HORRORnoun 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’.
Horror films take as their focus that which frightens us: the mysterious and unknown, death and bodily violation, and loss of identity. They aim to elicit responses of fear or revulsion from their audience, whether through suggestion and the creation of mood or by graphic representation. Source: http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Criticism-Ideology/Horror-Films.html
Horror films address both universal fears and cultural ones, exploiting timeless themes of violence, death, sexuality, and our own beastly inner nature, as well as more topical fears such as atomic radiation in the 1950s and environmental contamination in the 1970s and 1980s. Horror addresses that which is universally taboo or abject but also responds to historically specific concerns. Source: http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Criticism-Ideology/Horror-Films.html
Roots of the Horror Genre Source: http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com/ As long as there have been stories, there have been stories about the Other, the unrealities we might categorise today as speculative fiction. Early creation myths in all cultures are populated by demons and darkness, and early Abrahamic and Egyptian mythology resounds with tales of a world beyond the physical, a realm of the spirits, to be revered and feared.
Classical mythology is replete with monsters - Cerberus, the Minotaur, Medusa, the Hydra, the Sirens, Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis to name but a few- and heroes must navigate safely through the land of the dead on frequent occasions.
Every culture has a set of stories dealing with the unknown and unexplained, tales that chill, provoke and keep the listener wondering "what if..?" Horror films are the present-day version of the epic poems and ballads told round the fires of our ancestors.
The First Horror Movie The first depictions of supernatural events appear in several of the silent shorts created by film pioneers such as Georges Méliès in the late 1890s. The most notable being his 1896 Le Manoir du diable (aka "The House of the Devil") which is sometimes credited as being the first horror film, although it only lasted two minutes.
Silent film offered the early pioneers a wonderful medium in which to examine terror. Early horror films are surreal, dark pieces, owing their visual appearance to the expressionist painters and their narrative style to the stories played out by the Grand Guignol Theatre Company. Horror was still essentially looking backwards, drawing upon the literary classics of the 19th century for their source material. Source: http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com
Darkness and shadows, such important features of modern horror, were impossible to show on the film stock available at the time, so the sequences, for example in Nosferatu, where we see a vampire leaping amongst gravestones in what appears to be broad daylight, seem doubly surreal to us now. Nonetheless, these early entries to the genre established many of the codes and conventions still identifiable today. They draw upon the folklore and legends of Europe, and render monsters into physical form. Source: http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com
The 1920s Although America was home to the first Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde movie adaptations, the most influential horror films through the 1920s came from Germany's Expressionist movement, with films like The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari and Nosferatu influencing the next generation of American cinema. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1930s Horror movies were reborn in the 1930s. The advent of sound, as well as changing the whole nature of cinema forever, had a huge impact on the horror genre. The dreamlike imagery of the 1920s, the films peopled by ghostly wraiths floating silently through the terror of mortals, their grotesque death masks a visual representation of 'horror', were replaced by monsters that grunted and groaned and howled. 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. Source: http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com
The 1930s Universal Studios entered a Golden Age of monster movies in the '30s, releasing a string of hit horror movies beginning with Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931 and including the controversial Freaks and a Spanish version of Dracula that is often thought to be superior to the English-language version. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1930s Germany continued its artistic streak in the early '30s, with Vampyr and the Fritz Lang thriller M, but Nazi rule forced much of the filmmaking talent to emigrate. The '30s also witnessed the first American werewolf film (The Werewolf of London), the first zombie movie (White Zombie) and the landmark special effects blockbuster King Kong. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1940s Despite the success of The Wolf Man early in the decade, by the 1940s, other studios had stepped in, including RKO's brooding Val Lewton productions, most notably Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. MGM, meanwhile, contributed The Picture of Dorian Gray, which won an Academy Award for cinematography, and a remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, while Paramount released the highly regarded haunted house picture The Uninvited. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1950s With flying saucers firmly ensconced on newspaper front pages and radio talk shows, it wasn't long before the movie world appropriated their drivers as a new cast of villains. Science Fiction had long made use of aliens as a threat, as reflected in the so-called 'Golden Age' of SciFi, running from the late 1930s to the 1950s. However, this golden sci-fi was restricted to the printed page - either pulp novel or comic book - as the movie-making technology simply wasn't there to transfer the horrors from page to screen.
