43 Free Horror Movies in the Public DomainApril 9, 2021
There are several great free horror movies in the public domain, including more than a few classic and beloved films. These movies are free to watch and enjoy without paying a dime. Copyright law can be difficult to circumvent, but each of the movies on this list are legal to enjoy at no cost whatsoever.
Whenever possible, we will explain how or why each movie is in the public domain to help you understand more about this subject. We will also include a section dedicated to helping you find more public domain horror movies that aren’t included on this list.
- Resources for Public Domain Horror Movies
- How Does a Movie Become Public Domain?
- 200+ Best Free Horror Movies With Ads
- Over 2,500 Free Horror Movies on Youtube
1. Night of the Living Dead
Yes, George A. Romero’s classic zombie film is indeed in the public domain. Please note that not all copies of this film are actually public domain. Most modern high definition prints are copyrighted, and thus cannot legally be watched or displayed for free. Here is a copy that you can enjoy without fear of breaking any laws.
2. The Last Man on Earth
This classic Vincent Price horror film was based on the same story that later inspired the movie I Am Legend. It’s entirely free to enjoy as it fell into the public domain in 1992. Not all prints are legally in the public domain, as MGM Home Video does own the rights to a digitally remastered copy of the film.
3. House on Haunted Hill
This is yet another classic Vincent Price horror film, and it also inspired a remake back in the 90’s. Although it’s not clear when this one fell into the public domain, it has widely been considered public domain for many years and potential rights holders have not made an attempt to reclaim the film.
4. Dementia 13
This is another horror movie which has widely been considered part of the public domain, and there haven’t been many attempts to reclaim it. Directed by none other than Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now), this might not be his most popular film, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of his work.
5. White Zombie
This is an example of a title that has long been considered a public domain movie, but there are random legal issues which may come into play at some point in the future. These problems came to light when they tried to produce a remake.
To quote the script writer for the remake, it’s “clearly public domain, but there were question marks about uncredited source material.” Whatever the case, you can still watch it for free, as there haven’t been any attempts to reclaim the film.
6. The Screaming Skull
Surprisingly, this movie was never actually copyrighted, and as such it is in the public domain. That said, there have been modern prints produced which may fall under copyright protection, so it’s very likely that some copies will not legally be free to watch. The following copy should be legal to enjoy.
7. The Red House
The copyright on this Delmer Daves film (3:10 to Yuma, An Affair To Remember) was not renewed and it fell into the public domain. Many consider this a horror film. Some denote influences of the film noir, and there is also a heavy dramatic appeal to the movie as well.
8. The Devil Bat
None other than Bela Lugosi (Dracula himself) stars in this classic horror film which fell into the public domain after its theatrical release. That being said, there have been several remasters which use prints that are not in the public domain. Please be careful about which copy you choose to watch.
9. Carnival of Souls
Some versions of this film actually are under copyright. However, they failed to include a copyright on the US version of the movie, and it fell into the public domain. This is another classic horror film beloved by fans of the genre, and definitely worth checking out for free. The following copy should be legal to watch and enjoy.
10. The Bat
This is one title that is frequently listed as public domain, but there is very little information about why that is the case. That said, there haven’t really been any copyright claims made to suggest otherwise, so it should be safe to watch.
11. A Bucket of Blood
Directed by none other than Roger Corman, this is one of the more notorious horror films in the public domain. This movie stars Dick Miller (The Burbs, Gremlins) and was written by Charles B. Griffith (Little Shop of Horrors). Bucket of Blood may not be the best movie on our list, but it’s a fan favorite for many.
12. The Little Shop of Horrors
This was another horror movie directed by Roger Corman and written by Charles B. Griffith. This movie is often confused with the 1986 Frank Oz remake it would later inspire. It has been in the public domain since after its initial theatrical run, as Corman did not think it would be worth the copyright.
13. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
This is yet another title where the filmmakers simply forgot to add a copyright notice, and it fell into the public domain. Although it has a cult following, this is widely regarded as a terrible movie.
That said, if you’re in the mood for something cheesy, this might be a good choice. As an added bonus, you can also watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version for free on their official Youtube channel.
