The History of Horror Movies

The history of horror movies is longer than most fans are aware of. The first horror movie, The Devil's Castle (1896) was only two minutes long, but as film began to reach a wider audience, the popularity if horror movies increased, as did their sophistication and power.

A Horror Movie Timeline

  • Silent but scary. Surreal, asymmetrical and stylized, silent horror movies of the 1920s reflected the visual style of the expressionist painters of the time. From the claustrophobic, dream-like intensity of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919) to the creepy brilliance of the first vampire movie Nosferatu (1922), black and white masterworks created the foundation for the horror genre.
  • The sound of horror. The 1930s introduced the era of talking pictures and sound added an extra dimension of terror to horror movies of the time. Classic of the era drew from 19th century literature to create horror movies like Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931). The mad-scientist character was forever cemented in movie history by Frankenstein, but also by movies like The Island of Lost Souls (1933), The Invisible Man (1933) and The Devil Doll (1936).
  • If it worked once… The 1940s found Universal relying on its own work for the bulk of its horror output during the war years, with sequels and combinations of its previous hit horror characters. One original creation, The Wolf Man (1941), proved so popular however, the studio couldn't resist making a number of movies that added him into the mix. Movies like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and House of Frankenstein (1944) may be seen as evidence that Universal went to the well once (or twice) too often.
  • It came from beyond. In the 1950s, the threat of nuclear war and the painful memory of real life horrors, relegated horror movies to the B-list. The rise of the mutant (often gigantic) creature as the star of movies such as Them! (1954), Godzilla (1954) and It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955) reflected an era when society believed science might be out of control.
  • Transition and revolution. Although the 1960s started out optimistically enough, they ended in social turmoil. Similarly, horror movies early in the decade were defined by inexpensive drive-in movies like House of Usher (1960) and The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), while later films like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) tended toward social commentary masked as horror.
  • The enemy is us. Rampant 1970s social paranoia led to the creation of a string of horror movies where the monster was essentially a normal person gone wrong. Beginning with The Exorcist (1973) and extending through Carrie (1976) and Halloween (1978). These movies revel in making the commonplace turn gruesome.
  • The wonders of modern technology. In the 1980s, technology began to catch up with vision. Advanced special effects made gore and fantastical beings the order of the day. Movies like An American Werewolf In London (1981) and The Howling (1981) added amazing transition effects to the werewolf genre. While The Thing (1982) and Re-Animator (1985) used the new technology to create a disturbing blood opus.
  • Serial innovation. In the first half of the 1990s, horror became obsessed with the serial killer as se7en (1995) and the Oscar winning Silence of the Lambs (1991) blurred the line between horror and suspense thriller. Later in the decade, innovative movies like Scream (1996) broke the "fourth wall" or created new visual vocabularies like The Blair Witch Project (1999).
  • Global terror. In a post 9/11 world, horror has again come to reflect or societal fears and world view. Movies like 28 Days Later (2002) and the Spanish film I(2007) reflect our fear of global contagion and bio-terror. Meanwhile, the rise in popularity of Japanese Horror shows that horror fans understand that their genre is enjoyed and created around the world.
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