How To Watch Classic Horror Movies

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The purpose of this post is to provide a kind of introduction for those who havn’t yet discovered old classic horror movies and are going to be watching them for the first time….or simply might be wanting to find out more about them…

 

How To Watch Horror Movies

 

I hope that this post will act as a kind of, how to watch classic horror movies and assists in understanding and appreciating these old movies for what they were, and in the context of the time they came out.

 

 

Elemental Chills

The classics from the “golden age” (20’s 30’s and 40’s) were of coarse a lot different from horror films we see today. Most obviously they were either silent films (1900’s/1920’s) and/or made in black and white. 

How to watch horror movies-Dracula1931

Gothic Masterpiece – Dracula 1931

The pace of these old flicks is also what sets them apart and naturally, the lack of graphic sex and violence compared with todays standards.

What we are treated to instead is innovative camera work, creepy Gothic and other-worldly sets, deep archetypal themes, unforgettable characters and a superb macabre atmosphere!

 

Most significant though is that we’re asked to use our imagination!

 

The Power of Suggestion

Typical of the morals and standards of the day was in what was not shown…but what was “suggested”.

Old films have a way of leaving things up to the audience’s imagination by not being overtly explicit or detailed. What they allude to is usually highly controversial and as a result it’s left up to the viewer to process what they may or may not be witnessing.

At the same time…what is shown to the audience was (for the time) extremely radical and truly pushed the limits of acceptability.

 

Remember, people were going along to see the latest “mystery picture” and “melodrama”, which is how these films were described.

When they heard wolves howling and blood-curdling screams, creaking doors and screeching bats. Or hysterical maniacal laughter and graves being dug…when they witnessed vampires, living corpses and human “beasts” for the first time…they were, understandably…offended by it all.


 

An Unsuspecting Audience

To truly grasp the quality and effect of these pictures we must remember how strange and interesting they were for their day. No one had seen that kind of thing before. People were very unsettled from watching them and this was when movie-going was a favorite national pastime.

It’s true that people actually thought Lionel Barrymore underwent a real onscreen transformation to become Mr. Hyde and that Bela Lugosi as Dracula was indeed a real life “vampire” (whatever that was). 

At the beginning of Frankenstein, actor Edward van Sloan offers a “warning” about, “One of the strangest tales ever told” and how it will thrill, shock and even horrify them! He goes on to encourage them to leave if their nerves are not up for such a strain!

 

How to watch horror movies-Frankenstein

 

To try to put yourself in the shoes of the audience back then I think is the best way to fully understand and appreciate these pics.

 

One or the Other; Music or Dialogue?

Watching them now we see an early, rudimentary use of special effects/sound effects and an almost entire absence of music. This of coarse was the standard up until the 1930’s.

In it’s place was the expert use of light and shadow, surreal, expressionistic designs and stage-trickery (i.e. trap doors, use of strings and smoke etc.).

However the first few horror films of the “talkies” era are noticeably lacking in a music score. Filmmakers simply did not realize the importance of, or how to make effective use of music to add suspense and help tell the story.

 

How to watch horror movies-Phantom of the opera

The Red Death! – Phantom of the Opera 1925

Above all, what I think is most important to appreciate when watching old classic horror movies is that they were so inventive and original.

Oddities which are now so immediately recognizable that all others have been modeled after or influenced by.

Society has gone on to make use of their images, scenes and dialogue in so many areas. They have become absolutely iconic in so many ways…

 

These films are where it all started!

 

 

 

For your thoughts, comments and idea’s, please use the comment box below. If you have any questions, I will be more than happy to get back to you, usually within 24hrs. Thanks very much.

Jamie.

 

 

 

 

 

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12 Comments

  • Katie says:

    I am a big fan of the classic horror movies, especially the Hammer house of horror movies , found you article very good and informative as many people not of the that time period really understand it compared with today’s, there may be better graphics but as you say the extreme violence was not present nor the sexually explicit stuff, i personally think the story behind the oldies were more profound to.

    • jamie says:

      Always a pleasure to meet another fellow fan Katie, thanks very much for your visit and supportive comments. The Hammer Horror’s are great aren’t they!! They’re very original in their own right. Like you say, the stories and acting were what mattered most. The “less-is-more” approach is always the most effective I think. Jamie

  • Suz says:

    Jamie, Your image choice on this post is perfect! How many of us can identify with the person peeking out from behind the seat when watching an old classic?!

    Your description of the classics – their pace, innovative camera work, unforgettable characters, and macabre atmosphere – is spot on of the classics! my favorite was Alfred Hitchcock at midnight! Very effective in bringing back memories with your description!

    Whether your intent was to have some of us lost in thought, or pull a reader in who has never had an interest in old horror movies, your writing style is effective. It’s where it all began and where we can laugh and scream in the same screenshot!

    • admin says:

      Much appreciated Suz! I love Hitchcock too. “Psycho” and “The Birds” are my favorites of his. Also, one of his very first, “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” based on the story of Jack the Ripper.

  • Darrien says:

    This brings back memories of my family and I watching classic horror movies at night. Ever since I was a young child, it was one of our traditions. More recently, we even enjoyed watching the low-budget horror movies that are sometimes pretty humorous. The older films are often more creative and not so much “hey, we’re going to scare you now”! There was actually a plot, haha. I also hear all the time how people say some movie was so scary “for its time”, simply because the special effects were new for the time.

  • Darrien says:

    This brings back memories of my family and I watching classic horror movies at night. Ever since I was a young child, it was one of our traditions. More recently, we even enjoyed watching the low-budget horror movies that are sometimes pretty humorous. The older films are often more creative and not so much “hey, we’re going to scare you now”! There was actually a plot, haha. I also hear all the time how people say some movie was so scary “for its time”, simply because the special effects were new for the time.

    • jamie says:

      Hey Darrien, thanks for commenting! You had a very cool childhood my friend..!

      I like what you say about the old classics having more of a plot! And more creative too! For me there’s a real charm to them because they were the first! I find that so interesting!

      Exactly like you say, they were really scary for the time. And left people with images they would never forget.

  • Benjamin says:

    Howdy Jaime,

    Talk about going retro with this choice, I don’t believe I have seen any horror flicks before the 70’s.

    I would actually appreciate viewing one of those Gothic, silent 1920’s horror films if I could get my hands on one.

    I could only imaging the comparison between a modern day horror film to the olden days.

    Interesting article and an enjoyable one!

    ~Benji~

  • christine edwards says:

    Very cool site. I love watching these classic horror movies as a kid. Hadn’t really thought of some of them in years. I will have to introduce my niece to them and she what she thinks. We watch the newer ones together all the time. Gotta wonder what she will think.

    • jamie says:

      Hey thanks Christine. Hope your niece finds them real interesting. They’re not scary as such any more…to me they have a huge historical appeal. Jamie.

  • Evie says:

    Classic horror movies were great – creepy and there were some great actors in them such as Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and many others. Today’s horror movies seem to go more for the schlock factor especially with the ‘slasher’ genre which I absolutely hate. The older horror movies kept you in suspense and on the edge of your seat without resorting to gratuitous violence

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