Horror films deal with the viewer's nightmares, hidden worst fears, revulsions and terror of the unknown. Although a good deal of it is about the supernatural, if some films contain a plot about morbidity, serial killers, a disease/virus outbreak and surrealism, they may be termed "horror".
Plots written within the horror genre often involve the intrusion of an evil force, event, or personage, commonly of supernatural origin, into the everyday world. Themes or elements often prevalent in typical horror films include ghosts, torture, gore, werewolves, ancient curses, satanism, demons, vicious animals, vampires, cannibals, haunted houses, zombies and serial killers. Conversely, stories of the supernatural are not necessarily always a horror movie as well.
Early horror movies are largely based on nineteenth-century literature of the gothic genre, such as Universal's Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (also 1931), and the term "horror movie" first appears in the writings of critics and film industry commentators in response to their release, but the term has since been applied retrospectively to similar films from the entire silent period.
See also: List of horror films of the 1890s, List of horror films of the 1900s, List of horror films of the 1910s, and List of horror films of the 1920s
Lon Chaney, Sr. in The Phantom of the Opera
The first depictions of supernatural events appear in several of the silent shorts created by the film pioneer Georges Méliès in the late 1890s, the best known being Le Manoir du diable (aka, The Haunted Castle, 1896) which is sometimes credited as being the first horror film. Another of his horror projects was 1898's La Caverne maudite (aka, The Cave of the Unholy One, literally "the accursed cave"). Japan made early forays into the horror genre with Bake Jizo and Shinin no Sosei, both made in 1898. In 1910, Edison Studios produced the first film version of Frankenstein, which was thought lost for many years.
In the early 20th century, the first monster appeared in a horror film, Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre-Dame who had appeared in Victor Hugo's novel, Notre-Dame de Paris (1831). Films featuring Quasimodo included Alice Guy's Esmeralda (1906), The Hunchback (1909), The Love of a Hunchback (1910) and Notre-Dame de Paris (1911).
German Expressionist film makers, during the Weimar Republic era and slightly earlier, would significantly influence later films, not only those in the horror genre. Paul Wegener's The Golem (1920) and Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (also 1920) had a particular impact. The first vampire-themed movie was made during this time: F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922), an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Hollywood dramas used horror themes, including versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Monster (1925) both starring Lon Chaney, the first American horror movie star. Other films of the 1920s include Dr. Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1920), The Phantom Carriage (Sweden, 1920), The Lost World (1925), The Phantom Of The Opera (1925), Waxworks (Germany 1924), and Tod Browning's (lost) London After Midnight (1927) with Chaney.
See also: List of horror films of the 1930s, List of horror films of the 1940s, and Universal Monsters
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster
in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
During the early period of talking pictures, the American Movie studio Universal Pictures began a successful Gothic horror film series. Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), with Bela Lugosi, was quickly followed by James Whale's Frankenstein (also 1931). Some of these blended science fiction films with Gothic horror, such as The Invisible Man (1933) and, mirroring the earlier German films, featured a mad scientist. These films, while designed to thrill, also incorporated more serious elements. Frankenstein was the first in a series which lasted for many years, although Karloff only featured as the monster in Bride of Frankenstein (1935), again directed by Whale, and Son of Frankenstein (1939). The Mummy (1932) introduced Egyptology as a theme for the genre. Make-up artist Jack Pierce was responsible for the iconic image of the monster, and others in the series. Universal's horror cycle continued into the 1940s, these included The Wolf Man (1941), not the first werewolf film, but certainly the most influential, as well as a number of films uniting several of their monsters.
Other studios followed Universal's lead. Tod Browning made the once controversial Freaks (1932) for MGM, based on "Spurs", a short story by Ted Robbins, about a band of circus freaks. The studio disowned the completed film after cutting about 30 minutes; it was unreleased in the United Kingdom for thirty years. Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Paramount, 1931), remembered for its use of color filters to create Jekyll's transformation before the camera, Michael Curtiz's Mystery of the Wax Museum (Warner Brothers, 1933), and Island of Lost Souls (Paramount, 1933) were all important horror films.
