The 100-Year History of Horror.
1920’s – The Start of Something Scary.
In the 1920’s, the world saw the end of World War I and the start of a soon to be booming film industry. Film in Germany was on the rise starting with their Gothic expressionist films. “The Cabinet of Dr. Calligari,” which is considered to be the very first full-length horror film, was released in 1920. The film had very violent imagery for the time. Scenes of murder shocked audiences who first saw it.
Another German film, which is easily the most famous, “Nosferatu.” This film was directed by F.W. Murnau and starred Max Schreck. “Nosferatu” is the very first film to depict the character, Dracula. Several people from the set believe Max Schreck was an actual vampire, since he would bite people and would never come out during the day. “Nosferatu” had a creepy atmosphere and Schreck’s performance really stands out in film history.
In the mid 1920’s, Americans jumped on the bandwagon of horror films. Universal Studios, which was founded by Carl Laemmle, a German, pushed to make horror films. In 1925 Universal made its first full-length horror movie. “The Phantom of the Opera” starred Lon Chaney sr. known as the man of 1,000 faces. Lon Chaney is one the most prominent actors of the 1910s -1920s. Chaney revolutionized special effect makeup by doing all of his own makeup for every movie he was in. Hence his nickname, the man of 1,000 faces.
1930’s – It’s Alive.
Universal became a powerhouse for horror during the 30’s. February 14 1931, they released their first monster movie, “Dracula.” The film was a hit, and made Bela Lugosi a household name. Lugosi became a reoccurring actor for Universal during the 30’s and 40’s.
Later that year on November 21, Universal released “Frankenstein.” “Frankenstein” like “Dracula” was a huge success. The monster, who was played by Boris Karloff, scared audiences around the country. Karloff also became Universal’s go-to actor for their monsters. The make up for “Frankenstein” was done by Jack Pierce. Pierce did the makeup for the Universal monsters up until the 40’s. “Frankenstein” made $12 M at the box office.
One year later, Boris Karloff got his first speaking role in Universal monster movie. “The Mummy,” released on December 22, 1932. This slow moving horror film showed Boris Karloff portraying the mysterious Imhotep, who was revived by an ancient scroll to go find his love. Karloff’s performance was incredible and eerie and unnerving.
One more staple Universal monster movie is, “The Invisible Man.” Claude Rains plays Dr. Jack Griffin who uses a chemical to turn himself invisible to rule the world. Rains was an excellent choice for this role. You couldn’t see him, but his voice is what made him so sinister. He wraps himself in bandages when he’s in public and it adds to the uncertainty of the character.
Other great horror films of this time that Universal made are: “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Werewolf of London” and “Son of Frankenstein.” The 30’s also started the giant monster genre with RKO’s “King Kong” from 1933. However, this decade goes to Universal. As an aspiring filmmaker and horror fanatic, these are the movies that inspire me the most and make me love horror all over again.
1940’s – Sequels.
Universal was on top of the world and their monsters were famous all over the world . However, during this time they seemed to have run out of ideas. Their movies from the 40’s just weren’t as fresh as the 30’s.
In 1941, the first “new” monster Universal made came along. “The Wolfman” played by Lon Chaney Jr. The son of horror legend, Lon Chaney Sr.. Chaney Jr. was great in this film. His facial expression when he first learns he’s the wolf are great and help add to the torment of his character, Lawrence Talbot. Jack Pierce also did the makeup for this movie. The transformation scenes are cheesy, but great in their own right.
Universal continued its “Frankenstein” series with “Ghost of Frankenstein” from 1942. This time in the shoes of the monster was Lon Chaney Jr. because Boris Karloff called it quits after “Son of Frankenstein.” Many other actors played the monster like Lugosi, Chaney Jr. and Glenn Strange. Although these films don’t even come close to the original, they’re still fun. My favorite is “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.”
1950’s – Nuclear Invasion.
This is where alien invasion and nuclear war was on the rise. Starting off with the 1951 classic, “The Thing From Another World.” This film set the standard for what alien horror should be. Creepy, eerie and full of tension between the characters. The Thing itself is little goofy looking, but looking past that, it’s an amazing film.
Giant bugs became all the rage back in the 50’s. One film in particular that started the theme was “THEM!” from 1954. “THEM!” is about giant ants that were created by nuclear testing. This movie is cheesy and great at the same time. The sound the ants make is iconic.
Universal made a big comeback in 1954 with, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” This is a classic monster movie, more goofy than scary, but definitely worth a watch. Throughout the series of “The Creature” it shows the progression and evolution of the Creature making them worth the watch.
1954 – It Came From Japan.
1954, Tokyo, Japan something big happened. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was born. The giant lizard was created by Toho Studios, and directed by Ishiro Honda. Godzilla is the physical representation of nuclear war, being created by the radiation from the bombing of Hiroshima.
