What makes the 60s such a defining decade for horror films is that—without any build-up or warning, the genre started off so shocking. The 1960's released a huge selection of classic shockers that ratings boards and audiences didn’t know how to react to. Many of them simply banned the films, while others hoped not to see such horrors again. The American Production Code (had strict rules on blood, garments, language, beds and even toilets) were quick censor, but the movies eroded these codes. By 1968, the American Production Code had ended. And the bloody gates were open.
This list of horror films of the 1960s shows the scattershot genre jumping of acceptability at the time. From the shocking year of 1960 to ghost stories to giallos to psychological terror and parables of distrust. Because of the flood of more graphic movies, many of the ratings boards of the world create by the end of this decade to signify the proper viewing age (17 or 18 years of age to watch) to watch the horrors of the 1970s.
So lets go over these shocking but significant movies that made a lasting impression on the world. I will keep the list small with just the essentials(the premier of the most popular sub-genre), since there are a ton of great movies jam-packed into this decade. Yes I am leaving off some great films, you could very easily do a list for each year. As usual, spoiler alert, but really who would read the best of and not realize it was full of spoilers. My readers are smarter than that. So lets begin!
Japanese horror movie produced by Shintoho Films. A college student and his friend run over a respected yakuza member and leave him to die. The student’s conscience soon plagues him and his life becomes a series of tragedies. His only escape is Hell.
Unlike other Japanese horror movies at the time, Jigoku went all-out on gore. The third act, taking place in Hell, is what really makes the movie stand out, even among other gory films. It is tame compared to movies like Hellraiser, but it’s still a remarkably dark feature for it’s time that every gore hound should watch.
American psychological horror thriller produced by Shamley Productions. Marion Crane is on the run with her boyfriend after stealing $40,000. They travel on back roads to avoid the police, and stop for the night at Bates Motel. There, they meet Norman Bates, a polite young man with a love for taxidermy.
Psycho was more than just a good movie; it helped to change horror. Even people who don’t like horror know Norman Bates. He was a monster you could actually sympathize with. The film’s shower murder is one of the most famous scenes in the history of cinema, and it helped to push the boundaries of on-screen violence. Alfred Hitchcock wanted this movie to resemble a cheap exploitation feature, and he made it in black and white with his TV crew instead of his expensive feature film crew. The result is a horror masterpiece that inspired dozens of others and still remains unnerving to this day.
Italian horror film produced by Michael Powell Theatre. Mark Lewis is a loner who works as an assistant cameraman at a London film studio. He is also an amateur documentary film-maker, and he takes pornographic photos of women part-time. And also murders women, capturing their last moments on camera. He watches their murders later to study their reactions.
Peeping Tom ruined its director’s career. Reviews of the film were so scathing that director Michael Powell’s time as a director in the UK effectively ended. However, the film became a cult hit and is now a classic. Peeping Tom, like Hitchcock’s Psycho, is an early slasher movie with a recognizable human villain.
American horror thriller film produced by Warner Bros. Pictures. A high-strung melodrama centered around two disloyal former starlet sisters, Jane and Blanche Hudson, and the depravity that ensues when bitter jealousy and petty squabbles burn too bright over many decades. This is what happens when you put two actual iconic actresses into a movie. It becomes magic. It is a rollercoaster of emotions that will pitch and turn you throughout the whole film.
American ghost story produced by Lion International. Mary Henry is riding in a car with her two friends. Some men come and challenge them to a drag race. They accept. When they reach a bridge, their car plunges into the river. The police look for them unsuccessfully. However, Mary miraculously emerges, unsure of how she survived. Sometime later, she tries to put the incident behind her. She moves to Utah and works as a church organist. But she starts having visions of an evil man. As they become stronger, she realizes that an old, run-down carnival might have something to do with the visions and with the accident.
The movie is a like The Twilight Zone, with a supernatural occurrence affecting regular people. It manages to shock and frighten.
American horror film produced by Universal Pictures. Can an apocalyptic movie about ordinary birds turned murderous really be scary? In the capable hands of Alfred Hitchcock, it certainly can. Melanie and Mitch meet in a pet store and strike up a romance. She follows him home, bringing two love birds. Soon birds attack the children at Mitch’s sister’s party. The attacks then increase in scale, until no one in the town can safely leave the house.
