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The Director's Chair Issue #42 – Feb. 23, 2004 (A Short History of the Horror Film)

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February 23, 2004          Scene 5 – Take 3

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1.  Introduction
2.  Action-Cut-Print!
3.  Feature Article – A Short History of the Horror Film
4.  Back Issues of The Director’s Chair
5.  Share This Ezine
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Welcome to Issue #42 of The Director’s Chair (February 23, 2004).

1) This month’s Feature Article is called “Monsters and
Demons: A Short History of the Horror Film” by Astrid Bullen.

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Peter D. Marshall

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Take a moment now to visit http://www.actioncutprint.com where
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3. FEATURE ARTICLE – A Short History of the Horror Film

“Monsters and Demons: A Short History of the Horror Film”

Going to the movies may not seem like a novel way for little
kids to spend an afternoon. But have you ever brought your
child to see a Disney flick and ended up viewing trailers
for Jeepers Creepers 2 or Freddie vs. Jason? When this
happened in a Birmingham, Alabama cinema last year, parents
became concerned about what the main attraction would be.
But before the managers at the cinema could turn off the
previews, the main attraction came on, and it wasn’t Piglet.
Instead they were presented with the gruesome opening of
Wrong Turn, an 18-rated slasher flick in much the same vein
as the previews.

Is there a more genre more criticized than the horror film?
Not bloody likely. There’s the argument that horror films
are socially and morally irresponsible, even influencing
some people to imitate the brutal methods of the killers
portrayed on screen. Horror films actually have the opposite
effect on normal people – sick minds will commit atrocities
anyway. Watching horror films lets us encounter our secret
fears, share them with other viewers, and eliminate the
terror by meeting it head-on.

The genre is almost as old as cinema itself – the silent
short film Le Manoir du Diable directed by Georges Mèliès in
1896 was the first horror movie and the first vampire flick.
The movie only lasted two minutes, but audiences loved it,
and Mèliès took pleasure in giving them even more devils and

In the early 1900’s German filmmakers created the first
horror-themed feature films, and director Paul Wegener
enjoyed great success with his version of the old Jewish
folk tale Der Golem in 1913 (which he remade – to even
greater success – in 1920). This fable about an enormous
clay figure, which is brought to life by an antiquarian and
then fights against its forced servitude, was a clear
precursor to the many monster movies that flourished in
Hollywood during the Thirties.

The most enduring early German horror film is probably F.W.
Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), the first feature-length vampire
movie. But one movie paved the way for the “serious” horror
film – and art cinema in general – Robert Wiene’s work of
genius The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, still held up as an
model of the potent creativity of cinema even to this day.

Early Hollywood drama dabbles in horror themes including
versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) starring Lon
Chaney, the first American horror-film movie star.

It was in the early 1930’s that Universal Studios, created
the modern horror film genre, bringing to the screen a
series of successful gothic-steeped features including
Dracula, Frankenstein (both 1931) and The Mummy (1932) – all
of which spawned numerous sequels. No other studio had as
much success with the genre (even if some of the films made
at Paramount and MGM were better).

In the nuclear-charged atmosphere of the 1950’s the tone of
horror films shifted away from the gothic and towards the
modern. Aliens took over the local cinema, if not the world,
and they were not at all interested in extending the
tentacle of friendship. Humanity had to overcome endless
threats from Outside: alien invasions, and deadly mutations
to people, plants, and insects. Two of the most popular
films of the period were The Thing From Another World (1951)
and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956).

Horror movies became a lot more lurid – and gorier – in the
late Fifties as the technical side of cinematography became
easier and cheaper. This era saw the rise of studios
centered exclusively on horror, particularly British
production company Hammer Films, which focused on bloody
remakes of traditional horror stories, often starring Peter
Cushing and Christopher Lee, and American International
Pictures (AIP), which made a series of Edgar Allan Poe
themed films starring Vincent Price.

The early 1960’s saw the release of two films that sought to
close the gap between the subject matter and the viewer, and
involve the latter in the reprehensible deeds shown on
screen. One was Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the other was
a very low-budget film called Psycho, both using
all-too-human monsters rather than supernatural ones to
scare the audience.

When Rosemary’s Baby began ringing tills in the late
Sixties, horror film budgets rose significantly, and many
top names jumped at the chance to show off their theatrical
skills in a horror pic. By that time, a public fascination
with the occult led to a series of serious,
supernatural-themed, often explicitly gruesome horror
movies. The Exorcist (1973) broke all records for a horror
film, and led to the commercial success of The Omen.

In 1975 Jaws, directed by a young Steven Spielberg, became
the highest grossing film ever. The genre fractured somewhat
in the late 1970’s, with mainstream Hollywood focusing on
disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno while
independent filmmakers came up with disturbing and explicit
gore-fests such as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw

John Carpenter’s Halloween introduced the
teens-threatened-by-superhuman-evil theme that would be
copied in dozens of increasingly violent movies throughout
the 1980’s including the long running Friday the 13th and A
Nightmare on Elm Street series. Horror movies turned to
self-mocking irony and downright parody in the 1990’s – the
teenagers in Scream often made reference to the history of
horror movies. Only 1999’s surprise independent hit The
Blair Witch Project attempted regular scares.

So go ahead, take a stroll through these favourite horror
movies of all time. But pick your way very carefully, this
walk is not for the faint of heart. And if you happen to
hear what sounds like some subdued whispering or soft creepy
grating sounds, just pay no attention to it. It’s probably
only the wind.

Astrid Bullen is a freelance writer and movie buff living in
St. George’s, Grenada. Visit her cool movie website at


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