Friday, February 17, 2017

Top 5 Horror Movies of 1932

In the history of film, very few years have brought us quite so many great horror movies as 1932. I can name several right off the top of my head that could easily go down as some of the greatest and/or most influential of their time that didn't even make the list, but that would sort of defeat the purpose of making this into a countdown with a dramatic reveal, now wouldn't it? I suppose the best thing I can do here is mention that this is very much a "me" list, which means you won't necessarily agree with everything on here. And I like it that way. It gives readers new things to look at, a fresh perspective, and hopefully helps people to find movies they might not have otherwise thought to give a second glance. So it should go without saying, this isn't my attempt at making an objective list, these are just the 5 that I consider the most enjoyable, effective, memorable, etc. And hopefully I'll be able to commit to making more of these lists in the future.

So here we go, let's do this countdown. My 5 favorite horror movies of 1932.

The Most Dangerous Game

One of the first non-Universal horror movies of the '30s that I ever watched, this is a sadistic movie that makes for one hell of a template for the survival genre -- it may even be the first of these films, depending on how you look at it. The acting is suitably cheesy and the sets are fairly convincing, but the real highlight is the tension that makes the film effectively claustrophobic. Count Zaroff is an excellent villain proving that sometimes the most terrifying monsters are only humans who can't be reasoned with. It's a fairly simple movie that works as a very sinister thriller.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu

A relic of a bygone era, this is a psychotic movie that could be justifiably denounced as racist, xenophobic, and ill-advised on many levels, but I personally consider it one of the most entertaining B-movies of the early 20th century. Casting Karloff as the mad genius Fu Manchu bent on world domination was bizarre to say the least, but the level of dedication he brings to this schlock fest makes him addictively watchable. Plus the torture sets are inventive and even pretty disturbing. It's weird but surprisingly entertaining.


Often incorrectly categorized as exploitation, this movie is fact far from it, subverting expectations and ultimately coming to the conclusion that the normal people are the real monsters, not the so-called "freaks" who are more often than not presented in a sympathetic and intimate manner. It's a difficult movie to sit through at times, as you often feel like this isn't a movie you're even supposed to be watching in the first place, but the brilliant characterization and emotional story keep it from feeling as trashy as it easily could have been. There really isn't anything else quite like it -- also, it's barely even a horror movie until the last 15 minutes or so, so keep that in mind.

The Old Dark House

One of only 4 horror movies ever directed by James Whale, this movie has all the humor and incredible set design his films are known for, and even includes a small silent role for Karloff as a scarred butler. Though this isn't the first "old dark house" film, it is the movie that inspired the name of that particular subgenre, and is possibly the best of its kind. With great performances from an interesting and well-rounded cast, this movie manages to be spooky and chilling while also perfectly balancing humor and character development. It's an odd and often overlooked movie, but definitely not one that should be passed up, especially not by fans of classic horror.

Notable omissions

As mentioned before, there are several movies that could have made the cut that I had to leave off, sadly. Vampyr, for example, is one of the few great horror movies of the decade not in the English language, which sort of puts it in a class of its own. Though I didn't love it, the imagery was unforgettable and took a decidedly more surreal approach to the vampire genre than its peers, and definitely warrants a watch. The Bela Lugosi vehicles White Zombie and Murders In The Rue Morgue also sadly didn't quite make it, as they have a lot of flaws that prevent them from from being personal favorites. In both of them Lugosi gives a committed performance (with very dramatic eyebrows), the sets and creature design are effective, but I would definitely give White Zombie the edge of these two, even if only for being the first zombie film ever made. It's slow-paced, but rich in atmosphere and only gets better the more you watch it. It could have easily slipped into the #5 slot over The Most Dangerous Game. And another notable omission comes from the weird and impressively grotesque Island Of Lost Souls, which features impressive makeup design and still stands as the finest screen adaptation of the story to date. I also feel I need to mention the early color film Doctor X, although I generally prefer old horror films in good old fashioned black and white. So now that I've eliminated all other possibilities, it's time for me to talk about my favorite horror film of 1932, which still stands as one of the greatest horror classics of all-time.

The Mummy

Yeah, it really couldn't have been anything other than this. Everything, from Jack Pierce's incredible makeup design, to the sets, Karloff's performance, and pacing is just incredible. One of the first (and only) classic Universal monster movies that wasn't based on any pre-existing work of fiction, The Mummy is one of the most complete films in their entire classic catalogue. While I absolutely adore the makeup design seen almost exclusively in the first 10-15 minutes of the film, giving Karloff a chance to play an actual developed character outside of this makeup was a strong move. The lighting (especially as seen in the screenshot above) is incredible, accentuating the detail of the brilliant set pieces which rivals the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein. But unlike Dracula, the leading lady here actually feels like a character, and the choice to kill off one of the more central characters near the ending did a great job at raising the stakes and adding legitimate tension to the final showdown. Though it's certainly among the slowest of their classic horror films, the story being told here is far more in depth than a majority of its peers. It might not be the absolute best horror movie of the '30s, but it's damn close and an easy pick for the best of 1932.

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