The 1960s were a decade of change across all aspects of American life, and scary movies were no exception. Transitioning from black-and-white to color, introducing special effects, and heightening the realism and cold sweats at every turn, the best horror movies of the 1960s set the stage for decades of screen screams to come.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Based on Ira Levin’s best-selling novel, this chilling film stars Mia Farrow as a young housewife who moves into an apartment building with her husband (John Cassavetes). After becoming pregnant, she becomes convinced that their neighbors are Satanists. The story builds to one of the most shocking climaxes in movie history.
The Birds (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller about a small California town taken over by birds gone mad is one of the most searing and terrifying films ever made. Tippi Hedren (in her screen debut), Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy star.
The Haunting (1963)
This chilling ghost story stars Julie Harris as an emotionally fragile woman who is hired as a caretaker for an old, creepy mansion. With the help of her sister (Claire Bloom) and skeptical psychologist (Richard Johnson), she discovers that it’s not just dusty carpets and creaky stairs that make the house frightening–it’s something much worse!
Black Sabbath (1963)
A young governess (Deborah Kerr), sent to work in gloomy country house, senses the presence of ghostly children who turn out to be real–and more than she bargained for. Her sanity and her life are threatened as she confronts an evil far beyond anything in reality or nightmare.
Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom star with Kerr.
The Innocents (1961)
In this adaptation of Henry James’ turn-of-the century novel, a governess (Deborah Kerr) is hired to care for two children in an old country house. The woman soon senses something terribly amiss–yet no one will believe her!
Alfred Hitchcock’s original masterpiece about the murderous exploits of a lonely Norman Bates and his mummified mother. In the years since this film’s release, it has become the standard-bearer for psychological thrillers, and just the mention of the Bates Motel or of “Mother” can send a shiver down the spine.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Joan Crawford as a former child star now in her old age, who torments the blind and crippled sister she’s forced to live with. In this film-noir advertisement for Oscar Wilde’s maxim that eternity is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, Bette Davis pushes past mere nastiness to become the personification of evil.
The Gorgon (1964)
The best of Hammer’s color-era “Gothic” films, this one features a beautiful but murderous woman who turns living things to stone with her stare and has a pet gorgon in the form of an enormous spider.
Last Man on Earth (1964)
The best Vincent Price movie to come out of the ’60s, this one stars Price as a scientist who finds himself alone on Earth after an apocalyptic event.
Tower of London (1962)
A horror film in all but name, with its depictions of medieval torture and execution. This is based on the historical record rather than any literary material, and it’s based on the historical record in all but name.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The first of the zombie genre, George Romero’s story about a group of people holed up in a rural farmhouse fighting against waves and swarms of zombies. This is the movie that invented the modern horror film as we know it today.
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
One of the the worst films of all time, according to IMDb ratings. A story about a family who moves into a Texas vacation spot and run afoul with the Master—the satanic leader of an ancient cult that lives in fear of being invaded by outsiders.
Roman Polanski’s first English language film, a psychological horror story about Catherine Deneuve who is driven to the brink of madness by her oppressive family and an off-kilter love interest.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Overwrought but still terrifying adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story about a man trapped in a castle and tormented by an evil Spanish inquisitor.
A group of people take refuge in a remote cabin to escape from Dracula’s followers.