2. Horror movies provide us with many purposes. Not only do
they thrill an audience but they also provide a revealing mirror
image of the anxieties of their time. Nosferatu (1922) is not
simply a tale of vampirism, but offers heart-rending images
of a town tormented by premature and random deaths,
echoes of the Great War and the Great Flu Epidemic
fatalities. At the other end of the century Blade (1998) is not
just a tale of vampirism either, but reflects a fear of the
powerful yet irresponsible elements in society, a lawless elite,
echoes down the corridor of the growing invincibility of
those at the top. Horror movies of the early 21st century
focus on global concerns of contamination (28 Days Later),
or sound unreasonable warning notes about the dangers of
leaving moral absolutism behind (The Last Exorcism, The
Conjuring). Horror movies provide a unique space for free
discourse about the moral, political and societal shifts in our
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION ON HORROR
3. The first depictions of supernatural events appear in several of the silent shorts created by the film pioneer
George Méliès in the late 1890s, the best known being Le Manoir du Diable, which is sometimes credited as
being the first horror film.
As time went on, this genre of film started to evolve. The first notable horror movies came out in the 1920’s.
Horror movies from this decade, focused on dark shadowy characters and reflected the way in which audiences
feared mythical monsters like Dracula and werewolves. There was no sound. One of the first horror movies
was ‘Nosferatu’ which came out in 1922. It played on the fact that people were afraid of creatures they found
in novels. The main character was a tall hunched back vampire who would curl his finger nails around the
limbs of his helpless victims.
Another famous horror movie from this decade is ‘London after Midnight’ which came out in 1927. This again
included a vampire (playing on the fear of mythical creatures) in the normal streets of London. This again
made people terrified of what could lurk outside at night.
4. Horror films were reborn in the 1930s. They were Gothic in character, set in far away, mythical locations and
featuring literary- inspired monsters. The first ever female monster appeared in a horror film of this decade. Movies
of this era also saw a new introduction of sound. Sound adds an extra dimension to terror, whether it be music used
to build suspense or signal the presence of a threat, or magnified footsteps echoing down a corridor. Horror, with its
strong elements of the fantastic and the supernatural, provided an effective escape to audiences tiring of their Great
Depression reality, and, despite the money spent on painstaking special effects, often provided a good return for
Audiences seemed even more enthusiastic about the horror genre than in the 1920s, and flocked into cinemas to be
scared by largely supernatural monsters wreaking havoc on largely fantastical worlds, events far removed from the
everyday realities of Depression and approaching war. Horror, then as now, represented the best escapism available
for that precious few cents it took to buy a ticket. And cinema was a national obsession — 80 million people
attended the cinema on a weekly basis in 1930, some 65% of the total US population.
Two actors in particular were very lucky. Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were in most famous horror movies from
this decade onwards.
5. The movie ‘Dracula’ (1931) was the first talking horrors and the main character was played by Bela
Lugosi. It was again inspired by 19th century novels and included very traditional vampire costume we
see today, for example, fangs, blood and capes. The supporting cast used their stage training to boost
it up (this was the very first talking horror film and no one, least of all the director, was sure how to
pitch it) and come across as grimacing and grotesque. The mise-en-scene was fine however - the
movie practically invented the concept of land of swirling mists, howling wolves, frightened peasants
and crumbling castles owned by heavily accented individuals with strange eyes and an interesting
taste in evening dress. It was very successful for Universal and paved the way for a series of high
profile horror classics.
The bride of Frankenstein (1935) was a sequel to the first movie Frankenstein and is often
considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time. This is where the first female monster
appeared. The images are dramatically framed throughout, from the burning mill surrounded by
pitchfork-brandishing peasants at the start, to the collapsing castle at the finish. Karloff brings his
usual wounded dignity to the part of the Monster, which speaks for the first time, in wondrous,
mangled syllables. Our villain is Dr Pretorius; Ernest Thesiger (who plays the part) relishes his role as
the amoral, corpse-stealing former mentor of Henry Frankenstein, who creates miniature people and
keeps them in specimen jars. Dr Pretorius is the evil genius behind the new experiments with the
creation of life, Henry Frankenstein is reduced to the reluctant helper, who cannot face up to his
mistakes of the previous film. Where once he had pretentions to create life, he is here represented as
weak, indecisive and bumbling beside the razor-sharp cunning of Pretorius. Elsa Lanchester (who
plays the bride), is in full fright wig and make-up, is touchingly confused and vulnerable as the Bride
who simply does not want to exist.
