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10 Best Period-Piece Horror Movies

Historical, not like ‘Carrie.’
Historical Horror
By  · Published on October 16th, 2020

5. Night of the Hunter (1955)


A serial-killing preacher. A tough-as-nails mother figure. A pair of vulnerable children. These are the characters who cross paths in Charles Laughton’s classic 1930s-set film, which internalizes the mood of its period in American history so thoroughly that it’s hard to believe it was made in 1955. Robert Mitchum cuts a threatening figure as Reverend Harry Powell, a character who is based on a real man who had a tendency to charm and then murder single women, including at least one widow. Filmed in stark black and white and shot through with both melancholy and dread, The Night of the Hunter perfectly captures the economic desperation and social upheaval of the Great Depression. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

4. Mandy (2018)

Mandy score Church
XYZ Films

There are few pleasures in this life more rewarding than watching a film that knows how to utilize Nicolas Cage’s strengths as an actor. Namely, how to hold him in for just long enough before unleashing him in a whirlwind of passion and fury. This psychedelic tale of revenge from director Panos Cosmatos takes place in 1983 and follows Cage’s Red and the eponymous Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), a couple whose idyllic life is preyed upon by a murderous hippie cult. The trippy and bold visuals from DP Benjamin Loeb and god-tier synth score courtesy of Jóhann Jóhannsson makes for an ’80s-inspired thing of wonder. It’s also Biblical as much as it is fantastical, resulting in a wholly original and unforgettable chronicle of rage, vengeance, and devotion. (Anna Swanson)

3. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

The Devils Backbone

Guillermo del Toro‘s first trip to the Spanish Civil War is a somber, gothic ghost story radiating the sorrow of the battlefield. We follow Carlos (Fernando Tielve) as he’s abandoned to an orphanage packed with despairing children and adults. The violence outside rages, giving birth to new roommates on a regular basis. Stuck in the center of the courtyard is an unexploded bomb symbolizing the engorged grief of a nation. The day it landed, a boy died, and his spirit creaks through the building, watching, waiting.

The Devil’s Backbone is an oozing, atmospheric film. Del Toro relishes the opportunity of working outside the Hollywood system and the confused machinations that aborted his bug-horror film Mimic. You can sense the passion and purpose in every frame. Here is a filmmaker bursting with confidence, ready to unleash his potential on his growing audience. At no point do you feel like you’re watching a history lesson. The story found here is as hot and aching as the nightly news. (Brad Gullickson)

2. The Witch (2015)

The Witch Blood

The Witch, or, The Witch: A New England Folktale if you’re nasty, is a film as harsh and haunting as its 17th century Puritan setting. The film begins with the central family banished from their colony, and it only goes downhill further from there. As they’re alone with nothing but a farmhouse and their own paranoia, it doesn’t take long before fears and fairytales create the suspicion that there’s something malevolent lurking in the woods. The kicker? Robert Eggers went the extra mile and wrote the screenplay borrowing heavily from the language and diction of the time period. As a result, you might need subtitles and a subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary to catch every word, but don’t worry — the vibes of this chilling supernatural thriller are universal. (Anna Swanson)

1. Ravenous (1999)

Ravenous historical horror

It’s the 1840s. You’re in the midst of the war and trapped in the snowy terrain of the Sierra Nevada, and suddenly you feel that rumble in your tummy. You’re hungry and looking for something to snack on, but you’ve got nothing to eat. And it’s not like you can head over to Taco Bell and swing through the drive-thru or order something from Grub Hub because we’ve already established that it’s the 1840s. You look over to your buddy next to you, and he’s looking a little tasty. Maybe you take a bite. Who’s going to care? It’s the 1840s! Before you know it, you’ve eaten all your buddies and now you must ambush John Boyd (Guy Pearce) and his band of misfit troops because you want seconds. Ah, the 1840s. (Chris Coffel)

Enjoy this look at the best historical horror movies? Keep the horrifying fun rolling with more 31 Days of Horror Lists!

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Anna Swanson is a Senior Contributor who hails from Toronto. She can usually be found at the nearest rep screening of a Brian De Palma film.