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The History of Horror

The intense and overwhelming feeling that horror brings to people has thrilled the population for generations. Told initially through literature and oral stories, it was no surprise that when film was first introduced in 1895 they would go hand in hand.

The first horror movie was produced merely three years after the introduction of filmmaking. Titled Le Manoir du DiableI, it was directed by George Mellies. It is 3 minutes long and contains an array of bats, ghosts, and cauldrons. While this was not intended to be one of the slasher horror films that we most commonly watch today, its purpose was to make audiences acquainted with the world of the supernatural.

After the first few years, filmmaking became quite popular. With an interest growing within the genre, filmmakers during the early 1900s turned to the original source of horror for inspiration – literature. Although most of these early works have been lost to time, they still made a lasting impact on the history of horror. These films included Frankenstein (based on the novel by author Mary Shelley) & Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (based on the novel by author Robert Louis Stevenson).

While the vast majority of these films based on classical literature have been lost to the archives of film, there was a revival in the 20s & 30s that was able to save these stories. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were remade in 1931, along with an adaptation of Dracula (based on the novel by author Bram Stoker). Other films produced during this so-called Golden Age of Horror include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Freaks (1932).

The horror films of the 1940s and 1950s were directly influenced by world events. With the largest global affair including World War II, films such as Godzilla (1954) and The War of the Worlds (1953) were big among the population, as they instilled the “fear of invasion” and “radioactive mutation.”

There were two categories that absolutely defined horror throughout the 60s and the 80s – supernatural and slashers. We start off with Psycho (1960), known as one of the original slasher films, and then move to the concept of demon possession in The Exorcist (1973). We also have to make an honorary mention of the great works of Stephen King during these years. These films include Carrie and The Shining, both of which helped to plant the footing for some of the greatest slasher films of the 1980s and 1990s.

The most prominent slasher films of the 80s and 90s included Halloween (although it was produced in 1978, it still had a lasting effect that carried over into the 1980s), Friday the 13th, Scream, and The Nightmare on Elm Street. These movies have carried such a following due to the fact that they have either been remade or they have been developed into a film franchise.

A resurgence of the genre was brought in the early 2000s with films such as Resident Evil (2002) & Trick 'r Treat (2007), and it has since bled into the modern day. The genre now relies heavily on remakes, the continuation of film franchises, and new/original ideas. Horror films these days tend to have the same purpose as the first of the genre; to not necessarily terrify the audience, but to fascinate them and to keep them encapsulated in the world that they have created on the screen.



Savannah Crimmins


Haas Hall Academy Bentonville

Instagram: @savannahcrimmins

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