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Top 10 Most Influential Horror Movies You’ve NEVER Even Heard Of (…Let Alone Seen)

One of our favorite things to do here at Bloody Disgusting is let our writers take the ball and run with it. What would be the point in bringing you content if we didn’t enjoy writing it? I’d like to introduce our new contributor, Rebel Phoenix, who is passionate about the “classics”. Today he would like to present to you a new list, “The Top 10 Most Influential Horror Movies You’ve NEVER Even Heard Of (…Let Alone Seen),” all of which were released before Hitchcock’s seminal Psycho. Read on and tell Rebel what you think of his work below!

This year, 2010, marks the 50 year anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal classic ‘Psycho’. Thankfully, Universal has released it on Blu-Ray with a new high definition transfer to commemorate it’s anniversary. We’ve all seen ‘Psycho’. If not the entire movie, then most definitely the shower sequence; so no need to recap. With that said, I firmly believe ‘Psycho’ is the most influential horror movie ever made. Contemporaries such as William Castle (‘Homicidal’), Mario Bava (‘Blood and Black Lace’), Dario Argento (‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’), Roger Corman & Francis Ford Coppola (‘Dementia 13′), and Hammer Studios (‘Paranoiac’, ‘Maniac’) all incorporated elements first introduced in ‘Psycho’ into many of their works following it. And that was just the immediate impact ‘Psycho’ had on ’60′s horror movies! From the birth of giallo, to the rise of the slasher film, to the blending of horror & thriller (a la ‘Silence of the Lambs’), ‘Psycho’ is deeply ingrained in the horror genre, more-so than any other film.

But you probably already knew that, whether you agree with me or not. So in light of the 50th anniversary of ‘Psycho’, I’d like to present to you a list of films that have a pretty big influence on the genre…with a twist; you never heard of them. See, I can tell you ‘Halloween’ is influential, but you knew that. I can take it a next step and say ‘Black Christmas’ is rightfully as influential, and if I REALLY wanted too, I can go back and tell you ‘Twitch of the Death Nerve’ (aka ‘Bay of Blood’) preceded both films and inspired both of THOSE…..but again, that’s been well documented and discussed, and props are relatively given among horror fans. BUT THESE movies, guaranteed, are not listed in any book, or on any website (until now) as holding much, if any, influence over the horror genre what-so-ever.

NOTE: Only ONE movie on this list was made after ‘Psycho’, and while influenced by it, the movie mentioned below unknowingly influenced countless others, perhaps even more-so, directly, than ‘Psycho’ itself.

So without further ado, I present to you:

The Top 10 Most Influential Horror Movies You’ve NEVER Even Heard Of (…Let Alone Seen)
10. ‘The Phantom Carriage’ (aka ‘Korkarlen’) (1921)


The earliest film on this list, as well as the only one of the silent era, ‘The Phantom Carriage’ (Swedish: ‘Korkarlen’) from 1921 is an influential gem that has been buried under it’s contemporaries. By 1921, the horror film was finally starting to come into fruition. The German Expressionist movement of the 20′s is often cited as the breeding ground for horror cinema. “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920), “The Golem” (1920), “Nosferatu” (1922)…all well recognized and duly praised. The United States wasn’t doing so bad itself, with the likes of “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (1920) and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923). But that’s where it usually ends in discussion of early 20′s horror cinema: Germany and America. Alas, there was Sweden…in the years before the rise of Ingmar Bergman. Now, you may or may not know about “Haxan” (1922), but it is a brilliant Swedish exposition, borderline documentary, on witchcraft. But it’s been discussed and dissected, and Criterion has a fabulous transfer of it on DVD. ‘The Phantom Carriage’, made only 1 year prior, hasn’t been as lucky in both recognition and DVD release stateside.

The film, while certainly not the easiest to sit through, is about the legend of The Phantom Carriage; the last person who dies each year has to work for Death (personified) and collect all the dead souls in the upcoming year. We have a character, David, who is killed just before the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve, and is approached by last year’s Carriage driver, Georges. Now without getting into too much detail, the film takes on a sort of ‘Christmas Carol’ storyline, but much of the beauty of the film lies in the special effects and sequences of ghosts and flashbacks, rather advanced for 1921.

