The 1940s marked the decline of the golden age of horror. Many horror films from the '40s were simply episodic replays of the classic monster films of the 1930s. With horror tropes established and studios churning out movies like an assembly line, innovation was rare. In all fairness, though, there was a war going on. The very real horrors of that conflict often demanded a less serious cinematic experience. The mad scientist trope, in particular, gains new meaning when juxtaposed with the very real human experimentation occurring at the time.
Despite all this, there were some gems to come out of the decade. These obscure horror movies are fine works of cinema that shouldn't be overlooked. Though they have long passed from the public consciousness, these are quality films emblematic of the era's style. They show that the old guard of classic horror actors still had a few tricks up their sleeves, as well as some new techniques to introduce to the industry.
Probably the best of the Universal classic horror sequels, this 1940 film stars Vincent Price as the Invisible Man. Set nine years after the original 1933 film, the plot is a logical extension of the first film. Geoffrey Radcliffe is sentenced to be hanged for the murder of his brother Michael, a murder which he did not commit. When his jail cell appears empty, with only a pile of clothes remaining inside, both the audience and the police suspect that the invisibility serum is the cause.
Price plays the tragic hero well, with the serum slowly driving him insane as it did the first Invisible Man, the late Dr. Jack Griffin. Instead of a simple morality tale about the hubris of science, the audience is left sympathizing with a man trying to vindicate himself while caught up in forces beyond his control.
This 1943 film begins when a leopard being used as part of a stage act escapes and kills a girl. The plot thickens when evidence begins to suggest that the murderer is not the leopard, but instead a human. The film relies on suggestion and off-screen kills to provoke the viewer's imagination with great effectiveness. The film is atmospheric, dark, suspenseful, and above all, entertaining.
Bela Lugosi plays a vampire by a different name in this 1943 monster film from Columbia. After a Nazi bomb unearths Bela's tomb, an unwitting gravedigger removes the stake from his heart, reviving him. After summoning his werewolf henchman, Lugosi seeks out his revenge against the family that staked him in 1918. While it isn't the most original film, it showcases Bela doing what he does best. For some classic vampire action played by the man himself, this film is a must-see.
This 1943 psychological thriller follows a naive young woman named Mary as she travels to Greenwich Village, New York, in search of her missing sister, Jacqueline. Mary discovers that Jacqueline had become mixed up with some Satanists, and Jacqueline's life is now in jeopardy. Though the plot is a bit too convoluted for the 71-minute run time, the film offers some unforgettable scenes and imagery. By combining gothic and noir elements, this film creates a unique horror experience.