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Top 10 Public Domain Horror Movies

As it is Halloween, we would be remiss not to include a list of horror movies that you can watch online. For the sake of others on the site – be sure to let us know of any public domain movies you know of that people might also enjoy. Happy Halloween from the List Universe!

10. Dementia 13 1963, Francis Ford Coppolla

John Haloran has a fatal heart attack, but his wife Louise won’t get any of the inheritance when Lady Haloran dies if John is dead. Louise forges a letter from John to convince the rest of his family he’s been called to New York on important business, and goes to his Irish ancestral home, Castle Haloran, to meet the family and look for a way to ensure a cut of the loot. Seven years earlier John’s sister Kathleen was drowned in the pond, and the Halorans enact a morbid ritual in remembrance. Secrets shroud the sister’s demise, and soon the family and guests begin experiencing an attrition problem.

9. Phantom of the Opera 1925, Rupert Julian

At the Opera of Paris, a mysterious phantom threatens a famous lyric singer, Carlotta and thus forces her to give up her role (Marguerite in Faust) for unknown Christine Daae. Christine meets this phantom (a masked man) in the catacombs, where he lives. What’s his goal? What’s his secret?


8. The Last Man on Earth 1964, Ubaldo Ragona

Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is the only survivor of a devastating world-wide plague due to a mysterious immunity he acquired to the bacterium while working in Central America years ago. He is all alone now…or so it seems. As night falls, plague victims begin to leave their graves, part of a hellish undead army that’s thirsting for blood…his!

7. The House on Haunted Hill 1959, William Castle

Millionaire playboy Fredrick Loren hosts a party for his 4th wife Annabelle Loren at the “House On Haunted Hill,” a house that has seen seven murders, Fredrick invites 5 guests: Lance Schroeder,a pilot, Ruth Bridges, a journalist, Watson Prichard, the owner of The House On Haunted Hill, Nora Manning, a worker for one of Fredrick Loren’s companies, and David Trent, a psychiatrist. Fredrick will offer each of them $10,000 to spend a night in The House On Haunted Hill. They all want the money. At midnight, the caretakers lock to doors, and the terror begins!


6. Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde 1920, John Robertson

Based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Henry Jekyll believes that there are two distinct sides to men – a good and an evil side. He believes that by separating the two men can become liberated. He succeeds in his experiments with chemicals to accomplish this and transforms into Hyde to commit horrendous crimes.

5. Night of the Living Dead 1968, George Romero

The dead come back to life and eat the living in this low budget, black and white film. Several people barricade themselves inside a rural house in an attempt to survive the night. Outside are hordes of relentless, shambling zombies who can only be killed by a blow to the head.


4. Dracula 1931, Tod Browning

After a harrowing ride through the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe, Renfield enters castle Dracula to finalize the transferal of Carfax Abbey in London to Count Dracula, who is in actuality a vampire. Renfield is drugged by the eerily hypnotic count, and turned into one of his thralls, protecting him during his sea voyage to London. After sucking the blood and turning the young Lucy Weston into a vampire, Dracula turns his attention to her friend Mina Seward, daughter of Dr. Seward who then calls in a specialist, Dr. Van Helsing, to diagnose the sudden deterioration of Mina’s health. Van Helsing, realizing that Dracula is indeed a vampire, tries to prepare Mina’s fiance, John Harker, and Dr. Seward for what is to come and the measures that will have to be taken to prevent Mina from becoming one of the undead.

3. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari 1919, Robert Wiene

A horror film that surpasses all others. Alan relates the story of traveling magician Dr Caligari and Cesare. Their arrival in a town coincides with savage killings. Secretly Caligari was an asylum director who hypnotizes Cesare to re enact murders. But the final reel contains something, which will leave an audience shattered. It blows away all your moral certainties and beliefs. This is the true power of its horror. To leave you vulnerable and uncertain of what you feel was secure and certain.


2. Nosferatu 1922, F Murnau

An unauthorized production of Bram Stoker’s work (The legal heirs didn’t give their permission), so the names had to be changed. But this wasn’t enough: The widow of Bram Stoker won two lawsuits (1924 and 1929) in which she demanded the destruction of all copies of the movie, however happily copies of it were already too widespread to destroy them all. Later, the Universal studios could break her resistance against this movie. Count Orlok’s move to Wisburg (Obviously the real “Wismar”) brings the plague traceable to his dealings with the Realtor Thomas Hutter, and the Count’s obsession with Hutter’s wife, Ellen the only one with the power to end the evil.

1. M 1931, Fritz Lang

A psychotic child murderer stalks a city, and despite an exhaustive investigation fueled by public hysteria and outcry, the police have been unable to find him. But the police crackdown does have one side-affect, it makes it nearly impossible for the organized criminal underground to operate. So they decide that the only way to get the police off their backs is to catch the murderer themselves. Besides, he is giving them a bad name.

Text Sources: IMDB

Listverse Staff

Listverse is a place for explorers. Together we seek out the most fascinating and rare gems of human knowledge. Three or more fact-packed lists daily.