6. America took over the creation of horror films in this decades. There were no major
developments, although many featured animals or characters that were half man/ half
beast. Wartime horror movies were purely an American product. Banned in Britain, with
film production curbed throughout the theatre of war in Europe, horror movies were
cranked out by Hollywood solely to amuse the domestic audience. The studios stuck
with tried and tested ideas, wary of taking risks that might suggest they had no measure
of the zeitgeist, and trotted out a series of variations on a theme. This was not an age
of innovation, but horror movie were, nonetheless, evolving.
7. A famous horror movie of this decade was ‘Wolf- man’. Although there was
a well established werewolf mythology extending back to the ancient world,
there was no single established story (as with Dracula and the vampire
myth) ripe for easy adaptation. It fell to screenwriter Curt Siodmak (who
had fled the Nazi wolves himself in 1937) to pen a story to fit the title
Universal had been knocking around for a while. The Wolf Man (1941) is a
mishmash of several wolf legends, with added ingredients. Set in a
contemporary Wales (where no one has ever heard of the war), the story
follows Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) who returns to his ancestral home
from America, only to become infected by a bite from a gypsy named Bela
(Lugosi). With a starry cast including Claude Raines, and spectacular
makeup and special effects, the picture was a big hit.
The movie ‘Cat- People’ was another triumph. Cat People follows the story
of Irena, a young woman who carries with her the belief that she is cursed,
and will turn into a large, dangerous cat if she consummates her marriage. A
mainly psychological thriller, much is made of what lurks in the shadows
(particularly in the famous swimming pool scene), and the audience is left to
make up their own mind.
8. During this decade, audiences feared the effects of scientific experimentation and nuclear war. Cue
horror films with scientific edge and featuring mutated creatures, etc. The military action of WW2 had
left over 40 million dead, and millions more exposed to the full spectrum of man's inhumanity to man.
Homecoming soldiers and bereaved widows had too many horror stories of their own to appreciate
fantasies on the big screen, and much preferred the silliness of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein et
al. The world could never be the same again, and the dawning of post-war posterity in America brought
with it a new breed of monsters, adapted specifically for survival in the second half of the twentieth
People lived with the fear of war, which became more unnerving than war itself. The messages from
WW2 were clear: no matter how heroic your men, how skilled your generals, how staunch your
supporters on the Home Front, at the end of the day it was technology that counted. Bigger. Better.
Deadlier. Like the atom bomb. The more advanced the technology, the more powerful the nation.
Because of this fear, horror films usually incorporated mutated creatures such as giant killer insects.
9. A famous film from this decade was ‘Wasp Woman’ but for the wrong reasons. It was an attempt to mimic a
previous movie ‘The Fly,’ but this time included a female character whose DNA gets mixed up with that of a fly.
She meets Zinthrop, who has been experimenting with wasp royal jelly, rather than the bee kind, and decides she
will become the first human test subject for his anti-ageing serum. So far so good, especially when, desperate for
results, she injects herself with a super dose of the serum and emerges the next morning looking 18 years
In accordance with conventions, it all goes badly wrong. Starlin and her scientist friend must be punished for
their presumption. Zinthrop is knocked over by a truck and ends up in hospital, in a coma, unable to monitor his
experiment. Starlin's secretary and friends start snooping around, suspicious that Zinthrop is trying to rip her off.
She alas, has developed a taste for ripping off the heads of helpless snoopers, as, rather unfortunately, the high
doses of wasp jelly intermittently turn her into a Wasp Woman.
However, it was rather disappointing, mainly because the main character looked nothing like the poster. Instead
of having the body of a wasp and a head of a beautiful woman, the character had the head of a wasp and the
body of a woman. Although, the movie did have an interesting twist of having a female antagonist.
10. In this decade, the nuclear and idyllic family unit began to break down, while the devastating effects of
the morning after pill, Thalidomide, caused many women to give birth to deformed babies. Audiences
feared the complete disintegration of family life and women were scared to give birth. The horrors of
this decade featured demonic babies/ children or the threat that came from within the family unit.
Despite the often tragic events of this era, there was a seeming feeling of optimism, the sense that
humanity was moving forward, onward and upward. The concept of Cold War lost heat, and, in 20-odd
years without nuclear holocaust, the threat of mass-death-by-radiation had receded. The mutant
monsters of the 1950s now looked a little silly. No aliens had turned up either. Rather than focusing on
external threats, counter-culture thinking involved a re-examination of the social psyche — traditions,
stereotypes, prohibitions. If every generation gets the monsters it deserves, then the horror movie goers
of the 1960s got themselves.
