This fall kick-off your Halloween season by exploring Universal Studio’s horror films of the 1930s with Lou Markos in The Monstrous Run of Universal Studios in the 1930s. Unlike the new crop of seasonally-relevant previews for horror movies you can expect to see soon, the 1930’s films were all based on books and focused on fantastical monsters (not just the usual weapon wielding, disturbed citizens).
During the course, participants will view “Frankenstein” (1931), “Dracula” (1931), and “The Invisible Man” (1933); three films Markos selected because they “represent well the Universal Horror Films of the 1930s.” Throughout the course, Markos will also cover the transformation of a novel into a film and the studio’s use of the dark visual style of German Expressionism in many of the films. I recently asked Lou Markos a couple of questions about this upcoming course.
Why did Universal Studios create a series of horror films in the early 1930s? Was the genre very popular at that time?
In one way, they did it to save money. The low lighting and theatrical sets kept the costs down, as did the short running time (usually about 70 minutes). The son of Carl Laemmle (the head of the studio) took this as his pet project and, in so doing, won his dad’s respect!
Was German Expressionism a style that was easily recognized at that time? Or was it chosen as the style because it was unfamiliar and dark?
The run of German Expressionistic films ran from 1919-1926, so there was quite a gap between that and 1931. That allowed Universal to cash in on a fresh look that people would not be expecting. Their gamble paid off well for the studio. The style fit with the fears generated by the depression and the overall sense of instability in the country. The style would return after WWII in the genre of film noir that captured the paranoia of the Cold War.
What attracts you to these films? Why do you think they remain so well known today?
I believe that they maintain their popularity because they are rendered in a powerful, cinematic style that allows the viewer to see the world from a different perspective. Without being overly graphic or gratuitous, they explore our dark, subconscious fears.
I hope you can join us on October 1 to learn more about these films and what continues to make them relevant today.