Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time 04.12.12: Top 10 Horror Films In The Public Domain

April 12, 2012 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.

Last week I ranked all ten Amityville films, which meant I had to rewatch some of the worse entries in the series. It wasn’t fun. Let’s see what you had to say.

Uncle Jesse said: HAVE MERCY – Lori Laughlin! 3D was one of my first “so bad its hilarious” moments with some older kids. Previous to that, even the worst horror movies would freak me out (The Unnamable, for instance) – when I watched these dudes rip the movie apart it was a real game changer for me. Also, I thought the remake was decent – which sadly puts it at the top of the pack. Finally, the IDEA of Amityville is what works for me – the movies are pretty ass.

That’s my point exactly. The book The Amityville Horror has a lot of chilling moments that if applied to film could be very scary. But no one’s really been able to put the story together for an excellent horror film. I’m not entirely sure why, because it should be easy to translate.

APrince66 replied: I had no idea there were so many Amityville flicks. i only say the 79′ version, so i may have to check out some of the other entries.

I wouldn’t. I wasn’t kidding when I said most of the series is awful, because it is.

JLAJRC asked: Speaking of haunted/cused objects, did you ever watch the old “Friday the 13th: The Series” tv show? It still pops up occaisionally on Syfy. I was a huge fan of it as a kid, and watching the reruns, I think most of it still holds up. Also, how about a list of the Top 10 horrible cursed objects/inanimate items movies come to life. Other than maybe Stephen King’s “Christine” I don’t really think I’ve seen a good one.

I may have to, because that’s something I’ve yet to explore. Maybe I can just talk about them in general because I don’t really think there’s anything better than Christine in that department. There’s been a movie about killer vacuum cleaners and psychic rubber tires that make people explode. Horror can be a weird genre.

I was going to do a column dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe this week, but I decided to hold off on that until The Raven actually comes out, which is two weeks from Friday. So instead I decided to offer a service to you, the reader. I’m giving you a list of the best films in the public domain.

What’s the public domain? That means the film is available to watch for free. That’s why you see so many copies on DVD for really cheap in video stores on sets of 25-50. I myself bought a 50 movie pack a few months ago just to own some of the rarer ones. Basically the film goes out of copyright and that means anyone can make a few bucks off of it or watch it online without worry of lawsuit. There are exceptions of course…like certain versions that themselves are copyrighted, even if the original material is not.

This is the best of the free movies, at least in my humble opinion. That means I can links to an entire movie for you. So have fun!

#10: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

This is the first time Hollywood attempted to adapt I Am Legend into a film and depending on who you talk to, it’s probably the best. All of the adaptations vary from the novel but that’s the risk you run when adapting a book into a film. This one has differences too, but it contains a great performance from Vincent Price and a chilling atmosphere. Even though Richard Matheson, the novel’s author (and screenplay writer), didn’t really like this movie, he did say it got most of his book right. I guess it’s just personal opinion. There are still some who think there hasn’t been a good version made yet.

But The Last Man on Earth definitely benefits from Price, as most films do. He’s fun to watch and he does manage to add some gravitas to the role as Robert Morgan (changed from Neville, the character from the book). The mood is what sells this, and if you can’t get a spooky feeling from one man being all alone against the darkness, this may not be your type of movie anyway. If you want to see one of Vincent Price’s better films, then check this one out. Click here to watch it.

#9: The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1974)

This one has its share of problem, but this is the last Hammer Dracula film to features Christopher Lee as Dracula (although not the last Hammer Dracula film total). This film is actually unique in that it’s the only Hammer Dracula film to be in the public domain. That’s why you see this one in all of the multi-film packs and not the others. It’s only in the public domain in the US, from what I can tell. It was released here as Count Dracula And His Bride, so it may also be under that title. But it’s the same movie either way.

While this film has its faults (there are spies, for some reason), it is great to see Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing one last time as Dracula and Van Helsing. Even in the worst of movies those two are a class act and always give a good show. But if you want to see a Hammer Dracula film and are strapped for cash, this one is available. Just make sure you eventually see The Horror of Dracula, okay?

#8: Driller Killer (1979)

This is a slasher that comes from Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) who directed and wrote the film, as well as starred in it. It’s about an artist who decides he’s had enough being sane and starts killing people with, you guessed it, a drill. This was bashed by critics for being too violent and was on the UK’s “video nasties” before being officially released in 2002. Of course there are some who think it was just because of the video cover, which featured a guy’s forehead being drilled.

This is an interesting character study about one guy losing his mind due to his living conditions. Or maybe he was always crazy. It could be just a matter of interpretation. But Reno Miller (Ferrara) sees some crazy visions before he starts killing, and he’s clearly losing his mind on the way slaughtering the innocent. Some people don’t like it because there really isn’t a clear story, it’s more of a series of events. Reno kills people, gets crazier and then the ending just sort of ends before any real climax. But if you’re into a bloody slasher, this is for you. Click here to watch it.

