10 black and white horror movies to watch this Halloween
October is the perfect month to hunker down with a movie. As the weather gets colder and the nights start earlier, wrapping up in a blanket and enjoying some warm cider on the couch is the best way to welcome autumn. Although there are plenty of modern classics to enjoy during the season of spook, black and white films have a depth that perfectly compliments the changing seasons. These are the top ten, must-see black and white horror movies you need to see this Halloween.
1. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The original Frankenstein, released in 1931, is a popular classic. But the sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, is not to be missed. Immediately following the iconic burning windmill scene at the end of Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein gives the Monster (Boris Karloff) a chance to develop a sense of right and wrong through a series of interactions with humans. The Monster, keen for a friend, demands Doctor Frankenstein make him someone like himself, who will accept him, bolts and all. But when the wide-eyed and stripe-haired beauty (Elsa Lanchester) refuses his advances, the Monster takes matters into his own hands, sparing his creator but bringing an end to Frankenstein’s experiments.
The Bride of Frankenstein builds on the moral themes in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with the violent strength of the Monster juxtaposed against the touching sincerity with which he learns about the world. The film takes a difficult character to humanize–the rigid and inexpressive Monster–and manages to make him a sympathetic hero.
2. The Wolf Man (1941)
Another classic monster movie, The Wolf Man stars Lon Cheney, Jr. as the titular character. Larry Talbot, heir to a family estate in Wales, is bitten by a wolf while defending the woman he loves. Maleva, a traveling gypsy, tells Talbot that the wolf was a werewolf, sharing the spooky rhyme, “Even a man who is pure of heart/and says his prayers by night/may turn a wolf when the wolfbane blooms/and the autumn moon is bright.” Talbot soon begins turning into a wolf during full moons, terrorizing the village and waking up with vague memories of the attacks. A recurring theme in all Wolf Man movies is that Talbot cannot help his change, and even his own best-laid plans to lock himself away during the full moon are thwarted.
3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
The Universal monsters weren’t all deep moral conundrums and tragic endings, as shown in the hilarious Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The comedic duo star as baggage-clerks at a railway station, who are pulled into a fight between the Wolf Man, Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster when the latter two are shipped to nearby “McDougal’s House of Horrors.” Larry Talbot attempts to intercede to keep Dracula from continuing Doctor Frankenstein’s work, but his sudden change into wolf-form make him a less than reliable accomplice. It falls to Abbott and Costello (here playing Chick Young and Wilbur Grey) to save the day.
4. Vincent (1982) & Frankenweenie (1984)
Tim Burton’s early films are a pleasure, and these two black and white shorts are perfect for a pop of Halloween spirit. In Vincent, the seven-year-old Vincent Malloy is obsessed with Vincent Price, and his vivid imagination leads him to near ruin. Frankenweenie, which Burton remade in 2012, is a suburban send up of the classic Frankenstein tale. In Burton’s homage, Victor Frankenstein is a young boy who is crushed when his dog is hit by a car. Using less-ghastly practices than his grave-robbing namesake, Victor brings Sparky back to life only to find having an undead dog has some unexpected complications.
Both shorts are a great reminder of what Tim Burton has always done best: capturing suburban, middle-class America and introducing the bizarre and morbid. With his light touch and sharp eye, Burton’s early work is subtle and delightful.
5. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Frank Capra’s Halloween classic is the perfect blend of humor, danger, and death. Cary Grant stars as Mortimer Brewster, a confirmed bachelor who decides to get hitched to his long time love, played by Priscilla Lane. On returning to his aunts‘ home in Brooklyn to share the great news and get ready for the honeymoon, Brewster learns that his beloved aunts have been poisoning lonely boarders and burying them in the basement. The madcap adventure that follows includes a cousin who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt and the return of Mortimer’s murderous brother Jonathan, who looks a great deal like Frankenstein’s Monster.
6. The Canterville Ghost (1944)
Based on a short story by Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost stars Charles Laughton as the titular spirit, trapped in his family’s castle after disgracing himself during a duel in the 16th century. He is forced to remain in the house until a descendent can redeem his name by performing an act of bravery. When six-year-old Jessica de Canterville (Margaret O’Brien) overcomes her fear of the ghostly Sir Simon, she and a distant relation work together to set his tortured spirit free.
The Canterville Ghost is an unsung classic, starring some of the biggest names in film at the time. It’s a sweet and simple story of bravery and redemption, but told with the thrill of a lost spirit and the little girl he befriends.
7. Nosferatu (1922)
Based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu is a silent film that remains absolutely terrifying to this day. The long-fingered and fanged Count Orlok rising from his coffin is an iconic image of horror. In the film, Orlok terrorizes a village from his imposing castle until a young businessman discovers Orlok’s vampiric identity.
8. Psycho (1960)
Any of Alfred Hitchcock’s numerous thrillers are a must for a Halloween-movie marathon, but his 1960 masterpiece, Psycho remains one of his best. The suspenseful story of a woman on the run and a creepy roadside motel has become a cultural touchstone, and with good reason.
Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh shine as two strangers both hiding dark secrets, and the discovery of Mother never ceases to be startling. The final scene and the long shot of Perkins leaves viewers with the heeby-jeebies, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
9. Night of the Hunter (1955)
Serial killers are perfect fodder for Halloween thrillers, and The Night of the Hunter is a chilling example of the horror genre at its best. Robert Mitchum stars as Harry Powell, a Reverend-turned-serial killer who marries wealthy women only to murder them for their fortunes. After being arrested for driving a stolen car, Powell meets a bank robber who hid a large sum of money before his arrest. Powell is released but his cell mate is executed, so Powell sets out to find the man’s widow and get his hands on the green.
10. Eyes Without a Face (1960)
This French-Italian thriller is a mad-scientist story for the ages. When Doctor Genessier’s daughter Christiane is disfigured in an accident, he fakes her death in order to cover up his own attempts to find a new face for her. The doctor and his assistant take women hostage and remove their faces, but Christiane’s body rejects the skin.
Although not bloody, the grisly premise and wide-eyed Christiane are both extremely unsettling. The quiet film is dark and subtle, a psychological thriller with a creepy scientific edge, rather than a paranormal scream fest.
Bridey Heing is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. Her interests include travel, international politics, film, and tattoos. More of her work can be seen here.