5. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
French filmmaker Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977) is best remembered for his brilliant film noir Out of the Past (1947), but to horror fans it is his fabulous run of low-budget but high-concept horror films for RKO Studios that cements his legacy. Pictures like Cat People (1942) and The Leopard Man (1943) brought lurid, transgressive, and formalist frights to the big screen years before it was fashionable, and his 1943 cult classic I Walked with a Zombie may well be his most unsung and satisfying film.
Effortlessly and oh so stylishly, Tourner defies audience expectations at every artful twist and nuanced turn as Canadian nurse Betsey Connell (Frances Dee) is brought on to care for Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon), a wealthy woman on a Caribbean sugar plantation, who has an extremely bizarre condition.
Jessica’s mysterious affliction baffles Betsy and before the audience can bat a lash she’s foolishly falling for Jessica’s dreamboat hubby, Paul (Tom Conway), and is determined to make him content by curing his messed up wife. Drawn into the island’s dark culture of voodoo and zombies, Betsey begins to uncover the Holland family’s sinister secrets in her dreamlike journey of evil attractions, family tragedy, and incredible danger.
4. Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) produced hundreds of films in his Factory, a highly regarded hub for artists, writers, musicians, you name it, and of these many avant-garde projects, it may well be that Flesh for Frankenstein and it’s follow-up film, Blood for Dracula (1973) are the best-known and best-loved of that highly prolific era.
Written and directed by Paul Morrissey, and featuring his protagonist-of-choice Joe Dallesandro, along with future cult icon Udo Kier (Suspiria, My Own Private Idaho, Breaking the Waves, and literally hundreds more), this transgressive and revisionist take on Mary Shelley’s classic features one Baron Frankenstein (Kier), pining away over restoring Serbia once more to glory, so he builds himself male and female monsters whose children will become the new master race. Seems simple enough, right?
Determined that they be libidinous, Frankenstein equips the male with the brain of someone possessing an OTT libido and finds local stable boy Nicholas (Dallesandro) to be his must have for the task. Mistakenly, Frankenstein gets the head of Nicholas’s pious friend, Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic) instead. Oops! Meanwhile, Nicholas seduces the sultry baron’s wife, Katrin (Monique Van Vooren), with suitably steamy results.
Part sizzling satire, part brutal burlesque, Flesh for Frankenstein is a near-perfect midnight movie that also stands as an emblem of the Warhol Factory’s hectic heyday.
3. Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Influential filmmaker and founder of the Cinématheque Française, Georges Franju is perhaps best remembered for his uncompromising classic, the a pulpy masterpiece that plays like equal parts Edgar Allan Poe and Jean Cocteau, Eyes Without a Face.
Adapted from Jean Redon’s novel, this grotesque spectacular tells the sordid tale of guilt-stricken Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) who caused the ghastly disfigured face of his daughter, the once gorgeous Christiane (Édith Scob). Now a full-on mad scientist, Dr. Génessier and his sicko laboratory assistant Louise (Alida Valli) kidnap young women, take them back to the Génessier mansion and perform nasty medical horrors.
Franju’s fondness for graphic imagery –– such as the glimpses of Christiane’s missing face and one particularly nightmarish attack from vicious dogs –– make Eyes Without a Face feel incredibly postmodern. Artful digressions involving soft focus glimpses of gore paired with Maurice Jarre’s fiery score makes for a harrowing, tactile, and ostentatious cinematic experience.
2. The Changeling (1980)
Peter Mendak (The Krays , Romeo is Bleeding ) may not be thought of as a horror movie director but his haunted house ghost story from 1980, The Changeling, fully embraces the Hitchcock tradition.
It’s a dark-hearted, nail-biting mystery moored by George C. Scott’s spellbinding performance as John Russell, a brilliant composer grieving the loss of his family in a tragic road accident. Classic ghost story elements get redrawn in elegant fashion — bumps in the night, ghostly visages, clues to something reprehensible, even a shocking séance sequence — all creating an arresting sense of genuine dread and perplexity.
Assisted by the late, great cinematographer John Coquillon — the genius behind such ravishing pictures as Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General (the top spot on this very list!) and Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid  amongst others — The Changeling is a précis of classic horror concepts (and it certainly influenced every haunted house tale that followed). It’s an unsung and uncompromising classic.
1. Witchfinder General (1968)
It’s highly possible that kids these days (don’t worry, I just rolled my eyes at that line, too, ugh) have no real context for which to place the macabre master Vincent Price, who at one point in his lustrous career was known worldwide for his scene-stealing roles as insidiously clever villainous nasties. Well, to those kiddies we suggest a strong dose of Michael Reeves’s wantonly cruel 1968 masterpiece, Witchfinder General (also known as The Conqueror Worm, it’s American release title).
Incredibly influential, mordantly violent, and rooted in England’s bleak history, Reeves’s final film –– he died soon after production wrapped, at the young age of 25, having already completed seven films! –– spawned scores of imitators and provided Price with perhaps his finest, and surely his most sadistic role (and that’s really saying something).
Film historians claim accuracy in this 17th century set tale of Matthew Hopkins (Price), witch hunter (which back then, equated to woman hater), out to terrorize the English countryside.
It rattled censors at the time and today still tests one’s threshold for terror. A must see cinema experience for anyone who considers themselves a true horror fan. Miss this movie at your own peril.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.