Menu Close

13+1 Scariest Horror Films from the 1920s: Silent Tales of Terror

Best horror movies of the 1920s

Welcome to the Spooky world of the Roaring Twenties

So you are one of those keen horror fans, who like to travel back in time to experience the frights and terrors of earlier cinematic eras. So are we!

The spooky stuff of the 1920s may be a thing of the distant past, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, it will never be really gone.

Whenever you miss those good old days and feel like you want to shiver and scream, all you have to do, is sit tight, bite on your nails, and enjoy the thrills that only a 1920s horror movie can give you.

The horrors of the roaring twenties are mostly silent and usually slow paced, but in a positive way. This is how they build up tension and create a truly petrifying atmosphere. The lack of words only helps their cause, making scenes mysterious and horrifying. Once you get in the mood, they can give you a hell of a ride.

It will be a pleasure to drag you kicking and screaming through the blood-chilling frames of each horror film featured here, so let’s proceed to the collection that awaits you.

Oh, by the way: This is not your average horror film list featuring only the scariest and goriest films. We treat horror as the broad genre it actually is. Thus, we tried to diversify this collection as much as possible.

We picked dramatic- and romantic horrors, thriller- and mystery horrors, Expressionist fantasy- and science fiction horrors, horror essays, horror melodramas and everything in between, even surrealist horrors.

Also, we believe there are no borders when it comes to movies, so we didn’t limit ourselves to the US only. Our horror collection features masterpieces from various countries, including Germany, Sweden and France.

Ready to jump and scream in front of the screen? Buckle up then, and let the best horror films of the 1920s scare the living heck out of you!

This collection is an episode of FrameTrek’s Best Horror Movies of All Time. A mega-journey dedicated to identify the spookiest films of each cinematic era, chronologically. It starts with the Horrors of the Silent Era and wanders ahead decade-by-decade, all the way to our ever moving present.


Presenting the 13+1 Best Horror Movies of the 1920s

Chronologically

The ‘+1’ is a Bonus Movie. Wait for it!


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Robert Wiene, Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Top horror movies from the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

German silent horror mystery thriller film directed by Robert Wiene, starring Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt.

Story: Hypnotist Dr. Caligari uses a somnambulist, Cesare, to commit murders. (IMDB)

Arguably the first true horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari set a brilliantly high bar for the genre – and remains terrifying even more than a century after it first stalked the screen.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari among the greatest horror movies of the 1920s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies list.
✓ Considered a classic, it helped draw worldwide attention to the artistic merit of German cinema and had a major influence on American films, particularly in the genres of horror and film noir.


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), John Barrymore, Greatest horror films from the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

American silent science fiction horror film starring John Barrymore.

Story: Dr. Henry Jekyll experiments with scientific means of revealing the hidden, dark side of man and releases a murderer from within himself. (IMDB)

Why is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde among the scary horror movies of the 1920s?
✓ Received positive reviews from audiences and critics, who praised the movie’s style and Barrymore’s performance.
✓ One of the most popular movies of the 1920s, and a true silent classic.


The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)

The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920), Paul Wegener, Most famous horror films of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

German silent fantasy horror film starring and directed by Paul Wegener.

Story: In 16th-century Prague, a rabbi creates the Golem – a giant creature made of clay. Using sorcery, he brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution. (IMDB)

Why is The Golem among the most famous horror movies from the 1920s?
✓ Praised by critics and audiences for its expressive settings, powerful visuals and the performance of the principal cast.
✓ A landmark of German Expressionism, listed in the “101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die”.
✓ An early classic in horror cinema, and one of the first films to introduce the concept of the “man-made monster”.


The Phantom Carriage (1921)

The Phantom Carriage (1921), Victor Sjöström, Most popular horror films of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

Swedish silent fantasy horror melodrama film directed by and starring Victor Sjöström.

