. The surviving tourists turn to the local clergy Father Sandor for aid in defeating the vampire. It leads to a climactic battle where Dracula is forced into the icy running waters in his own moat which proves to be his undoing. Lee famously refused to say any of the dialogue written for him because he felt it was terrible, but once more his incredible charisma and screen presence more than makes up for it.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968): One of the movies most responsible for the shift in horror being more focused on who was behind the camera than in front of it. Originally Rosemary’s Baby was to be made by B-movie legend Roger Corman who planned on making it in the style of his schlocky crowd favorites, complete with Vincent Price portraying Satan. But the decision was made to move Corman to a producer role and let young Roman Polanski take a shot at it. Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband Guy move into a stunning new place looking to start a family. Along the way they strike up a friendship with their odd but pleasant neighbors, and Rosemary discovers she is pregnant. But this pregnancy seems to be the start of something as little by little the young housewife begins to discover a conspiracy afoot. Before long Rosemary finds herself engulfed in a world of cults and the Devil himself. Rosemary’s Baby has proven to be one of the most acclaimed horror movies ever made and marked a true turning point in the genre.
The Devil Rides Out (1968): It goes without saying Sir Christopher Lee has been in more movies than any one human can count. So it speaks volumes that this was one of his personal favorites. Lee plays the literary character, Duc de Richleau, an investigator practiced at battling the occult. In saving the son of an old friend, Richleau draws the ire of a cult looking to summon the demon Baphomet. Finding refuge in an old mansion, he must protect his friends throughout the night from an onslaught of black magic coming their way. The Devil Rides Out is considered by both critics and fans as being one of the very best films from the Hammer Horrors. This suspenseful flick benefits greatly from one of Lee’s best performances.
Targets (1968): This film saw Boris Karloff give one of the finest performances of his storied career. Serving as the directorial debut of Peter Bogdonavich, we see Karloff playing a hyper-realized version of himself in Byron Orlok. After decades of terrifying moviegoers, Orlok is looking to enjoy retirement after the release of his latest film. At the same time this is occurring we as the audience are introduced to Bobby Thompson, a sniper definitely scarred from his time in Vietnam. Now he uses the skills he learned on the battlefield to carry out a series of murders. Inevitably the two paths cross in a climactic drive-in scene, showing Orlok’s final film while, Bobby methodically picks off moviegoers. The film’s haunting final moments feature this drive-in during the day, silence is the only sound as the audience sits and reflects on the juxtaposition of the horrors onscreen and the horrors of the real world. Read the Retro Review of Targets HERE.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): With one low budget film, George A. Romero completely changed the way people saw zombies forever. While visiting the local cemetery, Barbara is attacked and quickly leanrs something strange is going on. She joins Ben and a group of other survivors at an isolated farmhouse, together they learn that the dead are being reanimated and are devouring the living. Ben leads the others in preparing their shelter for a siege of the undead, but natural infighting makes this much harder than it needs to be. And says nothing of the nasty surprise awaiting in the basement. Romero produced one of the milestone films of the horror genre, which has left a lasting legacy on pop culture. Night of the Living Dead introduced the world to this filmmaker’s unique mixing of horror, humor, and social commentary, which would be his calling card for decades.
Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969): One of the final Hammer Horrors for studio stalwarts director Terence Fisher and actor Peter Cushing. While on the run from the authorities, Baron Frankenstein finds himself in the boarding house of a doctor of a local insane asylum and his fiancé Anna. The mad doctor manipulates the young couple in assisting him in fixing the mind of a former associate who is now a patient at the asylum. By helping his old friend, he means to transplant his broken brain into the body of the asylum’s director. This new creation of course turns against its maker and sets a deadly trap for him. With authorities closing in on him and a vengeful monster in wait, Victor Frankenstein may have finally hit the end of his rope.