Horror Through the ages

Horror movies provide audiences with something that action, comedy, and romance can’t: fear. Horror movies generally depict a monster, murderer, or other evil pursuing a seemingly innocent victim for nefarious reasons. The genre is known for inciting fear in audiences with long, slow camera movements interrupted by sudden jump scares. And sound in scary movies typically involves long silences interrupted by abrupt loud noises.

For this project I will be exploring the advances made in the horror genre through six different movies, one from each era in film. The movies I have chosen are :

 Dracula

 Phantom of the Opera

 Psycho

 Jaws

 Halloween

 Paranormal Activity.

The Exemplar of the Third Era, 1927 – 1938: Dracula

At its core, Dracula is the story of a vampire’s fight and failure to gain power and affection. The vampire Dracula claims several human lives making them obedient servants to him by turning them into blood sucking vampires like himself. In the end the fiancée and doctor of one of his victims put an end to his carnage but putting a wooden stake through his heart and

• Immediate:

 1931’s Dracula was the first of its kind. It was the first horror “talkie”. The success of Dracula initiated the influx of horror and supernatural films. “[T]he upcoming months and years [brought] Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and effectively birthed the creature feature.” [1] Bela Lagosi as Dracula also birthed the horror star. After Dracula, Lagosi went on to get typecast as scary and play many more monsters. He paved the way for actors like Boris Karloff who became famous for being Frankenstein (Frankenstein 1931) and Claude Raines who was known for being the invisible man (The Invisible Man 1933).

• Long Term:

 Dracula essentially made the blue print for vampires. 2008’s Twilight and 2009’s The Vampire Diaries are prime examples of this. Tod Browning’s Dracula was known for his scary stare, great wealth, and for having a way with women. In Twilight the vampire known as Edward Cullen is described as “beautiful” and “like diamonds” by his love interest Bella. [2] Edward’s faux father Carlisle is a doctor and their family comfortably resides in a reclusive mansion. And when the vampires in Twilight are hungry for blood their eyes are a bright gold. Likewise the Salvatore vampire brothers in The Vampire Diaries come from a wealthy family and sport frightening red eyes with veins popping when they are near human blood. The sex appeal of vampires in The Vampire Diaries is undeniable as woman after woman steps into death’s doorway for a date with the Salvatore brothers.

The Exemplar of the Fourth Era, 1939 - 1947

Claude Raines’ 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera is the story of a man who leaves his wife and daughter for his music career and once his career is cut short, tries to gain what he’s lost in both music and family. Despite his noble efforts, in the end Claudin, the Phantom, loses his daughter, his music, and his life when his underground lair collapses on him.

• Immediate:

 Lon Chaney in the original silent Phantom of the Opera is known for his painful and complicated make up techniques. Jack Pierce took Chaney’s place as Master Monster Maker after Chaney’s death in 1930. In the 1943 version of The Phantom of the Opera Pierce created make up techniques for the Phantom that were still grotesque but far more comfortable and manageable and Chaney’s version. [3] Pierce also created a hair make up for -----that would wash out every night because he didn’t want to permanently dye his blond hair black. Jack Pierce maintained his title as Master Monster Maker with his makeup creations in 1945’s The Jungle Captive, [4] where he made a beautiful woman look like an ape creature and House of Dracula, where he remade Dracula, The wolf man, and Frankenstein’s monster. [5]

• Long Term:

 Phantom of the Opera was the first horror movie that was also a musical and from it we have the sub-genre of horror-musicals. The creative decisions of the 1943 release of Phantom of the Opera opened the door for movies like 1986’s Little shop of Horrors and 2007’s Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, both of which infuse scary story lines with theatrical musical numbers.

The Exemplar of the Fifth Era, 1948 - 1965

Psycho tells the story of how mental illness can effect a group of people. In Psycho Norman Bates’ mother takes the lives of anyone who gets in the way with her relationship with her son. In the end it is revealed that Norman is the actual murderer and he has taken on the persona of his angry, manipulative mother.

• Immediate:

 Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho created the sub-genre: slashers. Slasher movies typically depict a psychotic murder slaughter innocent people. Psycho began the trend of murderous movies and was soon followed by film with the same undertone including 1963’s Blood Feast where a caterer massacres people for an Egyptian ritual and Dementia 13 which features an axe murderer hunting down his family members.

• Long Term:

 Psycho established the fast cut edit also known as the quick cut. The infamous shower scene in Psycho is 45 seconds long and has over 90 cuts. [6] This technique of quickly cutting several scenes together can be seen especially often in modern movies that have a lot of violence and fighting, like in the torture scenes in the Saw saga (2004) as well as in the fight scenes in the more recent James bond movies (2006).

