Doktor John's greatest 1930s and 1940s horror movies

by drjohn46-732-779906 | created - 07 Feb 2011 | updated - 25 Apr 2011 | Public

Doktor John's thoroughly researched, carefully selected and finely aged best horror movies of all time. Not a matter of opinion, but totally authoritative. Not subject to challenge, amendment, addition or deletion by lesser authorities.

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1. Frankenstein (1931)

Passed | 70 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

91 Metascore

Dr. Frankenstein dares to tamper with life and death by creating a human monster out of lifeless body parts.

Director: James Whale | Stars: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff, John Boles

Votes: 69,723

Early talking cinema, based upon Mary Shelley's classic novel which proved to be the most profound, most imitated and universal theme of unintended consequences and science gone awry ever written. Her book was itself based upon the fantastically prophetic Greek myth of Prometheus, who brought destruction upon himself by defying the gods to bring fire as a gift to mankind.

2. Dracula (1931)

Passed | 75 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

71 Metascore

Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula bends a naive real estate agent to his will, then takes up residence at a London estate where he sleeps in his coffin by day and searches for potential victims by night.

Directors: Tod Browning, Karl Freund | Stars: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye

Votes: 50,367

Bela Lugosi creates his own version of Bram Stoker's immortal villain in this cinematic reprise of the Broadway play, an abbreviated but powerful adaptation of a much more complex book. A cautionary tale for English little girls to not romanticize about tall dark strangers from exotic lands who may have very different values. Really. That's what it's about!

3. The Mummy (1932)

Approved | 73 min | Fantasy, Horror

An Egyptian mummy searches Cairo for the girl he thinks is his long-lost princess.

Director: Karl Freund | Stars: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Arthur Byron

Votes: 25,666

Love is supposedly eternal, especially sacrilegious, forbidden love and especially when it is sustained by the curse of ancient Egyptian god Amon-Ra. Karloff, coming off his triumphant portrayal of the monster creates a bizarre persona in the form of ancient Egyptian mummy Imhotep come to life in the 20th century. Inspired by the "curse" of Tutankhamen.

4. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Not Rated | 75 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

95 Metascore

Mary Shelley reveals the main characters of her novel survived: Dr. Frankenstein, goaded by an even madder scientist, builds his monster a mate.

Director: James Whale | Stars: Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson

Votes: 46,619 | Gross: $4.36M

A very intelligent, complicated sequel that attempts to incorporate issues from the book that were omitted or glossed over in the 1931 original, including Mary Shelly's talking monster. Features an introductory scene with Elsa Lanchester as the author herself (the same actress seen later in the title role) and her literary circle including husband Percy Shelly, Lord Byron and Polidori. This is the only time in the series in which the monster speaks. Only Karloff could pull it off.

5. The Wolf Man (1941)

Passed | 70 min | Horror, Mystery, Romance

72 Metascore

Larry Talbot returns to his father's castle in Wales and meets a beautiful woman. One fateful night, Talbot escorts her to a local carnival where they meet a mysterious gypsy fortune teller.

Director: George Waggner | Stars: Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles

Votes: 25,949

Lon Chaney Jr's masterful bringing to life of a legendary folk-monster by careless involvement with gypsies. As a transplanted American, Lawrence Talbot has no concept of these archaic European superstitions, but that does nothing to prevent his being overtaken by them.

6. The Invisible Man (1933)

TV-PG | 71 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

87 Metascore

A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane.

Director: James Whale | Stars: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers

Votes: 33,525

Scientific discovery of invisibility confers power---and madness---upon a researcher who wields his affliciton as a weapon to wreak havoc and seek revenge. Is madness a side-effect of the chemical he uses? Or does the power itself make him a mad megalomaniac? Once again, science is portrayed as dangerous and too often the tool of immoral men.

7. Dracula's Daughter (1936)

Passed | 71 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

When Countess Marya Zaleska appears in London, mysterious events occur leading Dr. Von Helsing to believe the Countess must be a vampire.

Director: Lambert Hillyer | Stars: Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Churchill, Edward Van Sloan

Votes: 6,501

Lurid tale of Dracula's heiress, an exotically beautiful, voracious female with intents to trap her psychiatrist, to whom she is attracted, into a living death as a fellow vampire, luring him back to Transylvania. Her lurking manservant is her accomplice ennabling her in unspeakable crime.

