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Team Top 10: Horror Films Before "The Exorcist"

It's Amir here, brining you this month's poll. It's October so we're obligated to take you to the dark depths of cinematic greatness with a list of horror goodies. We're looking at the best horror films of all time, with a twist. We chose The Exorcist (1973) as our milestone since it's the first horror film nominated for the best picture Oscar and about to celebrate its 40th anniversary. So we've split the Best list in half, with The Exorcist as cleaver. Part two comes next Tuesday, but for now

The Top Ten Best
Pre-Exorcist Horror Films

There really isn't much I can add by way of introduction, aside from pointing out that the boundaries of what is or isn't within the limits of this particular genre are blurry. Can Freaks still be considered a horror film today, removed from the initial shock of seeing circus performers with deformities on the screen in 1932? Cruel and unreasonable as it is, the appearance of the protagonists is the chief reason why such a passionately human piece of film history is considered scary at all - though as you will see below, one of our contributors has other ideas. No such questions would apply to Night of the Living Dead but what about Night of the Hunter? Hour of the Wolf? So on and so forth. The point is, take the genre categorizations with a grain of salt, but the suggestions to watch them very seriously. If you haven't seen any of these eleven films -- why is there always a tie? -- here's hoping this list persuades you to do so this October.

10. = Vampyr (1932, Carl Theodor Dryer)
There’s never been a horror movie with stronger art film credentials than this one, made according to the then in-vogue Surrealist style by a director who’d already created The Passion of Joan of Arc and had Ordet yet to come. But just because Carl Theodor Dreyer was a proper “artist” doesn’t mean that Vampyr’s pleasures are exclusively aesthetic. In fact, the same dictatorial control over image and space that makes Ordet a spiritual masterpiece makes this familiar story of one man’s journey through a creepy rural town living in fear of a bloodsucking old woman one of the most thoroughly unsettling things you will ever experience. It's more of a walking tour through a nightmare than a clear-cut narrative, with eerie shadows and shapes every which way and a profoundly moody score by Wolfgang Zeller that jangles one’s very last nerves.
-Tim Brayton

ten more spooky films after the jump

10. = The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock)
What really makes The Birds terrifying are the ideas, rather than the action. The omnipresence and essential inanity of the creatures makes them a perfect, unbeatable, mysterious villain – are they even a villain at all? Hitchcock teases his audience by presenting several possible explanations, both scientific and allegorical, for the attacks, all the while knowing he never has to give an answer. He simply has to present the creatures as an incessant, terrifying force. As Melanie and Mitch walk back up to the school, they quietly pass the birds perching on the climbing frame, and soft, taunting calls echo like daggers. Whether a screech or a whoosh, a peck or a slash, the cacophony of sounds become simply nightmarish, with Hitchcock even muting the pain and dialogue of the family shut up inside the house as the birds attack from every side. Straightforward and elegant in both title and execution, The Birds provokes the idea that something we see everyday can unexpectedly become unfamiliar and horrifying.
-David Upton

9. Don't Look Now (1973, Nicholas Roeg)
Most horror movie tropes are easy to dismiss when the lights come up. We can laugh off a zombie or a wolfman. The deep psychic dread summoned by Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, however? I don’t know if you ever fully shake that. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie travel to Venice to get over the horrific drowning of their young daughter but they can’t escape the specter of death as one foreboding incident after another accumulates around them. There are the bizarre psychic warnings, the corpse fished out of the canal, and the near fatal accident, but most disturbing of all Sutherland can’t stop having visions of his deceased daughter darting around Venice in her bright red raincoat. The film collects ominous details like random tiles in the mosaic Sutherland’s character is restoring. We despair of ever making sense of it all until, when we least expect it, the pieces align and form an image of ghastly, heart-stopping finality. Of course, by that time it’s too late.
-Michael Cusumano

8. Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju)
Eyes without a Face is grand, eloquent, horrible and dark. Real dark. Dark dark. It looks at the base experience of human depravity and the deeply pained and sacrificial provision of life that a father is willing to bestow upon his daughter. Oddly, it’s the pursuit of life, not death, that drives the film. The inherent terror and harsh beauty of Eyes is contained in its desperation. The film is filled with memorable, desperate acts. It’s brimful of tense and horrifying moments that prod us to feel both disgust and compliance. It’s sly, clever, engrossing; the trajectory of the plot never feels stable. That’s Georges Franju’s genius. He serves up both victims and perpetrators as fascinating, pitiable characters (and in horror these are the kinds of characters that thrill us the most). Eyes compels and disquiets in an austerely grandiose fashion. It has Alida Valli adding dark night work in a headscarf and pearls like a demented femme fatale who’s long traversed the wrong path. It also has an ethereal Edith Scob, lost and curious about the world, commanding both dogs and doves in a tragic symphony of release. And that music, cinematography and direction! Fifty-three years on, everything about Eyes without a Face is perfectly tuned to unsettle and undermine complacency with horror cinema.
-Craig Bloomfield

7. Cat People (1942, Jacques Tourneur)
Frenchman Jacques Tourneur began his phenomenal 1940s output with a trio of extraordinary RKO horror titles that were each heavily influenced by film-noir. Before I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man (both 1943) came Cat People. Rooted in tradition and fables, Simone Simon stars as a Russian expat in New York whose carnal sexual desire sees her turn into a large black panther when aroused due to an ancient regional curse. Preposterous, sure, but Tourneur turns the film into a remarkable work of mood and atmosphere, it’s obvious B-grade beginnings largely forgotten thanks to a combination of sinister shadowplay and cunning soundtrack. Truly one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and one of the absolute scariest, too.
-Glenn Dunks

6. Freaks (1932, Tod Browning)
I watched Freaks by myself during an otherwise uneventful Saturday night at the age of 13. Seduced by the grotesque spectacle of the carnival performers, I watched in horror as the "normal" human beings turned out to be the film's true monsters. Tod Browning directs with a sensibility rarely seen in modern cinema, displaying real love for characters other directors would've made us fear. With hypnotic cinematography and an almost documentary-like feel, the film crawled under my skin to the point where the real surprise was that when the movie ended I was unable to leave my couch. I screamed and asked my mom to tuck me in bed that night. -Jose Solis

5. The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise)
Everyone knows what it's like to wake up in the middle of the night to strange noises, and no film does a better job of making you feel like the noises you hear are actually coming after you than The Haunting. We never really find out what malevolent presence is haunting Hill House, and why, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is the unbearable tension Robert Wise is able to create using little more than loud noises and a creepy-looking house; Elliott Scott's magnificent set was designed so that the rooms had no dark corners in which to hide, and Wise shot them with a lens that caused distortions, making them look even more disorienting. You may not be as susceptible to the paranormal as the fragile girl Julie Harris portrays here, but when that loud banging stops and that door starts caving in to impossible depths, you're right there with her, pulling your hair and begging loudly for it to stop. It's been years since I've seen The Haunting, but sometimes at night, when I'm in a strange room with the lights out, I can still hear those earth-shattering BOOMs, steadily getting closer... and closer... and closer... until I have to give in and turn on a light.
-Daniel Bayer

4. Nosferatu (1922, F.W. Murnau)
Part of why I love Nosferatu is because its images and its story turns feel scary in such a direct, even visceral way, and yet the more you learn about Weimar Cinema (as I was lucky to do from the great Eric Rentschler!), the more complex and culturally specific its signs and scares become. You feel like you're watching narrative film and new expressionist devices transform or invent themselves before your eyes—in the manner of a vampire who's suddenly just there, mutable and formidable at once. Meanwhile, you're also observing centuries of European lore, zeitgeists of the post-WWI moment, and upsetting recombinations of perennial scapegoats (not least some motifs from anti-Semitic art, which Murnau is debatably reprising or critiquing). The film has inspired virtually every bloodsucker film that came afterward, and plenty more films than that, plus some gorgeous homages in literature and cinema, and great Halloween costumes for bald guys. It gives you nightmares worth pondering and remembering.
-Nick Davis