Now, HOW is this so influential? Well for starters it clearly laid the groundwork for the aforementioned Ingmar Bergman, who would go on to direct films like ‘The Seventh Seal’, which are widely regarded as among the greatest works of world cinema. Bergman, much like Korkarlen’s director Victor Sjostrom, created an iconic personification of Death. But while that’s influential and all, Bergman isn’t really mentioned by Horror fans, ever (except for linking ‘The Last House on the Left’ to ‘The Virgin Spring’, but that’s a whole different article waiting to be written). See this movie didn’t just stop its influence in the 40′s with Bergman, it continued well into the late 70′s and early 80′s with Stanley Kubrick and ‘The Shining’, both in themes and imagery. We all know how iconic Jack Nicholson is in that movie, most notably in his scene with the axe when he’s trying to break into the bathroom before he delivers the famous ‘Here’s Johnny’ line. Well, ‘The Phantom Carriage’, FIFTY-NINE years earlier, laid the groundwork. Check it out, my advice is to start at the 13:00 minute mark.

9. ‘The Woman Who Came Back’ (1945)


Ok, let’s bring it back to a more conventional horror film. A woman is the lone survivor of a crash, she comes back to her town where she begins to believe she is going mad. “Carnival of Souls” (1962), right? Wrong. Seventeen years earlier, we have this completely obscure, Val Lewton-esqe film, which actually stands up well on it’s own. The story is simple, a woman survives a crash, returns to her home town, and doesn’t know whether or not to believe she is possessed by a 300 year old witch. The mid-to-late 40′s were probably the low point in horror cinema through out the world. World War II was in full swing, the Universal Monsters had run their course, and the Production Code made it near impossible to make original and provocative horror movies. Perhaps that is why this film is not well known, at all. It conveys the same atmosphere and brooding plot of earlier films like ‘Cat People’ (1942) and ‘The 7th Victim’ (1943) (both Val Lewton productions for RKO Pictures), yet gets none of the recognition. Granted it was made on virtually no-budget for a ‘Poverty Row’ studio. But what isn’t seen by many doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t FELT by many, as both the subject material and storyline would clearly influence later movies such as the aforementioned “Carnival of Souls”, “The Omen”, “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death”, and many others. For anyone who says seen “Trick R Treat”, the school bus accident in THIS film should give you an inkling of deja vu.

8. ‘Bayou’ (aka ‘Poor White Trash’) (1957)


It’s tough to classify exactly what genre this film falls into. Is it really a horror movie?? Not REALLY, but neither was “Deliverance”, and “Deliverance” gets its fair share of recognition from the horror community. Coincidentally, this late 50′s southern sleazefest of a drive-in movie laid the groundwork for “Deliverance”, as well serving as the grandfather for what we call ‘hicksploitation’. So I guess in that sense, I’ll label this film an Exploitation film, therefore justifying it’s entry.

Here we have seasoned actor Peter Graves travel down to a small community surrounding a Louisiana bayou, where he meets and falls for a charming young lady. As a matter of fact, the only young lady in the community. This drives southerner Ulysses (played by the overlooked Timothy Carey) CRAZY, and he actually rapes the female lead character. No, it’s not implied, it’s shown, and by 1957 standards, it’s pretty graphic. It then becomes somewhat of a rape/revenge type of flick, peppered in with backwoods characters that would make “Deliverance” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” proud. While opening the door, in my opinion, for later rape/revenge flicks like “I Spit On Your Grave” and “The Last House on the Left”, here we have the MAN taking the role of the one seeking revenge. It wasn’t until after the 60′s civil rights and woman’s rights movements where we would see the female character get in the driver seat. It’s not necessarily a good film, by ANY means, but then again what exploitation movie really is? Check out Timothy Carey’s character, I can’t help but think of Al Pacino in “Scarface” whenever I see him talk.

