The Internet Archive is home to gigabytes of media that anyone can view or download for free. Finding what you’re looking for can often prove problematic however, mainly because there’s just so much to see. Those of you who are fond of suspense, thrills, blood and guts will be pleased to know we’ve hacked and slashed our way through the tripe to find some of the best scary films available in the public domain.
An incredibly important, successful and controversial production for a variety of different reasons. The film was an unofficial movie adaptation of Bram Stoker’s epic Dracula novel, albeit with a number of key changes. There’s no audible dialogue in the film, instead title cards and an orchestral score serve to enhance the atmosphere created in part by the grainy black and white film.
Nosferatu was Prana Film’s last ever production after Stoker’s estate (representing his widow, Florence Stoker) successfully sued the company for copyright infringement. Every copy of the film was ordered to be burned, but at least one copy had already been distributed around the world and this classic piece of vampiric cinema survived.
White Zombie (1932) [IMDB]
Starring the famous Bela Lugosi (who took on the role of Dracula in the original movie), White Zombie is a tale of seduction, zombies and the evil plans of Lugosi’s villain Legendre. A young couple are persuaded to marry by the scheming and devious Beaumont on his Haitian plantation. Nothing odd there, right?
Beaumont’s plans soon become apparent as he tries to convince the young soon-to-be-married Madeleine to run away with him. The plotter turns to the evil Legendre for help in his task, who provides a zombie potion capable of transforming human beings into emotionless husks in this pre-Romero Voodoo zombie horror.
The film itself was shot in just 11 days on a tiny budget yet still sends a tingle down your spine, partly in thanks to the bleak cinematography and choice of locations featured in the production.
House on Haunted Hill (1959) [IMDB]
Yet another piece of must-see horror, the original House on Haunted Hill makes for one of the most entertaining low-budget black and white films ever made – and it’s free! This highly watchable haunted house scenario sees millionaire Fredrick Loren invite five guests to a typically spooky house on “Haunted Hill” promising each $10,000 if they last the night.
The horror takes flight as the five guests are locked in their rooms at midnight and subjected to unexplainable ghostly happenings and murderous encounters. Of course the house (which has seen seven previous murders) doesn’t have electricity or a phone line – that would be far too convenient…
Horror Hotel (also known as City of the Dead, 1960) [IMDB]
Horror Hotel follows the story of young coed Nan Barlow who decides to spend her winter vacation researching witchcraft in New England. Based on the advice of her professor, Nan decides to visit the small village of Whitewood and stays at the ominously-named Raven’s Inn. As Nan begins researching her paper, she begins to notice that not everything in Whitewood is quite what it seems.
Starring Christopher Lee as Nan’s seemingly-helpful professor, Horror Hotel is another blend of suspenseful horror and mood-setting black and white imagery which is probably most comparable to Psycho, the Hitchcock classic released in the same year.
The original movie adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend which portrays a world in which the human race has become infected by a plague, turning everyone into vampires who aren’t fond of sunlight or garlic. One man (Dr Robert Morgan, played by Vincent Price) survives without infection, restricting himself to his house by night and becoming a vampire hunter by day.
The story evolves as Morgan encounters Ruth, a woman who he convinces to visit his home. Soon he learns there are more like her who plan to rebuild society and rid the land of vampires. A movie that’s full of grit, which successfully creates mood through its use of deserted locations and provocative cinematography.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) [IMDB]
George Romero’s flesh-eating classic fell into the public domain upon release after theatrical distributors the Walter Reade Organization forgot to include legally binding copyright information on the film’s prints. This hasn’t stopped the film grossing $18 million internationally after countless re-releases across the globe.
The plot follows seven individuals trapped in a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania and their battle with the living dead. Romero’s film redefined the term “zombie” as flesh-eating re-animated corpses as opposed to the Voodoo curses seen in other “zombie” films.
After initial controversy, the film was eventually deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the US Library of Congress.
The Driller Killer (1979 Uncut) [IMDB]
This is one horror film that doesn’t comfortably fall under the “horror” category, and those of you looking for the supernatural, witchcraft, zombies and that kind of thing won’t find it here. What you will find is Abel Ferrara’s highly controversial 1979 flick about an artist slowly losing his mind.
The film creates a disturbing atmosphere from the get-go, and the dreary 1970s New York backdrop provides the perfect run-down playground for a serial killer. This uncut version might challenge some viewers, so make sure you’re ready for some fairly brutal sequences before settling down with the popcorn.
What? You’re still here? Shouldn’t you be cowering behind the sofa right about now?
Any favourites from this list of horror films? Any other good, free, public domain horror flicks about? Let us know what you think in the comments.