10 Essential Horror Movies: The Classics

The best in horror from 1920-1953

With literally hundreds of movies to choose from, sometimes I just stare at my computer like a lost deer in the middle of the road. “Faster, Bambi! Don’t come back!” Anyways, I usually give up after 30 minutes of searching and settle into a night of watching TikTok videos. But you know what? I’m a grown woman who should be able to find a damn movie to watch. If you’re like me, you’re probably a horror fanatic who’s overwhelmed with the options. Well, sis, I’m here to help. I’ve put together the top 10 essential horror movies from the 1920s through the 1950s for your viewing pleasure.

This was an interesting time for horror, as it was audiences first exposure to fear on film. The first horror movies were silent, but then as time went on they evolved and have made a tremendous impact on film today. Although some of the horror films on this list may not be scary today, they certainly terrified audiences during their time. It was a simpler, more innocent time, after all. Take a look at 10 films from the classic horror age that we think you should watch in the gallery below and let us know your favorite film from this list in the comments section on social media.

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920)

Considered to be the first true horror movie, this German silent film is a dark, twisted depiction of a deranged hypnotist who uses somnambulist to commit murders. It premiered just after World War I, when foreign film industries were allowing German films to be screened, and many audiences in America praised the film’s artistic choices.

“Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror” (1922)

Before “Dracula” hit the big screen, Nosferatu was the top vampire in film and was another product of the German silent film movement. Although this film took some inspiration from Bram Stroker’s iconic novel, when it came to this character, his appearance was more scary then seductive.

“The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)

Following the success of “Frankenstein,” this sequel gave the Monster his Bride. We can all remember her iconic look, but my favorite part of the film was that once made alive, the bride screams in horror and rejects her groom. Because, girl same.

“Frankenstein” (1931)

Based on the legendary Victorian novel by Mary Shelley, audiences watched arguably the most iconic movie monster come to life before their eyes. The Monster was portrayed by actor Boris Karloff, who went on to star in two Frankenstein sequels and in 1966 lent his voice for the Grinch in the beloved TV special, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“Freaks” (1932)

If you loved “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” you’ll be obsessed with this horror classic. Set in a carnival, this film brought in real sideshow performers of the Vaudeville era, including entertainers with dwarfism, Siamese twins and The Human Caterpillar.

“House of Wax” (1953)

While we all love the 2000’s remake featuring Paris Hilton, that movie is for another day. The OG “House of Wax” is the only film on this list that was shot in color and it was also the first color film to be release in 3-D. It’s a remake of 1933’s “Mystery of the Wax Museum” and the addition of color made the gory special effects all the more shocking.

“Dracula” (1931)

This film was not only based on the 1897 novel, but also the 1924 Broadway play which was written by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. Many actors were considered for the titular role in the highly anticipated film, however, Bela Lugosi played the character on Broadway, which won him the part. And honestly, could we imagine this film without him?

“The Phantom of the Opera” (1925)

Admit it, even with his deformities, Gerard Butler as the Phantom in the 2004 film was pretty hot. The same, however, cannot be said of the 1925 monster. But who am I to yuck your yums?

“The Wolf Man” (1941)

After Frankenstein and Dracula had their time to shine, a wolf man ( we’d say werewolf today) took the stage. This film had a tremendous influence on Hollywood’s depiction of werewolves and actor Lon Chaney Jr. would portray the titular character for a whopping four sequels.

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931)

Actor Frederic March was set with quite the challenge when it came to taking on this role, as he had to portray both the kind Dr. Henry Jekyll and the evil Mr. Edward Hyde. But, it worked out for the actor, as he snagged Best Actor at that year’s Academy Awards.