7. ‘The Snorkel’ (1958)


The U.K.’s Hammer Studios revived the horror genre in the late 50′s by reviving the classic Universal horror movies, but putting their own spin on it. “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957) and “Horror of Dracula” (1958), in all their technicolor glory, breathed life back into a genre that was being taken over by giant ants, spiders, aliens, and all types of growing and shrinking people. Perhaps that is why this movie just isn’t recognized; it wasn’t Gothic horror, it wasn’t shot in technicolor (still B&W), and didn’t feature either of Hammer’s two biggest stars, Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. With that said, I’ve been hard pressed to find a BETTER pure horror/thriller (perhaps ‘Diabolique’ (1955), my all time favorite movie) before ‘The Snorkel’. A charming and cunning Paul Decker kills his wife by intoxicating her with gas, while he lays under the floorboards breathing through a snorkel. He makes it out to look like a suicide, and all goes smooth except for one thing: his stepdaughter doesn’t believe him. Inspired by the likes of Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder”, this movie places less emphasis on cinematography and camera work, and more on pure storyline and plot twists (and one of the BEST endings I’ve ever seen). I haven’t seen many like this before, but I certainly have AFTER…..especially “The Stepfather” series; but this movie is the prototype for any movie where a son/daughter spoils the almost perfect murder plot. The best combination of a horror/thriller this side of ‘Psycho’, and oh yes, it came 2 years before. My favorite movie on this list.

6. ‘The Man They Could Not Hang’ (1939)


This is certainly one of the better known films on the list, primarily because it stars Boris Karloff in his prime. While best known for his roles as Frankenstein’s Monster and The Mummy, Karloff was also the go-to actor for mad scientists in films from the mid ’30′s to early ’40′s. “The Man They Could Not Hang” stands out, in my opinion, as not only the best from this period of Karloff’s career, but also the most influential. The plot is pure camp, but delivered elegantly. Karloff plays a scientist with the good intentions of bringing the dead back to life. By temporarily killing a willing participant, Karloff begins the resurrection process but is stopped mid experiment by law enforcement and his subject dies. Subsequently he is convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. After his ‘death’, his assistant revives his body using his techniques, proving Karloff correct, but sending him on a quest for revenge to those who condemned him. Literally, this movie is 64 minutes long, and I could probably talk about it for longer than that.

Now HERE’S where the influence lies. 65 years before “Saw”, we have a man who groups his victims together in a house, where they cannot escape, and are intended to be systematically killed off while Karloff’s voice reigns over the loud speakers hooked up through out the house. The similarities in these sequences are mind blowing, especially in the inventive ways some of the characters are killed off. I’ll give credit to anyone who linked together “Saw” with 1971′s “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”, but that’s one of Vincent Price’s well known roles. “The Man They Could Not Hang” preceded that by decades as well; for ANYONE who wants to see how “Saw” would’ve looked like in the ’30′s, check this movie out!

5. ‘Invisible Invaders’ (1959)


Here we go, we’re cracking the Top 5 most influential horror movies you never even heard of. The next two entries will be dealing with the zombie genre. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) was the quintessential zombie movie, and unless you favor “Dawn of the Dead” 10 years later, you’ll agree with me. But the zombie genre DID exist before NOTLD, although in a much different form. “White Zombie” (1932) with Bela Lugosi is the first zombie film ever made, but it’s more about zombies in relation to Voodoo practice. This continued with “Revolt of the Zombies”, “King of the Zombies”, “I Walked With a Zombie”, and others from the late ’30′s and ’40′s. They might have used the term ‘zombie’, but certainly not the way in which Romero did, so where did Romero get his vision from? “The Last Man on Earth” four years earlier with Vincent Price? Probably, but we all know that movie, or one of its remakes (“The Omega Man” and “I Am Legend”).

Enter the “Invisible Invaders”, a schlocky, late ’50′s typical alien B-movie. Or is it? Well, the aliens are invisible, but in order to take over Earth, they have to inhabit the bodies of dead people. There is a scene where a sheriff is shot down, and you watch as he slowly comes back to ‘undead’ life and limps about. While featuring a bunch of stock ’50′s actors like John Agar and Robert Hutton, this movie was on to something we wouldn’t see for another 9 years.
We all credit Romero for creating the general idea for what a zombie should look like and act like, and perhaps we rightfully should, but after seeing this movie, I see where he got his idea from.

