Once again, the month of October has arrived! For all us cinephiles that means drifting once again into the dark and mysterious of horror movies.
Growing up, horror movies scared me to the point where I wouldn’t even watch them. As I grew I began to venture into my fears and saw the fun and beauty of a good horror movie.
Where did this all these horror films begin? And how has the genre has changed over time? The answers I found will shock you…. “DUN DUN DAHHHH!!!”
Based on my research, the horror genre was initially inspired by the gothic literature of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Adaptations of Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde were all part of the original wave of horror films.
I found it interesting that German, expressionist cinema played a big part in the origins of horror films. In my own ethnocentricity, I had assumed that the roots originated in America and England.
German films like Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (English: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and the first feature length film based on Dracula, Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (English: Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror) put a pictures to our nightmares and have inspired filmmakers to this day.
“Perhaps watching a horror film helps us process something unconscious about the horrors of real life.”
My journey in research took me back to the beginnings of horror cinema starting in 1896 with Le Manoir du diable (English : The Haunted Castle). Created by film pioneer Georges Melies and is what most people consider the first horror film.
The 1950’s brought us the British, Hammer films, breathing life into classic films in full color with Dracula and Frankenstein. Christopher Lee (Saruman in The Lord of the Rings) and Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars) both rose to popularity through the Hammer Films.
In 1953, the infamous 3-D, colour spectacular House of Wax was released, scaring the audience into the 3rd dimension of horror!
The 1960’s brought us Psycho. This decade was when we began to see the gory, slasher films that would rise to prominence in the decades to follow.
The 1970’s is probably my favorite decade in horror films. We saw the popularity of supernatural films like The Omen and The Exorcist as well as teen stars with The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The 70’s gave us the horror icons David Cronenberg, John Carpenter as well as Stephen King in the form of Brian De Palma‘s Carrie. The movie that made us all afraid to swim in the ocean Jaws by Steven Spielberg was also released in this decade.
My birth decade, the 1990’s, gave us sequels and popularized the deconstruction of the genre in Scream. The Blair Witch Project helped gave the rise to documentary/found footage style films that would rise to popularity over the next decade. In the latter part of the decade, CGI began to help bring directors’ terrifying ideas to life.
In 2004 Shaun of the Dead, a loving tribute to zombie/horror films, was released and inspired many people, including myself, to investigate what makes the horror genre so great.
From the beginning, the horror genre has been filled with sequels and remakes and inspired from everything around it, so it annoys me when people blame it on the present day studios.
It seems to me that the popularity of horror is because it is an escape from reality. It’s popular, because of its proximity to the tragic events of The Great Depression, Vietnam War, The Cold War, 9/11. Perhaps watching horror films helps us process something unconscious about the horrors of real life.
All this talk of horror films I’m sure has gotten you curious about what horror films I love. Fret no longer because I have complied my five favorites for you:
Vampires are my favourite. I remember the terror and wonder I felt reading Dracula for the first time. I felt that same fear to a greater extent when I saw Dracula for the first time. For some reason, I have been attracted to the romance and horror of vampires since I was a child. Two more recent reinterpretations of the vampire myth in cinema I love are Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Byzantium.
While definitely not the scariest film on my list, Cabin in the Woods gives meaning to the horror of the movies of the past and combines everything I love about the horror genre. And it’s hilarious.
The Shining is one of the best scary movies I have ever seen. The fear comes from the uncertainty in the film. I get scared by the tension between the family members, specifically how Jack turns on his family over the course of the movie.
This was the scariest movie my father ever saw and so he past that fear down to me. Mostly because he would chase me around the house with his hand, pretending to be a face hugger trying to latch onto my face. When I watched it with him, I understood what all the terror was about. The combination of the ominous music, the unique quality of H.R Giger’s designs, and my father’s fear have helped Alien haunt me to this day.
I saw this for the first time a year ago, and I was shocked that it actually scared and thrilled me, despite me knowing every part of the story from watching a documentary on Alfred Hitchcock. I mean, it’s an Alfred Hitchcock film; why wouldn’t it be on this list?l
So this October, as the Jack-o’-Lanterns come back to life and the ghouls and the goblins come out to play, all us cinephiles should celebrate the grand history of the horror genre with a scary movie or two.
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