16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give you Nightmares

As we have explored before, taking old-timey photos out of context is a recipe for awesomeness. But there is a dark side, too.

Some of what passed for everyday life 75 or 100 years ago would send you running screaming in the other direction today. And when those scenes are captured on grainy old-school film, you get the stuff of nightmares.

#16. Religion Used to Be So Badass

José Ortiz Echagüe, Vintage Photography
The only "music" that could rightly accompany this scene is toneless human screaming.

We mean no offense to any particular faith here, but if you were standing in this spot taking this photo, you would fully expect to be human sacrificed within the hour. Everything from the costumes to the spooky mountain temple setting screams "ancient murder cult."

This was actually taken in Spain in 1940, and this is a procession of people repenting their sins in a ritual for Semana Santa, celebrated the week before Easter. We would stop and point out how religion used to be so much more badass than it is now, but they still do it today.

#15. So Creepy You Don't Notice the Skates ...

Corbis Images

It's a testament to the creator of this 1910 Halloween costume that she still manages to look terrifying despite the fact that she's apparently about to hit up the local roller dome. She's ready for whatever the night brings, whether it's taking a tight inside turn to beat the man that challenged her to a race or cracking that man's skull open and feasting on its rich, gooey innards.

#14. The Last Thing He Heard Was a Whisper in His Ear

Steven Kasher Gallery
We'd have less crime if modern cops looked this dapper.

This would appear to be a certain policeman's "last known photo" before his skin was found pinned to the wall of a torture dungeon.

It's true that had you been at this anti-Vietnam War demonstration when the photo was taken, you would have seen a protester mocking an authority figure. But the passing of time has given this scene historical perspective, and a modern audience can see it for what it really is: a crazy guy in a scary as fuck pig mask, his unhinged eyes boring into our souls.

#13. Inside This Thing Is Nothing But a Skull

Science and Invention 1925, via A Great Disorder
Replace that oxygen tank with a nitrous tank and you'd have the ultimate cure for finals blues.

For some reason, putting this bulbous terror mask on a guy calmly sitting at a writing desk makes it worse than if it were chasing you through a dark alley. If you ever see the above in real life, it's playing on a video screen while the disembodied voice explains the exact nature of the torture machine you're strapped to.

In reality this is the Isolator, a 1925 invention intended to block absolutely all external stimuli, and also to make you look like a bad guy from BioShock. It shuts out all sound, oxygen is piped in through a tank and the eyes have slits so you can only see one line of text at a time, making it the perfect productivity tool for people who want to terrify their coworkers into never interacting with them.

#12. Sometimes a Costume's Simplicity Is What Makes It Scary


Holy shit. Every little thing in this picture is just off somehow, just enough to be nightmarish, from that fucked up jack-o'-lantern to the horrifying twist on the "holes in a sheet" ghost costume.

In 1905, pretty much all Halloween costumes were homemade, and we don't doubt that the effect here was more the result of laziness than intentional horror. But you could give us six months to try to think up a way to make a sheet and a pair of scissors into something scary, and we couldn't beat that.

#11. Sexual Assault in 3 ... 2 ...

Museum Ludwig Köln
His eyes say "Yes" but his hands say "I'm hiding a small knife."

Proving that it's the man that makes the costume, if you took this exact same outfit and put it on a little girl it'd probably be adorable. But put it on that guy, in those tights, with that leering facial expression? Your face is about to be on a fucking milk carton.

Supposedly this 1865 photo of a half-man/half-insect monster is representative of the early stages of the bohemian movement. What else could it possibly be?

#10. You Should See the Snow Fort He Manned

University of Oregon Libraries
There are no side pictures available, but we're sure that's a crotch bulge.

Back in 1902 they didn't settle for building snowmen. They built snowtitans, the kind that looked like they'd come alive at night and squish people for fun. And then they added a pedophile mustache. And stood in front of it in terrifying Men in Black silhouettes with their demented dwarf.

#9. The Silence of the Lambs: 1938 Edition

Raoul Ubac, via Vintage Works

Here we have a photo by Raoul Ubac, and we're actually a little shocked to find that's a mannequin head instead of a real one. Or at least that's what he claimed. Either way, it was apparently a law in the early 20th century that if you were a European with a camera you weren't allowed to take photos unless they were glimpses into the mouth of insanity.

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