Hot cider, donuts, chocolate, sour and sweet, and all things spooky. Halloween is one of our favorite days of the year, and whatever your spin on the holiday is, whether dressing up or planning to sink into the couch, these 1940s and 1950s classic movies are just the right balance of festive and timeless to complement the mood.
This American fantasy romantic comedy film (yes, a Halloween comedy from the ‘40’s) was directed by René Clair, and stars Veronica Lake, who plays a witch named Jennifer who has a vengeance. Just as she is about to be burned at the stake for witchcraft, Jennifer casts a curse on the entire family of the accuser (why not?), dooming all the men of future generations to marry the wrong women. After being freed from a creepy prison about 250 years later, Jennifer decides to bring misery to a present-day descendant of her accuser by using a love potion to make him fall for her – witches do what witches gotta do. Come to find out however, that so-called revenge has unexpected results.
WWII era horror films are renowned for their creative uses of lighting to deliver supernaturally spooky tones – and this film is no exception. After young Mary Gibson finds out that her older sister Jacqueline has gone missing, she flees boarding school to track her down in New York City. With her sister nowhere to be found, she starts noticing signs of trouble, and gets dragged deeper and deeper into the mystery – to which evidence then begins to point to the fact that there’s a cult involved. This film sweeps from beginning to end in really enjoyable, unhurried but untiring ways that move the narrative forward perfectly. Don’t you love it when that happens? Halloween is also the best time for something creepy like this – as its views on death and suicide are pretty daring for the time period.
Originally based on a 1941 play, also called Arsenic and Old Lace, writer and notorious marriage critic Mortimer Brewster (played by Cary Grant) ironically ends up in love with the girl-next-door Elaine Harper and they marry on Halloween day. He gets absolutely panic-stricken when he suspects that his seemingly sweet, unmarried aunts harbor a dark secret. When he and Elaine return to their respective families to give the nuptial news, Mortimer spots a dead corpse hidden in a window seat (so much for their honeymoon). Be thankful for your not-so-nutty families this Halloween when you see these eccentric aunts, perturbed uncle, and homicidal brother. This 'black comedy' is colorful, but not too elaborate, and lets levity overrule the creepiness of death – a must see.
Architect Walter Craig goes to a farm to meet with a prospective client only to feel as if he’s not only been to that house before but has seen this same group of people before too. He tells them all that he has dreamt about each one of them and begins to rattle off things that happened in his dream, which pique more conversation among the group, and they all admit to having experienced a weird and unexplainable event. This film offers the same sort of spine-cooling that you get from listening to a group of professional liars swapping fireside ghost stories like teenage boys. It truly is an amazing film for that reason alone and must have been pretty shocking in its day. It’s one of the first and best 'horror anthologies' out there, and its influence on its subgenre is obvious (horror with connected stories and people). Spoiler alert – the directors were clever to save the best for the end, per usual, and twist the plot.
This film is still a lot of fun today because it plays into the curiosities and obsessions we have with the possibility of alien life – and sets the template for invasion-type movies of the decades to follow. When scientist Dr. Carrington reports a UFO near his research base in the North Pole, the Air Force sends him and a team under Capt. Patrick Hendry to investigate. They find the wrecked spaceship and an alien-like creature caught frozen in the ice, which becomes the tense source of argument over what to do next. During the banter, the creature is accidentally thawed out and becomes unstoppably loose, of course. Just a classic.
A prehistoric beast of sorts wanders the depths of the Amazon while a group of scientists try to figure out if it’s just a figment of their imaginations or a real undiscovered animal. There’s no way to get to it other than through some of the most treacherous terrains one could find in South America, but that’s not the half of it, once this ungodly creature puts their lives in real danger. This has a great atmosphere to it, and the film is way more experiential and daring than some of the others you’ll find because it’s still old-school but kicks off America’s growing thirst for cheap thrills. It’s got enough juice to warm your heart for the sad creature while also making you gasp.
This film has ranked one of Britain’s best films of all time, with Christopher Lee’s portrayal as Count Dracula being nothing short of magical as his rendition became ubiquitous with Count Dracula. Harker is responsible for the fury of Dracula after he takes a job at the castle under false pretenses, forcing his colleague Dr. Van Helsing to help him fight. Upon arrival, Dr. Helsing finds Harker in Dracula's crypt and learns that Dracula’s next victim is Harker's fiancée, Lucy. With the help of Lucy’s brother, Arthur, Dr. Helsing grapples to save her and put an end to sickening terror. In the United States, the film was retitled Horror of Dracula to avoid confusion with the older U.S. original, 1931's Dracula.
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