The Hands Of Orlac (1924)
The Film: Piano player Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt) loses his hands in a train crash, but his doctor manages to transplant a new pair onto his arms. Problem is, they came from a convicted murderer, and now Orlac’s hands seem to have a mind of their own…
Despite its creepy flickering visuals – and the fact that it’s entirely silent – The Hands Of Orlac feels far more modern than it is, with its focus on forensics and ideas about identity and the body.
Scariest Moment: The sudden appearance of a staring face at a hospital window is seriously eerie.
The Seventh Victim (1943)
The Film: A young woman attempts to track down her missing sister, only to find that she was involved in a sinister cult that hands out a death sentence to anyone who reveals its existence.
Thick with atmosphere, this film makes brilliant use of light and shadow, so if the plot doesn’t always make sense, well, it’s creepy enough that that doesn’t really matter.
Scariest Moment: It’s not scary, exactly, but the final thud of the movie is chilling.
The Unknown (1927)
The Film: Alonzo the Armless (Lon Chaney) is a circus performer with a secret. Well, two: one, he’s in love with fellow performer Nanon (a very young Joan Crawford), and two, he’s faking his disability. He’s only pretending not to have arms because of a real deformity – a double thumb on one hand, which would give away his identity as a wanted strangler.
The story gets much, much weirder from there; you kind of have to see it to believe it exists.
Scariest Moment: Alonzo’s scheme to bump off his romantic rival is pretty nasty.
Night Of The Demon (1957)
The Film: Another movie, another sinister cult: this one is led by the devilish Dr Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), a Satanist who’s summoned a demon to do away with his enemies. When a sceptic turns up to try to expose Karswell as a fraud, a tense game of cat and mouse begins.
Scariest Moment: The bit when you know the monster’s coming, but before you see it. It’s a striking-looking demon, but seeing it defuses a lot of the film’s power, which is all about anticipation and dread. If you can somehow manage to miss the first ten minutes, the film’s a lot creepier.
Village Of The Damned (1960)
The Film: Following a bizarre incident where the entire village of Midwich falls unconscious, a strange group of children is born: children with odd blond hair and mesmerising eyes who grow up far too quickly. As the village’s body count rises, the adults realise too late that there’s something very wrong with their kids – but how do you kill someone who can read your mind?
Scariest Moment: Murderous children are always scary, but these ones are particularly nasty, especially when they’re working together.
Eyes Without A Face (1961)
The Film: What is it about masks that makes them so scary? The blank white mask worn by Eyes Without A Face ’s Christiane (Edith Scob) is super eerie, and she’s not even the villain of the piece – that’s her father, a surgeon so determined to restore Christiane’s damaged beauty that he’s willing to kidnap and murder young women to try to transplant their faces onto hers. Spoiler: it doesn’t end well.
Scariest Moment: The surgery scene. It’s more suggestive than gory, but you see enough to make it really, really hard to watch.
The Clairvoyant (1934)
The Film: Stage mind-reading is usually done with cold-reading and planted stooges, but when self-styled ‘King Of The Mind Readers’ Maximus (Claude Rains) meets the mysterious Christine (Jane Baxter), he discovers he might really have the gift. Trouble is, his gift mainly shows him death and disaster, and he’s powerless to stop his horrible predictions coming true.
Claude Rains is brilliant as the ego-fuelled Maximus, and there’s something eerie about the way his powers are never really explained.
Scariest Moment: It’s not really a specific moment, but the escalation of Maximus’s predicted disasters is pretty scary.
Mr Sardonicus (1961)
The Film: Baron Sardonicus (Audrey Dalton) is suffering from a bizarre ailment: his face is frozen into a horrifying smile. Thing is, he’s also a really nasty piece of work, prone to torturing his servants. When he finds a surgeon capable of curing him, his bullying tactics backfire.
Like many of William Castle’s films, this one comes with a gimmick, as the audience is asked to choose one of two endings for the sadistic Sardonicus. Only one actually exists, but it’s definitely the one you’d want to see.
Scariest Moment: The reveal of Sadonicus’s mangled face. Urgh.
Dead Of Night (1945)
The Film: An anthology film built around one man’s bizarrely circular nightmares, Dead Of Night has four solidly creepy segments and one really, really silly one. But if you can ignore or fast-forward through the golfing story, it’s probably the strongest anthology horror ever made. The framing device is smart and charming – at least at first – and the ending is truly chilling.
Scariest Moment: The final hallucinatory sequence, bringing together all the creepiest elements of the individual stories, is enough to give you goosebumps.
The Film: A thieving secretary chooses the wrong motel to stay at and falls prey to a, er, psycho. The plot of Psycho was much hyped at the time, with cinemas refusing entrance to latecomers and Hitchcock buying every copy he could find of Robert Bloch’s novel in an effort to keep the ending a secret. It’s pretty well known by now, sadly, but Anthony Perkins’s performance is too brilliant to ever get spoiled.
Scariest Moment: The shower scene. You know the one.