An introduction into the horror film
The horror film genre’s soul aim is to gain a
negative reaction from the audience by playing on
their primal fears. Common themes throughout
horror films are nightmares, hidden fears,
supernatural and terror of the unknown.
Supernatural elements often include ghosts,
vampires, werewolves, demons, monsters and
zombies. Films made about the supernatural are
not always horror based however; it is just the
unknown, scary elements upon which the horror
genre is based.
A series of silent short films by Georges Méliès in the
late 1890s showed the first supernatural events. The
best known of the series is ‘Le Manoir du diable’, which
is named, by many, as the first horror film. Japan quickly
followed in 1898 making two films in the horror film
genre. In 1910, Edison Studios, an American motion
production picture company, produced the first film
adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster. It
was a 16-minute short film and was shot in three days in
the Bronx, New York. The very first vampire film was
made during the 1920s by F.W. Murnau and was called
‘Nosferatu’, an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s
Dracula. The horror genre became extremely popular
and Hollywood production companies began using
similar ideas and themes in their films.
Tod Browning’s ‘Dracula’, James Whale’s
‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Old Dark House’ were
all part of the successful series of gothic horror
films created by Universal Pictures during the
early period of talking pictures. Other film
studios were soon to follow Universal and
Rouben Mamoulian’s ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is
remembered particularly for its use of colour
filters in order to create Jekyll’s transformation
in front of the camera. This illustrated the
development of the Horror genre and actors
began to build entire careers around this genre
of film alone.
During this time, due to the technological developments,
horror was able to progress further. This resulted in a divide into
two sub-genres; the horror-of-Armageddon and the horror-of-thedemonic film. At this time, there was a stream of predominantly
low-budget productions, which covered the supernatural theme
featuring alien invasions and mutations due to things such as
nuclear radiation, as seen in ‘Godzilla’. In the late 1950s, Britain
became a contender as a horror film producer. Hammer began
to focus on the genre and enjoyed international success from
films featuring classic horror characters that were shown in
colour for the very first time. It was also at this time where the
‘slasher’ sub-genre emerged in Britain with films such as Alfred
Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’. America’s horror movies then began to
pave the way for more explicit violence in horror films. Ghosts
and monsters began to be used less in supernatural themed
films as they became more focused on the horror of the
demonic. Low-budget gore films were also becoming more
popular at this time.
‘The Exorcist’ was made in 1973 and set a new standard for
the horror genre. Due to the commercial success of the
film, films in which the devil was represented as a supernatural
evil, more films of this sub-genre began to appear. ‘Evil’ children
and reincarnation became common themes. Historical events
then began to influence horror films, such as Wes Craven’s ‘The
Hills Have Eyes’. Additionally, the sub-genre of comedy horror
re-emerged with films such as ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show
in 1975’. Stephen King’s work also became popular for screen
adaptations at this time, one of which gained Oscar nominations.
The ‘slasher’ genre developed further at this time with films such
as ‘Halloween’, ‘Friday the 13th’, and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’
with increased gore and violence. This ultimately increased the
number of comedic spoofs, such as ‘Saturday the 14th’.
However, in 1975 ‘Jaws’ created a new surge of killer animal
stories such as ‘Orca’.
In the early 90s, sequels were created for
films such as ‘Halloween’ and ‘Child’s Play’
which received various criticisms and marked
the beginning of the fading of the horror film
genre. It is argued that one reason for the loss
of interest in horror is the exhaustion of
constant gore and slasher movies. The 90s
also saw the birth of a new sub-genre, which
combined the fictional horror with real-world
horror. The Scream films then added a new
flavour to the horror genre in order to create an
ironic theme and recreate horror films.
In 2000, ‘Final Destination’ successfully revived
teen horror, which led to the production of 4 sequels.
Comic adaptations also became popular and many
horrors began to make video game adaptations.
Foreign language horrors also became increasingly
popular. Psychological horror is now a more
common theme as opposed to the blatant gore
shown in the slasher sub-genre. The zombie genre
also saw a significant rise through films such as ‘I
Am Legend’. Furthermore, the development of
technology has meant that more people are able to
make their own films and thus there has been an
increase in the amount of low-budget horrors. These
stereotypically include graphic and extreme violence.