8. The Black Cat (1934)

Not Rated | 65 min | Adventure, Crime, Horror

American honeymooners in Hungary become trapped in the home of a Satan-worshiping priest when the bride is taken there for medical help following a road accident.

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer | Stars: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Julie Bishop

Votes: 10,794 | Gross: $0.51M

The ultimate melodrama, incredibly simple, yet astoundingly complex. The horrors of World War I live on for a recently released prisoner of war, psychiatrist Bela Lugosi (in a sympathetic role) as he becomes engaged in a life-or-death revenge match with sadistic former fellow-officer and deserter from the war, Boris Karloff as the feline-esque embodiment of evil.

9. Werewolf of London (1935)

Passed | 75 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

After botanist Wilfred Glendon travels to Tibet in search of a rare flower, the Mariphasa, he returns to a London haunted by murders that can only be the work of bloodthirsty werewolves.

Director: Stuart Walker | Stars: Henry Hull, Warner Oland, Valerie Hobson, Lester Matthews

Votes: 5,403

A botanist (Henry Hull) travels to the Himalayas to find a rare flower that (like the werewolf) blooms in full moonlight. There's a wonderful performance by Warner Oland as his nemesis, Dr. Yogami, some stylized fight scenes and early "trick"-cinematography scenes when Henry Hull undergoes transformation into a wolf. The theme of a rational man reduced to beast is classic, to be sure.

10. The Raven (1935)

Approved | 61 min | Crime, Horror

44 Metascore

Dr. Vollin is a brilliant but unstable surgeon with a morbid obsession for instruments of torture. He saves the life of Jean Thatcher, a beautiful young socialite injured in an automobile accident and becomes increasingly attracted to her.

Director: Lew Landers | Stars: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lester Matthews, Irene Ware

Votes: 5,366

A "great" neurosurgeon and even greater megalomaniac, Dr Vollin, takes a fancy to a a beautiful dancer half his age. Frustrated and rebuked by her father, the doctor (Bela Lugosi) decides to show them how the torture chamber in his little Edgar Allen Poe basement works.

11. Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Approved | 99 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

Returning to the ancestral castle long after the death of the monster, the son of Dr. Frankenstein meets a mad shepherd who is hiding the comatose creature. To clear the family name, he revives the creature and tries to rehabilitate him.

Director: Rowland V. Lee | Stars: Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill

Votes: 9,945

Basil Rathbone puts on a Shakespearean-quality performance as the next generation of the Frankenstein family, out to restore honor to the family name, but is manipulated by an evil-intentioned Igor and by his own mad lust for scientific power. Lionel Atwill as the police inspector is memorable.

12. The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Passed | 67 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

Dr. Frankenstein's plans to replace the brain of his monster are hijacked by his scheming and malevolent assistant Ygor.

Director: Erle C. Kenton | Stars: Cedric Hardwicke, Lon Chaney Jr., Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill

Votes: 5,975

Lon Chaney Jr takes a turn as the monster, once again under the control of vicious Igor, as the pair tries to force another Frankenstein heir to do their bidding, which involves a whole lot of brain-swapping surgery. Sir Cedric Hardwick is the aristocratic Dr Frankenstein Jr in this case, and he has a laboratory complete with sleeping-gas chambers that are used to subdue the unruly.

13. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Passed | 74 min | Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi

The resurrected Wolf Man, seeking a cure for his malady, enlists the aid of a mad scientist, who claims he will not only rid the Wolf Man of his nocturnal metamorphosis, but also revive the frozen body of Frankenstein's inhuman creation.

Director: Roy William Neill | Stars: Lon Chaney Jr., Ilona Massey, Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill

Votes: 8,547

Bela Lugosi at last lands the role of the Frankenstein Monster in this thrilling but flawed masterpiece featuring Lawrence Talbot on his quest to get cured of being The Wolfman, accompanied by Maleva the gypsy woman. Lugosi plays the monster like he is blind, a consequence of the ending of The Ghost of Frankenstein, but it's never mentioned and gets basically overlooked in the script. Has a wonderful musical number celebrating the wine harvest with a fun scene of the monster running amok!

