Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Examples
Other Early Classic Horror Films:
Other classic horror films of the 1930s and early 1940s included one of the best adventure/horror films of all time - it was the "beauty and the beast" classic King Kong (1933). Special effects expert Willis O'Brien created many of the models for the film. After his success with Dracula (1931), Tod Browning directed the unusual, gothic Freaks (1932) with real-life side-show "freaks" - one of his best works. It told how a group of freaks took revenge on a beautiful gold-digging trapeze artist and turned her into a monstrous half-human, half-bird. This cult film redefined the concepts of beauty, love, and abnormality, but was so disturbingly ahead of its time that audiences stayed away in huge numbers, and it was even banned for 30 years in England. After this film, Browning's career would never be the same - he directed only a few more films through 1939 before retiring.
British director James Whale directed the spooky, dark comedy/ghost story The Old Dark House (1932) with Karloff in the ensemble cast (in his first starring role) as Morgan the butler and female lead Gloria Stuart (later revived by Titanic (1997)). Charles Laughton was H. G. Wells' crazed scientist Dr. Moreau (from the 1896 novel) in The Island of Lost Souls (1932) (banned in Britain until 1958, and re-made in 1977 with Burt Lancaster and 1996 as The Island of Dr. Moreau with Marlon Brando), responsible for turning innocent animals into grotesque hybrid-humans.
When Karloff refused the title role, Claude Rains starred as The Invisible Man (1933) in James Whale's second hit and Universal's critically-acclaimed film version of H. G. Wells' novel. [When the title character stripped naked in one scene to avoid the police, the trail of footprints in the snow revealed a pair of feet wearing shoes!] Laughton took the role of the horribly deformed bellringer who saves Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara) in the excellent The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Claude Rains appeared in the semi-musical remake of Phantom of the Opera (1943) as disfigured composer Erik. In the post-war years, George Sanders starred in classic adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) about a man (Hurd Hatfield) whose portrait showed physical aging while he remained youthful.
The Mummy Films:
One of the earliest 'mummy' films was The Vengeance of Egypt (1912, Fr.) -- with a terrifying mummy seeking revenge for its stolen ring. Notable films with living (or walking) dead, "zombie" plots included Universal's and first-time director Karl Freund's classic The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff in the title role as the 3,700 year-old bandaged corpse of Im-ho-tep - it was Karloff's second Monster role success. Trading on Karloff's success in both The Mummy and Frankenstein, the British film The Ghoul (1933) starred Karloff as an Egyptologist who sought eternal life by being buried with a rare jewel. Four Universal sequels to the original 1932 film were:
Horror Films in Color:
The first horror film to be shot in two-strip Technicolor was director Michael Curtiz' mad scientist who-dun-it film Doctor X (1932), with Lionel Atwill starring as Doctor Xavier. The very similar Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) also with Atwill as deranged wax museum exhibitor Igor, was also shot in an early Technicolor process, and distributed on a wider scale.
Dracula Sequels at Mid-Century:
Although more plentiful, Dracula films and sequels were less successful than many of the superb Frankenstein sequels. To capitalize on its earlier successes, Universal Studios (and other studios) slowly churned out more Dracula sagas in the 30s and 40s, but only two featured Bela Lugosi as the character of Dracula (he was in the original 1931 film, and in the comedy hybrid Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)). In two similar roles, first in Tod Browning's and MGM's Mark of the Vampire (1935), Bela Lugosi played Count Mora (an actor pretending to be a vampire) and Carol Borland starred as his ghoulish-looking daughter Luna. And in Lew Landers' The Return of the Vampire (1944), Lugosi portrayed a reawakened vampire (very similar in appearance to Count Dracula) named Armand Tesla.
The first official Dracula sequel with hints of lesbianism - Dracula's Daughter (1936), starred Gloria Holden as Countess Marya Zaleska who arrived in London to claim her father's body and developed a taste for blood - mostly from female victims. It would take another seven years for the next Dracula sequel, Robert Siodmak's Son of Dracula (1943) set in the American South. Lon Chaney, Jr. starred in the title role as the vampire. For some reason, Universal did not crank up the number Dracula films, and instead placed the Dracula character mostly in a number of monster hybrid films: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), House of Frankenstein (1944), and House of Dracula (1945).
