1. History of the Horror Genre
• noun 1) an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. 2) a thing causing such a feeling. 3) intense
dismay. 4) informal a bad or mischievous person, especially a child.
— ORIGIN Latin, from horrere ‘shudder, (of hair) stand on end’
German expression started in the early 1900‟s as a direct result to WW1. Germany found itself
isolated and under high demand to start producing its own films due to the government banning
more foreign films in the nation. Germans started attending films more willingly due to the
undergoing inflation; it made them feel as though their money was constantly diminishing.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919)
By 1922, international audiences were beginning to appreciate German cinema and by the time
the original ban on foreign films put in place in 1916 was lifted, German cinema became part of
the international film industry.
The first expressionist films made up for a lack of steady budget by using crazy unrealistic set
designs with props and parts of the set painted on the walls to represent lights, shadows and
objects etc. The plots and stories behind most German expressionist films were madness,
insanity, betrayal and other topics vastly opposite to the traditional „rom com‟ and „action‟ movie
2. plots. The mad, cheap settings complimented the plot topics perfectly creating wondrous silent
horror movies enjoyed by all sorts of people in the early 1900s.
Later films such as „Metropolis‟ and „M‟ both directed by Fritz
Lang, were classed as German expressionism films. They were a
direct reaction to realism, leaving its practitioners acting at
extreme levels of distortion to express their inner emotions with
reality and not just the ones shown on the surface.
German expressionism and its extremity were short-lived with it
fading away after only a few years. However, the brief moment it
was at its highest point influenced theatre for many years to follow.
The themes of expressionism were integrated into films produced
in the 1920s and 1930s resulting in mad artistic imagery in films to enhance the mood of a film.
When the Nazi‟s gained control, a lot of German filmmakers emigrated to Hollywood bringing
the dark, moody school of filmmaking to the USA. The German filmmakers found the film
studios suited them to such a level that most of them flourished and ended up producing a
repertoire of Hollywood films.
The two main genres most influenced by German expressionism were horror films and film noir.
Carl Laemmle and Universal Studios made themselves known by producing famous horror
films of the silent era such as Lon Chaney's „The Phantom of the Opera’.
‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925)
Directors such as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock etc. brought
expressionism into earlier films produced in the 1940s such as crime dramas. This supports
how much of an impact German expressionism has had on the film industry; it inspired some of
the best filmmakers.
Roots in classic literature
3. Gothic horror is a genre that combines horror and romance. Frankenstein is an example of this.
Frankenstein is a novel written by Mary Shelley. The first copy was published anonymously in
London in 1818. The second copy was published in 1823 containing Mary Shelley‟s credit. She
started writing the novel when she was eighteen and finished it at twenty one. Frankenstein is a
story about a science experiment gone wrong that resulted in the creation of a monster.
Frankenstein touches on horror, romance and even science fiction.
Mary Shelley painted by Richard Rothwell (1840)
Dracula is another classic gothic horror novel written by the Irish authorBram Stoker in 1897.
It‟s about Dracula‟s attempt to relocate from Transylvania to England and the battles he faced
against a small group of men and woman led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing. It‟s famous
for the introduction of the well-known Count Dracula. Dracula has been assigned to many
literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, gothic novel and invasion literature.
Film poster of „Dracula‟
4. Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the original title of the novel written by Scottish author
Robert Louis Stevenson published in 1886. It is about a London lawyer named Gabriel John
Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll and the
evil Edward Hyde. This novel has had such an impact that it‟s become a part of our language
with the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” meaning a person who is vastly different in moral character
from one situation to the next.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’
Horror in the 1930’s
By the 1930‟s Adolf Hitler had gained complete control of the German government and
discredited German Expressionism as a degenerate art and established propaganda as the
dominant style of film making in Germany. Propaganda is a form of communication that is
aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position by presenting
only one side of an argument. Hitler imposed propaganda style films to persuade its audience
that his reign of power was positive and that he should be admired. However, the
expressionists didn‟t like this and chose to leave their home nation and found themselves
immigrating to Hollywood, California. Most of these directors found their feet in Hollywood and
found American movie studios willing to embrace them and find their movie projects meaning
they produced a lot of top quality movies.
Most horror movies in the 1930‟s were driven by the idea of monsters and mad
scientists such as the famous Frankenstein. BBFC (British Board of Film Classification)
introduced their first cinema classifications as simply „U‟ (Universal) and „A‟ (Adult). In the
1930‟s the classification „H‟ was introduced meaning Horror and only suitable for those over 16
years of age. „H‟ was later changed to „X‟ in the 1950‟s which was a rating put on all films only
suitable for 16 years and over.
Horror in the 1940’s
5. Horror in the 1940‟s were also „monster‟ movies but changed into the primal animals within
such as werewolves cat people. In 1942 the film „cat people‟ was made. Produced byVal
Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur.„Cat People’ tells the story of
ayoung Serbian woman, Irena, who believes herself to be a descendant of a race of people
who turn into cats when sexually aroused.
