Pretty Clever Film’s Top 10 Silent Horror Movies

In honor of Halloween, Pretty Clever Film Gal brings you her personal favorite scary movies, all of them silent. It is a fact that movie goers love fright films and it is a fact that horror movies have been around since the dawn of film. For my money, silent films take the prize for sheer creep factor. These early silent horror movies may not make you jump in your seat and they’re certainly not the gore-fest variety of later shock cinema, but… well there’s something about a monster creeping about and saying nothing, no?

Without further ado, here’s PCF’s top 10 scary silents. The images link to complete versions for viewing. Wah-ha-ha!

10. The Golem (1920)

A man brings an inanimate object to life for shady purposes. Sound familiar? This German Expressionist classic is a blend of Jewish mysticism, fairy tale, and morality play and sets a visual standard for many monster movies to come. James Whale not only drew on the The Golem for 1931’s Frankenstein, but almost exactly replicated the scene of little girl giving the monster a  flower.

The Golem (1920)

9. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s cautionary novel has fueled the flames of many film and dramatic adaptations. But John Barrymore’s portrayal of the lascivious and dark side of man’s nature is just the most deliciously creepy of them all. The fingers alone are enough to keep you awake at night.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920)

8. Häxan (1922)

Ostensibly a documentary about witchcraft, Häxan is one of the weirdest flicks ever you’ll see. Making the argument that medieval witch-hunt hysteria was probably attributable to mental illness  doesn’t seem like horror film fodder. But director Benjamin Christensen uses this highmindedness to deliver lengthy scenes of witch covens, satanic rites, and inquisitional witch hunts. Totally creepy and totally fun.

Haxan (1922)

7. Waxworks (1924)

A writer takes a job in a wax museum to write stories about three historical monsters, the Caliph of Baghdad, Ivan the Terrible, and Jack the Ripper. Not only does Waxworks employ an interesting early use of a narrative frame and an exploration of multiple genres in one movie, it packages all the creepiness implicit in a wax museum.

Waxworks (1924)

6. The Unknown (1927)

What do you get when you add direction by Tod Browning plus an armless Lon Chaney set against a carnival backdrop? One the creepiest movies you’ll see, that’s what. Chaney is brilliant as the armless knife thrower in desperate pursuit of the very young and very scantily clad Joan Crawford. You’ll want to cover your eyes but be sure to keep them open for the mortifying conclusion.

The Unknown (1927)

5. The Man Who Laughs (1928)

The Man Who Laughs is probably more accurately classified as a romantic melodrama, but Conrad Veidt’s perma grin will send chills down your spin and the German Expressionist gloom will leave you jumping at shadows. And, of course, any character that serves as inspiration for The Joker is probably pretty horrifying.

The Man who Laughs (1928)

4. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

In this adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel, Lon Chaney devised what is surely one of the most horrific makeup jobs in cinema history. The studio knew it was so scary they kept the Phantom’s visage tightly under wraps until the film’s premier to maximize the shock value.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

3. Le Manoir du Diable (1896)

Did early French film pioneer George Méliès mean to scare or merely entertain? It doesn’t matter. The 3 minute Le Manoir Du Diable (The Haunted Castle) is widely considered to be the first horror film and the first vampire movies.

Le Manoir Du Diable (1896)

2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a gold standard in early film-making and German Expressionism, but it’s also terrifying. The sets alone are weird and disorienting, but throw in a mad scientist, mental illness, and a sleep walking serial killer and you’ve got a real nail-biter.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

1. Nosferatu (1922)

Max Schreck stars in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, an adaptation of sorts of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Watch and marvel at how very truly disgusting, terrifying, and rat-like Schreck makes his vampire. Watch it on Halloween, in the dark – I dare you!

Nosferatu (1922)

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About prettycleverfilmgal

Social media consultant, blogger for hire, and lover of classic movies and silent films. I often watch, consider, and write about movies when I should really be doing other things.

Posted on October 27, 2011, in Genre, Horror, Miscellany, Online Movies, Silent Film and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great list! I have yet to see “The Golem”, been wanting to for years!

    As wonderful as John Barrymore is “Jekyll & Hyde”, I have to laugh every time I see his finger fly off in the throes of transformation. =D

  2. Great list of choices.Silent horror has that dreamy can’t-wake-up-from-the-nightmare quality that sound cinema can’t approximate. Love the bit in Barrymore’s Jekyll & Hyde when the giant spider crawls over him – that’s a real gotta-close-the-eyes-and-shudder moment. And Chaney’s unmasking scene in Phantom still shocks after all these decades.

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