The ghost in the machine: World War Two, popular occultism and Hollywood’s "serious" ghost films

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This paper analyses the discursive struggle engendered by the widespread revival of the occult in America during the Second World War. It begins by analysing middlebrow press reports, which used this interest in the occult to spread patriotic messages whilst simultaneously dismissing it as a symptom of women's wartime anxieties. The paper moves on to argue that this complex engagement with ‘popular occultism’ also manifested in ‘escapist’ forms such as literature, radio and cinema. It focuses particularly on a cycle of ‘serious’ ghost films which—like the Ouija board—provided a medium that addressed women's feelings of uncertainty and loss, whilst drawing attention away from the violent eradication of bodies. However, analysis of the production and reception of Paramount's The Uninvited —‘the first serious story of spirit influence’—highlights counter-hegemonic strategies within these films, evinced by complaints to the studio and industry regulator over The Uninvited's ‘dangerous’ influences on women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-32
Number of pages16
JournalMedia History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Cite this