Horror Films: Strange, Weird, Terrors on the Big Screen

A Hell of  History

Horror films have long held a special place in our hearts. Where they rest comfortably knowing that at any moment they could rise again. Filling your dreams with fear, or reminding you why you don’t like the woods late at night on a full moon. You wonder why your parents thought you were old enough to watch those horror films. And why the remakes are never quite as good. But, no matter what that first movie was that had you screaming in your bed, horror marches on. New technology, new ideas, new writers, new directors, and bigger budgets. Horror has always been experimental, daring, and, in some instances, questionable. But never afraid.

I was born, I grew up

With moving images being short in the beginning it was inevitable that someone would make a horror short. And the movie credited with being the first horror film (1896) is called La Manoir Du Diable (The Devil’s Castle) by Georges Méliès.

Don’t you just love the music? It’s fascinating to think that from a time when only short films were possible we have come full circle to where we are once again fascinated by horror shorts. Meant to be watched on small screens and shared with friends. After all, what’s more intimate than fear? And often those horror shorts become full length horror films. From the big screen to our pockets and back again.

Horror films have a way of reflecting the times. Metaphors for what is going on in the world. A way to experience and live out situations safely. To find relief for the frustrations of everyday life for the price of a cinema ticket and a bucket of popcorn.  Horror films are designed to both attract you to them and repel you. What is this dark thing you feel both a need for and a revulsion of – how can that be?

Early Full Length Horror films

The earliest full length horror films included monsters we still recognise today. Notre-Dame de Paris in 1911, The Student of Prague in 1913, Les Vampires in 1915, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1920 – who very recently made a return to our cinema screens in The Mummy.

Others making a come back include Nosferatu (1922), one we are hardly likely to ever forget, is being remade (written and directed) by Robert Eggers who directed The Witch. Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi is one we remember fondly -how can someone enthral you through the screen?- is being remade by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who gave us Sherlock. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is being remade as part of Universal’s Dark Universe project. But we are unlikely to see any of these horror films before 2019.

Nosferatu, horror films
via IMDb

Earliest Horror Films in Colour

The 1930’s gave us Two-Strip Technicolor horror films Dr X (1932) and The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933).

Two-Strip Technicolor was widely used in Hollywood between 1922 – 1952 and gave the films we remember from our childhoods that overly saturated colour. Films like The Wizard of Oz, and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

The Rise of Hammer Horror

The late fifties saw the beginning of horror films made by the British. The Horror of Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee as Dracula. With it’s success the studios produced a further eight Dracula movies.

But Dracula wasn’t the only Monster to come out of Hammer Studios. Frankenstein, and The Mummy both had their own series of films.  And they took to Lesbian Vampire Films like, well, a vampire bat to blood. A trend echoed in many film studios across the world. The Vampire Lovers (1970) from the UK. Daughters of Darkness (1971) from Belgium, and many others, mixing sex and blood well into the 80’s and beyond.

Dracula, horror films
via IMDb

Hitchcock and More

The 1960’s let loose. We were introduced to Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho in 1960, and the Birds in 1963 (a film that has my mother terrified of birds flapping to this day – there was an incident in Cornwall with a seagull and a pasty…).

Repulsion in 1965 introduced us to Roman Polaski  but it’s Rosemary’s Baby that we will most remember him for.

And then the late, great George Romero gave us Night of the Living Dead in 1968. He gave us zombies that were us, brought back from the dead. The beginning of a new bread of zombie movies. Repeatedly raised from the dead in ever decreasing cycles. He gave us six zombie ‘Dead’ films in total, the most recent being 2009.

The 70’s didn’t put an end to Dracula

But it did give us some of the most amazing horror films. The genre really took off in the 70’s giving us some of our favourites. Movies like A Clockwork Orange in 1971,  The Last House on the Left in 1972, The Exorcist in 1973, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, Jaws in ’75, The Omen in ’76,  Suspiria in ’77, Halloween in ’78, and Alien in ’79. Some which have seen remakes, others which have had sequels, and some which no one dare touch in fear of spoiling the legend.

And then came the 80’s

The late 80’s was when I really started watching horror movies before I should. These were the years of screaming the house down at 1 in the morning – Thanks John Landis.

1980 started us out with The Shining, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel and starring Jack Nicholson (as if you didn’t already know), and Friday the 13th. And followed with the likes of The Evil Dead, and American Werewolf in London in ’81. The thing in ’82, The Dead Zone in ’83, Gremlins in ’84, A Nightmare on Elm Street in ’84, Teen Wolf in ’85, The Fly in ’86, The Curse in ’87, Child’s Play, and Beetlejuice,  in ’88.  And many many more.

The 1980’s were filled with horror films. And many of these filmed spawned sequel after sequel. Feeding our gruesome need for more.

american werewolf remake, horror films

The 1990’s gave us monsters, murderers, and found footage

Giant underground worms terrorised Kevin Bacon in Tremors in 1990. Dr Hannibal Lector, the Cannibal, was essential for helping solve the Buffalo Bill murders in The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Only say it once so you don’t accidentally make him appear, 1992 gave us The Candyman.

Then came Body Snatchers in ’93, and our beloved Interview with the Vampire in ’94 (currently being remade for TV). What’s in the box? Don’t open it! In ’95 we got Seven, a thrill ride of wicked sins depicted in murders. The Craft brought us magic, and Scream gave us something new in ’96 (also being remade). And in ’97 we got Event Horizon. 1998 gave us the Ring, and Halloween H2O. And 1999 was the birth of found footage with The Blair Witch Projects release.

The Naughties were exactly that

With movies like American Psycho, and Ginger Snaps, and the start of the Final Destination films in 2000, The Others in 2001, 28 Days Later, and Cabin Fever in 2002. House of 1000 Corpses, and Wrong Turn in 2003, Dawn of the Dead, and Shaun of the Dead in 2004. That year also gave us the beginning of the Saw movies. The Descent, and Hostel in 2005, Slither, and The Hills have Eyes in ’06.

And in 2007 horror seemed to be everywhere Paranormal Activity, The Orphanage, REC, The Mist, Trick ‘r Treat, 1408, 28 Weeks Later, Dead Silence, Hannibal Rising, The Hitcher, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, and 30 Days of Night.

We were in an era of remakes and adaptations – all in the name of money. Horror films put bums in seats, didn’t need a high budget or big name actor, and raked in the money for the studios. But there’s always a risk of going to far – the people whose bums the studios wanted in seats might begin to notice.

The following year we saw films like Let the Right One in, The Strangers, and Cloverfield. Then 2009 gave us The Loved Ones, The House of the Devil, and Drag me to Hell.

horror films

So where to next?

Well, in the last few years we’ve seen a lot of remakes. A lot of TV shows out of horror films – Scream, Slasher, Teen Wolf. But we’ve also seen a resurgence of the short horror. It’s now far easier to make your own horror short and show it to the world. Social media has a lot to answer for. And a lot of room to manoeuvre in.

With highly visible companies like Crypt TV providing platforms for sharing the best  of the horror shorts, offering competitions to get work seen, there’s likely to be a lot of movies in the future that began as a short on the internet. And whilst this isn’t an entirely new way of getting in front of audiences it’s certainly becoming a more viable one.

I don’t think horror films will be going anywhere soon – after all, what better genre to make VR movies in?