Menu Close

Top 21 Scariest Horror Films from the 1930s

Best horror movies of the 1930s

Welcome to the Spooky world of the Turbulent Thirties

So you are one of those keen horror fans, who like to travel back in time to experience the frights and terrors of earlier cinematic eras. So are we!

The spooky stuff of the 1930s may be a thing of the distant past, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, it will never be really gone.

Whenever you miss those good old days and feel like you want to shiver and scream, all you have to do, is sit tight, bite on your nails, and enjoy the thrills that only a 1930s horror movie can give you.

It will be a pleasure to drag you kicking and screaming through the blood-chilling frames of each horror film featured here, so let’s proceed to the terrifying collection where you’ll be chased by mad scientists, insane surgeons, freaks, psychotic big game hunters, Satan-worshipping priests and monsters like vampires, mummies, zombies, werewolves and giant apes.

This is not your average horror film list featuring only the scariest and goriest films. We treat horror as the broad genre it actually is. Thus, we tried to diversify this collection as much as possible.

We picked science fiction- and adventure horror films, supernatural- and fantasy horrors, dramatic- and romantic horror films, mystery- and crime horrors, thriller horror films and everything in between, even horror comedies.

Ready to jump and scream in front of the screen? Buckle up then, and let the best horror films of the 1930s scare the living heck out of you!

This collection is an episode of FrameTrek’s Best Horror Movies of All Time. A mega-journey dedicated to identify the spookiest films of each cinematic era, chronologically. It starts with the Horrors of the Silent Era and wanders ahead decade-by-decade, all the way to our ever moving present.


Presenting the 21 Best Horror Movies of the 1930s

Chronologically


Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931), James Whale, Boris Karloff, Best horror films of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code science fiction horror film directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff.

Story: Dr. Frankenstein dares to tamper with life and death by creating a human monster out of lifeless body parts. (IMDB)

Still unnerving to this day, Frankenstein adroitly explores the fine line between genius and madness, and features Boris Karloff’s legendary, frightening performance as the monster.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Frankenstein among the best horror movies from the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ The film was a commercial success upon release, well received by both critics and audiences. It had a significant and long lasting impact on popular culture.


Dracula (1931)

Dracula (1931), Bela Lugosi, Top horror movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code supernatural horror film starring Bela Lugosi.

Story: Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula bends a naive real estate agent to his will, then takes up residence at a London estate where he sleeps in his coffin by day and searches for potential victims by night. (IMDB)

Bela Lugosi’s timeless portrayal of Dracula in this creepy and atmospheric 1931 film has set the standard for major vampiric roles since.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Dracula among the top horror films from the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ It had a significant influence on popular culture, and Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula established the character as a cultural icon.
✓ Selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Rouben Mamoulian, Fredric March, Greatest horror movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code science fiction horror film, directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fredric March.

Story: Dr. Jekyll faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run wild with a potion that transforms him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Mr. Hyde’s appearance was based on the Neanderthal man. The heavy makeup he wore as Hyde almost damaged Fredric March’s face. He was hospitalized after filming had ended.

A classic. The definitive version of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella from 1931, with innovative special effects, atmospheric cinematography and deranged overacting.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde among the greatest horror films from the 1930s?
✓ It was a critical and commercial success upon its release with critics praising the old-fashioned atmosphere created by the costumes and set designs, and the performance of March and the entire supporting cast.
✓ It was the first horror movie ever to win an Academy Award. Fredrich March‘s portrayal of the possessed doctor won him the award for Best Actor.


Freaks (1932)

Freaks (1932), Tod Browning, Most famous horror movies from the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code dramatic horror film directed by Tod Browning.

Story: A circus’ beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of side-show performers, but his deformed friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance. (IMDB)

Time has been kind to this horror legend: Freaks manages to frighten, shock, and even touch viewers in ways that contemporary viewers missed.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Freaks among the best horror movies of the 1930s?
✓ One of the most controversial movies of its time, mostly due to the fact that its eponymous characters were portrayed by people who had real disabilities and deformities.
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry, which preserves films that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


The Mummy (1932)

The Mummy (1932), Boris Karloff, Most popular horror films of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code fantasy horror film starring Boris Karloff.