By now, some actors were beginning to build entire careers in such films, most especially Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Karloff appeared in three of producer Val Lewton's atmospheric B-pictures for RKO Pictures in the mid-1940s, including The Body Snatcher (1945), which also featured Lugosi. The titles of these films were often imposed on Lewton by the studio, but Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943) rise above this limitation.
See also: List of horror films of the 1950s and List of horror films of the 1960s
With advances in technology, the tone of horror films shifted from the gothic towards contemporary concerns. Two sub-genres began to emerge: the horror-of-armageddon film and the horror-of-the-demonic film.
A stream of usually low-budget productions featured humanity overcoming threats from 'outside': alien invasions and deadly mutations to people, plants, and insects. In the case of some horror films from Japan, such as Godzilla (1954) and its sequels, mutation from the effects of nuclear radiation.
The Hollywood directors and producers sometimes found ample opportunity for audience exploitation, with gimmicks such as 3-D and "Percepto" (producer William Castle's pseudo-electric-shock technique used for The Tingler, 1959). Some horror films during this period, such as The Thing from Another World (1951) and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), managed to channel the paranoia of the Cold War into atmospheric creepiness, .
Filmmakers continued to merge elements of science fiction and horror over the following decades. A "pulp masterpiece" of the era was The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), from Richard Matheson's existentialist novel. While more of a science-fiction story, the film conveyed the fears of living in the Atomic Age and the terror of social alienation.
During the later 1950s, Great Britain emerged as a producer of horror films. Peeping Tom (1960), directed by Michael Powell, concerns a serial killer who combines his profession as a photographer with the moments before murdering his victims. The Hammer company focused on the genre for the first time, enjoying huge international success from films involving classic horror characters which were shown in color for the first time. Often starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and drawing on Universal's precedent, these films include The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and Dracula (1958), both followed by many sequels, with director Terence Fisher being responsible for many of the best films. Other British companies contributed to a boom in horror film production in the UK during the 1960s and 1970s, including Tigon-British and Amicus, the latter best known for their anthology films like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965).
British born director Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), was the first '[Slasher film|slasher]]' movie, while in the same director's The Birds (1963) menace stems from nature gone mad. In France, Eyes Without a Face (1960), continued the mad scientist theme, while in Italy director Mario Bava began his own series of horror films.
American International Pictures (AIP) made a series of Edgar Allan Poe–themed films directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, which ended with The Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia (both 1964). Some contend that these productions paved the way for more explicit violence in both horror and mainstream films. In collaboration with AIP, Tigon produced Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm, 1968). The tale of a witch hunter in the English Civil War, based on the historical Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price), was more sadistic than supernatural.
Ghosts and monsters still remained a frequent feature of horror, but many films used the supernatural premise to express the horror of the demonic. The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961) based on the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963) are two such horror-of-the-demonic films from the early 1960s, both made in the UK by American studios. In Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), set in New York, the devil is made flesh. Meanwhile, ghosts were a dominant theme in Japanese horror, or 'J-horror', in such films as Kwaidan, Onibaba (both 1964) and Kuroneko (1968).
Zombies in Romero's influential Night of the Living Dead.
An influential American horror film of this period was George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). Produced and directed by Romero, on a budget of $114,000, it grossed $12 million at the box office in the United States and $30 million internationally. This horror-of-Armageddon film about zombies blends psychological insights with gore, it moved the genre even further away from the gothic horror trends of earlier eras and brought horror into everyday life.
Low-budget gore-shock films from the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis also appeared. Examples include Blood Feast (1963), a devil-cult story, and Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), a ghost town inhabited by psychotic cannibals), which featured splattering blood and body dismemberment.
See also: List of horror films of the 1970s and List of horror films of the 1980s
The end of the Production Code of America in 1964, the financial successes of the low-budget gore films of the ensuing years, and the critical and popular success of Rosemary's Baby, led to the release of more films with occult themes in the 1970s. The Exorcist (1973), the first of these movies, was a significant commercial success, and was followed by scores of horror films in which the Devil represented the supernatural evil, often by impregnating women or possessing children. The genre also included gory horror movies with sexual overtones, made as "A-movies" (as opposed to "B movies").
'Evil children' and reincarnation became popular subjects. Robert Wise's film Audrey Rose (1977) for example, deals with a man who claims his daughter is the reincarnation of another dead person. Alice, Sweet Alice (1977), is another Catholic themed horror slasher about a little girl's murder and her sister being the prime suspect. Another popular Satanic horror movie was The Omen (1976), where a man realizes his five year old adopted son is the Antichrist. Invincible to human intervention, Satan became the villain in many horror films with a postmodern style and a dystopian worldview.
Another example is The Sentinel (1977 film), in which a fashion model discovers her new brownstone residence may actually be a portal to Hell. The movie includes seasoned actors such as Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith and Eli Wallach and such future stars as Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum.
The ideas of the 1960s began to influence horror films, as the youth involved in the counterculture began exploring the medium. Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) recalled the Vietnam war; George A. Romero satirised the consumer society in his zombie sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978); Canadian director David Cronenberg featured the "mad scientist" movie subgenre by exploring contemporary fears about technology and society, and reinventing "body horror", starting with Shivers (1975).
Also in the 1970s, horror author Stephen King debuted on the film scene as many of his books were adapted for the screen, beginning with Brian De Palma's adaptation of King's first published novel, Carrie (1976), which was nominated for Academy Awards. Next, was his third published novel, The Shining (1980), which was a sleeper at the box office, with mixed reviews, but eventually began to be considered a classic. Carrie became the 9th highest-grossing film of 1976. King himself did not like The Shining, because it was barely faithful to the 1977 best-seller novel.
John Carpenter created Halloween (1978). Sean Cunningham made Friday the 13th (1980). Wes Craven directed A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984). This subgenre would be mined by dozens of increasingly violent movies throughout the subsequent decades, and Halloween became a successful independent film. Other notable '70s slasher films include Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974), which was released before Halloween, and was another start of the sub-genre.
In 1975, Steven Spielberg began his ascension to fame with Jaws (1975). The film kicked off a wave of killer animal stories such as Orca (1977), and Up from the Depths. Jaws is often credited as being one of the first films to use traditionally B movie elements such as horror and mild gore in a big-budget Hollywood film.
Alien (1979) combined the naturalistic acting and graphic violence of the 1970s with the monster movie plots of earlier decades, and used science fiction. The film was extremely successful at both box office and critical reception, being called "Jaws in space", and a landmark film for the science fiction genre.
On similar note, John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) was also a mix of horror and sci fi, however unlike Alien it was neither a box office or critical hit. However, nearly 20 years after its release it was praised for its ahead of its time special effects and paranoia.
The 1980s saw a wave of gory 'B-Movie' horror films - although most of them were panned by critics, many became cult classics and later saw success with critics. A significant example is Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies, which were low-budget gorefests but had a very original plotline that was praised by critics later on. Other horror film examples include cult vampire classic Fright Night (1985) and The Lost Boys (1987).
See also: List of horror films of the 1990s
In the first half of the 1990s, the genre continued many of the themes from the 1980s. Sequels from the Child's Play (1988) and Leprechaun (1993) series enjoyed some commercial success. The slasher films A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween all saw sequels in the 1990s, most of which met with varied amounts of success at the box office, but all were panned by fans and critics, with the exception of Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) and the hugely successful Silence of the Lambs (1991).
New Nightmare, with In the Mouth of Madness (1995), The Dark Half (1993), and Candyman (1992), were part of a mini-movement of self-reflexive or metafictional horror films. Each film touched upon the relationship between fictional horror and real-world horror. Candyman, for example, examined the link between an invented urban legend and the realistic horror of the racism that produced its villain. In the Mouth of Madness took a more literal approach, as its protagonist actually hopped from the real world into a novel created by the madman he was hired to track down. This reflective style became more overt and ironic with the arrival of Scream (1996).
In Interview with the Vampire (1994), the "Theatre de Vampires" (and the film itself, to some degree) invoked the Grand Guignol style, perhaps to further remove the undead performers from humanity, morality and class. The horror movie soon continued its search for new and effective frights. In 1985's novel The Vampire Lestat by author Anne Rice (who penned Interview...'s screenplay and the 1976 novel of the same name) suggests that its antihero Lestat inspired and nurtured the Grand Guignol style and theatre.
Two main problems pushed horror backward during this period: firstly, the horror genre wore itself out with the proliferation of nonstop slasher and gore films in the eighties. Secondly, the adolescent audience which feasted on the blood and morbidity of the previous decade grew up, and the replacement audience for films of an imaginative nature were being captured instead by the explosion of science-fiction and fantasy, courtesy of the special effects possibilities with computer-generated imagery.
To re-connect with its audience, horror became more self-mockingly ironic and outright parodic, especially in the latter half of the 1990s. Peter Jackson's Braindead (1992) (known as Dead Alive in the USA) took the splatter film to ridiculous excesses for comic effect. Wes Craven's Scream (written by Kevin Williamson) movies, starting in 1996, featured teenagers who were fully aware of, and often made reference to, the history of horror movies, and mixed ironic humour with the shocks. Along with I Know What You Did Last Summer (written by Kevin Williamson as well) and Urban Legend, they re-ignited the dormant slasher film genre.
See also: List of horror films of the 2000s
The start of the 2000s saw a quiet period for the genre. The release of an extended version of The Exorcist in September 2000 was successful despite the film having been available on home video for years. Franchise films such as Freddy vs. Jason also made a stand in theaters. Final Destination (2000) marked a successful revival of teen-centered horror and spawned five sequels. The Jeepers Creepers series was also successful. Films like Wrong Turn, Cabin Fever, House of 1000 Corpses, and the previous mentions helped bring the genre back to Restricted ratings in theaters.
Some pronounced trends have marked horror films. A French horror film Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) became the second-highest-grossing French-language film in the United States in the last two decades. The success of foreign language foreign films continued with the Swedish films Marianne (2011) and Let the Right One In (2008), which was later the subject of a Hollywood remake, Let Me In (2010). Another trend is the emergence of psychology to scare audiences, rather than gore. The Others (2001) proved to be a successful example of psychological horror film. A minimalist approach which was equal parts Val Lewton's theory of "less is more" (usually employing the low-budget techniques utilized on The Blair Witch Project, 1999) has been evident, particularly in the emergence of Asian horror movies which have been remade into successful Americanized versions, such as The Ring (2002), and The Grudge (2004). In March 2008, China banned the movies from its market.
There has been a major return to the zombie genre in horror movies made after 2000. The Resident Evil video game franchise was adapted into a film released in March 2002. Three sequels have followed. The British film 28 Days Later (2002) featured an update on the genre with The Return of the Living Dead (1985) style of aggressive zombie. The film later spawned a sequel: 28 Weeks Later. An updated remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) soon appeared as well as the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004). This resurgence led George A. Romero to return to his Living Dead series with Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2010).
A larger trend is a return to the extreme, graphic violence that characterized much of the type of low-budget, exploitation horror from the post-Vietnam years. Films like Audition (1999), Wrong Turn (2003), and the Australian film Wolf Creek (2005), took their cues from The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). An extension of this trend was the emergence of a type of horror with emphasis on depictions of torture, suffering and violent deaths, (variously referred to as "horror porn", "torture porn", Splatterporn, and even "gore-nography") with films like The Collector, The Tortured, Saw, and Hostel, and their respective sequels, frequently singled out as examples of emergence of this sub-genre. The Saw film series holds the Guinness World Record of the highest-grossing horror franchise in history. Finally with the arrival of Paranormal Activity (2009), which was well received by critics and an excellent reception at the box office, minimal thought started by The Blair Witch Project was reaffirmed and is expected to be continued successfully in other low-budget productions.[original research?]
