Obscure Horror Movies from the '30s You Need to See

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Everyone has heard of classic horror movies from the '30s. That's when we first saw the rise of Dracula, Frankenstein, zombies, etc., and it's when horror movies really came into their own. But there's so much more to 1930s horror films than just those few you see on TV every Halloween. There was a time when censorship wasn't alive yet, so film makers did perverse and violent things with their scripts. There were remakes of classic stories from Poe and others that can still make your blood run cold even today.

Just because these lesser-known horror movies are obscure, doesn't mean they're not good - and scary. Two big names of the era, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, make regular appearances on this list, so be assured that you're still getting some quality horror acting here. Still other movies listed carry historical weight, or helped shaped horror movies as we know them today.

So, if you consider yourself a fan of obscure horror movies, prepare for some unsettling movies that you'll be simply dying to see. Just be prepared, even these old black and white films are bound to make you squirm.

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    In 1932, a movie came out that made people so deeply uncomfortable the British government banned it in the UK. That movie, Island of Lost Souls, was an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, and featured scenes of vivisection and distressing sexual references. Viewers of the day felt so shocked, that the film actually helped push for the creation of a censorship board in Hollywood, which still influences movies to this day. Today, of course, the movie has a bit of a cult following, partially due to the fact that it featured famous horror man Bela Lugosi.

    If you want another weird but fun reason to see this flick, consider this: Have you ever heard the saying "The natives are restless tonight"? Well, you have this movie to thank for that line.

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    In 1932, silent movies were falling out of fashion and everyone was trying to convert to sound-focused movies. One early case of this is this German-French horror film named Vampyr. The film was shot as a silent film, and the sound was added in later - in three different languages. The vampire theme is hardly a new one, and the plot is pretty much the standard one, but this movie's creepy atmosphere and artistically-shot directing style make it hard to stop watching. 

    You can watch this one on YouTube, which any horror movie fans will love. It clocks in at only 73 minutes, so it's absolutely worth your time.

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    The controversy surrounding this movie is almost better than the movie itself. Why? First, let's just say that the torture movie genre got a lot of inspiration from this film. The film features graphic scenes of people being whipped, being cut, being taken apart and placed on massive torture equipment, where they were then, well, tortured. Some scenes play blatantly sexual as a reaction to all the violence going on, because god forbid there's violence without sex. Karloff plays his part marvelously, and you can't help but feel like you're watching something way too distressing for its era.

    Speaking of controversy, here's a little history that'll be sure to sell you on this movie: The Mask of Fu Manchu was shunned by the Chinese government for its violence, and was then criticized by the Japanese government... almost 40 years later! I suppose you could say that makes this movie timeless.

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    This creepy film about mad doctor bent on dark experiments, sometimes involving human flesh, holds a special place for many, because it was one of Warner Bros.'s earliest attempts at horror. After the success of Dracula and other creature features, the now-massive film company was itching to get a slice of the horror movie pie, but they went in a different direction. They went with a modern setting, had shockingly graphic visuals for the age, and looked to madness and murder for scares.

    When you watch this, you might get the feeling it was originally a play, especially the way the dialogue reads. Well, that feeling is absolutely correct. The much-needed humor that pops up while characters speak, and the occasional over-the-top stage acting still add to this mostly-unknown relic's charm. 

  5. Black Moon

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    In 1934, Hollywood began censoring movies for content, stuff like gore, nudity, and dark themes. But not before one final, rather distressing movie came got released. In 1934, Black Moon hit the screens, but didn't bring hardcore sexual perversion and graphic violence with it. Instead, the theme was voodoo, and gave one of the biggest "scream queens" of the era, Fay Wray, a chance to really shine. Between strange rituals, murder, sacrifice, and alluring visuals, the movie thrilled audiences from start to finish, though some of its racial themes are seriously cringe-worthy. Still definitely worth the watch.

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    It's odd that audiences overlook this movie nowadays, considering it was the highest grossing film of 1934. This adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe classic features huge horror names like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff - in the same movie! Seriously, what more can you ask for? Beyond that, The Black Cat is worth the watch because many consider it the first American psychological horror film. That may make it feel a little dense at times, but the on-screen chemistry is hard to beat, and the feelings of suspense the plot creates still hold up even today.

    The set's weird, the actors are great, the story is a creepy classic, and you can find a full version on YouTube. There's really no excuse not to see it.

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    This 1931 movie is worth watching for one reason alone: it was Warner Bros.'s first real horror movie. It's also worth noting that it features major actors of the day, such as John Barrymore, and is kind of perverse in nature, even having some pretty weird sexual tones to it. The set design here consists of jagged and misshapen buildings - simply fascinating - and the film reflects this warped view with both the characters and the plot line. It's got humor, it's got visual grotesqueness, hypnosis, peril, and you can find it free online because it is now public domain. What more can a horror movie fan ask for?

  8. The Phantom

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    This is one of those movies you have to watch, not because it's great, but because it's so darned awkward! We follow along with a detective hunting down a masked killer in an insane asylum, which doesn't sound too weird when left just at that. However, this is a movie where the dialogue and sound were added after the fact, and it shows. The dialogue feels super fake, and there are plot holes so deep you'll see China. But all in all, damned if it's not a whole lot of fun to watch! Kind of like a beautiful, clumsy train wreck.

    It's only about an hour long. If you have the time to kill and want something kind of weird and accidentally hilarious to watch, this is the movie for you.

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