It’s Halloween day and that means a lot of you will probably be seeking a good, scary movie to settle down with. But, if you haven’t picked one out already or are just looking for a fast, easy and legal film you can download, the horror genre is filled with moveis that have lapsed into the public domain, making them available for you to download, copy and stream online.
In honor of Halloween, I’m going to highlight twelve of my personal favorite public domain horror movies. I’m not aiming to make this a “best of” list by any stretch, if anything, I”m aiming for variety in styles, subjects and eras. Some of these are classics, some of them are relative unknowns but all are great films (for different reasons).
Bear in mind that these movies are only public domain in the United States, many may be protected by copyright elsewhere. Also, I’m linking each of these to their page on archive.org and Public Domain Torrents if available for easy downloading.
I hope you enjoy these movies and, most importantly, have a happy and safe Halloween!
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
We already talked about this movie in greater detai, but it bears repeating. This is the foundational movie for the modern zombie film. Every film since owes at least something to it and a copyright error caused it to be put in the public domain from day one.
The plot of the movie is straightforward, the recently dead begin to rise and commit grizzly acts of murder on the living while a small group of survivors have to set aside their differences and work together to survive the night in the old farmhouse they took shelter in.
It’s a classic horror movie that holds up very well today.
The House on Haunted Hill (1959)
An eccentric millionaire named Fredrick Loren and his wife, Annabelle, throw a horror-themed party where they invite five guests to spend the night in a supposedly haunted mansion. Those who do so will be rewarded with $10,000. Though the movie has its share of ghosts and scares, most of the movie focuses on the guests and the betrayals and conspiracies they have going between them.
It’s a chiller of a horror film starring the always-great Vincent Price as Fredrick and directed by B movie giant William Castle. A good, spooky time without too much in the way of gore. Definitely holds up better than the recent remake, even if it can be a bit silly in places.
Another one we already talked about, Nosferatu is probably the earliest surviving vampire film and is shot in the classic German expressionist style that gives everything a very surreal feeling.
A 1922 silent film, Nosferatu largely follows the plot of the original Dracula novel but with many changes, especially of the character names. It’s a creepy and eerie movie that is perfect for putting in the background of your Halloween party as nearly every frame is designed to be chilling in at least one regard.
Download on Archive.org (Not available) | Download on Public Domain Torrents
Carnival of Souls (1962)
When an auto accident causes Mary and her two friends to punge off a bridge and into a river, Mary somehow survives but can’t remember anything about how. She tries to move on with her life, even taking a job as a church organist, but she is constantly haunted by strange happenings and seems to be unable to escape that fateful day.
Carnival of Souls is a much more subtle horror movie than most, relying on creepiness and mystery more than traditional scares a great chiller movie that often springs some great conversation.
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1974)
The last of the hammer dracula films to star Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, The Satanic Rites of Dracula isn’t the best in the series but is a solid one for those who want to see the Lee/Cushing combo.
In the movie, which is set in the 1970s, a cult of devil-worshippers revive Dracula, who is bent on destroying humanity as part of his own death wish. He hatches a plan to use a plague to wipe out humankind and must be stopped by Van Helsing.
Not the greatest movie in the Hammer lineup, but the only on to have lapsed into the public domain and still a great chance to see two incredible actors playing amazing parts.
Download on Archive.org (Not available) | Download on Public Domain Torrents
Dementia 13 (1963)
Dementia 13 centers around the family of an eccentric millionaire widow (what is it with the eccentric millionaires in this list?) who still mourns the death of her daughter, Kathleen, who died long ago in a freak drowning accident. She’s willed her fortune to charity in Kathleen’s name and her living children, who have gathered at the family estate for a bizarre ritual mourning her death, are upset about this.
It’s a tale of murder, intrigue as the ghost of Kathleen seems to haunt the home and grounds, tormenting the family’s matriarch as a spate of murders begin to strike those around the family.
All in all, a great thriller of a movie and one, much like The House on Haunted Hill, that centers more on the characters and their story than traditional scares. Best of all, this is one of the earliest works of Francis Ford Coppola, who went on to produce the Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse now among others great films.
White Zombie (1932)
If you want to see what zombie movies were like before Night of the Living Dead, this is the textbook example.
White Zombie centers around a young couple, Neil and Madeleine, that are eager to be married. While in Haiti, they plan to get married on the plantation of one Charles Beaumont. However, Beaumont’s hospitality is selfish in nature as he seeks to steal Madeleine for himself and he enlists the aid of voodoo master Murder Legendre, who is played by Bela Lugosi, to turn Madeleine into a zombie.
It’s a tale of voodoo and betrayal. A great example of 1930s horror at its finest.
Jazz pianist Tom has an argument with an ex girlfriend, Vi, atop a lighthouse. Vi threatens to ruin Tom’s engagement with his current fiance, Meg, but Vi slips and nearly falls into the ocean. Though Tom had an opportunity to save her, he refused to help and watched as Vi was killed by the fall.
At first Tom thought the matter was over but Vi’s vengeful spirit begins to haut him, turning his isolated island community into a living Hell. Tom slowly descends into madness, becoming more and more desperate to save his relationship and keep his life intact.
This movie is a bit more campy than some of the others, using the best special effects available at the time, Vi is a great nemesis to Tom, who is a morally ambiguous but intriguing character caught in an impossible situation.
Body in the Web or Horrors of Spider Island (1960)
When a group of sexy nightclub dancers crash on a mysterious island when en route to Singapore, they at first think they’ve found paradise after locating a cabin, some food and a source of fresh water. But after the lone male in their group gets bit by a spider and starts to turn into a giant monster, be begins to pick off the members of the group one by one.
Body in the Web, better known as Horrors of Spider Island, is a camp classic meant for stupid, cheesy Halloween fun. Several versions of this film are circulating, including some with the superflous nude scenes cut out, which even makes it fairly family-friendly.
Jesse James Meets Frankensteins Daughter (1966)
When an armed robbery goes bad, Jesse James and his wounded cohort Hank wind up at the door of Maria and Rudolph, Dr. Frankenstein’s grandchildren (Note: Contrary to the title, Maria is NOT Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter) who intend to use Hank to continue their grandfather’s work. Can Jess James save his good friend and the town from the horrors of Dr. Frankenstein’s descendants?
To be clear, this movie is stupid. WHen there’s an obvious error in the title of the movie, you know you’re in for a stupid but funny good time. This movie is for those who enjoy laughing at their horror movies in the “so bad they’re good” kind of way.
Part western, part horror, completely ridiculous.
All in all, no matter what your tastes in horror movies are, there’s probably at least one or two great films out there for you in the public domain. So, if you haven’t secured your Halloween movie watching yet, fire up your browser or your Bittorrent client and download a free, legal movie for your spook night enjoyment.
That is, unless you’re scared…