To make a horror movie today without color is probably inconceivable; how else could you possibly depict all that blood and gore without red? But there was once a time when horror depended on moods, on light and shadow, and black-and-white provided the perfect palette. Dracula's castle never gained much by adding color. So what if a couple of tapestries show up on the walls? The important things are the creaks and cobwebs and the darkness. Moreover, black-and-white movies play better on TV: On dark nights when the lights are all off; they're more like tingly campfire tales told with flashlights, cozy but creepy.

For my top seven, I decided to start at the sound era, since many silent-era films used color tinting and could not be called true black-and-white. I wish I could have spared room for Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), the anthology film Dead of Night (1945), Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby's original The Thing (1951), Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), 'Herk' Harvey's Carnival of Souls (1962), Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965), Abel Ferrara's The Addiction (1995) and many others.

Vampyr (1932, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
When scholars are forced to discuss horror films, they grudgingly mention this and F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) -- but don't hold that against the films. Vampyr is not only one of the greatest of all horror films, but one of the flat-out spookiest. It concerns a dreamy young man who reads occult books. During his travels, he checks into an inn, receives a warning from a ghost and finds himself in the middle of a mystery involving two sisters. Dreyer provides all kinds of chilling, startlingly simple effects using shadows and off-screen sounds. A climactic shot has had scholars buzzing for decades: A point-of-view shot from a corpse, shot through a little window in the lid of a coffin. Dreyer made this between two other masterpieces, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and his witchcraft drama Day of Wrath (1943).

categories Cinematical