Horror movies

(Not about language.)

Sunday’s diversion while working at my computer was two Dr. Moreau movies: the 1933 Island of Lost Souls and the 1977 Island of Dr. Moreau. Both based on H. G. Wells’s 1896 novel. Watching the 1933 movie with commentary on reminded me of three other early-30s horror movies, all from 1931 and all (like the Moreau movie) based on literary sources: DraculaFrankenstein, and  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Plus the 1932 Tod Browning film Freaks, which I blogged about here. All concerned with transformation, the boundaries of humanity, and the perils of science and medicine.

Dracula initiated the pop-culture fascination with vampires. Werewolves came along in 1941 (in The Wolf Man), and zombies in 1968 (in Night of the Living Dead), completing the current reigning triumvirate of monstrous creatures.

The 30s movies have a number of things in common besides their philosophical themes. They’re all in black and white, they’re visually stylized, they all borrow heavily from the conventions of silent movies, and  many of them share personnel (Bela Lugosi in several; Tod Browning directed Dracula as well as Freaks, etc.). That separates them from later versions of their literary sources. The 1933 Moreau movie is impressively creepy, and it was widely criticized for its sex and violence, not to mention blasphemy.

Now, a quick Wikipedia tour through the oeuvre:


The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells, who called the novel “an exercise in youthful blasphemy.” The text of the novel is the narration of Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat who is left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, who creates sentient beings from animals via vivisection. The novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature. (link)

Island of Lost Souls is an American science fiction horror film starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi and Kathleen Burke as The Panther Woman. Produced by Paramount Pictures in 1933 from a script co-written by science fiction legend Philip Wylie, the movie was the first film adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, published in 1896. (link)

(Laughton’s performance, eccentric to begin with, becomes more and more unhinged as the movie draws on.)

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) is the second movie version of the H. G. Wells science fiction novel about a scientist who attempts to convert animals into people, starring Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Barbara Carrera, and Richard Basehart. Lancaster perfectly matches Wells’ description of Moreau’s physical appearance, unlike the other two actors to play the role on screen, Charles Laughton in 1933’s Island of Lost Souls and Marlon Brando in 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. (link)

The 1996 version and a 2004 cheapo Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain have been widely panned.


Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker.

Famous for introducing the character of the vampire Count Dracula, the novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to relocate from Transylvania to England, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham van Helsing. (link)

Dracula is a 1931 vampire-horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as the title character. The film was produced by Universal and is based on the stage play of the same name by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which in turn is based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. (link)


Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by Mary Shelley about a monster produced by an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was eighteen, and the novel was published when she was twenty-one. The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley’s name appears on the second edition, published in France in 1823. (link)

Frankenstein is a 1931 pre-Code horror monster film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling, which in turn is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley. The film stars Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles and Boris Karloff and features Dwight Frye and Edward van Sloan. (link)

Jekyll and Hyde

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the original title of a novella written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson that was first published in 1886. (link)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a 1931 American Pre-Code horror film directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fredric March. The film is an adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), the Robert Louis Stevenson tale of a man who takes a potion which turns him from a mild-mannered man of science into a homicidal maniac. (link)


The Wolf Man is a 1941 American Werewolf Horror film written by Curt Siodmak and produced and directed by George Waggner. The film stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man, featuring Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Béla Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya. The title character has had a great deal of influence on Hollywood’s depictions of the legend of the werewolf. (link)


Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent black-and-white horror film and cult film directed by George A. Romero, starring Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea and Karl Hardman. (link)

And now we have vampires vs. werewolves, and zombies everywhere (even in the unlikely mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). We seem to have strayed from the philosophical preoccupations of the 1930s, even as filtered through Hollywood lenses. But the sexual undercurrents endure.


7 Responses to “Horror movies”

  1. Greg Stump Says:

    In 1836 (more than a decade before Bram Stoker’s birth), the French romantic author Théophile Gautier published “La morte amoureuse”, a story about the influence of a (*spoiler alert*) lovely vampire on a hapless priest. The story has been well translated (as “The Priest”) by Richard Holmes in his recent collection of Gautier stories, entitled “My Fantoms”. I haven’t seen the film version (which premiered on Showtime in 1998); to its detriment, it doesn’t sound entirely true to the original.

  2. H. S. Gudnason Says:

    And don’t forget Universal’s 1935 Werewolf of London, with Henry Hull, Warner Oland (playing Asian again), and Valerie Hobson (later Valerie Hobson Profumo), with Spring Byington and Ethel Griffies (the ornithologist from Hitchcock’s The Bird’s) in small parts.

  3. W Says:

    Any guesses about the next monster fad? I’m not sure that vampires are finished for the moment, yet, and zombies are popular with a lot of people who aren’t fans of vampires. Werewolves didn’t take off again (to my disappointment), but there’s room for ghosts to come back. Mummies are perhaps passee, unless egyptophilia comes with it. Neither of those convince me.

    • Greg Stump Says:

      Personally, I miss the 1950s obsession with movies about huge monsters. The films of director Bert I. Gordon (“Mr. B. I. G.”) are particularly memorable exemplars of this genre. If there is anything that Mr. Gordon’s oeuvre taught us, it is that exposure to radioactivity causes living things to get really, really big (and often really, really mean).

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        Watching the SyFy Channel will net you endless movies about creatures radiated to monstrosity. Practically any creature you can imagine.

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    I now see that there are Legacy Collection sets for a number of horror movies: Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man, plus The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Each set is a collection of movies centered on the famous one. The Wolf Man set has the 1941 Wolf Man, a feature about it, commentary on the movie, the 1943 Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the theatrical trailer for the 1943 movie, the 1946 She-Wolf of London, the theaterical trailer for that movie, the 1935 Werewolf of London, the theatrical trailer for it, and the documentary Monster by Moonlight.

  5. The Invisible Man « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (More discussion of classic horror movies here.) […]

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