14. Manos: The Hands of Fate
If you want to watch a notoriously bad horror flick, you can’t do much worse than this. As with other titles on this list, the filmmakers failed to display copyright notice upon release and it is now in the public domain.
This is one you’ll definitely want to watch with friends, as it might be fun to riff the movie. As a matter of fact, this is one of the most popular episodes of MST3k. Unfortunately it is not included on the official Youtube channel.
15. The Terror
This movie has an interesting story behind it. Although they initially neglected to register the copyright for this film, resulting in its early appearance in the public domain, Roger Corman added 12 minutes to the movie in the 1990’s. The newest version of this movie was called “The Return of the Terror” just to make a copyright claim to the content within. Even so, the original version of the film is still free and legal to watch.
Often considered one of the worst movies ever made, this might not be the most popular title on our list, but it is definitely in the public domain. There is a restored version which may not be available for free, but the following copy should be safe and legal.
17. Phantom of the Opera (1925)
This is one of the best free horror movies on our list. Since the film is now over 95 years old, it is officially in the public domain. Starring the incomparable Lon Chaney (Oliver Twist, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), this adaptation of Phantom of the Opera might even be better than the later production from Universal Studios. Although a new restoration exists which is not public domain, the version listed here is free and legal to watch.
18. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
As with the last film on our list, this one is also at least 95 years old and it has fallen into the public domain. Although it’s not necessarily as horrific as other adaptations of the story, the makeup and effects on display from Lon Chaney (Phantom of the Opera, The Monster) are worth the price of admission — which is nothing. It’s hard to beat the price of free horror movies!
19. Nosferatu (1922)
Speaking of noteworthy and important free horror movies, it’s hard to deny the significance of this classic adaptation of Dracula. This is unquestionably the defining film of both F.W. Murnau and Max Schreck.
The makeup and effects used to turn Schreck into a vampire were fantastic. It’s almost guaranteed you’ve at least seen the face of this movie monster before. There is a restoration of this film which is not public domain, but the version below is free and legal to watch.
20. Faust (1926)
While Nosferatu is certainly F.W. Murnau’s best-known work, he also directed this excellent adaptation of the story of Faust. Although some might not consider it a horror film, it features special effects which would go on to influence the genre in many significant ways.
This is also an excellent example of German Expressionism, a movement in film which would inspire both horror and film noir for decades to come. This title is in the public domain because it has been 95 years since it was released. There is a new restoration which is not part of the public domain, but the version we have below is entirely free and legal to enjoy.
21. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
This is perhaps the most well-known example of German Expressionism. It has been referenced in several horror and film noir movies including Night of the Hunter. Although it’s not very horrific by modern standards, fans of the genre should definitely treat themselves to at least one viewing.
Since the film was released in 1920, it is over 95 years old and has fallen into the public domain. Recent restorations are not in the public domain, but the version posted here is free and legal to watch. Of all the free horror movies on our list, this might be one of the best!
22. The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Considered by some to be the cornerstone of Universal’s school of horror, this is a fairly influential film in the old dark house subgenre. Although it was intended as a horror comedy, and there are some elements of humor, this is still a pretty spooky movie regardless.
According to some sources, this film fell into the public domain when its copyright was not renewed. Whatever the case might be, it will enter the public domain in either 2022 or 2023 due to its age. There are restorations which are not public domain, but the version listed here is free and legal to enjoy.
23. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Although this might not be the most well-known adaptation of the classic tale, it is now over 95 years old and has fallen into the public domain. This movie is very well-rated, with Leonard Maltin himself giving it 3 out of 4 stars. John Barrymore stars as both Jekyll and Hyde, and this is another excellent example of effective early makeup in horror films.
24. The Haunted Castle (1921)
If you’re thirsting for more F.W. Murnau, this is one of the horror movies he directed before either Faust or Nosferatu. Much like The Cat and the Canary, this is another excellent early example of a film in the old dark house subgenre. Since it is more than 95 years old, it is now in the public domain and free to enjoy.
25. The Haunted House (1921)
If you’re curious about early horror comedy films, this is one title you don’t want to miss. This short film stars and is directed by Buster Keaton (The General, Sherlock Jr). Although it might not translate very well for modern audiences, it’s definitely worth checking out at least once. Since it was produced over 95 years ago, this movie is now in the public domain and free to watch.
