Horror movies in the 1960s: Psycho, The Birds, Carnival of Souls, Blood Feast, Night of The Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, Hammer Horror, Roger Corman, Herschell Gordon Lewis
Horror Movies in the 1960s: Bad Girls and Blood Freaks
The beat generation. Kennedy. Cuba. Thalidomide. Acid. Vietnam. The sexual revolution. BetweenPsycho in 1960 and the Manson Family murders in 1969, the 1960s saw a great sea change in what the public perceived as horrible. The social stability that had marked the post-war years was gone by the end of the decade as a huge rethink occurred in everything from hemlines to homosexuality. Horror movies, usually made for low budgets outside the mainstream studio system, offered the counterculture opportunities to debunk old taboos and explore new ways of perceiving sex and violence. Underground cinema dodged scrutiny, and therefore censorship. As well as being more open to nudity, onscreen violence, and other tropes that challenged social mores, the drive-in teen audiences of the 1950s were growing up, and becoming wise to the empty promises of lurid titles and titillating posters, immune to the scare factor of rubber suits and miniaturized sets. They wanted horror that was more rooted in reality, more believable, more sophisticated, that dealt with some of the issues they faced in a rapidly changing world.
Despite the often tragic events of this era, there was a seeming feeling of optimism, the sense that humanity was moving forward, onward and upward. The concept of Cold War lost heat, and, in 20-odd years without nuclear holocaust, the threat of mass-death-by-radiation had receded. The mutant monsters of the 1950s now looked a little silly. No aliens had turned up either - well, they hadn't announced their presence to the masses although maybe a few MIBs knew a thing or two. Rather than focusing on external threats, counter-culture thinking involved a re-examination of the social psyche — traditions, stereotypes, prohibitions. If every generation gets the monsters it deserves, then the horror movie goers of the 1960s got... themselves. Going to the cinema to be scared at this time was the equivalent of gazing in the mirror, and noticing, for the first time, that there was something a little... strange about your own face.
Thriller To Chiller
Horror films and thrillers had intertwined way back in the days of the Old Dark House (1932) and Cat People (1942). However, horror's relegation to the B-movie zone in the 1950s meant that those directors who were interested in thrillers had concentrated on producing glossy, stylish, film-noir stories with no taint of the supernatural, the monstrous, and therefore the drive-in. It is interesting to compare the original Cape Fear(1962) with its 1991 remake. Robert Mitchum's Max Cady is a nasty man indeed, but he is very much a man, while Scorsese and De Niro present a Max who is almost from beyond, with his bizarre tattoos, his habit of appearing out of nowhere, his taste for human flesh and his habitation of a little house in the woods.
And yet... The undisputed master of the thriller, Alfred Hitchcock, chose the 1960s for his two main ventures into the horror genre. Although there are moments in all his major works that cross the line between horror and thriller it is only Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) that can truly be described as horror films. Inspired by the no-frills, low budget approach of William Castle, he proved himself expert at scaring audiences with both an internal and external threat. One monster is carefully delineated and explained ("Oh Mother! "), the other is an unnatural, inexplicable presence, watching and waiting somewhere beyond normal human experience.
Psycho presented us with Norman Bates, the monster so close to normal it was only in the final section of the film that he revealed how monstrous a man could be. Based on the real- life story of Ed Gein, which has since proved fruitful for movies as diverse as Silence of The Lambs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho has become iconic in a way few other movies have ever become. In 2013, it even spawned a TV show, Bates Motel, which explores the relationship between a teenaged version of Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), many years before Marion Crane took her fateful turn off the highway.
Everyone "knows" the story; the name Norman Bates is familiar to those who have never seen the film. The Bates Motel continues to leer at visitors to the Universal Studios theme park. The screeching soundtrack and the flashing of the knife blade in the shower scene seem condemned to perpetual rerunning in horror films to this day. If ever a movie cast a giant shadow over the genre then this is it. And it only cost $800,000 – which the director, Alfred Hitchcock paid out of his own pocket.
The Birds (1963)
The Birds, Daphne du Maurier's short story (Hitchcock had already filmed Jamaica Inn (1939) and Rebecca (1940)) was originally set in Cornwall. Hitchcock transposed it to Bodega Bay, California, and turned a simple tale of the malevolence at the heart of nature into a morality play. Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a bad girl. The extent of her badness is never fully revealed, but we know that she has spent her time frolicking naked in fountains in Rome, and impersonating pet shop assistants in San Francisco. She is also prepared to clear her diary and follow home a man she fancies. Her arrival in Bodega Bay, in hot pursuit of Mitch, coincides with the beginnings of strange behaviour from the birds. Later in the movie a townswoman screams at her "What are you?", blaming her for the catastrophe. Melanie does not answer.Whoever or whatever has caused them to attack, the birds are fearsome opponents. A variety of special effects (much blue screen work and some animation provided by Disney technicians) plus the spooky soundtrack - a combination of deathly silence and artificial bird noises - create a many-headed monster, flapping and screeching and pecking. The corpses that are a by-product of their rampage (farmer Dan and schoolteacher Annie) are grotesque mannequins presented to us in still life. You can almost sense Hitchcock's smile as the audience recoil from Dan's sightless eyes or Annie's splayed legs. And the way the film ends, with resolution for our antagonists, shows that Hitchcock was aiming squarely for an adult audience, who would think about the film for long after the final shot had faded from the screen.
Michael Bay's company, Platinum Dunes, have a remake slated. While some of the special effects could be improved upon, there is no reason to remake this other than as a soul-less, creatively bankrupt, audience-insulting money-making exercise.
