Top 10 Horror Movies for Fans of Period Films

Have a spot of sophistication with your viscera.

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This one’s for the Downton Abbey crowd: Fans of the Georgian, the Victorian, and the Edwardian. This one’s for the old school Gothics; connoisseurs of life’s bleak pageantry, spirits who linger at the intersection of flickering light and perpetual darkness.

Period pieces and horror movies might seem like distant points on a vast spectrum, but there are places where these genres intersect; it’s a sliver of Venn space where a small but notable group of films have carved a bloody yet sophisticated niche. These movies prove that horror is more than just a classification, rather it’s an ethos, an ingredient that permeates many forms of creative expression.

So the next time you’re hanging out with someone who claims he or she doesn’t like horror movies, prove them wrong with one of these visually stunning, dramatic, and intelligent films; they’re complex works of art that feature themes both enchanting and macabre. Enjoy!

 

 

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

Director: Brad Anderson

Writers: Joe Gangemi (screenplay), Edgar Allan Poe(based on a short story by)

Stars: Kate BeckinsaleJim SturgessDavid Thewlis |

Takes place in 1899

The lunatics may be running the asylum, but the line between madness and sanity is blurred into obscurity in this reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. While asylums always make great settings in horror movies, this look back at the infancy of psychiatric medicine is especially chilling. All manner of curative practices and devices seem more like implements of torture than relief; the cold, analytical approach to human suffering by so-called academics resembles cruelty. With acting icons Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley heading the cast, Stonehearts Asylum oozes both sophistication and dread.

 

 

Mary Reilly (1996)

Director: Stephen Frears

Writers: Valerie Martin (novel), Christopher Hampton(screenplay)

Stars: Julia RobertsJohn MalkovichGeorge Cole |

Takes Place in the 1880’s

Mary Reilly is a reimagining of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as see through the eyes of the mad scientists’ live-in maidservant. Julia Roberts plays the titular Mary Reilly and John Malcovich is both the studious Jekyll and the libidinous Hyde. While it’s definitely cold and gothic enough to please most horror fans, there is a love story at the film’s foundation that gives it a much wider appeal. Mary’s simultaneous sympathy towards Jekyll and disgust towards Hyde can be seen as a metaphor for drug addiction: Love the person, hate the affliction.

 

 

From Hell (2001)

Directors: Albert HughesAllen Hughes

Writers: Alan Moore (graphic novel), Eddie Campbell(graphic novel), 2 more credits »

Stars: Johnny DeppHeather GrahamIan Holm |

Takes Place in 1888

From Hell is a fictional reimagining of the police investigation into the Whitechapel Murders of 1888, perpetrated by a fiend dubbed “Jack the Ripper”.   Johnny Depp carries the film as the clairvoyant yet drug-addled Inspector Frederick Abberline; Heather Graham excels as his love (and final Ripper victim) Mary Kelly. From Hell brings all the intrigue of a modern government conspiracy theory to a story set in the Victorian Era, making it a noteworthy hybrid of tropes. While the filmmakers definitely play fast and loose with the facts of the case, the film is compelling and tense throughout; brilliant scripting and character development create bonds with the viewers, keeping them invested.

 

 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writers: Bram Stoker (novel), James V. Hart (screenplay)

Stars: Gary OldmanWinona RyderAnthony Hopkins |

Takes Place in 1897

In order to really appreciate Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, you must try to ignore Keanu Reeves; while it’s not my intension to slam the actor’s body of work, his deadpan, lackluster portrayal of Jonathan Harker almost derailed the entire film. Thank goodness veteran Period actors Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, and Winona Ryder are there to pick up the slack with their excellent acting chops. While Dracula has all of the lavish settings and costumes you’d expect in a Period piece, an interesting 1990’s aesthetic somehow permeates the film (like the Count’s long hair, for example, and glasses with colored lenses).

 

 

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

Director: Tom Tykwer

Writers: Andrew Birkin (screenplay), Bernd Eichinger(screenplay), 2 more credits »

Stars: Ben WhishawDustin HoffmanAlan Rickman |

Takes place in the Mid-1700’s

Perfume takes us across the channel from the UK to France in the mid 1700’s; Ben Whishaw plays Grenouille (translation: “Toad”), a detestable orphan with godlike olfactory abilities. As a perfumer’s apprentice, Grenouille becomes a master at extracting and constructing an amazing arsenal of essences. On a random nighttime stroll, he detects the most tantalizing, compelling aroma in existence: The essence of emerging female sexuality. His quest to recreate this scent amasses quite a body count; for Grenouille, it’s a race to complete his life’s ambition before his inevitable discovery and execution.

 

 

The Awakening (2012)

Director: Nick Murphy

Writers: Stephen Volk (screenplay), Nick Murphy(screenplay)

Stars: Rebecca HallDominic WestImelda Staunton |

Takes Place in 1921

Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a writer and paranormal investigator in England, who’s famous for exposing hoaxes. When the skeptic is recruited to investigate unusual happenings at a boarding school in Cumbria, however, her scientific and analytical convictions begins to crumble. This one will appeal to fans of supernatural horror with a twist; The Awakening plays out like a mystery saga that will have you guessing and second-guessing all the way through the closing credits.

 

 

Burke and Hare (2010)

Director: John Landis

Writers: Piers AshworthNick Moorcroft

Stars: Bill BaileyTom WilkinsonMichael Smiley |

Takes Place in 1828

Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis play real life “body snatchers” William Burke and William Hare respectively. This historical reimagining is thick with gallows humor and black comedy. The film sheds light on an illegal black market, one that procured corpses for medical schools. Serious themes buried in the madcap presentation question the value of human life—especially among impoverished communities. Brilliant acting, excellent pacing, and wonderful characters make this film a winner.

