The Golden Age (1928-1946)

Although the Golden Age would be defined largely by the output of Universal Studios, the first “all-talking” horror movie was released by Warner Bros. in 1928 and was called, The Terror. As the 1930s began, the United States was feeling the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929 and suffering from the effects of the Dust Bowl. Although radio was the primary source of entertainment, moviegoers flocked to theaters to escape the harsh realities of everyday life.

With these external factors, as well as the success of Dracula in 1931, the number of horror films quadrupled by 1932. Most of them contained a Gothic influence and dealt more with adventurous and scientific subject matter than with the supernatural subject matter of the Silent Age. Universal owned the era with hits such as Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935); however, it wasn’t the only studio that released significant genre fare during the 1930s:

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931, Paramount Pictures)
White Zombie (1932, United Artists)
King Kong (1933, RKO Radio Pictures)
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933, Warner Bros.)
Mad Love (1935, MGM)

Some horror movies of the 1930s may not have been appreciated at the time, but have subsequently come to be appreciated as classics; for example:

Freaks (1932, MGM)
Island of Lost Souls (1932, Paramount Pictures)

In 1935, the British Board of Film Censors introduced the “H” (Horrific) rating and attached it to “any films likely to frighten or horrify children under the age of 16 years.” Subsequently, in 1936, Hollywood embraced a strict production code limiting the violence and sexuality that could be portrayed in films. These policies resulted in virtually no horror films being produced in 1937 and 1938. (This is why you hear about “pre-code” movies prior to 1935 and the shocking subject matter that they sometimes contained.)

Horror movies experienced resurgence in 1939, the same year that gave us two of the most beloved movies of any genre, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. It seemed that with the classic lines from those movies, “Tomorrow is another day” and “There’s no place like home,” the Great Depression was winding down and the public was becoming more hopeful. Universal had another hit with Son of Frankenstein and discovered a formula for success by making sequels based on the iconic characters it created a decade earlier. The Invisible Man returned. The Mummy had a hand, a tomb, a curse and a ghost. Frankenstein had a ghost. Dracula had a son. Frankenstein and Dracula had a house.

While this period signaled a decline in quality of horror at Universal, it also introduced its most sympathetic character: Lawrence Talbot, who, “when the Wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright,” transforms into The Wolf Man. The character was significant because, while the other Universal Monsters had their origins in fiction or mythology, Larry Talbot and his furry alter ego were largely original creations, cobbled together from several different legends as well as new story elements. It would become an archetype for lycanthropy in all media that remains with us today.

Although horror was mostly devolving at Universal, it was evolving at RKO. Beginning with Cat People in 1942, producer Val Lewton led the way with movies focusing less on visible monsters and more on shadows and atmosphere. In these movies, the fear came not from what audiences saw, but from what they didn’t see. Horror movies began to look within for inspiration rather than look back. They also provided a new template for the horror movies that followed.

During this period, the horror ban continued in Britain and horror movies were made primarily for audiences on this side of the pond. At the beginning of the 1940s, Americans may have felt safe and removed from the war in Europe; however, when the United States joined Word War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, they needed an escape from reality more than ever.

When you look at the movie released between 1931 and 1946, it’s undeniable that this period was the Golden Age of the horror movie. This was also the era in which Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi became stars and horror legends as they created iconic representations of literary and mythological monsters.

dracula-1931-crop-1

Below is a list of movies featured on this blog or mentioned on one of our social media channels.  We will update it regularly.

The Ape (1940)
Arsenic & Old Lace (1944)
The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)
Beauty & the Beast (1946)
Bedlam (1945)
Before I Hang (1940)
The Black Cat (1934)
The Black Cat (1941)
The Black Doll (1938)
Black Friday (1940)
Black Moon (1934)
The Black Room (1935)
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
British Intelligence (1940)
The Brute Man (1946)
Calling Dr. Death (1943)
The Cat & the Canary (1939)
The Cat Creeps (1946)
Cat People (1942)
The Clairvoyant aka The Evil Mind (1935)
The Climax (1944)
The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
Dead Man’s Eyes (1944)
Dead of Night (1945)
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1939)
Destiny (1944)
The Devil Bat (1940)
The Devil-Doll (1936)
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947)
Doctor X (1932)
Dr. Cyclops (1940)
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931)
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1941)
Dracula (1931)
Dracula: Spanish Version (1931)
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
The Fatal Hour (1940)
Frankenstein (1931)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Freaks (1932)
The Frozen Ghost (1945)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
The Ghost Ship (1943)
Ghosts on the Loose (1943)
The Ghoul (1933)
The Gorilla (1939)
The Great Impersonation (1942)
Hangover Square (1945)
Hold That Ghost (1941)
Horror Island (1941)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
House of Dracula (1945)
The House of Fear (1945)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
House of Horrors (1946)
The Human Monster (1940)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
I Married a Witch (1942)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Invisible Agent (1942)
Invisible Ghost (1941)
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
The Invisible Ray (1936)
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Island of Lost Souls (1933)
Isle of the Dead (1945)
The Jungle Captive (1945)
King Kong (1933)
King of the Zombies (1941)
The Leopard Man (1943)
The Lodger (1944)
The Lost Patrol (1934)
Lured (1947)
M (1931)
The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)
The Mad Genius (1931)
The Mad Ghoul (1943)
Mad Love (1935)
The Man in Half Moon Street (1945)
Man Made Monster (1941)
The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)
The Man Who Lived Again (1936)
Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn (1935)
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
The Missing Guest (1938)
The Monster & the Girl (1941)
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
The Mummy (1932)
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)
Murder by the Clock (1931)
Murder in the Blue Room (1944)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
Murders in the Zoo (1933)
Mystery House (1938)
Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)
Mystery of Marie Roget (1942)
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
Night Key (1937)
Night Life of the Gods (1935)
Night Monster (1942)
The Old Dark House (1932)
One Million B.C. (1940)
The Phantom Creeps (1939)
Phantom of the Opera (1943)
Phantom Ship aka The Mystery of the Mary Celeste (1936)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Pillow of Death (1945)
The Raven (1935)
The Return of Dr. X (1939)
The Return of the Vampire (1943)
Scared to Death (1947)
The Scarlet Claw (1944)
Secret of the Blue Room (1933)
Secret of the Chateau (1934)
The Seventh Victim (1943)
She-Wolf of London (1946)
Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
Son of Dracula (1943)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Son of Kong (1933)
The Spider Woman (1944)
The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946)
The Spiral Staircase (1945)
Spook Busters (1946)
Spooks Run Wild (1941)
The Strange Case of Dr. Rx (1942)
Strange Confession (1945)
Strange Illusion (1945)
Svengali (1931)
Terror by Night (1946)
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
Things to Come (1936)
The Thirteenth Chair (1929)
The Time of Their Lives (1946)
Topper (1937)
Tower of London (1939)
The Undying Monster (1942)
The Uninvited (1944)
The Vampire’s Ghost (1945)
Vampyr (1932)
The Walking Dead (1936)
Weird Woman (1944)
Werewolf of London (1935)
White Zombie (1932)
The Wolf Man (1941)

See also:

Cat People (1982)