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The Evolution And History Of American Horror Films

Updated on October 23, 2012


This is my tribute to American horror films through the ages. The article will not be focused on any particular movies nor will it be a list of horror movies, but rather the entire film category and its assorted styles of pulling out our deepest fears.

Horror films have been around nearly as long as the entire process of filming for audiences has, beginning for the United States, with the 1910 release of Frankenstein. It was a crudely filmed movie to say the least, but given the technology of the era it is considered quite the masterpiece. the film was produced by Edison Manufacturing Company and was used in part as an advertisement for Thomas Edison's Kinetogram.

Aside from the films "typical of the era" poor film quality and the fact that it's only 16 minutes long, it holds its own very well. After the initial release of this classic film it wasn't long before many more silent, black and white horror attractions were produced.

1920s, 30's and 40's

In the mid to late 1920s the primary steps of commercialization of sound cinema were taken in the United States. Though it wasn't until the early 30s that the first significant stage of development for American horror films took place, beginning with the likes of Dracula, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man and another version of Frankenstein all filmed between1931 and 1941.


1950's Horror

In the 1950s science fiction and horror (many still in black and white) began to blend in many instances partly due to the atomic bomb fear and the turns technology was taking at the time. By this point, horror films were being produced at a significant rate, and more storyline and better effects were being added to help the audience feel the fear at a higher level than previously known.

A few of the better known thrillers from the era are The Day The Earth Stood Still, Zombies Of The Stratosphere, The War Of The Worlds and many more. As a side note the very first 3-D color movie was a horror film by the name of House Of Wax, starring the king of horror himself Vincent Price.

1960s Through 80's Horror - A New Type Of Horror

During the late 60s through the 80s horror films had taken on a new meaning in the U.S., thought by many to be fueled by the devastating effects of the war in Vietnam. The top horror films of this era were specifically well known for their amount of bloodshed, and the themes were more often pointing to psychopaths and cults rather than the monsters, aliens and the supernatural of the previous eras.

Special effects were also upgrading somewhat with the use of psychedelic type effects and a lot of fake blood, so much in fact it often took away from the picture more then it added. Blood Orgy Of The She Devils, The Hills Have Eyes, Friday The 13th, and Halloween are all good examples of this time periods fears.

1990s Horror Film Facelift

In the 90s horror film budgets began to grow tremendously, the low budget B type horror films grew into full fledged cinematic and television hits. With the use of high dollar special effects, better make up artists and costume designers the thrill was brought to an all new level. No longer did you see the awkwardness of bulky rubber suits or the strings connected to the puppets back as their attempting to slay their victims.

Aliens, vampires, possessed toys, Demonic possessions, even leprechauns and clowns were attacking the theaters during this time period, along with a nearly uncountable selection of other monsters and madmen. Some of the well known films from the 90s were Freakshow, It, Night Of The Scarecrow, The Blaire Witch Project and Wish Master. As another side note The Blaire Witch Project was one of the first horror movies to be filmed in a documentary style.


What is the most terrifying of the movie monsters?

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The New Millennium Welcomes Horror Films With Open Arms

Let's move on now to the new millennium, the number of evil animals, vampires, werewolves, zombies and assorted newcomers has never been greater. During this era though the idea of evil vampires gets blatantly pummeled by the unfortunate idea of romance by a certain well known book while zombies take on an all new level of popularity due to all of the "end of the world hype" and the advances in make up and digital effects.

The stories have tried to take on a close to the heart effect to draw out one of mankind's oldest well known fears of having to fend of the reanimated corpse of a friend or relative. The special effects of this era is definitely a jewel in the crown of horror film history, with even the finest of detail being added for that realistic look and feel.

A small taste of the movies from the present era would be films such as Resident Evil, Dawn Of The Dead, Ring, Final Destination, The Crazies, Diary Of The Dead and Night Of The Living Dead Origins 3D, to just name a few of the many.

