On 1st January 1937, the ‘H’ (for ‘Horrific’) certificate was introduced by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). Prior to this horror films had been given an ‘A’ for ‘Adult’ certificate (under sixteens admitted only if accompanied by an adult).
The new certificate was specifically designed to ‘protect’ the general populace from a wave of U.S. horror films that followed after the success Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein (both 1931). The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) had specifically objected to a scene in the latter that implied the death of a little girl at the hands of Frankenstein’s monster.
Films subsequently awarded an ‘H’ certificate included: The Thirteenth Chair; Son of Frankenstein; The Monster Walks; The Gorilla; Dark Eyes of London; The Cat and the Canary; The Ghost of Frankenstein; The Return of the Vampire; Voodoo Man and The Fall of the House of Usher. The last film to be awarded the distinction of being ‘horrific’ was Captive Wild Woman in 1950.
Although the ‘H’ certificate was intended to be advisory only, many zealous councillors in local authorities used it as an excuse to exclude all children under sixteen from films they deemed to be morally reprehensible.
In 1950, a government report produced by the Wheare Committee recommended that the ‘H’ certificate was replaced by a more more wide-ranging ‘X’ certificate – covering any films that included perceived ‘adult’ subject matter. Accordingly the ‘H’ certificate was phased out n 1951, although it continued to be used in the London area for a short time afterwards.