Melvin Matthews Jr. loves old movies. The Roanoker has written two non-fiction works that painstakingly detail the intersection of film and society. First, there was “Hostile Aliens: Hollywood in today’s news, 1950’s science fiction films and 9-11.” Now comes “Fear Itself. Horror on screen and in Reality During the Depression and World War II.”
Matthews goes back to the earliest days of talking movies and the advent of sci-fi films like Dracula, Frankenstein and the Invisible Man. Matthews says parallels to the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Nazi Germany can be found in movies like “The Wolf Man” and “King Kong.”
“The golden age of when the supernatural became part of horror [movies] began in the 1930’s with Dracula and Frankenstein,” says Matthews. Before that, deformed human characters, for the most part, were the “monsters,” but the urbane, European Dracula, as played by Bela Lugosi, ushered in a new era.
Matthews watched just about every movie he refers to in “Fear Itself,” which comes from the famous Roosevelt speech. He owns most of them on DVD or VHS tape.
“The films were an escape valve for people, where they could get away from the hardships of the world,” says Matthews about the golden age of horror films, calling it “a cheap form of escapist entertainment.”
Movie attendance has been up recently, despite the economic downturn, another sign that people seek a respite in darkened theaters when times get tough.
The original “King Kong” was seen as a dig at New York City and the financial center there during the Depression years, with somewhat of an anti-Semitic sentiment in evidence. “The Invisible Man” (starring Claude Rains) may have personified how many felt during the depression, that they were powerless, while often penniless at the same time. The golden age of horror and sci-fi films faded away with the dawn of World War II, only to reemerge in the 1950’s.
“Fear Itself. Horror on screen and in Reality During the Depression and World War II” is available at amazon.com. Matthews also hopes to have it in local bookstores soon.