rom the beginning of the 1900’s what became known as the “horror movie” began to make it’s way onto the stage of our collective imagination.
Perhaps out of necessity they came, due to our cultural need to tell of myths, legends and real, unexplained and seemingly supernatural events.
Even before the 1900’s came attempts to put something frightening to the new medium of film. Mostly designed to create a sense of wonder and amusement though, these short, silent pieces weren’t much more than a couple of minutes in length.
…From 1900 to 1920 came the worlds first version of “Frankenstein” by Edison Studios (owned and operated by famed inventor Thomas Edison). Three takes on the classic novella, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as well as German masterpieces, “Der Golem” and “The Student of Prague”.
Also from this prolific period was Universal Studio’s earliest monster movie, “The Werewolf”.
The Roaring 20’s
The 1920’s brought forth an abundance of classic horror and indeed some of the best classic horror movies of all time. From Germany and France came such hugely influential titles as, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, “The Haunted Castle”, “The Golem: How He Came into the World”, “Nosferatu”, “The Hands Of Orlac”, “Waxworks”, “Faust”, and a second version of The Student Of Prague.
Meanwhile, American cinema now finding it’s feet produced many outstanding classics such as, and in the same year, two versions of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, “The Bat”, “The Cat and the Canary”, “London After Midnight”, “The Unknown” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”.
These early silent films were very surreal. Very atmospheric. So much was owed to the gothic, dreamlike influence of German artistic movement called “Expressionism”. A style which incorporated distorted, exaggerated setting and forms in order to conjure strong, emotional and subjective response.
The 1930’s and sound
The 30’s are considered horrors’ golden age when there was a terrific outpouring of films dealing with monsters, murderers and science gone wrong. America lead the way, and in particular, Universal Studios with it’s seemingly inexhaustible run of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, mummy’s, zombies, creatures and madmen. If such a relentless barrage of freaks and spooks wasn’t enough, the fact that these nightmarish pictures had sound made things worse!
The two most iconic horror characters ever created were first up…
“Dracula” and “Frankenstein” both released in 1931 had an absolutely alarming and profound affect on audiences of the day. Their stars, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, became household names and were forevermore synonymous with terror.
Next up came a string of yet more archetypal classics. Another version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, “Freaks”, “The Island of Lost Souls“, “The Most Dangerous Game“, “The Mummy“, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue“, “The Old Dark House“, “White Zombie“, “The Invisible Man”, “Mystery of the Wax Museum”, “The Black Cat”, “Bride of Frankenstein“, “Mad Love”, “Mark of the Vampire”, “The Raven”, “Werewolf of London“, “Dracula’s Daughter” and “Son of Frankenstein”.
Horror had been let loose upon a movie going public who were sufficiently shocked and repulsed enough that new censorship laws had to come into play. England had effectively banned the production of horror films there and as a result things came to a stand still in America also.
From 1936 to 1939, horror had seemingly been snuffed out. But with the re-release of both Dracula and Frankenstein to a highly receptive audience, Universal went ahead with “Son of Frankenstein” and the horror genre continued it’s lurch forward.
1939, and the Second World War had begun. With film production down to an absolute minimum over in England and Europe, it was left up to Hollywood to continue what had begun. And continue it did!
The Frightening 40’s
…Churning out more horror fare than the ’30’s before it, the 1940’s re-hashed some old favorites but also came up with some original monsters of its own. Sequels were created for The Invisible Man and The Mummy while Karloff and Lugosi made a second appearance together in “Black Friday”. Yet another Jekyll and Hyde followed as well as the main star of the decade, “The Wolf Man”.
Starring the son of the famous, “Man With a Thousand Faces” of the 1920’s, The Wolf man was an instant hit. Lon Chaney Jr. filled this iconic role no less than five times and went on to become Hollywood’s newest monster in residence. Playing not only The Wolf Man, but also The Mummy, Dracula and Frankenstein!
French Director Jacques Tourneur found success with a series of somber, slow- burn style numbers. Frankenstein and The Mummy each got another sequel before “Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man” was produced as the worlds first “monster ensemble”.
Following It’s success, Universal produced “House of Frankenstein” bringing Dracula into the mix now as well. Then later the following year, “House of Dracula“. In the meantime, two more Mummy films were made while Lugosi came onto the screen in his iconic vampire role for “Return of the Vampire”. The supernatural thriller, “The Uninvited” came next followed by “Dead of Night” and “Isle of the Dead”.
Finally, and at the end of the decade came a film that bought together the classic Universal Monsters in a way that pays a loving tribute to the end of a very unique era, “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”. Much appreciated for the comedic antics of Abbott and Costello and also for the seriousness with which the horror actors played their roles.
It was sadly the only other time Lugosi played Count Dracula in a feature film other than his first, original appearance.
The Fearsome 50’s
The 50’s brought with it the age of technological fear, due in large part to such scientific “advances” as the atom bomb. …Also of major influence was the overwhelming number of sighted “flying discs”. Horror films, in turn, became less about historic myths, legends and classic novels and more about giant mutations, threats from outer space and B-pictures. Science Fiction/Horror cross-overs became more popular as in, “The Thing From Another World” from the start of the decade.
A new legend of horror, Vincent Price was to star in “House of Wax” made in 3D and color! But as far as classic monsters go, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (also in 3D) is considered the last of the original Universal Monsters. It went on to spurn two sequels…
“Godzilla”, “Them!”, “Tarantula!”, “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” are further examples of a new era under way.
The now famous “Hammer Studios” came onto the scene with “The Curse of Frankenstein“, “Horror of Dracula” and “The Mummy“. Breeding new life into legendary characters. Color film added a whole new level of excitement to these old favorites. “Night of the Demon”, “The Blob”, “The Fly” and the many sequels to Hammers’ Frankenstein and Dracula are all very worthy mentions of this “classic” period.