For casual viewers of horror movies, the older horror flicks might not be so interesting at first glance. After all, the movies made as far back as the 1960s didn’t have access to the technology to create all those special effects, CGI animations, and so much more. However, the horror offerings during the 1960s were actually some of the most influential within this genre.
During the 90s, psychological thrillers were all the rage. The 80s were more about slasher films, but the 60s contain some great old classics that every true horror fan should watch. Yes, their pace might be a bit slower and not every gruesome detail might be possible to show on a screen. Plus, the black-and-white versions might not be very attractive to contemporary movie viewers.
However, the legendary directors such as Alfredo Hitchcock and Michael Powell have turned out some must-watch masterpieces during the 1960s decade. If you’re interested in horror film history at all, here are some of the top choices to start with:
1. Village of the Damned (1960)
The glowing eyes of the gifted children in this movie are still one of the creepiest images in the history of horror flicks. Wolf Rilla is also still known mainly as being the director of this movie.
The script here is based on the iconic author of science fiction, John Wyndham. Overall, it’s a chilling story with a masterful telling and an almost tangible eeriness. Rilla has a minimalistic style that adds to the terrifying effect without the need for technological tweaks.
2. Peeping Tom (1960)
This is a color psychological thriller with a very controversial subject matter that got a lot of hard feedback from critics. It’s a chilling creation, revolving around a filmmaker who films the women he’s kidnapped as he murders them. His neighbour eventually senses that something is wrong and views one of the home movies.
The visual representation of voyeurism here makes for a truly horrific subject matter. At the time of its release, ‘Peeping Tom’ was so harshly slammed by critics that Powell’s career was adversely affected. Today, though, it’s generally agreed that this film is a cinematic horror masterpiece. The main character might not be among the top 5 scariest horror movie villains of all time, but he does come close.
3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The performance of Mia Farrow in this movie makes the work a worthwhile endeavor on its own. In a nutshell, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is about a pregnant woman who suspects that a Satanic cult is planning to kidnap her. Ira Levin wrote the novel (with the same name) that the movie is based on. Overall, this movie captures several complex horror themes at one, including the occult, paranoia, and betrayal.
There’s also a concept of women’s rights in there, with everything coming together to create this cornerstone of horror cinema. The ending is unsettling, to say the least. The ceremony still remains a prime example of a terrifying yet mesmerizing sequence on film to date.
Along with all the horrific scenes, the film makes sure to symbolize how Rosemary (and women in general) are unable to have agency over their own body. The elders, male doctors, and her husband decide everything. This makes ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ one of the scariest and yet socially necessary movies of the 1960s at least. We might be able to notice other explorations of feminist concepts within television in the 1960s in general.
4. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)
This work is usually considered to be the first and best movie within the ‘psycho-biddy’ genre. It shows a bitter starlet who is getting on in age. She locks up her sister, who is now more popular than her, in her mansion. The sister is in a wheelchair and in a somewhat helpless position.
In fact, the dynamic between the two main actresses in this movie has an interesting story. These were the legendary stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Not only were the characters hostile towards each other, but the actresses themselves developed an antagonistic relationship as well. Of course, this brought an unprecedented edge to the acting that still speaks to audiences today.
5. The Birds (1963)
It has now come out that the actress Tippi Hedren was put through some very cruel practises on the set of this movie. This is not something to be ignored or excused. At the same time, one must acknowledge her unforgettable performance as a scream queen on ‘The Birds’. The screams in the final scene at least are real, as the mechanical birds were replaced with real ones without informing the actress.
While the start of this movie is almost like that of a B-movie; birds start attacking humans without any plausible explanation. As it moves on, we can see the cinematic masterpiece that uses editing techniques to create nail-biting suspense.
6. Black Sabbath (1963)
The structure of this movie actually provided inspiration and groundwork for the initial concept of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Overall, this is probably among the most iconic anthology movies in the horror genre.
Granted, horror anthologies don’t usually make good movies. However, ‘Black Sabbath’ is an exception. Every short is riveting and as spooky as horror fans could wish for. Interestingly, the name of this movie was also the basis of the 70s metal band ‘Black Sabbath’.
7. Psycho (1960)
‘Psycho’ is a very well-known movie, with many citing the shower scene as the most terrifying one ever. While this iconic scene is probably the most famous one, the whole structure of this movie is impeccably done. There’s a shocking twist right at the midpoint, but the final scenes still have a revelation that leaves their viewers stunned.
We can see Norman Bates here, playing one of the most unforgettable villains in the history of film. The screenplay by Joseph Stefan plays on our expectations quite brilliantly as well.
8. The Haunting (1963)
This movie by Robert Wise is among the top influential movies about haunted houses. The main premise is about a paranormal investigator who’s trying to determine whether a mansion is haunted or not.
If someone likes a good jump scare (or several), watching this movie is probably one of the best choices to make. With mysterious sounds, objects in strange places, and other occurrences, this movie plays with our mind in the most effective way.
9. Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
Zombies might have been around as a concept before this movie, but they became a commonly known concept after its release. The movie has cruelty in its ending, but it’s still said to be among the best last scenes in the history of horror movies.
Basically, this is the movie that established zombie lore, establishing them as the blank, lumbering creatures stripped of their humanity. It also gave social commentary on racism during the 1960s decade. Eventually, this is the movie that became a major influence on the ground-breaking ‘Get Out.
10. Blood and Black Lace (1964)
Some say that Mario Bava transformed the scenario of horror movies for good with this movie. He was already revered as a horror maestro, and jumpstarted the Italian bloodletters (giallo) genre with this work. The kills here are gruesome and stylized, with interesting POV shots to withhold the murderer’s identity.
The setting here is of a fashion house, where the models are systematically murdered. The murderer wears all black–trench coat, gloves, and hat. This was to become a staple within this genre later on. In one brilliant scene, the hunt is on inside a mannequin-filled room. The model is disposed of in the same way as the fashion industry might get rid of its human beings as well. The witnesses of her murder as faceless and silent, much like the people who witness the cruel practise of the industry in real life. To discover more movies in the 1960s, read our article about The Best Teen Movies of the 1960s.
The best horror movies of the 1960s are very heavy fare, so make sure to mentally prepare before watching any of them. The screenplays, cinematic twists, and other tools create some very masterful effects. This makes each work discussed above a must-watch for any horror movie fan. After a 1960s horror movie session, you can wind down with these top sitcoms from the 1960s as well.