TAU Special: The Horror Genre Part 2

In the TAU Special: The Horror Genre Part 1, I took a look at Horror in the 20s through to the 60s, with classics like the first ever Dracula and Frankenstein films, Hammer Studios run of reboots with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and Hitchcocks timeless Psycho.

As the 1970’s arrived, Hollywood delivered more and more impressive examples of how to best scare an audience. This decade gave birth to some of the most memorable and classic horror films, including William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), starring Ellen Burstyn as the mother of a young girl (Linda Blair) who is possessed by the devil. The film was so realistic it terrified audiences out of cinemas and was banned in many countries including the UK until 1990, yet it was the first horror film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film.

Along similar lines, and almost as frightening, was Richard Donner’s The Omen, with Gregory Peck as a politician who learns to his terror that his son is the antichrist. This seemed to be an era of films with superb performances from terrifying children delivering horrific scenes as audiences had never seen before. It was this loss of innocence that I feel makes these films so dramatically lucrative. Breaking the mould was Toby Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), another film based on the life of serial killer Ed Gein, but in much more depth and detail than Psycho. Brian De Palma’s Carrie, about a young girl repressed and bullied both at school and home who discovers she is telekinetic almost isn’t a horror film at all, with its social elements and added dimensions. It was obvious that money was being put into a significant budget, scripts were being drafted carefully and, because of this, noteworthy actors were taking notice. The 70’s developed horror films of a much higher quality than ever before and the box office only proved this.


Carrie, Damien, Reagan and Leatherface; some of horrors finest

Halloween (1978) was a new breed, proving that the genre was always being developed and pushed further in every sense. Halloween ushered in the serial killer, or slasher movie as it quickly became known. John Carpenter created a memorable horror villain in Michael Myers, one who audiences wanted to see more of. Most importantly, he made it cheaply; this was a movie that was filmed on a miniscule budget, but reaped huge rewards at the box office. Studios took notice and tried to recreate this little miracle, and whilst there were a lot of failed attempts, some did strike gold. Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) introduced audiences to the pizza faced Freddy Krueger, a paedophile serial killer killed by vengeful parents who comes back to haunt and murder teenagers in their dreams. This premise was so popular with audiences that the franchise has produced seven sequels and a reboot of the original film in 2010.

Similarly, Friday the 13th - or rather Friday the 13th 2 - introduced yet another iconic serial killer, this time attacking camp counsellors attempting to reopen a summer camp that was the location of a child drowning years before. Jason Voorhees is of a similar build to Michael Myers and just as viscous, but instead of a stretched and painted William Shatner mask, Jason wore an ice hockey mask - it might not sound scary on the surface, but it did the trick. Friday the 13th outdid Elm Street with 10 sequels and a reboot of the original in 2009.


Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, 3 of cinemas most popular horror villains 

The 80’s was a decade of similar works, where Directors copied tried to emulate what already worked, and many failed in the attempt. Still, there were some stand-alone movies that did not belong in the B movie trash bin, or any of the franchises taking over the cinema. Poltergeist (1982) was a Steven Spielberg produced horror, which happens to be one of my favourites. Unlike the gore that filled Elm Street and Friday the 13th, Poltergeist concentrated on the good old fashioned supernatural, when a young girl is drawn inside an otherworldly portal inside her own house by malevolent spirits haunting the family.

Long considered the scariest movie of all time and an audience favourite was Stanley Kubrick’s multi-layered head-spinner The Shining (1980) starring Jack Nicholson as a man who takes a job as a caretaker in a remote hotel closing for the winter season. He takes his wife (Shelley Duvall) and their son, but soon becomes murderously influenced by an evil presence in the hotel that his psychic son can sense. This was not your usual horror film; as with any Kubrick film it had been masterfully shot, with every minute detail there for a purpose. There are supposedly so many hidden meanings and interpretations in the film that an excellent documentary Room 237 (2012) was made trying to explain it. This was a horror film with much more depth than the simple murderers and victims that were frequently on offer to audiences, and it really made you think - lots of the most intriguing points to the films are beneath the surface. It also spawned one of the most infamous film quotes ever, “Here's Johnny!”, to the point that even those that have never seen or heard of the film still know that line.