14. The Return of the Vampire (1943)

Not Rated | 69 min | Drama, Horror

When an errant bomb unearths the coffin of a vampire during the London Blitz, a gravedigger unknowingly reanimates the monster by removing the stake from his heart

Director: Lew Landers | Stars: Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Nina Foch, Roland Varno

Votes: 2,208 | Gross: $1.09M

Lugosi reprises the role of the Count which he immortalized, but because of copyright issues pressed by Bram Stoker's heirs, he is named Armand Tesla instead of Dracula. There's much human and semi-human pathos in this well-made World War II vampire tale with a number of interesting twists.Highly recommended for those who didn't get enough of the Transylvanian Count in the original.

15. House of Frankenstein (1944)

Passed | 71 min | Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi

A deranged scientist escapes from prison and recruits Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man to get revenge on his behalf.

Director: Erle C. Kenton | Stars: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine

Votes: 6,671

Wouldn't you love to ride around the central European countryside in a sideshow wagon containing horrible curiosities, accompanied by a servile hunch-back, a friendly Wolfman and a beautiful gypsy girl? You could, if you were Dr. Nieman (Boris Karloff) and you pretended you could cure their ailments once you got to the controls at the ruins of castle Frankenstein.

16. House of Dracula (1945)

Approved | 67 min | Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi

The Wolf Man and Count Dracula beg Dr. Edelman to cure them of their killing instincts but Dracula schemes to seduce the doctor's nurse.

Director: Erle C. Kenton | Stars: Onslow Stevens, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Martha O'Driscoll

Votes: 5,272

A nice doctor with intentions of straightening up a hunch-backed nurse and curing a reluctant Wolfman goes bad when he gets contaminated by Dracula (John Carradine) in this multi-monster romp that ends the Universal Frankenstein/Wolfman/Dracula series.

17. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Not Rated | 83 min | Comedy, Family, Fantasy

The Wolf Man tries to warn a dimwitted porter that Dracula wants his brain for Frankenstein monster's body.

Directors: Charles Barton, Walter Lantz | Stars: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi

Votes: 17,137 | Gross: $4.80M

The name says it all!

18. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Approved | 69 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

A nurse is hired to care for the wife of a sugar plantation owner, who has been acting strangely, on a Caribbean island.

Director: Jacques Tourneur | Stars: Frances Dee, Tom Conway, James Ellison, Edith Barrett

Votes: 11,978

The best Val Lewton masterpiece. A take-off on Jane Eyre, set in a voodoo-haunted Caribbean plantation where zombies, both white and black, stalk the innocent and lurk in those dark shadows in which Lewton loved to strand his heroines.

19. The Uninvited (1944)

Passed | 99 min | Fantasy, Horror, Mystery

A composer and his sister discover that the reason they are able to purchase a beautiful gothic seacoast mansion very cheaply is the house's unsavory past.

Director: Lewis Allen | Stars: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner

Votes: 10,830

Scary stuff about a creepy haunting with relief at the end. Not an entry in the Universal series, but a stand-out classic on its own.

20. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Passed | 98 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

Dr. Jekyll faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run wild with a potion that transforms him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde.

Director: Rouben Mamoulian | Stars: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert

Votes: 13,469

Robert Louis Stevenson's nightmare of the bestial in man making its overt bid for take-over of the civilized gentleman fits right in with Freud's theories of the Id, the Ego and the Superego. A chemical concoction knocks out the Superego (Dr. Jekyll) and allows the Id to assume control as Mr. Hyde. This version is superior because itwas filmed before the strict Code of censorship stifled adult themes in motion pictures.

21. Night Monster (1942)

Passed | 73 min | Adventure, Drama, Horror

Kurt Ingston, a rich recluse, invites the doctors who left him a hopeless cripple to his desolate mansion in the swamps as one by one they meet horrible deaths.

Director: Ford Beebe | Stars: Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Leif Erickson, Irene Hervey

Votes: 1,412

Well-intentioned Eastern mysticism gets exploited to serve the vengeful purposes of a maniacal murderer at a misty, isolated estate.

