When we think of early horror, it tends to be in terms of its most famous archetypes – Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolfman – and a cinematic landscape dominated by Universal Studios.

But this is only the tip of the horror iceberg; and, as with all icebergs, there was a great deal more going on under the surface.

Almost as soon as there were movies at all, there were horror movies. Despite social resistance and critical scorn, film-makers both across America and around the world began to speak to the audience’s fears…and its desire for a shivery good time, too. And though many of these efforts have since slipped through the cracks of time and memory, they all contributed to the development of the genre.

So join us as we lift our lanterns, deploy our picks and shovels, and dig into the crypt of forgotten horror…


1000 Misspent Hours and Counting Kongo Kongo had been a persistent problem for head MPPDA morals cop Will Hays since 1926, flaring up like a herpes lesion every couple years. The stage play by Chester De Vonde and Kilbourn Gordon had filled the seats on Broadway, and the fainting couches everywhere else. At the time, the maximum extent of Hays’s power was to mark certain plays, books, or stories as unfit for cinematic adaptation, and he was quick to file just such an interdict against Kongo. But in 1928, MGM went and filmed it anyway, under the title West of Zanzibar. The same studio filmed it again in 1932, this time using the original title, and although the new Kongo contained nothing technically actionable under the Production Code— no nudity, no blasphemy, no suicide, no miscegenation, no utterance of forbidden words like “prostitution,” “rape,” or “pregnancy”— it was nevertheless exactly the kind of movie that the Code was supposed to prevent.
And You Call Yourself A Scientist! The Student Of Prague (1913) (revised) Though it is not without its crudities and shortcomings, some of them of them unavoidable at the time, The Student Of Prague is a truly remarkable achievement: one which, thanks to the care and dedication of those involved in its restoration, modern audiences are now in a position to appreciate for the first time. Visually, the new prints are a revelation; and although the edited version did not entirely cut anything, it shortened everything, leaving behind a crude rendering of the story bereft of all detail and some explanation.
And You Call Yourself A Scientist! The Raven (1915) (revised) Although much of The Raven is historical tosh conventionally executed, this sequence is a remarkable piece of genuinely imaginative cinema. What is particularly heartening here is that Brabin did not merely reproduce D.W. Griffith’s experimental approach, but strove to create fresh images with techniques of his own, occasionally surpassing his model. Though Brabin, too, relies chiefly upon double-exposure in creating Poe’s visions (and like Griffith, has trouble getting the scale of his ghostly characters right), the visions themselves are more complex here than those presented in The Avenging Conscience.
And You Call Yourself A Scientist! Supernatural (1933) But this is relatively unimportant beside what Vivienne Osborne and Carole Lombard bring to the film. It is easy enough to criticise Osborne’s performance as too over-the-top—but she is, after all, playing one of the screen’s first out-and-out female psychopaths: why shouldn’t she let rip? But there’s more to it than that: method in her madness, if you like. Vitally for the film’s success, the extravagance of Osborne’s performance allows her to establish for Ruth Rogen a distinct set of physical mannerisms, which Carole Lombard is then able to reproduce when Roma is taken over by Ruth. Both women do a remarkable job in conveying Ruth’s viciousness, her pleasure in killing. But there is also some subtlety in Lombard’s performance, at least…
Braineater  La Llorona (1933) All in all, the makers of La Llorona tried to have it both ways far too many times to make an effective movie. Is it a mystery, or a supernatural horror flick? It’s both, and it’s neither: the opening promises us a ghost story, but most of the main action of the movie fails to deliver on that promise. Is it authentically Mexican, or is it just a retread of a Hollywood Old Dark House movie? Both — and neither: the llorona episodes have been altered from their folkloric origins in order to fit the very prosaic wrapper story. Does it really embrace the new technology of sound motion pictures? Well, the second llorona flashback might as well be a silent film. Take away the narration, as Ricardo reads from the second book, and replace the sparse dialogue with intertitles, and you would do no damage to the episode at all, because it’s filmed exactly as though sound had never been invented.
Braineater Dos Monjes (1934) Dos Monjes is usually referred to as a horror film, but in fact it doesn’t really venture into horror territory until the very end. However, the details of the mis-en-scène give the entire film a feeling of unease: there are few right angles in the set design, and even common objects like windows or clocks are subtly distorted. The lighting and camera work also contribute to giving the film its restless, disturbed feeling. Like La Llorona, the plot of the film involves a wrapping story set in the present (or the movie’s present, anyway, which in this case is the mid-19th century); two extended flashback episodes provide the background for the crisis that comes at the end. However, unlike La Llorona — which tended to lapse into Hollywood cliché, and never made a convincing whole out of its several parts — Dos Monjes is original, tightly plotted and intensely focused.
Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension
The Unknown Movies West Of Zanzibar (1928) The level of direction in this movie is pretty good for the most part. True, there are some (perhaps inevitable) touches that come across as somewhat dated, with Browning getting the characters to show emotion with heavy arm movements and other theatrical touches. But at the same time, there is a surprisingly raw feeling to the entire enterprise that many directors today might find instructive. Instead of having your standard Hollywood polish, the movie more often than not feels a little sloppy and somewhat dirty; you can almost smell the sweat and dirt covering the characters. There is no real choreography or slickness on display here, and as a result of that, the movie has a more realistic feeling to it. I could buy this sordid cinematic world a lot more than the glitz and glamor associated with movies to come later from the MGM studio. Also, Browning does throw in some striking visuals…