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968, George Romero)
Night of the Living Dead may not be the scariest zombie movie.; it's corny as all hell, the acting is inconsistent, and the cinematography often leaves something to be desired. But without Night Of The Living Dead we wouldn't have the horror movie as we know it. Influenced heavily by The Last Man On Earth, this film birthed the first 20th century monster - the zombie horde. Before Romero, zombies were individuals cursed by black magic. After Romero, zombies were the science-created personification of modern society's fears. Everything from racial tension (Night of the Living Dead) to medical paranoia (28 Days Later) to consumerism (Dawn Of The Dead) have been examined in gory detail. Not a bad legacy for a no-budget monster movie.
-Anne Kelly

2. Rosemary's Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)
Rosemary's Baby is a film you can go back to over and over again and see something new and magical inside of every single time. Believe me I know of what I speak, I've been going back and re-watching it at least every three months or so since...oh, let's just say since I was born. (Birth being what matters.) I have forced more than one pregnant friend to watch the film with me. I started using Twitter back in the day just so I could live-tweet the film, and by "live-tweet" I mean "tweet every single line of dialogue one by one, because every single line of dialogue is a sheer and utter joy." But why listen to me? Go, watch the movie. I dare you to find an imperfect thing about it. John Cassavetes is too obviously outwardly evil from the get-go, you say? Bah humbug - that helps actively engage the viewer, because Rosemary's love for Guy hides what's so plainly right in front of her. Indeed us knowing what's coming works in the film's favor (and thus cements its status as "endlessly rewatchable") - that deep dark plummet Rosemary's primed for might be painted up with period-appropriate limes and lemons but it eats its way out from smack-dab center all the same. To the Year One, the year always - God is dead and the baby Adrian is home.
-Jason Adams

1. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)
In a typically brilliant marketing coup, Alfred Hitchcock made the revolutionary decision to deny theater admittance to latecomers during the original release of Psycho. Such scrupulousness would lead you to believe that Psycho's legendary thrills reside in the unpredictability of its multiple narrative twists, but more than 50 years after it came out, is it actually possible to discover one of the world's most famous films without having already seen at least part of the shower scene? Is it possible to see it without knowing everything there is to know about Norman Bates' close relationship with his stuffy mama? And yet, Psycho stands; crown jewel of the Hitchcock canon, cornerstone of the horror genre, its power undimmed by years, multiple viewings, sequels, spin-offs, ripoffs and constant presence in pop culture imagery.

What's most fascinating about Psycho is how budgetary constraints breathed an entirely fresh creativity into a filmmaker whose stature and style were by then so firmly established. What other director can claim credit for creating an entire genre more than 35 years into his career? Widely held up as the first slasher flick, Psycho remains bone-chilling to this day partly because of its supremely perverse manipulation of audience identification: who could fail to root for gentle, desperate Norman when that stupid car refuses to sink? And while Hitch had already cracked the facade of many a vanilla actor by 1960, never had the cuts been so deep and transcendent as the ones he carved into Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. But if Psycho remains unequalled in the crowded pantheon of horror films, it's ultimately the doing of two geniuses in peak form: composer Bernard Herrmann, whose blood-freezing score supplies at least as much narrative as the dialogue, and the director himself, whose unmatched confidence in his own storytelling and technique brims with the unexpected excitement of a child trampling his sandcastle to start building an even greater one.
-Julien Kojfer


• More rental suggestions: Here are the films that finished in the 12th to 20th spots, in descending order: Bride of Frankenstein, I Walked With a Zombie, Night of the Hunter, Peeping Tom, Repulsion, Wicker Man, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dracula, Invasion of the Body Snatchers
• The 40s and 50s aren't well represented in the list. In fact from 1940 through 1959 only Cat People is accounted for. Any titles you'd like to add?
• Only two of the films that placed first on individual ballots failed to make the final ten, a smaller number than all our previous polls. Is that indicative of broader consensus among our contributors? The two films were Night of the Hunter (Amir) and I Walked With a Zombie (Jason, Jose).
• This poll also had the second lowest number of films winning any votes after our Top Ten Comic Book Adaptations. Well then, yes, definitely broader consensus.

