A Brief History of Horror Movies


The horror genre is one of the most popular forms of cinema with audiences all over the world today - as well as one of the most profitable for film studios. For much of the twentieth century, however, this wasn't the case. Horror has moved in and out of cinematic vogue over the last one hundred years and it is only really in the last forty years that the genre has been established as one of the cornerstones of mainstream cinema.

Boris Karloff's famous Frankenstein.
Boris Karloff's famous Frankenstein.

The Birth of a Monster

The early years of the film industry saw pioneering directors begin to experiment with supernatural events and creatures and the 1910s and 1920s saw many famous literary monsters cross over to the movie world: Frankenstein, vampires, Quasimodo the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and many more. It wasn't until the early 1930s that horror began to reach a mainstream audience, with the release of Universal Pictures' famous versions of Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931. These trailblazing Hollywood films, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, combined populist thrills and cutting edge cinematography and storytelling and went on to spawn a generation of sequels and me-too movies that kept horror firmly in the public eye well into the 1940s.

Decline and Rebirth

After the Second World War, horror fell out of favour with mainstream cinema audiences and as technology advanced, low budget monster movies increasingly seemed schlocky and unsophisticated. Though several remarkable films were made during the 1950s - like Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956 - it wasn't until the end of the decade that horror really began to re-emerge as a serious genre. The British company Hammer Film Productions were largely responsible for pulling monster movies out of their slump, with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee stepping into the shoes of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and many more in numerous films that were made up to the early 1970s.

The iconic Hammer movies defined a generation of monster movies.
The iconic Hammer movies defined a generation of monster movies.

Hammer Horror

"Hammer Horror", as the studio's trademark style became known, managed to make use of new technology despite sticking to very low budgets and titillated audiences with a thrilling mix of sex and violence. On the oppose side of the Atlantic, actor Vincent Price lent his talents to a number of high profile psychological horror films, including adoptions of Edgar Allen Poe's work, helping to revive the genre in the USA. During the late 1960s, horror once again entered a slump, though remarkable movies produced in this period like George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (both 1968) went on to have a profound effect on later filmmakers.

Bruce Campbell, star of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films.
Bruce Campbell, star of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films.

Romero and Modern Horror

The mid-1970s marked the start of an era of blockbuster horror as films with large budgets and very high productions values, like 1973's The Exorcist and 1976's The Omen, began to garner both critical and commercial acclaim. At the same time, the influence of Romero and Polanski's early films was aptly demonstrated by a new wave of movies that introduced elements of the 1960s countercultural political movement. Films like Romero's own Dawn of the Dead, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes and the works of David Cronenberg all made bold political or social statements at the time of their release.

At the same time, the genre was branching out, from the sci-fi horror of 1977's Alien to Sam Raimi's cult splatter movie The Evil Dead and its sequel. Horror stayed firmly in the public consciousness throughout the 1980s as "video nasties" created a moral panic and a wave of sequels to slasher films like Halloween, Friday the Thirteenth and Nightmare on Elm Street spawned a new wave of monsters in the likes of Jason Voorhees and Freddie Krueger. The most successful horror movies of today - like the Saw and Hostel franchises - are undoubtedly inspired by the gore of these 80s cult classics.

Horror in the twenty-first century has enjoyed a new lease of life as a succession of new DVD releases of older movies have introduced a new generation of fans to the classics and allowed the genre to blossom into a cult industry all of its own, with merchandise, zombie walks and conventions now a firm fixture in the lives of the most dedicated horror aficionados.

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Glimmer515 profile image

Glimmer515 5 years ago from Never Never Land

Its funny I came upon this hub randomly cause I am watching Evil Dead 2 right now! haha

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