With Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey on the horizon, viewers are reminded of how many great properties have fallen into the public domain. The world of horror movies is particularly filled with a wealth of copyright-free monumental coolers.
From silent terrors like Nosferatu to groundbreaking zombie films like Night of the Living Dead, some of horror’s greatest classics are available for free. While there have been a slew of bizarre films that have fallen into the public domain, only the best have received high scores on IMDb.
10 White Zombie (1932) – 6.3
Around the same time actor Bela Lugosi was making a splash in Dracula, he was once again turning heads in the unsung classic, White Zombie. The film follows a young man who goes to a wizard to keep his beloved away from her fiancé.
White Zombie is an atmospheric feast for the senses and features some of the finest set design of any 1930s film. Lugosi is magnetic as Legendre, and his mesmerizing gaze has been carried over from his time as the infamous Count. Although the film is just over an hour long, it packs a chilling punch that sticks with the viewer long after.
9 A Bucket of Blood (1959) – 6.7
On his way to becoming the most prolific Hollywood director of all time, Roger Corman has made his fair share of great horror movies. A Bucket of Blood is the story of a struggling artist who begins to use corpses in his works, earning him increasing prestige in the art community. While more ironic than terrifying, A Bucket of Blood is nonetheless an underrated horror classic from a decade dominated by science fiction. Making biting critiques of the art world, as well as 1950s beat culture, it’s just as easy to laugh as it is to scream watching Corman’s masterpiece.
8 Baby Spider Or, The Craziest Story Ever Told (1967) – 6.8
Films these days rarely have the ability to shock. However, Spider Baby stands out as an old horror movie that is actually terrifying. The film is about an affable caretaker who puts himself in charge of a group of adult siblings who go crazy 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 first. What makes the movie so scary is how macabre and weird it is, especially for the 1960s. The performances are all top-notch and the movie contains enough twists and turns to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. until the very end.
7 House on the Haunted Hill (1959) – 6.8
The crown jewel of director William Castle’s impressive compendium of scary classics, House on Haunted Hill is one of the most recognizable horror films of the 1950s. spooky with the chance to win a big sum of money from an eccentric millionaire.
Filled with all the hair-raising thrills of a haunted house, the film is a masterclass in effective tension and fun. Vincent Price is his usual macabre self, and the film deftly alternates between humor and horror. House on Haunted Hill is a short but thrilling jaunt through a host of recognizable horror movie tropes.
6 Carnival of Souls (1962) – 7.1
Horror has always pushed the boundaries, and few films have left such an indelible mark on cinematic 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. At a time when horror movies were pretty straightforward, Carnival of Souls went decidedly ethereal with its story and execution. Filled with deeper themes of trauma and death, the film is much more than the mundane chillers that haunted theaters and drive-ins at the time. Although the film itself is terribly underseen, its impact on horror cinema is still felt to this day.
5 The Phantom of the Opera (1925) – 7.5
Despite being a landmark Universal Studios film, the original Silent Phantom of the Opera has nonetheless fallen into the public domain. The Paris Opera is awash with mysterious happenings that all point to the supposed ghost that haunts the company’s ingenuous star. Best known for its terrifying face revealed thanks to Lon Chaney’s macabre makeup, the film also has other cinematic merits to stand on. Executed on an epic scale, the huge, lavish sets allow the film’s action to unfold with an almost theatrical gravity. Even nearly a century after its release, The Phantom of the Opera remains the best adaptation of the book.
4 Haxan (1922) – 7.6
Even though it was made as a mockumentary, Häxan is still an undeniably chilling silent film. The film chronicles fictional parts of European history, particularly regarding the prevalence of witchcraft and devilry.
While it very easily could have been dry and boring, the film’s visuals make it a horror classic. The many dramatic re-enactments are filled with surreal visuals and downright gruesome depictions of demons and devils. Although the film has been recut in 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 them all. A disparate group of people take refuge in an isolated farmhouse when a legion of undead zombies arise and begin to devour living flesh. Groundbreaking in many ways, including breaking racial boundaries, the film also changed the way zombies were seen on screen. Before Night, zombies were generally spiritual in origin, but director George Romero had a much more macabre view. Still considered one of the most influential zombie films of all time, Night of the Living Dead never fails to make audiences’ hearts race.
2 Nosferatus (1922) – 7.9
Coming as one of the first adaptations of Dracula, Nosferatu is still remembered as a truly gruesome take on vampire lore. The mysterious and vampiric Count Orlock moves to Germany where he begins to torment the city. The film’s most iconic piece is the Count’s gruesome appearance, and despite being a century old, the film’s visuals are still mortifying. The film experimented with dozens of new artistic techniques, and it’s not only one of the most chilling films of its time, it’s also one of the most influential and cutting-edge.
1 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) – 8.0
German Expressionism was a short-lived film movement between the World Wars, but it remains one of the art form’s most adventurous periods and is best known for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. the film follows a hypnotist who uses a hypnotized sidekick to commit a series of revenge murders. With its painted shadows and strange settings, Caligari looks like a filmed dream. The film’s silence only adds to the scary factor, and few films have ever been able to match its originality. Cesare the Sleepwalker helped inspire nearly every famous monster that followed, though he’s not often counted in their ranks.
The 10 Best Public Domain Horror Movies, According To IMDb | Pretty Reel