of Horror Classics from
A Pathfinder based on the seven classic horror films released between 1923-1941
During the years 1923-1941, Universal Pictures released a plethora of horror movies that would go down in history as some of the most astonishing, critiqued and remade films ever to be put on celluloid. Seven of those movies in particular have stood the test of time and are still viewed in the same glory as they were decades ago. Those motion pictures are The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Phantom of the Opera (1925, 1929), Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and TheWolf Man (1941). Of these seven movies, five superb actors proved that with the right combination of acting and makeup, they could create creatures that would forever be associated with their names. Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Bela Lugosi accomplished this feat, and many of their images continue to instill terror and fear in our minds.
From the early
days of silent films Universal was one of the biggest studios in Hollywood.
Their early history gave America some of the best known movies of their
time, and with directors like James Whale and a producer named Carl Laemmle
the 1920’s and 1930’s belonged to Universal Studios. Even today,
with the capability to produce movies with extreme budgets and astounding
special effects, these old black and whites are still watched and adored
by movie lovers everywhere.
has been a huge force in the motion picture industry for almost a century,
and like any other studio they have had there ups and downs. The
purpose of this pathfinder is to inform the user about one of the greatest
eras in their history, and to direct them to sources that contain the most
pertinent information about the movies themselves, the actors that starred
in them and Universal Pictures as a whole. Designed primarily for
students who will be using a comprehensive academic library, a large majority
of the references in this pathfinder can be found at Davis Library on the
campus of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anything
not in that building can be found at Duke University. Most of the
World Wide Web sources can be accessed from anywhere, with the exception
of some of the indexes and databases, which require access from The University
of North Carolina.
L.C. Subject Headings
The following Library of Congress Subject Headings are for use with on-line catalogs in order to find information regarding Universal Pictures, Carl Laemmle and James Whale. For specific actors and movies consult their respective pages.
Dictionaries and Guides
The sources listed here are to provide quick reference for information regarding the studio, movies and major poeple involved with the movies, including actors, producers and directors. These works contain cross-referencing which allow the user to find important information related to what may have originally been looked up. The dictionaries and guides are also more likely than encyclopedias to provide photographs, which can be a draw for some users. Arranged alphabetically, they make for an easy place for information about the horror movies. However, it is important to consult the table of contents for each book, since some guides group movies together by similarities they possess.
A-Z of Horror Films. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
[Davis, 7th floor stacks: PN1995.9.H6 M3245 1997]
With good descriptions of all movies included, this reference book gives all the basic information about each movie (director, photographer, musical director, etc…). Also found here are famous people associated with horror movies, as well as those who starred in spoofs, such as Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. While the actual information provided can be found in numerous other sources, this book has top ten lists and many rare publicity photos. In addition, every movie is rated on a four star scale.Senn, Bryan & Johnson, John. Fantastic Cinema Subject Guide: A Topical Index to 2500 Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy Films. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1992.
An excellent reference book, the Fantastic Cinema Subject Guide contains great information about the movies it discusses. Each entry has the cast and crew, a brief synopsis of the plot and some movies have famous quotes. There are also little known facts (for example, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release, costing $1,250,000). The biggest problem with this book is its organization. To quickly find a movie it is easier to use the index in the back rather than flip through alphabetically, since movies are grouped together by type. This means that The Phantom of the Opera is under “Phantoms,” The Invisible Man is under “Invisibility” and The Hunchback of Notre Dame is under “Freaks.” There is also lots of cross referencing for sequels and similar movies.Soister, John T. Of Gods and Monsters: A Critical Guide to Universal Studios' Science Fiction, Horror, and Mystery Films, 1929-1939. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1999.
For a book that contains strictly Universal Pictures’ horror movies this is the source to read. Soister has done a terrific job of gathering information about all Universal’s thrillers during this decade, and there are many aspects that make this a great book. First, the entries all have essays written about them, which are followed by a description of the plot. There is also critical commentary for each movie, as well as many rare photos, posters and lobby cards.