22. The Monster Maker (1944)

Unrated | 62 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

A mad scientist injects his enemies with an acromegaly virus, causing them to become hideously deformed.

Director: Sam Newfield | Stars: J. Carrol Naish, Ralph Morgan, Tala Birell, Wanda McKay

Votes: 1,074

A vicious and imaginative doctor (J. Carroll Naish) gets the idea that if he can inflict the disfiguring malady acromegaly on a victim, he can get the victim to do whatever he wants, even allowing him to take the victim's daughter. Strange concept but it almost works.

23. White Zombie (1932)

Passed | 69 min | Horror

A young man turns to a witch doctor to lure the woman he loves away from her fiancé, but instead turns her into a zombie slave.

Director: Victor Halperin | Stars: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer

Votes: 10,198

Lugosi is very much in his element rendering a stiff, histrionic performance as a monstrously evil, manipulative master of zombies with lust and revenge his motivations ...and his undoing.

24. The Body Snatcher (1945)

Approved | 78 min | Horror, Thriller

A ruthless doctor and his young prize student find themselves continually harassed by their murderous supplier of illegal cadavers.

Director: Robert Wise | Stars: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Edith Atwater

Votes: 8,964

Karloff and Lugosi in an adaptation of the true history of unscrupulous grave-robbing physicians, eager to perform dissections in order to learn anatomy and rehearse the operations they intended to perform. And sometimes they needed to resort to even more illegal means to get a fresh cadaver...

25. Isle of the Dead (1945)

Not Rated | 71 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery

On a Greek island during the 1912 war, several people are trapped by quarantine for the plague. If that isn't enough worry, one of the people, a superstitious old peasant woman, suspects ... See full summary »

Director: Mark Robson | Stars: Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer, Katherine Emery

Votes: 4,537

The plague is the villain in this one, and Karloff its nemesis. But there ware incredibly scary scenes that draw upon Poe and the obsession with premature burial. Don't watch alone or at night.

26. The Devil Commands (1941)

Approved | 65 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

Scientist becomes obsessed with the idea of communicating with his dead wife.

Director: Edward Dmytryk | Stars: Boris Karloff, Anne Revere, Amanda Duff, Richard Fiske

Votes: 1,124

Poor Boris Karloff, like so many well-intentioned survivors wishes to communicate with a lost spouse. This is the basis of the Spiritualism that was popular in the late 19th century. But in this story, Karloff uses "modern" technology, employing those unseen electromagnetic waves that were still a mystery to much of the public in the early half of the 20th century, and the still more mysterious brainwaves that were just being discovered.

27. The Vampire Bat (1933)

Passed | 65 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery

When corpses drained of blood begin to show up in a European village, vampirism is suspected to be responsible.

Director: Frank R. Strayer | Stars: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Maude Eburne

Votes: 2,512

A nice, creepy story with the wonderful Lionel Atwill and with Dwight Frye (Renfield in Dracula) hamming it up mercilessly. Abounds with silly, almost intentionally over-the-top cliches about vampires, villagers, skeptical investigators, fainting-prone old crones. Fun to watch if you can get a remastered version.

28. Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Passed | 77 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

The disappearance of people and corpses leads a reporter to a wax museum and a sinister sculptor.

Director: Michael Curtiz | Stars: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh

Votes: 5,487

29. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Passed | 70 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

A mad doctor conducts ghastly genetic experiments on a remote island in the South Seas, much to the fear and disgust of the shipwrecked sailor who finds himself trapped there.

Director: Erle C. Kenton | Stars: Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams

Votes: 9,066

H.G. Wells had Darwinian evolution a little confused with surgical body-modification, but Charles Laughton's magnificent performance as the sadistic Dr. Moreau and Bela Lugosi's "Sayer of the Law" are memorable, as is that of the mysterious Panther Woman.

30. The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

PG-13 | 63 min | Action, Adventure, Horror

A psychotic big game hunter deliberately strands a luxury yacht on a remote island, where he begins to hunt its passengers for sport.

Directors: Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack | Stars: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong

Votes: 11,845 | Gross: $0.97M

Joel McCray and Faye Wray (King Kong's girlfriend) are trapped in a nightmare situation with a sadist whose recreation is hunting.



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