Ridley Scott changed the genre for the better when he made his Sci-fi epic Alien (1979),  widely considered a horror film due to its terrifying scenes of an alien murdering the crew of a ship in space. It became more frequent to see films merging genres together to create superb new editions to the canon. John Landis took audiences back to the days of the studios with his love of old fashioned horror pictures for An American Werewolf in London (1981) with a monster to rival the best of those classics from Universals glory days. The 1980’s proved that horror was on the up and up with a host of successful franchises, stand-alone classics and a return to the best of horror from the studio era.

The 90’s was really a decade of sequels; sagas that had been introduced the decade before were continued because, once again, ideas were lacking. Horror was laughable and predictable; everyone who went to see a horror film knew who the victims were and how the plot would play out, and it was from this that a very clever film was created. Scream was released in 1996, directed by A Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven, and was a look at the rules and conventions of horror films - basically a mockery of how the genre had lost its edge. Teenagers today knew what was coming; they couldn’t be scared any more, but the villain knew these rules and twisted or outright contradicted them to murder his victims. Along with Scream were a number of horror films for young adults based around the lives and murders of teenagers. It really was a case of directors biting the hand that fed them; the majority of a target audience for horror films by the 1990’s were teenagers and here they were seeing a film about relatable young characters like themselves being killed off one by one. I Know What You did Last Summer (1997) and Jeepers Creepers (2001) were among many of this particular type; good looking casts, cheap scares and predictable stories.

The Sixth Sense (1999) was a Hollywood sleeper hit starring Bruce Willis and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; it follows Willis’ psychologist as he tries to help a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who can see dead people. The reason the film was such a huge hit was not just that it had a promising cast and budget but that it had the biggest twist in horror movie history. It was that one revealing scene that got people talking, and it was word of mouth that got people into the cinema to see it. Another film that used the public, in a way no other film had before, was The Blair Witch Project. The film is based on an old myth that entices a group of teenager’s to camp in the woods to find if it's true, with dire consequences.  Filmed like a home movie - in itself a new concept - the filmmakers used the internet to attract audiences, creating a website and used advertising in a way that was new to the industry. Audiences were made to believe the actors in the film were really missing, and by using the internet and advertising to a wider range of people, The Blair Witch Project is now a cult classic, despite being a terrible horror film. Most importantly, it changed the way movies have been marketed since and without it we would have no Paranormal Activity (2007) franchise that successfully copies the home video technique.


Ghostface, The Blair Witch Project, the poor kid who saw dead people, I Know What You Did Last Summer; the 1990’s contribution to the horror canon.

Throughout the noughties, horror seemed to be on the backburner; there were maybe one or two worthwhile horror films in a year, but apart from these, many were cheap B movie horrors that went straight to DVD, with little or no marketing to attract audiences. There have been interesting ideas in the last decade - The Ring (2002), The Grudge (2004) and Rec. (2007) were all successful but were all remakes from the original, often better, foreign film. Saw (2004) became the new horror franchise to follow, bringing torture front and centre. Final Destination (2000), about a group of teenagers who prevent an accident only to have Death hunt them down one by one to correct the balance, was another successful franchise.


The Ring, Rec. and Jigsaw from Saw

There have been a number of high quality horror pictures recently, due in most part to director James Wan, who brought the world of Saw to life 9 years ago and has reinvented horror films and brought realistic scares back to a dying genre. Supernatural horror has been the trend in 2012 and 2013 with Insidious (2010) and its sequel (2013) being hugely popular and genuinely scary, with a great script and plot – something that has been sorely missed in many horror films of recent years. Hammer studios have also made a comeback after a nearly 30 year hiatus with The Woman in Black (2012), Daniel Radcliffe’s first post-Potter attempt. This is yet another film with a quality story behind it, a good cast and genuine scares.


One of many ghosts from Insidious, Daniel Radcliffe in all his Victorian glory and The Conjuring James Wans reportedly last horror film. 

With a list of impressive films in the last few years, and many successful actors more than willing to get their hands dirty, it looks like the horror genre is done stumbling and might be in for a cracking few years. Here’s hoping!

This has been Mary for The Awesome Update

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