4. ‘The World, The Flesh and The Devil’ (1959)


If NOTLD was JUST about zombies, chances are it would end up on THIS list, rather than all the lists it ends up on now. The underlying themes are what really make Romero’s early zombie work so GREAT. Don’t we all give him credit for putting a black actor as the lead protagonist, something rarely done in the late 60′s? We give him credit, as well, for starting that whole ‘zombie apocalypse’ trend too, right? Well if Romero took his zombies from ‘Invisible Invaders’, he had himself a helping of themes and ideas from THIS movie from the same year. Don’t let the title confuse you. It’s not about devil worship, it didnt influence “The Exorcist; nor is it about body horror, and no it did not influence David Cronenberg.

‘The World, The Flesh and the Devil’, a movie in which I’ve never actually met another person who’s seen it, tells the story of Harry Bellafonte (*ahem*, a black actor), who upon escaping a mine he is trapped in, comes to find that a war has wiped out the entire population, and he may be the only survivor. He makes his way from Pennsylvania to New York, where he meets the only other two actors in the film, a (white) woman, and a (white) man. The rest of the movie focus’s on the relationship of these three people.

Oh boy, where do I start with how influential this post-apocalyptic movie is? It’s like “28 Days Later” or “Dawn of the Dead” minus the zombies, even the way in which Bellafonte creates his ideal living space anticipates Dawn’s comfortable claustrophobia by 20 years. The black actor being headstrong and common sensed anticipated Night by 10 years.

I don’t know why this movie isn’t available, nor why its never discussed. It touches on class issues, race issues, war, etc. Combine this movie with “Invisible Invaders” and you have George Romero’s career.

3. “Thirteen Women” (1932)


Ah, the slasher genre. Home to so many of my favorite movies. Common knowledge tends to place “Halloween” (1978) as the first true slasher film, a movie quickly followed up by the likes of “Friday the 13th”, “My Bloody Valentine”, “The Burning”, etc. But in 1974, Bob Clarke directed “Black Christmas”, which when viewed now, has all the elements of what we consider to be a slasher film. So I’d say most horror fans like to flex their slasher knowledge by bringing up “Black Christmas”. Then you have 1971′s “Twitch of the Death Nerve” (aka ‘Bay of Blood’) directed by the great Mario Bava. Widely considered an Italian ‘giallo’ film, once the slasher rules were put into effect, a re-examining of Twitch let’s us know where a lot of the creators of ’80′s slashers got their ideas from. Then there’s the entire giallo genre of it’s own, ’70′s murder mystery horror movies that bridged the gap between ’60′s ‘Psycho’ and ’78′s ‘Halloween’.

Ah, ‘Psycho’ again, sometimes itself credited as the first true slasher movie. There is no definitive answer, and you can make a case for any of the films I listed.
Then there’s 1932′s “Thirteen Women”, a movie so glaringly out of place, you won’t believe it was made in 1932. Allow me to try and sum it up as best I can. There are thirteen women who were all part of the same sorority, and they all write to the same ‘swami’ for their horoscopes. Each woman is foretold that they will die, and one by one, they do. In the end (*SPOILER ALERT*) we find out that another woman is tricking the women into either killing themselves, or killing each other. A revenge seeking, mixed-race female, who was not allowed entry into the girls’ sorority because of her mixed race.

Just think about this. ONE YEAR PRIOR Lugosi stepped onto the scene as Dracula, and the phrase “It’s Aliiiiive” was FIRST heard. And then we have this movie, a movie MUCH closer in resembling the likes of ‘The House on Sorority Row’ (1983) or “Terror Train” (1980) than it’s contemporaries like ‘Freaks’ (1932) or ‘The Mummy’ (1932). While there is no real ‘slashin’ goin on, we have a movie that presented the foundation for the slasher movie to be born. The scorned outcast, the one by one murders, the revelation of a revenge plot…..it still fascinates me how out of place this movie truely is, and sadly that’s a main reason why you’ve never even heard of it.