Unlike many of today’s horror films, leaving viewers in the dark about some things was a key part of horror back then. And it worked; the suspense added to the intrigue of the movie, and it became even more unsettling as a result.
Italian giallos film produced by Emmepi Cinematografica Productions. A serial killer, wearing a stocking mask and a metal-claw glove, is stalking and murdering models at a fashion salon in Rome. Mario Bava’s masterpiece is among the earliest and most influential Italian giallo films. The script is acceptable, but the art style is mesmerizing, almost like a painting. Like Psycho, it helped to create the slasher sub-genre. But Blood and Black Lace is likely responsible for the body count slasher, where a psychopath ramps up kills until there are hardly any people left alive. Sadly, it has been imitated so many times that it seems formulaic if you’re watching for the first time. But remember, this was where they took that format from.
American horror film produced by American General Pictures. Spider Baby is the best true American exploitation horror film of the decade (with an all knowing hat tip to Hershel Gordon Lewis, who pioneered gore effects during this decade, but his films never did much more than splatter blood and sputter dialogue with thrown together story ). Spider Baby is about a very caring caretaker who looks after a house of inbred young adults. He attempts to keep them from meeting any strangers because they have a degenerative brain disease that makes them have the cognizant brain of a five year old, except with the desire to kill and eat anyone who isn’t family. The extended family has left them to die out in a house to remove the gene from their bloodline, but of course, some people come looking to appraise the value of the house and “playtime” begins.
This film is too odd for the mainstream but not violent enough for gore-heads. But if you take elements of Freaks, Two Thousand Maniacs and add a lingerie chase scene and the uncomfortable adult-bodied seduction techniques of women who are constantly described as “children”, then you’ve got a nice web of exploitation fun here. Added cult bonus: Sig Haig is one of the inbred children who really likes to eat “rabbit”.
American historical horror film produced by Tigon British Film Productions. In 17th century England, Matthew Hopkins is appointed Witchfinder General by Puritan Loyalists. He travels from town to town with his henchman, interrogating and torturing those accused of witchcraft to get a confession, though he can be bought. His depravity leads him into more trouble than he could have anticipated.
Vincent Price gives a convincing performance as the vile evil witchfinder, and you can’t help but to root for him to fail. He is, after all, more monstrous than a lot of supernatural entities. And unlike the other human monsters on this list, he commits his atrocities so he can make some cash.
At the time reviewers hated the movie because of its intense scenes of violence and torture. However, it developed a cult following and now is regarded as one of the best horror movies of all time.
American horror film produced by Image Ten. When corpses rise from the grave to devour humans, a group of people take refuge inside an abandoned house. The level-headed Ben tries his best to keep the group from acting erratically. However, when the ghouls (they are not zombies, Romero said so) surround the house, the inhabitants panic.
Night of the Living Dead is one of the most influential films of all time. It spawned the wrongly named zombie sub-genre, which has thrived off and on ever since in all entertainment mediums from TV series to video games.
It also had a black protagonist; something unheard of at the time. And don’t forget the gore. Sure, it’s mild in comparison with the considerably gorier sequels, but when it came out, it set new levels of gruesomeness, even being called an “orgy of sadism”. George Romero went on to make lots of sequels but Night of the Living Dead will always be the one that introduced shambling, undead cannibals.
American horror film produced by Paramount Pictures. Rosemary and her husband Guy move into a New York City apartment where everyone but them are old and their immediate neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castevet, are incredibly nosy. After his initial discomfort with them, Guy starts spending a lot of time with the Castevets. Rosemary gets pregnant after having a frightening dream in which a beast rapes her. After that, she starts to suspect her neighbors of being more than they appear.
The film takes its time to ramp up tension, and after Rosemary gets pregnant, you can hardly look away. The performances are mesmerizing, especially from Minnie Castevet as the pushy neighbor, and the morbid fear Rosemary harbors for her unborn child makes the movie incredibly disturbing.