A history of the horror genre
Horror; superstition dwelling from folklore, mythological beasts fabricated in description to tell tales to strike fear into the hearts of village people, or used as a deterrent to demand order throughout the course of history. In this report I will analyze the development and evolution of the conventions and taboos conceived through historical horror films, and incentives relevant in their times that influenced them.
Nosferatu was a 1920’s black and white monster movie produced in Germany proceeding the aftermath and the decimation of World War One. The antagonist of the film was a mythical monster shaped and based on a 19th century novel called Dracula; a blood sucking beast whose proficiency to stay alive was to thrive on human blood. His victims would be deceived to believing the creature to be of human nature, for him to reveal his disfigured, nefarious evil identity and the sinister character he was. The motivation of the strong imitation of contraction of disease given orally by the vampire, reflected a wide-scale epidemic hitting Eastern Europe coinciding with the era of the film, which the public would have been familiar with the theme of death of such cause.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was a 1919 horror film directed and produced in Germany, representing the exploits of a cynical and deranged doctor of a local asylum in an isolated German mountain village. The movie challenged the realms of reality and introduced the graphical depiction of surrealism; with the audience memorized by the distorted scenery with the contemporary documentary style comprehensively adopted at that time. The sophisticated framing device pioneered in the film distilled the truth of who appeared as the insane character, as nothing was believed to be tangible. The epilogue is perceived as a momentous scene in the early horror-film industry, twisting the plot beyond the audiences’ intuition by stating that the narrator’s story was in fact a fantasy. The influence embedded in the film was concept drafted in by the films co-directors; although not subliminary but more a chilling envisage of a future embodiment of the reign of Hitler.
The 1930’s paved the way for the incorporation of sound, which director’s utilized to emit special effects, fabricate the faintest sounds and amplify the growl or macabre footsteps. Frankenstein, an early 1930’s monster movie depicted an audacious scientist genetically fusing lifeless limbs to reanimate a dead corpse. The film brilliantly toyed with the theme of blasphemy, influenced by the original Mary Shelley novel reflecting the influx of scientific contraptions and marauding body snatchers of her time. Dr.Frankenstein’s success mirrored the stark warnings issued throughout history, of playing God; the sacrilegious intervention of science would have devastating repercussions. As the monster wreaked havoc only causing anguish, as a result of his brain procured from a criminals anatomy.
In the 1940’s horror wasn’t derailed by the slightest mention of the word war, but neither did American film producers branch out in case of citing immoral uproar or polemic affairs by imitating the scenes globally. However, horror films were still advancing and continuing fashion by establishing more rural myths and conceiving legends such as the wolf man. The story follows a regular American returning to the roots of his heritage in Wales, settling the quarrels and differences endured with his father revolving around the death of his brother. Only to become a fatal victim of an ancient predator’s curse known as a werewolf, which transforms the victim into an immortal beast by the rise of the full moon. The obvious fuel for the film was though in fact Hitler; a predator in the making who democratically built a revered reputation of which the communities were fully aware of his ascension, identical to the wolf. Ironically the inhabitants of the secluded, fictional Welsh village were uneducated in war; where as the director of the film had escaped from the persecutions of Nazi Germany.
The 1942 film ‘Cat people’ epitomized the advances in special effects, new approaches and revolutionary codes and conventions. Another chapter in the laws of horror were scripted and adhered to; by exposing a woman’s psychological fears of her unmundane, ritualistic, descendant’s cat-like appearance taking a strain on her own body, by introducing shocks to a horror film. As experimented and implemented brilliantly the lead character Irena stalks her unfaithful spouse’s lover down a street; traced by shadows and abruptly ended by the arrival of a bus. Progressing through the film her husbands companion Alice, doesn’t actually witness the panther-like creature until the latter epilogue, but shocks and interpretive clues such as the famous cannoned shadow projected on the wall of the swimming pool inducted suspense. The budget of the film generated substantial income considering the initial figures of $150,000, which proved flamboyant budgets of sequel monster movies produced by rival companies could be bettered by other sub-genres.
