Looking for horror movies that are about more than just the gore? Then check out some of the best black and white horror movies. There might not be buckets of blood to be found here, but these black and white horror movies still know how to bring the fear:
NOTE: I’ve stuck to black and white horror movies with sound for this list only
Psycho (1960) – This is one of the most frightening black and white horror movies of all time, thanks in part to the fact that the monster here isn’t covered in horror movie makeup; he appears to be harmless at first glance. However, the madness that lurks within Norman Bates’ mind makes this slick flick one of the most frightening kind. Add a spooky score and small little details like the unnerving taxidermy work and the focus on the blood swirling down the drain, and you’ve got one of the black and white horror movies here that is almost just as terrifying today as it was when it first shocked audiences.
Diabolique (1955) – This is a black tale of betrayal focusing on a horrible headmaster, his feeble wife, and his lusty lover. Of course three’s a crowd, so when these women decide that they’ve had enough of their man’s evil ways, their love triangle takes a turn for the terrifying. I definitely don’t want to ruin the plot for those who haven’t seen it, but the chills and thrills in this horror flick make it one of my favorite black and white movies (and Simone Signoret’s sensual screen presence definitely adds to its appeal).
Dracula (1931) – Of course you can’t have a list of the best black and white horror movies without the original bad boy of bloodlust. Before vampires sparkled and tried to avoid human blood, Bela Lugosi was giving in to his undead instincts as an immortal creature of the night, while also creating an immortal vision of the vampire. Their legend has evolved constantly on film over the years, but Bela Lugosi’s dashing and debonair vampire seems to be the one image that will fulfill his character’s desire by living forever.
Frankenstein (1931) – And here’s another of the black and white horror movie staples that refuses to die, also starring a horror movie legend in Boris Karloff. Frankenstein’s outcast monster is so effective not because of his freakish looks and atrocious actions, but because he’s still got a human side (just not the mental capacity to know how to play by our society’s rules). The scene with the little girl is unforgettable, and we also have this film to thank for one of the best spoofs of horror movies ever made.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – I can’t leave off the monster’s mate, as Elsa Lanchester’s electrifying performance makes her one of the best scream queens of all time. This is one of the best black and white horror movies when it comes to blending comedy, emotion, and fear, a combination that helped make it a horror movie staple that still awes us after all these years (and the costumes and makeup are also still a sight to behold).
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – It’s a shame that the studio had to tack on the tacky ending and beginning to this fantastic film, the only black and white horror movie about aliens on this list. There was a time when a production company would have laughed at the idea of a movie that tries to make plants terrifying, so the fact that the extraterrestrial “seeds” in this one are scary even today is truly a testament to just how amazing this movie is.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) – This is one of the many classic black and white horror movies here that was a real game-changer; after all, where would the recent zombie craze be without it? Like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, this one feeds on our fear of losing control of our minds and bodies. However, it’s a bit more frightening for the fact that the conformist crowd here is composed of the decomposed with a desire to feast on human flesh.
Eyes Without a Face (1959) – Like the ‘Frankenstein’ movies, this is another of the best in the “mad scientist” horror genre. However, the doctor’s subject here has her wits about her; she’s his daughter, and he’s horribly disfigured her face in a car accident. So how does he deal with being responsible for destroying his daughter’s life? By taking the lives of other fresh-faced girls in hopes of finding a face that he can transplant onto her fleshless one, of course. This is a complex film with complex characters that helps it stand out from other black and white horror movies of the time only aiming to scare, however, audiences disturbed by the blood in ‘Psycho’ definitely would have had nightmares about the graphic scenes shown here.
Dead of Night (1945) – If you’re someone who thinks the scary ventriloquist dummy act has been overdone, I challenge you to watch this film in the dead of night. This is also one of the classic black and white horror movies here that fans of ghost stories would really enjoy, as it’s actually a collection of spooky tales being told by the guests staying at a country house. When it comes to horror movies that stand out from the rest, this unique blend of different types of terror is one of the best.
The Haunting (1963) – When it comes to haunted house horror movies, this black and white classic featuring ghosts that don’t seem to delight in covering the walls with gore is the standard that all others to follow have tried to live up to. Sure the scares may seem subtle by today’s standards, but how many times have we all been scared in our own lives by a sound or the thought of something lurking in the shadows that we can’t see? It’s the fear of the unknown and unseen that helps make this one of the best classic black and white horror movies of all time, and it’s a real shame modern horror movies about haunted houses have stepped so far from scares like those to be found in Hill House.
So from ghosts to monsters and mad men, the black and white horror movies here can still fright and delight us, despite being made decades ago. And if you really want to take a trip back to the dark ages of horror films, I also recommend that you try viewing some of the best silent horror movies of all time. With or without words, the subtle scares of the past in stark black and white definitely made frights a form of art.