How Horror Has Changed Over the Last 100 Years: #HorrorFridays
Happy #HorrorFridays, collectors! Let’s talk history.
As a general rule, we love to be scared.
Psychology suggests that we love horror so much because we’re always looking to feel as affected as possible from the entertainment we consume. It also seems to appeal to collectors for a multitude of reasons, not limited to aesthetic, character design, and the memorability of classics and franchise refreshers alike.
In essence, we love horror because we love to feel things. Whilst arguably chock full of pacing and SFX that would to today’s audience more likely elicit laughter than screams, it’s important to keep in mind that the horror cannon is teeming with gems, too. For me, nothing will ever trump the unadulterated terror of watching Michael Myers come back to life again for the first time, or of coming face to face with my first Chucky replica doll. Even in terms of modern classics, creatures like Stephen King’s Pennywise and the formidable demon-doll Annabelle are all based on elements of traditional horror, if not on traditional horror films themselves. (Or, in Annabelle’s case, real life events. Brb, crying in the corner.)
From black and white to technicolour and to the introduction of CGI and special effects, horror creators are constantly reinventing the genre to keep audience members on their toes. If reboots like Halloween (2018) and Netflix adaptation Scream (2017) aren’t enough to convince you that horror is a constantly shifting and morphing art form, then surely you can at least admit that they spark controversial discussion amongst old and new horror fans alike.
It is the age old question: is originality really dead, or are we constantly breathing new life into an age-old art form? Take a look at our timeline and let us know what you think.
1920s Thrills & Chills
Motion picture technology seriously ramped up the scare factor for Hollywood horror. With films like Nosferatu spearheading a generation of American cinema, The Phantom of the Opera, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it isn’t hard to see why these classics are still being referenced, adapted, and adored today. A handful of decades after the 1896 short The House of the Devil (one of if not the first of all horror films), the Roaring Twenties were all about slow suspense, ghastly character reveals, and putting visuals to beloved literary classics.
German silent horror films like Waxworks (1924) are to blame for the boom in fantasy-horror that no doubt led to later, greater classics. Director Paul Leni would go on to make The Cat and the Canary (1927) in the States, solidifying to audience members of the late 20s the idea of the horror damsel in distress with Laura La Plante’s Annabelle West. The film is often credited for marrying both the ‘haunted house’ and ‘psychopath on the loose’ tropes, and it can’t be faulted as a classic which has gone on to inspire generations of suspense building and visual storytelling. That said, it’s funny to think how a film like The Cat and the Canary might do with modern horror standards. I highly doubt that we as a culture would be just as quick to put up with Annabelle’s shrieking and cowering as we were in 1927.
Although it can’t go unsaid that Nosferatu (1922) is probably the pivotal example of an adaptation that went on to spearhead a trend in monster movies, establishing the vampire as the creature of the night to be feared at all costs. Of course, vampires haven’t stuck it out in media as the monsters they were once intended to be, but there are still plenty of great modern films (like 2008 Swedish novel adaptation Let the Right One In) that are working their butts off to re-establish how audience members receive blood-suckers. What do you guys think?
The Monster Movie Golden Age of the 1930s
Arguably the pivotal era in establishing these archetypal movie monsters, the 1930s was Universal Studios’ time to shine in jumping on the bloodied bandwagon. With classics like Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and The Werewolf in London (1935), this was the veritable monster mash of cinema standards.
These films followed a formula that Hollywood was trying not to mess with, and featured early special effects and the first ever zombie movie with White Zombie in 1932.
Nearly 100 years later and filmmakers are still basing horror tropes off of those found in the Golden Age, if not adding much needed refreshers and flipping conventions on their heads with horror/thriller masterpieces like Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017).
Sequel City: The 1940s
Just like today, audience members do not have endless patience or limitless attention spans, and it became quickly obvious that the Universal Monster Method just wasn’t doing it for them anymore.
With sequels and crossovers galore, Hollywood tried its damn best to keep the formula alive. Unfortunately, they just seemed to be beating a dead horse… although it should be noted that there were some decent flicks to come out of the decade, such as Oscar Wilde adaptation The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and The Uninvited (1944).
Horror comedy began to take off, although it is still up for debate as to whether films like Abott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) did a good job. Meanwhile, films such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), which really should have been classed as horror comedy, tried in earnest not to stale up the genre. To be fair, there was a war going on.
The 1950s Nuclear Monster Family
The return of monster movies and a Cold War culture’s overwhelming sense of impending doom and invasion fears gave the 1950s the kick it needed to scare the pants off of audience members again. 1951 flick The Thing from Another World was among the first to kick off this trend, with classics such as Godzilla (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955), and The Blob (1958) following suit.
The 1950s saw a big increase in characterisation and body horror, too, with films like House of Wax (1953) and The Fly (1958) pushing the boundaries on gore and 1954 classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon cementing itself into the horror cannon.
Arguably the end of an era wherein audience members could be lured into movie theatres with promises of haunted houses and creatures that crept in the shadows, the 1950s were a turning point in how much we could stomach as fans of horror and where the genre was destined to go next.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara”: Redefining Horror in the Swinging ‘60s
Definitely the decade of controversy. The 1960s social movements led to increased boundary pushing on films of all manner, not limited to just sex and violence (though audience members began to see a lot of that, too.) The Slasher genre saw its origins in films like Psycho (1960) and Peeping Tom (1960), and The Little Shop of Horrors breathed new life into horror comedy with memorable characters. (Feed us more remakes, Seymour!)
