The History of Horror

Welcome to Filmmaker, I’m John Hess and today we dissect history of the horror. The history of horror is a vast and perhaps
foolhardy thing to tackle. No matter how hard you try, there are films and horror subgenres
that will slide through the cracks.. But horror is somewhat unique among the film
genres in that there is a recognizable pattern that happens again and again. A film will
come along and terrify an audience capturing their imaginations and making bank- Filmmakers
flock to the cash cow like vampires to blood which leads to sequels and imitators – sometimes
better than the original. But eventually the sequels run out of steam and the subgenre
created by the original smash hit fades into memory lurking in the corners of history waiting
to be rediscovered and rebooted- this process is commonly referred to as cycles. Although
other genres behave similarly, the unique appeal of horror from its low budget requirements
to broad multinational appeal, make horror especially susceptible to these boom and fade
cycles. But as we look at how the genre changes over
time, we must not think of the history of horror as being a rigid one way street. New
films borrow from old films all the time, a constant remix of subgenres and new techniques
to make something for the contemporary culture. So who did the first horror films borrow from?
Monsters, murderers, demons and beasts have been around since antiquity, ghost stories
told round camp fires since we learned how to talk. But the roots of filmed horror were
an extension of a genre of literature that got itís start in the late 1700s: Gothic
Horror. Developed by writers in both Great Britain and the United States the Gothic part
of the name refers to pseudo medieval buildings that these stories took place – think of a
old castle on a dark and stormy night – gloomy forests, dungeons and secret passage ways.
Famous gothic writers include Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker and of course Edgar Allen Poe.
Horror in the Silent Era It was from Gothic literature that the first
horror films found inspiration. And why not? The genre was popular in both books and theater
at the time. Although the term horror did not come into use for film until the 1930s,
early filmmakers and film goers certainly showed an interest in the macabre as evident
In this snippet of a ìSpook Taleî from 1895 created by the Lumiere brothers. Skeleton dance In 1896 Georges Milies would go on to create
what is considered to be the first horror film ever made: The Manor of the Devil – with bats, castles,
trolls, ghosts, and a demon – played by Georges Milies himself, you can see the elements of
gothic horror are already firmly entrenched by this time in the public psyche. Silent films in the teens and 20s were still
exploring the possibilities of this new filmmaking medium. Several experiments were conducted
including the first Frankenstein adapted by Thomas Edison’s studios in 1910 and Danteís
Inferno by Giuseppe de Liguoro in Italy in 1911. But the heart of horror in silent films
would start to beat only after conclusion of the first world war and in ashes of the
tattered country of Germany. German Expressionism was a style of cinema
that emphasized expression over realistic depictions of reality. Starting off as a rising
movement throughout Europe, German filmmakers and artist developed this unique style inside
a cultural bubble that was the result of embargos in place during World War I. Without the influx
of an already internationally powerful Hollywood, the German cottage film industry grew quite
quickly and creatively. A consortium of German industries came together and convinced the
German military of the importance of a German film unit – this would become the Universum-Film
Aktiengesellschaft – the UFA. But by the time the company was operational, Germany had lost
the war, and the UFA turned itís goals to producing films for profit. On the slate in 1919 was a film written by
Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz with Robert Wiene set direct. The result would be a film that
would be go on to be the Great Grand Daddy of all horror films: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari In the first few years of the Weimar Republic,
electricity was still scarce and German industries were allotted power on a quota basis. UFA
had used up almost all their quota that year so the filmmakers decided to paint the shadows
on the set rather than try to create them naturally with electric light. This technique
combined with the sharp angles and bizare perspection distortion created an unforgettable
look that established German Expressionism both artistically and as a commercially popular
style of cinema. German filmmakers continued the tradition
of Expressionist horror films with The Golem: How He Came into the World in 1920 which was
lensed by Karl Freund who also shot Metropolis and F.W. Murnauís Nosferatu In 1922. The German film industry did well in the immediate
post war eraÖ much better than the rest of the German economy which was mired in runaway
inflation due to the War reparations Germany was obligated to pay under the Treaty of Versailles.
Fortunately for the film industry, people flocked to the movies because it was the only
form of entertainment that people felt they were getting their moneyís worth. Berlin
became the cultural center of Europe despite the shaky economy. To stabalize the currency, the WWI allies
