Horror films don't by necessity have to be ugly-looking. Some excellent movies combine fear and dread with some of the most stunning visuals you'll ever see.
Masque of the Red Death (1964)
One of the many adaptations of Poe stories done in the 1960s, Masque of the Red Death is exceptional for several reasons. It features a nicely evil performance by Vincent Price which, while not rising to the heights of 1968's Witchfinder General, avoids the hamminess that marred some of his genre outings. Price gets good support from Hazel Court and Jane Asher as, respectively, his wife and a young innocent he's bent on corrupting. The screenplay does a good adaptation of the story, combining it with another Poe tale, "Hop Frog." And most of all, it looks gorgeous, thanks mainly to cinematography by Nicolas Roeg. While the plot is (as with all Poe adaptations) slight at best, the use of color is a feast for the eyes, with even such simple things as candles looking lovely in shades of deep green, with the colored rooms and costumes, and, most hauntingly, the various figures of death in all their colors. Watch the trailer.
Dario Argento's classic is a triumph of style over substance. A young ballerina (the always underrated Jessica Harper) arrives at a German dance academy, and soon discovers that the entire faculty is a coven of witches. Said coven is basically an excuse to show inventive murders, but the film's great triumph is its look. Its use of color (with scenes bathed in gorgeous green, blue, or red light) and use of light (deepest black punctuated by flashes of light both worldly and unworldly) make us believe in the supernatural goings-on even when the screenplay can't. The whole movie has a fever-dream quality that stays with you long afterward.
Watch the trailer.
Les Yeux Sans Visage (1960)
Georges Franju's haunting, melancholy film takes a much quieter approach to horror than the other two films mentioned above. A Parisian doctor kidnaps young women so he can use transplants to restore the beauty of his daughter's face (which was badly scarred in a car accident). The daughter (Edith Scob in an iconic performance) wears a white mask that hides her face except for her eyes, which convey the girl's deep sadness as transplant after transplant fails and her father's attempts become more misguided. The haunting black-and-white cinematography at times gives the film a fairy-tale quality and at other times is coldly clinical in its portrayal of just what the father is doing. Recommended for any horror enthusiast.
Watch the trailer.
Next week: Get out your toys in the attic - it's time for some tales of ordinary madness.