Hollywood's Terror Films
Films saturated with terror and sadism have issued from Hollywood in such numbers recently as to become commonplace. The trend undoubtedly had its source in the requirements of wartime propaganda. The original task was to depict the threat of Nazism to the American public—Gestapo tortures, shining parades that alternated with silent agonies, life under the oppressive atmosphere of Nazi-conquered Europe, etc. But even in wartime, the trend went beyond exposing brutality. Along with anti-Nazi films, a number of movies appeared that cultivated the same kind of horror sheerly for the sake of entertainment. And now, with the war over, the species continues to flourish and to increase.
Thrillers are a venerable type in the films. But the current vogue is unique in its predilection for familiar, everyday surroundings as the setting in which crime and violence occur. The criminals in Shadow of a Doubt and Orson Welles’ The Stranger settle down in plain small towns, places where no one would ever dream of meeting a killer in the flesh. Nightmares are seen in bright daylight, murderous traps are sprung just around the comer. Everyday life itself breeds anguish and destruction. And at the same time the villains become more prepossessing; they charm innocent girls and win the confidence of guileless bank-tellers. The Frankenstein monsters of the past made us shudder at first sight, but the contemporary monster can live among us without being recognized. Evil no longer marks and defines a person’s face or manner.
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