Increasingly regarded as a campy horror character, Bela Lugosi (who had sunk into poverty by the 1940s after showing a reluctance to be typecast as Dracula) appeared in a financially-successful horror-comedy parody, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) as Dracula, and then after struggling with drug addiction, stooped to work with cult director Ed Wood on Glen or Glenda? (1953) and Bride of the Monster (1955).
Frankenstein Sequels and Other Horror-Star Hybrids at Mid-Century:
The witty Frankenstein sequel directed by James Whale titled Bride of Frankenstein (1935) outdid the original - it was a marvelous mixture of campy (and sophisticated) black humor, classic terror, and unforgettable images - including Elsa Lanchester (actor Charles Laughton's wife) in two roles: as the spectacular bride with a Nefertiti hairdo, and as Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. The best played-role was by Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, with its most memorable scene being the first sighting of the Monster by the Bride - with her accompanying shriek of terror. The continuing series of Frankenstein films included:
Together, Lugosi and Karloff also starred in three films together, the best being their first film - Edgar Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934) (based on an Edgar Allen Poe story). The two actors represented characters with antagonistic bad blood between them: Lugosi as ex-war prisoner Dr. Vitus Werdegast, and Karloff as a Satanic architect named Poelzig. Karloff and Lugosi followed their success by being paired in The Raven (1935).
Additional campy entries included I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and I Was a Teen-age Werewolf (1957), one of the best 'teenage' monster films, with future star Michael Landon as the juvenile delinquent monster. (See more below).
Zombie Films in the 1930s - 1940s:
Zombies are 'walking dead' creatures, often with decayed flesh, that are destructive, malevolent, prey on human flesh, and almost impossible to 'kill.' The word zombie was derived from the Bantu language of Angola (n-zumbi meaning ghost or departed spirit), and zombies (involved in Haitian voodoo) debuted in William B. Seabrook's sensational book about Haitian voodoo titled The Magic Island. The lurid book detailed his adventures and encounters with the 'living dead' – shambling hulks with unfocused staring eyes and expressionless faces. It could be argued that the 'somnambulism' in the German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Germ.) was one of the earliest examples of a hypnotic, sleep-walking state similar to that exhibited by zombies.
In the early 1930s, Hollywood (Universal Studios, in particular) was beginning to experiment with iconic monster films, and it was only a matter of time before the first feature-length 'walking dead' film appeared. The first 'true' zombie film was director Victor Halperin's and UA's low-budget independent film - the atmospheric White Zombie (1932), with Dracula (1931) star Bela Lugosi as 'Murder' Legendre - an evil voodoo master, necromancer and sinister hypnotist. He ran a Haitian sugar mill with empty-faced, mindless zombie slaves and entered into a perverse pact to control and win the soul of a bride-to-be (Madge Bellamy). It was deliberately made with minimal dialogue, and filmed to be visually atmospheric and expressionistic. The inspiration for the film was the short-lived 1932 Broadway play titled Zombie by Kenneth Webb.
Its sequel or 'continuation' film was the inferior Revolt of the Zombies (1936), with another preposterous plot, poor acting (from Dean Jagger as a Cambodian sorcerer-priest with a secret formula to create zombies), and ineffective direction. The talkative and slow-moving film was overshadowed by a lawsuit about its use of the word 'zombie.' In the hour-long horror thriller Ouanga (1936) (aka The Love Wanga, or Drums of the Jungle), native Haitian plantation owner (and voodoo priestess) Clelie (Fredi Washington) jealously raised two zombies to vengefully kidnap her ex-lover Adam's new white fiancée named Eve, and sacrifice her in a ceremony.
During the 1940s, there were three zombie films from 'Poverty Row's' Monogram Studios, some of which tied Nazism to zombie-lore: the pre-war King of the Zombies (1941) told of a crash-landing on a remote Caribbean island with a suspicious and sinister Nazi-like spy/doctor named Miklos Sangre (Henry Victor) who conducted hypnotic voodoo rituals in his underground dungeon and was ready to release a horde of zombies. In its B-film sequel, director Steve Sekely's Revenge of the Zombies (1943) (aka The Corpse Vanished), John Carradine starred as a Nazi scientist building a world-dominating zombie army ("living dead" warriors for the Nazi's Third Reich) in a Louisiana swamp. This 1943 film was Academy Award-nominated for Best Scoring for a Dramatic Film! [Both films featured African-American character actor Mantan Moreland in a stereotypical role as a bug-eyed manservant - for comic relief.] The third film was Voodoo Man (1944), a recycled Revenge of the Zombies (1943) which brought back Bela Lugosi as practicing voodoo master Dr. Marlowe, and John Carradine as a retarded manservant. Marlowe kidnapped young women to use their will and spirit to animate his dead wife.
