Camiele’s Top 10 Favorite Black-and-White Horror Films
7. Village of the Damned (1960)
Rule of thumb: emotionless children will always, always be frightening. When done correctly, and with the right actors, children can actually make a film more terrifying than adult actors with (arguably) wider range. What makes the original Village of the Damned so horrifying is the cold-eyed precision and logic these children show in the face of very emotional, very paranoid adults.
There’s something so powerfully terrible about children who are able to see past your defenses and destroy your psyche before you even realize what’s happening. If The Innocents illustrated how gaslighting can effectively twist an audience, Village of the Damned perfected it. Let’s be honest, using children to convince the audience the lead characters are probably overreacting was a genius move. So much so you feel yourself constructing the same physical walls as Gordon Zellaby does to finally defeat the children who’ve essentially wiped out an entire town. But at the end of it, has he really defeated the children, or was his self-deception all for nothing?
6. Tetsuo, the Iron Man (鉄男) (1989)
This. Damn. FILM! As the most recent on this list, I have to say, it turned the horror genre on its head when it first released. While Japan had its share of action/adventure horror films with their own monster flick revolution, I think prior to its release, there wasn’t that much in the way of shocking body horror. In fact, there was very little of that coming from the States, what with being in the throes of the slasher phase.
Yes, there was over-the-top gore coming from the West. However, there wasn’t the attention to detail regarding just how severe body mutilation is to the extreme that Japan did with Tetsuo. Tsukamoto Shin’ya really broke the horror box wide open. Using black-and-white as the medium added a level of fear that may have been lost if it were in color. The sheer shock of seeing Tetsuo go through this horrific wasting disease, without even actually knowing why for sure, was stunning.
The obvious rumors of Tsukamoto-san getting influence from the long-running manga Akira (and its subsequent film) are not unfounded. Perhaps if Tetsuo had actually made it past adolescence, this would’ve been the ultimate result. I don’t have enough superlatives to pour on to this masterpiece. If you have the stomach for it, I implore you to give it a shot.
5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
While Tetsuo was a revelation in Japanese horror (most likely spearheading it’s own renaissance of the genre in Japan), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari set the standard of psychological horror before it even had a name. Robert Weine’s portrait of man tortured by his own psychosis must have completely shocked and terrified the original audiences. A master class of light and angle, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was a twisted experience, one that had me leaning over in order to keep myself upright (yeah, I realize that doesn’t make much sense, but if you’ve ever seen the film, you’ll realize that your sense of balance corrodes the longer you watch it). I have a thing for works of art that explore things from an angle, slightly off-balance. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari delivers on all of that through some truly spectacular artistic choices.
4. Psycho (1960)
I would be an absolute fool if I didn’t mention the film that changed the entire scope of horror films. What can you say about Psycho? It’s a classic even apart from the genre it revolutionized. Camera angles, lighting, Hitchcock’s signature subtle direction and storytelling. It reached a peak with Psycho. Masterful performances from Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh and Hitchcock’s genius make this horror film damn near perfect. Another master class, this one of atmosphere and story, there’s not enough one can say about Psycho without devolving into fangirling. So I’ll leave it at this.
Let’s see how I fair with toning down the flailing in my Top 3.