The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (1920)
The Film: Even now, almost a hundred years after its release, horror filmmakers still draw on the imagery of The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari : it’s strikingly weird, with its abstract painted backdrops and bizarre angles, and in its own unique way, it’s beautiful, too. The story of a mad doctor who uses a mind-controlled sleepwalker to murder his enemies is a wonderfully creepy one, while the narrative frame makes it feel far more modern than it is.
Scariest Moment: Any time the somnambulant Cesare is on the screen – there’s something truly uncanny about Conrad Veidt’s painted face.
The Innocents (1961)
The Film: A governess lands a job looking after two children in a huge, swanky manor – which may or may not be haunted by the malevolent spirits of two previous employees. Are the ghosts real? Are the kids playing tricks? Or is the governess just losing her mind? The film wisely refuses to commit to any one explanation, leaving all three frightening options open.
Scariest Moment: When Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) spooks the governess during an ill-advised game of hide and seek.
Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
The Film: George Romero’s low budget chiller single-handedly created the zombie genre: without this movie, zombies as we know them wouldn’t exist. His flesh-eating ghouls are slow, shambling, and almost unstoppable (unless you’ve got a shotgun), but it’s the flaws of the human characters that are ultimately their undoing.
Scariest Moment: The bit where the sick little girl in the cellar finally turns and attacks her parents.
The Film: An unauthorised adaptation of Dracula that was nearly lost forever thanks to Bram Stoker’s estate, Nosferatu is a masterclass in light and shadow. There’s nothing charming or sexy about the vampiric Count Orlok: he’s just a horror.
Scariest Moment: Since the shot of the Count’s shadow going up the staircase has lost some of its bite thanks to countless parodies, it’s probably the moment the Count rises out of his coffin on the boat, all teeth and nails and plague-ridden horribleness.
The City Of The Dead (1960)
The Film: When Professor Driscoll (Christopher Lee) suggests to one of his students that she might like to do a little hands-on research into witch trials by travelling to the remote town of Whitewood, her friends and family are horrified. But Nan (Venetia Stevenson) ignores their warnings and walks straight into danger. Foggy, witchy danger.
Scariest Moment: When Nan finds a hidden staircase under the rug of her hotel room, and decides to investigate. There’s no way a passageway blocked by that many cobwebs leads anywhere good.
The Night Of The Hunter (1955)
The Film: The movie that inspired countless knuckle tattoos, Night Of The Hunter stars Robert Mitchum as Reverend Powell, one of the scariest preachers of all time. The self-proclaimed man of God marries and murders a series of lonely women, but when the children of his latest conquest run away with the money Powell had planned to steal, a terrifying chase begins.
Scariest Moment: The underwater shots of Powell’s latest victim, her hair streaming in the current, are both beautiful and disturbing.
The Film: There have been many, many film adaptations of Frankenstein over the years, but this is the gold standard. Boris Karloff gives an oddly sensitive performance, and despite the film’s many departures from Mary Shelley’s novel, it manages to do a decent job of combining horror with pathos. Plus it just looks amazing.
Scariest Moment: “It’s aliiiiiiiiiiiiiive!”
The Film: Another classic Universal monster movie, this version of Dracula also plays fast and loose with the source material – several of the characters get mashed together, for example, and it’s Renfield, not Jonathan, who travels to visit the Count in Transylvania – but the result is mesmerising, creepy, and even occasionally funny.
Scariest Moment: Any time Bela Lugosi looks directly into the camera, stern-faced and wild-eyed.
Cat People (1942)
The Film: Irena (Simone Simon) is wooed by charming architect Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), but though she agrees to marry him, their relationship is never consummated. According to a family legend, she’ll turn into a lethal big cat when in the grip of a strong passion. The title might be lurid, but the film is considered, sad, and unsettling.
Scariest Moment: The swimming pool scene, all shadows and suggestion, is incredibly tense.
Carnival Of Souls (1962)
The Film: A young organ player moves to a new town following a horrific accident, but finds she can’t leave the past behind as she’s haunted by a terrifying ghoul - and strangely drawn to an abandoned pavilion. For such a low budget film, it’s full of brilliantly eerie imagery, and once seen, it’s impossible to forget.
Scariest Moment: Each appearance of The Man (played by director Herk Harvey) is scarier than the last, but the final frenzied chase on the beach is pure nightmare fuel.