The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls. – Edgar Allan Poe
It’s true, there is not much spookier than the monsters inside each of us. After the creation of horror by various fictitious creatures the main push in the industry during the 50s and 60s was to address this inner terror, the demons we all keep (with varying degrees of success) at bay.
House of Wax (1953)-
This classic Vincent Price horror film is full of atmospheric eerieness in a world where visual sight gags literally pop off the screen in full stereoscopic 3-d! This movie is a solid film with good writing and solid acting. House of Wax would stand up as a piece of classic horror cinema even without the bonus of random pop up and depth gags. A lot of foreground action and long still shots make better use of the 3-d effect than most modern films, primarily because it does so without feeling overly gimmicky or forced.
Les Diaboliques (1955)-
A warning tale of sorts, this film follows a tale of betrayal and murder to an amazing climax. Navigating the plot twists and turns beautifully Henri-George Clouzot manages to create a wonderfully macabre and shadowy noir-ish melodrama. Nearly perfect in pacing and camerawork, it is beat for beat one of the best mystery films of the time (and possibly one of the best ever), filled with creepy characters, mystery and scares in the shadows.
House on Haunted Hill (1959)-
A Vincent Price film, but hardly his best work, this movie is silly, campy, fun and worth watching. It includes a few solidly startling moments but is mostly gimmicky fluff. This film makes a good case for the inclusion of comedy in horror, even if only to throw the viewer off guard.
You knew it had to be on the list somewhere, this Alfred Hitchcock directed film is one of the best horror films ever created. Psycho redefined what horror could (and should) be with an excellently crafted film. From the very first scene to the climax the movie builds tension and has some incredibly vivid and memorable moments, not the least of which is the now infamous shower scene. The movie’s characters are well crafted, the shots and camera angles are intricately created and seamed together, and the film in its entirety is nearly perfect.
Eyes Without A Face (1960)-
A gruesome and poetic tale of a father’s love gone too far, this artsy horror film is so pretty it’s surprising. The chilling story is told like a gothic fairy tale and filled with dreamlike imagery and aetherial ambiance. The movie develops most of its fear from the elements you know but do not see.
Peeping Tom (1960)-
Imagine a world where the camera really can kill, and the voyeurism of theatre could be a motive. That’s the story that Peeping Tom tells us. In order to make his greatest work, an aspiring filmmaker stalks, attacks, and kills his victims through the lens of his camera, then films the investigators as they pursue him.
The film is methodically made, every detail is attended to carefully and the film is exquisite. The acting is solid and the camera work is fantastic, the colors pop in nearly comic book fashion.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)-
Based (very loosely, and really only in the final sequences) on the Edgar Allen Poe tale of the same name, the film follows the descent into madness of a Spanish Inquisition torturer who believes his wife was buried alive and that she haunts him. The film is sumptuous in its art direction and cinematography. Vincent Price is again exceptional, and the supporting cast is decent.
The Haunting (1963)-
A horror film primarily because of its supernatural elements. A great film because of it’s deep, neurotic, nuanced and well-constructed characters and story. The scenes and camera work are dark, gothic and very eerie, with a few good jump scares built in. This is one of the original haunted house films and it certainly set the bar high.