Horror film

DVD cover showing horror characters as depicted by .  from  (1935),  from  (1933),  from  (1931), Claude Rains from  (1943), "The Creature" from  (1954),  from  (1931),  from  (1941) and Boris Karloff from  (1932)
DVD cover showing horror characters as depicted by Universal Studios. Elsa Lanchester from Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Claude Rains from The Invisible Man (1933), Bela Lugosi from Dracula (1931), Claude Rains from Phantom of the Opera (1943), "The Creature" from Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Boris Karloff from Frankenstein (1931), Lon Chaney Jr. from The Wolf Man (1941) and Boris Karloff from The Mummy (1932)

A horror film is dominated by elements of horror. This cinematic genre incorporates a number of sub-genres and repeated themes, including but not limited to slashers, vampires, zombies, demonic possession and Satanism, alien mind control, evil children, cannibalism, werewolves, animals attacking humans, inanimate objects brought to life by bane enchantment or twisted science, and haunted houses. The horror film genre is often associated with low budgets and exploitation, but major studios and well-respected directors have made intermittent forays into the genre. Some horror films exhibit a substantial amount of cross-over with other genres, particularly science fiction.

Specific stories and characters have also proven popular, and inspired many sequels, remakes, and copycats. These include Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.



Early milestones

The horror genre is nearly as old as film itself. The first "monster movies" were silent shorts created by film pioneer Georges Melies in the late 1890s. The earliest horror-themed feature films were created by German filmmakers in the early 1900s; the most enduring of these is probably F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu 1922, the first vampire-themed feature. Early Hollywood dramas dabbled in horror themes including versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Monster (1925) (both starring Lon Chaney, Sr., the first American horror movie star).

1930s & 1940s: The gothic subgenre

It was in the early 1930s that American movie studios, particularly Universal Studios, popularised the horror film genre, bringing to the screen a series of successful gothic-steeped features including Dracula, Frankenstein (both 1931), and The Mummy (1932) (all of which spawned numerous sequels). These films, while designed to thrill, also incorporated more serious elements, and were influenced by the the German expressionist films of the '20s, as well as by Freudian concepts that were gaining currency at the time. Actors, notably Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, began to build careers around the genre. In the 1940s Val Lewton would produce a series of influential and atmospheric B-pictures for RKO, including Cat People (1942), Isle of the Dead (1945) and The Body Snatcher (1945).

1950s: Cold War terror and the pull of science fiction

In the nuclear-charged atmosphere of the 1950s the tone of horror films shifted away from the gothic and towards the modern. A seemingly endless parade of low-budget productions featured humanity overcoming threats from Outside: alien invasions, and deadly mutations to people, plants, and insects. During this time the horror and sci-fi genres were often interchangeable. These films provided ample opportunity for audience exploitation, with gimmicks such as 3-D and "Percepto" (producer William Castle's electric-shock technique used for 1959's The Tingler) drawing audiences in week after week for bigger and better scares. The better horror films of this period, including The Thing From Another World (1951; attributed on screen to Christian Nyby but widely considered to be the work of Howard Hawks) and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) managed to channel the paranoia of the Cold War into atmospheric creepiness without resorting to direct exploitation of the events of the day. Filmmakers would continue to merge elements of science fiction and horror well into the future.

The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the rise of studios centered specifically around horror. Notable were British production company Hammer Films, which specialized in bloody remakes of classic horror stories often starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and American International Pictures (AIP), which made a series of Edgar Allan Poe themed films starring Vincent Price. These sometimes-controversial productions paved the way for more explicit violence in both horror and mainstream films.

1960s: Hitchcock and the Dead

Later in the 1960s the genre moved towards non-supernatural psychological horror, with thrillers such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) using all-too-human monsters rather than supernatural ones to scare the audience. Michael Powell's Peeping Tom was a notable example of this genre. Psychological horror films would continue to appear sporadically with 1991's The Silence of the Lambs a later highlight of the subgenre.

One of the most famous "Horror" film of the 60's is George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. This startlingly unique film remains the sole horror film to be entered into the movie hall of fame. Blending psychological thriller with social commentary, it moved away from the Gothic Horror trends of earlier eras and brings the horror into the lives of everyday man. Romero's zombie vision would go on to span five decades. he later took advantage of the '70s horror-film boom to expand his universe, beginning with the sequel Dawn of the Dead (1978), revisited in 1985 with Day of the Dead, and finishing in 2005 with Land of the Dead. In each film, new social themes were explored, such as racism, mass consumption, militarism, and class stratification (respectively). But each film calls back to the original in style.

1970s: Disasters, Slashers, and more Dead

In the late 1960s and 1970s a public fascination with the occult fed and was fed by a series of serious, supernatural-themed, often explicitly gory horror movies. Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) was a critical and popular success and laid the groundwork for the seminal horror film The Exorcist (1973) (directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the novel). Far from being vulgar hack-and-slash films, these peices incorporated subtext and symbolism, with production values equal to any serious film of the time. The Exorcist spawned sequels and imitators, notably The Omen (1976) and its franchise. Also noteworthy is 1973's "The Legend of Hell House", adapted from a Richard Matheson novel.