26. The House of the Devil (1896)
This is undoubtedly the oldest film on our list. It’s also a perfect example of how you can trace the roots of film throughout the history of horror movies. Since it was made just a few years after film itself was invented, it’s only about 3 minutes long. It’s actually a miracle that we still have it in any condition at all.
Needless to say, this movie is over 95 years old and it’s now in the public domain. Oh, did we mention this title was directed by none other than Georges Melies (A Trip to the Moon)?
27. The Phantom Carriage (1921)
This is one of the most important films in Swedish cinematic history. It would go on to influence filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick. As a matter of fact, there is one scene in this movie which Kubrick was likely paying homage to in The Shining.
Although the US release was in 1922, it’s still over 95 years old and has fallen into the public domain. Some prints may not be public domain, but the version below is free and legal to enjoy.
28. The Monster (1925)
This is another early film from the old dark house subgenre. It’s also another chance to see Lon Chaney (Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame) at work. Much like The Cat and the Canary, this is also considered an early horror comedy film. Because the movie is now over 95 years old, it is officially part of the public domain.
29. The Amazing Mr. X
Also known as The Spiritualist, this film combines elements of both horror and film noir. Although it’s not the highest rated film on our list, it’s also not the worst title either. With performances from Turhan Bey (The Mummy’s Tomb) and Cathy O’Donnell (Ben-Hur, They Live By Night), there was plenty of talent behind this movie.
As with many titles from this era, the studio neglected to renew their copyright and it fell into the public domain.
30. Bowery at Midnight
While this isn’t a title that impressed the critics, it’s certainly worth at least one viewing. After all, how could anyone say no to a horror movie starring Bela Lugosi (Dracula, White Zombie)? This is yet another case where the copyright was not renewed and the film fell into the public domain and has landed on our list of free horror movies.
31. The Corpse Vanishes
If you just can’t get enough of Bela Lugosi, this is another movie that fell through the cracks and was not widely regarded as one of his best. Regardless, it’s a chance to see the master at work! This movie would eventually be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It fell into the public domain when its copyright was not renewed.
32. Spooks Run Wild
This is another Bela Lugosi title from the 40’s, an era when he was doing pretty much any movie he could get. Spooks Run Wild is actually part of a series of films starring The East Side Kids. This is another case where the copyright was not renewed and it fell into the public domain.
33. Frankenstein (1910)
Believe it or not, this is the very first film adaptation of Frankenstein, and it was produced by Edison Studios. This studio was owned and operated by none other than Thomas Edison. As with many films from that era, this one was very short and runs only 16 minutes long. The Library of Congress completed a full restoration of this film just a few years ago. This movie is now public domain because it is over 95 years old.
34. Genuine (1920)
Directed by Robert Weine (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), this early horror flick has an unassuming name. One of the alternate titles was Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire. This is another excellent example of German Expressionism, and you can see how that movement would inspire horror films. Since it is now more than 95 years old, it has officially become part of the public domain.
35. The Hands of Orlac (1924)
This is another Robert Weine film, and it’s a late example of German Expressionism. At this point, he was starting to use more elements of Naturalism in his films. Like many other films on our list, this one is over 95 years old and has become public domain.
36. The House of Mystery (1934)
This is another somewhat forgettable “old dark house” movie with a few twists. In addition to the same tired tropes we know and love, there’s also a killer ape on the loose! Few of the actors attached went on to do anything of note. That said, director William Nigh has a very long career with more than 100 credits to his name. This title fell into the public domain because its copyright was not renewed.
37. Wolfblood (1925)
This is actually the oldest werewolf movie which still exists. Although the oldest werewolf movies were made in the 1910’s, they all succumbed to a fire and were destroyed. Nitrate burns easily; all you have to do is look at it wrong and it’ll burst into flames. Wolf Blood is now in the public domain because it is more than 95 years old.
38. The Monster Walks
If you can’t get enough old dark houses, this is yet another entry into the subgenre. There’s nothing especially noteworthy about this one, and few of the actors went on to do anything important. The only real kind thing we can say is that this movie is entirely free to watch. The Monster Walks became public domain many years ago when its copyright was not renewed.
