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Freaks and Shrieks:
Classic Horror Movies

By Sarah "Dixie" Feldman

Sure, you've seen scary movies like The Exorcist, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street – even Scary Movie itself. But most likely you haven't seen many of the classic black and white treasures that made us all afraid of things that go bump in the night in the first place. Why not give yourself a treat and check out these little-known classic horror films?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

The tagline went "Put yourself in her place! The dreaded night when her lover became a madman!" This Pre-Code drama's special effects and sexual frankness still hold up to today. Frederic March won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the good doctor and his sadistic, satyric — and pretty darn hairy — counterpart.

Freaks (1932)

One of the most unsettling movies of all time, Freaks was so troubling it was actually banned for decades. Director Todd Browning, best known as having helmed the first Dracula and most of Lon Chaney's silent hits, used actual sideshow "freaks" in this tale of carnival retribution. Freaks warns what can go wrong if you. Aerialist Olga Baclanova disses the wrong freak, and one stormy night she finds out what happens when misshapen men get mad. (Boy, does she ever!) The ending, where appendage-challenged assailants crawl through the mud, remains one of the all-time creepiest sequences in cinema history.

The Black Cat (1934)

Diabolical Boris Karloff squares off with good guy(!) Bela Lugosi. In this genuinely creepy film, Boris engineers a wartime mass murder. As if that weren't enough, poor innocent Bela goes to prison for 15 years, while enterprising Boris marries his wife, later causes her death, preserves her corpse (under glass, of course), and then takes her daughter as his mistress. And he still finds the time to start a devil worshiping cult. Needless to say, when Bela shows up, they have issues to work through. Their underplayed cat and mouse game climaxes in one of the most horrific comeuppances in film history. Stylized sets and Boris' fascinating haircut also up the creepy ante.

Cat People (1942)

"A Kiss Could Change Her Into a Monstrous Fang-and-Claw Killer!" Jacques Tourneur directed this classic about a Serbian girl who gets a little too riled up when sexually aroused. (And you thought old movies were boring!) Produced by Val Lewton, who innovated many of the atmospheric touches we associate with horror films and film noir, Cat People is a prime example of how shadows and suggestion can be just as frightening as all-out gore. The swimming pool scene remains a classic.


I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

"She's alive...yet dead! She's dead... yet alive!" Jane Eyre meets The Serpent and the Rainbow in this tale of a nurse, her employer, his annoying servant, and his pesky, somnambulistic wife. Another Tourneur-Lewton classic, the sequence where Frances Dee walks through the woods with her 'zombie' patient is still spooky.

Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Though theoretically a sequel to Cat People, Curse of the Cat People has nothing whatsoever to do with cat persons — and very little to do with a curse, come to think of it. Yet this Lewton-produced peon to the power of a child's imagination to rescue her from the isolation of innocence is one of my all-time favorite films. Though an homage to the headless horseman could keep the movie in the 'scary film' category, this luminous fantasy is not a horror film at all, but rather a sweet and compelling exploration of the inner life of lonely little girl.

Curse of the Demon (1957)

Also known as Night of the Demon, Jacques Tourneur directed this terrifying tale, which actually has both a curse and a demon — woohoo! See if you ever accept a book of matches again.

This article originally appeared on www.oxygen.com.
Copyright 2001 Oxygen Media.

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