The 20 Best '60s Horror Movies Ranked

The '60s was a time of great upheaval –- it was the supposed decade of peace and love but, was also the era of riots, the civil rights movement, and of seismic shifts both politically and culturally. The post-war optimism of World War II had begun to fade, and with that came a new cynicism –- counterculture was in the ascendance, and it was reflected in film tastes. The '50s had been spent watching the stars, but much of the '60s would be spent watching your back. Horror was cheap, and the deterioration of the censorial nature of the already fragmented Hays Code meant that directors could do more, show more –- something that would be truly exploited in the '70s, the golden age of horror.

The growing popularity of television also cast a dark shadow over cinema. The decade saw the traditional studio system begin to fragment, ironically even as the first multiplexes were beginning to appear. Ambitious epics were harder to justify, and it became increasingly cheap to shoot abroad with foreign film crews –- which benefited the UK cinema industry greatly, assisting already established dedicated horror studios such as Hammer and Amicus.

It's worth mentioning that there will be spoilers here –- you've had six decades to watch the twenty movies presented here, so read on at your peril.

20. Blood Feast

"Blood Feast," is included more as a curio and cinematic landmark than through its quality as a movie. The acting is risible, the plot ludicrous and gossamer-thin, and it was seemingly directed by randomly pointing a camera at actors and scenes, with scant regard for cinematic intricacies such as adequate lighting or being in focus.

And yet for all its faults, "Blood Feast" has achieved a certain notoriety in horror history by being among the first of its genre to feature extensive gore. Writer/director Herschell Gordon Lewis ("The Godfather of Gore") -– no stranger to using gimmickry to put bottoms on cinema seats -– slathers the screen with thick, lurid red, visceral grue.

Ramses is a caterer in Miami. Everybody needs a hobby, and Ramses' is murdering young women and using their body parts to rejuvenate the Egyptian Goddess Ishtar. Lewis delights in showing the full effect of Ramses' handiwork –- all the eye gouging and entrail stripping is presented on screen with gleeful delight, albeit with all the directorial flair of waving a camera around in an abattoir.

Still, all credit to it for being the first splatter movie, and for making this list. And probably the first time that "Blood Feast" has ever been close to a chart which wasn't about the worst horror films ever made.

19. Black Sabbath

Sometimes known as anthology movies, the portmanteau horror hit its stride in the '60s. They commonly featured numerous standalone stories linked by a framing device. Introduced by a deliciously deadpan Boris Karloff, this Mario Bava directed film (released as "The Three Faces of Fear" in his native Italy) consists of three individual tales.

The first features a woman alone in her apartment being troubled by menacing phone calls from an unseen prowler. The second featuring Karloff himself as a man returning home to his family after supposedly killing an undead creature. The standout story here is the final tale though, "The Drop of Water," which sees a nurse haunted by the corpse of a woman she stole a sapphire ring from.

The first two tales are distinctly average, one ending predictably and the other dragged to a length that the script can't support, but it finishes on a high note. It's a delightfully creepy tale with a terrifying protagonist, the ghastly appearance of whom will linger in your subconsciousness long after Karloff has bid his monotone farewells. We also have this film to thank for the naming of the legendary band Black Sabbath, who were simply known as "Earth" before this film inspired their epochal name change.

18. Tales of Terror

Featuring three tales based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, this 1962 movie was directed by the king of low-budget independent cinema Roger Corman, with a screenplay by Richard Matheson of "I am Legend" fame.

Lacking the typical framing mechanism of the portmanteau, each story stars (and is introduced via voiceover) by horror legend Vincent Price. The three classic tales tell of vengeful spirits, cuckolds and cats, and souls stranded in Limbo.

This was the fourth pairing of Corman and Price on a Poe adaptation, and it's apparent that the novelty was wearing a little thin for both talents. It's the central segment –- "The Black Cat" –- that's the most entertaining, being an odd hybrid of two separate Poe stories ("The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado"). It's a wonderful showcase for the comedic and dramatic capacities of Peter Lorre and Vincent Price. Both traditionally known for playing villains, it's a tale as camp as it is hilarious, with each actor trying to out-perform and out-ham the other. It's a popular tale with filmmakers that has had numerous subsequent adaptations, appearing again in the 90's anthology "Two Evil Eyes" as well as an episode of the 2007 television stories "Masters of Horror".

17. Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

Amicus Productions became inexorably linked with the portmanteau horror format throughout the '70s, but "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" was their first. The mysterious Doctor Schreck (Peter Cushing) steps into a carriage in London and performs tarot readings for the men within. This is the framework for the upcoming pentalogy of horror tales, stories of werewolves, killer plants, voodoo, possessed disembodied hands, and vampires –- all culminating in a not particularly well-hidden twist ending.

The great beauty (and strength) of the anthology format is the pace; stories are tight, brief, and if they're not particularly good, there'll be another one along in a moment. It allows for a variety of styles, in this case wildly veering so much between genuinely chilling horror and dark humor that it's enough to give you whiplash. This particular film is also a veritable Who's Who of horror talent, featuring genre stalwarts such as Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, and Donald Sutherland, all clearly enjoying themselves way too much.

The title (and portmanteau format) would later be spoofed to significant effect in the BBC Comedy 2001 horror series, "Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible".

16. Carry on Screaming!

Hammer Film Productions were at the height of their success in the late '50s and early '60s, their works therefore ripe for parody. The phenomenally successful "Carry On" comedy film franchise had spoofed almost every genre with its unique style of bawdy humor, so horror seemed a natural fit.

The 12th "Carry On" film in the series, "Carry on Screaming" takes us to the smoggy streets of Edwardian London. Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung is investigating the recent disappearance of numerous young women. His investigations lead him to the home of the eccentric scientist Doctor Watt, his vampish (and vampirish) sister Valeria, and their collection of surprisingly life-like mannequins.

For a franchise better known for its obsession with underwear, excessive cleavage, and never opting for a double entendre where a single entendre will suffice, "Carry on Screaming!" is a surprisingly respectful and well-observed homage to the Hammer Horror oeuvre. It features eminently quotable lines, great gags, and genuine scares. It also has the cinematography match the lurid colors of Hammer's distinctive Eastman color palette. The cast are clearly having a blast, and the fun is infectious.

15. Onibaba

Set in Japan during the Nanboku-cho civil war of the 14th century, Onibaba sees two scavengers –- an older woman and her daughter-in-law –- making a living by murdering samurai unwary enough to stumble into their territory and selling their weapons and armor for coins. One day the two encounter a warrior wearing a hannya mask (a traditional theatrical mask of a jealous female demon) and, he, too is lured to his death. The mask is removed from his hideously disfigured face, and thus begins a chain of events that will make the women pay for their crimes.

Shot in harsh monochrome, "Onibaba" is a bleak and unrelenting view of war — but is as visually stunning as it is chilling. Much of the film is set amongst plains of silver seven-foot-tall susuki grass, both home and camouflage for the two ill-fated women. A brilliantly distinctive soundtrack tops off this movies assault on the senses, with its weirdly anachronistic avant-garde jazz.

14. The Devil Rides Out

If the works of author Dennis Wheatley were to be believed, you couldn't move around the English countryside in the first half of the twentieth century without stumbling across various Satanic warlocks and their middle-class covens conducting eldritch practices.

"The Devil Rides Out" was Wheatley's second work (from an eventual 11) featuring his hero Duc de Richleau — but the only time said character would be portrayed on screen, more than 34 years after the release of the book. Horror stalwart Christopher Lee portrays the aristocratic Duke, an adventurer and occultist. In Hammer Film's "The Devil Rides Out" (released as "The Devil's Bride" in the United States to avoid audiences mistaking it as a Western), Richleau and his colleague Rex Van Ryn learn of a Satanic cult and plan to foil their nefarious mystical plans.

Wheatley himself was a keen student of the occult, and it's the obvious research and deadly serious approach to Satanism –- and the earnestness of the actors involved –- that stop the movie moving into the realms of the silly or far-fetched. Having a performer of Lee's gravitas helps considerably, and it's refreshing to have the king of the Vampires play the dashing hero for once -– and a particularly memorable and interesting protagonist, at that.

13. Brides of Dracula

Christopher Lee would make his second performance as the eponymous undead aristocrat in "Dracula: Prince of Darkness" but it's "Brides of Dracula" -– Hammers unofficial sequel to the first movie –- that's of more interest, with a frankly wasted Lee playing the role without dialogue in the former. Deviating away from the Bram Stoker source material, "Brides of Dracula" is the first of a protracted line in Hammer Horror Dracula sequels, "The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" (a bizarre martial arts/horror hybrid) being the last such movie in 1974.