Final Thought

As you can see there have been many twists and turns down the road of American horror, and no single article could even begin to cover it all. I wanted the readers to know just how the industry standard of horror has reached the point it's at today and the transitions it has made in doing so.

I can only hope that this article has accomplished that much. Now go and pick out the style of horror film that scares you the most, turn out the lights and relive your childhood fears, if only for a few hours.

D.S. Duby

House of 1000 Corpses
House of 1000 Corpses


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    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      8 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you Billybuc, it's much appreciated.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very nice review DS! I have been a horror fan since the 50's, so it was interesting to read your take on the change in the genre. Great job and I shall return.

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      8 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thanks Thelyricwriter I appreciate it, I loved Resident Evil the movie and the game. Zombies are favorite as well.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 

      8 years ago from West Virginia

      Up, useful, and awesome. This was a cool article. Such a big difference between now and then. I love a good horror movie. Loved the Resident Evil series. Of course, zombies was my vote. Cool hub!

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      8 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you, I really appreciate that I like to do as much research as possible to keep my articles accurate. It means a lot getting such a compliment from you.

    • Lil Miss Reader profile image


      8 years ago from Somerset New Jersey

      As a film history major, I must say this is a very correct portrait of American Horror Films through the years. I very much enjoyed this article and how true to the subject it was. Thumbs up!

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      8 years ago from United States, Illinois

      You're right I did forget that one, great flick, I love evil clowns! Thanks for the comment Kosmo.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley Marks 

      8 years ago from California

      It's alive! It's alive! It's alive! Yeah, I like horror movies too. Hey, but you didn't mention the cult classic "Killer Clowns from Outer Space." If you haven't seen it, check it out. Later!

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      8 years ago from United States, Illinois

      If you liked the stand you will enjoy Swan Song its an older book from the 80s I believe. And yeah clowns are definitely evil. Thanks again.

    • Vampsdes profile image

      Jenny Stub 

      8 years ago from Missouri, US

      The Swan Song, hmm... I hadn't heard of it, but I loved The Stand. Of course I read that too, I have several Stephen King books and movies, (including those 2). I will definitely look for that, it sounds like something I would really enjoy, thank you!

      I fully agree, there isn't much that's scarier than possession, though clowns do rank up there, I'm holding to that! The Exorcist was and still is a great horror movie. After so many years it still strikes fear into the heart of many!

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      8 years ago from United States, Illinois

      I know what your saying the exorcist was one freaky movie, I don,t think anything is scarier than little Regan. Thanks for the great comment and votes.

    • rabbit75 profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a really cool hub about a really cool topic. Monsters have always captured the human imagination since our earliest fears of the night and the dark.

      I did not know the very first horror film was Frankenstein, but it's a suitable story to kick off the genre. What a great story Mary Shelley wrote and it's a story that's just to frighten. There's a lot of depth and human psychology to her story, a long with Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde (another great story from the genre).

      My favorite monsters are Werewolves, but I had to pick demons. Ever since I watched The Exorcist, demons just freaked me out.

      Voted up and awesome and shared!

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      8 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Oh, you are absolutely right I should have put clowns on the poll, It is one of my all time favorite books, right up there wit Robert McGammon's Swan Song, a great read if you ever get the chance similar to the stand. Thank you for the great comment.

    • Vampsdes profile image

      Jenny Stub 

      8 years ago from Missouri, US

      I absolutely loved this hub! I'm a big horror movie fan and I didn't know most of that information. As a child (13) I read Stephen King's IT. Scared me to death, I of course watched the movie as well. The movie wasn't nearly as good as the book, as usual, but it still fueled the healthy fear of clowns I developed from reading the book and still carry to this day.

      I think clowns should be on your poll personally, they are right up there with demons in my opinion! I mean John Wayne Gacy?? That's enough to justify it right there ha ha! Great hub! Voted up!

    • DS Duby profile imageAUTHOR

      DS Duby 

      8 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you, I really appreciate that.

    • Dominique L profile image

      Dominique L 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      Well done! A nice overview.


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