“Godzilla” is easily the most famous movie monster ever. His roar is what makes him stand out the most. The iconic roar was created by running a latex glove down a standup bass. His latex suit is infamous, and was 200 pounds. Haruo Nakajima played Godzilla from 1954 to 1972, making eleven movies in that time. Nakajima’s suit acting work is well known throughout cinema. Godzilla even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
“Godzilla” has been a personal favorite since I was little. My dad and my grandmother got me into him as well as all of this horror movie stuff. I have all of his movies, rare memorabilia, books and comics. “Godzilla” deserves to be separate from all of the other movies because of how important he is to me and his impact on the horror film industry shaped future films.
1960’s – The Rise of the Indie.
Horror films stepped away from the nuclear monster craze and returned to the creepy vibe again in the 1960’s. Alfred Hitchcock directed of the greatest horror films ever in “Psycho” (1960). He also directed “The Birds” in (1963); Hitchcock ruled 60’s horror. Other up and coming directors were getting their foot in the door as well. George A. Romero created the modern zombie with “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). And Roman Polanski made the devil scary again when he directed “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968).
The 60’s moved the horror genre forward and made it scary again. Horror left the B-Movie era and came back to its roots in the 60’s. Movies were black and white again, and saw the return of the German Gothic style. The rise of three greats directors, Hitchcock, Polanski and Romero, happened all in one decade.
1970’s – The Greatest Decade Ever.
First thing, the 70’s wasn’t just great for horror, it was great for film in general. Films like “The Godfather,” “Rocky” and “Star Wars.” The 70’s ruled. But, some of the most famous horror films came out in this decade.
First of all, “The Exorcist” (1973). This is considered to be the scariest film of all time and the film pushed people to the edge. Literally, people would pass out in the theater because of how shocking it is. Even today it’s shocking, they got away with murder. My dad and I watch this movie at least every two months, it’s great and always fun to re-watch.
Tobe Hooper directed the first exploitation horror film. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) gave the world Leatherface. The voiceless, chainsaw wielding, skin wearing, death machine. This movie is a classic among horror, and in my opinion it’s scarier than “The Exorcist.”
Enter one of the greatest movies ever made, and one of my personal favorites. “JAWS” (1975). This movie made people afraid to go in the water. “JAWS” was the first summer blockbuster, and at the time the highest grossing movie ever. The theme song is what made “JAWS” so well known. When someone hears those repeated notes, you know something bad is going to happen.
Why is “JAWS” a personal favorite? This was the first horror movie I ever saw at the age of 4. Watching the making on “JAWS” made me realize I have a passion for film making and I wanted to create them myself. This movie, as well as “Godzilla,” are my fountain of youth.
A few years after “JAWS,” a young director by the name of John Carpenter brought us “Halloween” (1978). This film is another example of an indie horror film. Carpenter had budget of $300,000 and actors who were less than famous. The thing that made “Halloween” was not just the music, but Michael Myers, the film’s killer. He was so mysterious. Similar to Leatherface, he didn’t speak.
One year later, Ridley Scott brought fear to outer space. “Alien” (1979) was “JAWS” in space, which was how he pitched the film to 20th Century Fox. “Alien” created fear in a whole new way. A group of astronauts are trapped in their ship with an alien killing them off one by one. The film had a lot of great moments like the dinner table. If you know what I’m talking about, you get it.
I highly recommend all of these films, whether you’re a fan of horror or just good movies. These films brought horror back to the masses. Then the 80’s came and ruined everything.
1980’s – Nothing Good.
I’m not against the 80’s at all, but horror took a nosedive. Too many kid friendly movies based on horror themes, “Gremlins,” “Beetlejuice” and “Monster Squad” are examples of everything horror isn’t. However, there were a couple of good films that came out.
“Friday the 13th” (1980) took “Halloween” to summer camp. Jason Voorhees, the hockey masked killer of Camp Crystal Lake, was born. The first “Friday the 13th” was great movie with an awesome twist ending. But as the years went on, the sequels destroyed them. The other installments leave a lot to be desired.
The same year as “Friday the 13th” Stephen King’s novel, “The Shinning” saw the light of day. “The Shinning” was absolutely brilliant in every way possible. It was scary, extremely nerve racking seeing the descent into madness of all characters. The ending was disturbing as well.
Special effects are a very big part of horror movies. The movie that pushed the limit with their effects was “An American Werewolf in London” (1981). That film had some of the best effects ever put on screen because they were scary and very realistic. The transformation sequences were outstanding, showing the character’s pain while changing. You can see every bone break, every strand of hair grow and tooth impaling it’s way through the gums.
