Werewolf of London (1935)

“The werewolf is neither man nor wolf but a satanic creature with the worst qualities of both.”

This movie represents the first attempt by Hollywood to bring werewolf mythology to the big screen. Mannered and stylized — one of the first horror films produced entirely under the restrictions of the Hays Code — it contains some intriguing ideas about the nature of hybridization, and along with a very simian werewolf. It’s most significant for the way in which it connects the Jekyll and Hyde mythology to the idea of transforming into an animal, rather than a corrupted form of human being.

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Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

“Some movies age; others ripen”

Roger Ebert on Bride of Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1931) generated massive box office returns and global headlines (after it was banned in many countries) and made Boris Karloff into a bankable star. It was inevitable that Universal would want to take another run at a Monster-based movie. It took a couple of years to reassemble Karloff, Colin Clive, and director James Whale, but in January 1935 they reunited on the set of one of the final – and most outrageous – pre-Code horror films.

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King Kong (1933)

“I am about to show you the greatest thing your eyes have
ever beheld. He was a King and a God in the world he knew. But now he comes to civilisation, merely a captive, a show to satisfy your curiosity.”

Merian C. Cooper, the visionary behind the chest-thumping giant gorilla atop the Empire State, was a remarkable man. An old school adventurer, he could list World War I flying ace, POW, journalist, explorer, airline owner and Oscar-nominated documentary-maker on his resume before he came to make King Kong, and he continued his adventurous way until his death in 1973. He was part of the first generation of US film-makers, those who saw creating a movie as the latest in a line of thrilling technological challenges. These pioneers of the Machine Age seized movie cameras in the 1920s with the same enthusiasm as they had grabbed the controls of airplanes a decade earlier. King Kong shares the dashing spirit of its producer, and epitomizes his fascination with technology. After all, Cooper plays the pilot of the plane that kills Kong, the very embodiment of twentieth century machinery’s triumph over Nature. Continue reading “King Kong (1933)”

Freaks (1932)

Freaks is a rarity, a horror film that horrifies rather than frightens. It was critically destroyed on its release in 1932, blamed for the downhill career trajectories thereafter of the key players, and banned in many countries for more than thirty years. Yet in 1994 it was selected for the National Film Registry’s archives, and now enjoys both cult and canon status. It’s a film both of its time (starring a strata of freakshow performers who no longer exist on a public stage) and ahead of its time, extending the definition of ‘sympathetic characters’ way beyond a 1932 audience’s limits. Continue reading “Freaks (1932)”

The Mummy (1932)

When Howard Carter uncovered Tutankhamun’s long-buried tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in November 1922, he sparked a global press frenzy and triggered a new craze — Egyptology, dubbed Tutmania. The treasures of the tomb became the Tutankhamun Exhibition, which toured the world in the 1920s and 1930s, fascinating onlookers and influencing everything from cocktail recipes to women’s fashion. When rumors began to swirl around the sudden, unexplained deaths of key individuals involved with Carter’s expedition, the concept of an ancient ‘Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’ rapidly became part of the zeitgeist. Continue reading “The Mummy (1932)”

Frankenstein (1931)


Like Dracula, the movie version of Frankenstein was based on a stage play (Peggy Webling’s Frankenstein: An Adventure in the Macabre) rather than on the original novel. Webling’s play was commissioned in 1928 by impresario Hamilton Deane, who had been very successful with his UK production of Dracula in the mid-1920s, and it proved to be a similar hit.

After the huge success of Dracula, released on Valentine’s Day 1931, Universal snapped up the screen rights to Frankenstein and the property entered the, even then, labyrinthine studio development process. Dracula screenwriter Garrett Ford hopped on board and drafted a screenplay based on two assumptions. First, that Frenchman Robert Florey would direct, and that Bela Lugosi would star in the leading role — as the mad scientist, Henry, not as his monstrous creation.

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Dracula (1931)

Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, has been plundered time and time again for movie adaptations of varying quality and now seems like a particularly hard-trampled piece of intellectual property. However, back when this version was released on Valentine’s Day 1931 it still seemed fresh, a story with originality and panache —and sex. It’s hard to believe now that in 1931 moviegoers were unfamiliar with vampires and the rules governing their undead existence. To the average moviegoer at this time, a ‘screen vamp’ was a sultry actress, an exotic siren like Theda Bara, Pola Negri, or Olga Baclanova.

Dracula changed all that.
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