offered Germany the Dawes Plan in 1925 which was a system of loans and agreements aimed
to try to get the economy back under control. Unfortunately the Dawes plan also curtailed
German film exports – the result was many independent studios lost financing shut down
for good. Even the national studio UFA was at the brink
of collapse in 1925. A good oppurtunity for Hollywood to swallow up a once powerful foreign
competitor. Paramount and MGM lent $4 million in exchange for collaborative rights to UFA
Studios, theater, and personnel establishing the Parufamet Distribution Company in 1926. This agreement effectively moved German Expressionism
into Hollywood as scores of artist traveled to the US to work in Hollywood studios. Many
German artists decided stay permanently, some even returning as refugees from the growing
German Nazi movement in the 1930s. The German Immigrant contribution would leave a lasting
mark on the style of films in the coming years. Itís hard to overstate the effect that sound
had on transforming cinema in the late 1920s. It was a radical artistic leap, and probably
more so for horror than any other genre except perhaps the musical – just try turning off
the sound on your favorite horror film – it just wouldnít have the same impact. In the tightly controlled Hollywood studio
system of the 1930s, there was one studio that would be responsible for the first cycle
of horror films – Universal Pictures. One rung beneath the big five were the little
three: Universal, Columbia and United Artists who made and distributed pictures but didnít
have any theater holdings. During the silent era, Universal was responsible for the few
achievements in American horror most notably The Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback of
Notre Dame both starring Lon Chaney. But in the 30s, Universal really sunk their teeth
into horror, kicking off the Universal Gothic horror cycle: Their first hit was Dracula, directed Tod
Browning and lensed by UFA cinematographer Karl Freund starring the Hungarian Bela Lugosi in 1931. I am Dracula It’s really good to see you. I don’t know what happened to the driver, my luggage… and well, with all this I thought I was in the wrong place. I bid you welcome. James Whale continued the cycle with Frankenstein
with Boris Karloff also in 1931.. Karl Freund even got a shot at the directorís chair with
The Mummy in 1932. Followed by James Whale again with the Invisible Man in 1933, Stuart
Walkerís Werewolf in London 1935 and Hambert Hillyerís Draculaís Daughter in 1936. But the Universal Gothic Horror Cycle began
to lose steam and fall into the pit of self parody with titles like ìThe Invisble Man
Returnsî, ìThe Mummyís Handî, and ìFrankenstein meets the Wolf Manî 1943. Moving into 1940s,
the Universal Monsters stable started to be treated like Batman villians bringing all
the characters together in 1944ís House of Frankenstein and 1945ís House of Dracula.
And by 1948 when Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in a suprising popular comedy
outing, Universal would retire the first string of monsters from serious horror filmmaking. While Universalís offerings slipped from
horror to formula, a small division at RKO, the smallest of the big 5 studios would start
to lay stylistic foundation for low budget horror films to come. Val Lewton, a journalist,
novelist and poet turned story editor for David O Selznick was put in charge of a low
budget division at RKO to produce horror films for a measily $150,000 a piece. The catch?
The studio would provide the title, Lewton would develop the story. The first title? Cat People which would be
directed by Jacuqes Tourneur and photographed by film noir vertern Nicholas Musuraca in
1942. Using leftover studio sets and creating the
scares by using mood and shadows rather than makeup and monsters – Cat People was truly
a glimpse at the more psychologically scary films in the decades to come, Costing $141,000
but bringing in over $4 million in the first 2 years Lewtonís low budget horror division
was practically saving the always cash strapped RKO. The period between the post World War II years
and the 1950s was perhaps the most difficult time Hollywood had ever gone through. From
Supreme Court rulings ripping apart the studio system to a death match against television
for patrons, this time period saw an increasingly protective Hollywood trying desperately to
stay relevant. Horror films got relegated to strictly B-film status as Hollywood preserved
itís A-list talent for lavish epics. But the horror film was still popular with the
teens who wanted thrills even if the plot lines were ludicrious. The Icy Soviet-American arms race meant the
nuclear boogey man was always top of mind. Horror films tapped into this cold war fear
of invasion blending into a Pulp Science fiction cycle with films like ìThe Thing From Another
Worldî, ìThe Day The Earth Stood Stillî both from 1951, and Forbidden Planet and Invasion
of the Body Snatchers both in 1956. But monsters didnít only come from outer
space, Creatures also emerged from the deep like the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953,
Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954 and of course the Japanese nuclear monster Godzilla
also 1954. CLIP By the mid 1950s the Pulp Sci-Fi Horror cycle
would start to wear down and be taken over by exploitative producers like William Castle
