Going to the movies
may not seem like a novel way for little kids to spend an afternoon.
But have you ever brought your child to see a Disney flick and
ended up viewing trailers for Jeepers Creepers 2 or Freddie vs.
When this happened in a Birmingham, Alabama cinema
last year, parents became concerned about what the main attraction
would be. But before the managers at the cinema could turn off
the previews, the main attraction came on, and it wasn't Piglet.
Instead they were presented with the gruesome opening of Wrong
Turn, an 18-rated slasher flick in much the same vein as the previews.
Is there a more genre more criticized than the horror
film? Not bloody likely. There's the argument that horror films
are socially and morally irresponsible, even influencing some
people to imitate the brutal methods of the killers portrayed
on screen. Horror films actually have the opposite effect on normal
people - sick minds will commit atrocities anyway. Watching horror
films lets us encounter our secret fears, share them with other
viewers, and eliminate the terror by meeting it head-on.
The genre is almost as old as cinema itself -the
silent short film Le Manoir du Diable directed by Georges Mèliès
in 1896 was the first horror movie and the first vampire flick.
The movie only lasted two minutes, but audiences loved it, and
Mèliès took pleasure in giving them even more devils
In the early 1900's German filmmakers created the
first horror-themed feature films, and director Paul Wegener enjoyed
great success with his version of the old Jewish folk tale Der
Golem in 1913 (which he remade – to even greater success
- in 1920). This fable about an enormous clay figure, which is
brought to life by an antiquarian and then fights against its
forced servitude, was a clear precursor to the many monster movies
that flourished in Hollywood during the Thirties.
The most enduring early German horror film is probably
F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), the first feature-length
vampire movie. But one movie paved the way for the 'serious' horror
film - and art cinema in general - Robert Wiene's work of genius,
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, still held up as a model of the potent
creativity of cinema to this day.
Early Hollywood drama dabbles in horror themes including
versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) starring Lon Chaney,
the first American horror-film movie star.
It was in the early 1930's that Universal Studios
created the modern horrorfilm 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. No other studio had as much success with the
genre (even if some of the films made at Paramount and MGM were
In the nuclear-charged atmosphere of the 1950's
the tone of horror films shifted away from the gothic and towards
the modern. Aliens took over the local cinema, if not the world,
and they were not at all interested in extending the tentacle
of friendship. Humanity had to overcome endless threats from Outside:
alien invasions, and deadly mutations to people, plants, and insects.
Two of the most popular films of the period were The Thing From
Another World (1951) and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956).
Horror movies became a lot more lurid - and gorier
- in the late Fifties as the technical side of cinematography
became easier and cheaper. This era saw the rise of studios centered
exclusively on horror, particularly British production company
Hammer Films, which focused on bloody remakes of traditional 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.
The early 1960's saw the release of two films that
sought to close the gap between the subject matter and the viewer,
and involve the latter in the reprehensible deeds shown on screen.
One was Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, the other was a very low-budget
film called Psycho, both using all-too-human monsters rather than
supernatural ones to scare the audience.
When Rosemary's Baby began ringing tills in the
late Sixties, horror film budgets rose significantly, and many
top names jumped at the chance to show off their theatrical skills
in a horror pic. By that time, a public fascination with the occult
led to a series of serious, supernatural-themed, often explicitly
gruesome horror movies. The Exorcist (1973) broke all records
for a horror film, and led to the commercial success of The Omen.
In 1975 Jaws, directed by a young Steven Spielberg,
became the highest grossing film ever. The genre fractured somewhat
in the late 1970's, with mainstream Hollywood focusing on disaster
movies such as The Towering Inferno while independent filmmakers
came up with disturbing and explicit gore-fests such as Tobe Hooper's
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
John Carpenter's Halloween introduced the teens-threatened-by-superhuman-evil
theme that would be copied in dozens of increasingly violent movies
throughout the 1980's including the long running Friday the 13th
and A Nightmare on Elm Street series. Horror movies turned to
self-mocking irony and downright parody in the 1990's - the teenagers
in Scream often made reference to the history of horror movies.
Only 1999's surprise independent hit The Blair Witch Project attempted
So go ahead, take a stroll through these favourite
horror movies of all time. But pick your way very carefully, this
walk is not for the faint of heart. And if you happen to hear
what sounds like some subdued whispering or soft creepy grating
sounds, just pay no attention to it. It's probably only the wind...
About the Author
Astrid Bullen is a freelance writer and movie buff living in St.
George’s, Grenada. Visit her cool movie website at http://aboutfilm.info.
the Features Page