Pre-Code Horror

Pre-Code Horror

14 Episodes

With their startlingly perverse themes, lurid psychosexual undertones, and often-grisly violence, the horror films made in the early 1930s before the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code still have the power to shock. Unbound by any concessions to family-friendly morality and influenced by the heightened visual style of German expressionism, these sordid tales of mad scientists (DOCTOR X, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS), sadomasochistic satanists (THE BLACK CAT), twisted revenge (MURDERS IN THE ZOO, FREAKS), and supernatural terror (SVENGALI, THIRTEEN WOMEN) brought primal fear to the screen with a daring creativity and explicitness that wouldn’t be seen in Hollywood again for decades. Highlights include a pair of early Technicolor wonders by Michael Curtiz: DOCTOR X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM.

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Pre-Code Horror
  • Introducing Pre-Code Horror

    Episode 1

    The following interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith was recorded in 2023.

  • Pre-Code Horror Teaser

    Episode 2

  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

    Episode 3

    Directed by Rouben Mamoulian • 1931 • United States
    Starring Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart

    Stylish camerawork, innovative special effects, and plenty of startling pre-Code touches make this the definitive screen adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic classic, directed with ty...

  • Svengali

    Episode 4

    Directed by Archie Mayo • 1931 • United States
    Starring John Barrymore, Marian Marsh, Donald Crisp

    In a performance noted for both its unrestrained intensity and troubling antisemitic overtones, John Barrymore plays the titular hypnotist, who uses his powers of mind control to turn an artist’s m...

  • Freaks

    Episode 5

    Directed by Tod Browning • 1932 • United States
    Starring Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Roscoe Ates

    “One of us, one of us!” One of the most shocking films of the pre-Code era, Tod Browning’s classic of the macabre was condemned as an “outrageous onslaught upon the feelings, the senses, the brains, a...

  • Island of Lost Souls

    Episode 6

    Directed by Erle C. Kenton • 1932 • United States
    Starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams

    A twisted treasure from Hollywood’s pre-Code horror heyday, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS is a cautionary tale of science run amok, adapted from H. G. Wells’s novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” In one o...

  • The Most Dangerous Game

    Episode 7

    Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel • 1932 • United States
    Starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks

    One of the best and most literate movies from the great days of horror, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME stars Leslie Banks as a big-game hunter with a taste for the world’s most exotic ...

  • Murders in the Rue Morgue

    Episode 8

    Directed by Robert Florey • 1932 • United States
    Starring Bela Lugosi, Leon Ames, Sidney Fox

    Shockingly sordid even by the grisly standards of pre-Code horror, this (very) loose adaptation of the story by Edgar Allan Poe casts a memorably fiendish Bela Lugosi as the Parisian mad scientist Dr. Mi...

  • The Old Dark House

    Episode 9

    Directed by James Whale • 1932 • United States
    Starring Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton

    Director James Whale (FRANKENSTEIN) turned J. B. Priestley’s novel “Benighted” into a nerve-jangling tale that became the template for all spooky-house chillers to come. Stranded travelers stu...

  • Thirteen Women

    Episode 10

    Directed by George Archainbaud • 1932 • United States
    Starring Irene Dunne, Ricardo Cortez, Jill Esmond

    Shortly before shedding her “exotic vamp” persona and reinventing herself as THE THIN MAN’s Nora Charles, Myrna Loy terrified and terrorized as the murderous mesmerist Ursula Georgi in this pr...

  • Murders in the Zoo

    Episode 11

    Directed by A. Edward Sutherland • 1933 • United States
    Starring Charles Ruggles, Lionel Atwill, Gail Patrick

    Startlingly perverse even by pre-Code standards, this grisly tale of murder and madness stars an unforgettably maniacal Lionel Atwill as wealthy zoologist Eric Gorman, who becomes jealou...

  • Mystery of the Wax Museum

    Episode 12

    Directed by Michael Curtiz • 1933 • United States
    Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell

    Bodies are mysteriously disappearing all over town, and a new wax museum has just opened. Is there a connection? But of course! In this macabre horror classic, Fay Wray stars as the intended next v...

  • The Black Cat

    Episode 13

    Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer • 1934 • United States
    Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners

    Horror legends Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were paired together for the first time in this astonishingly perverse sadomasochistic shocker from cult director Edgar G. Ulmer. While on their honey...

  • The Raven

    Episode 14

    Directed by Lew Landers • 1935 • United States
    Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lester Matthews

    Following their success in THE BLACK CAT, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi reteamed for this grisly tale of torture, plastic surgery, and morbid obsession inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe poem of the ...