German Expressionism and the Universal Horror Film

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In the early 1930s Hollywood began producing a string of horror films with aims to simultaneously thrill, scare and provide a form of escapism for the Depression era American public. Whilst the horror genre was well received, critics often noted that the “rigid simplicity of the horror film’s conventions, deprives it of the resonances that inform and deepen, for example, the Western or Gangster film.” (Tudor, 1974). Due to this, analysis often focuses on the aesthetic details linking films together within the genre and the connotations that emerge through horror’s often stylised visuals. The visual and often thematic traits of horror’s early years were largely informed by German expressionism, and the output of Universal during the 1930s is a clear indicator of this.

Universal’s cycle of horror began with Tod Browning’s Dracula (1930) after Carl Laemmle junior gained charge of the studio at his father’s request. The following succession of…

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