Camiele’s Top 10 Favorite Black-and-White Horror Films
As many of you probably know, Halloween is my favorite holiday. If my crazy list of my 100 most horrifying films wasn’t indication enough, I’m also strangely obsessed with horror films and all things creepy-crawly. As such, I’m always delighted when this time of year rolls around and I can share with you some of my favorites of the genre.
This year I decided to take stock of all the horror films I’ve seen in black-and-white, those pieces of cinema that perhaps might not give younger audiences a fright but remain some of the best (or at least most interesting, in my humble opinion) to do it. It takes a lot to give people a good old-fashioned scare nowadays; however, I believe these ten films stand the test of time and certainly drew out some of my biggest fears. Perhaps that’s just it: the filming is so simple the scares are heightened. These films had to depend on performance, story, and execution, which means what played on the screen was at least psychologically more terrifying.
So without letting this intro go on much longer, I give you my Top 10 Favorite Black-and-White Horror Films!
10. The Sadist (1963)
While not at all particularly well acted, what the film did was surprising. First, the leading lady — yes the one who screams and faints and is obviously cast for being the pure as the driven snow damsel in distress — actually survives. She walks away harried and completely brand-new. The trauma she’s survived is acted out brilliantly on her face and the way she walks away — exhausted, dirty, and utterly mentally wrecked — is a testament to at least Helen Hovey’s ability to register such pain on her face.
Secondly, the film doesn’t shy away from the brutality of a coldhearted murderer, killing simply for sport. There’s no saving grace, nothing to force the audience to sympathize with him. And what’s more frightening is there’s absolutely no killing him! Not even the police, caught off guard as they may have been, can save our victims. There’s absolutely no reprieve from his destitution, even going so far as to empty an entire clip into the leading man after he’s shot him down. That’s another convention broken: our leading man is no hero. He watches as his old teacher is shot point-blank (another astonishing piece of imagery for the time) and is devoid of any traits we associate with a hero, namely bravery and selflessness. For 1963, this movie was absolutely horrific!
9. The Innocents (1961)
If you’ll remember from my list of 100 terrifying films, The Innocents is one of those movies that really takes you on a ride. The level of psychological f*ckery Jack Clayton puts you through is just ridiculous. Your mind’s so warped by the end of the film you’re not sure if everything you just saw really happened. The real power behind it is just how effective the act of gaslighting is throughout. You’re forced to reevaluate everything you know about the actual plot of the film in order to uncover the truth. Even when we get there, we’re still unsure. Clayton effectively makes us question our own sanity. Absolutely brilliant.
8. Nosferatu (1922)
I had the pleasure of seeing this for the first time back at college. It was a random event where we got to ride to one of the old nickelodeons in town to see a live band perform the chilling soundtrack as the old silent film played on the big screen. This early horror film has been one of my favorites ever since.
What this film does so powerfully is use lighting and shadow to tell more of the story than the character himself. It’s more than just a means to convey action without words. The lighting and camerawork are characters in and of themselves. In the annals of film’s earliest offerings, Nosferatu still stands as a feat of cinematic excellence. It remains just as chilling for me as it no doubt was for its original viewers.