‘The Screen’s Number One and Number Two Bogeymen’: The Critical Reception of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the 1930s and 1940s

  • Mark Jancovich
  • Shane Brown


Elsewhere it has been argued that, although most discussions of cult cinema associate its emergence with either the teenpics of the 1950s, the retrospectives of the 1960s, or the midnight movies of the 1970s, the reading strategies associated with cult cinema were clearly in evidence even in mainstream publications such as the New York Times by the late 1930s (Jancovich, 2010). Furthermore, these reading strategies were most clearly articulated in relation to the horror stars of the period, particularly Boris Karloff. The New York Times not only declared itself to be ‘a great Karloff admirer’ (T.M.P. 1940: 12) but its celebration of Karloff displayed what Greg Taylor has called the ‘high value of connoisseurship’ in which the critic ‘focuses on the identification and isolation of works dismissed or overlooked’ (Taylor 1999: 15–16). Moreover, the paper also used humour in its reviews of horror films in a manner that Taylor refers to as ‘camp’, a strategy in which the critic ‘asserts … dominance over the mass cultural field’ and uses ‘creative, resistant interpretation’ to ‘forcibly remake common culture’ (Taylor 1999: 15–16).


York Time Reading Strategy Direct Address Performance Style Horror Film 
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© Mark Jancovich and Shane Brown 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Jancovich
  • Shane Brown

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