11. Films from this decade include the very famous ‘Psycho’ which entailed Norman Bates. This movie
showed how monstrous the human mind can be. Based on the real- life story of Ed Gein, which has
since proved fruitful for movies as diverse as Silence of The Lambs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,
Psycho has become iconic in a way few other movies have ever become. The very famous shower scene
made women scared to be alone even in their own homes and the silence of the killer sent chills to the
audience as they were not able to see inside of his mind.
Another very famous film from the 1960’s was the movie ‘Night of the living dead’. Whilst NOTLD
works on a instinctive, shock horror level (there are some manic shots of zombies munching on the
barbecued remains of two characters) it also functions as serious social mockery. The living people
barricading themselves in against the shambling dead represent all that is/was unhappy about American
12. This decade saw a change to the character of horror films. As
audiences began to fear the dangerous capabilities of the
human mind, the ‘monster’ changed from something mythical
that could be killed easily to something completely human
that was difficult to killed.
Horror movies of the 1970s reflect the grim mood of the
decade. After the optimism of the 1960s, with its sexual and
cultural revolutions, and the moon landings, the seventies
were something of a disappointment. By 1970, the party was
over; and in many senses it was downhill all the way from
there. However, when society goes bad, horror films get
good, and the 1970s marked a return to the big budget,
respectable horror film, dealing with contemporary societal
issues, addressing genuine psychological fears.
13. Although the theme of children did play a huge part in the 1960’s and did continue throughout the 70’s,
people started to fear the horrors within the family, whether it be your mother (Shivers), your father (The
Shining), your brother (Halloween), or your sister (Alice Sweet Alice).
In this decade, one of the most famous horror movies emerged, The Exorcist. The Exorcist had been
voted 'the scariest movie of all time' (Total Film magazine October 1999) and is hugely significant to any
study of the genre. It brought intellectual respectability back to horror movies The special effects
(created mechanically, on set, rather than added in post production) seem dazzling even by today's
standards, and they are combined with deft cinematography and exemplary use of sound (awarded an
Oscar). The film is a chilling experience because it, unusually for horror films, takes itself and its subject
seriously. There is very little humour here, apart from odd touches of irony. The Exorcist is very much a
'grown-up' horror movie, and marks the beginning of a new part of a cycle in the genre.
14. Key technological change took place, allowing for more special effects and more advanced use of make
up/prosthetics. The horror this period reflected the ‘showy’ character of the decade.
Technical advances in the field of animatronics, and liquid and foam latex meant that the human frame
could be distorted to an entirely new dimension, onscreen, in realistic close up. This matched with the
materialistic ethos of the 1980s, when having it all was important, but to be seen to be having it all was
paramount. People demanded tangible tokens of material success - they wanted bigger, shinier, faster. In
the same way, horror films during this decade delivered the full colour close-up, no-strings-attached,
special effect in a way that previous practitioners of the art could only dream about. Everything that had
lurked in the shadows of horror films in the 1950s could now be brought into the light of day. The
monsters were finally out of the closet.
15. A Nightmare On Elm Street had a relatively low body count for its time (four), but each of the killings
was like a mini-movie in itself, with a separate location, build-up and mode of despatch. Another
notable thing about A Nightmare on Elm Street is how brightly lit most of it was, and how many of the
scenarios took place in ordinary, uncontested spaces - a school hallway, a teenager's bedroom. There are
no warnings as the narrative shifts from reality to nightmare, and there are seemingly no rules about
where Freddy can strike (in English class, in the bathtub). Freddy himself springs from a dark place, a
boiler-room full of rust and steam, and it is only when Nancy acknowledges this ("Okay, Krueger, you
bastard. We play in your court.") and deliberately goes to seek him out that she has any chance of
defeating him. Nancy makes a resourceful Final Girl as she pulls the monster out of her nightmare into
the real world, where he becomes a slapstick figure, falling for her booby traps, tumbling down the
stairs, and flailing around with his arms on fire. But he still manages to kill her Mum.
Another psychopathic killer of this decade was Chucky from the 1988 movie Childs Play. It followed
the story of Charles Lee Ray (his name is a combination of notorious killers Charles Manson, James
Earl Ray and Harvey Oswald), who has possessed a doll named Chucky. He has bright, polymer-blue
eyes make him seem innocent of any wrong-doing. Chucky can go places and do things (mainly kill
people) that Charles Lee Ray could only dream of, and this is a key part of the doll's appeal throughout
the franchise. Chucky is terrifying, his toddler clothing, foreshortened limbs and freckles juxtaposed
against a deadly snarl. Yet he is also fascinating, a very human non-human, no longer subject to the laws
of the living, but bound by plastic restrictions. We want to run from Chucky, but part of us wonders
what it would be like to be him.
