A horror film is dominated by elements of horror. This cinematic genre incorporates a number of sub-genres and repeated themes, including but not limited to slashers, vampires, zombies, demonic possession and Satanism, alien mind control, evil children, cannibalism, werewolves, animals attacking humans, and haunted houses. The horror film genre is often associated with low budgets and exploitation, but major studios and well-respected directors have made intermittent forays into the genre. Some horror films exhibit a substantial amount of cross-over with other genres, particularly science fiction.
Specific stories and characters have also proven popular, and inspired many sequels, remakes, and copycats. These include Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The horror genre is nearly as old as film itself. The first "monster movies" were silent shorts created by film pioneer Georges Melies in the late 1890s. The earliest horror-themed feature films were created by German filmmakers in the early 1900s; the most enduring of these is probably F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu 1922, the first vampire-themed feature. Early Hollywood dramas dabbled in horror themes including versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Monster (1925) (both starring Lon Chaney, Sr., the first American horror-film movie star).
1930s: The gothic subgenre
It was in the early 1930s that American movie studios, particularly Universal Studios, created the modern horror film genre, bringing to the screen a series of successful gothic-steeped features including Dracula, Frankenstein (both 1931), and The Mummy (1932) (all of which spawned numerous sequels). These films, while designed to thrill, also incorporated more serious elements, and were influenced by the Freudian concepts that were gaining currency at the time. Actors, notably Boris Karloff, began to build careers around the genre.
1950s: Cold War terror and the pull of science fiction
In the nuclear-charged atmosphere of the 1950s the tone of horror films shifted away from the gothic and towards the modern. A seemingly endless parade of low-budget productions featured humanity overcoming threats from Outside: alien invasions, and deadly mutations to people, plants, and insects. During this time the horror and sci-fi genres were often interchangeable. These films provided ample opportunity for audience exploitation, with gimmicks such as 3-D and "Percepto" (producer William Castle's electric-shock technique used for 1959's The Tingler ) drawing audiences in week after week for bigger and better scares. The better horror films of this period, including The Thing From Another World (1951; attributed on screen to Christian Nyby but widely considered to be the work of Howard Hawks) and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) managed to channel the paranoia of the Cold War into atmospheric creepiness without resorting to exploitation. Filmmakers would continue to merge elements of science fiction and horror, notably in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979).
The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the rise of studios centered specifically around horror. Notable were British production company Hammer Films, which specialized in bloody remakes of classic horror stories often starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and American International Pictures (AIP), which made a series of Edgar Allan Poe themed films starring Vincent Price. These sometimes-controversial productions paved the way for more explicit violence in both horror and mainstream films.
1960s: Hitchcock and the Dead
Later in the 1960s the genre moved towards non-supernatural psychological horror, with thrillers such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) using all-too-human monsters rather than supernatural ones to scare the audience. Michael Powell's Peeping Tom was a notable example of this genre. Psychological horror films would continue to appear sporadically with 1991's The Silence of the Lambs a later highlight of the subgenre. Possibly the most famous "Horror" film of the 60's is George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". A startlingly different film and still the only horror film to be entered into the movie hall of fame. Blending a psychological thriller, man eating zombies and cultural comment,( the hero of the film, Ben, is an African American)it moved away from the Gothic Horror trends of earlier eras and brings the horror into the lives of everyday man. Groundbreaking and for its time the most graphic mainstream Western release of its time. A must see for all horror enthusiasts.
1970s–1980s: Disasters, Slashers, Franchise and more Dead
In the late 1960s and 1970s a public fascination with the occult fed and was fed by a series of serious, supernatural-themed, often explicitly gory horror movies. Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) was a critical and popular success and laid the groundwork for the seminal horror film The Exorcist (1973) (directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the novel). Far from exploitation, these films incorporated subtext and symbolism, and had production values equal to any serious film of the time. The Exorcist spawned sequels and imitators, notably The Omen (1976) and its sequels.
The genre fractured somewhat in the late 1970s, with mainstream Hollywood focusing on disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno and blockbuster thrillers such as Jaws while independent filmmakers upped the ante with disturbing and explicit gore-fests such as Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (1972) and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
It was during the seventies that horror author Stephen King first came on the film scene. Adaptations of virtually all of his books have made the screen, beginning with Brian DePalma's adaptation of King's first published novel, Carrie (1976). The 1980s got off with a bang when Stanley Kubrick, one of the most highly-regarded film directors of all time, released The Shining, another Stephen King adaptation combining elements of art film, psychological thriller, and splatter movie.
Reincarnation was also a subject of horror films, such as Robert Wise's 1977 United Artists film Audrey Rose , which dealt with a man who claims his daughter is the reincarnation of another dead person.
In 1978, the prototypical slasher movie, John Carpenter's Halloween, debuted to great popular success. An effective and atmospheric shocker, Halloween introduced the teens-threatened-by-superhuman-evil theme that would be copied in dozens of lesser, increasingly violent movies throughout the 1980s including the long-running Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street series, as well as Fatal Attraction, and several, often far-flung, sequels to Halloween itself.
George Romero's groundbreaking zombie series spawned three decades: Romero introduced the modern zombie drama in 1968 with the low-budget shocker Night of the Living Dead; he later took advantage of the '70s horror-film boom to create a sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and revisited the formula in 1985 with Day of the Dead. The themes of mass conformity and racism were staples of each film.
A key example of the supernatural in 1980s movies is 1982's Poltergeist (directed by Tobe Hooper, who previously directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre), dealing with a family who live in a house that unknown to them is on the site of a former cemetery, thereby causing evil forces to kidnap youngest daughter Carol Anne. Many sequels and a television series followed.
1990s: Was the genre dead, or just sleeping?
In the first half of the 90's, the genre continued with themes from the 1980's. The genre continued to enjoy success with films such as the sequels to the "Child's Play" and "Leprechaun" series. However, the genre began a transformation into more self-mocking irony and outright parody in the later half of the 1990s. Wes Craven's Scream movies featured teenagers who were fully aware of and often made reference the history of horror movies, and mixed ironic humor with the shocks. Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films both parodied and advanced the zombie genre. The form of comedy that uses gruesome horror elements has been dubbed by some as "splatstick".
Of popular recent horror films, only 1999's surprise independent hit The Blair Witch Project attempted straight-ahead scares, and then in the ironic context of a mockumentary, or mock-documentary.
However, the international success of Hideo Nakata's Ringu in 1997 launched a revival of serious horror filmmaking in Japan leading to such films as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse and Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on. Other advances in horror have been made through Japanese animation (for example the gruesome 'guro' animation).
Early horror entries in the 2000s have been a mixed bag of teen exploitation (such as the Final Destination movies) and more serious attempts at mainstream horror, notably the horror-suspense films of M. Night Shyamalan and Gore Verbinski's remake of Ringu, The Ring. Also, there was a revival of classic horror characters from previous decades. Some notable box office revivals, include the main villains of Freddy vs. Jason, Chucky from the "Child's Play" series in "Seed of Chucky", the monsters in Van Helsing, Michael Myers from the "Halloween" series in "Halloween: Resurrection", and the prequel to "The Exorcist", called Exorcist: The Beginning. In addition, there were some remakes of previous successes such as Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Notable people and films
Last updated: 05-07-2005 08:03:27
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