Clive Barker, a very well known horror-fiction author, wrote a novel titled, “The Hellbound Heart,” which set up the film, “Hellraiser” (1987). “Hellraiser” is a body horror film, meaning that the film shows the physical destruction of someone’s body. “Hellraiser” was disturbing and graphic, absolutely terrifying. The main villain, Pinhead played by Doug Bradley, was horrifying and loved to make people suffer for their sins. Clive Barker wrote and directed this film, and it’s exactly like the book. “Hellraiser” will take you on a ride through Hell and make you suffer with the character.
1990’s – The Worst Decade Ever.
The 90’s was a great decade for everything else but horror. Movies like “Scream” (1996) and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) destroyed the genre and turned horror into a laughing stock. Blair Witch brought absolutely nothing to the world. It gave us found footage movies, which are horrible. And Scream is the reason for caller ID. What’s your favorite scary movie? This decade was the beginning of the end of horror.
However, like the 80’s, there were a few decent ones that came out. In 1991 we saw Anthony Hopkins become the smart, yet sinister Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.” This is another film made horror notable again, winning five academy awards for best actor (Anthony Hopkins), best director, best actress, best picture and best-adapted screenplay.
In 1992, Clive Barker returned to directing, this time he turned one of his short stories from his book, “The Books of Blood vol. 4-6.” The film was, “Candyman” starring Tony Todd as the killer. “Candyman” was very much like a Bloody Mary story, instead a man in trench coat with a hook for a hand. “Candyman” and Silence of the Lambs are the only noteworthy horror flicks to come out of the 90’s.
2000’s – Life Support.
We have reached the bottom of the barrel, folks. The 2000’s had a lot of films where the subject matter was sort of like the 80’s. The first half of the decade had some great films. Starting with “Shadow of the Vampire” (2000) not much of a horror movie here. This was a movie about the making of “Nosferatu” back in the 30’s starring Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck and John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau.
A year later, “Jeepers Creepers” (2001) was released. This is easily one of my favorite horror movies. Another movie that scared me as a kid that had the biggest impact on me. This film is pure adrenaline and non-stop horror all the way through.
Rob Zombie, you know him? The lead singer from the band White Zombie before going solo. Well, Zombie released a movie in 2003 called “House of 1,000 Corpses.” This film was like “Texas Chainsaw,” very raw, very gory and extremely disturbing. The acting is superb and Zombie’s directing gives the film a realistic tone.
Rob Zombie made the sequel two years later. “The Devil’s Rejects,” which continues immediately where we left off in “House of 1,000 Corpses.” This movie is even more disturbing with undertones of sexual violence, religion and Satanism. This film is much better than its predecessor, with much better acting and outstanding direction from Zombie.
Last movie for the 2000’s comes from 2008. “The Strangers,” which pretty much throws you into the madness the second the movie starts, giving you a warning. This is based on a true story, which immediately makes it cool and the first time seeing this, I was legitimately scared (and yes, I loved it). But, watching it again, made me realize it’s horribly unrealistic. One of the main victims finds a shotgun in the house and never uses it against the killers. After realizing this flaw, the movie became very stupid and it was the only thing that I could think about.
2010’s – It’s Over!
Honestly, the 2010’s are just a boatload of remakes and devil possession movies. But, of course I found some good ones.
Universal made a little comeback and remade “The Wolfman” (2010). This was surprisingly good and a welcome remake to one of the most famous monsters ever. The acting choices were spot on and left you feeling bad for Larry Talbot’s situation. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do. One of the best scenes ever is in this movie, (this will not be a spoiler) is when Larry is in the mental asylum.
Anthony Hopkins came back to horror and blew everyone away in “The Rite” (2011). This is on the same level as “The Exorcist,” (yes, it really is). Based on a true story, the film takes place at the Vatican in Italy. A young priest looks for guidance, however enters the world of exorcisms and his teacher becomes possessed and the young priest must fight the devil on his own.
Probably one of the most original horror films in a long time came out in 2012. “Sinister” starring Ethan Hawk who plays an author who writes crime novels. The author comes across videotapes that show families playing and having fun. However, the videos take an abrupt turn and the family is murdered. He soon discovers that all the kids in the videos went missing, and killed their families before being taken by an ancient deity named Bagul. This movie was great and Ethan Hawk gave a great performance. Even the sequel was great too.
The last movie of our adventure, “The Witch” (2015). The film centers on a pilgrim family in Massachusetts in the 17th century. The family has a tie to the devil where the viewer sees as the film progresses, they begin to lose trust in each other and their faith. When I first saw it I was really confused, then I bought it on DVD and I loved it. It puts a unique twist on devil worship. The film is beautifully filmed and acted while the dialogue and wardrobe match the time period as it’s a great addition to horror.
I hope this makes you want to watch horror films. It’s an amazing genre and it changed my life in many ways. I adore the genre and everything about it. If you do watch them however, then clearly you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain. Now’s your chance to… Well we warned you.