A young Baron, cursed with the bloodline of Dracula, breaks free of his castle prison. He's allowed to wreak havoc through the village and a girl's school before professional Vampire Hunter Abraham Van Helsing arrives on the scene.

"Brides" is a quintessential Hammer movie, featuring all the trademarks that cinema audiences had come to expect from the prolific horror studio; a gothic period setting, a garish and distinctive technicolor palette, candle-lit mansions, stoic square-jawed heroes, and beautiful women in flimsy nightdresses. The enigmatic Peter Cushing reprises his role as Van Helsing lifting this up as a worthy entry to Hammer's vampire canon, with enough classy gore to keep the horror fans content.

12. Witchfinder General

Set during the English Civil War of the 17th century, Matthew Hopkins was the Witchfinder General. He was supposedly tasked by General Oliver Cromwell's Puritans to travel the countryside and seek out confessions from witches –- for which he would collect a handsome fee. Naturally, this means of financial recompense could be exploited by a less-than-honest soul, and Hopkins and his henchmen did exactly that.

Vincent Price remains a rightful legend in the annals of horror history, but he could never ordinarily have been accused of delivering a performance which could be regarded as subtle. Price was a wonderful larger-than-life character, and this extended to the roles he chose — but in "Witchfinder General," Price plays the character of Matthew Hopkins with earnest seriousness, marking it as one of his finest performances. 

Hopkins was a despicable man, and Price plays him with complete conviction. Effectively murdering women for money, the real Matthew Hopkins lived out his life without ever meeting justice. Naturally, such a conclusion wouldn't make for particularly rewarding cinema, and "Witchfinder General" does a wonderful job at showing the man's crooked deeds finally catching up with him.

11. Repulsion

The first of two movies on this list from Polish-French auteur Roman Polanski, this is notably the fugitive director's first English-language movie. Set in Kensington, London, "Repulsion" is a psychological horror thriller about an androphobic manicurist named Carol (played by Catherine Deneuve) and her slow descent into madness within the cramped confines of her apartment.

Shot in moody black and white, the apartment is forever doused in shadow, a claustrophobic space mirroring the fractured state of Carol's mind. We're witness to all of Carol's hallucinations, including a particularly memorable scene in which hands emerge from walls to desperately grasp at her (in a shot that would later be paid homage in both the trailer and opening scenes of George A. Romero's "Day of the Dead"). It's all wonderfully surreal, and we're never quite sure what is real and what is not.

The soundtrack is as stifling as the visuals, featuring unnerving repetitive sounds such as the ticking of clocks and the audible beating of Carol's heart. As Carol's neuroses heighten to unsustainable levels that can only end in tragedy, the audience feels complicit in every act. Rarely has mental health been portrayed so vividly (and so disturbingly) on the big screen.

10. Village of the Damned

Author John Wyndham was the expert in the low-key subtle invasion; in "Day of the Triffids" he saw the world slowly conquered by sentient vegetation, and in "Village of the Damned" the attempted subjugation of humankind begins in the small sleepy British village of Midwich.

In this adaptation of Wyndham's 1957 science fiction novel "The Midwich Cuckoos", the inhabitants of said village all fall unconscious simultaneously, waking unharmed four hours later. All the women of child-bearing age are found pregnant, and give birth on the same day. As these strange blonde-haired children grow and develop at a baffling rate, they start revealing their terrifying extra-sensory powers.

It's the performance of these children which is the great strength of the film –- there's a great effectiveness in horror in the unnatural staging of seeing innocent youngsters performing hideous acts (Gage in "Pet Semetary," for instance) and the appearance and the demeanor of the Cuckoos are truly haunting. There's a playful malevolence to them, and it's refreshing to see –- in an era where exposition was so often driven home with a sledgehammer –- that the true nature of the children is never properly revealed. This ambiguity is one of the most chilling things of all.

9. Eyes Without a Face

"Eyes without a Face" ("Les yeux sans visage") tells the tale of guilt-ridden Doctor Génessier, remorseful at being responsible for an accident that disfigured his once-beautiful daughter Christiane. In an attempt to atone for his sins, he kidnaps young women in order to remove their faces to try to graft them onto his scarred daughter.

Despite having been elevated to more than just a mad scientist movie through the skilled camerawork of director Georges Franju, it was poorly received on initial release, with many detractors claiming that the horror genre was beneath Georges' talents. It has since undergone massive critical reevaluation. It's uncomfortable viewing and feels remarkably ahead of its time, especially with its clinical approach to its uneasy imagery.

