I have a soft spot in my heart for old-timey horror. Though the first horror film can be traced back to the 1890s - many believe it to be The House of The Devil by Georges Méliès - things really kicked into gear in the 1920s.
Nosferatu (1922) An infamous early horror film from the German Expressionist movement. Nosferatu was directed by F. W. Murnau, and tells the story of a vampire who is strikingly similar to Dracula. This is because Nosferatu is actually an “unofficial and unauthorized” adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel. German Expressionists gave us some of the most notable and memorable images in early horror, and Nosferatu is no different. The talons, the teeth, and the sunken eye sockets will stick with me forever.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) This is a film that has rooted itself in my brain since I first saw it in high school. Another example of a German Expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was directed by Robert Wiene and stars Werner Krauss. This film had a similar impact on me as Nosferatu. The imagery sticks with you. The harsh, dramatic angles of the buildings. The shadows, the drama of the makeup. I can’t help but draw comparisons to more modern works by Tim Burton.
The Phantom of The Opera (1925) One of the Universal Monster Classics, The Phantom of The Opera from 1925 is a truly stunning masterpiece. A silent film, one of almost endless adaptations, this version stars Lon Chaney. It was directed by Rupert Julien. I was lucky enough to see this film at a festival a few years ago with live music accompaniment. An experience I strongly suggest if you ever get the chance.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) Another story with infinite remakes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stars John Barrymore. Jekyll and Hyde was one of the earliest Science Fiction films we have, and especially one that intersects so well with horror. The transformation scenes between Jekyll and Hyde are impressive when you consider the year this film was made.
There are many more horror films from the 1920s to explore, I have many more on my to-watch list. These are the four that have stuck with me and impacted me for various reasons.