Horror films have existed for as long as motion pictures have been produced, significantly evolving over time. The earliest horror films were silent pictures- Nosferatu, an early vampire film, became a classic. Another famous example was “The Phantom of the Opera,” released in 1925. It featured movie star Lon Chaney wearing frightening makeup.
Terror After “Talkies”
By the ’30s and ’40s, horror “talkies” began to appear. Some of the most popular were based on popular literary characters like Frankenstein and Dracula. Horror in this era was primarily based on fantasy-based monsters, like the Wolfman and the Invisible Man.
Later on, horror movies began to incorporate allegorical elements. In the 1950s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Godzilla successfully exploited moviegoers’ fears about communist invasion and the misuse of nuclear power. This was also a heyday for suspense films, most prominently those by famed British director Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho, Rear Window and The Birds all relied on suspense, instead of gruesome effects, to terrify audiences. By the 1960s, however, many horror films began to feature increasingly graphic content. Movies such as Night of the Living Dead and Blood Feast shocked audiences with their extreme gore.
The genre took off in popularity during the 1970s. One of the most popular thrillers ever made, The Exorcist, was released in 1973. It featured Linda Blair as an innocent twelve year old girl who becomes possessed by an evil demon. It’s horrifying and intense scenes depicting demonic possession are still well known today. The film was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) also had a profound impact on audiences. Like Hitchcock’s films, Texas Chainsaw relied more on suspense than gore. The movie was renowned for its highly suspenseful sequences. Carrie, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, was released in 1976. Sissy Spacek won critical acclaim for her portrayal of the title character, a shy girl who possesses supernatural abilities that are out of her control. Carrie became a legendary horror flick. It recently was remade and the new version will be released in October 2013.
The Halloween franchise was originated in 1978. This “slasher” picture featured Michael Myers, an evil killer who escapes from a mental institution and returns to his hometown to wreak havoc on Halloween night. The film featured Jamie Lee Curtis in her first role as young would-be victim Laurie Strode. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho, Halloween emphasized suspense over gore.
Its success led to an explosion of slasher movies in the 1980s. Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street eventually surpassed Halloween in popularity. Both series emphasized creative murder sequences and clever special effects over traditional suspense. New installments of these series were released like clockwork throughout the ’80s and beyond.
By the ’90s, mass audiences were tired of horror movie clichés and the industry hit a crossroads. Many horror flicks were released directly to video or as television movies and now can be watched on double play. Scream (1996) capitalized on this mood brilliantly. This hip, self-referential film parodied thriller clichés while also using some of them. It became a massive hit and spawned a series of sequels. The Blair Witch Project (1999) also became extremely influential and kick-started the popularity of the “found footage” subgenre.
By the early 21st century, horror movies had evolved back to more serious post Scream fare. The Saw and Paranormal Activity movies were the most popular during this time period. Saw was an extremely graphic series featuring scenes of prolonged torture, while Paranormal Activity used supposedly homemade “found footage” to depict ghostly happenings. Another popular thriller was Insidious (2011). It featured a family being haunted by a malevolent force. Its popularity led to the recent release of Insidious 2, becoming a major box office success.
Huge thanks to London McGuire who wrote this article for BLURPPY. Follow her on TWITTER where she describes herself as follows: Chocolate-loving foodie and contributing writer for several all-things-geek, sports and fashion sites. All-American gal, British name.