Horror Films: From Nostalgia to Now, From Fear to Meh

A Daunting Task

Ok, lets face it, the chances of me mentioning all of the horror films you’ve seen are slim to none. I probably haven’t seen all of the horror films you’ve seen. But I wonder what the chances are that you’ve seen all the horror films I’ve seen? Probably fairly high I’d wager.

This isn’t going to be an irritatingly long list of all the horror films in the world ever made. That would take way too long to load. And would probably work better as an app you could use to tick another movie off your list and see which films you haven’t seen yet. But I digress…

Horror stories were told long before movies came along. So it was a perfectly natural progression to see if they could still scare the crap out of you in another format. They could. They did. And they still do. Because horror lets us experience the scary stuff in a safe environment, where there are lights that can be turned back on, people that can be clung to, phones that can let you ring your mummy.

horror films

In the beginning horror films were silent and in black and white

Now, most of you are probably thinking Nosferatu. But what about The Devils Castle (1896)

Okay, not that scary. But then came Frankenstein – the 1910 version, followed by a German horror film in 1913 entitled The Student of Prague which was based loosely on Poe’s William Wilson. Nosferatu didn’t appear until 1922.

A mechanical wonder allowed me to see the sunrise – Louis, Interview with the Vampire

And then came colour and sound. New techniques and the ever advancing possibilities of new technology.horror films

The first horror film to be shot in colour was The Curse of Frankenstein in 1931.

And was swiftly followed by the likes of:

  • Doctor X (1932)
  • Son of Frankenstein (1939)
  • Scared to Death (1947)
  • How to Make a Monster (1958)


horror films
1960‘s horror films saw emerging directors challenging our perceptions with the likes of:

  • Psycho
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Rosemary’s Baby
  • 13 Ghosts

In 1960 the first star was placed on the Hollywood walk of fame for Joanne Woodward, who played Beth Paine in Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Momentum. And 1963 birthed the multiplex. But the 60’s saw studios and the movie industry struggling. Bringing about a frenzy of investments and trades in studios and networks. And as a result long lasting changes to movies and TV shows being produced.  A lot of movies began production in Britain, to reduce costs.

horror films
The 1970‘s gave us new and exciting scares:

  • Jaws
  • The Exorcist
  • The Omen
  • Halloween
  • Alien

And so many more. A lot of the restrictions had eased up. You could show more blood, more leg, and use bad language. Hollywood was taking risks with younger directors and newer, more diverse, scripts. Not to mention more diverse ways of delivering films to viewers, once they’d accepted they could make money rather than lose it through those means.

horror filmsThe Age of CGI

In the 1980‘s Horror got seriously messed up:

  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • The Shining
  • Hellraiser
  • An American Werewolf in London (my personal nightmare inducer)
  • The Fly
  • The Lost Boys

Although films began to follow a kind of formula there was the new CGI techniques to play with, and boy did they go for it.

horror films
As for the 1990‘s, well, what can I say?:

  • Scream
  • The Blair Witch
  • The Candyman
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Misery
  • Tremors
  • From Dusk Till Dawn
  • Arachnophobia

Special effects where just getting better and better, and whilst there were a number of remakes and sequels, there were also a lot more Indie films.

With even better special effects and the growth of movie franchises the 2000’s gave us a plethora of new and not so new movies to indulge in. Horror films didn’t ignore a chance to use all the new techniques to really get under our skins. There were some winners and some losers. Go ahead and name your favourite and least favourite horror movie from the 2000’s in the comments.

Horror films have always held a fascination but Hollywood has not always wanted to call them horror films. Preferring to label many as thriller, action, or fantasy, amongst other things. But the horror community is clever, discovering the hidden gems and sharing them with their horror loving friends. Even The Mummy, one of the new breed of Dark Universe movies is not called a horror. Rather it’s a Action, Adventure, Fantasy. Whilst the 1932 version was a Fantasy, Horror. Why is the industry so afraid of horror? And why is there so much reliance on remakes?

I have a theory about remakes…

We already have a rough idea of how well a particular movie will do based on how well it did the first time around. So why not try to make that success even bigger with a remake? Capitalise on something they already know works and make it bigger and better and then just rake in the dinero. But there’s also nostalgia.

Nostalgia too puts bums in seats and money in box offices. It’s part of the reason we love Guardians of the Galaxy so much -with it’s hints at things we saw as kids- and Tarantino movies that always give a nod to other great movies we’ve seen.  All things that remind us of a time when we were happy, safe, and probably curled up watching a boxy TV  whilst eating cereal that had too much sugar on, in a pair of shorts with piping around the edges. *Sigh* I used to love those shorts.

Horror Films by any other name would still smell as sweet (it’s the rotting corpses I reckon)

Like Blow Flies to a corpse, horror movie fans will hone in on the sweet smell of rotten genre-ing (yeah, I made up a word) and lay their eggs…where was I going with this analogy? Look, my point is, even when they don’t call a horror movie a horror movie we’ll still find it. But seriously, grow some balls Hollywood – Horror Films are not going away, so just call them what they are. That way I don’t have to have awkward conversations in the supermarket when buying DVDs.

Cashier: Aw, I’ve heard that’s a really nice romance.

Me: Sure, if ripping someones head off is romantic.

Like with all movies, there are age categories. And those categories are defined by what it’s acceptable for people of that age to be exposed to. Not on how scary the movie is. So there’s no guarantee that horror films rated 18 are scarier than ones rated 12. It all depends on how much blood, sex, and swears, you want with your terror. A horror film can be swimming in blood and not be scary. But a horror movie without an 18 rating can make you afraid to go to the bathroom alone. Because it relies on dragging you into the story and spitting you out afraid. So, you want to know how scary it’s going to be? Or if it’s the kind of horror film that gives you the adrenaline rush you crave? Wait till someone else has seen and reviewed it.

But why do we enjoy being scared so much?

…those with particularly efficient dopamine and reward systems, being scared in a safe place is a source of enjoyment and makes them feel good. – Margee Kerr Ph.D. Psychology Today

The fact that it uses the emotional parts of our brain and the parts that do the remembering is a big reason why nostalgia works so well. We like to be reminded of things we enjoyed, that felt good. Even if that good feeling came from a scary thing. Because the chemicals our brains released at the scary bit are so similar to those released when we’re excited, or happy. That’s why when they say ‘We’re making another Dracula movie’ we go ‘Oh cool, I can’t wait to see it’. And why we’re disappointed if that film doesn’t trigger the same emotional response it did the first time we saw a Dracula movie.

Of course, as an adult who has grown up watching horror films, it gets more and more difficult to trigger that desire to hide behind the sofa in you. Films need to be darker, scarier, creepier, shocking. What horror film scared you as an adult? Was it the one about something you’d never seen before? A situation you’d never experienced before? A monster that seemed much more real than any you’d encountered before?

Horror Films are here to stay

In an industry that relies on triggering emotions, from the people who hand over hard earned money for good entertainment, fear cannot be ignored. Especially since some of the very best horror movies are Indies. But I think it’s time for new stories, and a few more years between remakes.