Things That Go Bump
“The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts”. —ITALO CALVINO, The Literature Machine
A number of ghost stories hit the screen in the early 1960s that still have the power to startle today, transcending their black and white photography and minimal special effects. These films can be seen as a reaction against the elaborate creature features of the late 1950s. They are simple stories that only require the audience to suspend disbelief in increments, and often, as in The Haunting (1963) operate from a position of skepticism. The characters do not believe that they are being affected by supernatural forces until too late (if at all) and the horror lies in the journey the protagonist takes between sanity and psychosis. Can the hero believe what he/she (it's usually a woman) is seeing? Reality unravels in textbook (Freudian) style, as familiar, safe mise en scène disintegrate, revealing aspects of another dimension. When the protagonist resists or complains, the causes of her terror can be explained away by a (it's usually a man) kindly doctor or other authority figure in Act Two, but the forces of madness – whether internal or external – always triumph by the end. These screen stories reflect a preoccupation with change, with women on the frontlines, the first (and often the only ones) to be destroyed by the erosion of the old order. Were these movies subliminal warnings to women, an exhortation to behave, or suffer the consequences? These ghost stories depend on more than an ambiguous spectral presence for their thrills; they throb with psychosexual tension, and take a sadistic satisfaction (Hitchcock made it fashionable) in the suffering of the beautiful heroine. The protagonist is a final sacrifice rather than a Final Girl.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
“Thank you, but I'm never coming back.” — Mary, to the organ factory owner
Mary emerges from the river
This extremely low budget gem was directed by Herk Harvey, a film-maker with plenty of "industrial documentaries" (i.e. training films) under his belt, but no other fiction features. Shot in Lawrence, Kansas (at, and using the crew from the industrial film company, Centron) and around the abandoned Saltair amusement park in Utah for a supposed $33,000, the film is long on atmosphere and short on warm human relationships. From the opening drag race (which could in itself be a PSA warning teens against this dangerous activity entitled "The Chicken Run Straight To Hell" ) to the muddy finale, every frame is pervaded with a sense of isolation and disassociation.
Candace Hilligoss (described by Roger Ebert as "one of those worried blonds like Janet Leigh") plays Mary Henry, church organist and only survivor of the car crash at the top. From the moment she crawls from the river, an inexplicable survivor, she is dazed and disconnected. Now, she might be tagged as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder but that diagnosis was not available in 1962. She doesn't seem to care about anything, from visiting her parents on the way to her new job in Utah, or the spiritual responsibilities of being a church musician once she gets there ("It's just a job... I'm not taking the vows, I'm only going to play the organ."). The only things that rattle her unconcern are the appartitions which follow her: ghoulish, hollow-eyed humans in dirty clothes that clearly influenced Romero's depiction of zombies in Night of the Living Dead. One in particular appears in her car window as she's driving, in the stairwell at her boarding house and at the autoshop. He seems intent on luring her out to the abandoned pavilion, a structure which fascinates her, notwithstanding the specific warnings of her boss, the vicar. Ultimately, she answers the call of the undead.
En route, she has several strange episodes, where the people around her suddenly disengage totally from her world: she cannot be seen or heard (even by a burly motorcycle cop), despite her frantic pleas for acknowledgement and help. It's as though she doesn't exist in their sphere, the only ones who can see her are the ghouls, a bus full of them, who reach for her with open arms. Desperate for some semblance of human connection, she endures a date from Hell with alcoholic, lecherous fellow lodger John Linden (Sidney Berger). He practically humps the doorframe at their first encounter, and tries to pour whiskey in her morning coffee - he's no dream lover. But even his salacious attentions are better than being left alone (take note, single women the world over) with the apparitions: when she finally kicks him out of her bedroom she seals her doom by severing her last human connection.
Carnival of Souls is an eerie experience, one that resonates long after the last frame has faded. The organ music (Mary plays, hears it on the radio) and absence of dialogue give long sequences the rhythms of a silent movie, and it is sometimes startling to hear diegetic sound (including human voices) return. The special effects are minimal, but the atmosphere is palpable: Harvey makes admirable use of the Saltair location, with the pavilion continually glowering on Mary's near-horizon so that it's impossible for her to escape. The ghouls, a combination of simple make up and old clothes, are nightmarish, especially in the speeded up sequences (is this the first use of fast zombies, predating 28 Days Later by forty years?). The final kicker, which might seem predictable today, offers a bluntly supernatural explanation for Mary's fugue state, but 1962 audiences, familiar with loved ones returning from war, would have recognised the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder without being able to name the psychological condition. The screenplay draws on Ambrose Bierce's civil war short story, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge — a direct film adaptation of the story won the Best Short Film Oscar in 1963 — which also served as the inspiration for Jacob's Ladder (1990). Avoid the 1998 "reimagining", which somehow involves a pedophile clown in the story.
Hitchcock was a meticulous worker, obsessive about planning & storyboarding. Although he had a reputation for cruelty towards his actors, those who worked for him agree that he managed to extract career-best performances, however he went about it. He would pick and choose his crew from the most talented craftspeople available, and he had major studio backing for his pictures (with the notable exception of Psycho, where he had to stump up the $800,000 himself). At the other end of the film-making scale is writer/producer/director Roger Corman, no less iconic a figure in the world of horror movies. Corman is perhaps the most successful independent movie maker ever, whose pragmatic approach to film-making (2-5 day shoots, actors/writers being asked to direct second unit camera crews, filming two movies on the same set with the same actors) proved incredibly profitable. He recognised that horror, sex and laughter are never very far apart, and managed to imbue his pictures with all three.
His delicious sense of irony comes out in some of the titles: Bucket of Blood, She Gods Of The Shark Reef. Corman spent just enough on his movies to get them in the can, but managed to provide audiences with what they wanted to see (buxom women, blood, a bit of monster make-up). He churned out B movies, at an incredible rate, always pulling in enough cash to finance his next venture, and kickstarting the careers of various Hollywood luminaries (Jack Nicholson, Robert Towne, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme et al) along the way. The title of his 1990 autobiography, How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost A Dime says it all: he did not restrict himself to horror films, but ventured into 'women's pictures' (no... not starring Meg Ryan, but women in some sort of uniform - student nurses were a particular favourite), biker drug flicks, blaxploitation movies and what have been termed 'rural dramas', which generally involve rednecks. Fighting rednecks. However, with films like Little Shop Of Horrors, The Raven and The Masque of The Red Death he has had a profound influence on the horror genre.
