Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), starring the highly regarded stage actor John Barrymore, helped legitimize the genre in Hollywood, but the genre was not clearly established until shortly after the arrival of sound when Universal Studios produced a cycle of horror films, notably Browning's Dracula, with Bela Lugosi, and James Whale's Frankenstein, with Boris Karloff, both released in 1931. Lugosi and Karloff became the great horror stars of the 1930s, attaining iconic status in American popular culture. For three decades the studio produced a series of loose sequels and spinoffs, including The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), and House of Frankenstein (1944), ending in the 1950s with parodies featuring Abbott and Costello, another important Universal asset. The Universal films were heavily influenced by the mise-en-sc^ne of German expressionism: for example, The Mummy (1932), another Karloff vehicle, was directed by German cinematographer Karl Freund, who had photographed Der Golem and Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926), among others, before emigrating to Hollywood in 1929. Universal was run by Carl Laemmle, himself born in Germany. The popular mythology of Frankenstein's creature, the vampire, the werewolf, and the mummy (the latter invented by the movies) were established and reworked in the studio's horror films.
Although other studios produced the occasional bigbudget horror film, such as Paramount's remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) with Fredric March and RKO's King Kong (1933), Universal dominated the genre during this period. The major exception was MGM's Freaks (1932), directed by Browning. The story involves a traveling circus sideshow and the cruel woman trapeze artist who exploits them. Browning used a group of people with actual physical oddities, and the climax, in which they pursue the trapeze artist in the rain and mud, is particularly chilling. Uniting in camaraderie, the ''freaks'' are depicted as more humane than the physically normal characters, anticipating the reinterpretation of the monsters that would characterize horror films from the 1960s onward. Evidently this was a radical reversal that was ahead of its time: the film was severely cut for its American release and banned for thirty years in Great Britain.
The war years saw the unwelcome intrusion of real horror on a global scale, and Hollywood movies accentuated the positive to boost morale on the home front. From 1942 to 1946 at RKO, the producer Val Lewton (19041951), a former script editor for David O. Selznick,
Was this article helpful?