Programmed by Catherine Martinez
Essay by Catherine Martinez
Horror in the 1960s moved from the creature features of the past few decades to the horror of the psychological, the demonic, and the undead. The decade meant revolution: political, cultural, sexual, fashion, drugs, and more. These changes swept society and brought new fears reflected on the silver screen. Armed with a greater license to show violence, gore, and sexual themes, horror filmmakers of the 1960s pushed the boundary of what was acceptable to show onscreen, shocking their audiences. As a result, new subgenres of horror were created, giving new creative ground for the horror filmmakers of the 1970s and 1980s to use and explore.
In the 1960s, horror took on new forms to reflect the new anxieties of the decade. Horror became other people, in the form of murderous psychopaths like Cape Fear’s Max Cady, influencing future the sub genre of slasher films that would peak in the 1970s and 1980s. Body horror developed as a new form of gore in Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face. Ghosts became real in Masaki Kobayashi’s horror anthology Kwaidan as the possibilities of color in film were explored and pushed to the limit.
Meanwhile, our protagonists—often young, isolated women in unusual and unfamiliar circumstances—found their sense of reality warped, twisted, and tested by an unnamable sense of wrongness in films like Robert Wise’s The Haunting and Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. Sometimes, our young female protagonists were something to fear on their own, as in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, which brought a sense of horrific surrealism to film. Fears of possession and a loss of control due to evil from beyond the grave appeared in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, as did the rise of creepy children as a feature of horror films that continues even to the present.
The decade was rounded out by two horror classics which both influenced subgenres of their own. Rosemary’s Baby was the precursor to the 1970s obsession with the occult and the demonic as horror became the neighbors next door guided by Satan himself. Night of the Living Dead, perhaps the most overtly political of all the films in these series, not only explored the decade’s complicated race relations, but also sparked a culture obsession with the dead coming back to devour the living.
The 1960s meant that the horror genre would never be the same. Advances in filmmaking and narrative techniques, color, and technology gave new tools to horror filmmakers in their pursuit of not only scaring the audience, but also forcing the audience to confront uncomfortable ideas and themes, like sexual violence, racial tensions, gender relations, religious-based fears, and a growing concern with the psychological. The decade is key in horror film history for the renaissance of the genre and the new paths it opened for filmmakers to follow.
(Georges Franju, 1960) · Described by Franju as “horror in homeopathic doses,” Eyes Without a Face remains influential, inspiring works from Pedro Almodóvar´s The Skin I Live In to John Woo’s Face/Off. Dr. Génessier, a man obsessed with repairing his daughter’s disfigured face, kidnaps other young women and removes their faces. Part body horror, part twisted fairy tale, the film is not for the squeamish, due in large to a face removal scene that’s hard to watch and even harder to forget.
runtime: 90 min format: 35mm
(Jack Clayton, 1961) · Clayton’s adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is a psychological horror starring Deborah Kerr as Ms. Giddens, the newly hired governess for two charming orphans with more than a few secrets. With a screenplay by Truman Capote, The Innocents presents a masterful narrative of uncertainty as Ms. Giddens tries to discover what happened to her predecessor and why a mysterious man no one else is able to see seems to be lurking around the house.
runtime: 100 min format: DCP
(Hank Harvey, 1962) · Mary (Candace Hilligoss) is the only survivor of a deadly car crash into a river. But when she emerges from the water, something isn’t quite right. She’s haunted by a strange pale man and begins to find herself unwillingly detached from the world. Despite its low budget and minimal special effects, director Herk Harvey’s cult classic is still spine-chilling, especially during its famous organ-playing scene. 35mm print preserved by the Academy Film Archive.
runtime: 78 min format: 35mm
(J. Lee Thompson, 1962) · Featuring a powerhouse acting duo in Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, Cape Fear gives us one of the silver screen’s greatest villains in Max Cady. After years in prison, Cady (Mitchum) decides to target Sam Bowden (Peck), a witness at Cady’s trial who he holds responsible for his conviction, and Bowden’s family. Remade by Scorsese in 1991, the original Cape Fear still stands on its own, in part due to Mitchum’s terrifying performance.
runtime: 105 min format: 35mm
(Robert Wise, 1963) · Bringing Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House to the big screen, Robert Wise crafts a twisted haunted house story. Dr. Markway, seeking to investigate the house’s evil nature, brings along Eleanor and Theo, two women with supernatural pasts, and Luke, the heir to the house, but the house soon takes a special interest in Eleanor herself. According to Martin Scorsese, the “absolutely terrifying” The Haunting is also the scariest film of all time.
runtime: 112 min format: Blu-Ray
(Masaki Kobayashi, 1964) · Gorgeous in its use of color and staging, and terrifying in its subject matter, Kwaidan is an unparalleled horror anthology that fully embraces the existence of the spirit world through four stories: “The Black Hair,” “The Woman of the Snow,” “Hoichi the Earless,” and “In a Cup of Tea.” Hauntingly beautiful, Kwaidan brings the Japanese ghost stories collected by Lafcadio Hearn to life. A must-see, not only by horror fans, but anyone interested in film.
runtime: 161 min format: 35mm
(Roman Polanski, 1965) · Carol (Catherine Deneuve) is young, beautiful, and slowly losing her grip on reality. She sleepwalks through life, wandering the halls of the apartment she shares with her sister as if in a trance. Finding herself increasingly repulsed by the sexual advances of men, Carol decides to take matters into her own hands. In his first English-language film, Roman Polanski leaves his mark on the horror world in this harrowing look into one young woman’s mind.
runtime: 105 min format: 35mm
(George A. Romero, 1968) · An annual visit to her father’s grave goes awry when Barbara finds herself under attack by the graveyard’s inhabitants. Escaping to a farmhouse along with two couples, a young girl, and a man named Ben, Barbara and the rest of the cast must try to get through the night alive while the dead retake the earth. More than just an exploitative gore-fest, Night of the Living Dead set the genre on fire with its mix of social critique and stark bleakness.
runtime: 96 min format: 35mm
(Roman Polanski, 1968) · The second film in Polanksi’s “Apartment Trilogy,” Rosemary’s Baby is also one of his finest works, featuring outstanding performances by Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, and Ruth Gordon. Young housewife Rosemary moves with her husband to a New York City apartment building where she meets a strange older couple who take an unusual interest in her life. After a bizarre, demonic dream, Rosemary finds herself suddenly pregnant—and in danger.
runtime: 136 min format: 35mm