Blood Feast (1963)
Another influential film (although not in the same class as Corman) of the time was Blood Feast, the first ever splatter movie. Directed by pornographer Herschell Gordon Lewis, with a budget of $24,500, this tale of an Egyptian caterer who specialises in maiden's body parts grossed over $4 million. Whereas Psycho had shocked just three years previously by offering glimpses of a knife and someone falling down the stairs, Blood Feast served violent and bloody murder up on a well-lit plate. The story is almost non-existent - the gore is the reason why people (still) watch this movie. It was the first in the considerable subgenre of splatter movies, and paved the way for directors like John Carpenter and Wes Craven in the 1970s and Rob Zombie today.
In Britain, Hammer Films, a company founded in 1934 with a spotty track record of success, adopted the tactics of Corman and Lewis and produced a slew of horror pictures between 1955 and 1979. In their golden years, during the 1960s, they achieved considerable success thanks to a reliable formula of melodramatic story-telling; beautiful, scantily-clad women; graphic violence (for the era); barely subdued eroticism and solid craftsmanship. The British Board of Film Classification introduced the 'X' certificate in 1951 (suitable for those aged 16 or over) and Hammer chased that rating for every picture, often outraging the censors.
Although their first real success was The Quatermass Experiment(1955), a sci-fi venture, they soon decided that monsters in human form were better... and cheaper! Also, the glut of monster pictures in the 1950s meant that audiences, as ever, sought a new direction. or an old one. Hammer began to rehash all the gothic horror stories so beloved of Universal in the 1930s: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy etc etc, but added a touch of erotica in keeping with the mood of the times. Whereas the Universal movies were wholesome family fare, Hammer prided themselves on their 'X- ADULT ONLY' certification. That X-rating was earned by a soft-focus erotic flavour which seems curiously chivalrous to us now, but was very daring in a world that had not long left the Hay's Code behind. Actors like Virginia Wetherell, Madeline Smith, Ingrid Pitt, Janina Faye, Vera Day, Caroline Munro, Martine Beswicke, Carol Marsh, Yvonne Monlaur, Valerie Leon made their names as Hammer heroines (and villainesses), and were collectively known as the Hammer Glamour Girls.
Male Hammer stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were direct heirs of Lugosi and Karloff, and played a similar succession of villains and monsters. They too have become paradigms of the genre (along with Vincent Price, who was busy with low-budget Corman and Castle fare in America).
From 1951 to 1966, Hammer Film Productions made their home at Down Place, a 1750s-built country house on the banks of the River Thames between Bray and Windsor. The elegant mansion provided the ideal setting for many Hammer films, including The Old Dark House, the St Trinians series, while The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile were shot back to back using the same sets. The location became an integral component of the typical look of a Hammer production. Over the years, Hammer added facilities included four soundstages, ancillary buildings and a permanent 'Village' set. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in itself a tribute to Hammer production style and values, was filmed here in 1975.
Although Hammer Horror from the 1960s seems tame by today's standards, and sometimes a little too camp in tone, the movies did deal with some serious topics, and ventured into controversial territory, setting new standards for their day. Hammer Films proved that horror could be aimed at an adult audience and still turn a profit. The movies and their stars are remembered with great fondness by generations of fans. Various attempts were made in the 2000s to bring back the Hammer banner, and 2010 saw their first theatrical feature of the millennium, Let Me In. This was followed by The Resident and Wake Wood, and, in 2012 The Woman In Black (starring Daniel Radcliffe) became the most successful British horror film in over 20 years.
Night of The Living Dead
George A. Romero gathered together his buddies in Pittsburgh in June 1967 and embarked on shooting a movie with the working title "Monster Flick". $114,000 and six months later they had produced Night of the Living Dead, an incredibly influential horror film which, in its deadpan approach to its subject, blew camp horror out of the water, and signalled the beginning of the searing social comment which horror films were to provide on the up-coming decade. Made on a scale that Corman or Lewis would have approved of, this film nonetheless contained some tight performances, excellent make-up and special effects, and yes, those genuinely terrifying moments.
Whilst NOTLD works on a visceral, shock horror level (there are some manic shots of zombies munching on the barbecued remains of Tom & Judy) it also functions as serious social satire. The living people barricading themselves in against the shambling dead represent all that is/was unhappy about American society. Barbara, catatonically dazed and confused, sits immobile on a sofa staring at the TV set. Harry vents all his middle American frustrations on the unfortunate Ben, who's trying his best to be a hero, in difficult circumstances. The living don't know what to do. Beyond defending their space against an external threat they really don't have much of a plan. So they fight, and bicker, and, inevitably, succumb to zombiedom themselves. The movie signalled a new, darker, direction in horror, away from the campy tones of Corman and Hammer, thus preventing another slide into the Abbott & Costello meets... territory of the late 1940s. Although a lot of the camerawork was the result of economics. the continuously canted angles, the lurching (as opposed to tracking) movement, and the off-kilter composition all contribute to the unnervingness of the film, and established techniques to be copied by subsequent low-budget entries to the genre. The Living Dead themselves have come to be agents of satire in many pictures since, their stiff-legged shuffle representing mindlessness - be it racism or consumerism - and mob mentality. Romero's sequels, Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead, explore what has gone wrong in a civilisation that requires of its citizens that they simply be and buy. The final instalment - for now, anyway is Land of the Dead (2005).
