While some of us object to the invasion of American Halloween and K-mart clad ghosts and goblins knocking at the door demanding treats, we would do well to recall that the holiday is rooted in the Druid Samhain – the last day of the ancient Celtic summer – a between-seasons day, when the dead walked among the living and the veils between past, present and future could be lifted in prophecy and divination. What better time to examine our deepest fears than how we’ve presented them on film for the last 110 years?
Horror is one of film’s oldest genres, with the first, George Méliès’ The Devil’s Manor made in 1896. Since then filmmakers have had a love affair with horror, though the genre is the most maligned amongst critics and move-goers alike. But scratch the surface of a Sandra Bullock fan and you’ll find someone who’s seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula over and over again; or an ageing hippie still quoting Charlton Heston from Soylent Green, “It’s people!”
Defining horror seems to be the problem. It ranges from pornographic violence (as anyone who’s sat through Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein can attest) to art-house (Shadow of the Vampire). People know what they like and pretty much hate everything else.
Folks who came of age in the fifties and early sixties tend to think of Hammer Horror monster movies, or Cold War paranoia and post A-bomb reality checks – when George Romero, Roger Corman, and Roman Polanski first made their mark. Even The Sound of Music director Robert Wise tried his hand at horror with The Haunting in 1963, an arty examination of a woman possessed by the spirit of a house. While still of interest as a psychological thriller, the film was dated even then, as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) upped the ante with levels of graphic violence that had never been seen before. The sixties had an outpouring of B-grade horror flicks, most of which starred Vincent Price, Christopher Lee or Boris Karloff – all attempting to shock – though in reality, the trailers were always far more frightening than the films themselves.
Then along came George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968, where the dead rise up and eat the living – lungs, livers, hearts and entrails, in glorious black and white – no one had ever seen anything like that before. The film opened a floodgate and horror reached new levels of bloodletting, violence and gore as budgets got bigger special effects got better. It was as if the entire genre was reinvented in living colour, monsters, murderers, demons, and genetically mutated wildlife. While there certainly was quality horror produced in that time (The Exorcist, Jaws, Wickerman, Eraserhead, etc. etc.), the volume of horror was incredible and no social issue or pathology went unaddressed. The ultimate in paranoia was It’s Alive (1972) about a killer newborn, apparently driven to a frenzy in the womb over its mother’s ambivalence over whether or not to abort. And the wildlife gone mad! Jaws (1975), Frogs (1972), and James Cameron’s debut behind the camera with the horrendously awful Piranha II: The Spawning. Tobe Hooper’s splatter ‘masterpiece’ The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (which I have never been able to sit through), set the standard for deranged killers and spawned a slew of copycat slayers, slashers, slicers and dicers – and gave birth to Michael Meyers in Halloween (1978), Jason in Friday the 13th (1980) and Freddie Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) at which point the horror flick literally lost the plot and collapsed under it’s own gore and guts and reran these last in what seemed like endless sequels that evolved into parodies of themselves, played more for laughs than for terror.
By the end of the eighties there was an enormous drop in the number of horror flicks produced, with a return to the level of quality of the 50s and 60s, with greater emphasis on psychological horror and suspense, and little sign of the 70-80s fondness for vivisection. But audiences seemed repulsed by the very word ‘horror’, so studios and directors went to great lengths to describe their films otherwise. Kenneth Branagh insisted Dead Again was a mystery romance and Francis Ford Coppola declared Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a drama, not a horror film (though he surpassed Tobe Hooper when it came to amount of blood spilled.)
Until recently, much of what we’ve seen has been self-parodying teen comedy/horror. But the genre is alive and well. Hannibal Lecter continues to make friends; Nicole Kidman wasn’t exactly slumming in The Others; we adored The Sixth Sense and the Blair Witch Project scared us witless. Virtually every film mentioned on these pages is now available on DVD. In theatres right now we’ve got The Locals, 28 Days Later, Identity, Hypnotic, and the ultimate face off arriving soon – Freddy vs. Jason. Go get scared!
Directors who’ve Dabbled in horror
- Kenneth Branagh – Dead Again (1991), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
- Francis Ford Coppola – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
- Stanley Kubrick – Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980)
- Adrian Lyne – Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
- Robert Rodriguez – From Dusk Until Dawn (1996) – co-written with Quentin Tarantino)
- Ridley Scott – Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982)
- Stephen Soderberg – Kafka (1991)
- Robert Wise – The Haunting of Hill House (1963)
Directors who specialise in horror
- John Carpenter
- Roger Corman
- Wes Craven
- David Cronenberg
- Tobe Hooper
- David Lynch
- Sam Raimi
- George Romero
Directors who cut their teeth on horror
- Peter Bogdonavich – Targets (1968)
- James Cameron – PiranhaII: the Spawning (1981)
- Francis Ford Coppola – Dementia 13 (1963)
- Brian de Palma – Sisters (1973), Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and the strange Phantom of the Paradise musical.