One of the better zombie films of the 40s was RKO director Jacques Tourneur's (and producer Val Lewton's) atmospheric, intelligent and spooky B-film masterpiece I Walked With A Zombie (1943), a West Indies derivation of Charlotte Bronte's classic dark romance Jane Eyre. The movie's most atmospheric scene was the dream-like nocturnal walk through the sugar-cane plantation fields to a native voodoo ceremony with the sound of drums, and the startling appearance of giant, bug-eyed zombie guard Carre-Four (Darby Jones).
The zombie sub-genre declined after the mid-40s, although there were a few notable entries in the 50s, such as Republic's 12-part sci-fi serial Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952), producer Sam Katzman's The Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) with a zombified crew of sailors protecting a sunken treasure vessel, AIP's Voodoo Woman (1957), and the box-office bomb Teenage Zombies (1960).
Britain's Hammer Studios: The Dracula Cycle
The UK's Hammer Studios, as they did with Frankenstein (see below) and Mummy sequels in the 50s, reinvigorated the Bram Stoker Dracula novel in a collection of low-budget films by employing garish, sensual colors and bloody reds - and more overt, suggestive sexuality and graphic violence. The British production company remained faithful to the genre's material (the classics from Universal Studios) in tightly-produced, spectacular Technicolor sequels featuring a seductive, alluring and virile vampire. Talented director Terence Fisher (with Christopher Lee in one of his best appearances as the reclusive Count Dracula and Peter Cushing in a cat-and-mouse game as arch nemesis vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing) created the classic Horror of Dracula (1958, UK) (aka Dracula) - the first of the Hammer horror films about Dracula. Following its success, Hammer Studios produced more Dracula films with the same characters until the mid-70s (a total of nine films from 1958 to 1974). [Note: Christopher Lee eventually played Dracula in seven of the nine of Hammer's Dracula films from 1958 to 1973]:
The next Dracula films (Hammer and non-Hammer films) were:
Lesbian Vampire Films: A Sub-Genre
It could easily be argued that the first lesbian vampire film was Universal's Dracula's Daughter (1936), discussed earlier. For commercial reasons, adult-oriented vampire films were produced by Hammer Studios to spice up the original horror concept with lesbian themes, sex, and nudity. These films were often viewed at America's drive-in theatres in the 70s. The first openly lesbian vampire film was Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses (1961), loosely based on the 1872 lesbian vampire short story Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.
A so-called trilogy of explicit lesbian films (the Karnstein Trilogy) was then introduced in the early 70s by Hammer, all loosely-based on Sheridan Le Fanu's Camilla, with an emphasis on the sexual element:
The Belgian lesbian-vampire film Daughters of Darkness (1971, Belg.) (aka La Rouge Aux Levres, Blood on the Lips) was a highly-stylized, erotic, art-house work by director Henry Kumel and based upon Camilla as well. It starred Delphine Seyrig as the mysterious and beautiful, sultry and elegant Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who was accompanied by her sensual, lesbian Dutch-bob-haired secretary Ilona Harxzy (Andrea Rau). The Countess was intent on seducing a newlywed bride named Valerie (Danielle Oiumet) and vampirizing her, while the newlywed groom Stefan (John Karlen) was being sexually tempted by Ilona. Even more explicit was the soft-core and bloody Vampyres (1974, UK) (aka Vampyres: Daughters of Darkness, or Daughters of Dracula) - this film's tagline clearly explained its ultimate appeal: "They shared the pleasures of the flesh, and the horrors of the grave!", capitalizing on the parallel connection between vampirism and sex, and eroticism and gore. Spanish director José Ramón Larraz's film told about a pair of gorgeous lesbian-bisexual, blood-lusting vampires, brunette Fran (nude model Marianne Morris) and blonde Miriam (ex-Playboy Miss May 1973 centerfold Anulka Dziubinska), who took unsuspecting passers-by on a foggy country road to their gothic castle at night, where they were fed, offered carnal sex, and then they killed their victims with knives in order to suck their blood.