Zombie Movie Links
Whilst people had been making zombie movies since 1932's White Zombie (starring Bela Lugosi as an evil sugarmill owner who zombifies his workers), Romero gave us the zombie splatterfest, and, despite NOTLD essential seriousness, kickstarted a whole subgenre of comedy horror flicks, where the humour is derived from what you can do with decomposing body parts.
- -NOTLD was remade in 1990 by Tom Savini, Romero's long-standing friend who missed out on the making of the original as he was on a tour of duty in Vietnam. Savini is a special effects and makeup maestro, and collaborated with Romero on the latter two instalments in the trilogy. Find his official homepage here.
- -A list of zombie movies & some comments
Night of the Living Dead dealt with what happened when our nearest and dearest turned against us. But what if your family were never particularly 'near and dear'? What if, like the cuckoo, some entity left one of its hatchlings in your unsuspecting nest? What if some monster was growing among you, inside you; every outward inch an innocent child, every inner molecule an abomination? This was reality for the thousands of women who had taken Thalidomide to ward off morning sickness, who found themselves giving birth to armless, legless, twisted little torsos. It was also reality for the war generation, who had fought to build a better world and found they had produced... hippies. It was also reality for the families of Vietnam conscripts, whose sons, brothers and husbands went away for a tour of duty and came back... different.
Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is the ultimate 1960s naïf, fluffy haired, big-eyed, married to manly actor Guy (John Cassavetes) and desperate to Be Nice To Everyone. Poor Rosemary! When she & Guy move into a new apartment, one slightly beyond their means, all sorts of strange things start happening. Only no one really sees fit to tell Rosemary what they mean. Guy gets successful, suddenly, owing to another actor mysteriously being struck blind. Rosemary gets pregnant, after a strange dream. The Castavets, their elderly neighbours, get all parental, and start feeding Rosemary herbal drinks. Rosemary gets the best obstetrician in New York, at mates' rates. All should be rosy for the mother-to-be, but she starts reading all sorts of strange things into the events around her. As she sinks deeper and deeper into a state of paranoid terror, Polanski plays deftly with the audience's sensibilities - is Rosemary subject to a hormonal mania brought about by her pregnancy? Or is she really the victim of a satanic plot, the unknowing sacrifice in her husband's quest for fame?
The steadily tracking camera on a permanently low angle that keeps missing vital faces and expressions (we sense Rosemary's reactions by the movement of her feet, half the time) contributes to the audience's share in Rosemary's paranoia. Farrow's haunted and haunting performance (could those dark circles under her eyes get any bigger?) is central to the horror in this film. In real life she was undergoing a messy divorce from Frank Sinatra (to whom she had been something of a child bride) and the shot of a nurse giving Rosemary a vitamin injection early on is real. This film tells us that no one can be trusted, that 'They' are all around us, and that 'They' will win in the end. Rosemary is not the skilled opponent to Satan that, for instance, the Duc de Richlieu (Christopher Lee) is in Hammer's The Devil Rides Out; instead she represents a lost generation of sinners, no authority or ritual or morals to protect them, stumbling into the arms of a coven because there is nowhere else to go. Although Rosemary is presented as The Innocent, in childish short dresses, flat shoes, little make-up and THAT $5000 Vidal Sassoon haircut, she is not entirely stainless. She is greedy and ambitious, doggedly giving the impression that Guy is a more successful actor than he is to everyone they meet in the first half hour of the movie. She is lustful too, her "Let's make love" on the bare floor of the apartment leads to clammy sex on the floorboards (at least Guy takes his socks off). Ultimately, it seems that Rosemary is punished for her own stupidity (YOU ACCEPTED MARITAL RAPE!!!! YOU DRANK THAT HERBAL STUFF!!!), although she is very much a character of her times in her fearful passivity.
What is the best horror film of the 1960s?
The 1999 remake, The Astronaut's Wife starring Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron, replaces a coven of Satanists with a brief encounter in outer space. Spencer Armacost (Depp) returns from space "somehow different", quits his job as an astronaut, moves to a swanky apartment in New York and there brutally impregnates his wife (again, marital rape - the lady doth protest). Jillian (Theron) is too strong a character to ever sink to Rosemary's helpless levels, but she does her fair share of wide-eyed shocked looks when she comes to some new realisation about The Thing That Is Now Her Husband. Rand Ravich (writer/director) does not have Polanski's mastery of suspense, and the film is a little slow in the first half. Worth a watch, just for the comparisons, and some insight on how two different directors pull different aspects of horror from essentially the same story.
Look What's Happened To Rosemary's Baby was a dire TV movie that in no way approached the chilling original. However, several films in the 1970s explored very effectively what did happen next - The Omen trilogy follows the fortunes of the anti-Christ from birth to adulthood, whereas The Exorcist and Carrie deal with adolescence and the Devil. It becomes clear that sociopathy starts young. Yet if Satan is the father of your child, then you can in no way be responsible for their behaviour. Unlike Norman Bates, who clearly puts the blame for the way he is on his mother at the beginning of the decade, Rosemary's Baby is going to grow up into his own person, regardless of his mother's ineffectual witterings. And there is nothing she, nor any teacher or policeman can do to prevent it.
NEXT: Horror in the 1970s >>
"Horror Movie" redirects here. For the Skyhooks song, see Horror Movie (song). For the 2015 film, see Horror (2015 film). For other uses, see Horror (disambiguation).
A horror film is a movie that seeks to elicit a physiological reaction, such as an elevated heartbeat, through the use of fear and shocking one’s audiences. Initially often inspired by literature from authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, horror has existed as a film genre for more than a century. The macabre and the supernatural are frequent themes. Horror may also overlap with the fantasy, supernatural fiction and thriller genres.