The 1950s However, technological advances, coupled with wild public interest, and the economic need to drag teens into the drive-ins, meant that by the mid-1950s, alien monsters were looming large on the silver screen. Technology, instead of being offscreen, in the form of lights, cameras etc, was firmly onscreen, in the form of shimmering space ships and deadly ray guns.
The 1950s Various cultural forces helped shape horror movies in the '50s. The Cold War fed fears of invasion (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World, The Blob), nuclear proliferation fed visions of rampaging mutants (Them!, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Godzilla) and scientific breakthroughs led to mad scientist plots (The Fly). Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1950s Competition for increasingly jaded audiences led filmmakers to resort to either gimmicks like 3-D (House of Wax, The Creature from the Black Lagoon) and the various stunts of William Castle productions (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler) or, in the case of Great Britain's Hammer Films, explicit, vividly colored violence. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1960s Reflecting the social revolution of the era, the movies were more edgy, featuring controversial levels of violence (Blood Feast, Witchfinder General) and sexuality (Repulsion). Films like Peeping Tom and Psycho were precursors to the slasher movies of the coming decades, while George Romero's Night of the Living Dead changed the face of zombie movies forever. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1970s the 1970s marked a return to the big budget, respectable horror film, dealing with contemporary societal issues, addressing genuine psychological fears.
The 1970s The '70s pushed the envelope even further than the '60s, reflecting a nihilism born of the Vietnam era. Social issues of the day were tackled, from sexism (The Stepford Wives) to religion (The Wicker Man) and war (Deathdream). Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1970s Exploitation movies hit their stride in the decade, boldly flouting moral conventions with graphic sex (I Spit on Your Grave, Vampyros Lesbos) and violence (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes), the latter reflected particularly in a spate of zombie movies (Dawn of the Dead) and cannibal films (The Man from Deep River). The shock factor even pushed films like The Exorcist and Jaws to blockbuster success. Amidst the chaos, the modern slasher film was born in Canada's Black Christmas and America's Halloween. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1980s Horror movies of the 1980s exist at the glorious watershed when special visual effects finally caught up with the gory imaginings of horror fans and movie makers. 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.
The 1980s This coincided 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, with more knobs on - as verification of their own value in society. In the same way, horror films during this decade delivered the full colour close-up, look-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.
The 1980s Horror in the the first half of the '80s was defined by slashers like Friday the 13th, Prom Night and A Nightmare on Elm Street, while the latter half tended to take a more lighthearted look at the genre, mixing in comic elements in films like The Return of the Living Dead, Evil Dead 2, Re-Animator and House. Throughout the '80s, Stephen King's fingerprints were felt, as adaptations of his books littered the decade, from The Shining to Pet Sematary. Fatal Attraction, meanwhile, spawned a series of "stalker thrillers," Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1990s The early '90s brought unrivalled critical acclaim for the horror genre, with The Silence of the Lambs sweeping the major Academy awards in 1992. This seemed to spur studios into funding large-scale horror projects, such as Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Wolf. In 1996, Scream's success reignited the slasher flame, spawning similar films, such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 1990s At the end of the decade, Blade foreshadowed the coming flood of comic book adaptations, and Asian horror movies like Ringu and Auditionsignaled a new influence on American fright flicks. Meanwhile, 1999 witnessed two of the biggest surprise hits of the decade, regardless of genre, in The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 2000s Horror movies in the late 1990s predicted dire things for the turn of the century. 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. "Everybody wanted to make the warm fuzzy movies."(LA Times 30/10/05)
The 2000s But, by 2005, the horror genre was as popular as ever. Horror films routinely topped the box office, yielding an above-average gross on below-average costs.
The 2000s Twenty-first century horror in the US has been identified with remakes of both American (Friday the 13th, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead) and foreign films (The Ring, The Grudge), but there have been innovations within American horror -- most notably the "torture porn" of Saw and Hostel fame. Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm
The 2000s Outside of the US, there is as great a variety of edgy and innovative material as there has ever been in the genre, from Canada (Ginger Snaps) to France (High Tension) to Spain (The Orphanage) to the UK (28 Days Later) and, of course, Asia, from Hong Kong (The Eye) to Japan (Ichi the Killer) to Korea (A Tale of Two Sisters) to Thailand (Shutter). Source: http://horror.about.com/od/horrorthemelists/ss/horrortimeline.htm