Carbon 6 Lab Finds Aesthetic Inspiration from Vintage B&W Horror Films

This month, Carbon 6 Lab derives aesthetic inspiration and pleasure from vintage black and white horror movies. Containing the perfect alchemical blend of atmosphere, style, and terror, these monochromatic classics are guaranteed to keep you wide awake into the black of night.

Title: Nosferatu (1922)

Director: F. W. Murnau

Cinematographers: Fritz Arno Wagner & Günther Krampf

An unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” this German black and white horror film features the terrifying Count Orlok (Max Schreck), a Count Dracula-esque creature who drinks the blood of the living and wields supernatural powers. Although Stoker’s estate successfully sued Nosferatu’s filmmakers over this unsanctioned adaptation and court ordered all copies of the film be destroyed, a few prints survived, allowing us to savor this classic cinematic shadow play today.

Title: Cat People (1942)

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca

This provocative fantasy horror film stars French actress Simone Simon as a Serbian woman who believes herself to be the descendant of a race of people who turn into cats when sexually aroused or deeply angered. Cat People is a uniquely sophisticated horror film that leaves its most terrifying visuals to the audience’s imagination.

Title: Les Diaboliques (1955)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Cinematographer: Armand Thirard

Based on the novel “Celle qui n'était plus,” by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, this chilling tale of murder and deception revolves around the timid wife (Véra Clouzot) and bold mistress (Simone Signoret) of an abusive boarding school headmaster (Paul Meurisse), whom the two women conspire to kill. Soon after they kill him, his corpse disappears, and strange events begin to haunt them. Alfred Hitchcock is said to have taken inspiration from Diaboliques, which is certainly evident in the next film on our list.

Title: Psycho (1960)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cinematographer: John L. Russell

While Les Diaboliques boldly asked audiences to sympathize with two victimized women committing murder, Psycho took it even further by asking viewers to enter the P.O.V. of an all-out psychopath stalking and killing a comely guest (Janet Leigh) at his family’s roadside motel. Although he had previously directed full-color films, Hitchcock shot Psycho in black and white because he feared Leigh’s bloody death scene might be too much for audiences to handle. We swear we saw red.

Title: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Director: Georges Franju

Cinematographer: Eugen Schüfftan

The second French horror classic on our list, Eyes Without a Face, is based on the novel “Les yeux sans visage,” by Jean Redon, and concerns a brilliant surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) who accidentally disfigures his daughter's face and then begins kidnapping young women and removing their faces in an attempt to fix his daughter’s. In addition to terrifying audiences for six decades, Eyes Without a Face inspired the eponymous ‘80s rock classic by Billy Idol. Both the film and song rock.

Title: The Innocents (1961)

Director: Jack Clayton

Cinematographer: Freddie Francis

Based on classic American author Henry James’s novella “The Turn of the Screw," this chilling creeper relies more on atmosphere than cheap shocks to scare viewers: an effect largely achieved through cinematographer Freddie Francis’s clever use of lighting and deep focus photography. Deborah Kerr stars as a governess who begins to suspect the house she’s working in is haunted and the children she’s supervising are possessed. Fun fact: the screenplay was written by another American literary great, Truman Capote.

Title: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Director: George A. Romero

Cinematographer: George A. Romero

2017 saw the passing of legendary horror director George A. Romero, but his horror classic Night of the Living Dead lives on! Fill your night with fright by revisiting this OG zombie movie about a group of characters who barricade themselves in an old farmhouse in an attempt to remain safe from flesh-eating monsters. In addition to being one of the first films to depict zombies, Dead also tackled the issue of race by casting black actor Duane Jones in the lead role (at the time, revolutionary) and giving his character a shocking ending reflective of the sadly still-relevant issue of police violence against African-Americans. Romero truly was the granddaddy of the socially-conscious horror movie.

Title: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Director: Herk Harvey

Cinematographer: Maurice Prather

This surrealist cult classic stars Candace Hilligoss as a young woman drawn to a mysterious carnival following a car accident. Featuring a uniquely chilling setting, atmospheric cinematography by Maurice Prather, and a haunting organ score by Gene Moore, Carnival of Souls is a true feast for the senses. It also had an unmistakable influence on later-generation surrealist horror filmmakers like David Lynch.

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