Horror films often aim to evoke viewers' nightmares, fears, revulsions and terror of the unknown. Plots within the horror genre often involve the intrusion of an evil force, event, or personage into the everyday world. Prevalent elements include ghosts, aliens, vampires, werewolves, demons, satanism, evil clowns, gore, torture, vicious animals, evil witches, monsters, zombies, cannibals, psychopaths, natural or man-made disasters, and serial killers.
Some subgenres of horror film include action horror, comedy horror, body horror, disaster horror, holiday horror, horror drama, psychological horror, science fiction horror, slasher horror, supernatural horror, gothic horror, natural horror, zombie horror, first-person horror and teen horror.
The first depictions of supernatural events appear in several of the silent shorts created by the film pioneer Georges Méliès in the late 1890s, the best known being Le Manoir du Diable, which is sometimes credited as being the first horror film. Another of his horror projects was La Caverne maudite (1898) (a.k.a. The Cave of the Demons, literally "the accursed cave").Japan made early forays into the horror genre with Bake Jizo (Jizo the Spook) and Shinin no Sosei (Resurrection of a Corpse), both made in 1898. The era featured a slew of literary adaptations, adapting the works of Poe and Dante, among others. In 1908, Selig Polyscope Company produced Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In 1910, Edison Studios produced the first filmed version of Frankenstein. The macabre nature of the source materials used made the films synonymous with the horror film genre.
Though the word "horror" to describe the film genre would not be used until the 1930s (when Universal Pictures released their initial monster films), earlier American productions often relied on horror themes. Some notable examples include The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Unknown (1927), and The Man Who Laughs (1928). Many of these early films were considered dark melodramas because of their stock characters and emotion-heavy plots that focused on romance, violence, suspense, and sentimentality.
The trend of inserting an element of macabre into American pre-horror melodramas continued into the 1920s. Directors known for relying on macabre in their films during the 1920s were Maurice Tourneur, Rex Ingram, and Tod Browning. Ingram's The Magician (1926) contains one of the first examples of a "mad doctor" and is said to have had a large influence on James Whale's version of Frankenstein.The Unholy Three (1925) is an example of Browning's use of macabre and unique style of morbidity; he remade the film in 1930 as a talkie, though The Terror (1928) was the first horror film with sound.
Before and during the Weimar Republic era, German Expressionist filmmakers would significantly influence later productions. Paul Wegener's The Student of Prague (1913) and The Golem trilogy (1915–20), as well as Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Arthur Robison's Warning Shadows (1923), and Paul Leni's Waxworks (1924), were influential films at the time. The first vampire-themed movie, Nosferatu (1922), was made during this period; it was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Sweden, Denmark and France
Other European countries also, contributed to the genre during this period. Victor Sjöström's The Phantom Carriage (Sweden, 1920) is a cautionary tale about a supernatural legend, Benjamin Christensen's Häxan (Denmark/Sweden, 1922) is a documentary-style, horror film, about witchcraft and superstition, and in 1928, Frenchman, Jean Epstein produced an influential film, The Fall of the House of Usher, based on the Poe tale.
During the early period of talking pictures, Universal Pictures began a successful Gothic horror film series. Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) was quickly followed by James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) and The Old Dark House (1932), both featuring monstrous mute antagonists. Some of these films blended science fiction with Gothic horror, such as Whale's The Invisible Man (1933) and featured a mad scientist, mirroring earlier German films. Frankenstein was the first in a series of remakes which lasted for years. The Mummy (1932) introduced Egyptology as a theme; Make-up artistJack Pierce was responsible for the iconic image of the monster, and others in the series. Universal's horror cycle continued into the 1940s with B movies including The Wolf Man (1941), as well as a number of films uniting several of the most common monsters.
Other studios followed Universal's lead. The once controversial Freaks (1932), based on the short story "Spurs", was made by MGM, though the studio disowned the completed film, and it remained banned, in the United Kingdom, for thirty years.Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Paramount, 1931) is remembered for its innovative use of photographic filters to create Jekyll's transformation before the camera. With the progression of the genre, actors like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were beginning to build entire careers in horror. Both appeared in three of Val Lewton's atmospheric B movies for RKO in the mid-1940s, including The Body Snatcher (1945).
With advances in technology, the tone of horror films shifted from the Gothic towards contemporary concerns. Two subgenres began to emerge: the Doomsday film and the Demonic film. Low-budget productions featured humanity overcoming threats such as alien invasions and deadly mutations to people, plants and insects. Japan's experience with Hiroshima and Nagasaki bore the well-known Godzilla (1954) and its sequels, featuring mutation from the effects of nuclear radiation.
Hollywood directors and producers found ample opportunity for audience exploitation through gimmicks. House of Wax (1953) used the advent of 3-D film to draw audiences, while The Tingler used electric seat buzzers in 1959. Filmmakers continued to merge elements of science fiction and horror over the following decades. Considered a "pulp masterpiece" of the era was The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), based on Richard Matheson's existentialist novel. The film conveyed the fears of living in the Atomic Age and the terror of social alienation.
During the later 1950s, the United Kingdom emerged as a major producer of horror films. The Hammer company focused on the genre for the first time, enjoying huge international success from films involving classic horror characters which were shown in color for the first time. Drawing on Universal's precedent, many films produced were Frankenstein and Dracula remakes, followed by many sequels. Christopher Lee starred in a number of Hammer Horror films, including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), which Professor Patricia MacCormac called the "first really gory horror film, showing blood and guts in colour". Other British companies contributed to a boom in horror film production in the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s.
Released in May 1960, the British psychological thriller Peeping Tom (1960) by Michael Powell is a progenitor of the contemporary "slasher film".Alfred Hitchcock cemented the subgenre with Psycho released later that year. France continued the mad scientist theme, while Italian horror films became internationally notable. American International Pictures (AIP) made a series of Edgar Allan Poe–themed films.
Films in the era used the supernatural premise to express the horror of the demonic. The Innocents (1961) based on the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw. Meanwhile, ghosts were a dominant theme in Japanese horror, in such films as Kwaidan, Onibaba (both 1964) and Kuroneko (1968).