Much like dictionaries and guides, the encyclopedia sources are great places for someone who does not possess a great knowledge of these films to begin. Most of these books are alphabetical, but it is important to consult the table of contents for each in order to deternine how they are organized. The encyclopedias are useful in finding information about people or events that may not be well known, and some of these resources do a good job of including those of lesser fame.
Film Encyclopedia. New York: HarperPerennial, 2001.
[Davis Ref: PN1993.45 .K349 2001]
This mammoth book by Ephraim Katz has everything anyone could possibly want to know about movies. The cover calls The Film Encyclopedia “the most comprehensive encyclopedia of world cinema in a single volume,” and this is the truth. Anybody who was associated with any big movie is in here, from Tod Browning to Carl Laemmle, Jr. to Mary Philbin, who played Christine in the The Phantom of the Opera and retired when talkies emerged. Only actors, actresses, genre definitions and organizations are listed; there are no entries for specific movies. Cross referencing is done in block letters in each description. The entires provided are well written and have all the important information pertaining to subject. This encyclopedia would help someone who uses it for an easy reference source.Milne, Tom & Willemen, Paul. The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
An encyclopedia that covers major horror movies from 1896 through 1985, this book sticks to the basics in only having entries that are movies, while some of the others (The Film Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film) include actors and key players. The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies has all the movies arranged alphabetically by year, and years grouped together in chapters by decade, the first one called “The Early Days,” which goes from 1896-1919. The descriptions are critical yet short, and the images are ones that can be found in many other places. Although somewhat out of date, the appendices are fun to look at. They are, among other things, lists of author’s top ten movies, all time most rented horror movies and movies that have been nominated for and received Oscars.Newman, Kim. The BFI Companion to Horror. London: Cassell, 1996.
A good reference book, the British Film Institute has done a nice job of arranging important names in horror. While the entries are brief, it is very easy to find a specific topic. Actors, films and roles are all put together alphabetically, and in each entry, all words in bold type are entries themselves. This work has extensive narratives for the Universal films, but the largest problem with this encyclopedia is that in order to find a particular movie some serious B-movies have to be passed by first.Young, R.G. The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film: Ali Baba to Zombies. New York: Applause Books, 2000.
A gigantic encyclopedia, Young’s book is one of the better compendiums for quick movie reference. It is broken into two sections, the first 700 pages devoted to films and almost 300 pages after that made up of a directory of the actors and all the movies they starred in (only actors whose movies appear in the book are listed). Each entry has the cast, director, screen writer and other major information, and some more famous movies have quotes from critics and biographies. Every movie is also given a classification. Dracula, for example, is called “classic horror-fantasy.”
Filmographies are books that are put together in order to provide a complete list of movies. The ones listed in this section all relate to Universal Pictures, and can be helpful if the user wants information regarding the details of a specific movie, including date of release, producer and the major actors involved. For filmographies about specific actors who appeared in the horror movies listed in this pathfinder, consult their respective pages.
E. The Universal Silents: A Filmography of the Universal Motion
Picture Manufacturing Company, 1912-1929. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland
& Co., 1999.
[Davis, 7th floor stacks: PN1999.U57 B73 1999]
Covering all of the silent movies from the conception of the studio through the end of the silent film era, this resource stands as one of the most massive filmographies assembled pertaining to the motion picture industry. Consisting of over 9,000 entries, anyone interested in silent films should not hesitate to look at this book. Even though only The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera are relevant to this list, it is still an important work to consult.Brunas, Michael. Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1990.
Just over 600 pages, this book attempts to, and succeeds in, compiling an impressive list of information about all the horror movies from Universal Pictures during this 15 year span. For each movie Brunas has put together complete cast lists, commentary from the actors and actresses and histories of each film. Universal Horrors also has great stories from behind the scenes of some of the classics, which make for very enjoyable reading.Fitzgerald, Michael G. Universal Pictures: a Panoramic History in Words, Pictures, and Filmographies. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1977.
This behemoth covers every single movie released by Universal Pictures between 1930-1976. While Fitzgerald’s work may not be one of the most well written books, it gets an honorable mention for the amount of photographs included. There are pictures for every movie put out during this time period, and even though most of this book does not apply to the horror films (two are left out because they hit the theaters in the 1920’s), it is still a good source for quick reference.