Which films would make your list? 

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Reader Comments (48)

"Bride of Frankenstein" is one the best movies ever made in any genre.

October 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Jaragon -- i was stunned that it didn't make the top ten. I did vote for it and who can forget that glorious frightwig?

October 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

1940s: I Walked with a Zombie (toss up between this and Cat People as the best Val Lewton), The Seventh Victim, The Wolf Man, King of the Zombies, She-Wolf of London. There are more, but they're not American and I'm blanking on their real titles.

1950s: House of Wax, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, Dementia, Diabolique, The Quatermass Xperiment, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I Bury the Living (one of my all time favorites), A Bucket of Blood, House on Haunted Hill

There is a ton of great horror from the 1940s and 50s. It's usually lumped in with other genres--noir, sci-fi, and comedy, specifically. Of the ones I listed above, I'd say Diabolique, I Bury the Living, A Bucket of Blood (one of the best horror comedies of all time), The Seventh Victim, and The Wolf Man (the effects, people) are the must-sees. The 40s were very experimental and the 50s were huge on mad scientist transformations.

October 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

nice list. Night of the Demon( tourneur) fits here imo

October 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpete99

I LOVE classic horror films (especially Gothic horror) but there are still so many I haven't seen! I'd say that The Innocents, Repulsion, Diabolique, The Night of the Hunter, and Rosemary's Baby are all but guaranteed spots on my list. I've yet to see Eyes Without a Face and The Haunting, both came out on bluray today and I'm very excited to finally get to see them. The Other (not to be confused with The Others) might also be a contender, I remember feeling so unsettled by that film but I haven't watched it in years.

October 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

what about clouzot's les diaboliques?!

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteragdhn

Y'all beat me to it, but yes, Diabolique!

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

I'd be remiss if I didn't throw out Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as at least the (probably) best example of the Universal comedy/horror years. There were a lot of "A&C Meet The..." monster movies, and maybe half of them were worth watching, but their encounter with Frankenstein (and others) is definitely one worth seeing.

(Is it one of the top ten all time horror movies pre-Exorcist? Probably not by a longshot. But is it a worthy example of the best of the comedy/horror genre? Absolutely.)

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOptramark

That two foreign language films (and a foreign silent) could make the list, and not a single Universal movie, is weird as hell. But I think I'm even more surprised by Night of the Demon missing out on the top 20, even though I didn't personally vote for it.

October 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

agdhn, Diabolique is Les Diaboliques. Diabolique was the title in the US.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I assume the reason only one person voted for Night of the Hunter is because nobody else thinks of it as a horror movie. The classification is kind of hard to peg on that one. However, if everyone had agreed beforehand that it was a horror movie, then there's absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be on this list.

In any case, I might have been even more interested in a Top 10 Horror Films Before Psycho. Not that I'm criticizing the list, of course (it was quite good), but I knew before I even looked at it that Psycho would be #1. If you had done a pre-Psycho list, there would have been some genuine suspense involved.

Kudos on Rosemary's Baby though. It may be my favorite horror movie ever, and it's probably among my top 50 or so favorite movies of all time.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEdwin

For what it's worth, I voted for two Tourneur films - CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE - so thought a third, NIGHT OF THE DEMON, was a bit excessive.