- Peter Jackson (see Director’s Cut, this issue)
- John Landis – Schlock (1971), American Werewolf in London (1981)
- Roman Polanski – Repulsion (1965), The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck (1967), Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
- Barry Sonnenfeld – Addams Family (1991)
- Boris Karloff – silent star who broke into talkies in 1931, forever defining the look and feel of Frankenstein. Went on to make nearly 100 mostly horror flicks – some ultra cheesy.
- Bela Lugosi – Dracula – 1931 – followed by a career as other monsters, mad scientists and megalomaniacs. Those made for Universal were high quality, but drug addiction and a disastrous personal life lead to ridiculous choices in later life – including the legendary worst movie of all time – Plan 9 From Outer Space, for director Ed Wood (the subject of Tim Burton’s biopic of the same name, starring Johnny Depp – in a cashmere sweater.)
- Vincent Price – Classically trained stage actor who turned to horror in 1953, and spent the next 40 years as the Master of Menace, often working with director Roger Corman.
- Christopher Lee – Hammer Horror’s perennial leading man, starred as Count Dooku in Star Wars Episodes 1-3 and as Saruman the White in Lord of the Rings.
- Jamie Lee Curtis – Probably the only woman who ever launched her career as a horror star – playing Michael Myers’ sister in Halloween, by managing to survive. Daughter of Janet Leigh, who played Norman Bates unfortunate victim in Psycho, she earned the nick ‘Queen of the Creepies’ with The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train (all 1980) and Halloween II (1981). Once she broke out, she refused to do another horror flick until Halloween H20: 20 Years Later in1998. Having made her peace, she returned in H8 in 2002 and will most likely star in H9.
Makers & shapers
- Alfred Hitchcock – directed over fifty films, virtually inventing the psychological thriller. Upped the ante in the horror genre with nudity and violence in Psycho in 1960. Followed by The Birds in 1963.
- Stephen King – The Source. Has had 25 of his novels made into films, Made for TV movies or television series.
- Terence Fisher – single-handedly created the Hammer Horror franchise with his 1957 remake of Frankenstein with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and followed it with 24 low-budget classics more over the next 17 years.
- George A. Romero – broke the boundaries for gore in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead and then topped that with Dawn of the Dead in 1978.
- John Carpenter – was paid $10,000 for directing the original Halloween.
- The Mummy
- Night of the Living Dead
- Nightmare Before Christmas
- Any Hammer Horror
- The Fly both the 1958 version with Vincent Price and the 1986 remake with Jeff Goldblum.
- Blade Runner – 1982
- Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
- The Day the Earth Stood Still
- Soylent Green
- 28 Days Later
- It’s Alive
- The Possession of Joel Delaney
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre
- Friday the 13th and all their offspring
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
- Shadow of the Vampire
- Repulsion (Roman Polanski)
And many many more…
Have a horrific Halloween!
55 thoughts on “Quelles Horreurs!”
Delightful article. Repulsion is an eerie movie I try to catch whenever it shows up on cable. Some of the others – while classics – are too much gore for my sensibilities.
There was a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Julia Roberts and John Malkovich, late 90s, “Mary Reilly” – nice and creepy. Perfect Halloween fare though it doesn’t show up often enough.
Somehow I missed that one… fortunately, there’s still time!
Great post right before Halloween! Now I feel like running to Blockbuster. My pick? The revised Psycho with Vince Vaughn. 🙂
Interesting choice. I’d call that a guilty pleasure. Gus van Sant – I just can’t figure the guy.
Do you have more on foreign horror films? “Nosferatu” clearly stands out as one of the best first efforts.
There’s been a switch, from the good old days of “Psycho” – where all you see is blood going down the drain – to today’s horror, where you see every little stab and slash. I really don’t think we’ve gained anything.
Has anybody seen the new one, “Paranormal”?
I may have to have a think on foreign horror… Dario Argento leaps to mind… but then I think “Let the Right One In” and it’s definitely a topic worth exploring… Watch this space!
Great post. I’m glad Phantom of the Paradise got a mention. I’m not a huge horror fan, but that movie has some of the most sublime pop music and music industry parody that I’ve seen.
Sometimes I really do not believe with the unknown beings, but after viewing the video I posted in my blog, I was somewhat want to change my belief. You might just want to view it too.
I love Halloween and I’m not aging or a hippie. I thought the build up the music scared me more then the actual “slashing” Moustapha Akkad did a great job. I watch it every year and if I’m alone I get freaked out! I did not like the remake at all! Oh sorry you said the age/hippie remark about solient green(sorry about spelling)I saw it once when I was really little and it always stuck w/me & I could never find it again on TV or DVD.Even little the social commentary was not lost on me. I love when horror is done right. Jaws I was so scared I wouldnt go in my swimming pool!not kidding. Alien the scariest jump out of my seat scene along w/end of carrie! Six sense never saw it coming. Hated blair witch. Texas chain. I swore then any road trips; not in texas and never off a main highway!I love stephen King and he has a lot of great horror movies.but the majority of his books don’t translate well to the big screen. The books are fantastic. All of them. Oh anyone ever you to watch a show hosted by Sir graves ghastly? old scary double features I think on sun morns he was great!