The Exemplar of the Sixth Era, 1966-1976

Jaws is the story of what happens when greed guides a person. In the movie, Mayor Vaughn and Quint put profit before all else and Quint ends up losing his life for it while the Mayor losses the security he had for his son. In the end those willing to risk themselves for the greater good (Brody and Hooper) destroy the shark that has been terrorizing the beach and survive to swim another day.

• Immediate:

 Jaws started what is now known as the “summer movie season, the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day that is responsible for nearly 40 percent of Hollywood's annual box-office revenue.” [7] Before Jaws came out the summer was seen as Hollywood’s off season. “Since then, studios have all attempted to program event movies for the summer months, typically around fare designed to appeal to younger audiences, such as action movies and broad comedies.” [8]Two notable examples of summer block busters are Star Wars and Grease. Star Wars released in May 1977 and held the title of highest grossing film for years. Grease premiered in June 1978 and was the highest grossing musical of the century.

• Long Term:

 Before Jaws it was almost unheard of to have a movie being advertised on television. But Jaws changed that forever. “For three nights preceding the film's release, Universal saturated the networks with $700,000 worth of 30-second trailers during primetime, and it paid off.” [7]Now, in 2017 it is the norm to have movies advertised on TV, Streaming services like Hulu, and even YouTube.

The Exemplar of the Seventh Era, 1977-1994

Halloween is the story of a pure hearted girl evading an evil killer. In the movie Michael Myers, a now 21 year old who was committed at six for murdering his sister, hunts down and murders several teenagers in his old town. In the end his last victim survives his attack when he is shot in the back six times.

• Immediate:

 The 1978 release of Halloween established the horror movie rule: The virgin lives and sex will kill you. Possibly in an effort to drive home the then new horrors of STDs and AIDS, horror movies following Halloween like 1980’s Friday the 13th and 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street adopted the cliché by having their more promiscuous characters killed.

• Immediate:

 Halloween promoted the use of and displayed the creativity in using the steady cam. “The film begins with a bravura moment of cinema… The entire sequence was made possible by the use of a Steadicam, which at the time was becoming an important tool in cinematography.” [9] The steady cam is now a regular choice in modern cinema and can create amazing shots like in the FBI Headquarters scene in 1998’s The X Files and the restaurant scene in 2003’s Kill Bill Vol.1.

The Exemplar of the Eighth Era, 1995 - present

Paranormal Activity is the story of a married couple losing the fight against a demon. In the beginning Katie tells her husband that she has been haunted since she was a child and begs him to get a professional to help them get rid of what’s haunting her but he ignores her requests. By the end of the movie Katie becomes fully possessed by a demon who uses her to kill her husband.

• Immediate:

 In 2007 Paranormal Activity expanded the way movies are filmed. Camcorders, web cams, and even security cameras were used in the making of Paranormal Activity to create a documentary type feel to the movie. These techniques have been used even more recently in 2012’s Chronicle where three teens film each other using their new found super powers.

From studying horror films from the past I have begun to wonder what new innovations will be made to make the next generation of horror films stand out from the rest. In general stories from movies very often come from books or old tales. What sets these movies apart is how movie makers get creative in making the movie. I am interested to see the developments in ways to film, edit, add special effects, and showcase to horror movies in the future.

I believe that there will be major advancements in the way movies are presented. I think that virtual reality will be a game changer to the movie industry. There are always new discoveries being made with cameras, angels, transition, lenses and filters. I expect to see even further advancements along those lines.

From these exemplars I’ve learned to try to break the standard and be innovative. There are techniques and products that have worked since the 1920s but with each era they are being improved on and want to be a part of the improvement. The difference between the machine birds in 1963’s The Birds and the shark in Jaws are staggering. The makeup differences between The Wolf Man of London and Freddy Kruger are incredible. That fact that in 1927 it would have been a huge production and cost millions of dollars to film something but today in 2017 I can film anything I want just by pressing a button on my phone is amazing to me. I don’t know for sure how I want to change film yet. But I do know that I want to be creative and innovative like the greats that came before me.


1. http://screenprism.com/insights/article/what-made-dracula-an-influential-hollywood-horror-film

2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1099212/quotes

3. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0682370/

4. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037837/

5. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037793/

6. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/06/how-hitchcock-s-psycho-changed-cinema-and-society/345186/

7. http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/ways-jaws-changed-movies-forever/story?id=31366659

8. http://www.ranker.com/list/the-best-years-for-summer-movies/ron-mexico

9. https://consequenceofsound.net/2016/10/the-making-of-john-carpenters-halloween/

Created By
Karen Battiste


Created with images by PublicDomainPictures - "abstract aggression arm"

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