Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Monster Madness: The Golden Age of the Horror Film (2014)


I’m a bit of a fan of horror films, if you haven’t noticed by all the horror films I’ve reviewed and talked about on this site. But I do have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the golden age classics. Sure I've seen King Kong and a couple of silent classics like Nosferatu, but I haven't seen too many of the Universal films from the 1930s. This documentary sounded like a good place to start, so I gave it a try.


This documentary covers the history of horror films in Hollywood from the silent era with Phantom of the Opera all the way up to the 1940s with Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Along the way you see trailers from the films, hear from folks who worked on them, and of course hear from critics and fans discussing the impact of these classics on modern movies.

The documentary also explores how current events shaped the films and their popularity. This gives you some idea how you could go from a gothic masterpiece like Frankenstein and then about a decade later have a crazy monster mash up of House of Frankenstein. The documentary even includes some surprises like Val Lewton’s films and Mighty Joe Young.

Good Points:
  • Provides a informative mix of plot summary and impact for the classic films
  • Includes some interesting interviews with cast, crew and critics
  • Moves briskly to fit all the key points into a little over an hour

Bad Points:
  • Feels disorganized, doesn’t move in chronological order
  • Moves a little too briskly - a bit more information or films could have been included
  • Hard core fans of this genre will not find anything new here


While I’m not well versed in the golden age of horror, I do know a little bit about their place in the scheme of things (watched quite a few of Cinemassacre’s horror episodes). So a lot of the material here was not new to me. It was presented well, but would jump around sometimes, feeling a little less cohesive than it could. This might be a good place to start for newbies, but I think most fans of the genre and film history buffs will find it engaging, but a little lacking.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  3
Sound: 3
Acting:  n/a
Script:  3
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

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  1. I grew up with these movies. Back then TV stations – particularly the non-network independents – were desperate for content. Like other movie studios, Universal (not yet realizing the value of their older product) sold the broadcast rights to their old horror flicks for a song, so they got a lot of airtime. They are old friends – even fairly obscure ones such as “Mark of the Vampire” or “Dracula’s Daughter.”

    For someone who didn’t grow up with them though, I can see how a documentary overview might be a good introduction. Sounds like this one was no more than OK.

    1. This was still going on when I was a kid, but since my dad owned a video store I had access to a bunch of other movies. I never really got to experience these classics until much later when TCM would run them around Halloween. I do wish I had seen them when I was younger. I know they would be effective. I vividly remember seeing the infamous unmasking scene from "Phantom of the Opera" out of context when I was about 10 or so, and it really freaked me out.

  2. I'm with Richard. I'm a monster kid and grew up with them, along with SF that was monster related like The Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, etc. I remember seeing Frankenstein and The Wolf Man on black and white TV and they scared me pretty good, and at the same time they were darkly alluring. I wondered if they touched on the Hammer Films.

    1. This doc stopped in the mid 40s or so. Hammer was mentioned, but it was out of scope for what they were tackling. This is actually part of a series of docs, and the next one was tackling the 50s giant bugs and alien invasion films. They might eventually get tot he Hammer films. I know James Roulfe over at Cinemassacre did cover many of the Hammer films. They are big favorites of his. The guy is best known for being "Angry Video Game Nerd" but he is a huge film buff, and his knowledge of classic horror films is really impressive.