John Carpenter implied that Christiane's blank faced mask was an inspiration for Michael Myers in the "Halloween" series. "Eyes without a Face" has also been hugely influential on European cinema, inspiring a number of Jesús Franco's movies as well as the Pedro Almodóvar film "The Skin I Live in"

8. Quatermass and the Pit

The character of Rocket scientist Professor Bernard Quatermass had been around since the early 50s, immortalized on screen across a number of television series. "Quatermass and the Pit" was an adaptation of the six-part 1958 series and was released as "Five Million Years to Earth" in the US.

As engineers are digging an extension to the London Underground, they come across a mysterious buried object and the remains of early humans suspected to be at least five million years old. The object turns out to be an ancient spacecraft and reactivates, provoking weird hallucinations and casting a malign effect on all those in the vicinity.

The underlying theme of most of writer Nigel Kneale's Quatermass tales was the intersection between science and myth, and this extended to his other work, including his script duties on "Halloween III." Quatermass was (unusually) always a more intellectual type, being verbose and intelligent rather than prone to acts of derring-do. The tales follow suit with science often being used to defeat the antagonist rather than brute strength or sheer firepower. Along with "2001: A Space Odyssey" from the same year, "Quatermass and the Pit" was one of the heralds of the dawning of a new age of more cerebral drama. Even now it remains both original, and thought-provoking.

7. The Haunting

Based on the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel "The Haunting of Hill House," "The Haunting" concerns a group of people invited by a paranormal investigator to stay in and research the supposedly haunted titular house. The investigator, Dr. John Markway, is joined in the sprawling and sinister gothic manor by the family heir Luke, psychic Theodora, and Eleanor, a guilt-ridden woman with a history of hauntings.

In an era where censorship was being gradually relaxed and horror movies were becoming bolder and more experimental in their attempts to scare, "The Haunting" at first appears something of a throwback. It turns out to be a masterclass in ramping up atmosphere and tension, with the sound design worthy of particular note; rattling pipes and creaking walls give the impression that the building is alive and is as much a character as any of the hapless humans wandering within its oddly angled walls. Also worthy of note is the movies surprisingly modern approach to homosexuality -– Theodora is portrayed as feminine, whereas the Hollywood tendency at the time was to portray lesbians as predatory and masculine.

A poorly received remake was released by Jan De Bont in 1999, with a more successful television adaptation for Netflix created and directed by Mike Flanagan in 2018.

6. Peeping Tom

Universally derided on release and responsible for the ostracism of director Michael Powell from the film industry, Peeping Tom is one of the very first –- if not the first –- examples of the slasher genre.

Recluse Mark is a photographer, working in a film studio in daylight and taking bawdy photos of women at night. A childhood victim of abuse, he's making a documentary about fear –- one which involves taping the reactions of his victims as he kills them. A friend sharing the same apartment building learns of his secret and ends up being captured by Mark.

"Peeping Tom" is a slow-burning psychological horror, much of its power coming from the framing of its scenes. A great deal of the movie is viewed either from Mark's perspective, or through the viewfinder of his ever-present camera, which eventually turns out to be the method of murder. The audience is forced into involuntary voyeurism, the camera lingering and never shying away as much as we'd like it to.

Despite the considerable harm it did to Powell's previously exemplary career, "Peeping Tom" has been subsequently reappraised and acknowledged as the standout movie that it truly is. It's a hidden gem but is as bleak and unforgiving as anything from Hitchcock.

5. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Blanche and Jane Hudson, two aging child stars past their prime, share a dilapidated Hollywood mansion. "Baby" Jane Hudson's star faded in childhood, whereas Blanche went on to a successful acting career. Now living together, Blanche confined to a wheelchair with Jane remains resentful of her sister's success, regularly abusing her crippled sibling.

The backstage story behind the two lead actors from this 1962 psychological horror is almost as vicious as the one portrayed on screen: the two divas just as prone to barbed comments against the other as either of their characters. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were rivals for at least three decades, and it was rumored that the two only agreed because each was envious of the other's starring role.

Both performances are utterly hypnotic, with Davis' Jane in particular coming across as a truly pathological grotesque. It's as much character study as horror, the venom spat between the two coming across as frighteningly genuine. It's rare that Hollywood dares to be quite so introspective, but "Whatever happened to Baby Jane?" is a gripping and unique look at the aftermath of success and stardom.