16. Audiences started to become bored of horror during this decade, finding the films too predictable. They also
craved something more intelligent and sophisticated. It can be argued that the so-called psychological thriller took
precedence over horror in the first half of the 1990s, and indeed, many dark, disturbing films of this period
describe themselves as thriller, not horror. Yet directors such as Jonathan Demme were adopting the codes and
conventions of the horror genre, when pacing their plot, when representing their characters, and when
manipulating the shock/suspense mechanisms of their audiences. Serial killer movies were a central theme in the
A serial killer fulfils several functions within a film's narrative structure. He (or much more rarely, she) can play
the part of villain, or antagonist, obviously, and can provide a worthy opponent for the protagonist. However,
serial killers onscreen are often portrayed as being supremely intelligent or cunning, and find it easy to foil 'those
dumb cops'. Audiences respect this intelligence, and a well-played killer may excite them.
Serial killers are those who, by definition, enjoy killing and seek their thrills repeatedly. This puts them outside the
normal boundaries of humanity. Serial killers, also by definition, manage to kill several times before being caught,
their skill at escaping detection perhaps suggesting extraordinary good luck, or supernatural powers. They are not
ordinary human beings, and as with any deviation from the norm, we prefer to see them as monsters. There are
many films about serial killers, some of them excellent (Silence of The Lambs, Se7en) some of them grim
(Resurrection, The Bone Collector).
17. Scream (1996) was a crowd-pleaser from the get-go, its wit is accessible, and none of the
references too mysterious. It makes its audience feel like they know more about the
horror genre than perhaps they actually do - the references are restricted to a narrow
band of mainstream American movies from the 70s and 80s. The nerve-twanging
opening sequence aside (Drew Barrymore as the doomed Casey), true horror moments
are few and far between. It made fun of cheerleaders and jocks making the audience
some what happy about their deaths. Nonetheless, the movie scored major box office
success ($161M worldwide) and spawned, not just sequels, but a whole sub-genre of
lame horror comedies. It seemed that the core teen audience preferred easy laughs to
scares, just like in 1948.
18. Whilst January 1st, 2000 came and went without much mishap, many commentators have identified the
true beginning of the 21st century as September 11th, 2001. The events of that day changed global
perceptions of what is frightening, and set the cultural agenda for the following years. The film industry,
already facing a recession, felt very hard hit as film-makers struggled to come to terms with what was
now acceptable to the viewing public. Anyone trying to sell a horror film in the autumn of 2001 (as
George Romero tried with Land of the Dead) got rebuffed. There was even a call to ban horror movies
in the name of world peace. However, by 2005, the horror genre was more popular than ever.
Several classical horrors were remade and ‘found footage’ style film became more popular. This period
brought a lot of variety to genre, while audiences feared the effects of greed and evil in our world.
19. One teen-focused horror movie in which protagonists get picked off one by one was Final Destination. By the
end of the 1990s the slasher/killer was played out as a horror trope. Not even self-referential parody could
make a masked murderer into an interesting antagonist. Even before the first plane hit the North Tower, it
seems that audiences were searching for a new source of dread, something less cartoonish, something that
couldn't be blamed on an unhappy childhood, or a revenge mission. The new millennium brought with it a
new unease, a feeling that the evil in the world cannot be contained inside one masked, wise-cracking human.
Step forward the most ancient and enduring of human enemies: Death.
The Final Destination killer has no awkward back story, no mother waiting in the shadows, no daughters/sons
unaware of their parentage. It has no Achilles heel. It has everyone in its sights and no one - virgins and geeks
are in just as much danger as cheerleaders. The rules are clear and simple: if you are a character in a Final
Destination movie, you are going to die. It's just a matter of when, where and - most importantly for the
entertainment factor of these movies - how.
The movies Grave Encounters and Paranormal Activities are excellent examples of how found- footage
movies rose to fame in the 2000’s. This style of film made the narrative ore believable and made viewers fear
about what could lurk in their own houses.
20. After 2010, the horror genre was introduced to many sub- genres, for example, psychological, gothic,
paranormal, slasher etc. However the most famous had been proven to be paranormal horror movies,
with the audience mainly being young teens. This is because it played on the human fear of the unknown,
not knowing what was out there after death or looking directly into the face of the darker side of