Did people freak out over classic-era horror movies being morally degenerate too? Like, I know there was some controversy over Witchfinder General for example, but did it go all the way back to like, Dracula and Frankenstein?
It absolutely did. Both of those films came under controversy in their time, and it was just as ridiculous as the censorship that plagued movies in the ‘80s and beyond. I think the most infamous bit of controversy is that out of all the gruesome stuff that happens in Frankenstein, especially with the death of the little girl and everything, Universal had a big problem with one line in particular.
Right after Frankenstein proclaims “It’s alive! It’s alive!” he says “In the name of God, now I know how it feels to be God!” Universal had a big damn problem with that, so they forced the sound of a huge thunder strike over that moment so that you couldn’t hear what Frankenstein was saying. The line wasn’t restored until I think the 1990s.
There were also scenes in that film that were cut not by the studios, but by individual theaters. Many theaters in Massachusetts and New York, among others, physically cut out the scene where the Monster throws young Maria into the water, deeming that the scene was too horrific for any audience to bear witness to it.
Kansas (the whole state, apparently) banned 32 scenes from Frankenstein, bringing the running time down to less than half.
As for Dracula, there was an original epilogue where Van Helsing says “remember, there are such things as vampires” that was completely cut out because they were afraid that religious groups would think the film was encouraging occult practices, belief in the supernatural, and even Satanism. Mind you, that’s not the reaction of evangelical religious groups.
That was the reaction of the studio, aiming to please those groups before they could even have a chance to be offended.