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‘A horror picture at this time is a very hazardous undertaking’: Did British or American censorship end the 1930s horror cycle?

‘A horror picture at this time is a very hazardous undertaking’: Did British or American censorship end the 1930s horror cycle?

Naylor, Alex (2011) ‘A horror picture at this time is a very hazardous undertaking’: Did British or American censorship end the 1930s horror cycle? The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies (9). ISSN 2009-0374

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Abstract

The massive success of Universal’s Dracula (Universal, 1931, dir. Tod Browning) and Frankenstein (Universal, 1931, dir. James Whale) launched a fashion for horror films. Over the first half of the 1930s, instead of petering out like many one-year cycles, horror became an increasingly stable niche market. However, in the spring of 1936, there was an abrupt hiatus in the horror cycle when, despite a number of recent successful horror films, Universal took horror productions off its schedule, and other studios followed. In autumn 1938, a phenomenally popular theatrical reissue of Dracula and Frankenstein as a double bill offered evidence of a continuing high public demand for horror. Universal almost immediately put another big budget Frankenstein sequel, Son of Frankenstein, on to its production schedule. This reawakened the interests of other studios in horror and horror-inflected films. Horror film production resumed, with greater quantities of films than ever before.

Modern scholarly accounts, such as those of Rhona Berenstein, David J. Skal and Edmund Bansak, tend to credit this abrupt break in an apparently profitable film cycle directly to an alleged 1935 ban on horror films in the United Kingdom. This explanation, although currently standard among horror scholars, is erroneous; based upon a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature and operations of 1930s British censorship: the British ‘ban’ on horror films never existed.

This article proposes that the most important factor in the film industry’s two year abandonment of horror was active campaigning and dissuasion of studios from horror production, on the part of the Production Code Administration (PCA), run by the Motion Picture Producers’ and Distributors’ Association (MPPDA). The evidence leads us to a rather more complex picture of the PCA’s regulation and censorship methods and their treatment of horror. It also provides us with an informative case study of the often complex power struggles and negotiations that went on ‘behind the scenes’ in 1930s film censorship.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: horror censorship, Hollywood, genre
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Humanities & Social Sciences
School of Humanities & Social Sciences > Department of Communications & Creative Arts
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:23
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
URI: http://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/9488

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