who relied on gimmicks to sell tickets to low rent horror outtings. In Macabre 1958,
Castle promised every customer a $1,000 life insurance policy should they die of fright.
House on Haunted Hill in 1959 was filmed in Emergo which triggered a skeleton that would
fly around the theater suspended on wires. Once kids knew this was coming theyíd bring
their slingshots and see who could be the one to shoot it down. And the Tingler, also
in 1959, wired up movie theater seats with joy buzzers and encouraged the audience to
scream as a way of calming down the spine monster that was let loose in the theater. From the 1960s on we begin to see a massive
explosion of styles and cycles into the horror genre as it gained both in popularity, Prestige
and freedom once the restrictive censorship of the Production Code was abandoned in 1964. No discussion of the horror film could be
even self respecting without the mention of the Maestro himself: Alfred Hitchcock. Honing
his precise abilities to play an audience like a musical instrument, it was 1960ís
Psycho that shocked audiences into believing horror could be more than B-Film Fare. Unlike the monsters of previous horror cycles,
Norman Bates was rooted in reality – an every day human on the outside but a monster in
the mind. Hitchcock would deliver another natural horror with The Birds in 1963. On the other end of the Atlantic Ocean, Hammer
Films Productions in The United Kingdom began rebooting Universalís Gothic Monsters – but
adding sex and gore. Shot in full color, Hammerís first gothic horror reboot was Terence Fisherís
ìThe Curse of Frankensteinî with Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as
the monster. For the first time in a Frankenstein film, blood was shown on screen and in full
chilling color. Between 1957 and 1974, Hammer cranked out
7 Frankenstein movies, 6 Draculas, 9 other vampire outings, 2 Jekyll & Hydes, and 3 Mummy
films. The Hammer Studio, located on the banks of the River Thames between Bray and Windor
even became the setting of itís own parody – as itís country style Down Place mansion
was used as the set for Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975, a film that in itself is a send
up of the Hammer Horror style. Back in the US, perhaps inspired by the success
of Hammerís approach to sex and gore was the legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman.
Whereas Alfred Hitchcock would meticulously storyboard his films and often times enjoyed
studio financial backing, Corman pumped films as fast as he could – Little Shop of Horrors
in 1960 was shot in just under three days with a budget of just $30,000 using sets that
had been left over from Buckets of Blood. Corman knew what audiences wanted, blood and
babes and he delivered. His greatest acclaim as a director came with his Edgar Allen Poe
cycle released between 1959 and 1964 collaborating with screenwriter Richard Matheson and actor Vincent Pryce in films like House of Usher, Pit and Pendulum, Tales of Terror and The Raven. Horror was starting be taken seriously both
at the highest craft of film production and at the lowest: setting the stage for important
horror films subgenres that come in the following decades. The Occult – films about the Satan
and the Supernatural – were popular big budget subjects starting Roman Polanskiís Rosemaryís
Baby in 1968 which was actually a William Castle project. Then came the what many consider
the greatest entry in the Occult cycle 1973ís The Exorcist directed by William Friedkin,
followed in 1976 with Richard Donnor’s The Omen and Stuart Rosenberg’s Amnityville Horror
in 1979. The Film school generation – a group of filmmakers
who grew up on and formally studied horror began to to inject B-movie horror devices
into their mainstream work. Steven Spielbergís Jaws in 1975 made creature horror big business
– igniting not only a shark cycle but the the whole summer blockbuster style of production
and marketing. Brian De Palmaís Carrie in 1976 set the stage for a teen horror cycle
by turning Stephen Kingís first novel into big box office and Oscar Nominations for the
leads. 1979ís Alien by Ridley Scott successful remixed horror and science fiction as did
John Carpenterís remake of The Thing in 1982 which was a neither a box office or critical
success but has stood the test of time to be one of most terrifying special effects
films ever made. Spielberg would return to horror with 1982ís Poltergeist working with
Tobe Hooper to create a masterful ghost story which was released only a week away from Spielbergís
other 1982 hit: E.T. And then thereís 1980s The Shining which
in true Kubrick fashion, defies any category or imitation – again, not a critical hit, it won Kubrick a Razzie for worst director. And only a mild box office success in it’s time. The Shining would become the absolute must watch film for any student of horror. Hello… Danny. Come play with us. Come and play with us Danny. Forever… and ever. and ever. Horror has been a staple of the low budget
world since the Universal Creature days and as film production technology progressed and
costs steadily declined the rise of independent filmmakers meant a rise of new takes on horror.
Tobe Hooperís Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, based on the plot of serial killer Ed
Gein who was also the inspiration for Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, was shot on a skeleton