Rosemary's Baby (1968) is an American psychological horror film written and directed by Roman Polanski, based on the bestselling 1967 novel of the same name by Ira Levin. Another influential American horror film of this period was George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). Produced and directed by Romero on a budget of $114,000, it grossed $30 million internationally. An Armageddon film about zombies, it began to combine psychological insights with gore. Distancing the era from earlier gothic trends, late 1960s films brought horror into everyday life. Low-budget splatter films from the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis also gained prominence.
The financial successes of the low-budget gore films of the ensuing years, and the critical and popular success of Rosemary's Baby, led to the release of more films with occult themes during the 1970s. The Exorcist (1973), the first of these movies, was a significant commercial success and was followed by scores of horror films in which a demon entity is represented as the supernatural evil, often by impregnating women or possessing children.
"Evil children" and reincarnation became popular subjects. Robert Wise's film Audrey Rose (1977) for example, deals with a man who claims that his daughter is the reincarnation of another dead person. Alice, Sweet Alice (1977), is another Catholic-themed horror slasher about a little girl's murder and her sister being the prime suspect. Another popular occult horror movie was The Omen (1976), where a man realizes that his five-year-old adopted son is the Antichrist. Invincible to human intervention, Demons became villains in many horror films with a postmodern style and a dystopian worldview. Another example is The Sentinel (1977), in which a fashion model discovers that her new brownstone residence may actually be a portal to Hell.
During the 1970s, Italian filmmakers Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda, Antonio Margheriti and Dario Argento developed giallo horror films that became classics and influenced the genre in other countries. Representative films include: Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, Castle of Blood, Twitch of the Death Nerve, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red and Suspiria.
Don't Look Now (1973), a independent British-Italian film directed by Nicolas Roeg, was also notable. Its focus on the psychology of grief was unusually strong for a film featuring a supernatural horror plot. Another notable film is The Wicker Man (1973), a British mystery horror film dealing with the practice of ancient pagan rituals in the modern era. It was written by Anthony Shaffer and directed by Robin Hardy.
The ideas of the 1960s began to influence horror films, as the youth involved in the counterculture began exploring the medium. Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and The Last House on the Left (1972) along with Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) (based on the Ed Gein case) recalled the Vietnam War; while George A. Romero satirized the consumer society in his zombie sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Meanwhile, the subgenre of comedy horror re-emerged in the cinema with The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Young Frankenstein (1974), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and An American Werewolf in London (1981) among others.
Also in the 1970s, the works of the horror author Stephen King began to be adapted for the screen, beginning with Brian De Palma's adaptation of Carrie (1976), King's first published novel, for which the two female leads (Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie) gained Oscar nominations. Next, was his third published novel, The Shining (1980), directed by Stanley Kubrick, which was a sleeper at the box office. At first, many critics and viewers had negative feedback toward The Shining. However, the film is now known as one of Hollywood's most classic horror films.
This psychological horror film has a variety of themes; "evil children", alcoholism, telepathy and insanity. This type of film is an example of how Hollywood's idea of horror started to evolve. Murder and violence were no longer the main themes of horror films. During the 1970s and 1980s, psychological and supernatural horror started to take over cinema. Another classic Hollywood horror film is Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (1982). Poltergeist is ranked the 20th scariest movie ever made by the Chicago Film Critics Association. Both The Shining and Poltergeist involve horror being based on real-estate values. The evil and horror throughout the films come from where the movies are taking place.
The Amityville Horror is a 1979 supernatural horror film directed by Stuart Rosenberg, based on Jay Anson's 1977book of the same name. It stars James Brolin and Margot Kidder as a young couple who purchase a home they come to find haunted by combative supernatural forces. The Changeling is a 1980 Canadian psychological horror film directed by Peter Medak.
A cycle of slasher films was made during the 1970s and 1980s. John Carpenter created Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham made Friday the 13th (1980), Wes Craven directed A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Clive Barker made Hellraiser (1987). This subgenre would be mined by dozens of increasingly violent movies throughout the subsequent decades, and Halloween became a successful independent film. Another notable 1970s slasher film is Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974). Sleepaway Camp (1983) is known for its twist ending, which is considered by some to be one of the most shocking endings among horror films. My Bloody Valentine (1981) is a slasher film dealing with Valentine's Day fiction. The boom in slasher films provided enough material for numerous comedic spoofs of the genre including Saturday the 14th (1981), Student Bodies (1981), National Lampoon's Class Reunion (1983), and Hysterical (1983).
Some films explored urban legends such as "The babysitter and the man upstairs". A notable example is When a Stranger Calls (1979), an American psychological horror film directed by Fred Walton starring Carol Kane and Charles Durning.
Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) began a new wave of killer animal stories, such as Orca (1977) and Up from the Depths (1979). Jaws is often credited as being one of the first films to use traditionally B movie elements such as horror and mild gore in a big-budget Hollywood film. In 1979, Don Coscarelli's Phantasm was the first of the Phantasm franchise.
Alien (1979), a British-American science-fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott was very successful, receiving both critical acclaim and being a box office success. John Carpenter's movie The Thing (1982) was also a mix of horror and sci-fi, but it was neither a box-office nor critical hit, but soon became a cult classic. However, nearly 20 years after its release, it was praised for using ahead-of-its-time special effects and paranoia.
The 1980s saw a wave of gory "B movie" horror films – although most of them were poorly reviewed by critics, many became cult classics and later saw success with critics. A significant example is Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies, which were low-budget gorefests but had a very original plotline which was later praised by critics.
Vampire horror was also popular in the 1980s, including cult vampire classics such as Fright Night (1985), The Lost Boys (1987), and Near Dark (also 1987). In 1984, Joe Dante's seminal monster comedy Gremlins became a box office hit with critics and audiences, and inspired a trend of "little monster" films such as Critters and Ghoulies.
