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How Horror Movies Have Changed Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1566 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Horror as a whole has been around for many years. Writers have unfolded tales of fear and fright in novels. Directors bring terror to life on the big screen. People have enjoyed being scared time and time again. But why do they like this? How has Horror become such a successful genre?

Chilling stories were the humble beginnings of horror. In ancient times, the Greeks shared tales of hideous beasts with three heads, or powerful monsters that could turn a person to stone with a mere glance. Egyptian hieroglyphics told of a ‘great beyond’ in which evil spirits, demons, and otherworldly beings dwelled. The Chinese worshiped and venerated their ghostly ancestors who would haunt them if they did otherwise. Every civilization had their share of myth and mystery, real or not.

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Horror novels originally come from a traditional Gothic writing style. The first mention of ‘horror’ in literature comes from Horace Walpole’s book “The Castle of Otranto” in 1764. Inspired by writers such as Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Gregory Lewis, Mary Shelley wrote the first rendition of “Frankenstein” in 1818. The nineteenth century in particular exploded with horrific literature writers, including Bram Stoker with the famous daunting tale of “Dracula”. Other well-known authors were Edgar Allen Poe, Wilkie Collins, and H. G. Wells.

The first horror movies appeared on-screen in the 1920’s. Credited as the first movie ever made, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was silent, dark and surreal, the specialty of the “Grand Guignol Theater Company”. The first monster movie, “The Golem” was released in 1920, which set the stage for the first vampire to appear on-screen in 1922. Though “Nosferatu” was the unauthorized German reproduction of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”, it was nonetheless successful for the first film featuring these inhuman bloodsuckers.

During the Depression of the thirties, people wanted something to keep them occupied and entertained. More people flocked to theaters and cinemas than ever before; 65% of the U.S. population saw films each week. Another reason for horror’s sudden popularity was the invention of “talkies”, or movies with audio. Audiences now had soundtracks to keep them at the edge of their seats. Superb actors left guidelines for horror films for years to come. The thirties were one of the most successful eras in horror movie history.

((Karina Wilson, 2011))

The thirties were also explosions of the classic Universal monster movies. The franchise began with “Dracula” in 1931; although true to the original novel, the actor starring as Dracula never wore fangs! The same year, the original “Frankenstein” premiered. The next to appear was “The Mummy” in 1932. Finally in 1935 “Werewolf of London” came to the big screen; the actor, Henry Hull, also made alterations to his costume, using less fur and make-up that would otherwise cover his face entirely. The saga of these characters would continue until 1948, with “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein”, which was the last nail in the coffin for the golden days of Universal monsters. ((Monsters in the Movies, 2011, pg. 1, 26, 27, 53, 54, 126))

In the forties, American citizens wanted anything to get their mind off of war. They wanted good, quality movies which the Horror genre was all too happy to make. Lon Chaney Jr. was now the man in the yak hair suit starring as his most famous role ‘the Wolf Man’. All of America’s fan favorites grouped together in numerous movies, such as “House of Dracula” and the many ‘Abbot and Costello Humor Horrors’. After the craze died down, zombies, gigantic apes and ghosts took their place. ((Karina Wilson, 2011))

Atomic mutations were the craze of the fifties. Radiation exposure, mutations and gigantic beasts could be seen in just about every movie created during this time. Titles such as “Godzilla”, “Them”, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, and “Attack of the Crab Monsters” appeared in every drive-in and were huge hits. ((Monsters in the Movies, 2011, pg. 202-207)) Then came what is now called “the worst film ever made”. “Plan 9 from Outer Space” was a horrid mash-up of mutants, zombie slaves, and alien vampire overlords. Though this did not mar the fifties in horror history, it is still a prime example of how not to make a movie.

((Karina Wilson, 2011))

In 1959 “Jack the Ripper” began an era for serial killers and slasher horror. The most well-known horror film director Alfred Hitchcock makes a name for himself with his film “Psycho” during this time. Hundreds of directors have attempted to copy this brilliantly terrifying film, but none can match it. Also made by Hitchcock in 1963 was “The Birds”. During the same year, the first ‘splatter film’ “Blood Feast” was released. This was the first of many to have seemingly endless gore for no apparent reason. All of these films have one thing in common: They were created on low budgets. This was common in most sixties films, but nearly all of them were huge hits.

((Monsters in the Movies, 2011, pg. 290, 293))

((Karina Wilson, 2011))

Seventies horror had audiences with nightmares for weeks. From “Piranha” to “The Legacy”, there was almost no humor in these movies. “The Exorcist” in 1973 set a gold standard in Horror and was voted “the scariest movie of all time” in October of 1999. People are said to have passed out in audiences watching this film. Not only were there possessed demonic children, but cannibals as well. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” made in 1974 barely showed the audience any gore, but mixed with a chilling soundtrack and terrifying characters, the viewer’s imagination filled in the gaps. Psycho-killers were re-defined entirely because of the seventies.

The eighties were as terrifying as the decade before, with chainsaws, cannibals, and even more deranged predators prowling the night. The horror franchise skyrocketed with “Friday the 13th”, having eleven sequels to this brutal splatter film. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” wasn’t much better, as audiences feigned sleep entirely because ‘Freddy’ might get them. However, as proven by popularity, people couldn’t get enough of horror.

((Monsters in the Movies, 2011, pg. 226))

The beginning of the nineties was when horror directors truly saw how de-sensitized the common person was. Those horror films of the past merely made them laugh. They needed something new, something that hit closer to home. The serial killer is a big part of nineties horror, such as in “Se7en” and “Silence of the Lambs”. Also coming into play were ‘space monsters’, aliens bent on destroying or taking over and then destroying all mankind. Unlike the fifties, these aliens looked real, had real motives, and were genuinely scary.

((Monsters in the Movies, 2011, pg. 258, 259))

((Karina Wilson, 2011))

In 2000, the sequel to “Final Destination” was produced, marking the beginning of a chain of movies that hit the modern American harder than “Saw” ever did. These were events – although typically never to happen on a normal day – that could in fact happen at any given time. ((www.horrorfilmhistory.com/index.php?pageID=2000s )) Nowhere seemed like a safe place anymore, especially when viruses and zombie apocalypses were taken into account; “28 Days Later” is a prime example of this. An on-going series that also goes along with this idea is “The Walking Dead”, first aired in 2010.

((Monsters in the Movies, 2011, pg. 227, 307))

Old horror films were scary in their time because the general public had never been exposed to movies that targeted fear before. They are not as impacting to us today because they were made to frighten audiences in that time period, who were not as de-sensitized as the modern human being. What a person was afraid of in the 1920s is certainly not the same as what we fear.

((Richard Sine, WebMD))

Newer horror movies are made for those who enjoy being scared. If a person intends to see the newest slasher film at a theater, they’ve obviously been exposed to those elements before. Directors of these films assume that their audiences like the thrill of being terrified. A killing spree in a movie might seem harsh, but you may get little to no response from a seasoned audience.

((Richard Sine, WebMD))

Over the years the definition of horror may have been altered and re-defined, but as always the general public is satisfied. As long as there is fear, there is a director willing to put that fear into the next box office hit. Horror films have been cherished for years, and will continue on for decades to come. Who knows what the newest advertisement or feature presentation will bring?




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