Horror cinema was at it’s spooky peak in the 1930s~ the era gave birth to some of the most iconic figures of the genre as well as highlighted some of the most beautiful & beloved heroines to ever light up the scream, oops I mean screen!!!!
We all love the corrupted, diabolical, fiendish and menacing men of the 30s who dominated the horror screen- the spectres of evil, the anti-heroes who put those heroines in harms way, women in peril, –Boris, & Bela, Chaney and March… From Frankenstein, to Dracula, from The Black Cat (1934), or wicked Wax Museums to that fella who kept changing his mind…Jekyll or was it Hyde? From the Mummy to that guy you could see right through, thank you Mr. Rains!
Last year I featured Scream Queens of 40s Classic Horror! This Halloween 🎃 – I felt like paying homage to the lovely ladies of 30s Classic Horror, who squealed up a storm on those stormy dreadful nights, shadowed by sinister figures, besieged by beasts, and taunted with terror in those fabulous frisson-filled fright flicks… but lest not forget that after the screaming stops, those gals show some grand gumption! And… In an era when censorship & conservative framework tried to set the stage for these dark tales, quite often what smoldered underneath the finely veiled surface was a boiling pot of sensuality and provocative suggestion that I find more appealing than most contemporary forays into Modern horror- the lost art of the classical horror genre will always remain Queen… !
Let’s drink a toast to that notion!
The Scream Queens, Sirens & Heroines of 1930s Classic Horror are here for you to run your eyes over! Let’s give ’em a really big hand, just not a hairy one okay? From A-Z
A British beauty with red hair who according to Gregory Mank in his Women in Horror Films, the 1930s, left England for Hollywood and an MGM contract. She is the consummate gutsy heroine, the anti-damsel Irena Borotyn In Tod Browning’s campy Mark of the Vampire (1935) co-starring with Bela Lugosi as Count Mora (His birthday is coming up on October 20th!) Lionel Atwill and the always cheeky Lionel Barrymore… Later in 1958, she would co-star with Boris Karloff in the ever-atmospheric The Haunted Strangler.
Mark of the Vampire is a moody graveyard chiller scripted by Bernard Schubert & Guy Endore (The Raven, Mad Love (1935) & The Devil Doll (1936) and the terrific noir thriller Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) with sexy Steve Cochran & one of my favs Ruth Roman!)
The film is Tod Browning’s retake of his silent Lon Chaney Sr. classic London After Midnight (1927).
The story goes like this: Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, left drained of his blood, and Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) believes it’s the work of vampires. Lionel Atwill once again plays well as the inquiring but skeptical police Inspector Neumann.
Once Sir Karell’s daughter Irena ( our heroine Elizabeth Allan) is assailed, left with strange bite marks on her neck, the case becomes active again. Neumann consults Professor Zelin the leading expert on Vampires. This horror whodunit includes frightened locals who believe that Count Mora (Bela in iconic cape and saturnine mannerism) and his creepy daughter Luna (Carroll Borland) who trails after him through crypt and foggy woods, are behind the strange going’s on. But is all that it seems?
Directed by the ever-interesting director Maurice Elvey (Mr. Wu 1919, The Sign of Four, 1923, The Clairvoyant 1935, The Man in the Mirror 1936, The Obsessed 1952) Elizabeth Allan stars as Daisy Bunting the beautiful but mesmerized by the strange yet sensual and seemingly tragic brooding figure- boarder Ivor Novello as Michel Angeloff in The Phantom Fiend! A remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film about Jack the Ripper… The Lodger (1927) starring Novello once again.
There is a murderer loose in London who writes the police before he strikes with a sword cane, he signs his name X. It happens that his latest crime occurs on the same night that the Drayton Diamond is stolen. Robert Montgomery as charming as ever, is Nick Revel the jewel thief responsible for the diamond heist, but he’s not a crazed murderer. The co-incidence of the two crimes has put him in a fix as he’s now unable to unload the gem until the police solve the murders.
Elizabeth Allan is the lovely Jane Frensham, Sir Christopher Marche’s (Ralph Forbes) fiancé and Police Commissioner Sir Herbert Frensham’s daughter. Sir Christopher is arrested for the X murders, and Nick and Jane band together, fall madly in love, and try to figure out a way to help the police find the real killer!