Revisionist variations of the vampire character have been striking and dramatic (see later more detailed descriptions in this article). In the 80s, the most talked-about vampire film was director Tony Scott's artsy The Hunger (1983) - the modern, visually-striking, "new-wave" sci-fi/horror film starred seductive Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in soft-focus lesbian encounters. A wide variety of vampire tales were put on celluloid in the eighties and afterward, usually with more overtly sexual overtones and bloody violence. There have been:
Britain's Hammer Studios: The Frankenstein Cycle
Hammer Studios in England had its first horror hit with the Frankenstein creature in director Terence Fisher's gory The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), with actor Peter Cushing in the starring role as the insane Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee in his first appearance as the monster. It was the first of many installments of Frankenstein sequels from the studio. The remaining six sequels of the Hammer Frankenstein series were:
Hammer Studios went out of business in the mid-1970s, after a spate of soft-core, exploitative, sexually-oriented horror films, such asThe Vampire Lovers (1970, UK), Lust for a Vampire (1971, UK), Twins of Evil (1971, UK) and Countess Dracula (1971). (see above)
Britain's Hammer Studios: The Mummy Cycle
Hammer Studios updated the Mummy films with its own first entry The Mummy (1959) directed by Terence Fisher, starring Peter Cushing as John Banning, the archaeologist who opened up a tomb in 1895, and Christopher Lee as the awakened ancient Egyptian Kharis. Three other Mummy films from Hammer included:
RKO Producer Val Lewton:
Russian-born Val Lewton, using a more subtle, suggestive, eerie approach in a number of atmospheric, sophisticated horror/suspense films, produced eleven low-budget films for RKO Studios in the 1940s, directed first by Jacques Tourneur, and then by Mark Robson and Robert Wise. Lewton's first psychological horror film, directed by Tourneur in his feature-film debut, was the suspenseful horror classic The Cat People (1942) - possibly the first horror film to never show its monster. [A secondary reason for keeping the horror undefined was due to the lack of budget for special effects.] Its heroine Irena (Simone Simon), suffering from an ancient Balkan curse and sado-sexual yearnings, threatens to turn into a panther (the female version of the Wolf Man) if her passionate sexual feelings are aroused.
Through 1948, Tourneur also contributed the definitive voodoo/zombie film I Walked With a Zombie (1943) about re-awakened dead bodies in Haiti, and the mystery/horror film The Leopard Man (1943) about a deadly black leopard (and a serial killer!). Years later, Tourneur returned only once to the horror genre with his fourth true horror film Curse of the Demon (1957) (aka Night of the Demon), a film which demonstrated Lewton's influence. [Tourneur was most famous for the film noir classic, Out of the Past (1947).]
Under Lewton's production, Mark Robson directed the pre-Rosemary's Baby, noirish classic film of Satanic worship and death called The Seventh Victim (1943), Isle of the Dead (1945) with Karloff in a starring role, and Bedlam (1945). The most influential of Lewton's directors was Robert Wise, who created such classics as The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945) with Boris Karloff as a sinister, wily grave-robbing cabman. Later in his career, Wise also directed the superior ghost story The Haunting (1963) based on Shirley Jackson's classic novel The Haunting of Hill House - it remains one of the greatest of all haunted house films.
Three other horror/ghost stories were the British film anthology of five interwoven horror tales titled Dead of Night (1945) with a memorable ventriloquist dummy; one of the best love/ghost-supernatural films ever made The Uninvited (1944), with Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey in an old house on the English coast; and director Jack Clayton's classic The Innocents (1961), adapted from Henry James' novel The Turn of the Screw, with Deborah Kerr as an English governess for an orphaned boy and girl in a creepy countryside estate.
The Cycle of 50's Horror Films:
Many of the films in the horror genre from the mid-1930s to the late 1950s were B-grade movies, inferior sequels, or atrocious low-budget gimmick films. In the atomic age of the 1950s, much was made of the modern effects of radioactivity exposure, toxic chemical spills, or other scientific accidents - such as the development of giant mutant monsters or carnivorous insects, including Gojira (1954, Jp.) (aka Godzilla). During that time, most of the monster horror films were cheaply made, drive-in, teenage-oriented, grade-Z films, such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). There was also the creature feature - The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954).