Story: A resurrected Egyptian mummy stalks a beautiful woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his lover and bride. (IMDB)

Relying more on mood and atmosphere than the thrills typical of modern horror fare, Universal’s The Mummy sets a masterful template for mummy-themed films to follow.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Mummy among the most popular horror movies from the 1930s?
✓ A critical and commercial success, with critics and audiences praising the film’s mood and Karloff’s performance.
✓ Widely regarded as a timeless classic and an influential horror.


Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr (1932), Carl Theodor Dreyer, Scary horror movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

German-French fantasy horror film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Story: A drifter obsessed with the supernatural stumbles upon an inn where a severely ill adolescent girl is slowly becoming a vampire. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The film was shot entirely on location. In fact, the old castle featured in the film also served as the lodging for the cast and crew.
✪ In order to achieve the strange, dream-like photography, and to enhance the atmospheric content, a thin gauze was put in front of the lens as a filter.

Full of disorienting visual effects, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr is as theoretically unsettling as it is conceptually disturbing.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Vampyr among the scary horror films from the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ This was the first film to receive an ‘H’ certificate in the UK, for “Horrific: Films which are likely to frighten or horrify children under the age of 16 years”.
✓ Opened to a generally negative reception from audiences and critics, but modern critical reception to the film has become much more favorable with critics praising the film’s disorienting visual effects and atmosphere.


The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game (1932), Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Scariest horror movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code adventure horror film starring starring Joel McCrea and Fay Wray.

Story: A psychotic big game hunter deliberately strands a luxury yacht on a remote island, where he begins to hunt its passengers for sport. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The film was shot at night on the King Kong jungle sets.

One of the best and most literate movies from the great days of horror.

Time Out Magazine

Why is The Most Dangerous Game among the best horror movies of the 1930s?
✓ It was a box office hit upon release and received positive reviews from critics, who praised the film’s acting, and suspense.


The Old Dark House (1932)

The Old Dark House (1932), James Whale, Boris Karloff, Best horror films from the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code comedy horror thriller film directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff.

Story: Seeking shelter from a storm, five travelers are in for a bizarre and terrifying night when they stumble upon the Femm family estate. (IMDB)

A deft blend of well-chosen ingredients, The Old Dark House is a delightfully scary horror comedy that benefits from James Whale’s suspenseful direction.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Old Dark House among the top horror films of the 1930s?
✓ Although it wasn’t successful upon release, as years passed, with the re-evaluation of Whale’s filmography, The Old Dark House has garnered widespread critical acclaim, and is now recognized as a cult classic.
✓ Featured on Time Out Magazine’s list of the best horror films of all time.


White Zombie (1932)

White Zombie (1932), Bela Lugosi, Top horror movies from the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code fantasy horror film starring Bela Lugosi.

Story: A young man turns to a witch doctor to lure the woman he loves away from her fiancé, but instead turns her into a zombie slave. (IMDB)

Why is White Zombie among the greatest horror films of the 1930s?
✓ Considered to be the first feature length zombie film and has been described as the archetype and model of all zombie movies. It also gave birth to cinematic voodoo.
✓ It opened to negative reception, but it was still a great financial success for an independent film at the time. Modern reception has been more positive with critics praising the film’s atmosphere and Lugosi’s performance.


Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Island of Lost Souls (1932), Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Greatest horror movies from the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code science-fiction horror film starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi.

Story: A mad doctor conducts ghastly genetic experiments on a remote island in the South Seas, much to the fear and disgust of the shipwrecked sailor who finds himself trapped there. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ All the fog seen in this film was real.

Led by a note-perfect performance from Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls remains the definitive film adaptation of its classic source material.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Island of Lost Souls among the scariest horror films from the 1930s?
✓ Featuring depictions of cruelty, animal-human hybrids, and irreligious ideas, the release of the films was embroiled in controversy. Banned in some countries for decades, it has become an influential film and has acquired cult film status.


King Kong (1933)

King Kong (1933), Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Most famous horror films of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code adventure fantasy horror monster film starring Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong.