The genre fractured somewhat in the late 1970s, with mainstream Hollywood focusing on disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno, The Omega Man (a strained adaptation of Richard Matheson's brilliant book "I am Legend"), and blockbuster thrillers such as Jaws. Meanwhile, independent filmmakers upped the ante with disturbing and explicit gore-fests such as Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977); and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

It was during the seventies that horror author Stephen King first came on the film scene. Adaptations of virtually all of his books have made the screen, beginning with Brian DePalma's adaptation of King's first published novel, Carrie (1976). The 1980s got off with a bang when Stanley Kubrick, one of the most highly-regarded film directors of all time, released The Shining, another Stephen King adaptation combining elements of art film, psychological thriller, and splatter movie.

Reincarnation was also a subject of horror films, such as Robert Wise's 1977 United Artists film Audrey Rose, which dealt with a man who claims his daughter is the reincarnation of another dead person.

In 1978, the prototypical slasher movie, John Carpenter's Halloween, debuted to great popular success. An effective and atmospheric shocker, Halloween introduced the teens-threatened-by-superhuman-evil theme. This theme would be copied in dozens of lesser, increasingly violent movies throughout the 1980s including the long-running Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street series, as well as several, often far-flung, sequels to Halloween itself.

Canadian director David Cronenberg updated the mad scientist movie subgenre by exploring contempoary fears about technology and society, and singlehandedly creating the body horror genre, in Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), and Videodrome (1983).

1979's Alien combined the naturalistic acting and graphic violence of the 1970's with the monster movie plots of earlier decades, and re-acquainted the horror film with the science fiction genre.

1980s: Franchises and Splatter Comedies

A key example of the supernatural in 1980s movies is 1982's Poltergeist (directed by Tobe Hooper, who previously directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre), dealing with a family who live in a house that unknown to them is on the site of a former cemetery, thereby causing evil forces to kidnap their youngest daughter. Many sequels and a television series followed. The sequels to Friday the 13th, Alien and Wes Craven's fairy tale slasher classic A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) were the popular face of horror films in the 1980's.

70's films like Texas Chainsaw... and Dawn of the Dead contained black comedy and satire, but were too dark and serious to be funny. Motel Hell (1980) and Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case were the first 80's films that utilized the dark conventions of the previous decade while campily mocking them. Stuart Gordan's Re-Animator, The Return of the Living Dead, Lloyd Kaufman's The Toxic Avenger (all 1985), soon followed. In his explicitly slapstick sequel to the sober film The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi produced Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987), which remains the archetypal splatter comedy.

Worth historical observation is that Silent Night, Deadly Night, a very controversial film from (1984), was removed from theatres because of it being about a Santa Claus Killer.

Also worthy of note is the release of the seminal horror / sci-fi film Akira in 1988.

1990s: Was the genre dead, or just sleeping?

In the first half of the '90s, the genre continued with themes from the 1980s. The genre continued to enjoy success with films such as the sequels to the Child's Play and "Leprechaun" series.

However, the genre was beginning to rush through a transformation into more self-mocking irony and outright parody, especially in the later half of the 1990s. New Zealand director Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992) (AKA Dead-Alive in the USA) combined slapstick humour with a cavalcade of gore. Wes Craven's Scream movies featured teenagers who were fully aware of and often made reference the history of horror movies, and mixed ironic humor with the shocks. Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films both parodied and advanced the zombie genre. The form of comedy that uses gruesome horror elements has been dubbed by some as "splatstick" or "splatterstick".

Francis Ford Coppola's brilliant and evocative peice, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), was one exception to this rule. The film is truly memorable, featuring an inspired ensemble cast and a style that grasps the attention of the viewer and plunges them into a different era.

Of popular horror films in the late 90s, only 1999's surprise independent hit The Blair Witch Project attempted straight-ahead scares. But even then, the horror was accomplished in the ironic context of a mockumentary, or mock-documentary. It seemed for a while that horror films had been around for far too long to take themselves seriously anymore and still provide the chills needed to keep the genre alive.

However, the international success of Hideo Nakata's Ringu in 1997 launched a revival of serious horror filmmaking in Japan leading to such films as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse and Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on. Other advances in horror have been made through Japanese animation (for example the gruesome 'guro' animation).

The Canadian film Cube is perhaps one of the most interesting straight-up horror films of the 90s, in that it was based around a relatively novel concept, was able to evoke a wide range of different fears, and touched upon a variety of social themes (such as fear of bureaucracy) that had previously been difficult to capture.

Millennial horror

Early horror entries in the 2000s have been a mixed bag of teen exploitation (such as the Final Destination movies) and more serious attempts at mainstream horror, notably the horror-suspense films of M. Night Shyamalan and Gore Verbinski's remake of Ringu, The Ring.

Also, there was a continuation of franchises long established from previous decades. Some notable box office revivals, include the main villains of Freddy vs. Jason, Chucky from the Child's Play series in Seed of Chucky, the monsters in Van Helsing, Michael Myers from the "Halloween" series in "Halloween: Resurrection", and the prequel to "The Exorcist", called Exorcist: The Beginning.

In addition, there were some remakes of previous successes such as Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of Wax, War of the Worlds (2005 movie), and The Amityville Horror (2005 movie).

A unique feature of this decade has been a translation of video games into films. Some have been enormous successes, such as Resident Evil, while others embarressing and dismal critical and box-office failures, such as Uwe Boll's House of the Dead (2003).

Notable people and films

Notable directors

Notable actors

Notable films

See also

nl:Horrorfilm ja:ホラー映画 sv:Skrckfilm pl:horror


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