The Halloween and Fall seasons have become synonymous with horror movies. Something about the cooling weather and the leaves changing color makes people want to snoodle up in a blanket and get the crap scared out of them.
Audiences first found their love for being scared by what they saw on screen as early as the late 1800’s. Georges Méliès provided early filmgoers with short silent films with the first depictions of the supernatural. Clearly, this struck a chord with audiences.
F.W. Murnau directed one of the most ominous and expressive films of the genre – Nosferatu (1922). This unauthorized adaptation of Stocker’s Dracula is highly stylized, providing the audience with haunting images silently played across the screen. Nosferatu, which emerged from the expressionist movement, substantially impacted all the horror to come. Vampires certainly were never the same. Nosferatu was the masterpiece which added the sun as a major vampire fighting weapon to the mainstream lore.
Horror films continued to grow throughout the 1930’s, despite the genre being viewed as lower class entertainment. Universal Pictures, a minor studio at the time, produced Hollywood’s three great horror classics of the time, Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and the Mummy (1932). Silence still reigned over film and directors heavily depended on lighting and creating silent suspense to provide the terror. Karl Freund directed several films during this period, including Dracula, weaving German Expressionism permanently into the tapestry of horror films.
The integration of sound into films provided momentum for the popularity of horror, culminating in an explosion in the 1950’s. The sub-genre of science fiction horror movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) came onto the scene and gained popularity. Starting in the 1950’s teenagers had become a major factor in consumer culture. They had money, and they spent it on cars and movies. The rise of the teenage marketplace was a huge boon for the horror genre. Films catered to this newly spendy teens market, which was a major contributor in the creation of drive-in theaters. The American Internation Picture company was the first to tap into this new teen market with films such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). The science fiction sub-genre of horror continued to grow, and defined itself in the 1970’s through the 1980’s with films like They Came From Within (1975) and Scanners (1979).
Horror films have melded themselves to the fears and insecurities of their audiences, continuously, since their beginning. We have moved from vampires to zombies to deraigned serial killers picking off teenagers to ghosts and all of the above multiple times throughout the decades. When historians go review the horror movies we see today, what will they see as the culturally significant and impactful films of the genre? Personally, I am a huge wimp when it comes to scary movies. I do find it extremely fascinating to see how this genre, more than any other, can provide a reflection of our true fears as a society.
What are your favorite scary movies to watch this time of year? Let me know in the comments!