'Most stories of this type': Genre, horror and mystery in the silent cinema

Mark Jancovich, Shane Brown

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An examination of ‘horror’ in the silent period, one of many genres that is only supposed to have emerged in the 1930s. Through an analysis of press coverage, the article examines a clear vocabulary that was used to describe a specific ‘type’ of film at the time. It also illustrates that ‘horror’ was explicitly used as a generic noun to name this ‘type’ but that, given that ‘horror’ was also a negative term used in censorship campaigns, this term was often avoided, except when ‘horror’ was clearly understood as a ‘hot’ genre. Consequently, this genre was more commonly described as ‘mystery,’ a term that included both ‘horror’ and ‘detective stories,’ terms that were largely seen to be indistinguishable in the period, when both were understood as featuring investigations into the ‘mysterious,’ ‘strange’ and ‘eerie.’ In other words, ‘mystery’ staged a confrontation between rationality and irrationality and in a way that negotiated the perceived transitions from Victorianism to Modernity at the time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-190
Number of pages23
JournalHistorical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
Issue number2
Early online date6 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

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