4. The Birds

"The Birds" follows socialite Melanie Daniels and her ill-timed new romance with Mitch Brenner, their relationship just beginning as huge flocks of birds descend on their town and begin attacking people.

Based on a true story in which seabirds attacked a Californian town in the early '60s, director Alfred Hitchcock used the event as research material for the movie. The eventual cause of the real-life event was pinned down to toxic algae, but one of the strongest elements of the film is that the cause for the bird's erratic and uncharacteristic behavior is never explained.

The movie is a delightful example of slow-burning tension, culminating in a violent and frenzied set piece covering the birds' ultimate attack on the townsfolk. Hitchcock truly was the expert in suspense, and it's been rarely used to such favorable effect as it is here. In one particular stand-out scene (that's been ripe for spoof and parody ever since), birds begin amassing on a playground climbing frame, the numbers growing with every glance back at the skeletal metal structure. Just as it feels on the verge of becoming ludicrous, the final act begins.

3. Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary and her husband Guy have recently moved to a New York apartment building, confronted with odd neighbors and the buildings equally odd history. When Rosemary falls pregnant, she begins to strongly suspect that something is wrong with everyone around her -– and it's only when she gives birth that she learns the unholy truth.

Mia Farrow gives a career-best performance as the beleaguered Rosemary, her paranoia only worsening as those around her try to offer comfort. She cuts a waif-like figure, propelled like a leaf in a hurricane as her situation worsens. Is it the hormonal changes of her pregnancy affecting or judgement, or is it something far worse? When she suspects that even her husband is acting against her, is it paranoia or a (soon-to-be) mother's intuition?

Many speak of the standout ending, but it's the moments that happen just before it which are the most chilling: her chirpy and overly helpful neighbors talking about eldritch rituals with the same giddy enthusiasm as they'd talk about a tea party. Just normal-seeming humans capable of conspiring to conduct hideous, nefarious acts in order to achieve a singularly pitch-black aim. Rosemary is little more than a pawn, and the bleaker-than-bleak ending reveals her dark purpose.

2. Psycho

To the portly familiar silhouette of Hitchcock again for our penultimate movie, and a film that's been imitated many times since (including rather too studiously in a pointless shot-for-shot remake by Gas Van Sant in the late 90's).

Secretary Marion Crane has embezzled 40 thosuand dollars from her employer, and whilst travelling via back roads to hide from the authorities, stumbles across the ramshackle Bates Motel. There she meets proprietor Norman Bates, and will come to learn of the very unusual relationship the boy has with his mother.

Based loosely on the real-life case of murderer Ed Gein, it features what is one of the most famous film scenes ever shot –- namely, the murder of Marion whilst she showers. One of the most parodied scenes in the movie history, Hitchcock uses an unheard-of number of jump-cuts and perspective shifts in a scene given an incredible dynamism through soundtrack and sound effect (that's a melon and thick juicy stick you're heaving being stabbed, by the way). It may appear a little dated and predictable now, but it's easy to forget that many of the techniques and plot strands were unheard of then. It was "Psycho" that first introduced them to the lexicon of cinema.

1. Night of the Living Dead

"They're coming to get you, Barbara..."

"Night of the Living Dead" is landmark film in many ways. Effectively a siege movie in which a disparate group of people attempt to defend themselves against a horde of the rampaging cannibalistic undead, it was like nothing ever seen before. This was a movie which would dwell on the eating habits of the undead, watching them chow down on human limbs with a documentary-style voyeurism. It was a movie when dead little girls would attack their parents, and a film where the good guy dies at the end.

Hollywood zombies had previously been the product of African necromantic rituals, yet 28-year-old George Andrew Romero would do what countless square-jawed leading men could never do: wipe out all the voodoo zombies. These were the dead reanimated in an ambiguous manner, but through science and not magic — and that legacy would go on to infest cinema like a plague.

Amazingly, in the same year that saw the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., African American Duane Jones was cast in the leading role –- not for political reasons, but simply for being the best actor who auditioned, with Romero consciously refusing to amend any of the existing script to reflect the color of his lead's skin.

The threat of Romero's zombie has always been simple; it will not rest, and it will always be there. Like his pale skinned ghouls, the legacy of "Night of the Living Dead" will never die, its all-permeating influence still as strong now as it was half a century ago.