David Cronenberg's films such as Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986) dealt with "body horror" and "mad scientist" themes.
Several science fictionaction horror movies were released in the 1980s, notably Aliens (1986) and Predator (1987). Notable comedy horror films of the 1980s include Re-Animator (1985) and Night of the Creeps (1986).
Day of the Dead is a 1985 horror film written and directed by George A. Romero and the third film in Romero's Night of the Living Dead series.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a 1986 psychological horror crime film directed and co-written by John McNaughton about the random crime spree of a serial killer who seemingly operates with impunity. Pumpkinhead (1988) is a dark fantasy horror film, which is the directorial debut of special effects artist Stan Winston.
Child's Play (1988), Night of the Demons (1988) and Pet Sematary (1989) are notable supernatural horror films of the late 1980s.
In the first half of the 1990s, the genre still contained many of the themes from the 1980s. The slasher films A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween and Child's Play all saw sequels in the 1990s, most of which met with varied amounts of success at the box office, but all were panned by critics, with the exception of Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) and the hugely successful Silence of the Lambs (1991). The latter, which stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, is considered a major horror movie of all times.Misery (1990) also deals with a psychopath, and the film received critical acclaim for Kathy Bates's performance as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes.
New Nightmare, with In the Mouth of Madness (1995), The Dark Half (1993), and Candyman (1992), were part of a mini-movement of self-reflexive or metafictional horror films. Each film touched upon the relationship between fictional horror and real-world horror. Candyman, for example, examined the link between an invented urban legend and the realistic horror of the racism that produced its villain. In the Mouth of Madness took a more literal approach, as its protagonist actually hopped from the real world into a novel created by the madman he was hired to track down. This reflective style became more overt and ironic with the arrival of Scream (1996).
In Interview with the Vampire (1994), the "Theatre de Vampires" (and the film itself, to some degree) invoked the Grand Guignol style, perhaps to further remove the undead performers from humanity, morality and class. The horror movie soon continued its search for new and effective frights. In the 1985 novel The Vampire Lestat by the author Anne Rice (who penned Interview...'s screenplay and the 1976 novel of the same name) suggests that its antihero Lestat inspired and nurtured the Grand Guignol style and theatre.
Two main problems pushed horror backward during this period: firstly, the horror genre wore itself out with the proliferation of nonstop slasher and gore films in the eighties. Secondly, the adolescent audience which feasted on the blood and morbidity of the previous decade grew up, and the replacement audience for films of an imaginative nature were being captured instead by the explosion of science-fiction and fantasy films, courtesy of the special effects possibilities with advances made in computer-generated imagery. Examples of these CGI include movies like Species (1995), Anaconda (1997), Mimic (1997), Blade (1998), Deep Rising (1998), House on Haunted Hill (1999), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and The Haunting (1999).
To re-connect with its audience, horror became more self-mockingly ironic and outright parodic, especially in the latter half of the 1990s. Peter Jackson's Braindead (1992) (known as Dead Alive in the United States) took the splatter film to ridiculous excesses for comic effect. Wes Craven's Scream (written by Kevin Williamson) movies, starting in 1996, featured teenagers who were fully aware of, and often made reference to, the history of horror movies, and mixed ironic humour with the shocks (despite Scream 2 and Scream 3 utilising less use of the humour of the original, until Scream 4 in 2011, and rather more references to horror film conventions). Along with I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) (also written by Williamson) and Urban Legend (1998), they re-ignited the dormant slasher film genre.
Event Horizon (1997) is a British-American science fiction horror film directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. The Sixth Sense (1999) is a supernatural horror film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, which tells the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a troubled, isolated boy who is able to see and talk to the dead, and an equally troubled child psychologist named Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) who tries to help him.
House on Haunted Hill is a 1999 horror film directed by William Malone which follows a group of strangers who are invited to a party at an abandoned asylum, where they are offered $1 million each by an amusement park mogul if they are able to survive the night. It is a remake of the 1959 film of the same title. Other horror films of the late 1990s include Cube (1997), The Faculty (1998), Disturbing Behavior (1998), Stir of Echoes (1999), Stigmata (1999), Existenz (1999).
Monster horror was quite popular in the 1990s. Tremors (1990) is the first installment of the Tremors franchise. Lake Placid (1999) is another monster horror film, written by David E. Kelley and directed by Steve Miner.
Another successful horror film is Audition, a 1999 Japanese film based on the novel of the same name, directed by Takashi Miike. Around this period, Japanese horror started becoming popular in English speaking countries.
The film The Last Broadcast (1998) served as inspiration for the highly successful The Blair Witch Project (1999), which popularized the found footage horror subgenre. The theme of witchcraft was also addressed in The Witches (1990), starring Anjelica Huston and The Craft (1996), a supernatural horror film directed by Andrew Fleming. Wolf is a 1994 romantic horror film following the transformation of a man (Jack Nicholson) into a werewolf.
The decade started, with, among other films, Scary Movie (2000), a comedy horror directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, which is a parody of the horror, slasher and mystery genres. The film received mixed reviews from critics. By contrast, Valentine (2001) was a conventional horror film. It had some success at the box office, but was derided by critics for being formulaic and relying on foregone horror film conventions. The Others (2001) was hugely successful, winning and being further nominated for many awards. It is a 2001 Spanish-American supernatural gothic horror film with elements of psychological horror. It was written, directed, and scored by Alejandro Amenábar. It stars Nicole Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan.