The 1950’s casted a prolonged shadow that reverberated around theatres, studios and audiences in the form of extra-terrestrial sightings, and the apocalyptic fears of how technology and science could spiral the mere existence of man to plummet were vivid. All a product of the atom bomb’s aftermath; terror of genetic mutations from radiation, or mutation from indulging in scientific modification or cosmetics. The perpetrator or meddler was a self-pitied scapegoat (the American government), and showed remorse through uniting the everyday citizen and the new heroic armed forces in such films as ‘the beast from 20,000 fathoms’. In the film the gargantuan threat is a prehistoric dinosaur as an alternative to King Kong, instinctively heading back to its rudimentary territory which happens to be 1950’s New York. His rude awakening is conducted accidently by what is thought to be isolated atomic testing in the arctic terrain; however the beast is vanquished by the apparent benevolent uses of nuclear weapons after causing several economic damages and fatalities.
Invasion of the body snatchers plays on the prophetical theory that extra-terrestrial entities co-exists with people, and are stealthily and prudently wiping out the human-race. In the film ‘pod-people’ replicate the population of a fictional town, rapidly producing imposters of the townspeople. The distinct characteristic of these aliens are that they are blank of emotion or soul, with no diversity except for their appearance. The remaining humans are eradicated, leaving only the local doctor to formulate his frantic escape and warn humanity. The uncanny alien motivation on the film stems from the decade’s hoax alien sightings and the late 1940’s Roswell incident. However skeptical non-believers cultivated their orthodox beliefs, the film definitely hinged on the communist animosity strife in 1950’s America. For a high grossing film of its time of over 2 million dollars, the film was free of major cosmetics and special FX, and the newly incepted Technicolor pioneered in low-budget monster movies, with an investment of approximately $300,000.
The mass psychedelic rallies, Vietnam war coverage and youth liberation turned the social conformity and status quo upside down in the 1960’s. Horror films were induced by the revolution around them, the repercussions meant violence and sex were casual impurities and mainstream/underground cinema lifted strict censorship and embargo on eroticism in horror films.
Night of the living dead directed by George Romero and released in 1967, depicted re-animated dead corpses which desired human flesh of eight confined, bunkered refugees who found sanctuary in a house. The film depicted the team’s struggle to cooperate and cohere, as they bicker and quarrel attempting to survive the legion of the dead. The group’s valiant efforts eventually resulted in a sour ending, being devoured alive, executed or suffering the same re-animated fate as the undead themselves. The film’s subliminal message which when decoded outlined the uproar in society that coincided in the era; the inability and deficiency of the community to work together, whether it is satirical issues it flirts with or not.
The 1970’s addressed the psychological, social and cultist fears of children developed and elaborated on in the latter 1960’s. A combination between liberalism, the effects of natal drug deformities, and mortified parents towards their offspring’ independence and scorn towards society. But it was also the decade where special effects catapulted in Hollywood blockbusters such as Jaws. The antagonist was one of nature’s tenacious predators; a great white shark which terrorizes a fictional village dependent on tourism as their summer trade and revenue. Brody, the newly inducted town sheriff attempts to convince the defiant council to cordon and restrict entry to the beach, so the abomination could be dealt with. However the council refuses to let their summer income fade away and dwindle, rendering Brody as the vigilante character who has to gather allies and hault the shark’s killing spree. The investment saw a large boost in funding of up to $7,000,000 (almost seven times more spent than B-side movies from the 50’s and 60’s). Ticket sales warranted up to $500,000,000 grossed, typical of the surge in the last two decades where adolescents and adults were a combined audience flocking to cinemas.
The exorcist was a groundbreaking horror film released in 1973, revolving around the grueling exorcism of a demonic possessed 12-year old, who traumatizes her parents and priest conducting the exorcism by exposing paranormal activity and supernatural power. The fiend or demon diagnosed as the host of the girl spurts blasphemous and derogatory remarks towards the priest and the parents, evoking abilities defying physics such as levitation and immaculate strength. The realistic special effects were an apotheosis of on-screen technology incorporated into 1970’s horror, and the austere nature which horror films had developed from society compared to risible hammer films in the 1950’s/60s. The film
An American Werewolf in London