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10 Spookiest and Most Terrifying Silent Horror Movies

Ghouls, ghosts, and golems. Silent cinema has got your horror watchlist covered.
Silent Horror Movies
By  · Published on October 23rd, 2020

5. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

The Lodger

Alfred Hitchcock didn’t need sound to deliver an iconic tale of murder and paranoia. In this film, inspired by the Jack the Ripper case, a serial killer is terrorizing London and attacking women with — Hitchcock fans, say it with me — blonde hair! When a mysterious and reclusive lodger moves in with the Bunting family, including the blonde and beautiful Daisy (June Tripp), it doesn’t take long before he’s a suspect. With Hitchcock’s brilliant command of tone, the film keeps the mystery going until the end, resulting in a thrilling entry in the silent film canon. (Anna Swanson)

4. Vampyr (1932)


Vampyr is very much the Twin Peaks: The Return of this list. Much as The Return was neither really television nor film, Vampyr is really neither fully a silent picture nor a sound one. Naturally it falls to us to exploit this ambiguity and put Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s gothic masterpiece on as many lists as possible. The hybrid status of Vampyr, coupled with its disorienting atmosphere, dense sound design, and unconventional cutaways result in something more akin to a waking nightmare than a film; an unclassifiable gray-tinged terror-trip with unconscious rhythms and a logic as crooked as any of the mansion’s staircases. The film follows a student of the occult who finds himself embroiled in the drama of a wealthy family set upon by a predatory, blood-sucking presence. Objective reality has no place here. This is the most austere and atmospheric film you’re liable to find that also features a man being buried alive in a flour mill. (Meg Shields)

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)


Anyone whose experiences have led them to think that black-and-white silent horror movies are dull should get an eyeful of Robert Wiene’s 1920 classic before drawing their conclusions. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a vivid story that makes beautiful use of its limitations, capturing one’s attention with the bold, memorable art design that would become known as German Expressionism. Caligari’s gorgeously twisted visuals have inspired everything from Tim Burton movies to a David Bowie tour to the wordless novel genre. Meanwhile, the details of its story, which follows a manipulative hypnotist and a naïve sleepwalker, are the blueprint for at least dozen different horror tropes that are still popular to this day. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

2. Haxan (1922)


Haxan caused a lot of controversy upon release in 1922 due to its scenes of torture, nudity, and perversion. It was banned in several countries for decades. Benjamin Christensen made the film to shed a spotlight on the inexplicable horrors faced by women who were accused of witchcraft during the Inquisitions, and he didn’t hold back when it came to showcasing the debauchery. The film is presented as a visual essay that chronicles those atrocities and blurs the line between fact and fiction. Naysayers accused it of being Satanic when in reality it exposes the awfulness of human beings and religious hysteria. Haxan is also one of the most visually stunning products of its era, boasting innovative lighting and detailed sets to make for a lush and eerie realization of some disturbing subject matter. It’s essential as both a history lesson and as a cinematic breakthrough. (Kieran Fisher)

1. Nosferatu (1922)


When you can’t secure the rights to the most famous vampire novel ever written, you shrug your shoulders and make the movie anyway resulting in the best of the silent horror movies. Nosferatu contains all the trappings of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it’s easy to see why the production studio folded rather than acknowledge the widowed Florence Balcombe’s lawsuit, but in bringing the ghoulish bloodsucker to cinematic life, the film cements the legend. F. W. Murnau delivers a sumptuous, gothic feast that still looks unlike any other movie, let alone any other horror movie. Count Orlock’s profile burned itself into the DNA of pop culture, and his shape is destined to reappear throughout our films until the end of time. This creature has reached the status of shadow and darkness; he’s simply one of our primordial fears forever lurking in our closets and under our beds. The narrative demands his eradication under sunlight, but in actuality, the sun will never shine on this demon. (Brad Gullickson)

Want to add some talkies to your watchlist? Keep it going with our other 31 Days of Horror selections!

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Anna Swanson is a Senior Contributor who hails from Toronto. She can usually be found at the nearest rep screening of a Brian De Palma film.