10 (More) Film Noir-Horror Crossovers
Horror and noir are the demented cousins of cinema. Dark in style and content, they approach the worst elements of mankind from different angles, though they often arrive at the same morbid destination. Given how much these two styles have in common, it’s no surprise to see how often filmmakers intermingle them.
We here at Classic Movie Hub have already provided a Whitman’s sampler of noir-horror crossovers to watch during the Halloween season, but there are so many choice options that we decided to take a page from the horror genre and craft a sequel post. With that said, here are 10 (more) film noir-horror crossovers you should consider.
The Seventh Victim (RKO, 1943)
The Seventh Victim is a chilling entry from director Mark Robson and producer Val Lewton. The latter had previously blurred genre lines with classics like Cat People (1942) and The Leopard Man (1943), but here, he pushes the feverish uncertainty of the unknown to its breaking point.
The film details the efforts of Mary (Kim Weston), a woman desperately seeking to rescue her sister from a shadowy cult organization. There are genre-defining images littered throughout the film, whether it be the cult depiction that anticipated Rosemary’s Baby (1968) or the anxiety-inducing shower scene that feels like a preamble to Psycho (1960). There’s a wealth of chills and amoral thrills here, and it’s aged like fine wine.
Nightmare Alley (20th Century Fox, 1947)
Nightmare Alley has gotten a boost recently, thanks to the Criterion Collection release and the upcoming remake helmed by Guillermo del Toro. The Oscar-winning director may seem like an odd choice to helm a film noir, but one need only watch the 1947 version to realize that del Toro’s grotesque aesthetic is perfectly suited to the source material.
Nightmare Alley is a nihilist masterpiece that chronicles the rise and fall of Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power), a manipulative carnival barker who betrays everybody he knows and pays the ultimate price. The film boasts Power’s finest performance ever, and the ending ranks among the most devastating in all of noir.
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (Paramount Pictures, 1949)
Edward G. Robinson is most often associated with gangsters, but he was often at his best when he was playing men racked with insecurity. One of these fascinating men is John Triton, the “Mental Wizard” at the heart of Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Triton’s ability to predict the future is no sham, but the price for accuracy is that he’s helpless to save those he cares about.
Things take on a more salacious angle when Triton’s best friend Whitney (Jerome Cowan) discovers he can profit from these morbid epiphanies. We don’t spoil the ending, but noir director John Farrow does a good job of keeping the viewer guessing until the very end.
Dementia (Exploitation Pictures, 1955)
Dementia is a strange little film. It follows a young woman’s nightmarish experiences during a single night in Los Angeles’s skid row, and has no dialogue or discernable plot. It makes up for these deficiencies with a chilling atmosphere and a foreboding rhythm that becomes hypnotic.
Oftentimes horror films explain away too much, but Dementia is frightening because of how little in divulges. It makes sense in a sort of dream logic way, and one could easily draw a parallel between the film and David Lynch’s abstract noir outings like Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Dr. (2001).
Les Diaboliques (Cinedis, 1955)
A landmark French film, Les Diaboliques tells the story of a woman and her husband’s mistress who conspire to murder the man. Once they’ve committed the crime, however, they lose sight of the body and begin to have surreal encounters with those around them. The disorienting tone of the film is its greatest asset, as one can never really tell where reality ends and the nightmarish headspace of the main women begins.
Similar to The Seventh Victim, there are tons of elements here that have gone on to inspire generations of domestic horror films. The premise and the sterile atmosphere by director Henri-Georges Clouzot were integral to the making of Psycho and the popularization of the “plot twist” in modern pop culture.
The Night of the Hunter (United Artists, 1955)
Charles Laughton is rightfully heralded as one of the greatest supporting actors of all time. It’s a shame, however, that he never felt compelled to make a second directorial effort, given how brilliantly his first turned out. The Night of the Hunter is a Gothic hybrid of horror and noir that drops the audience into the perspective of terrified children.
Laughton’s direction is remarkably assured and realized for a rookie, as is his ability to get strong performances. Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish are perfect as the victim and the matriarch, while Robert Mitchum, with his tattooed knuckles and righteous drawl, delivers one of the creepiest performances ever committed to film. Love it or hate it, The Night of the Hunter leaves a big impression.
Psycho (Universal Studios, 1960)
In his book Dark City, historian Eddie Muller points to Psycho as the swan song for classical film noir. He asserts that the first act of the film, dealing with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), and her decision to steal money, constitute a classic noir premise. It’s only when Marion’s quest is cut short, and she’s murdered in the Bates Motel bathroom, that the film takes a violent turn into something different; something new.
It’s for these scholarly reasons that Psycho warrants inclusion on the list. The film will always be recognized as horror, but Hitchcock’s manipulation of classic noir tropes, right down to the casting of Leigh as a vulnerable woman at a motel (Touch of Evil, anyone?) makes it an important cultural bridge as noir matured into the 1960s.
The Cabinet of Caligari (20th Century Fox, 1962)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was a seminal film in the German Expressionist movement. It laid out many of the style’s core themes and values, and would eventually lay the groundwork for what became American film noir. It’s fascinating then, to see what American producers did with the 1962 remake.
The Cabinet of Caligari, as it is renamed here, does away with the more outlandish designs of the original and focuses more on the disconcerting tone. It plays more like a Twilight Zone episode with noir trimmings, and a damn good episode at that. The ending may not differ too much from the original, but the solid execution helps it to maintain its impact.
Eyes of Laura Mars (Columbia Pictures, 1978)
Faye Dunaway was talent personified in the 1970s, and Eyes of Laura Mars is only one of the many films that can attest to this. She plays the titular Laura Mars, a fashion photographer who begins to have visions of violent murders. Her attempts to prevent the murders before they occur lead her to join forces with a skeptical cop (Tommy Lee Jones) who may be hiding a secret of his own.
The film feels purposely modeled in the Hitchcock/DePalma mold, so much so that one would never guess the director was journeyman Irvin Kershner. In truth, the film bears the fingerprints of its screenwriter, John Carpenter, who delights in melding the pulp genres of his youth. Coupled with the commanding lead performances, and this is one horror-noir you won’t be able to take your eyes off.
Manhunter (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986)
The world of Hannibal Lecter has always been one that teetered on the edge of film noir. It flirts with many of the same tropes as classic noir, but it always skirts it slightly, to focus on horror or broader drama. The only time Lecter truly felt a part of noir was when Michael Mann deigned to make the neon-tinted masterwork Manhunter in 1986.
The film is utterly chilling, not only in the grotesque depictions of Lecter (Brian Cox) and the Tooth Fairy Killer (Tom Noonan), but the twisted headspace that allows FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) to track them down. The gloom of the film is oppressive, and the setting of the finale is covered in so many neon lights and creepy sound effects that you’d swear it was a haunted house. FBI work has never been so frightening.
–Danilo Castro for Classic Movie Hub Danilo Castro is a film noir specialist and Contributing Writer for Classic Movie Hub. You can read more of Danilo’s articles and reviews at the Film Noir Archive, or you can follow Danilo on Twitter @DaniloSCastro.