A few American-made monster/horror films of the time, however, effectively capitalized on terrorizing threats that included extraterrestrial powers or space invaders, such as the alien found in the Arctic in The Thing (From Another World) (1951), the unusual Gil-man monster in The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), mutant ants in the New Mexico desert in Them! (1954), or the aberrant or alien threat in Don Siegel's classic tale of Cold War paranoia - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The latter film, a tale cautioning against conformity, was a classic tale of zombie-like clones taking over the bodies of the residents of a small California town. [A remake by Philip Kaufman, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), set in San Francisco, featured a cameo appearance by the first film's star Kevin McCarthy.]
Director Jack Arnold's allegorical The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), from a screenplay by author Richard Matheson, showed the deadly mutations and after-effects of exposure to radioactivity - even a cat or a spider could become a frightening monster to a shrunken human. To counter the popularity of TV, film studios experimented with 3-D in films such as House of Wax (1953) (the hit film, and Warners' first 3-D color film - with a stereo soundtrack - that launched the career of Vincent Price as "the King of Horror" in the role of sculptor Professor Henry Jarrod who vengefully turned the corpses of his enemies into wax figures). It was a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), and was remade again almost half a century later: House of Wax (2005) with Paris Hilton!
Two other late 50s films with sci-fi/horror features included: The Blob (1958) and the original The Fly (1958) (with Vincent Price as the brother of a scientist who accidentally was turned into a part house-fly). The latter film spawned many sequels in later generations (its two sequels: Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965); and another remake The Fly (1986) with its own sequel The Fly 2 (1989)). Charles Laughton's only directorial effort was for The Night of the Hunter (1955) about a homicidal yet charismatic preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) with 'love' and 'hate' tattooed on his hands.
Roger Corman's Films:
Producer/director Roger Corman, known for his low-budget, 'exploitation' films, helped to keep the horror genre alive when the larger Hollywood studios turned away. He created the low-budget, horror lampoon-satire A Bucket of Blood (1959), a pre-Little Shop of Horrors. It starred regular Corman character actor Dick Miller as Walter Paisley - a talentless, mentally-unstable beatnik coffee house bus-boy who became a famous artist after he started murdering and encasing his victims in clay and passing them off as his sculptures (i.e., "Murdered Man"). In the next year, Corman's quickly-made cheapie cult film The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) about a meat-eating house-plant named Audrey inspired an off-Broadway stage musical with the same title and another film in 1986 directed by Frank Oz.
Other more expensive, lavishly-Techni-colored Corman films followed from American International Pictures (AIP), including eight Gothic Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror tales (mostly starring a villainous Vincent Price) such as:
Other Horror Films in the 60s:
Horror films branched out in all different directions in the 1960s and after, especially as the Production Code disappeared and film censorship was on the decline. Directors began to frankly portray horror in ordinary circumstances and seemingly-innocent settings. While Roger Corman was producing and directing his cheaply and quickly-made horror films in the early 60s, Hammer Studios in England was making Dracula and Frankenstein sequels (see above). Hammer rounded out their horror sequels with director Terence Fisher's The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961).
A controversial English film by Michael Powell titled Peeping Tom (1960, UK) was met with outrage for its chilling story of a murderous psychopathic photographer. In Harold (Herk) Harvey's cultish, low-budget, expressionistic, dream-like zombie film Carnival of Souls (1962), a young girl suffered ghoulish and nightmarish experiences in a bizarre land of specters after a near-fatal car accident. More suspenseful, atmospheric horror was displayed in the British film Burn Witch, Burn! (1962) (aka Night of the Eagle), written by horror screenwriters Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont - an exploration of modern witchcraft.
Director Robert Aldrich's modern gothic thriller starred two aging Hollywood actresses (Bette Davis with her tenth Oscar nomination and Joan Crawford) as sisters in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Aldrich and Bette Davis were re-teamed together in the Southern Gothic horror tale Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1965). Producer Roger Corman promoted young filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's early film - a low-budget thriller about an axe-murderer titled Dementia 13 (1963).
The first Amicus portmanteau film and one of the best British horror films of the 60s was Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1964) - an entertaining, five-story anthology with Peter Cushing as Dr. Schreck (meaning horror in German), a mysterious doctor who told fortunes for five passengers on a train in a series of vignettes, and horror genre components including a severed hand, a vampire, a man-eating plant, a voodoo curse, and a werewolf.