In order to understand how and why Universal Pictures chose to rely on the production of horror movies during the 1920's and 1930's, these histories can be useful. Many of these books contain the history of the studio from its earliest days, and they go into great detail about the years that Universal was one of the top studios in Hollywood. The histories here that pertain to silent film can also provide information about the genre as a whole without being confined strictly to Universal Studios and the films that they released.
F. City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures.
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997.
[Davis, 7th floor stacks: PN1999.U584 D53 1997]
A well written account of the entire history of Universal Pictures, the story begins where it should in 1912 when Carl Laemmle founded the studio. The book goes through all decades of production, and spends lots of time on events that occurred after the fall from greatness in the late 1930’s. While the author writes in a way that is easy to follow and is in fact quite interesting, most of this book does not directly pertain to this era, and there are many excellent books out there that concentrate entirely on the horror film time period.Edmonds, I.G. Big U: Universal in the Silent Days. New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1977.
Even though this book is not very long, it still fulfills its purpose. It begins with a concise history of the establishment of the IMP (Independent Motion Picture Company) by Carl Laemmle and the founding of Universal Pictures in 1912. From there it goes into a well written time line of the silent films churned out by this corporation, and includes with it some excellent photographs. The book wraps up rather nicely with Carl Laemmle, Jr. in the middle of production of Broadway, the firms first all talking movie. Big U has two indexes, so users can search by film or name.Everson, William K. American Silent Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Loaded with incredible images, American Silent Film really does a superb job at relating the history of this almost forgotten period. Since Universal Pictures was one of the largest and most powerful studios during the 1920’s, they are obviously a large part of this book. Only The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera apply here, but this work is very useful for those who want to know more about the studio that produced those two movies rather than the films themselves. However, the segments about Lon Chaney are quite well written and very informative.Hirschhorn, Clive. The Universal Story. New York: Crown Publishers Inc., 1983.
Covering the history of Universal Pictures from 1913 until the book’s release in 1983, Hirschhorn has assembled something that should delight anyone with a passion for movies. Broken into five distinct chapters, the first three are the only ones that apply to the movies listed here. The information contained about the actual history of the studio is good, but for a real historical look at Universal, City of Dreams would be a better source to consult. The Universal Story, at almost 400 pages, can be considered a great “coffee table” book because while elements of the history are evident, it is the photographs that make this volume worthwhile.Senn, Bryan. Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931-1939. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1996.
With histories of specific films, Golden Horrors is a brilliant book to pick up if the user is only searching for around ten pages about each movie. During this time period four great Universal Pictures releases were seen in theaters everywhere, and all of their histories are described wonderfully, as Senn’s writing is very easy to follow. For each movie there is a synopsis, production notes, liabilities, reviews, assets and memorable moments. There is also basic information such as release date, running time, screenplay writer and special effects director.
Indexes and Abstracts
These on-line databases allow the user to search for articles and other related information about the horror films and the people involved with them. Each resource will be able to provide something different since many of them draw from a wide variety of journals and other scholarly sources. These databases can also be used to find literary criticism about the original novels that the horror films are based on, as well as interesting commentary about the movies themselves.
HIstory and Life
[Electronic resource available through UNC libraries, http://eresources.lib.unc.edu/eid/ - select America, HIstory and Life/i>]
This reference tool is one that provides articles from many different aspects of America's history, including those related to movies. consisting of "over 2000 journals published worldwide" and providing "a complete bibliographic reference to the history of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present," this database can be used to find articles about either specific films, the actors that appeared in them or articles about the original novels and their authors. Drawing from such journals as the Journal of Popular Film and Television and Hungarian Studies, this index should be not be used alone, since the amount of information contained on these horror films is not very broad. However, one positive of America, History and Life is that it uses some journals, like Hungarian Studies, that may not be found in other databases.Biography and Genealogy Master Index
Using this database can seriously help anyone who is trying to find sources that list information about specific people. This resource currently indexes over 13 million biographical sketches, and they add approximately 500,000 new citations per year. The beauty of BGMI is that it gives the user a complete listing of all the publications the search term is listed in, and there is also more than one way to search. One of the best ways is to use the Expert Search Mode, which will accept a very complex and precise query.Book Review Digest
Comprised of almost 100 periodicals from numerous countries, this database can be very helpful in finding reviews for the original novels that the horror movies are based on, and there are even articles that pertain to many of the historical works and guides. This is one of the best places to go when looking for reviews about printed materials, and the amount of results that are generally retrieved are not as vast and overwhelming as many other indexes and databases.Expanded Academic ASAP
This electronic resource allows the user to search by all major actors and films. With thousands of articles in the database, there is something there for everyone. By using the subject search, articles can be retrieved on any topic relating to the horror movies, and even specific aspects of Universal Pictures can be read about if the search is narrowed. One of the best online resources, the amount of information that can be obtained is mind boggling. For example, The Mummy alone came back with 371 hits.
