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Posted on June 15, 2015

The Legion of Decency & Perversion in Early Horror


As a genre known for pushing the boundaries of good taste, horror films occupy a unique position within American cinema. Because horror triggers an emotional response in audiences via the presentation of scenes meant to revile and offend, what is deemed to be horrific is largely dependent upon the time in which a film is made. In the 1930s, horror films were in a state of evolution. Trading in the supernatural, dreamlike qualities that defined 1920s horror, the films of the 1930s relied upon “otherness” as a marker of monstrosity. Villains came from far away lands and posed a threat to the American dream. Complicating these narrative was a calculated movement by critics of the genre concerned that depictions of perversion and violence within films were threatening the moral integrity of the culture. The end result of this effort to “clean up” films was a move by those making horror films to code stories so as to not arouse criticism.

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