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  • Beautiful List…I will be playing these tonight transfering the image to the tv. Yeah buddy. All the little kiddies coming over and getting the bageezus scared out of them. HAHAHAHA. I will be taking my kiddos to the spook house down the road as we tricker treats and my fiance will be playing awesome music and scaring the parents of the little kids that come up.. I don’t think the kids will even notice his costume lol.

  • Ravyn: hehe that sounds a lot more fun than what I will be doing: eating pasta for tea and watching regular TV. We don’t celebrate Halloween.

  • ShawnL

    You can check out this link on archive.org:

    http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=mediatype%3Amovies%20AND%20collection%3Afeature_films%20AND%20subject%3A%22Horror%22

    It has most of these movies in better quality files you can download, plus more movies.

  • mix2323

    great list should watch one of these tonight on demand

  • ChuChu353

    The 1932 Carl Theodore Dreyer classic “Vampyr” is available on YouTube

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEg1dOZTfw0

  • ShawnL: Thanks for the link – some of them are full DVD quality – great site.

    mix2323: Good idea – I have decided to watch a horror – but I think it will be Audition :)

  • ChuChu353: Thanks for the link! Excellent.

  • This is another good list. There’s a couple of these I haven’t seen yet, so I’ll watch them when I have time. Though I don’t think M is a horror movie…I’d say more of a thriller.

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  • rp

    Is “Freaks” availible online? If you haven’t seen that one, then you should check it out. It isn’t scary, but will haunt you for a while.

  • Dan

    Interesting info about Nosferatu. I had seen this years ago and thought it was pretty good for a period piece. I enjoy reading interesting tidbits about stuff!

    Great list. Most of these I have seen, but I will be checking out the others.

    rp: check out AMCtv, I saw Freaks on that not too long ago.

  • Jamie: You really need to get over here and enjoy some of this. HEHEHEHAHAHAHA…..

  • Laura

    How is Night of the Living Dead already public domain?

    • LordRandol

      Night of the Living Dead was originally called "Night of the Flesheaters" Romero had "Flesheaters" copyrighted, but when they changed the title they forgot to get it copyrighted, and the rest is history.

  • Ravyn: have a drink and scare a kid for me :)

    Laura: I am not sure but it is :)

  • Jamie: I won’t be scaring any kids this year. I am walking my kids about for tricker treat. So I am gonna be a fairy just to appease the kiddos.

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  • ShawnL

    RE: Night of the Living Dead copyright

    ‘Night of the Living Dead lapsed into the public domain because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright notice on the prints. In 1968, United States copyright law required a proper notice for a work to maintain a copyright. Image Ten displayed such a notice on the title frames of the film beneath the original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters. The distributor removed the statement when it changed the title. According to George Romero, Walter Reade “ripped us off.”‘

  • Night of the Living Dead is public domain because its distributors neglected to put a copyright notice on the film print; in 1968, a notice of copyright ownership was necessary. This was changed with the US’s acceptance of the Berne Convention.

  • EvanL

    The set of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is so bizarre. I thought that the twist would be that Cesare was actually the asylum director doing the study by convincing Caligari to kill to fulfill Cesare’s predictions

  • These look fun….I’ll have to play some later tonight. =D Thanks for the awesome list!

  • Black Lutefisk

    Great list. Bookmarking it.

    Not meaning to nitpick, but if the Cabinet of Caligari surpasses all other horror films, why is it #3?

  • Great list. M has always been one of my favorite movies.

  • aplspud

    The House on Haunted Hill is sooo scary, but the remake sucks blech.

  • RobS

    I just saw The Last Man On Earth a few weeks ago. I’d read the short story (I Am Legend), form which it’s taken a few months ago and was pleased to see that the film followed the plot of the story fairly faithfully.
    Except that the protagonist in the book was young and physically fit. Something that the middle-aged Vincent Price couldn’t really pull off too well.
    But, all in all, I’d give it a good thumbs up.

  • Buzzygirl

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is truly a creepy movie, creepy in the unique sense of the early German silent films. I love silent films, but IMHO, only the silents of the horror genre will still translate well to modern audiences who may never have seen a silent film before.

    Same goes for Nosferatu… that is a seriously creepy film to this day.

    I have always liked The Student of Prague (the 1926 version starring Conrad Veidt is the only one I’ve seen). It’s somewhat plodding and overly somber at times, but the horror and power of the story grows as the story goes on. I imagine this movie would have been unsettling to early 20th century audiences.

  • We show public domain horror movies on our show which has been on broadcast television for 10 years. I believe you are mistaken when you say that the film “Dracula” is in the public domain.
    If you get a chance and have not seen the Spanish version of Dracula, which was shot at night using the same sets as the English version, I think the guy that played “Spanish Dracula” did a better job than Lugosi. That film suffers though because it is alot longer than the English version.

  • Alexandra

    We don’t do Halloween in Australia, and especially in country Australia, because my closest neighbor lives about a kilometer away. How convenient.