As for DIABOLIQUE. Well, 70 years of cinema is a long time. It's hard to narrow it down.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

1. Psycho (1960)
2. Frankenstein (1931)
3. Dracula (1931)
4. The Birds (1963)
5. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
6. Diabolique (1955)
7. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
8. Eyes Without a Face (1960)
9. Wait Until Dark (1967)
10. The Wicker Man (1973)

And a few more...

11. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
12. The Wolf Man (1941)
13. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
14. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
15. Häxan (1922)

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

I'd like to add Dead of Night (1945). Always loved those "people telling stories" framing devices.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSanty.C

Gaah, I need to see Vampyr and Eyes Without A Face finally. Seems like the perfect time of the year now to catch up on those two.

Freaks scared the poo outta me when I watched it as a preteen one late weekend night on TCM. Thanks, Robert Osborne. I'm still shocked by that ending!

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

I voted for Les Diaboliques just so's you know. For this poll i watched (for the first time Night of the Living Dead, Cat People and Carnival of Souls.) so it was a worthwhile poll for me to finally force me to watch some of these. Of the ones on the list I haven't seen -- which is a lot of them still actually --i'm most excited to see THE HAUNTING which I did hope to squeeze in before voting but it made the list anyway!

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

A great list and many more strong suggestions in the comments. I second that "Les Diaboliques" belongs in the top 10, but I'd make the list a baker's dozen to include "The Seventh Victim" and "The Innocents." Excellent post!

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick B.

I'd replace "Cat People" with any of the films in the top 20 and rearrange some of the positions (but I'm still really satisfied the way it is). Does "What ever happened to Baby Jane?" count as horror? Because if so, it deserves a place in there mainly to the fact that Joan Crawford's eyebrows still haunt me to this day (talking seriously, Bette Davis gave my favorite female performance ever in that movie).

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

Edwin - Interesting. Our list was originally pre- and post-Psycho, but we thought the 1960-2013 period would be really heavy, given that most of us have inevitably seen more films from this era.
1960-1973 is actually a really fruitful period for horror film. Maybe we should have separated our list in three? Or chose a middle ground like Night of the Living Dead as milestone? This latter option also came up in our preliminary discussions.
Anyway, for me personally, the point of doing these top tens is not to come up with something definitive - we all know that's impossible - but to hear from others, contributors and readers alike, to find my blind spots. As long as that type of discussion is happening - and it is in happening in this comment thread - I'm happy with whatever makes our top ten.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

This should have at least three entries from Japan: Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan, one of the most visually arresting movies ever, Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu and Kaneto Shindo's Onibaba. Maybe four, with Yasuzo Masumura's Blind Beast.

The list is great, but when it comes to scary, no country can top Japan. Even Shakespeare becomes horror: you could include Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood here, maybe.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Nat: I think Bride was done in by being VERY wacky, almost fitting a "top ten horror-comedies" list more than a "top ten horror" list. (It'd probably be #1 on a horror-comedies (note: One rule is this: NO NAKEDLY OBVIOUS PARODIES. That precludes Abbott and Costello, Young Frankenstein, Killer Tomatoes and (maybe) even Rocky Horror.) list, and I'd guess, with that rule taken into account, that THAT top ten list would go something like:

1. Bride of Frankenstein
2. Evil Dead 2
3. Ghostbusters
4. An American Werewolf in London
5. Shaun of the Dead (Yes, it's joking around with the genre, but it's still trying to scare at points. Something I doubt Abott and Costello tried. For me, you kind of have to be doing both to fit as a "horror-comedy.")
6. American Psycho
7. Scream (even though it's very self aware, it's still trying to scare you at points. That's a lot of what I mean when I say "Nakedly obvious parodies." If they're only trying to make you laugh (like Young Frankenstein), they've tipped the scale to JUST being comedies that HAPPEN to be using horror iconography. Got it?)
8. Army of Darkness
9. Beetlejuice (The opening half of that closing act, especially, is a pure blast of horror.)
10. (the tie) Gremlins and Re-Animator

Likely Honorable Mentions:

Tremors, Fido, Night of the Creeps, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Warm Bodies, Bubba Ho-Tep, Dead Alive, Trick 'R Treat and Slither.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Great list! Mine would definitely include Baby Jane, though. I do consider it horror.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

cal roth - Agreed. Japan offered a lot of good options. Ghost of Yotsuya (number 5 on my personal ballot) is another really great one.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Amir - I feel like international cinema will probably get a better representation in the post-Exorcist poll. Some absolutely terrifying films have been created in Japan and Korea for the past decade and a half, and fortunately more and more people are aware of that (I hope).

I still can't believe I gaffed and missed Night Of The Hunter. I guess I don't think of it as a horror movie.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

"Cat People" wasn't influenced by noir, which by 1942 wasn't even really a genre yet. There were some prototypes (Fury in 1936; The Maltese Falcon in 1941), but you don't really get the first completely full-fledged noir, in all its glory, until Double Indemnity in 1944, at which point the production and popularity of noir explodes and thrives until the early 1950s.

I think it's more correct to say that Cat People was heavily influenced by German Expressionism, which had always been particularly well-suited to horror (Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc) because it does such a good job at getting inside the heads of the characters and making their fear palpable.

Noir borrowed heavily from expressionism (and in fact many of the great Hollywood noir artists were refugees from Nazi Germany who had previously been instrumental in the expressionist movement) but is very much its own thing.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSam

No "Curse of the Demon" and "I Walked With a Zombie" make me sad. Also, Jason is my favorite now!

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJose

cal roth, I almost included Kwaidan, but I consider Ugetsu more of a "drama with supernatural elements" than a horror film. However, Kaneto Shindo's gorgeous Kuroneko (Black Cat) held down my tenth spot. I need to see Onibaba. The Asians have always known how to do horror really well. I was a little disappointed no films from that region made this list.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Due to my diminishing DVD collection, due to financial reasons & the fact it's October I've been watching & re watching my horror movie collection. Rosemary's Baby has being making it's way to the DVD player more and more. I see more & more tidbits that I have missed from the previous view. Especially Guy's eager participation in the events and distance from Rosemary.

Also why Terry (jump?) from the window.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Brady

Good luck on the haunting. That movie scared the shit out of me when i saw it a few years ago. Like horrified.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

I just posted my personal list of ten over at my site. Keeping my blather about Rosemary's Baby down to a manageable size was so hard - I could really just go on and on and on forever about it.

I too wasn't thinking of Night of the Hunter as a horror movie, even though yes, of course it is. And unless there's no way around it I usually force myself to keep it to one film per director when making a list this short, and I Walked With a Zombie is my favorite Tourneur (and it made my personal list) - Curse of the Demon would be my just barely behind it number two though. I like Cat People very much but it's a distant third to those two.

Beautiful write-ups, everybody! Hearing y'all talk about these movies makes me so giddy!

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA
October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA

Amir: Which Dracula? 1931 (Lugosi) or 1958 (Christopher Lee)? I VASTLY prefer Christopher Lee's take, where you buy that he's suave enough to ingraiate himself into society. And THAT, at the end of the day, is terrifying. Lugosi? I'm sorry, but no. His Dracula has neither a monstrous appearance (like Nosferatu) or actual charm going for him and, thus, his Dracula fails as a horror piece.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Anyway, here's my list (Eyes without a Face or The Haunting (Bride of Frankenstein is relegated to a horror comedies list and (because I'm cutting myself off to the calendar year instead of to the day of release), I can't, in good conscience, include Don't Look Now) are unseen from the Top 10):