Story: On New Year’s Eve, the driver of a ghostly carriage forces a drunken man to reflect on his selfish, wasted life. (IMDB)

Why is The Phantom Carriage among the most popular horror movies from the 1920s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Generally considered to be one of the central works in the history of Swedish cinema.
✓ Notable for its special effects, its advanced (for the time) narrative structure with flashbacks within flashbacks, and for having been a major influence on the works of Ingmar Bergman.


Destiny (1921)

Destiny (1921), Fritz Lang, Scary horror movies from the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

German silent Expressionist fantasy horror romance film directed by Fritz Lang.

Story: When a woman’s fiancé disappears, Death gives her three chances to save him from his fate. (IMDB)

Why is Destiny among the best horror films of the 1920s?
✓ Received positive reviews from audiences and critics, who praised its art direction, photography, and special effects.
✓ An influential silent classic. Luis Buñuel and Alfred Hitchcock (among others) were deeply impressed and inspired by this film.


Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922)

Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922), F. W. Murnau, Max Schreck, Scariest horror films of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

German silent Expressionist fantasy horror film directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck.

Story: Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter’s wife. (IMDB)

One of the silent era’s most influential masterpieces, Nosferatu’s eerie, gothic feel — and a chilling performance from Max Schreck as the vampire — set the template for the horror films that followed.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Interesting fact: The movie was banned in Sweden due to excessive horror. The ban was finally lifted in 1972.

Why is Nosferatu among the best horror movies from the 1920s?
✓ It is selected by the Vatican in the “art” category of its list of 45 “great films”.
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list
✓ The first true vampire movie ever made.


Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), Benjamin Christensen, Scariest horror movies from the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

Swedish silent horror essay film written and directed by Benjamin Christensen.

Story: Fictionalized documentary showing the evolution of witchcraft, from its pagan roots to its confusion with hysteria in modern Europe. (IMDB)

Interesting fact: At the time, this was the most expensive film produced in any Scandinavian country.

Why is Häxan among the scariest horror movies of the 1920s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and received critical praise for its combination of documentary-style and narrative storytelling, as well as its visual imagery.
✓ Due to its graphic depictions of torture, nudity, sexual perversion and anti-clericalism it was one of the most controversial movies of its time.
✓ The film acquired a cult following among surrealists, who greatly admired its subversion.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Wallace Worsley, Lon Chaney, Scary horror films from the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

American silent drama horror romance movie directed by Wallace Worsley and starring Lon Chaney.

Story: In fifteenth century Paris, the brother of the archdeacon plots with the gypsy king to foment a peasant revolt. Meanwhile, a freakish hunchback falls in love with the gypsy queen. (IMDB)

A heart-rending take on the classic book, with a legendary performance by Lon Chaney.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Hunchback of Notre Dame among the scariest horror films from the 1920s?
✓ Praised for its grand sets that recall 15th century Paris as well as for Chaney’s performance and make-up.
✓ One of the most successful movies of the 1920s, and an influential silent classic that helped set a standard for many later horror films.


The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, Best horror movies of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

American silent horror film directed by Rupert Julian and starring Lon Chaney.

Story: A mad, disfigured composer seeks love with a lovely young opera singer. (IMDB)

A century later, it still retains its ability to scare – and Lon Chaney’s performance remains one of the benchmarks of the horror genre.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Interesting fact: The film is famous for Chaney’s ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret right up until the film’s premiere.

Why is The Phantom of the Opera among the best horror films from the 1920s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Added to the United States National Film Registry, having been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.


Faust (1926)

Faust (1926), F. W. Murnau, Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Top horror films of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

German silent drama fantasy horror film directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Gösta Ekman and Emil Jannings.

Story: The demon Mephisto wagers with God that he can corrupt a mortal man’s soul. (IMDB)

Why is Faust among the top horror films from the 1920s?
✓ Featured in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Perfectly captures the intensity of a medieval universe steeped in religious fanaticism and pagan alchemy.
✓ Praised for its special effects and it is widely considered an influential classic, an example of German Expressionist film and one of the best horror movies of all time.


