Think of a monster — someone or something that scares you. There are hundreds of monster types out there: giant stomping mutants, tiny creepy crawlies and psycho killers. If there’s one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s capturing these horrible beasts on the big screen. Odds are, if you’re scared of something, there’s a movie out there to exploit those fears.
Hollywood has a way of capturing the public’s fears and turning them into classic monsters. In the hundred or so years of Hollywood history, horror has been a big seller in theaters. From the black and white classics to the new franchises in theaters every year, this creepy genre has been a staple of the entertainment industry. It has changed a lot as time has passed and Hollywood is always trying to keep its thumb on the public’s quickening pulses.
When Hollywood started out, the films were silent and could only really scare the audience through their visuals. Horror films often used hard angles and deep shadows to create a dark and foreboding atmosphere. It was through this use of shadows and angles that we got “Nosferatu,” one of the first vampire films ever put to screen. The film’s Count Olaf is a famous face even today as people can’t help but picture his looming shadow, pointed ears and teeth and his gruesome expression. He’s still one of the most visually imposing vampires in film.
As films gained sound, monsters became more than just ugly faces. Now they could talk, howl, growl and groan. “Dracula,” as played by Bela Lugosi is one of the most famous vampires in the world today. He had a classiness that vampires simply didn’t have before. Boris Karloff’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster is still seen as the standard for that undead hulk today.
So many classics came out of the 1930s and 40s: the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man all came to life on the big screen at this time. Hollywood, as it tried to find the right feeling for horror as a genre, was experimenting with what could be done to scare the audience. And many of those experiments produced hits that are now cornerstones of horror entertainment.
In the 50s and 60s, we started seeing a lot of big monster movies and invasion movies. This is because the world had changed. Because of Cold War, people feared nuclear fallout. Horror, in turn, started showing us the possible outcomes of nuclear fallout.
Thus, we have Godzilla, the reptile king among monsters. Just mentioning his name makes you think about that iconic roar of his. We saw a lot of monsters that were made thanks to radiation in movies at this time. We also saw movies about giant ants invading earth or little green men enslaving humanity. Americans during that time were extremely afraid of being enslaved because of the Red Scare.
In the 70s and 80s, the world changed yet again. Teenagers were starting to rebel in a more public and extreme way. The late 60s brought the hippie movement and the idea of “free love.” This scared a lot of the older crowd. As such, horror movies started being more aggressive in a sexual way. The slasher genre grew and thrived during this time.
People consider the first real slasher film to be “Psycho,” which gave us the memorable character of Norman Bates. “Psycho” gave us a lot of the tropes that slasher films follow: the masked killer, the violent weapons and more than a whiff of sexuality. However, slasher films really made big strides in movie history a decade later.
In the 70s, we saw the birth of mad men and maniacs who are still popular: Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers — they all started in this disco era. And their biggest gimmick was picking off teenagers who rebelled a bit too much against society in one way or another.
The last two decades are a bit of an anomaly on the horror radar. Rather than single monsters who are played by one person, we have movies about zombies. We even have a lot of unseen monsters, like the demons in the “Paranormal Activity” movies. However, there are three major series that have had major impacts on the horror industry.
The “Scream” movies with their killer, Ghostface, changed the way audiences looked at slasher movies. “Scream” had some of the first movie characters who were aware of the rules of the genre. This meant that they fought back against it. They broke free of the tired old tropes and said that rules were meant to be broken. As a result, horror got smarter.
“The Ring” movies were first made in Japan but adapted for American audiences. They were popular enough that they started a craze of Americanizing foreign horror. The villain Samara was a new concept for Americans, a ghost with rules that were different. She introduced Americans to Japan’s vision of horror, and it forced us to look at horror from a different angle.
Finally, we have the “Saw” movies with one of the most sadistic movie killers of our generation, Jigsaw. By now, everyone knows the pale, cartoonish face of his puppet, Billy. Jigsaw and the Saw movies started a whole new phase of movies: torture horror. These movies are heavy with blood, guts, sharp objects, rusty chains and dark rooms. The more you get the audience to squirm with disgust, the better chance you have at horrifying them.
Horror has changed to the extreme over time. Back in the silent movie era, all it took was a disfigured shadow climbing up a staircase to give the audience chills. Now, audiences crave more blood, sex and violence. The genre has only gotten bigger and more gruesome over the years. There are hundreds of subsets too, like zombie movies, slasher flicks, psychological thrillers, haunted house stories and so many more. Although the future of horror is unknown, we know it will certainly strive to terrify us by any means necessary.