The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films, 1931–1936

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About the Book

Critics have traditionally characterized classic horror by its use of shadow and suggestion. Yet the graphic nature of early 1930s films only came to light in the home video/DVD era. Along with gangster movies and “sex pictures,” horror films drew audiences during the Great Depression with sensational content.
Exploiting a loophole in the Hays Code, which made no provision for on-screen “gruesomeness,” studios produced remarkably explicit films that were recut when the Code was more rigidly enforced from 1934.
This led to a modern misperception that classic horror was intended to be safe and reassuring to audiences.
The author examines the 1931 to 1936 “happy ending” horror in relation to industry practices and censorship. Early works like Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and The Raven (1935) may be more akin to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Hostel (2005) than many critics believe.

About the Author(s)

Jon Towlson is a London-based journalist and film critic. He has written for Starburst Magazine, Paracinema, Exquisite Terror, Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, Shadowland Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal and Digital Film-maker Magazine.

Bibliographic Details

Jon Towlson
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 240
Bibliographic Info: 39 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9474-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2639-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Preface 1

Introduction: “Misery likes reality for company” 5

1. “Nightmare pictures”: Thirties Horror and the Hollywood Film Industry 17

2. “Five reels of transgression followed by one reel of retribution”: Thirties Horror and the Studios 39

3. “Brutality, horror and gruesomeness”: Thirties Horror and the Hays Office 141

4. “Why should Cecil B. De Mille have a monopoly on torture and cruelty?” Thirties Horror and the Filmmaker 164

5. “A secure universe”? Thirties Horror and the Critics 184

Afterword 203

Chapter Notes 207

Bibliography 224

Index 227

Book Reviews & Awards

“the book on ‘classic horror’ to beat”—Video Watchdog; “Towlson’s book is ridiculously informative, and yet still a well-paced, entertaining read. This is not only one of the best horror history books I’ve read this year, but stands as one of the best on the golden age ever written”—Killer Reviews.