British Actors and Horror

Love this trailer, particularly the bit where Lionel Atwill tells the heroine that he has always found ‘in his experience’ that the female of the species is more responsive to electrical impulses than the male – which of course prompts the question: experience of what?

Anyhow, the relevance of this is that I’m taking a break this week – too many deadlines coming at me all at once. But I thought I should share something, so here is news of a recent article of mine that people might want to check out … or not! Of course, Lionel is only a minor player in this piece, which largely concentrates on Claude Rains, Charles Laughton, Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price.

It’s About Time British Actors Kicked Against these Roles in “Horror” Films’: Horror stars, psychological films and the tyranny of the Old World in classical horror cinema

Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

Volume 33, Issue 2, 2013

pages 214-233

This article is an examination of the ways in which Englishness was associated with horror long before the success of Hammer, the British studio that in the late 1950s and 1960s became synonymous with a particularly English version of Gothic cinema. During the 1930s and 1940s, many key horror stars were English or signified Englishness; and the article explores the ways in which this was due to a preoccupation with themes of psychological dominance and dependence during the period. In other words, the threat of psychological dominance and dependence that preoccupied horror films meant that the horror villain was often associated with the spectre of old-world despotism in relation to which the United States defined itself as a rejection. Furthermore, these psychological themes also demonstrate that, during this period, the horror film either included, or was intimately related to, the gangster film and spy thriller so that most horror stars played a range of horror villains, gangsters and spies. However, rather than focusing of figures such as Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Lionel Atwill or George Zucco (the British actors most commonly associated with the horror film during this period), the article will concentrate on a series of actors closely associated with horror in the period, but who are not necessarily remembered in this way today—Claude Rains, Charles Laughton, Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price—stars who demonstrate the ways in which psychological themes not only connected the horror villain, gangster and spy but were also related to the spectre of old-world despotism.

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