Critics have traditionally characterized classic horror by its use of shadow and suggestion. Yet the graphic nature of early 1930s films only came to light in the home video/DVD era. Along with gangster movies and sex pictures, horror films drew audiences during the Great Depression with sensational screen content. Exploiting a loophole in the Hays Code, which made provision for on-screen gruesomeness, studios produced remarkably explicit films that were recut when the Code was more rigidly enforced from 1934. This lead to a modern misperception that classic horror was intended to be safe and reassuring to audiences. Taking a fresh look at the genre from 1931 through 1936, this critical study examines happy ending horror in relation to industry practices and censorship. Early works like Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) The Raven (1935) may be more akin to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003) and Saw (2004) than many critics believe.
Jon Towlson is a London-based journalist and film critic. He has written for Starburst Magazine, Paracinema, Exquisite Terror, Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, Shadowland Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal and Digital Film-maker Magazine.