budget in the sweltering Texas Summer Heat. Mired in money issues, the cast and crew didnít
see much financial reward from the filmís success, but the rawness of the teenages in
peril inspired many more teen horror slasher imitations. Then in 1978 came John Carpenterís Halloween
one the most successful independent horror film ever made. produced on a budget of $325,000 and grossing
nearly $240 million dollars as of 2012, Halloween is the first of itís kind Hitchcock inspired
slasher film.. Unlike many of itís followups and imitators, Halloween actually contains
very little graphic violence or gore. Without much money to spend on sets and props, Carpenter
constructed his horror inside everyday suburbia – the Michael Myers mask was just a $2 Captain
Kirk mask painted white. But terror in the backyard worked. Friday the 13th directed by Sean S. Cunningham
in 1980 and A Nightmare on Elmstreet by Wes Craven in 1984 were both studio backed slasher
films that followed the similar horror in the backyard formula to tremendous success
and numerous numerous sequels. But independent horror wasnít just about
the slasher. In 1981 a group of young kids Bruce Campell, Sam Raimi, and Robert Tapert
released a small independent film which they had made by raising $150,000 from local investors.
The film, the Evil Dead. was heavy on splatter effects and stop motion gore, gain a cult
following especially after being released in the relatively new Home Video Tape market
in 1983. In fact it was the promise of distribution
through this new technology video tape and cable that unleashed a flood of blood soaked
horror films that were never made for the When the 90s came around, the slasher cycle
had pretty much run its course and was starting to fall into parody. Even Raimiís Magic Spell
Zombie cycle was being parodied by Peter Jacksonís Dead Alive (also known as Braindead) in 1992
which racheting up the Evil Dead splatter effects to a comical 11, Wes Cravenís self aware slasher film Scream
in 1996 about a killer among a group of kids that already know all the rules of slasher
films rebooted a new Teen Horror cycle which led to I Know What You Did Last Summer and
Final Destination. Monster films turned increasingly to CGI effects for scares such as Species,
Anacoda and a new version of Godzilla. Pscyhological Horror and Thriller have remained
popular throughout the 90s and 2000s including films like Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth
Sense, Se7en, the Others and the Ring. Three modern horror film cycles arose in late
nineties and into the 2000s that are somewhat unique to our modern era. Torture Porn as
it is disparagingly labeled, is the modern reboot of the Splatter films going back to
the Hammer Horror era. The latest rendition having emphasis on intense gore, grunge and
often tortuous violence. The Saw franchise, the most successful horror film franchise
of all time, is considered the first in the latest crop of splatter films with itís first
installment in 2004 by James Wan. This was followed by Eli Rothís Hostel in 2005 – the
first movie to earn the toture porn moniker by critic David Edelstein. The Blair Witch Project directed by Eduardo
Sanchez and Daniel Myrick and released in 1999 represents the first major film in the
modern found footage horror sub-genre. Though a borrowed idea from Cannibal Hollocaust from
1980, The Blair Witch Project used the device of piecing together first hand footage to
reconstruct the last terrifying moments of the original eye witness. Blair Witch also
holds the title of bing one of the first films ever to be marketed almost entirely through
the internet. The found footage device would go into common use from small films like Oren
Peliís Paranormal Activity in 2007 and even large creature films like Matt Reevesí Cloverfield
in 2008. And finally, we cannot end this overview of
horror without the most recent Zombie Cycle. With roots going back to George A Romeroís
Night of the Living Dead in 1968 which was The modern Zombie apocalypse cycle began when Danny
Boyle breathed a new life into the undead with 28 Days Later in 2002. Recent Zombie films
feed our fears of a medical pandemic and the break down of society fears brought on by
the financial meltdown in the mid 2000s. Still going strong with films like World War Z and
the long form Television melodrama The Walking Dead, the Zombie Cycle may be seeing itís
fade out as comedic outings like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland have poked fun at the
formula. Thereís something about horror films that
can transcend national and cultural boundaries. As the digital democratization of filmmaking
continues horror will be a genre that can delight or terrify people no matter where
they are from or what language they speak. We are already seeing it now as Japanese and
Korean Horror films are starting to mix in with mainstream Hollywood. This is because
horror works on us differently than other genres- a topic Iíll explore in the next
video on the psychology of horror. But as weíve seen in this detailed but no way exhaustive
survey of history horror, the next big scary movie can come from anywhere, no matter the
budget, stars, or the country of origin. Horror iis very much a directorís genre – All that
matters is if can you make an audience shiver with fright? Go out there and make something
scary. Iím John Hess and Iíll see you at