Additionally, the 1960s churned out gems such as 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Birds (1963), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), continuing to play with audience members’ fears reflecting both the social climate and boundaries which had previously gone un-pushed. Directors like Alfred Hitchcock were cashing in big time on what they could get away with both in terms of genre redefining and how they treated their talent, most notably with Tippi Hedren’s real life horror while filming The Birds in ’63. (Little known fact, but the poor girl had live birds tied to her. Nothing will perhaps ever be quite so metal.)
The decade would go on to inspire years and years of boundary pushing, though it is still up for debate as to which films went too far and which changed the face of horror forever. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Pushing the envelope with a healthy dose of nihilism in the 1970s
The decade of “meh, whatever, people will get over it”, the 1970s saw an increase in sex, blood, and violence galore. The Exorcist (1973) is still regarded by many horror fans today as the scariest movie ever made, and possessed Regan will go on to live in our worst nightmares. 1974 Slasher classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre gave the franchise the low-budget, high-response boost it was so badly craving, and the moral debates sparked from graphic films like I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) are still going on today.
There are too many other classics to come out of this decade to name in one go, but here are some of the most notable:
- The Wicker Man (1973)— no, not the one with Nicholas Cage in it
- Jaws (1975), a shark movie that’s more thriller than horror but features enough blood and gore in the last thirty minutes that it just tows the line
- The Omen (1976), giving couples everywhere yet another reason not to procreate (lest they raise the literal anti-Christ)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978), another great addition to the zombie franchise
- Halloween (1978), a classic that still scares the pants off of audience members everywhere today and featuring what is arguably the most notorious soundtrack of any horror film
- Alien (1979), a redefiner which— okay, it goes without saying guys, this one is awesome
- The Amityville Horror (1979), credited (by yours truly) as Making Ghosts Scary Again, and
- When a Stranger Calls (1979), sparking babysitter paranoia, decades of Creepypasta, and, yep, another reason not to answer your phone. The call is coming from inside the genre!
Slashers Galore in the 1980s
It wasn’t just a time for Bowie, scrunchies, and abhorrent patterns, though lord knows it was that, too. Filmmakers were desperate to keep the franchise alive for the popular culture’s newfound love for soundtracks, notable aesthetics, and stranger danger, with winners such as Fright Night, The Shining, and Friday the 13th all making their debuts in the first year of this epic era.
It goes without saying that Stephen King ruled this decade. Other than The Shining, filmmakers went on to adapt works of his such as Pet Semetary, too, and his influence over the genre began to make itself apparent even in other works. 1981 films My Bloody Valentine and The Evil Dead made headway for greats like Poltergeist in 1982 and Fright Night in 1985, while family-friendly flicks such as Ghostbusters and Gremlins introduced less frightening elements inspired by the genre to be enjoyed by a wider audience.
We can also hold this decade responsible for Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and Tom Holland’s 1988 Child’s Play, films which continue to inspire super random phobias in moviegoers everywhere. I saw both of these films more than ten years after their release and I am still to this day terrified of talking dolls and going to sleep. Seriously.
Teen Screams of the 1990s
Scream (1996) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) were among some of the films to ramp up the shriek factor during this decade and inspired a huge cult following. ‘90s movies seemed to be suspiciously self-aware, and horror directors truly did not hold any punches when it came to questioning and reinventing the genre.
Here are our picks for some of the most notable horrors to come out of this decade:
- Arachnophobia (1990)
- Misery (1990)
- It (1990)
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- Candyman (1992)
- Jurassic Park (1993)
- Se7en (1995)
- The Craft (1996)
- Ring (1998)
- The Blair Witch Project (1999)
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
Tell us what you think we’re missing in the comments!
Horror Meets the Twenty First Century: The 2000s
Remakes, remakes, and more remakes. We had The Ring, The Grudge, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Dawn of the Dead to re-establish horror classics, and there is no faulting the logic that the originals aren’t always better.
The 2000s also introduced horror fans to the “torture porn” genre with originals like Saw and Eli Roth’s Hostel as well as upping the gore on zombie flicks with 28 Days Later. Horror comedy got a makeover with Scary Movie, Zombieland, and, if you want to look at it that way, Final Destination. (Or maybe that’s just me.)
Prom Night, The Strangers, Shutter, and Resident Evil were among many more to squeeze themselves into the horror cannon, and the decade was topped off with greats like Sweeney Todd, Cloverfield, Let the Right One In and Paranormal Activity. Sub-genres such as found footage, horror-comedy, and stylised musicals were among some of the awesome, awesome things that peaked their head out of the first decade of the new millennium.
If you ask fans of general movie-goers or casual horror fans, chances are their favourite horror flick comes from this decade. Tell us yours in the comments!
2010 to Now: What’s Next?
Kicking off the new decade with Insidious and The Cabin in the Woods, the latest decade has seen plenty of remakes, originals, and redefining modern classics that will surely go on to inspire many more decades of blood, guts, and glory for fans of the genre.
With It, Hereditary, The Conjuring, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Babdook, Get Out, Halloween, It Follows, Let Me In, The Purge and Sinister, there are countless great things to have come out of the decade so far, and many more to come in 2018 and the future!
Tell us your picks for the best upcoming horror movies in the comments. What was your favourite decade for this genre?
Happy collecting, horrors.