‘The theme of psychological destruction’: Horror stars, the crisis of identity and 1940s horror

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This article presents an analysis of horror stars of the 1940s, particularly Lon Chaney Jr, Laird Cregar, Lionel Atwill and George Zucco, and argues not only that these stars demonstrate the linkage between the figures of the horror monster and/or villain, the gangster and the spy, particularly the Nazi spy, but also that this linkage was due to their supposedly shared psychological characteristics. These films are preoccupied with the themes of psychological domination and submission, in which both the villain and his victim experience a crisis of subjectivity in which they no longer seem to be the author of their own actions, and in which their actions seem to be the effect of forces over which they have no control, forces that challenge any sense of clear division between the internal and the external, the self and the other. In this way, these films not only challenge the common linear and teleological history of the horror film but also the sense of 1940s Hollywood cinema as straightforwardly affirmative. In other words, these films demonstrate a profound sense of ontological insecurity within the period, however much the films might try to counter this insecurity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-175
Number of pages13
JournalHorror Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • The 1940s
  • Horror
  • Gangsters
  • Spies
  • Stars
  • Psychological Films

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