#7: Deep Red (1975)

Well, sort of. The uncut and better version of this film is not in the public domain, but it’s the US version called The Hatchet Murders. This is one of Dario Argento’s earlier films and some would say his best, although honestly, the US version is not really the one to see. If you want to see this and can’t spring for the unrated cut, then by all means watch it, but keep in mind you’ll be losing 22 minutes of footage including most of the graphic violence, comedy moments and all the romantic scenes and part of a subplot.

But even without all of that, it’s still a decent serial killer thriller that has some of Argento’s great direction and some good acting on top of it. I just happen to be a fan not only of uncut films but the way Argento stylishly kills people. But he’s more than that as a director and Deep Red is one of his better films. You can see the film here.

#6: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Even today this is one of the more bizarre horror films in the history of the genre. Not because of anything that happens in the film really, but because of the way it looks. They don’t make movies like this anymore because they really didn’t make very many of these movies back then. That’s why The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has held up for so long and is the signature film of the German Expressionist era (well, this and Metropolis).

Really, if you haven’t seen this film then I’m not going to be able to describe it to you. The film contains strange sets with abstract and jagged buildings. It gives the entire thing a disturbing quality to it. It doesn’t ever quite feel real and that’s to its advantage. It’s like a bad dream. You’re watching someone’s bad dream. It’s one of the best films of the silent era, and one of the best horror films of all time for a reason. As a fan of the genre, you should have seen this by now.

#5: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Another Vincent Price film makes the list and this is my personal favorite. William Castle, king of theatrical gimmicks, actually put out a decent ghost story here. A group of people are in a house where bizarre things happen and ghosts begin trying to dispatch them one by one. Meanwhile, there’s a mystery about why the ghosts are there, why they’re doing what they’re doing and who is responsible. The ending won’t hold up because you’re not in a gimmick theater (a skeleton dropped from the ceiling back in the day), but it’s a solid choice and probably Castle’s best.

This of course was remade in the late 90s so there may be some who don’t even know this exists. That’s sad but entirely possible. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this edition is to hopefully introduce and make fans of older movies that you may not have watched before now. House on Haunted Hill may not be as scary as some of the others on this list, but it’s definitely fun. You can watch it here.

#4: White Zombie (1932)

Bela Lugosi plays a man capable of controlling the living as zombies through his voodoo and he cons a man into getting him a woman for that same purpose. But he doesn’t count on The Power of Love to stop him when it’s all said and done.

This movie was shot using the leftover sets from Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein and that helps it a lot. Those sets were great, after all. Bela Lugosi delivers a creepy performance here and it’s all in his eyes. When he goes into “zombie controlling” mode, he does this thing with his hands and then just stares vacantly the camera and it’s very off-putting. This movie also has some ambitious shots for a movie of it’s time and I really liked what it was trying to accomplish. It only runs 66 minutes long, so if you’ve got an hour to spare, you’ll probably be entertained. Watch it here.

#3: Carnival of Souls (1962)

I wrote about this last October when I made my list of the scariest movie moments, because the organ scene gets under my skin. This film in general is like a bad dream because it kind of is (that’s as much as I’ll say without spoiling a fifty year old film) with a really creepy antagonist in Herk Hervey.

Really, I don’t know what it is about him. In any other movie he’d feel out of place and silly. But in Carnival of Souls, he’s scary as hell. He’s obviously just wearing some light makeup and using his own facial features to scare people, but he looks like a ghoul and the way he moves just got to me when I first saw this. Maybe it won’t bother you, but maybe it will. You’ll never know until you watch it. Either way it’s a good movie, and one that gets forgotten when mentioning the best horror films. Watch it here.

#2: Nosferatu (1922)

What can I really say? It’s Nosferatu, the first real adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and one of the best. I’ve mentioned this film (and my #1) a number of times and have had nothing but love each time I have. It’s just a really good film and next to Caligari, the best silent horror film ever made. Max Schreck is just awesome as Count Orlock. He’s menacing, he’s otherworldly and he’s certainly a more intimidating vampire than you’ll find these days. Orlok is what vampires are supposed to be.

Given the way Stoker’s estate treated this film, horror fans are lucky that this didn’t go the way of London After Midnight and is actually available to watch. Now it’s everywhere with different versions that have various scores, one version in color, one with Dracula character names and one without. There is really no excuse to have not at least seen some clips from this film.

#1: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This is one of the best horror films of all time, period, and it’s in the public domain. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s kind of crazy. This movie should have made George Romero a lot of money considering how long it’s been around to get profits. But due to an error by the distributor, it’s available for everyone. Lucky us. This created the modern zombie, which was previously associated with voodoo and launched the career of Romero.

Night of the Living Dead is not just a zombie film, but a commentary on society and politics at the same time. Romero would do this several times with his Dead franchise (sometimes he’s not very subtle). The best part about this is that it still holds up, 44 years later. It’s creepy, it’s intense, and it has great acting and direction. I’m not even going to assume that you haven’t seen it, because I can’t believe there would be someone reading this who hasn’t. So if you want to see it again, check it out here.

That’s it for me. Plan on watching any of these? Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week I’ve got two ideas. I’m either going to do a Godzilla monsters list (that doesn’t include Godzilla) or a horror weapons list. I’m not sure which, so let me know what you’d rather read about.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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Joseph Lee

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