‘Cat People’ movie poster (1942)
‘The Wolf Man’ is a mix of several wolf legends, with added ingredients. Siodmak stirs
pentagrams, gypsies, silver bullets and the full moon together to create a robust myth. It owes
little to established European traditions, but established a new set of cinematic rules which
Hollywood lycanthropes would adhere to for decades. 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
‘The Wolf Man’ (1941)
6. Horror in the 1950’s
Horror in the 1950‟s was highly associated with communism and the fears that came with it.
The „monster‟ in horror movies created during this time period were representations of
communism and how it was affecting society. Communism had a great effect on horror movies
and the stories behind them were presented to us as an audience. It is my contention that,
although the actual and specific plots of horror films have always been varied, and are
occasionally based on real facts or on mere fictions of the mind, the actual thematic subject
matter is one which stems from this extremist divide in our global politics.
An example of a ‘monster’ representing communism.
Zombie horror became big in the 1950‟s. At first thought we think of zombies as flesh-eating
monsters. However, they were brought around to have a deeper meaning than that. They were
used to represent the fact that they are essentially a whole collection of humans who all are
considered equal (in death) and they all seem to be equally minimalistic.Their appearance in
the horror industry takes for granted that they are all of equal worth to eachother. They live, in
essence, in the perfection of a communist ideal, where all their needs (for flesh) are met equally
and where each individual Zombie seems to be of no more or less worth than any other. All
there truly is, is the dispatching of one of a number of nameless zombies, in a big mass. This
resonates with the way that communism was tackled in the US, or rather by the US.
Communism spread like dominos through countries in the 1950‟s and it was hard to
fight a preservation of a democratic way of life. The big countries started declaring themselves
as communists and shortly followed the smaller countries. The US at this point was sensing a
change into communism coming their way.
A picture representation of communism in society.
7. Horror in the 1960’s – 1970’s
Horror in the 1960‟s could be seen as when horror became more realistic, more realistic in the
sense that the storyline of horrors in the 1960‟s was based on the „evil‟ being human. For
example your own neighbour could be the cause of your soon to be death. Ghosts, zombies,
Satanism and your own family could be included in this „human evil‟.In the 1960‟s there was a
seeming feeling of optimism, the sense that humanity was moving forward, onward and
upward. At this point the mutant monsters of the 1950‟s horror were beginning to look stupid.
1960‟s horror decided that rather than focusing on surreal „evil‟, they were going to introduce an
„evil‟ that was more believable. So, they got rid of the aliens and other monsters seeing as they
hadn‟t made an appearance on earth yet and replaced them with real monsters; humans.
Human ‘evil’ in 1960’s horror
Horror movies in the 1970‟s went on to represent the grim mood of the decade. After the
optimism in the 1960‟s everything started going wrong. The Beatles broke up, famous people
died and everything seemed to be going downhill. 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.
Horror in the 1980’s
In the 1980‟s body horror/gore and slasher movies became popular and their descent into
postmodern parody such as ‘Scream’. The television series ‘Hammer house of horror’ started in
the 1980‟s. It was a series created by Hammer Films and consisted of thirteen 50 minute
episodes which was broadcast on ITV. Each episode contained a different story of horror
involving characters that varied from witches, werewolves, ghosts, devil worship and voodoo
also including supernatural horror themes like cannibalism, confinement and serial killers. In
2003 „Hammer house of horror‟ ranked #50 in Channel 4‟s „100 scariest moments‟.
8. ‘Hammer house of horror’ (1980)
The term known as „video nasties‟ came about in the 1980‟s. „Video nasties‟ is a term created in
the United Kingdom which applied to films originally produced on video that were criticized by
the press for their „violent‟ content. Many of the „video nasties‟ were low budget movies
produced in Italy and the US. This led to a „moral panic‟. A „moral panic‟ is when a mass of
people intensively believe that something is going to threaten the „social order‟ in a society. At
this time it was „video nasties‟ that were a cause for concern for most of the population. It was a
fear that young children can easily get their hands on these videos.
Slasher horror is a subgenre of horror and at times a thriller that mainly involves
psychopathic killers.In a lot of these „Slasher‟ movies, „final girl theory‟ becomes present. „Final
girl theory‟ is basically the last girl left to confront the killer, usually the „good‟ girl who is left to
tell the story. The general plot for these types of films is some sort of state of equilibrium which
is then affected by an event that upsets the equilibrium. This event usually involves the killing of
a group of people leaving the „final girl‟ alive and alone. Clover suggests that in these films, the
viewer begins by having the similar perspective of the killer, but experiences a shift in
identification to the final girl partway through the film.
Horror in the 1990’s
In the 1990‟s horrors became more psychological. After finding that sequels and pastiche didn‟t
quite reach the level of satisfaction wanted, generation X found its own character, the serial
killer. This is where the psychological horrors began to develop. Silence of the Lambs was a
very successful psychological horror, and having watched it myself I can see why it was such a
hit. Silence of the Lambs is about a man Hannibal Lecter who messes with people‟s minds in a
genius way to make them think and do certain things. A young FBI student is set a task to try
and undermine Hannibal as a person and throughout the film events happen that are seen as
unbelievable and freaky. The audience of Silence of the lambs would most likely leave the film
feeling unnerved and paranoid of this happening to them.
Hannibal Lecter – Silence of the lambs