2. Horrors are designed to scare and any horror that fails to do so would be
unlikely to succeed. The genre responds to and adapts according to what
society finds frightening; it shifts and changes as our fears do the same. As
Peter Hutchings says, “horror exists in process, in incessant change”, and
“the old horror was either dead or dying; new horror was about to be born”.
Horror historian Andrew Tudor discusses how horror movies have changed
before and after 1960. Before 1960, horrors had closed narratives where the
antagonist was always destroyed, making the audience feel relieved and
happy that it would never be able to happen to them. Sequels were also very
rare due to the death of the Antagonist. However, after 1960 narratives were
open and the antagonist was not always destroyed; this left the audience with
fear of it happening to them, and sequels became more common.
3. In the 1920’s, horrors were eerie, dark and featured
scenes of mutilation; largely within the gothic
subgenre. They reflected the audiences’ fear of
mystical creatures found in literature. Costume,
setting and darkness were used to fright the
‘Nosferatu’, a dark, shadowy, gothic vampire piece
released in 1922, was one of the first ever horror
films made, and when looking back at it, it shows
how much the genre has evolved. In this highly
influential silent horror film, the mysterious Count
Orlok summons a man to his remote Transylvanian
castle in the mountains; starting the convention of
horrors being set in secluded locations.
5. The horrors of the 30’s continued to have gothic themed narratives based
around male protagonists, while Karloff and Lugosi were the horror stars of
this decade. They featured monsters inspired by 19th
century novels, and
were set in far away landscapes. The gothically monstrous antagonists
pushed horror films forward by sparking fear and thrill into the audience. In
1931, Dracula became one of the first films with sound, developing the terror
and bringing eerie shadows and creaks into real life for the audience.
Dracula also featured a very traditional representation of woman, showing
them as weak, vulnerable and over-powered by a blood-sucking male who
comes into their bedroom at night and violates them.
The 1930’s also bought about the revolutionary concept of a female
antagonist with the bride monster in the 1935 ‘The Bride Of Frankenstein’.
Although this was ground-breaking, she was still sexualised, with her first full
body establishing shot gliding up and down her exaggerated curves. Even
though the antagonist was female, the narrative is based around a male
character, Frankenstein, and is focused on the lustful need for a bride.
7. In the 1940’s, horror films were banned in Britain because of WW2 needing screens
for propaganda films, and because the public wanted to be distracted from horror in
general because of the real life horror of the war. This resulted in the American’s
taking over; however, they played it safe by recreating the style of horror’s in the
1930’s. Horrors featuring characters turning into animals or half man/half beast films
became popular, such as ‘The Wolf Man’ in 1941.
The female form became popular again in the 40’s, but with women having a main
role in the film, such as Irena in ‘Cat People’ in 1942. Although beautiful, she was
equally scary, prowling the streets in cat form, terrorising and killing; this terrified
audiences as the narrative of this film subtly suggests what could happen in the
future if females remain repressed. This film used more subtle sounds and
appearances, such as shadows, to create fear, and was one of the first films to use
methods that are popular today…
As the war ended, the American horror culture started reacting to audience’s general
fears rather than its inspirations as before.
9. The war is now over, but 40 million lives were lost. Due to this, on-screen horrors of
the past decades were no longer seen as scary in comparison to real life horrors. But,
audiences feared the effects of radiation, nuclear war, technological change and
scientific experimentation; the unknown. The unknown had been pinpointed here as
one of the first themes of horror, as pre-1950’s horror focused on what we know that
‘The Fly’ is typical of the 1950’s by having mutated creatures affected by radiations
because audiences feared the effects that science and radiation would have on our
world. ‘The Blob’ is about a giant amoeba-like creature terrorising a town which is
another sign that audiences feared the effects of nuclear explosions and radiation.
A new audience emerged in the 1950’s, with films such as ‘The Blob’ and ‘The Fly’
bringing in a new, younger generation of horror fans. These films were designed to be
shown in drive through movie theatres as this provided a perfect place for teenagers
to hang out with their friends while watching a movie, as seen in Grease when Sandy
and Danny are watching ‘The Blob’. ‘The Blob’ features teenage characters which
makes the teenage audience think that this could happen to them, increasing the fear
factor. Knight says ‘the deferral of the inevitable provides the additional pleasure of
11. With no nuclear explosions or no destruction caused by radiation, fears from the 50’s
were gone by the 60’s. In the 1960’s morals were loosened with a massive social change
and the “sex, drugs and rock n roll revolution” began. Antagonists of 60’s film were in
human form, allowing audiences to see the monstrous potential of man, and the
darkness of the human mind.
Films like Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ in 1960 paved the way for psychological thrillers, scaring
audiences by making them feel like the people around them could be mentally sick, as
the ‘monster’ in the film was as close to man as possible. Hitchcock even chose the
name ‘Norman’ because it sounds like ‘normal’; he looked normal but under the surface
he was a psycho.
A generation of ‘B’ movies also became popular in the 60’s, with the main aim of these
films being to make as much profit as possible by making the films as cheaply as
possible. Roger Corman’s films involved lots of gore and buxom women, such as ‘The
Haunted Palace’ and ‘The Raven’, films the complete opposite of the intelligent horrors
made by the likes of Hitchcock.
Elements of slasher were also introduced in the 1960’s, for example, in Hitchcock’s
‘Psycho’, the first woman to die is a transgressor; she’s in her underwear, having an
affair, and steals money. This created the basis for the ‘slut’ character who dies first.