Comments 62

  • A little disappointed no mention of Night of the Living Dead or George Romero

  • Not a word about modern japanese horror movies, that had so much western remakes, really?

  • this has so much information and i loved how he broke everything down into different sections but what did he say from 3:55, to 3:58? i couldn't understand.

  • Terrific as usual! But, come on, John, I know you know an outline map of interwar Germany has to include East Prussia and environs. Don't dumb it down for us!

  • I love Whore films.

  • I'm currently doing an assignment on horror movies for my Film studies course in college; this has been such a big help! 🙂

  • Germany was a lot larger than than that during WW1.

  • Surely The Exorcist was a landmark film?

  • Great documentary but should have included Italian horror, namely the works of Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci.

  • when horror movies turn to comedies or vs that's when I know the writer is scraping the bottom of the barrel

  • seems like an intelligent guy, so it's funny to hear him mispronounce words. aside from that nitpick, great video on arguably the most interesting genre.

    i'd say the torture porn cycle, as he puts it, has mostly run its course. now, if we could only get rid of found footage movies and the over-use of the shaky cam we'd be back on track.

  • You totally didn't even mention Black Christmas which kicked off the Slasher genre

  • No Carnival of Souls?

  • There seem to be two or three kinds of horror films: movies where the characters go to the danger, and movies where the danger goes to them. And there's the "in between" where the danger is present in the neighborhood, but the characters go to it, or vice versa.


    The Danger Goes to Them
    A Nightmare on Elm Street
    It Follows
    The Exorcist
    Fright Night
    Child's Play
    Dead Alive
    The Thing

    They Go to the Danger
    Friday the 13th films
    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
    The Blair Witch Project
    The Hills Have Eyes
    The Haunting (1963)
    The Evil Dead

    Right in Between
    Saw films
    The Sixth Sense

    And the list goes on…

  • No mention of Night of the Living Dead?

  • 12:37 I think we just witnessed the first horror movie jump scare.

  • I almost thought you'd leave out Night of the Living Dead, which would have been unforgivable. 😉
    Still, I'm a bit disappointed, that Italian cinema from the 60s to the 80s, with directors like Bava, Argento & Fulci, didn't come up at all. Or how modern French cinema has pushed mainstream horror to new extremes. And HG Lewis at least deserved a nod when splatter was mentioned.

  • Well that explains a bit. I have often wondered, and have heard others wonder, why do they (Hollywood) do that? In this case wondering about about trends and cycles within a genre. Thanks for the explanation(s).

    I only discovered your channel a few days ago, and I am now binging. I am only a lay-person when it comes to the film-making arts, but I find it fascinating. Thanks for your easily understandable explanations. It makes me wonder about giving it a try.

