Older horror movies may not have the special effects capabilities that movies today have, they may be in black and white, they may have some rather corny shrieks of terror or inability to contact the authorities away from a landline — but that doesn’t mean they can’t be creepy as hell. In fact, it could be argued that movies from back in the day have to make a greater effort to flip the terrified switch in our brains since they didn’t have the disgusting, yet effective visual effects of Slither – which basically removes all necessity for good writing and creative feats of horror by being absolutely nasty. Here are six of the classics.
1. Children of the Corn (1984)
You know how creepy kids can be. They’ve got those cute little faces, but there’s just so many of them. It’s the same principle as fire ants and zombies. One — no problem, but add a whole drove and suddenly, you’re overwhelmed. For much the same reason that The Omen and similar cult movies are so terrifying, Children of the Corn is fueled by a combination of the creepy dead-eyed stares of minors, and the overwhelming irrationality of mob mentality and cool-aid drinking crazies.
The story, based off a short story by Stephen King, follows the ill-fated Burt and Vicky, played by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton. The two are driving through Nebraska when they come across a body with its throat cut. When they stop in a nearby town to report the body, they find that it’s eerily devoid of adults, which they eventually realize is because that children have taken over and killed off their parents after being converted to a strange corn god-worshipping cult — “he who walks behind the rows” — led by by a young boy named Isaac.
2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby really shows pregnancy in a creepy light; not the miracle of life so much as devilish parasitism. The film’s ability to create tension and unease, even disgust, proves that carefully chosen shots, creative cuts and images, and the right acting can elevate an old film to a level of horror that many newer movies just can’t quite find, despite all the fake blood and computer graphics in the world.
Directed by Roman Polanski — known also for Chinatown and The Pianist – Rosemary’s Baby makes you feel the same betrayal as Rosemary, as her husband and neighbors become even more sinister as her pregnancy progresses and her life begins to spiral out of control.
3. The Omen (1976)
Once again, a reminder that the right take on evil children can surpass every Saw movie ever made with spine-tingling accuracy. This story has been told a million times by now — in remakes, South Park episodes, and borrowed by other horror storylines. The Omen is a nice combination for those who like Rosemary’s Baby and Children of the Corn, because it’s basically a story of how terrifying Rosemary’s devil baby might grow up to be — and it has the same child-empowered religious angles as Children of the Corn.
The story follows a powerful couple whose one remaining desire is to have a child — but when their own child is stillborn, the father, Robert — played by Gregory Peck — chooses to take home a baby born in the same hospital whose mother passed during childbirth. The child, young Damien, ends up being a terrifying devil-monster child, and so the story commences. There’s something about the use of a child that one is supposed to love that makes the story so horrifying. It goes against all common sense and natural instincts to fear and revile your own child, making the events of the movie that much more disturbing.
4. The Exorcist (1973)
“I’m telling you that thing upstairs isn’t my daughter.” Once again going the religious route, The Exorcist isn’t just a classic possession horror flick — it’s the classic possession horror flick. Old or not, the film did it right. Sometimes the graininess and outdated dress of an older film serves the movie well, and The Exorcist is a good example of that.
The strangely out-of-our-time dress, setting, and medical environment only make the film that much more disturbing. On the other hand, distorted faces and bodies, shrieks of pain and agony, and things moving that probably shouldn’t never seems to go out of style when it comes to fear.
5. Pet Sematary (1989)
What do you get when you combine Cujo and The Omen? You guessed it — Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, which is misspelled, for those who are wondering, to imitate the mistakes of a child. It’s very much the type of horror movie that has you shouting at the characters, “Don’t do that!” as they proceed to make every possible wrong move. Don’t play with the powers of life and death, don’t bring your cat back from the dead, don’t bring your son back, and don’t get stabbed with that scalpel. The list goes on.
Ultimately, feeling that helpless — combined with the corruption of everyone’s childhood memories of dead cats, dogs, birds, and turtles — leads viewers to a pretty fantastic horror experience. The Creeds move into a new house with a dangerous expressway going right by it. You’re already frustrated, right? Don’t let your pet so close to the road! Cue strange neighbor who shows Mr. Creed where to bury the family cat so that extra Fancy Feast doesn’t go to waste. Eventually, the power of this odd little cemetery gets out of hand, and the resurrected cat — who is of course evil — is just the start.
6. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)
“Sister sister oh so fair, why is there blood all over your hair?” says Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, arguably the most graphic and terrifying horror film from that decade, if not to this very day. The film portrays insanity and sisterhood, the helplessness of infirmity, and absolute jealousy in such a sickly sweet and simultaneously twisted way that it’s almost difficult to watch.
The film portrays two older actresses after they’ve both retired, with Jane, also known as Baby, losing her mind slowly but surely, taking her jealousy out on her more successful sister, Blanche. Blanche, crippled from Baby hitting her with a car, becomes more and more isolated from the rest of the world by Baby, who begins to abuse her and torture her. If you liked Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, you’ll probably enjoy this.