Secrets of a Movie Scare Master from the 1930s

George Waggner produced most of Universal Studio's horror movies of the 1930s. He listed some of the characteristics he felt were necessary to make movies really scary.

Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, and Dwight Frye in 1931's Frankenstein. (Universal Pictures/

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!


—From “Scare ’Em to Death — and Cash In” by Richard G. Hubler,  from the May 23, 1942, issue of The Saturday Evening Post

They must be based on some pseudoscientific premise.

They must be believable in characterization. A scientific premise, such as the building of a monster, may seem phony, but never the character or motives of Doctor Frankenstein.

They must have unusual technical effects. One of the best was the operating table ascending into the lightning, a sequence so good in the original Frankenstein that it was repeated in the latest.

Besides the major monster, there must be a secondary character of weird appearance, such as Igor, the broken-necked assistant of Frankenstein.

The hero must not only be horrible but likable to work up audience sympathy. “My horror films have to be tragic and inevitable,” says Waggner. “Just like a Greek play.”


Read the entire article “Scare ’Em to Death — and Cash In” from the May 23, 1942 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.


This article is featured in the September/October 2023 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *