Features and Columns · Movies

Black, White, and Red All Over: The First Color Horror Movies

Well, two-strip Technicolor is red AND green but you get the idea.
Doctor X
By  · Published on October 10th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at the first color horror movies.

Before we get to today’s video essay, let’s have a chat about what a “color film” really is.

If you’re a fan of historical horror films, you might have still images of Max Schreck as Nosferatu bouncing around in your head. Aren’t sections of that film pink, blue, green, and yellow? Does that make F. W. Murnau’s 1922 classic an early color horror film? Well, not really. The solid colors are the result of a process known as film tilting, which was actually a popular late 19th Century way to guard against early film piracy (yes, that was a thing). Tinting was often used in conjunction with film toning (which colors the “blacks” while tinting focuses on the “whites”). Pre-dyed film stock was also available.

Hand-painting and stencil color processes were also available to filmmakers and are exactly as laborious and idiosyncratic as they sound.

The difference between the aforementioned methods and what would (in my opinion) properly count as “early color film” is the difference between adding color to film and capturing color on film.

While there were earlier documented attempts at creating color film systems (including Kodachrome and Kinemacolor), the two-tone Technicolor system is commonly considered to be the door kick.

And this brief history lesson finally brings us to today’s video essay: a look at two of the earliest feature-length color horror films that have survived the ravages of history. Have a look:

Watch “The First Colour Horror Movies – Doctor X (1932) & Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933)”:

Who made this?

This video essay on early color horror films is by Andrew J. Wright (a.k.a. Dr. Urdu), a Canadian video essayist devoted to horror history. The channel aims to shed light on the deeper intricacies of an often derided genre by presenting these films as more than just cheap thrill rides. You can subscribe to Dr. Urdu on YouTube here. You can follow Wright on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).