I think it’s pretty clear at this point that North American copyright laws are kind of a mess. For example, did you know that if Disney hadn’t lobbied for an extension to the original 56 year limit on owning intellectual property, characters like Spider-Man would already be in the public domain? Think of all the Cronenberg-esque body-horror superhero flicks that we were denied by keeping the wall-crawler under Mickey’s family-friendly clutches!

Even so, the horror genre is still blessed with a boatload of public domain frights, many of which are ripe for revisiting in the year of our lord 2022. That’s why we’ve come up with this list of six of the best public domain horror movies that you can watch for free right now, as you shouldn’t have to break the bank in order to enjoy some good old-fashioned scares.

While nearly every film released before 1926 is now considered to be in the public domain in the United States, this list will focus on slightly more recent releases that became free due to production mishaps and legal loopholes. That being said, keep in mind that those older movies are also available for your entertainment free of charge, so I’d recommend checking out classics like Nosferatu and Haxan if you have the time.

As usual, don’t forget to comment below with your own public domain favorites if you think we missed an important one, as there plenty of free classics to choose from.

Now, onto the list…


6. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

A bizarre proto-slasher starring Patrick O’Neal and Mary Woronov, Theodore Gershuny’s Silent Night, Bloody Night isn’t exactly a hidden gem, but there’s an undeniable charm to the film’s low-budget thrills. Telling the story of a man who inherits a mansion that was once an insane asylum and then has to deal with a murder-filled Christmas Eve, the flick is the very definition of a Midnight B-Movie that’s sure to entertain those looking for a schlocky good time.

Silent Night, Bloody Night is also notable for preceding Bob Clark’s seminal Black Christmas, which also featured a deranged killer calling his victims to taunt them before enacting his murderous fantasies during the Holiday season.

You can watch the full film right here.


5. Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

public domain horror little shop of horrors

A comedic Roger Corman production featuring killer plants and a memorable appearance by a young Jack Nicholson? Sign me the hell up! While I’m still partial to Frank Oz’s 1986 musical adaptation of the story, there’s no denying the cheesy thrills of this monochromatic classic that no one thought was going to be a hit.

Even Corman didn’t think that this weird little production had a future, so he never bothered to copyright Little Shop of Horrors, which is why it’s now in the public domain. This was clearly a mistake on the director/producer’s part, as the film went on to become a cult classic during its many TV showings and theatrical rereleases. In fact, Jack Nicholson describes the original screening of the picture as a pleasant surprise, as he’d never experienced such a positive reaction to one of his films before.

You can watch the full film right here.


4. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Often referred to as “the worst movie ever made”, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space is actually a charming little exercise in cinematic earnestness. An odd sci-fi/horror mashup following extraterrestrials who raise the earth’s dead in an attempt to stop the development of a doomsday device, the film features the legendary Bela Lugosi as well as Maila Nurmi’s “Vampira” and more plywood UFOs than you can shake a stick at.

A single look at the flick’s campy performances and makeshift production value should be enough to convince you of Ed Wood’s legacy as a B-movie legend, working around absurd limitations to deliver a completed film that’s way more fun than it has any right to be.

You can watch the full film right here.


3. Carnival of Souls (1962)

public domain horror carnival of souls

If there’s a cinematic equivalent to a one-hit wonder, that honor would certainly go to the legendary Herk Harvey. A Colorado native, Harvey only directed a single feature film in his lifetime, which is 1962’s highly underrated Carnival of Souls. Telling the story of a young woman who becomes obsessed with a mysterious abandoned Carnival after surviving a car accident, the film remains a highly atmospheric thriller that culminates in a Shyamalan-like twist ending.

If the foreboding atmosphere and eerie cinematography aren’t enough to convince you that this slow-burning thriller is worth a watch, the film is also notable for influencing genre legends like David Lynch and George A. Romero. Both directors have gone on record explaining that Harvey’s eye for haunting imagery inspired several moments in their celebrated filmographies.

You can watch the full film right here.


2. The Last Man on Earth (1964)

public domain horror last man on earth

Directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow, this Italian-American co-production isn’t exactly the most popular adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (after all, it doesn’t feature Will Smith vibing to Bob Marley in post-apocalyptic New York), but it’s certainly one of the most entertaining Vincent Price vehicles out there.

Following the tragic story of the lone survivor of a vampiric outbreak, the film is a surprisingly thrilling apocalyptic yarn that almost certainly influenced Romero’s Dead trilogy. While it wasn’t exactly a success during its initial release, The Last Man on Earth found a second life once it entered the public domain, benefiting from several rereleases that turned it into a cult classic.

You can watch the full film right here.


1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Best Horror Movies

Arguably one of the most influential horror films of all time, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead needs no introduction, presenting the world with modern zombies and kick-starting the career one of the genre’s greatest directors. However, this apocalyptic masterpiece actually fell into the public domain due to a copyrighting error when the film was retitled from Night of the Flesh Eaters.

While this minor blunder ultimately cost Romero and his crew thousands upon thousands of dollars in residuals, it also transformed this indie production into a public domain staple. Night of the Living Dead has shown up in the background of countless Hollywood productions, as well as copious amounts of Halloween-themed TV marathons. In fact, it could be argued that the film’s public status is just as responsible for its resounding success as its cannibalistic scares.

So if you’re only going to watch one movie on this list of public domain horror classics, it should definitely be this one, and you can find it right here.



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