  • This is a wonderfully informative, insightful, well organised and eloquently delivered vid. Having just watched the vapid, uninformative and ponderous 3 piece BBC documentary on horror by Mark Gattis, this is gold dust in comparison. Thank you!

  • Dracula ('31) is a great one for aspiring film composers to experiment on. Most people I know have done a couple of reels of it.

  • It seems you were right. The new cycle looks like high budget remakes of classic 80's horror films.

  • The map of Germany is wrong for the period you're talking about. The map is post WWII, while the period is pre WWI.

  • There's a movie that inspired Halloween: Black Christmas. The slasher genre actually began with Black Christmas. It's an interesting movie and has only gained a following since its release in the late 70s.

  • Oh, John P Hess. I feel you can stand to pronounce with emphasis the "-or" in "horr-or."

  • I loved this!!

  • You're my favourite for revising for my tests

  • Al from Al's toy barn, is that you?

  • I would argue that torture porn has no linkage to "the splatter" of hammer horror, but instead to the films of Hershel Gordon Lewis.

  • this is not history of horror..this is history of horror in america

  • A little late to the party, but so glad to have found this channel! PLEASE keep making videos.

    I teach film to high school students and we are currently discussing the pre-classical era of cinema. We just might have to watch the Manor of the Devil.

  • Great vid, man.

  • You forgot to introduce The Wolfman 1941

  • Horror has nothing to do with its creator. Its all about results. The creator is merely an instrument of the things that scare you. They are in control.

  • You missed Jekyll and Hyde 1931

  • Good presentation, but no mention of RKO's "King Kong" (1933)?

  • This was a joy to watch. Horror is great

  • i thought it was biz's beat of the day for a second!

  • Interesting if a bit too Hollywood focused. I would have like to see more about the impact of italian horror (Giallo, Cannibal movies) and J-horror.

  • Fun fact and horror trivia: Hitchcock's "The Birds" is devoid of a musical score. Music is usually a very important and advantageous asset in horror films, helping to emphasize atmosphere and mood. In "The Birds", however, the mood is already established without the help of this. Instead, the audience hears the chorus of its avian antagonists. In the final scenes of the film, the birds chatter on without interruption in an otherwise silent and seemingly empty world. The feeling it provides can be quite unsettling.

  • This is an impressive analysis of horror films. Really enjoyed your video and even learned a few new things 🙂

  • I can’t help it….but all I keep hearing is “whore” lol

  • Great coverage of the history of terror I would have mentioned Suspiria, [Rec], Black Christmas or Phantasm but I still liked it very much I subscribe.

  • Dear god the pronunciation of the word horror makes this nigh unwatchable.

  • For all the people saying he “forgot genres of horror”, he said at the beginning that he knew lots of aspects of the genre would skip through the cracks

  • Why does he keep saying, "WHORE"?

  • very narrow and limited presentation

  • Doesn't Spielberg's "duel" count? I imagine the budget may have been quite small as well. Basically renting a truck, a car, the filming equipment, and crew. Plus one actor and one truck driver. Humm, 450,000 USD according to google. I guess someone has been ripped off. Or maybe roads are really expensive locations to license, whereas I thought it was free.

  • whore films eh?…

  • Just going to put this right here, cause why not:

  • Man I have seen pretty much every one of these films, except cat people and some of the hammer horror films. (They don't come on tv, and the DVDs are out of print and pretty expansive.) Too bad the rights to the Hammer films are so split up that it is almost impossible to get a decent boxset of the classics.

  • I'm working on a totally new genre of horror movie, starring John Hess, where he is required to pronounce the names of several French directors.

    (just kidding, John, we love you)

  • Is he pronouncing horror like that deliberately?

  • Wth why am I here

  • I loved it but where is killer Klowns from outer space

  • "Black Christmas" is generally considered to be the first slasher film — not "Halloween."

  • Great video, I just love Whore videos and the entire Whore scene, thanks for bringing to our attention. I didn't really understand the way all of those monster movies were related to Whores though, never mind.

  • Interesting Quantity of horror movies there.
    Loved it, and your presentation style is
    1st class! KAN

  • I do love me some whore films.

  • I love watching horror movies

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