Horror Films

Scaring Our Pants off since 1895

         What do vampires, werewolves, aliens, axe murderers, giant reptiles altered by radiation, and brilliant serial killers all have in common? They have made Hollywood billions of dollars in the box office and in DVD sales; but, more importantly, they have been bringing to life the nightmares of millions of movie-goers all over the world. Since the beginning of the cinema, there have always been horror films.

         With every generation comes a new version of the horror genre. The earliest films dealt with supernatural creatures and monsters and were said to be influenced by German impressionistic paintings, and of course, literature. Silent films like F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) were based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, even though the filmmakers did not have the rights, so all the names had to be changed of course.

         Once the horror genre crossed over to America beginning in the 1930's, the feel changed from gothic to commercial. This is the time when monsters created in a mad scientist's lab were big. This is the time when the original Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), James Whale's Frankenstein (1931), Karl Freund's The Mummy (1932), Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), and Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's King Kong (1933) were all made within two years of each other, and set the way for dozens of remakes.

         In the 1950's, the fear of the cold war and the threat of a nuclear attack changed the scene again to science fiction including alien attacks and mutated species. Movies like Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Jack Arnold's The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) kept American's paranoid at fever pitch.

         The 1960's brought the psychological thriller. Films featuring realistic settings with mentally disturbed villains were made famous by directors like Alfred Hitchcock in his movie Psycho (1960).

         The 70's gave us more than one reason to be afraid. There were the religious themed movies in which the devil possessed children in films such as Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) and William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973). With all the special effects we have today, The Exorcist is still considered to be one of the top five scariest movies in history. It was re-released in theatres in 2003 with added bonus features, and had the same frightening reactions as it did thirty years earlier. The second horror theme in the 70's depicted catastrophes and natural disasters in movies like John Guillermin's The Towering Inferno (1974) and Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975).

         In the 1980's the slasher movies were introduced. These are movies in which a single inviolable being kills dozens of innocent people, usually teenagers. Sex is punished by death, and virgins live to be in the sequel. This decade gave us movies like Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), John Carpenter's Halloween (1974), and Sean Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980). This is also the decade when movies were made cheap and quick; so many sequels were produced within a year of each other.

         In the 1990's, the psychological thrillers from the 60's were revived but with even more twists and turns like in movies such as Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991). That brings us to today; the turn of the century. Have the 2000's brought a totally new and original theme to scare the pants of the youngest generation? Well, mostly there are remakes of the old classics, but the more original movies take the gore and slasher flicks of the 80's to a whole new level. It is not enough to just slice or stab victims; the movies of today have to slowly torture their victims until death is a relief. Movies like Eli Roth's Hostel (2005) and James Wan's Saw (2003) used creatively sick and twisted plots to thin out their casts.

         Although horror movies have evolved and branched out over the years, their purpose remains the same, to bring our deepest, scariest, and even ridiculous fears to life. Ever since the American filmmakers got their hands on the genre, it has taken off. There were over 100 horror films put out last year alone. Many of them went straight to DVD of course. It is one genre that has persistently grown and reinvented itself over the years, and it does not seem that it will slow down any time soon. I think that so long as movies keep giving us something to be scared of, we will keep letting them scare us, and loving every minute of it.

Patricia Combow

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