While movies like Hereditary, Midsommar, and The Conjuring are instant classics, vintage horror movies are just as good, and they’re what defines the genre. If you’re a horror cinephile, these vintage horror flicks are must-watches; get ready for a thrilling and unsettling ride.
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Next up is Rosemary’s Baby, one of the most classic horror movies that every horror fan needs to watch at least once. I’ll warn you, it starts a little slow, but once you get into it, you’ll be hiding behind the pillow and may start side-eyeing pregnant women you see out and about. Mia Farrow is amazing in this, and it’s her best film, in my opinion.
2. The Thing (1982)
The Thing is a John Carpenter movie, so you know it’s going to be good! It has some sci-fi elements and is teeming with a distinct sense of paranoia that is easy for the viewer to take on. Many cinephiles cite this as their all-time favorite horror flick, so it’s undeniably a classic.
3. Eraserhead (1977)
Horror films are supposed to be unsettling, but as always, David Lynch takes discomfort to a whole new level in this movie. Eraserhead is so much more than the story, as the score and visuals are what truly make the film terrifying, and you’ll be left with a bizarre and horrified feeling.
4. Alien (1979)
For sci-fi fans, it doesn’t get better than the original Alien film. While the movie is severely scary at points, you get to root emphatically for Ripley, who is one of the best horror movie characters ever conceived. And after this, you get to watch the other Alien movies as well as the Predator crossovers!
5. The Omen (1976)
Gregory Peck stars in this mysterious movie about an adopted boy who doesn’t seem to be the innocent child people thought at first. Imagine adopting a young boy in need, only to find out you have taken in the antichrist who plans to destroy the world and all of humanity.
6. Carrie (1976)
If you’re going to watch Carrie, it has to be the original. Please, don’t even bother with the newer versions. Based on a chilling Stephen King novel, Carrie is about an outcasted high school girl who believes she has supernatural powers. When the bullying and abuse escalate, the people around her discover just how dangerous and powerful she is.
7. The Shining (1980)
The Shining is one of my favorite vintage horror films because, while it is over 40 years old, the visuals and performances feel so clever and contemporary. Stanley Kubrick is a genius, and as much as I love The Shining the book, this movie is an artistic and horrifying achievement in its own right.
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
I very recently watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the first time, and I was enthralled. It’s creepy and confusing at times, delivering an overarching eerie feeling that isn’t overtly scary at first. And the end genuinely surprised me and finished on a frightening and unforgettable note.
10. Misery (1990)
Okay, this is the last Stephen King one, I promise, but what can I say? He’s the king of horror. Misery is about an obsessive fan of an author who manages to trap her idol in her home and torture him to ensure he can’t leave. Kathy Bates and James Caan are revelations, and you’ll be supremely uncomfortable and terrified by the end.
11. House on Haunted Hill (1959)
House on Haunted Hill is a petrifying movie about a menacing game that a millionaire orchestrates. It’s one of the most psychologically terrifying movies from the 50s, and the many twists and turns keep you on your toes throughout. The despicable characters make the plot complex and convoluted, surprising you just when you think you know what’s happening.
12. Freaks (1932)
I watched this once, and that was enough for me. It’s wildly disturbing and gruesome, and it’s pre-Code, so they pull out all the stops. It’s about a golddigger who marries a short circus performer with the intention of stealing his money. But when the circus freaks find out, she gets to find out what it’s like to be a true freak.
13. The Blob (1958)
Something about The Blob is frighteningly simplistic. It’s about a blob of goo or matter that has strong acidic properties and consumes everything it comes in contact with. The movie is stressful but captivating and has the perfect balance of sci-fi and horror.
14. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Young Frankenstein isn’t very scary, so it’s perfect if you want something more lighthearted. This horror comedy starring Gene Wilder is exceedingly entertaining and funny. Although some parts may spook you, overall, it’s a quirky and fun movie that you’ll want to watch every time the Halloween season rolls around.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist has to be at the top of this list; there is no other option. You’ll find that many people have labeled this as the scariest movie ever made, so buckle up. As you can imagine, it’s about an exorcism that is quite traumatic and will leave you feeling uneasy, to say the least. It’s a must-watch for people who love to be scared out of their pants.
15. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
This supernatural slasher will have you chugging coffee to avoid falling asleep. Freddy Krueger, played by Robert Englund, is one of the most frightening horror villains, despite the funny hate and striped sweater. Wes Craven offers viewers a terrifying but phenomenal horror experience you’ll never forget.
16. Poltergeist (1982)
I was definitely way too young when I first saw this movie, so it still scares me to no end when I watch it now. It’s about a family in a quiet suburban neighborhood who begins to experience some paranormal events until their young daughter is sucked into another realm.
17. Halloween (1978)
Every horror fan needs to watch the original Halloween. I watched some of the newer movies first because they were always on TV, but when I finally watched this one, I realized what I’d been missing out on the whole time. And you get to see young Jamie Lee Curtis escape from Michael Myers.
18. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Another quintessential horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is about exactly what it sounds like, a gruesome series of murders executed with a buzzing chainsaw. Be warned, this movie is very violent, so it’s not for those with a weak stomach.
19. Scream (1996)
Does 1996 count as vintage? I’m counting it anyway because Scream is too iconic. Within the first five minutes, you’ll be hooked. It has funny moments, likable characters, and a wonderful twist at the end that, even though I know it’s coming, still delights me every time.
20. Suspiria (1977)
Suspiria is one of the scariest films from the 70s, which is saying a lot because there are many fantastic horror movies from that decade. A young woman moves to Germany to attend her dream ballet school, but after one student is murdered, things start to get weird, and dark secrets are uncovered.
21. Psycho (1960)
Psycho is considered the quintessential Alfred Hitchcock film and is a must-see for horror fans. It’s eerie and unsettling and will make you think twice the next time you decide to stay at a motel. The scary scenes are artfully done, and this movie set the stage for many other excellent horror films.
22. The Birds (1963)
Another Hitchcock film, The Birds, seems to live in Psycho’s shadow, but I think it deserves equal appreciation. It’s about a new couple who strike up a romance just before all the birds on the planet decide to turn against humans and terrorize people to the point of murdering them.
23. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Dawn of the Dead was one of the first zombie movies that people fell in love with, igniting one of the most fun horror genres that persists today. It has a compelling storyline and is packed with action scenes and impressive effects for the time period.
24. The Evil Dead (1981)
This movie follows five friends who plan a trip to a cabin in the woods to get away. As you probably suspect, things do not go swimmingly. They encounter demons and are picked off one by one, following the classic horror movie format before it was played out.
25. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Silence of the Lambs stars Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, one of the most harrowing horror movie leads ever. She is selected to interview a notorious psychopath, Hannibal Lecter, as part of her FBI training, and things quickly devolve into a horrific game of psychological torture.
Veronica is a food, fashion, and entertainment writer from Boston, MA, with a passion for all things lifestyle and culture. She graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a bachelor's in English literature. From Anna Wintour to Angelina Jolie to Alton Brown, she has her finger on the pulse of all things Hollywood and celebrity.
If she's not in the kitchen crafting new recipes, then she's binging the latest HBO series and catching up on the hottest trends in Vogue.
She has written for and been syndicated by publications like The Weather Channel, The Daily Meal, The Borgen Project, The Good Men Project, The Express, MSN, Wealth of Geeks, and Not Deer Magazine. Her writing experience ranges from global news articles to celebrity gossip pieces to movie reviews to homemade recipes and more.