Whitney Walmer
Arts & Culture Editor

  What are you most afraid of? Is it clowns, darkness, spiders, monsters, the unknown, a man in a mask?  Your heart racing, goosebumps rising and anxiety of what is coming next is a thrill that many horror movie watchers, like myself, enjoy. The term horror is often thought of as the feeling of fear, shock and unease. This didn’t always exist and wasn’t always portrayed the same way. The fears portrayed in cinema are perceived as reflection events in the society drawing from the roots of common society and changed over time. To grasp and appreciate the realm of horror that we have to today, we must go back in time to understand where it all began.

  The birth of the horror genre is believed to have begun more than 125 years ago with the short silent film produced by George Melies called “Le Manoir du Diable (The Castle of Diablo)” in 1896. It is an infamously known use of the double exposure, telling the story of Mephistopheles’ encounter with the devil and other ghastly creatures that are brought to life. At the time of its release, it had played on the fears of the devil and the ideology of the faith in the spiritual movement. Evoking emotions of creativity, other films had been produced portraying the literature pieces like the first adaptation of “Frankenstein” coining 1900-1920 the Literary years in horror.

In the unfortunate circumstance of the Hays code in 1934 the production of horror had been put on pause due to censorship. General principles of the Hays code with the principles including and not limited to “No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin” (Abreu, 2021). With the depression the film production of what was known as the Golden Age of Horror (19-20-1930) in at low production with the budget in the times of the depression but release of classics like another remake of “Frankenstein,” production of “The Dracula,” and “The Mummy.” Illustrating the troubles faced during the depression, such as the other or villain facing positions being outsiders and corruption. “The 30s also marked the first time that the word ‘horror’ was used to describe the genre—previously, it was really just romance melodrama with a dark element—and it also saw the first horror ‘stars’ being born (New York Film Academy).”

With the acceleration of World War II, the film industry returned with creative production including werewolves, with the cultural connection of the villain as a werewolf with Hitler’s first name, Adolf, meaning wolf. In illustrating Hitler as a world in propaganda and cinema there was the transparent vision in the violence associated not only Nazism, but the destruction caused by the war. In leaping from one conflict to the next conflict and into an era called the Atomic Years, reflecting on the fear of the atomic bomb and outer space. It was during the atomic years, “The Creature of the Black Lagoon,” “The Blob,” “Godzilla,” and “The Thing” made their debuts as the social anxieties had increased with the space race against the Soviets and the increasing reporting of UFO sightings. Other takes on the cultural representation in “The War of the Worlds” (1953) represents the fear of a communist attack and overthrow of modern day democracy, and in the shift toward the extraterrestrial and unknown what lies in space the attention towards faith.

From the late 1960s to the 1970s, the theme had primarily focused on the theme of religion, demonic possession, and the introduction of serial killers. In movies like “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “The Exorcist” (1974), “The Omen” (1976), “Amityville Horror” (1979), there was a lot of concern in society that the US population had gotten less religious than prior generations, as the portion of Americans who regularly attended church began to decline. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock produced the well-known classic film “Psycho,” which was based on a real life serial killer named Ed Gain. In producing “Psycho,” Hitchcock’s work introduced his audience to an average joe they could relate with a dark side.

From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, slasher films such as “Halloween” (1978), “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night,” and many others displayed not only the point of coverage in the media about serial killers, but also said to reveal unpleasant consequences to sinners, the most common occurrence being teenage intercourse. Not to mention that it was also around the rise of the AIDS virus and the increase of death, there came the debut of body horror that portrayed the decomposing of body conditions like “The Fly” and “The Thing.” In progression with the cultural change into the late 1980s and 1990s, where psychological films like “The Shining” and “The Silence of the Lambs” took the stage there were more than 150 serial killers films. With the influx cinema production since then leading to post-9/11, where there was the increase of zombie films where this the struggle to continue post-terrorism and the nation state of being shell shocked.    

With the continuation of fear of terrorism and increased level of the government surveillance in the early to mid-2000s there was a subgenre that was the torturing, restraint, and the interrogation in films like “Saw” franchise (2004-2021) and “The Devils’ Reject” (2005). As cinema has continued to change, so has the direction of cinema and how it relates to our daily lives, regardless of how much we try to distance ourselves from reality. With uncertainty in the future of film, the change in culture and societal events will tell and lead us where our fears lie.