Story: A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal ape who takes a shine to their female blonde star. He is then captured and brought back to New York City for public exhibition. (IMDB)

King Kong explores the soul of a monster – making audiences scream and cry throughout the film – in large part due to Kong’s breakthrough special effects.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is King Kong among the most famous horror films from the 1930s?
✓ Included among the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies and Entertainment Weekly ranked this as the 47th Greatest Film of All Time.
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Deemed “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


The Invisible Man (1933)

The Invisible Man (1933), James Whale, Claude Rains, Most popular horror movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code science fiction horror film directed by James Whale and starring Claude Rains.

Story: A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ In order to achieve the effect that Claude Rains wasn’t there when his character took off the bandages, director James Whale had Rains dressed completely in black velvet and filmed him in front of a black velvet background.

James Whale’s classic The Invisible Man features still-sharp special effects, loads of tension, a goofy sense of humor, and a memorable debut from Claude Rains.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Invisible Man among the most popular horror films from the 1930s?
✓ Selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
✓ It was a critical and commercial success, with critics and audiences praising the film’s story, mood, special effects, and Rains’s disembodied voice performance.


Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), Michael Curtiz, Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Scary horror films of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code mystery-horror thriller film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray.

Story: The disappearance of people and corpses leads a reporter to a wax museum and a sinister sculptor. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The wax figures look like real people because they ARE real people. The original plan was to use actual wax figures, but they melted under the heat of the lights used at the time to film two-strip Technicolor.


The Black Cat (1934)

The Black Cat (1934), Edgar G. Ulmer, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Scary horror movies from the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code adventure crime horror film directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Story: American honeymooners in Hungary become trapped in the home of a Satan-worshipping priest when the bride is taken there for medical help following a road accident. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The first film collaboration of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, who at the time were unquestionably the two biggest stars of horror film.
✪ This was the first horror film to mention Satanism as a cult. This would be one of the longest-running tropes in horror films.

Making the most of its Karloff-Lugosi star pairing and loads of creepy atmosphere, The Black Cat is an early classic in the Universal monster movie library.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Black Cat among the scariest horror films of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ One of the biggest box office hits of its time and one of the most popular movies of the 1930s.
✓ The film helped to create and popularize the psychological horror subgenre, emphasizing on atmosphere, eerie sounds, the darker side of the human psyche, and emotions like fear and guilt to deliver its scares.


Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935), James Whale, Boris Karloff, Scariest horror movies from the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Science fiction horror film directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as the Monster.

Story: The Monster demands a mate, and he does not take ‘no’ for an answer. Dr. Frankenstein joins forces with Dr. Pretorius, an even madder scientist then he is, and together they attempt to fulfill the monster’s wish.

Between Frames:
✪ Boris Karloff sweated off 20 pounds laboring in the hot costume and makeup and had to lie down and rest between takes.

An eccentric, campy, technically impressive, and frightening picture, James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein has aged remarkably well.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Bride of Frankenstein among the best horror films of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, having been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Widely regarded as one of the greatest sequels in cinematic history, with many fans and critics considering it to be an improvement on the original Frankenstein.


Werewolf of London (1935)

Werewolf of London (1935), Stuart Walker, Henry Hull, Best horror movies from the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Fantasy horror film directed by Stuart Walker and starring Henry Hull as the titular werewolf.

Story: While on a botanical expedition, Dr. Wilfred Glendon discovers a rare Tibetan flower, but gets bitten by a strange beast in the dark. He returns to London with the flower and the wound, only to realise that the full moon has a new effect on him.

✪ It is considered to be the first feature length werewolf movie.

Designed solely to amaze and horrify, the film goes about its task with commendable thoroughness, sparing no grisly detail and springing from scene to scene with even greater ease than that often attributed to the daring young aerialist.

Frank S. Nugent – The New York Times

The Raven (1935)

The Raven (1935), Lew Landers, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Top horror movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Crime horror film directed by Lew Landers, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Lugosi plays a brilliant but mad surgeon with a torture chamber in his basement while Karloff is a fugitive murderer on the run from the police.


Mad Love (1935)

Mad Love (1935), Karl Freund, Peter Lorre, Greatest horror films of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Science fiction horror romance movie directed by Karl Freund and starring Peter Lorre.

