With Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey on the horizon, viewers are reminded of how many great properties have lapsed into the public domain. The world of horror movies is especially filled with a wealth of monumental chillers that are free of any copyright.
From silent terrors such as Nosferatu to groundbreaking zombie flicks like Night of the Living Dead, some of the greatest horror classics are available to view free of charge. Though there have been a host of freaky films to lapse into the public domain, only the best received high scores on IMDb.
10 White Zombie (1932) – 6.3
Around the same time that actor Bela Lugosi made a splash in Dracula, he would once again turn heads in the unsung classic, White Zombie. The film follows a young man who goes to a witch doctor in order to sway his beloved away from her fiancé.
White Zombie is an atmospheric feast for the senses and features some of the most beautiful scenic design of any film from the ’30s. Lugosi is magnetic as Legendre, and his hypnotic gaze was carried over from his time as the infamous Count. Though the movie is barely over an hour long, it packs a creepy punch that sticks with the viewer long afterward.
9 A Bucket Of Blood (1959) – 6.7
On his way to becoming the most prolific Hollywood director of all time, Roger Corman made his fair share of great horror movies. A Bucket of Blood is the story of a struggling artist who begins using dead bodies in his artwork which garners him increasing prestige in the art community. Though more tongue-in-cheek than terrifying, A Bucket of Blood is nevertheless an under-appreciated horror classic from a decade that was dominated by sci-fi. Making biting criticisms of the art world, as well as the 1950s beat culture, it is just as easy to laugh as it is to scream while watching Corman’s masterpiece.
8 Spider Baby Or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1967) – 6.8
In this day and age, films rarely have the ability to shock anymore. However, Spider Baby stands out as an old horror movie that is actually terrifying. The film concerns an affable caretaker who puts himself in charge of a group of adult siblings who go mad after the death of their parents. Essentially a passing of the torch, the film stars Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his last roles, and Sid Haig in one of his earliest. What makes the film so chilling is how macabre and strange it is, especially for the 1960s. The performances are all top-notch, and the movie is packed with enough twists and turns to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat until the very end.
7 House On Haunted Hill (1959) – 6.8
The crown jewel in director William Castle’s impressive resume of creepy classics, House on Haunted Hill is one of the most recognizable horror films of the ’50s. A group of five people attempt to stay the night at a spooky house with the chance to win a large sum of money from an eccentric millionaire.
Filled with all of the hair-raising chills of a haunted house, the film is a masterclass in effective tension and fun. Vincent Price is his usual ghoulish self, and the movie alternates between humor and horror quite deftly. House on Haunted Hill is a short but thrilling ride through a host of recognizable horror movie tropes.
6 Carnival Of Souls (1962) – 7.1
Horror has always pushed boundaries, and few films left as indelible a mark on cinema history as Carnival of Souls. After surviving a traumatic accident, a young woman is mysteriously drawn to a remote town where she is haunted by a ghostly carnival. In a time when horror movies were pretty straightforward, Carnival of Souls got decidedly ethereal with its story and execution. Packed with deeper themes about trauma and death, the movie is so much more than the run-of-the-mill chillers that haunted theaters and drive-ins at the time. Though the film itself is woefully under-seen, its impact on horror cinema is still felt to this day.
5 The Phantom Of The Opera (1925) – 7.5
Despite the fact that it was a tentpole movie from Universal Studios, the original silent Phantom of the Opera nevertheless lapsed into the public domain. The Paris opera is inundated with mysterious goings on that all point back to the supposed Phantom who haunts the company’s star ingenue. Mostly remembered for its terrifying face reveal thanks to Lon Chaney’s ghoulish makeup, the film also has other cinematic merits to stand on. Made on an epic scale, the huge lavish sets allow for the action of the film to play out with an almost theatrical gravity. Even nearly a century after its release, The Phantom of the Opera still stands as the best adaptation of the book.
4 Häxan (1922) – 7.6
Even though it was made as a mock-documentary, Häxan is still a undeniably chilling piece of silent cinema. The film recounts fictionalized parts of European history, especially concerning the prevalence of witchcraft and devilry.
While it very easily could have been dry and boring, the visuals of the film are what make it a horror classic. The many dramatic reenactments are filled with surreal visuals and utterly horrifying depictions of demons and devils. Though the film has been recut into several different versions, the original silent film will always be the most unsettling.
3 Night Of The Living Dead (1968) – 7.8
Horror history has many turning points, and the release of Night of the Living Dead was one of the biggest tectonic shifts of all. A group of disparate people take shelter in a remote farmhouse when a legion of undead zombies rise and start devouring living flesh. Groundbreaking in many different ways, including breaking racial boundaries, the film also changed the way that zombies were seen on screen. Before Night, zombies were usually of spiritual origin, but director George Romero had a much more ghoulish vision. Still regarded as one of the most influential zombie movies of all time, Night of the Living Dead never fails to get the audience’s pulse pounding.
2 Nosferatu (1922) – 7.9
Coming as one of the earliest adaptations of Dracula, Nosferatu is still remembered as a truly horrifying take on the vampire lore. The mysterious and vampiric Count Orlock takes up residence in Germany where he begins tormenting the city. The most iconic piece of the film is the Count’s gruesome appearance, and despite being a century old, the film’s visuals are still mortifying. The movie experimented with dozens of new artistic techniques, and it is not only one of the scariest movies of its time, it is also one of the most influential and forward-thinking as well.
1 The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) – 8.0
German Expressionism was a short-lived film movement between the World Wars, but it still remains as one of the art form’s most adventurous periods and is most remembered because of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. the film follows a hypnotist who uses a hypnotized acolyte to commit a series of revenge murders. With its painted shadows and strange sets, Caligari is very much like a dream caught on film. The silence of the movie only adds to the creepiness factor, and few films have ever been able to match its originality. Cesare the somnambulist helped to inspire nearly every famous monster that followed, even if he isn’t often counted among their ranks.