1. The Night of the Hunter (A+)
2. Rosemary's Baby (A)
3. The Innocents (A)
4. Psycho (A)
5. Los Olvidados (it's very surreal in it's sense of horror, but it's pretty much the closest Bunuel came to a horror film) (A)
6. Dracula (Christopher Lee) (A)
7. Performance (I know this sounds like a stretch, but it's a locked door meditation on the dark side of being famous with a very trippy sense of self. And, in a sense, I think it counts.) (A)
8. Orpheus (Jean Cocteau) (A)
9. The Black Cat (If you want to see Lugosi when he's actually at his best (after his English lessons have sunk in and he's gotten to his best point as an actor), look no further than this rousing, but very short, piece that nicks it's title (and nothing else) from Edgar Allan Poe.) (A-)
10. La Belle et La Bete (Jean Cocteau) (I know, this means that I've included two Jean Cocteau head trips on my list and my list is almost half (Olvidados, Performance, Orpheus and this) screwy and surreal horror. But my best film of all time DOES happen to be Eraserhead, so that DOES fit my taste of horror.) (A-)

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Rosemary's Baby
Peeping Tom
Night of the Living Dead
The Innocents
Eyes Without A Face
The Haunting
Cat People
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
The Birds

Arresting films that at some point scared the crap out of me that were pre-Exorcist:

Losey's The Servant- At times super hot and other times so intense you can cut the tension with a knife.

Metropolis- The whole third act is awe-inspiring and I am on the edge of my seat.

The canonical Walt Disney animated movies. Tops: Elephants on Parade from Dumbo

The Wizard of Oz

Shock Corridor- Some movies about insanity in the studio period just do not age well. This, however.....

Oliver!- Yup. Oliver Reed's whole performance as Bill is beyond frightening to a child.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

filmjunkie, you're right, The Other is a creepily effective, evocative movie. It's truly disturbing. Great choice!

I also have read good stuff about The Uninvited with Ray Milland. It's supposed to be very cool but I've had trouble tracking it down.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

The Uninvited just got released on Criterion, IIRC.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Thanks, CMG! I have been looking for it forever LOL. Maybe watching it will wash away the memory of Ray Milland in Frogs! STILL, it had a classic movie poster LOL.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@brookesboy - Yes, The Other left me spectacularly creeped out. I also need to see The Uninvited (Criterion continues to get all my money!!).

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThefilmjunkie

My top 10 pre-Exorcist flicks in no order except Rosemary's Baby is #1:

Rosemary's Baby
The Haunting
Night of the Living Dead
Carnival of Souls
The Birds
Cat People
The Innocents
Wait Until Dark
Curse of the Demon

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I always thought "The Innocents" made for a really creepy viewing experience. Also the Asian film "Dumplings" (sorry, can't remember the director's name right now).

My favorite, though, is "Night of the Living Dead" which I saw with a friend in Boston on its opening day, first showing. We thought it was going to be a giggle and took some controlled substances. Boy, did we learn our lesson.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRC

People will hate me for saying this, but I don't find "Psycho" terrifying at all. I love the movie. I have seen it four times, but I don't find it scary at all. A horror movie is supposed to be scary, isn't it?

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWhodunnit

My honourable #11: (A social message film that fails SO HARD at being progressive and morally correct that it becomes equal parts boring and horrific) Gentleman's Agreement.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Not a single Universal movie, are you shitting me

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBifferSpace

Biffer -- care to be more specific than an entire studio? which film would you have voted for?

Volvagia -- horrific is not a genre, but an adjective ;) stick to horror please for top ten giggles.

October 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nat: That was more bitter humour than a serious placement. I really bleeping HATE Gentleman's Agreement.

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia, for me, no matter how strained the deadly earnest messaging in Gentleman's Agreement, Mr. Peck's granite jaw just seems to put the whole messy thing over.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

The Unknown with Lon Chaney while not explicitly horror always sends a chill down my spine.Lon Chaney during a crucial scene gives the most sinister looking facial reaction. i cant find it on DVD anywhere sadly.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEli

Also missing from the 1940's are 2 great UK films that were available together in a DVD set (not sure if still available). Dead of Night and Queen of Spades. Now that's some scary shit.

October 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

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