The 1930s was a great decade for the film industry. Hollywood was pumping out feature length films regularly and European film companies had recovered reasonably well from the instability of the first world war. The film industry had grown significantly through the 1920s, when sound was introduced to movies. This introduced entirely new genres and audiences to the business. It was especially a good decade for horror films. Advances in film technology and special effects made so much more available to film makers. I thought I would celebrate horror films of the 1930s in an article. So this is a list of the 10 best 1930s horror films.
Frankenstein is a great little film. For it’s day it was considered very scary. But to our modern eyes it just looks silly. It’s hilarious – and a classic. Based on the original novel by Mary Shelley, it tells the story of Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a mad scientist who has spent the last few weeks collecting dead bodies, so that he may use them to create the perfect creature. They intended it to be a friendly and gentle creature. But Frankenstein’s monster turned out to be anything but gentle. It turns out that they accidentally gave the creature the brain of a dead murderer, giving it an unrelenting thirst for death. Frankenstein is truly one of the 1930s horror films that defined the genre of horror.
The Mummy (1932)
The Mummy is one of my favourite 1930s horror films so it just had to feature on this list. It’s so bizarre. I’m sure you’ve all seen the remake – it was a fairly big box office hit. But the 1932 version is even better. Without advanced special effects, the mummy is played by a man wrapped in bandages. It’s funny when he chases people around. Maybe it’s what inspired the creation of scooby doo. The film fellows the story of an ancient mummy who was awaken after being excavated by archaeologists. He soon killed the archaeologists, and escapes into the modern world. He is then free to roam Egypt in his quest for reincarnation. It’s one of the more fun 1930s horror films… and they’re all fun.
The Ghoul (1933)
The Ghoul is a genuinely creepy film. It tells the story of a British Egyptology who knew he was about to die. In house house he constructed a tomb where he would be buried with a magical jewel. He thought that being buried with the jewel would allow him to return from the grave in exchange for giving the jewel to god. And so he is buried with the jewel when he dies. But when he rises from his tomb, he realises that the jewel is gone. Someone had stolen it. With nothing to offer god, he ran out of his tomb to take revenge on those who stole his magic jewel. The plot is typical of the era – Egyptian mythology had been exported to Europe through the British empire. And that also explains the Mummy.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tells the story of Dr. Jekyll, a mad English scientist who aims to prove his theory that every man has a dark side. He develops a potion that exposes this dark side within us. Drink it, and you will become your inner demon. For him, his inner demon was Mr. Hyde. In testing his potion he unleashed Mr Hyde. His appearance and personality changed – he became monstrous and aggressive and black-hearted. It’s a really well made movie with many twists and turns in the story line. A lot of other 1930s horror films were clearly inspired by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with it’s original production style.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Bride of Frankenstein is just as silly as the first film. It’s the first sequel to Frankenstein, in what became a several film series. In this film, the monster went on a quest for companionship. He wanted a bride. He wonders through the countryside where humans attack him. He is captured and brought to a village where he is locked in a dungeon. But he manages to escape and continues his quest. Along the way he befriends a blind hermit, but the old man ended up being killed. The monster approaches a scientist and convinces him to create a bride for the monster. They really are the most silly 1930s horror films.
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man was based on the Victorian sci-fi novel with the same name. The film opens with a man with his face wrapped in bandages. He enters an English inn and books a room for the night. The inn owners give him a room. However, they ask him to leave as he made quite a mess. As he didn’t want to leave, he pushed one of the owners down a flight of stairs. A policeman later approaches the man with the aim of arresting him. The man then removed the bandages from his head and revealed that he was invisible. Taking his clothes off, he was free to escape as no one could see him. That’s right, 1930s horror films had some pretty creepy plots. Only their bad special effects saved them from being absolutely terrifying.
White Zombie (1932)
I remember watching White Zombie when I was in my early teens and I had no idea what was happening in it. This is partly because it’s so overly dramatic to the point of being absurd. But now I enjoy watching it because it’s so weird. The film is set in Haiti. A young man approaches a witch doctor and requests her help in attracting the woman he loves. The witch doctor agrees to help, and uses Voodoo magic on the woman. However, the young man wasn’t aware that the voodoo magic would turn her into a zombie. 1930s horror films brought many first to the industry – this included the first werewolf film. White Zombie is thought of as the first Zombie movie.
Dracula is one we’ve all heard of. The film opens with a lawyer entering castle Dracula. Local villagers deeply fear that castle Dracula is occupied by an evil Vampire. But the lawyer doesn’t believe this. He approaches the castle, where Count Dracula welcomes him inside. The count shows his true form in enslaving the lawyer to be his servant. The count then travels to England. And it all kicks off from there.
Freaks was (and still is!) an incredibly controversial film. In fact, so controversial that it was banned in the UK for 30 years. The original copy of the film was actually never released, they edited it to make it less shocking for audiences. The film features many popular acts from real-life freak shows – I think that’s why it was banned for so long. The film tells the story of a “normal” woman who falls in love with a “freak.”
King Kong (1933)
King Kong is not only one of the best 1930s horror films but it is also one of the best films of all time. The story is so good, and the film is so ridiculous. Also the special effects are satisfyingly terrible – it’s the perfect storm for an entertaining film. It’s about a film crew who sail to a remote island that most believe to exist only in legend. While on the island, a giant ape captures the lead actress and takes her deep into the island. It’s up to the others to rescue her.