‘Psycho’ also shows the first version of the ‘final female’, who is the smart bookworm
female, likely to be a virgin.
13. In the 70’s society was more depressed than ever, with the dying out of the
loosened morals. Divorce rates rose, meaning that the nuclear family was
crumbling away, leaving single parents with confused children. Women
starting working also led to the death of the nuclear family. The horror genre
responded to this by tackling the fear of an antagonist coming from within the
family, such as in ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Exorcist’. ‘The Shining’ featured a
murderous, violent father who, controlled by supernatural presence, tried to
kill his wife and son. The introduction of the ‘the pill’ and the birth defects
caused by Thalidomide (a morning sickness pill) led to a fear of children and
childbirth; 70’s horrors such as ‘The Exorcist’ which featured a child
possessed by evil reflected this fear.
The slasher subgenre and the final girl were also born in the 1970’s.
Peter Hutchings says that “some horror critics and historians have come to
view the 1970’s as a golden age of horror production, as a period in which
the genre acquired some maturity and artistic integrity’.
15. In the 1980’s, technological change meant the use of SFX, makeup
and prosthetics increased. Society was becoming more materialistic,
with the belief that the bigger and showier, the better. Horrors of the
80’s were therefore all about show; lots of colour, SFX, killers in full
view, gruesome killings, brighter lighting etc. VCR’s in the home
meant that audience’s could bring the horror into their own homes,
meaning that the horror stayed with them even when it’s switched
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ in 1984 was one of the first slasher films
to fully show the antagonist, using mid-long shots and cleverly
placed shadows to create fear for the audience, and the protagonist.
The first victim, Tina, is slashed to pieces for having sex; a modern
convention of horror.
17. Audiences were becoming bored of guts and gore and wanted to see
more intelligent horror movies, such as ‘Silence of the Lambs’, a
disturbing horror featuring serial killer and cannibal, Hannibal Lectur.
This type of psychological horror pushed audiences into actually thinking
about the narrative, and how realistic is could be.
Audiences were also becoming too clued up on horror conventions and
found them too predictable. Wes Craven acknowledged how genre-
savvy the audiences had become by having characters who were aware
of and mocked horror conventions.. But they still died. This was in his
film ‘Scream’ which featured a ghost faced, horror obsessed murderer
with a lust for blood. Craven really pinpointed the sacrificial lamb and
final girl convention in his narratives.
19. Horror progressed again in this decade, and moved away from slasher films
into more supernatural and possession films. The Tragedy of 9/11 changed
audiences’ views of what is scary; audiences feared the evil amongst us,
such as terrorists and things that are inevitable. Because of this fear,
modern horrors often feature a game, a race against time, or a killing force
that cannot be seen, leading society to having a fear of the unknown again,
more real than ever. Remakes and spoofs have also become popular.
Horror films shot in a ‘found footage’ style are also popular, such as
‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Grave Encounters’. This style makes the material
on screen seem more ‘real’ for audiences, increasing their fear. Possession
and Exorcism films can also be seen in this ‘found footage’ style, and have
become popular, such as ‘The Last Exorcism’ and ‘The Devil Inside’.
Thanks to new technologies and e-media, horror films have become more
transportable and accessible for audience. This means horror can be
watched wherever the audience are, making it a more popular genre.
20. ‘One Missed Call’ (2008) featured a
murderous force that cannot be seen.
Mobile phones were used as the channel
through which evil communicates; this
reflects the rise of technology in our world.
This raises the audience’s fears as they
themselves probably have mobile phones,
making them wonder if this could happen to
them as well.
The ‘Saw’ franchise (2004 onwards)
involved killing becoming a murderous
twisted game in which the victims were
forced to take part. This scares audiences
because they’re unaware of what could
happen to them in their everyday life, and it
makes them question whether this could
happen to them.
‘Grave encounters’ (2012) is about a crew of a
ghost-hunting TV show that go insane after
being locked in an abandoned psychiatric
hospital. It was shot in a ‘found footage’ style in
order to create a new level of realism and fear
In 2014, Ouija was released. In Ouija, a group of
teenagers try to say goodbye to their friend after
her death.. but instead, they make contact with a
spirit called DZ. As strange events begin to
occur, they find out that her death was not
unique, and that they will all suffer the same fate
unless they learn how to close the portal that
Scary possession and exorcism films are now
more popular than ever, especially with younger
audiences, and have proven to be box office
22. Audiences are now enjoying different kind of horrors; psychological, supernatural,
zombie, etc, and Hutchings backs this up by saying “there are obvious groupings
to be found in modern horror… films released… testify to the broadness of the
genre”. And this is very much true; comparing the spread of films and sub-genres
in our current decade compared to those films from 100’s of years ago, audiences’
can see how much horror has changed as a genre in every aspect, such as
special effects, sounds, colours, acting etc.
The one thing that has stayed the same with horror since the very beginning is
that it never fails to scare audiences. The self inflicted schadenfredue feeling that
the audience gets while watching a horror movie ensures they will come back to
watch more horrors, and get the same jump-scare adrenaline feeling every time.
The horror genre has had to change over the years in order to reflect the changing
‘modern’ fears, and keep audiences’ interested. If there was only one genre of
horror, audience’s would get bored as narratives would repeat themselves and
become too predictable.