Heather Angel is a British actress who started out on stage at the Old Vic theatre but left for Hollywood and became known for the Bulldog Drummond series. While not appearing in lead roles, she did land parts in successful films such as Kitty Foyle, Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943), and Lifeboat (1944). IMDb notes -Angel tested for the part of Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939), the role was given to Olivia de Havilland.
Heather Angel possessed a sublime beauty and truly deserved to be a leading lady rather than relegated to supporting roles and guilty but pleasurable B movie status.
The L.A Times noted about her death in 1986 at age 77 “Fox and Universal ignored her classic training and used her in such low-budget features as “Charlie Chans Greatest Case and “Springtime for Henry.”
Her performances in Berkeley Square and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were critically acclaimed… More gruesome than the story-lines involving her roles in Edwin Drood, Hound of the Baskervilles or Lifeboat put together is the fact that she witnessed her husband, stage and film directer Robert B. Sinclair’s vicious stabbing murder by an intruder in their California home in 1970.
Heather Angel is Beryl Stapleton in this lost (found negatives and soundtracks were found and donated to the British Film Institute archives) adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes thriller Originally serialized in The Strand magazine between 1901 and 1902.
In this first filmed talkie of Doyle’s more horror-oriented story, it calls for the great detective to investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and solve the strange killing that takes place on the moors, feared that there is a supernatural force, a monstrous dog like a fiend that is menacing the Baskerville family ripping the throats from its victims. The remaining heir Sir Henry is now threatened by the curse.
Mystery of Edwin Drood (played by David Manners) is a dark and nightmarish Gothic tale of mad obsession, drug addiction, and heartless murder! Heather Angel plays the beautiful and kindly young student at a Victorian finishing school, Rosa Bud engaged to John Jasper’s nephew Edwin Drood. The opium-chasing, choir master John Jasper (Claude Rains) becomes driven to mad fixation over Rosa, who is quite aware of his intense gaze, she becomes frightened and repulsed by him.
The brooding & malevolent Rains frequents a bizarre opium den run by a menacing crone (Zeffie Tilbury), a creepy & outre moody whisper in the melody of this Gothic horror/suspense tale!
Valerie Hobson plays twin sister Helena Landless, the hapless Neville’s sister. (We’ll get to one of my favorites, the exquisite Valerie Hobson in just a bit…) When Neville and Helena arrive at the school, both Edwin and he vies for Rosa’s affection. When Edwin vanishes, naturally Neville is the one suspected in his mysterious disappearance.
Though I’ll always be distracted by Baclanova’s icy performance as the vicious Cleopatra in Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks which blew the doors off social morays and became a cultural profane cult film, Baclanova started out as a singer with the Moscow Art Theater. Appearing in several silent films, she eventually co-starred as Duchess Josiana with Conrad Veidt as the tragic Gwynplaine, in another off-beat artistic masterpiece based on the Victor Hugo story The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Tod Browning produced & directed this eternally disturbing & joyful portrait of behind-the-scenes melodrama and at times the Gothic violence of carnival life… based on the story ‘Spurs’ by Tod Robbins. It’s also been known as Nature’s Mistress and The Monster Show.
It was essential for Browning to attain realism. He hired actual circus freaks to bring to life this quirky Grand Guignol, a beautifully grotesque & macabre tale of greed, betrayal, and loyalty.
Cleopatra (Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor) plan to swindle the owner of the circus Hans, (Harry Earles starring with wife Frieda as Daisy) out of his ‘small’ fortune by poisoning him on their wedding night. The close family of side show performers exact poetic yet monstrous revenge! The film also features many memorable circus folks. Siamese conjoined twins Daisy & Violet Hilton, also saluted in American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson another incredible actress, doing a dual role) Schlitze the pinhead, and more!
Anyone riveted to the television screen to watch Jessica Lange’s mind-blowing performance as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story’s: Freak Show (2014) will not only recognize her superb nod to Marlene Dietrich, but also much reverence paid toward Tod Browning’s classic and Baclanova’s cunning coldness.
( BTW as much as I adore Frances McDormand, Lange should have walked away with the Emmy this year! I’ve rarely seen a performance that balances like a tightrope walker, the subtle choreography between gut-wrenching pathos & ruthless sinister vitriol. Her rendition of Bowie’s song Life on Mars…will be a Film Score Freak feature this Halloween season! No, I can’t wait… here’s a peak! it fits the mood of this post…)
here she is as the evil Countess/duchess luring poor Gwynplain into her clutches The Man Who Laughs (1928).