 

 

The Woman in Black (2011)

Director: James Watkins

Writers: Susan Hill (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)

Stars: Daniel RadcliffeJanet McTeerCiarán Hinds |

Takes Place in the Edwardian Era (1901-1910)

In his first post-Harry Potter role, Daniel Radcliff plays English lawyer Arthur Kipps in Hammer’s The Woman in Black. Here’s a film with all of the gloomy aesthetics of Wuthering Heights and more chills than The Turn of the Screw. The featured apparition, the titular Woman in Black, is a manifestation of unusual furry; her wrath is insatiable and her targets are exclusively children. The backstory, which involves family secrets and betrayals, is pure Gothic to the core.

 

 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writers: Mary Shelley (novel), Steph Lady (screenplay), 1 more credit »

Stars: Robert De NiroKenneth BranaghHelena Bonham Carter |

Takes Place in the Late-1700’s

With all the liberties taken with the original tome, I’ve often thought that this film should have been called Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein; still, the director’s final product is a piece of work Shelley could be proud of. We’ve got the sets and costumes fans of period pieces love, along with the elements of death and decay like Victor’s laboratory and the cemeteries he frequents. Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Victor’s creation felt especially fresh when the film was released in 1994; gone was the flat head and protruding electrodes in favor of a scarred, flesh colored face and milky eyes; the result is a character both terrifying and pitiable: A true anti-hero.

 

 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: John Logan (screenplay), Hugh Wheeler(musical), 1 more credit »

Stars: Johnny DeppHelena Bonham CarterAlan Rickman|

Takes Place in the Victoria Era (1837-1901)

Tim Burton’s rendition of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street can appeal to fans of horror, period pieces, and musicals. The character Sweeney Todd first appeared in English literature in the 1830’s; the tale of a murderous barber and his cannibalistic neighbor Mrs. Lovett spoke to a deeply impoverished urban society and continued to resonate with the English populous through numerous stories and theater productions. Sweeney Todd is notorious for his manner of dispatching victims: After slitting their throats in his barber’s chair, be pulls a lever, dropping them down a trap door, where Mrs. Lovett bakes them into meat pies.

 

 

What are some of your favorite horror movie period pieces? Sound off in the Comments section!

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7 Comments on this post.

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  • Evan A. Baker
    22 January 2015 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    I could comment for ages on this one. Don’t know how I’m going to keep it short. 🙂

    I find it interesting that in your into you suggest the link between horror and period pieces might surprise some people. Having grown up largely on golden and silver age Universal horror, and a little later focused my fandom on Hammer’s output of the 50s-70s, I tend to make an almost automatic association between horror – or at the very least supernatural horror – and period pieces. As I pointed out in my recent article about found footage and Dracula, at the time of its publication, Stoker’s novel was criticized because it’s then-modern setting was inappropriate for a tale of supernatural horror, which many felt ought to be relegated to pre-technological settings.

    It would just be tiresome for me to sit here and list my own favorites, when really all I’d be establishing is what we already know: that I focus more on older movies, and you focus more on those from the last few decades.

    I’m certainly very much behind some of your choices, particularly The Woman in Black. And there are a few here I haven’t seen, but your recommendation will speed my progress towards checking them out.

    There are also a few there I’m not entirely on-board with, of course. I’ll just choose to pick on Sweeney Todd for the moment. As a big fan of the stage version, I couldn’t help but compare the two, and I felt like a lot of the depth and nuance were lost in Burton’s adaptation, and that Depp and Bonham Carter were both badly miscast.

  • asd
    18 October 2015 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Why the fuck would you put spoilers in a list of movie suggestions? Are you mentally impaired?

    • Josh Millican
      19 October 2015 at 7:47 pm - Reply

      Not to my knowledge, but if I was mentally impaired, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell. Sorry if you feel I spoiled something for you–certainly was not my intention. Of course, no one else has complained, so I’m not really sure what your issue is. Hope we can bury the hatchet and move on. Thanks!

      • Melinda
        24 October 2015 at 4:04 pm - Reply

        Thank you for this list! I love these movies & your list is great! I did not think there were ANY spoilers. THANK YOU very much for taking the time to share. I found some good ones i never knew about! You rock! 🙂 🙂 🙂 I just pulled up the Perfume movie on putlocker and getting ready to watch it. (Putlocker is a 100% free NO DOWNLOAD movie sight. Just make sure to click the screen to play & NOT the green PLAY NOW button or you’ll be re-directed to a pay sight….. http://putlocker.is/ .. and NO i don’t get compensated for every time someone CLICKS on the link…just trying to share a good sight! AND.. if anyone wants to complain about the FREE sight i shared… save it! I really don’t care… save your breath. Not even going to feed the trollers. Peace!)

  • Willow and Thatch
    1 November 2015 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Willow and Thatch put together 15 Haunting Period Dramas for Halloween – not surprisingly there is some overlap, but not too much.

  • Nikos Carcosa
    25 December 2015 at 12:45 am - Reply

    Solid list.

    Just a quick editing note, in the description for “The Woman in Black”, you spelled “fury” as “furry”, though that does put an odd spin on the sentence.

  • PlayForBlood
    5 July 2016 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I would have Sleepy Hollow and Crimson Peak in my top 5.
    Both of those I believe are better than most on this list.
    Good article though. Thanks

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