Franchise films such as Jason X (2001) and Freddy vs. Jason (2003) also made a stand in theaters. Final Destination (2000) marked a successful revival of teen-centered horror and spawned five installments. Jeepers Creepers series was also successful. Films such as Hollow Man (2000), Cabin Fever (2002), House of 1000 Corpses (2003) (the latter an exploitation horror film written, co-scored and directed by Rob Zombie in his directorial debut) and the previous mentions helped bring the genre back to Restricted ratings in theaters. Van Helsing (2004) and Underworld series had huge box office success, despite mostly negative reviews by critics. Ginger Snaps (2000) is a Canadian film dealing with the tragic transformation of a teenage girl who is bitten by a werewolf. Signs (2002) revived the science fictionalien theme. The Descent, a 2005 British adventure horror film written and directed by Neil Marshall was also successful. Another notable film is Drag Me to Hell, a 2009 American supernatural horror film co-written and directed by Sam Raimi. The Strangers (2008) deals with unprovoked stranger-on-stranger violence. The House of the Devil (2009) is inspired by the "satanic panic" of the 1980s. Trick 'r Treat is a 2007 anthology horror film written and directed by Michael Dougherty and produced by Bryan Singer. Black Water (2007) is British-Australian natural horror film.
Several horror film adaptations from comic books and video games were produced. 30 Days of Night (2007) is based on the comic book miniseries of the same name. The story focuses on an Alaskan town beset by vampires as it enters into a thirty-day long polar night. Comic book adaptations like the Blade series, Constantine (2005), and Hellboy (2004) also became box office successes. The Resident Evil video game franchise was adapted into a film released in March 2002, and several sequels followed. Other video game adaptations like Doom (2005) and Silent Hill (2006) also had moderate box office success.
Some pronounced trends have marked horror films. Films from non-English language countries have become successful. The Devil's Backbone (2001) is such an example. It is a 2001 Spanish-Mexicangothic horror film directed by Guillermo del Toro, and written by del Toro, David Muñoz, and Antonio Trashorras. A French horror film Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) became the second-highest-grossing French language film in the United States in the last two decades. The Swedish film Let the Right One In (2008) was also successful. REC is a 2007 Spanish zombie horror film, co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. Martyrs (2008), a French-Canadian horror film, was controversial upon its release, receiving polarizing reviews. Another notable film is The Orphanage (2007), a Spanish horror film and the debut feature of Spanish filmmaker J. A. Bayona. A Tale of Two Sisters is a 2003 South Korean psychological drama horror film written and directed by Kim Jee-woon.
Another trend is the emergence of psychology to scare audiences, rather than gore. The Others (2001) proved to be a successful example of a psychological horror film. A minimalist approach which was equal parts Val Lewton's theory of "less is more", usually employing the low-budget techniques utilized on The Blair Witch Project (1999), has been evident, particularly in the emergence of Asian horror movies which have been remade into successful Americanized versions, such as The Ring (2002), The Grudge (2004), Dark Water (2005), and Pulse (2006). In March 2008, China banned the movies from its market.Credo (2008) and Triangle (2009) are two British psychological horror films. What Lies Beneath (2000) is a supernatural horror film directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer as a couple who experience a strange haunting of their home. Orphan (2009) is a notable psychological horror film.
The films I Am Legend (2007), Quarantine (2008), Zombieland (2009), and 28 Days Later (2002) featured an update of the apocalyptic and aggressive zombie genre. The latter film spawned a sequel: 28 Weeks Later (2007). An updated remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) soon appeared as well as the zombie comedyShaun of the Dead (2004) and Spanish -Cuban comedy zombie film Juan of the Dead (2012). This resurgence led George A. Romero to return to his Living Dead series with Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009).Cannibals were present in horror films such as Dahmer (2002), Wrong Turn (2003), Tooth and Nail (2007) and Dying Breed (2008).
The Australian filmWolf Creek (2005) written, co-produced, and directed by Greg McLean revolves around three backpackers who find themselves taken captive and after a brief escape, hunted down by Mick Taylor in the Australian outback. The film was ambiguously marketed as being "based on true events"; the plot bore elements reminiscent of the real-life murders of tourists by Ivan Milat in the 1990s, and Bradley Murdoch in 2001; and contained more extreme violence. An extension of this trend was the emergence of a type of horror with emphasis on depictions of torture, suffering and violent deaths, (variously referred to as "horror porn", "torture porn", "splatterporn" and "gore-nography") with films such as Ghost Ship (2002), The Collector (2009), Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), and their respective sequels, frequently singled out as examples of emergence of this subgenre. The Saw film series holds the Guinness World Record of the highest-grossing horror franchise in history. Finally, with the arrival of Paranormal Activity (2007), which was well received by critics and an excellent reception at the box office, minimalist horror approach started by The Blair Witch Project was reaffirmed. Cloverfield (2008) is another found footage horror film. The Mist (2007) is a science-fiction horror film based on the 1980 novella of the same name by Stephen King. Antichrist (2009) is an English-language Danish experimental horror film written and directed by Lars von Trier, and starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a 2005 legal drama horror film directed by Scott Derrickson, loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel. The Children (2008) is British horror film focusing on the mayhem created by several children.
Remakes of earlier horror movies became routine in the 2000s. In addition to the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), as well as the remake of both Herschell Gordon Lewis' cult classic 2001 Maniacs (2003) and the remake of Tobe Hooper's classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), there was also the 2007 Rob Zombie-written and -directed remake of John Carpenter's Halloween. The film focused more on Michael's backstory than the original did, devoting the first half of the film to Michael's childhood. It was critically panned by most, but was a success in its theatrical run, spurring its own sequel. This film helped to start a "reimagining" riot in horror filmmakers. Among the many remakes or "reimaginings" of other popular horror films and franchises are films such as Thirteen Ghosts (2001), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Friday the 13th (2009),Children of the Corn (2009),Halloween (2007), Prom Night (2008), The Omen (2006), Carrie (2002), The Wicker Man (2006), Day of the Dead (2008), Night of the Demons (2009), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Willard (2003), Black Christmas (2006), The Amityville Horror (2005), April Fool's Day (2008), The Fog (2005), The Hitcher