The Unknown (1927)

The Unknown (1927), Tod Browning, Lon Chaney, Greatest horror films of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

American silent drama horror romance film directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney.

Story: A criminal on the run hides in a circus and seeks to possess the daughter of the ringmaster at any cost. (IMDB)

Drawing a remarkable and haunting performance from Chaney and filling the plot with twists and unforgettable characters, Browning here creates a chilling masterpiece of psychological (and psychosexual) drama.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Why is The Unknown among the greatest horror movies from the 1920s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Widely regarded as the most outstanding of the Browning-Chaney collaborations and a masterpiece of the late silent film era, worthy of “cult status.”


The Man Who Laughs (1928)

The Man Who Laughs (1928), Paul Leni, Conrad Veidt, Most famous horror movies of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

American silent romantic horror drama film directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt.

Story: When a proud noble refuses to kiss the hand of the despotic King James in 1690, he is cruelly executed and his son surgically disfigured. (IMDB)

Interesting fact: Gwynplaine’s fixed grin and disturbing clown-like appearance was a key inspiration for the comic book writers behind one of the most iconic comic book villains ever, The Joker.

A meeting of brilliant creative minds, The Man Who Laughs serves as a stellar showcase for the talents of director Paul Leni and star Conrad Veidt.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Man Who Laughs among the most famous horror films from the 1920s?
✓ Featured in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Received critical acclaim from modern critics and widely considered an influential German Expressionist horror film.


The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), Jean Epstein, Most popular horror movies of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

French silent drama fantasy horror film directed by Jean Epstein.

Story: Allan visits the sinister Usher family mansion, where his friend Roderick is painting a portrait of his sickly wife Madeline. The portrait seems to be draining the life out of Madeline, slowly leading to her death. (IMDB)

The rapid cutting, fetishistic closeups and generally dreamy ambience bring the movie closer to the realm of filmic poetry than anything else.

Film critic Troy Howarth

Why is The Fall of the House of Usher among the most popular horror films from the 1920s?
✓ Featured in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


…and as promised: The BONUS Movie!

An Andalusian Dog (1929)

An Andalusian Dog (1929), Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, Scary horror films of the 1920s
Where to Watch?   More info

French silent short surrealist horror film directed by Luis Buñuel, written by Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, presenting 16 minutes of shockingly bizarre, surreal imagery.

Why is this a Bonus movie in this collection?
– Because it’s a short film (only 16 minutes). Every other movie featured here is full length.

Interesting fact: A dead calf’s eye was used in the scene where the woman’s eye is slit.

A hugely influential masterpiece stuffed with iconic sequences, Un Chien Andalou has lost none of its power to enthrall – or unsettle.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is An Andalusian Dog among the best horror films of the 1920s?
✓ Featured in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list and included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Premiere magazine called it one of “The 25 Most Dangerous Movies” and ranked the opening scene as 10th out of “The 25 Most Shocking Moments in Movie History”.


…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 13+1 Greatest Horror films of the 1920s

If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:

Top 13+1 Horror Movies of the 1920s
Chronologically
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1920
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1920
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
The Golem: How He Came into the World 1920
The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)
The Phantom Carriage 1921
The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Destiny 1921
Destiny (1921)
Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror 1922
Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922)
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages 1922
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
The Phantom of the Opera 1925
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Faust 1926
Faust (1926)
The Unknown 1927
The Unknown (1927)
The Man Who Laughs 1928
The Man Who Laughs (1928)
The Fall of the House of Usher 1928
The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
An Andalusian Dog 1929
Bonus: An Andalusian Dog (1929)
*Click any Title for more Info and for Streaming / Disc Buying options.

Your turn!

Tell us what you think about this collection. Fire off your own suggestions and favorites in the comments section below!


Related Posts

Your turn! Share your thoughts below...