Wanted to do something a bit different today and go back a bit further than we normally do… way back. The 1930s were an interesting time for Hollywood films. The pre-code era was something of a Wild West for cinema and few genres benefited more from the lack of scrutiny than horror. One particularly fine year from this decade was 1933, which saw the release of some of the greatest horror films of all time along with lesser-known gems.
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Dr. Mabuse is a fantastic, but relatively little known, character created by writer Norbert Jacques and popularized in the films by Fritz Lang (of Metropolis and M fame). The Dr. Mabuse series is as notable for its political commentary as it is for its visual prowess and was banned by Joseph Goebbels in Germany for fear that it would erode public confidence in politicians. It’s said that the role of Mabuse in this film in particular heavily influenced the portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight, especially in his obsession with chaos. Like any of Lang’s work, it’s a must-see for anyone that claims to be a fan of classic film.
Night of Terror
Night of Terror is the story of a potential knife-wielding maniac on the loose that turns into a classic “whodunit” where the potential heirs to a vast fortune try to solve the mystery as they’re slowly picked off, one by one. The movie is billed as another Bela Lugosi vehicle even though the Dracula star has only a minor part. While not the most innovative or even the best film on this list, Night of Terror is still a terrific pre-code thriller that comes complete with a fun surprise at the end.
The Invisible Man
Claude Raines’ portrayal of The Invisible Man is one of the most iconic roles in all of horror. The star turn is called out by name in the opening theme of Rocky Horror Picture Show and remains one of the best acting jobs in all of horror cinema. The movie still resonates with audiences through its look at the darker side of the human psyche and the madness of power. It makes for an incredible adaptation of the story by H.G. Wells that has remains large enough to have been included among a number of online games based on movies and pop culture. These titles are designed to appeal to larger audiences, and they’re all formatted like traditional slot reels. However, they offer a different spin on things by incorporating elements sources like classic movies such as scary monsters and cinematic music.
You didn’t think we were going to forget one of the greatest monsters of them all did you? It’s been ranked as one of the greatest horror films (and just general movies) of all time and so many of its memorable scenes (like Kong swatting planes from the Chrysler Building) are inextricably linked to pop culture. Fay Wray’s portrayal of Ann Darrow catapulted her into iconic status as one of the greatest stars of the era. The special effects work of Willis O’Brien and a young Ray Harryhausen stand the test of time and even still look remarkable today. We look forward to seeing the dinosaur versus ape battle once again in the forthcoming remake, but we have a hard time imagining anything will ever top the original. Just remember: it wasn’t the airplanes, it was Beauty who killed the Beast.
Mystery of the Wax Museum
1933 was quite the year for Fay Wray. Not only did she star in King Kong but she also gave quite the performance in another horror classic, Mystery of the Wax Museum. The story of the grisly goings-on of a wax museum where the sculptures seem almost a bit too lifelike was good enough to receive two (!) separate remakes. That’s right, the 1953 film House of Wax and its 2005 remake (the one starring Paris Hilton) were both remakes of Michael Curtiz 1933 film. The original is still by far the best and remains an essential piece of 1930s horror cinema.
Did I leave off your favorite horror film from 1933? Leave a comment with your thoughts!