  • Hurtsquad

    Yes Night of the living dead PD, it was never copyrighten. It was pubil Domain the minute it was played publicly. Too bad George. And Dracula is NOT pd. I have have been compiling a list of Horror movies that have fallen into public domain for some time and will be displaying them soon on my website. http://www.Hurtsquad.com look for the Rabbit Hole. If you happen to get the chance and you find you can sit through silent movies Faust is a great movie to look up.

  • luke

    Your Dracula film is broken. Here is a link to an active one

    You can download the film and host it yourself or link to it but embedding or hotlinking is against the sites TOS (and there’s no embedd service due to high bandwidth usage)

    Cheers

    Luke

  • djalicat

    thank you! thank you! thank you!

    i’ve bookmarked this page and all the links on it too!

  • Mubees

    You can watch public domain films at:
    http://www.mubees.com

  • Mememe

    *jumps with unbridled glee*

  • GGG

    Isn’t Carnival of Souls public domain?

  • Lai-Lai

    Hot damn! A Vincent Price movie!

  • Caleb Jones

    I don't think Dracula is public domain. It was made by Universal and they hang on to every thing they own with an iron fist.

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  • Captainluke

    I love the house on haunted hill. I think Vincent price is great.

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  • L Frank

    I know this is an old post, but I wanted to clear something up in case someone looking at this does not do his own follow-up research. The film, M (1931) is NOT in the public domain and it was not in the pd in 2007, when this list was written.

    http://www.archive.org/post/341508/100-movies-in-the-public-domain

    “The works specified by sections 102 and 103, when published, are subject to protection under this title if—

    (1) on the date of first publication, one or more of the authors is a national or domiciliary of the United States, or is a national, domiciliary, or sovereign authority of a treaty party, or is a stateless person, wherever that person may be domiciled; or
    (2) the work is first published in the United States or in a foreign nation that, on the date of first publication, is a treaty party; or
    (3) the work is a sound recording that was first fixed in a treaty party; or
    (4) the work is a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work that is incorporated in a building or other structure, or an architectural work that is embodied in a building and the building or structure is located in the United States or a treaty party; or
    (5) the work is first published by the United Nations or any of its specialized agencies, or by the Organization of American States; or
    (6) the work comes within the scope of a Presidential proclamation. Whenever the President finds that a particular foreign nation extends, to works by authors who are nationals or domiciliaries of the United States or to works that are first published in the United States, copyright protection on substantially the same basis as that on which the foreign nation extends protection to works of its own nationals and domiciliaries and works first published in that nation, the President may by proclamation extend protection under this title to works of which one or more of the authors is, on the date of first publication, a national, domiciliary, or sovereign authority of that nation, or which was first published in that nation. The President may revise, suspend, or revoke any such proclamation or impose any conditions or limitations on protection under a proclamation.

    For purposes of paragraph (2), a work that is published in the United States or a treaty party within 30 days after publication in a foreign nation that is not a treaty party shall be considered to be first published in the United States or such treaty party, as the case may be.

    M seems to qualify for (1), (2), and (6)

    M was released in the USA more than 30 days after it was in Germany so it qualifies as a work originally published outside the USA. As, at the time of publication, the US had a bilateral copyright treaty in force with Germany, which began in December 1910, the authors’ and work’s country of origin was a “treaty party” and so copyright was extended to the work.

    It was registered for copyright properly:

    M. Nero Films, AG., Berlin. 1931.
    9 reels sd Authors: Director, Fritz Lang;
    scenario, Thea Von Harbou
    Copyright Foremco Pictures Corp. and Nassau
    Films, inc (Nero Films, Author); 11May31;
    LP3800

    When renewal came up it was not renewed and fell into the public domain in the USA. However, after the URAA was passed, the successors of the copyright registered a NIE on the film:

    M. Additional title: Murderer among us, Morder Unter Uns, A town is looking…
    Type of Work: Recorded Document
    Document Number: V8007P558
    Date of Recordation: 1997-12-31
    Entire Copyright Document: V8007P558 (Single page document)
    Title: M. Additional title: Murderer among us, Morder Unter Uns, A town is looking for a murderer.
    Notes: Motion picture. Filed for all rights.
    Notice of intent to enforce a copyright restored under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act.
    Owner: Atlantic-Film, SA. Via Resore 6; Postfach 137; 6949 Comano, Switzerland. PHONE: (41) 1 422-3832. FAX: (41) 1 422-3793.
    Author: Fritz Lang.
    Date of Publication: 1998-04-17

    Variant title: M.
    Murderer among us
    Morder Unter Uns
    A town is looking for a murderer.
    Names: Lang, Fritz
    Atlantic-Film, SA.

    Owner: Atlantic-Film, SA. Via Resore 6; Postfach 137; 6949 Comano, Switzerland

    17 U.S.C. § 104A (b) Ownership of Restored Copyright. — A restored work vests initially in the author or initial rightholder of the work as determined by the law of the source country of the work.”

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