Certain stories and themes have proven popular and have inspired many sequels, remakes, and copycats. See Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, werewolves, and zombies.
History and milestonesThe horror genre is nearly as old as film itself. The first "monster movies" were silent shorts created by film pioneer Georges Melies in the late 1890s. The earliest horror-themed feature films were created by German filmmakers in the early 1900s; the most enduring of these is probably F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu 1922, the first vampire-themed feature. Early Hollywood dramas dabbled in horror themes including versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Monster (1925) (both starring Lon Chaney, the first American horror-film movie star).
It was in the early 1930s that American movie studios, particularly Universal Studios, created the modern horror film genre, bringing to the screen a series of successful gothic-steeped features including Dracula, Frankenstein (both 1931), and The Mummy (1932) (all of which spawned numerous sequels). These films, while designed to thrill, also incorporated more serious elements, and were influenced by the Freudian concepts that were gaining currency at the time. Actors, notably Boris Karloff, began to build careers around the genre.
In the nuclear-charged atmosphere of the 1950s the tone of horror films shifted away from the gothic and towards the modern. A seemingly endless parade of low-budget productions featured humanity overcoming threats from Outside: alien invasions, and deadly mutations to people, plants, and insects. During this time the horror and sci-fi genres were often interchangable. These films provided ample opportunity for audience exploitation, with gimmicks such as 3-D and "Percepto" (producer William Castle's electric-shock technique used for 1957's The Tingler) drawing audiences in week after week for bigger and better scares. The better horror films of this period, including Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World (1951) and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers managed to channel the paranoia of the Cold War into atmospheric creepiness without resorting to exploitation. Filmmakers would continue to merge elements of science fiction and horror, notably in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979).
The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the rise of studios centered specifically around horror, notably British production company Hammer Films, which specialized in bloody remakes of classic horror stories, often starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and American International Pictures (AIP), which made a series of Edgar Allan Poe themed films starring Vincent Price. These sometimes-controversial productions paved the way for more explicit violence in both horror and mainstream films.
Later in the 1960s the genre moved towards non-supernatural psychological horror, with thrillers such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) using all-too-human monsters rather than supernatural ones to scare the audience. Michael Powell's Peeping Tom was a notable example of this genre. Psychological horror films would continue to appear sporadically with 1991's The Silence of the Lambs a later highlight of the subgenre.
In the late 1960s and 1970s a public fascination with the occult fed and was fed by a series of serious, supernatural-themed, often explicitly gory horror movies. Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) was a critical and popular success and laid the groundwork for the seminal horror film The Exorcist (1973) (directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the novel). Far from exploitation, these films incorporated subtext and symbolism, and had production values equal to any serious film of the time. The Exorcist spawned numerous sequels and imitators, notably The Omen (1976).
The genre fractured somewhat in the late 1970s, with mainstream Hollywood focusing on disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno and blockbuster thrillers such as Jaws while independent filmmakers upped the ante with disturbing and explicit gore-fests such as Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). In 1978, the prototypical slasher movie, John Carpenter's Halloween, debuted to great popular success. An effective and atmospheric shocker, Halloween introduced the teens-threatened-by-superhuman-evil theme that would be copied in dozens of lesser, increasingly violent movies throughout the 1980s including the long-running Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street series, as well as several, often far-flung, sequels to Halloween itself.
With nowhere left to go in the realm of explicit violence, horror movies turned to self-mocking irony and outright parody in the 1990s. Wes Craven's Scream movies featured teenagers who were fully aware of and often made reference the history of horror movies, and mixed ironic humor with the shocks. Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films both parodied and advanced the zombie genre. Of popular recent horror films, only 1999's surprise independent hit The Blair Witch Project attempted straight-ahead scares, and then in the ironic context of a mock documentary.
Early horror entries in the 2000s have been a mixed bag of teen exploitation (such as the Final Destination movies) and more serious attempts at mainstream horror, notably the horror-suspense films of M. Night Shyamalan and Gore Verbinski's remake of the Japanese horror film Ringu, The Ring.
Notable horror film directors include:
- Dario Argento,
- John Carpenter,
- Roger Corman,
- Wes Craven,
- David Cronenberg,
- Tobe Hooper,
- F. W. Murnau.
- Jamie Lee Curtis,
- Peter Cushing,
- Boris Karloff,
- Christopher Lee,
- Peter Lorre,
- Bela Lugosi,
- Vincent Price.