Essays and Criticism
Many times it is important to look at criticisms in order to get a full understanding of the movies or writings that someone is interested in. The sources listed in this section contain writings that further explore the movies and those involved with them on a level beyond what appears on the screen. These can be used to read commentary or for an in depth analysis of the lives of actors or the connection between a particular movie and the world at that time. For essays and criticism relating to specific actors and movies, consult their respective pages.
Journey into Darkness: The Art of James Whale's Horror Films.
New York: Arno Press, 1980.
[Davis, 7th floor stacks: PN1998.A3 W4774 1980]
Originally a dissertation from the University of Florida, Ellis had this work nationally published in 1980. A fascinating read, A Journey into Darkness highlights four of Whale’s most famous films and gives a lengthy background and analysis for each one. Also included is a list of cast and credits for his horror films and an extensive bibliography.Hanke, Ken. A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series. New York: Garland Pub., 1991.
Spanning the history of horror films from Lon Chaney through A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hanke’s book is a critical analysis of film series, giving each movie and subsequent sequels there own chapters. Four major Universal films and their series’ take up almost 75 pages at the beginning of the book, and the critical histories that Hanke has written include behind the scenes information that is not well known. An interesting and at times disheartening read, A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series is a book that should be consulted by any fan of horror films.
These biogrpahical works are intended to provide the reader with an in-depth look at the lives of Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Studios and producer of some of the classic horror films, and James Whale, a director of two movies listed in this pathfinder and many others as well. For biographies about the actors that appeared in these films, consult their respective pages.
Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters. Boston: Faber and
[Davis, 7th floor stacks: PN1998.3.W5 C87 1998]
James Whale was one of the most brilliant directors for Universal Pictures in the 1930’s, and he is responsible for many of the great horror classics, including Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. While many biographies of people associated with film often contain short biographies and large filmographies, this book by Curtis is a true biography, which goes into great detail about the director’s life. Curtis originally wrote a much shorter biography of Whale in 1982, but feeling as though he had left out a great deal he went back and wrote this edition of over 400 pages, almost twice as long as the original. At the end is a stage chronology as well as a list of all the movies he directed along with small synopses for each.Drinkwater, John. The Life and Adventures of Carl Laemmle. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, 1931.
The founder of Universal Pictures, Laemmle, or “Uncle Carl” as he was often referred, was also the producer of many of the early movies put out by this studio. The three horror movies he was involved with were The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera and The Invisible Man. His son, Carl Laemmle, Jr., was the producer of the other three movies in this list released in the 1930’s. This book by Drinkwater provides a very good description of the man’s life, and portrays him as the kind, gentle boss that he was known to be. It should also be noted that this is currently the only biography of Laemmle in publication.Gatiss, Mark. James Whale, a Biography, or, The Would-be Gentleman. New York: Cassell, 1995.
Although much shorter than Curtis’s work (only half as long), this biography is a much easier read and may be a better choice for someone who is not interested in every minute detail about James Whale’s life. What this book does have, however, are many fine pictures of the director, which can be hard to come by. This book has no filmography or chronology, but one interesting thing that it does contain is the original proposal for The Invisible Man which Whale wrote in 1932. It lists Karloff as the star, which obviously turned out not to happen.
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was created by Matthew Kern, Graduate Student
School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
November 12, 2001
Last updated: December 10, 2001
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