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Film Appreciation... An Overview of Horror Movies


Horror films are as varied as the filmmakers who make them. They run the gamut from subtle suspense to gruesome ghoulishness, from ghosts and goblins to diabolical killers. Many classic cinematic monsters made their first appearances during the silent era; Dracula for example, first appeared in "Nosferatu" in 1922. Nowhere during the silent era was the horror film more inventive than in Germany during the Expressionist movement. During this era the German cinema produced several classic films, most notably "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1919) and "The Golem" (1920). During this same period the American cinema was producing such horror classics as "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) which featured the redoubtable Lon Chaney.

None the less, horror films really came into their own with the advent of talking pictures. This golden age of horror films can be said to have started roughly in 1930 when Bela Lugosi reprised his theatrical role as "Dracula" for Universal Studios. The phenomenal success of "Dracula" led studios to produce a series of horror films that dazzled audiences of the day with their make up and special effects techniques. The most notable of these films includes Paramount's Oscar winning "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1931) , "Frankenstein" (1931), "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), and "The Wolf Man" (1941).

The 1940's saw the development of a series of low budget horror films that simultaneously amused, frightened and delighted audiences. Ranging from the film noire "Cat People" (1942) to "I Walked With A Zombie" (1943) these films quickly became cult favorites.

The 1950's saw another resurgence in horror films, initiated by the development of 3-D technology. In Britain, Hammer Studios acquired a bevy of classic horror stars including Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. If you are a fan of 3-D or campy horror films you will definitely want to check out "The House of Wax" (1953) and a personal favorite of mine, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954). If your preferences run to classic British horror then you should investigate "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1956), "Dracula" (1958), and the delightfully Gothic "The Mummy" (1959).

The 1960's saw a resurgence of horror films in the United States due largely to the talents of Roger Corman. Corman was the master of the well turned inexpensive horror movie and was noted as much for his eye for quality talent as he was for his ability to accomplish a lot on a tiny budget. Some of Corman's best work came about as a result of his collaboration with Missouri native Vincent Price and cameraman Floyd Crosby. The trio frequently combined their talents to produce a series of delightfully macabre horror films that included a series of adaptations of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Of particular note are the trio's rather Freudian interpretations of "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1960) and "The Masque of The Red Death" (1964).

Horror films began to gain mainstream acceptance (not to mention increased box office revenues), in the 1960's and 70's. Much of this success can be attributed to the work of film auture' Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960) has inspired a plethora of imitators over the years ranging from "Halloween" (1978), "Friday the 13th" (1980), and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984) to the Oscar winning "Silence of the Lambs" (1991). None the less, Hitchcock remains the grand master of horror and suspense films. Often imitated, seldom equaled. If you enjoy watching a master manipulator at work (not to mention getting your socks scared off), you might want to check out this filmmaker's notable works. A list of the best of Hitchcock's works (either for their historical significance or for scream value), would include "Blackmail" (1929), "Dial M For Murder" (1954), "Rear Window" (1954), "Shadow Of A Doubt" (1943), "Vertigo" (1958), "North By Northwest" (1959), "Psycho" (1960), and "The Birds" (1963).

The horror film has also included some notable foray's into the occult ranging from such early works as "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), "The Exorcist" (1973), and "The Omen" (1976) to "Poltergeist" (1982) and the campy "The Evil Dead"(1982).

Contemporary audiences have flocked to films like "Scream", "Scream 2", "I Know What You Did Last Summer", and the latest installment in the Halloween saga, "Halloween: H20". All of these extremely successful films would indicate that horror films are definitely here to stay.

1999 Debbie Twyman. All rights reserved. TERMS OF USE