A Brief History of Horror Films
I love scary movies. Looking at how the genre is both terrifying and fascinating to audiences seemed like a strong idea to explore. Why do we love scaring ourselves? I think it's some rite of passage. Whatever the case may be, the horror genre has been relevant since the early years of cinema. This article, unlike many movies that will be mentioned, is fine for all audiences. However, any movie viewing that results in nightmares can't be on my conscience.
Some of the oldest classic films are in the horror genre. An early short film of Frankenstein goes all the way back to 1910. Nosferatu started the vampire film craze all the way back in 1922. Frankenstein and Dracula both had classic adaptations released in 1931. These films may not seem very scary to a modern audience, but they are still widely watched for their historical significance and sometimes campy acting.
Alfred Hitchcock may be the horror film what Walt Disney was to animation. Hitchcock ditched the campy monsters and goblins for a more psychological approach. Hitchcock's films remain terrifying because of the capture the universal fear of the evil within men. Psycho, Rear Window, and Vertigo are all fantastic examples of films that dive deep into what scares us, and it often lives below the surface. It also often involves people we know all too well.
Perhaps the peak of the horror genre regarding popularity came with the rise of the slasher film. Starting with films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, we began to see many characters being disposed gruesomely. The kills were creative, the body counts were high, and the villain never seemed to die. However, too much of a good thing eventually watered down the genre. For every Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp, there was a Final Exam or Home Sweet Home.
Horror films became the unwanted guest at the party for several years following the over saturation of slasher flicks. Then a movie called Scream revitalized the entire genre. How did it manage that? It took the fun of the 80's horror movies and added a cutting self-awareness to the characters. The characters felt relateable and not reciting wooden dialogue. Found footage films also became a major sticking point with audiences. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity have enjoyed huge success with nearly no budgets to speak of. Saw was also instrumental in bringing back the shocking gore of the 80's films, but the series were always smartly written and keeping audiences guessing.
It's hard to tell exactly where the horror film industry will go next. Several recent films like Get Out, The Conjuring, It Follows, and The Babadook shows the genre is still capable of producing classic films. New filmmakers are bringing their own flavor to the genre while paying respects to its origins. We may be sleeping with the lights on due to these films for years to come.