Elements of film
May 13, 2012
History of Horror Films
I have loved watching horror movies since I was a young kid. They have always fascinated me and I am always looking for the next best horror film to be made. Most people like the feeling of being scared and all the emotions a horror film can make you feel. I love the quote by Stephen King, “If movies are the dreams of the mass culture…horror movies are the nightmares.” Horror films deliver thrills and tell us stories of the dark, forbidden side of life and death.
Early horror films are surreal, dark pieces owing their visual appearance to the expressionist painters. Darkness and shadows, important features of modern horror movies, were impossible to show on the film stock available at the time so the sequences seem doubly surreal to us now. These early entries to the genre established many of the codes and conventions still identifiable today. One of the earlier horror movies was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari which we watched outside of class for homework. This was made in 1919 and was often cited as granddaddy of all horror films. Although modern viewers might find the pace slow, with long takes and little cutting between scenes, "The Cabinet..." is stylish, imaginative, and never less than haunting. The audience views the tale through the twisted vision of the narrator. The first ever vampire movie to come out was Nosferatu in 1922. It was baldly plagiarizing the Dracula story to present Count Orlok, the grotesquely made-up 'Max Schreck', curling his long fingernails round the limbs of a series of hapless victims. This movie gave us a far more frightening bloodsucker than any of its successors.
Horror movies were reborn in the 1930’s. The advent of sound, as well as changing the whole nature of cinema forever, had a huge impact on the horror genre. The dreamlike imagery of the 1920s, the films peopled by ghostly wraiths floating silently through the terror of mortals, their grotesque death masks a visual representation of 'horror', were replaced by monsters that grunted and groaned and howled. Sounds in horror films help build the suspense up for the audience. There are two movies that the sounds can be identified almost immediately and that is Jaws and the Halloween series. When these theme songs come on most people can identify right away what movie it is from and it often makes you feel scared as you would watching the movie. Making talking pictures was a very different process to producing silent movies and, watching today, some of the early efforts seem very awkward. Going from silent films to talking films was a big step in the film industry. The images of Frankenstein and Dracula are still synonymous with 1930’s horror. Audiences were starting to get more into horror films in the 1930’s more than the 1920’s when horror films were just coming out. If we were to watch a horror film today of the ones made in the 1930’s we would not be scared because new technology has been invented to make horror films today more realistic and not just about fictional monsters but about real murders and crime.
Many commentators have identified the true beginning of the 21st century as September 11, 2001. The events that day changed global perceptions of what is frightening. The film industry was already facing a recession at that point and after September 2001 everyone wanted to watch films that made them all warm and fuzzy inside. Finally in 2005 the horror genre was back in full swing and was as popular as ever. Horror films would routinely top the box office charts. One of my favorite horror movie series is the Halloween series. The first Halloween movie was made in1978 directed and produced by John Carpenter. This was Jamie Lee Curtis’s debut film. The story is set in Illinois where six year old Michael Myers murders his sister by stabbing her with a kitchen knife. He is then set off to a psychiatric hospital and escapes fifteen years later. He then stalks a young girl and her friends but his psychiatrist suspects what he is doing and stops some of the killings. Halloween was produced on a budget of 320,000 dollars and grossed 47 million the box office in the United States and 70 million dollars worldwide. He has become one of the most profitable independent films. Another major reason for the success of Halloween is the moody musical score, particularly the main theme. In 1980, the television rights to Halloween were sold to NBC for $4 million. Halloween appeared on television for the first time in October 1981. The film was #14 on Bravos’ The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Carpenter’s Halloween is a widely influential film within the horror genre; it was largely responsible for the popularization of slasher films in the 1980s. Halloween spawned seven sequels, a 2007 remake of the same name and directed by Rob Zombie and a 2009 sequel to the remake, Halloween II, which is unrelated to the sequel of the original. Halloween II was hugely successful, becoming the highest grossing horror film of 1981. The sequels feature more explicit violence and gore, and are generally dismissed by mainstream film critics. This could be due to the fact that Halloween II's budget was around 2.5 million dollars. They had more money to work with and better technology.
Another horror movie that started off low budget was Paranormal Activity. It first came out in 2009 and was written and directed by Oren Peli. The film is about a young couple who is haunted by a supernatural presence in their home. It is presented in the style of “found footage,” from cameras set up by the couple in order to photograph what is haunting them. The film earned nearly 108 million in the United States and 194 million worldwide. It is the most profitable film ever made, based on return on investment. A prequel, Paranormal Activity 2, was released on October 22, 2010, and was followed by another prequel titled Paranormal Activity 3 on October 21, 2011. On January 2, 2012 Paramount Pictures announced that Paranormal Activity 4 was being produced. The director Oren has been afraid of ghost his entire life even being afraid of the comedy Ghost Busters but wanted to channel his fear into something positive and productive. He prepared his own house for the shooting and did extensive research into paranormal phenomena’s to make everything very realistic. I think this film hit home for a lot of people because there are many people that believe and are afraid of ghost. After I watched this movie, I would notice more sounds in the house when I was alone and the movie makes you believe things that are not really there. He actually shot all the footage with a home video camera. Peli recalled, stating that the film would be shot day and night, edited at the same time, and would have the visual effects applied to it as the acting footage was being finalized. During the screening, people began walking out; Goodman thought the film was bombing, until he learned that the viewers were actually leaving because they were so frightened. I remember my friend and I at the midnight premiere for Paranormal Activity 2 and feeing so scared with all these other people around me and a group of teenage guys had to get up and leave because they were so frightened. My friend and I went home after that and had to sleep with the lights on and she kept thinking someone was grabbing her hand. When a movie can make you feel this way, you know it is the real deal.
Every year there seems to be more and more horror films coming out especially around the time of Halloween. Horror films are made to trigger the fear inside of us without us actually being in danger. A lot of horror films use darkness to scare us and sound. I really like documentary horror films because it makes you feel like you are actually there and things seem more realistic and I like the Halloween/Slasher types of horror movies.