39. Invisible Ghost
This is another Bela Lugosi vehicle, and it’s actually one of the better titles he worked on in the 40’s. Although critics weren’t kind to it upon release, I can confirm it’s definitely worth a watch. The film was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, who went on to direct a notable film noir called Gun Crazy.
This is another case where the movie became public domain when its copyright was not renewed. That being said, there is a fairly nice high definition transfer from Kino Lorber which is not public domain. If you enjoy the film, we recommend buying this release of Invisible Ghost.
40. The Golem (1920)
Based on the tale of the Golem from Jewish culture, this is another great example of German Expressionism. Director Paul Wegener starred as the Golem itself. Although he also directed two other movies about the Golem in 1915 and 1917, this was the only one to survive.
Years later, cinematographer Karl Freund would go on to work on films like Metropolis and Dracula. The set design was done by none other than Edgar G. Ulmer, who went on to direct Detour and The Black Cat. Needless to say, this is a pretty historically relevant horror film! Since it is over 95 years old, it has fallen into the public domain.
41. The Ghoul (1933)
Following his roles as both Frankenstein and The Mummy, Boris Karloff starred in this oft forgotten British horror film. Although it wasn’t very well received by critics, most reviews agree it’s not a terrible movie. The Ghoul also featured minor roles for Cedric Hardwicke (War of the Worlds) and Ernest Thesiger (The Bride of Frankenstein). Due to its lack of a copyright notice, only the Czech print of this film is in the public domain.
42. The Blancheville Monster
Also known as Horror, this movie borrows elements from several Edgar Allan Poe stories. The director would eventually describe this as “a little film of no importance.” Whether or not that is true will be up for you to decide! According to IMDb, The Blancheville Monster is in the public domain. Since there does not appear to be an active copyright on file, we believe their claim is accurate.
43. The Vampire Bat (1933)
Following Universal’s Dracula, there were a lot of horror movies about vampires and bats. We’ve already listed a few of them on this list, including The Bat and The Devil Bat. Even if you enjoy these movies, it’s fair to say the studios didn’t spend much time on titles.
The screenplay for this film was written by Edward T. Lowe Jr. He would go on to write both House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein. There were several somewhat notable actors involved with the movie as well. Fay Wray, who played Ann Darrow in King Kong, also had a role in this film.
Dwight Frye, perhaps best known as Renfield in Dracula, also stars in The Vampire Bat. Other notable actors include Melvyn Douglas (The Changeling) and Lionel Belmore (Frankenstein). This movie was published without a copyright notice, and thus it became public domain.
Resources For Free Horror Movies in the Public Domain
While we’ve listed quite a few free horror movies in this article, there are undoubtedly many more that have long since fallen into the public domain. Unfortunately, as with anything that won’t earn money, there’s no real incentive for former rights holders or studios to announce that their movies are free to the public. As such, it’s usually quite difficult to determine if a film is actually in the public domain.
We know about certain titles because they have become well known over the years due to a variety of factors. However, there are some movies that are probably in the public domain which we will never know about for sure. If you’re looking for even more public domain free horror movies, just be aware that anything else you find might not actually be legal.
With that in mind, we will provide a few resources which should be reliable. Many of these websites include titles that may or may not be in the public domain, but they are often considered to be some of the most dependable and genuine sources for this type of research
Before you head off on your adventure to find more public domain horror, here are a few more tips to consider before watching a movie, even if someone else claims it is in the public domain.
Keep an eye out for Home Video Introductions
If you find a video file that starts with a studio logo from a home video release, it’s probably a copyrighted video file. Even if they claim it to be public domain, certain files and prints can fall under copyright law while others do not. If the movie just begins without all the studio logos which typically proceed a home video release, there’s a chance the file is potentially in the public domain.
Avoid video files in High Definition
This isn’t always the case, but usually high definition video files indicate the print has been remastered and potentially re-released with a new copyright. Sadly, although you can watch a lot of public domain movies for free, modern remasters won’t always be in the public domain. In those cases, you might have to watch it in standard definition.
Avoid movies made after 1970
Although this isn’t always the case, it is true that most movies made after 1970 are not going to be in the public domain and they will most likely have a copyright. If you want to watch newer movies without fear of illegality, we recommend considering another alternative to watch free movies online.