2. ‘Dead of Night’ (1945)


Chances are, if you heard of ONE movie on this list, it’s probably ‘Dead of Night’, a critically acclaimed (to those who’ve seen it) little British horror anthology. Like I said earlier, horror movies were scarce in the mid-to-late ’40′s, especially overseas. Yet ever so quietly, Britain released this gem, which is arguably the best movie of the entire decade (there wasn’t much competition outside of Universal or Val Lewton at RKO).

There’s two ways to approach the assessment of just how influential this movie is within the genre. The first is the fact that, like I said before, it is a horror anthology, meaning it’s a group of little stories told in the context of one movie. YEARS before ‘Tales from the Crypt’, ‘Tales from the Darkside’, ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘Tales of Terror’ (1962), etc. There’s no arguing it’s the first of it’s kind, so just for that it’s pretty damn influential.

But let’s look a little deeper. The actual stories. Well, for anyone who has seen this movie knows which story I’m talking about, the last story. The story of a ventriloquist and his puppet. I’m not giving anything away here, because it needs to be seen….but NOT ONLY did it serve as the basis for 2 of the most well known Twilight Zone episodes, and not only did it serve as the basis for the screenplay of 1978′s “Magic” (also recently re-released on Blu-Ray), but the ending of this particular segment is the earliest, if not greatest, influence we have on ‘Psycho’. I’m not giving anything away here, but the ventriloquist and Norman Bates have A LOT in common. This is an absolute MUST-SEE movie.

On a side note: Not only did this movie inspire countless other horror movies, but it actually inspired what is known as The Steady State Theory on the model of the universe in cosmology. Random, but true.

1. ‘The Sadist’ (1963)


I really could have put ‘Dead of Night’ as number one, and could have made a strong point for it being the most influential movie you never heard of. Then I happened upon ‘The Sadist’, a low budget, thrilling little picture that had no idea what it was doing to the genre, and even if I could ask it’s creators today, I doubt they’d even realize how much it influenced the horror genre. This is the only movie on the list released AFTER ‘Psycho’, and I believe it only green lighted after seeing maniacal Norman Bates on screen. The film is liberally based on the real life spree killer Charles Starkweather. The plot can’t get any simpler. Three teachers (2 men, 1 woman) are traveling through rural California, they stop off to fix their car where they discover Charlie and his girlfriend. The rest of the movie folds out like too many other movies I’ve seen since. The criminal couple torture the three captive teachers, as Charlie lives up to his title as ‘The Sadist’. Watching this movie, you can’t help but see slivers of so many contemporary movies: ‘The Devil’s Rejects’, ‘Wolf Creek’, ‘The Hitcher’, ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘The Last House on the Left’, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, etc.

How many movies have we seen with a sadistic madman instilling his will over his captives? Many, but not one before ‘The Sadist’. How many movies have we seen with one surviving woman running barefoot and bloody through the backwoods and streets screaming? Many, but not one before ‘The Sadist’.

I think this movie kicked A LOT of future film makers in the gut, including Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, and it opened the floodgates for ’60′s cinema to be more visceral and aggressive, without leaving much to the imagination.

This is number one, because it directly influenced SO many movies that you know of, so many that are stalwarts of the genre…..yet you never heard of ‘The Sadist’.

NOTE: While not a horror film, ‘Natural Born Killers’ was based on the same spree killer, and Oliver Stone definitely used this film as an influence.

Honorable Mention. ‘The Bat’ (1926)/’The Bat Whispers’ (1930)


The silent and the talkie versions served as the earliest influence for the Batman character. Not really a horror influence, but an interesting influence worth noting. ‘The Man Who Laughs’ (1928) with Conrad Veidt inspired The Joker as well.

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  • Morley Robertson

    George Romero never once used the term “zombie”. That’s just a word attached to his movies by others. Do your research.