Story: In Paris, a demented surgeon’s obsession with a British actress leads him to secretly replace her concert pianist husband’s mangled hands with those of a guillotined murderer with a gift for knife-throwing. (IMDB)

Why is Mad Love among the most famous horror movies from the 1930s?
✓ Critics praised Lorre’s acting, but the film was unsuccessful at the box office. It’s reputation has grown over the years, and it is viewed in a more positive light by modern film critics, gaining the status of cult classic.


Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Mark of the Vampire (1935), Tod Browning, Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi, Most popular horror films from the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Mystery horror film directed by Tod Browning, starring Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan and Bela Lugosi.

Story: When a nobleman is murdered, a professor of the occult blames vampires, but not all is what it seems. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Marks one of the first known examples of the “cat scare”, a horror film trope in which there is a strong build-up of tension followed by a scare from a harmless cat.

The film would catch the beholder’s attention and hold it, through chills and thrills… Like most good ghost stories, it’s a lot of fun, even though you don’t believe a word of it.

New York Times

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Dracula’s Daughter (1936), Lambert Hillyer, Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Scary horror movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Drama fantasy horror film directed by Lambert Hillyer, starring Otto Kruger and Gloria Holden.

Story: Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska travels to London in a look for her father, Count Dracula. Struggling to resist the temptation to drink the blood of the living, she asks for the help of a noted psychiatrist.

Between Frames:
✪ The first time that the “lesbian vampire” trend was incorporated into a film.

Dracula’s Daughter extends the Universal horror myth in an interesting direction, but the talky script and mild atmosphere undermine its ambition.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Dracula’s Daughter among the scariest horror films of the 1930s?
✓ Critics and audiences praised the movie’s visuals and the convincing performance of Gloria Holden.
✓ One of the most influential vampire movies ever made, widely considered a classic.


Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Son of Frankenstein (1939), Rowland V. Lee, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Best horror movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Science fiction horror film directed by Rowland V. Lee, starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Story: One of Dr. Frankenstein’s son finds out that the Monster is kept alive in a coma-like state, by Ygor, his father’s assistant. Together, they attempt to revive him, but the consequences turn out to be worse than expected.

The claustrophobic interiors, angular furniture and walls, and deep crooked shadows of the castle are staples of German Expressionism. They perfectly enhance the films uneasy mysteries that slowly unfold for the viewer and character’s themselves.

Between Frames:
✪ When Dr. Frankenstein looks at the monster’s blood under a microscope the image we are shown is clearly red blood cells overlaid on top of sperm cells.

Boris Karloff’s final appearance as the Monster is a fitting farewell before the series descended into self-parody.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Son of Frankenstein among the best horror films from the 1930s?
✓ A major box office success, well received by critics and audiences.
✓ Widely considered an influential horror classic with a significant impact on popular culture.


…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 21 Greatest Horror films of the 1930s

If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:

Top 21 Horror Movies of the 1930s
Chronologically
Frankenstein 1931
Frankenstein
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe
Dracula 1931
Dracula
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Freaks 1932
Freaks
The Mummy 1932
The Mummy
Vampyr 1932
Vampyr
The Most Dangerous Game 1932
The Most Dangerous Game
The Old Dark House 1932
The Old Dark House
White Zombie 1932
White Zombie
Island of Lost Souls 1932
Island of Lost Souls
King Kong 1933
King Kong
The Invisible Man 1933
The Invisible Man
*Part of the Collection: Universal’s Classic Invisible Man Franchise
Mystery of the Wax Museum 1933
Mystery of the Wax Museum
The Black Cat 1934
The Black Cat
Bride of Frankenstein 1935
Bride of Frankenstein
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe
Werewolf of London 1935
Werewolf of London
The Raven 1935
The Raven
Mad Love 1935
Mad Love
Mark of the Vampire 1935
Mark of the Vampire
Dracula’s Daughter 1936
Dracula’s Daughter
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe
Son of Frankenstein 1939
Son of Frankenstein
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe
*Click any Title for more Info and for Streaming / Disc Buying options.

Your turn!

Tell us what you think about this collection. Fire off your own suggestions and favorites in the comments section below!


Related Posts

Your turn! Share your thoughts below...