The Horror Honeys: Hollywood Horror History - Classic Horror of the 1940's

Hollywood Horror History - Classic Horror of the 1940's

At the start of the 1940s the world was at war - again. The United States had stayed largely out of the war until 1941, preferring a policy of isolation and war profiteering (sending supplies to the Allies), the Americans thought themselves relatively safe on the Home Front. With film production shut down for obvious reason overseas, Hollywood was the supplier of escapist, and propaganda promoting films during the late 30s and into the 40s. With this being the case, horror movies were cranked out by Hollywood solely to amuse the domestic audience. The studios stuck with tried and tested ideas, and trotted out a series of variations on a theme.

The 1940s were not an age of innovation by any means, but they explored their medium with great enthusiasm and gave birth to some of the most famous names in horror in the process!
1940 - 1944

Black Friday (1940) - Even thought the two have no scenes together, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff were a winning duo for Universal in the 30s and 40s. Playing once again on the theme of dangerous science and a hearkening back to The Hands of Orlac from the 20s; Karloff's Dr. Sovac transplants the brain of a gangster into his professor friend's body to save his life, but there is a side effect that causes a dangerous split personality. While Lugosi only had a minor role, he had originally been slated for the main role of Dr. Sovac, relegated to a minor role, the studio kept Lugosi's billing on the Black Friday poster even after the lead role was given to Karloff.

The Ghost Breakers (1940) - A runaway comedic hit in 1940, Bob Hope starred as a radio broadcaster who, with his cowardly manservant and an heiress (of course), investigate the mystery of a haunted castle in Cuba. Acting as a kind of sequel for 1939's The Cat and the Canary, both films are largely credited as the inspiration for Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion ride(!).

King of the Zombies (1941) - On a spooky island, three stranded travellers find an evil doctor working with foreign spies and in control of zombies. The 40s were full of spy stories, and with the war abroad in full swing, it was for good reason. King of the Zombies remains the only zombie-related film to be nominated for an Academy Award in any category (Best Original Score). The role of the "King of the Zombies" was originally written with Bela Lugosi in mind, presumably to continue what he had started with White Zombie. Casting fell through, and the titular role of the King of the Zombies went to veteran actor Henry Victor who had appeared in other horror films in the 30s (Freaks most notably).

 "Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright."
The Wolf Man (1941) - The face of another iconic Universal Monster was born in 1941, once again relying on the makeup magic of Jack Pierce and the character acting of Lon Chaney Jr. who followed eagerly in his father's filmmaking footsteps. Returning to his home in Wales after the death of his brother; Larry Talbot is attacked by a creature of out of his worst nightmares, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him can not possibly exist.

Many of the modern myths about werewolves originated from this film, such as a person becoming a werewolf through a bite, the use of silver bullets to kill werewolves, and the transformation brought on by the full moon - all original concepts created by writer Curt Siodmak.

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) - When Ygor brings the monster to Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein for care, Ludwig gets the idea of replacing the monster's current criminal brain, with a normal brain. Bela Lugosi reprises his role and the vile Ygor, and Lon Chaney Jr. takes over the role that was discarded by Boris Karloff, that of the iconic Monster. The fourth film to feature the story of Frankenstein's Monster, Ghost of Frankenstein marked the final appearance of the Monster in a solo capacity in the Universal Monsters series.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) - The start of a series of films featuring an ensemble cast of famous monsters, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman starts with the Wolfman, Larry Talbot (reprised by Lon Chaney Jr.), searching for a cure for his wolfish condition. Discovering that Dr. Frankenstein is the only one able to help him, Talbot unwittingly resurrects Frankenstein's Monster (Bela Lugosi), and the two do battle until they both meet their doom! Or do they?

Voodoo Man (1944) - Continuing his domination of horror films of the 40s, Bela Lugosi stars as Dr. Richard Marlowe, who uses a combination of voodoo rite and hypnotic suggestion to attempt to re-animate his long-dead wife. Using these methods, Marlowe attempts to do this by transferring the life essences of several hapless young girls he has kidnapped and imprisoned in the dungeon beneath his mansion. Turning oh so charmingly meta at the end, our hero is a Hollywood screenwriter who, at the end of the picture, turns the experience into a script titled "Voodoo Man." When his producer asks who should star in it, our hero suggests ... Bela Lugosi! dun dun DUN!

1945 - 1949

House of Dracula (1945) - John Carradine takes over the role of Count Dracula, as he and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) band together to seek a cure for their afflictions; while a hunchbacked woman, a mad scientist and the Frankenstein monster have their own troubles. A direct sequel to House of Frankenstein (1944), Universal once again pulls all of their mad monsters together into one film. According to the Universal Film Script series entry for House of Dracula, the film grew out of an earlier script, The Wolf Man vs. Dracula, a proposed follow-up to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) in which Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) would do battle with Dracula - rejected for being overtly violent, the script was rewritten and shot as a bit of a "monster buddy" picture as House of Dracula instead.

The Picture of Dorian Grey (1945) - Hearkening back to the films of the 30s which were inspired by classic literature, The Picture of Dorian Grey tells the story of a progressively corrupt and vile young man who somehow keeps his youthful beauty, but a special painting gradually reveals his inner ugliness to all. Part morality play, part "madness within," Dorian Grey's story is all about the stains put onto the soul by foul deeds. While he may not be able to see the weight of these sins in his face, they are reflected in his magical painting. Grey is spurred to greater and greater evils because he has no perceived repercussions in a physical manifestation, but in the end he is punished for them all at once. Winning the Academy Award for best Cinematography, The Picture of Dorian Grey was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury) and Best Art Direction.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) - This film is considered the beginning of the end for the "Big Three" Universal horror monsters – Count Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster. Turning previously terrifying characters into comedy caricatures, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the start of the comedy duo's adventures with classic Universal Monsters (films with The Mummy, The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde followed). Two hapless freight handlers (Abbott and Costello) receive a shipment of the remains of Dracula (Bela Lugosi), the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). The creatures awaken, and predictably 1940s era appropriate hilarity ensues.

How many of these wartime classics have you seen?

Next up - The horror films of the 1950's!