From the late 1800's to the early 1900's, horror films typically didn't last very long, had no cuts and the camera rarely
moved. 'Le Manoir du Diable' (1896) also known as 'The Devil's Castle' by Georges Melies was a three minute long
silent movie that is considered to be the first ever horror film due to its typical elements of the horror genre such as
ghosts, smoke and bats.
1898 - George Albert Smith patented his special photographic contrivance, which allowed 'ghosts' to be seen on film.
This was a big step for the movie industry and inspired further devices.
1910 - The first version of Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' was made, which was slightly longer and used a different style
of camera work and editing then other horror movies during this time period.
1922 – The first ever vampire movie 'Nosferatu' was made, which was based on the popular novel 'Dracula' by Bram
Stoker. The film shared the same plot as ‘Dracula’ but the character names were different. The director F.W Murnau’s
effective use of light and shadows as well as his use of photographic image (as seen in the microscope sequences and
the stop motion special effect) separated ‘Nosferatu’ from previous horror films. As ‘Nosfertau’ was a plagiarised
version of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ the prints of the movie were destroyed. However a few prints survived and have
become available to the public.
1896 - 1920
Due to the advance in technology filmmakers were able to use sound such as sound effects in their movies, which
changed the horror genre completely as sound added a new dimension of fear to movies. This effected the style
and plot of horror films. Sound became a key aspect in horror films as it was used to create suspense or fear. During
the 1930’s many were suffering from the Great Depression and horror movies were seen as a form of escapism for
1931 - ‘Dracula’ and another adaptation of ‘Frankenstein’, which both became a part of pop culture, was made.
‘Dracula’ was the first horror movie to feature dialogue and included detailed mise-en-scene such as fog, European
settings, forests and howling wolves, which then become typical conventions of mise-en-scene for horror films.
‘Frankenstein’ also had effective mise-en-scene and sound effects but the idea that monsters were man made, which
reflected cultural events at the time, had a deep impact on audiences. Additionally, both movies had trailers, which
was very rare at the time.
In the 1940’s people were constantly in fear due to WW2. During the years of the war the production of horror films
in the UK was banned, so they had to rely on America for horror films. Moreover many consider the 40’s as the
decade when the horror genre declined due to production companies failing to come up with new ideas and
instead releasing sequels of the classic monster movies from the 1930’s or films that lacked creativity. However there
were some classic films that were made in this decade.
1942 - The movie ‘Cat People’ is a film about a woman who believes herself to be a descendant of a race of people
who turn into cats and was one of the first movies to make an explicit link between horror and female sexuality,
something that has since become typical of modern-day horror films. The movie plays upon unseen horrors to scare
1944 – ‘The Uninvited’ was a haunted house film that is known for its effective use of lighting and sound. The film
influenced future ghost movies.
The 1950’s saw innovations in technology in the cinema such as CinemaScope, Cinerama, Stereophonic sound, 3-D and
Smell-O-Vision, which were an attempt to pull people away from their TVs. After WW2, Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
people started to fear that a Nuclear war could happen so production companies played upon that by changing the
monsters/villains from mad scientists to mutant creatures that were the aftermath of a war of such nature. During this
period horror movies were downgraded to b movie status, which meant that they weren’t as importance to production
companies as other genres.
1954 – ‘Godzilla’ is a Japanese film about American nuclear weapons testing resulting in the creation of a seemingly
unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast named Godzilla. The film played on the Japanese’s fear of nuclear power due to the
recent Hiroshima and Nagasaki events, as Godzilla is considered to be a metaphor for nuclear weapons. Since its
release, Godzilla has been regarded not only as one of the best giant monster films ever made but an important
The horror genre changed a lot during the 1960’s as the idea that instead of fictional characters, humans themselves
could be monsters was explored a lot more.
1960 - Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ differed from other horror films as it felt realistic to the audiences, which added
another dimension of fear to it. The conventions used in this film, were very new to audiences such as the screeching
soundtrack, a knife and a shower scene, which have become iconic.
1963- ‘Blood Feast’ is considered one of the first ‘splatter’ film. The film relies on the gore to entertain the audience
instead of the actual plot.
1968 – The film ‘Night of the living dead’ is one of the most influential horror films of all time. It exceeded any typical
convention that had possibly been created and follows the narrative of a woman named Barbara. The film signified a
new darker direction of horror and has influenced directors and future films.
The 1970s marked a return to the big budget, respectable horror films, which dealt with contemporary societal issues
and addressing genuine psychological fears. It is argued to be one of the best decades for horror films. Horror films
during this decade took a step away from sci fi and into reality where the monster was a human instead.
1973– ‘The Exorcist’ is considered to be one of the scariest movie of all time with it’s dark and disturbing storyline of
an exorcism of a young girl. The movie’s use of lighting, camera work, sound and editing added another dimension
of fear to the movie. Until 1999 ‘The Exorcist’ was banned from video release in the UK because of how outrageous
the BFI thought it was.
1974 – The film ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ follows a group of friends who fall victim to a family of cannibals
while on their way to visit an old homestead. The character of Leatherface and minor plot details were inspired by
the crimes of real-life murderer Ed Gein. It is considered to be one of the best horror films in cinema history.
1976 – ‘The Omen’ is about a child who is actually the antichrist.
1978 - ‘Halloween’ was a movie about a psychotic man with murderous tendencies in a mental prison for killing his
Technology was constantly improving and in the 80’s films could be shown in higher definition and the way films
were edited changed. Also, special effects became more technical and the use of animatronics, liquid and foam latex
meant that characters could be distorted or transformed into anything. As the horror genre became a lot more
popular, production companies were more willing to give horror movies big budgets.
1981 – ‘The Evil Dead’ is a supernatural horror movie about five teenagers who awaken spirits after finding a book
and an audiotape. The iconic use of POV camera, which is hurtled along the forest floor, gives the movie its
1984 - ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a supernatural slasher film about several teenagers who are stalked and killed in
their dreams and in reality by the villain Freddy Krueger. The movie used these new developments to its advantage
when they used latex to make Freddy Krueger’s iconic heavily scarred and burnt skin.
1988 – ‘Childs Play’ is a slasher film with a unique twist as the killer is a 3ft doll, which was something that had never
been explored before in horror films.
During this period the subgenres slasher and comedy horror were extremely popular. Also it became highly
conventional to use teenagers as the protagonists in horror films as this was their main target at the time. Mise-en-
scene was advanced to create as much as gore as possible that would also seem realistic to the audience. Due to the
events of September 11th 2001, there was a change in 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. The popularity of the horror genre started to
decline until 2005 where it became one of the most popular genres yet again.
1996 - ‘Scream’ combined black comedy, ‘whodunit’ mystery and the violence of the slasher genre to satirize the
clichés of the horror genre popularised in classic horror films such as Halloween and Friday the 13th. ‘Scream’ stood
out from other horror films as it featured characters who were aware of real world horror films and openly discussed
the clichés that the movie attempted to subvert.
2000 – ‘Final Destination’ is a supernatural horror film about a group of teenagers who are chased and killed by Death
after surviving a plane crash that was supposed to have killed them .The film is iconic because unlike previous horror
films the protagonists in ‘Final Destination’ are fully aware of their impending demise, and half of the pleasure of the
films for the audience is watching them squirm under the pressure.
2010 – ‘Insidious’ is a supernatural horror about a boy who inexplicably enters a comatose state and becomes a vessel
for ghosts in an astral dimension who want to inhabit his body, in order to live once again.