What makes the 1960s such an interesting decade for horror films is that—without any build-up or warning from the previous decade—the genre started off so shocking in 1960 that it was too much for most audiences. Like pulling off an adhesive band-aide very fast—only to cause more pain and needing to bandage it up again—1960 released a cluster of classic shockers that ratings boards and audiences didn’t know how to react to many of them other than banning and hoping to not see such horrors again.
The American Production Code (with strict rules on blood, garments, language, beds and even toilets) first started to erode with Psycho, and audiences saw things they hadn’t ever seen before. Not just a bloody shower scene, but also an unmarried woman lounging in a bra, and the same woman flushing a toilet. Psycho certainly was successful in the States, but studios thought only Hitchcock could nudge people along that quickly and audiences would revolt if anyone else indulged in such debauchery (some revolted anyway). Abroad, Hitchcock had to edit out most scenes with visible blood on hands, visible shadows of a breast, etc. And in the same year, Eyes Without a Face was a movie without a release date in many countries for its facial incisions; Peeping Tom was a movie that ruined the career of one of the world’s most beloved filmmakers; and Black Sunday was banned.
Those films all focused on ritualistic killers. After 1960, the major studios reverted back to safer horrors involving ghosts. And the prestigious directors made psychological horrors.
It was the Italians and the low-budget exploitation American films that carried the bloody blades the films of 1960 had handed them. Foreign directors took it further and created what we now call slashers (in Italy, they were giallos). By 1968, the American Production Code had ended. And the bloody gates were open.
This list of the best horror films of the 1960s shows the scattershot genre jumping of acceptability at the time. From the shocking year of 1960 to ghost stories to giallos to psychological terror and parables of distrust, I rounded up to 18, just like many of the ratings boards of the world would create by the end of this decade to signify the proper age (17 in some territories, 18 in others) to watch the horrors of the 1970s.