Remakes of earlier horror movies became routine in the 2000s. In addition to 2004's remake of Dawn of the Dead, as well as 2003's remake of both Herschell Gordon Lewis' cult classic 2001 Maniacs and the remake of Tobe Hooper's classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there was also the 2007 Rob Zombie written and directed remake of John Carpenter's Halloween. The film focused more on Michael's backstory than the original did, devoting the first half of the film to Michael's childhood. It was critically panned by most, but was a success in its theatrical run, spurring its own sequel. This success led to the remakes, or "reimaginings" of other popular horror films and franchises with films such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010),Children of the Corn., The Amityville Horror (2005), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Black Christmas (2006), Prom Night (2008), The Wicker Man (2006), My Bloody Valentine (2009), The Wolfman (2010), and House of Wax (2005).
Body horror - In which the horror is principally derived from the graphic destruction or degeneration of the body. Other types of body horror include unnatural movements, or the anatomically incorrect placement of limbs to create 'monsters' out of human body parts. David Cronenberg is one of the notable directors of the genre. Some body horror films include, The Invasion, The Fly, Rosemary's Baby, Eraserhead, The Thing, Re-Animator, The Human Centipede (First Sequence), Cabin Fever, Virus and Teeth.
Comedy horror - Combines the elements of comedy and horror fiction. The comedy horror genre almost always inevitably crosses over with the black comedy genre. The short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving is cited as "the first great comedy-horror story". Examples include The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Gremlins, Bad Taste, Beetlejuice, Arachnophobia, Scary Movie, Eight Legged Freaks, Shaun of the Dead and Slither.
Gothic horror - Gothic horror are stories that contains elements of goth and horror. At times it may have romance that unfolds in the setting of a horror tale, usually suspenseful. One of the most earliest horror movies were of this sub-genre. Examples include universal horror films like, The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Modern gothic horrors include, Sleepy Hollow, Interview with the Vampire, Underworld, The Wolfman, From Hell, Dorian Gray and Let Me In.
Natural horror - A sub-genre of horror films "featuring nature running amok in the form of mutated beasts, carnivorous insects, and normally harmless animals or plants turned into cold-blooded killers." This genre may sometimes overlap with the science fiction and action/adventure genre. Examples include, The Birds, Jaws, Mimic, Deep Rising, Them!, The Swarm, Pet Sematary, Lake Placid, Primeval, Anaconda, Snakes on a Plane, The Cave and The Ruins.
Psychological horror - Relies on character's fears, guilt, beliefs, eerie sound effects, relevant music, emotional instability and at times, the supernatural and ghosts, to build tension and further the plot. Examples include, The Uninvited, Dark Water, Gothika, The Ring, The Exorcist, Session 9, Silent Hill, The Others, The Mothman Prophecies, The Blair Witch Project, 1408, The Shining, Stir of Echoes, The Innocents and The Sixth Sense.
Science Fiction horror - Often revolving around subjects that include but are not limited to killer aliens, mad scientists, and/or experiments gone wrong. Examples include Alien, Predator, Pandorum, Event Horizon, Apollo 18, Pitch Black and It Came from Outer Space.
Slasher film - A type of horror film typically involving a psychopathic killer stalking and killing a sequence of victims in a graphically violent manner, often with a cutting tool such as a knife or axe. Slasher films may at times overlap with the crime, mystery and thriller genre. Examples of this genre include, Black Christmas, Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Friday the 13th, Child's Play and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Splatter film - Often called torture porn, they deliberately focus on graphic portrayals of gore and graphic violence. These films, through the use of special effects and excessive blood and guts, tend to display an overt interest in the vulnerability of the human body and the theatricality of its mutilation. Not all splatter films are slashers, and not all splatter films are horrors. Examples include, Cannibal Holocaust, Piranha 3D, The Midnight Meat Train, The Final Destination, Saw, Guinea Pig series, Hostel, Borderland, Audition, Wolf Creek, Captivity, Martyrs, Inside, Antichrist, The Collector and A Serbian Film.
Zombie film - Zombies films have creatures who are usually portrayed as either reanimated corpses or mindless human beings. Distinct sub-genres have evolved, such as the "zombie comedy" or the "zombie apocalypse". Examples include, Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, The Evil Dead, I Am Legend, Land of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Quarantine and The Return of the Living Dead.