For most fans, the 1960s were a transition point between the classical horror era and the more realistic modern era that began with titles like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Last House on the Left. Part of what makes the 1960s so interesting as a decade in film is that it contains so many wildly different kinds of genres and styles coexisting.
The Hammer films continued the gothic tradition of the Universal features in respectful, often more extravagant ways. Movies like The Haunting were dark, supernatural dramas. Then you had the precursors to the uncomfortably realistic productions of the ‘70s with tense thrillers like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
There are some iconic horror films from the 1960s that for varying reasons just don’t hold the attention of most viewers who would be seeing them for the first time today. With that in mind, here are some 1960s classic that, whether in terms of style or content, still hold up.
One of the very best from iconic Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, Black Sunday is a gothic horror about a witch who is put to death by her brother only to return to seek revenge on her descendants 200 years later. The stylized look of the picture is still amazing and Barbara Steele turns in a great performance.
The first film to put the audience in the killer’s perspective, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is the Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer of the 1960s. It’s disturbing, profoundly uncomfortable but all of that is a part of the movie’s strength. This is an extremely well made, slick thriller that had an impact on so many of the projects that followed.
The Brides of Dracula
Most of the Hammer films still have a charm to them, but Brides of Dracula in particular has an atmosphere and plot that still work, even now. Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing is terrific. If people felt cheated by other things not delivering on the promise of a Van Helsing solo movie, then this one should be right up their alley.
Eyes Without a Face
This French-Italian masterpiece is about a woman who was injured in a car accident and wears a mask to cover her disfigured face. Her father, a doctor, is attempting to find a way to fix her condition. What unfolds is a mystery of mistrust and murder in classic gothic tradition as the doctor attempts to fix his daughter’s face by any means necessary.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
One of the all-time classic thrillers, Baby Jane holds up because it hinges on performances. It’s an actor’s movie. The hatred that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford held for each other can still be intently felt today. It’s burned into the film itself and that, if anything, proves that What Ever Happened to Baby Jane can be just as effective to watch now as it was fifty years ago.
An all-time cult classic, Spider Baby is a masterpiece of unashamed weirdness, which is still its greatest strength. Sid Haig makes a hell of a debut in a performance he still considers one of his favorites. The influence this still holds on directors like Peter Jackson and Rob Zombie and upon the current trends of camp filmmaking in general is still readily apparent.
Night of the Living Dead
It’s cheap, but so was 28 Days Later. There’s both style and substance to this film and that is why it will never be anything but a classic. It’s a story about people trapped in a house with each other, cursed by their own inability to communicate as creatures beyond their understanding close in on them. But with the allegory to racism and classism, however accidental, it’s sadly a movie that’s still as relevant now as it was when it was made.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a completely modern movie. There are so many bits of innovative cinematography. It’s got terrific, rapid-fire dialogue. It’s still so incredibly suspenseful. And the performances are astounding, particularly from Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, who gives an iconic, layered, sympathetic portrayal of someone you desperately feel for, even after the twist.