Horror, when it is done right, reflects our worst fears back to us… when it’s done wrong – well, I get more of an ‘ick’ reaction than anything else. Btw – Soylent Green has been out on DVD for a couple of years now – I reviewed it…
And glad you still love Halloween. It’s over here in New Zealand – and they don’t quite know what to do with it, and I still managed to get to a couple of parties…
Really enjoyed reading this. Interesting to note, that did you know Hitchcock once stated that ‘Psycho’ was an attempt to satirse the ‘slasher’ genre? He had intended for people to laugh and chuckle through out the film – which is way he camped up the ending with someone-being-his-mother.
Hi Pete – glad you enjoyed it. That is really interesting re Hitchcock’s statement. I didn’t think the ‘slasher’ genre existed in 1960. I would say Hitchcock rather invented it in Psycho. Hollywood was still operating under the Hayes Code, and Hitchcock got around those restrictions very cleverly – a raised knife, a woman’s screams and some blood running down the drain were actually more explicit than folks were used to. Of course Hitchcock had his unique way of putting those simple things on screen… As for the humour – yeah, I could see him saying that. I’ve read that Kafka thought his work was comedic as well…
My wife and I decided to break the mold and watch a “bad fear-net movie” one eveing. We’ve been hooked since, and after exhausting their supply we turned to netflix and the stream flows on. We recently sat through Paranormal Activity and I’ll have to give the movie my thumbs up. Thanks for this list though, I know I’ve missed one or two on here!
Not on the list and if you haven’t seen it you must – Let the Right One in… Swedish and divine…
I love a good zombie flick but to this day nothing scares the crap out of me like the Exorcist. Eighteen years of Catholic School education steeled me to cracks on the head by a ruler but did nothing to help me deal with Linda Blairs terrifying turn as the possessed little girl. Shudder
Strangely, the scene that did my head in most in the Exorcist was about a third in (I think) and Regan is in the hospital for some tests – and a huge arc af blood came squirting out of her neck. Don’t know why, but it seemed to dull my senses for the rest of the flick. I’d already jumped out of my skin!
I don’t mind horror movie.
But it makes my hair stand up.
I think ‘The others’ was nice.
How about you?
I loved this material!! Very interesting. I like.
Thank you. Glad it caught your attention.
Pleased to see Polanski there. His use of sound can be especially horrifying: I always think of the sound of the axe when Banquo is killed in his ‘Macbeth’ as one of the most intense moments in the horror genre. In the same film, the closing camera angles – pov is Macbeth’s dead head – are amazing, too.
I was in Titirangi last year (briefly) – amazing place!
I wouldn’t mind owning all off Polanski’s films… I’ve got a piece on him I wrote in 2002 when the Pianist was up for Best Pic and he for best Oscar. I must find it and post it.
As for Titirangi – next time, stay a bit longer – we’ll have coffee at La Vinci’s (or The Hardware if you prefer.)
Ooooh ! I loved Dead Again. I watched it many many times ! Loved your post.
Thanks! Branagh and Thompson were definitely at their best at that moment.
Me too! I thought Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh were amazing in it….and then Derek Jacobi–o. my. gourd.
I probably should buy it on DVD now, shouldn’t I? ^O^
That’s a good question – do we need to buy our favourite movies on DVD? I have probably 90% of mine. Yet, it seems silly in this day of cheap and easy rental and legit downloads. It’s available any time you want it anyway. I think for me, I like ‘owning’ it.
I used to love horrors, but I guess I have blood pressure problem so don’t watch those any more… Sad but true.
I Meant HALLOWEEN the movie after I reread my post I noticed how it read. Sorry V, But I do love halloween the day always have & now I get to enjoy it thru my 6 year old sons’ eyes. He’s so funny! Doesn’t watch scary movies. He’s way too little. And is going thru a weird phase afraid of…. Robots,aliens,ghosts,spiders, & the vacuum cleaner. Oh wait that last one is only if I actually ask him to vacuum his room lol. We went up to a house and it had bats moving and dim lights and spooky sounds,then I saw what I thought was a blk. Door so I thought no one was home and said let’s go. As I say this a werewolf hand comes out through this black plastic and motions w/one long,hairy,nailed finger for my son to come closer. The little punk threw me under the bus “mommy I think you should go to this house!” Its was hilarious. Then the hand goes back inside my son is peeking around me eyes wide and the scary music starts playing the Halloween movie music,now his eyes get even bigger and he’s saying let’s go mommy now! Just then the scary hand comes out palm down and turns his hand up to reveal a tootsie pop he’s holding by two fingers. My son calms grabs the loot says thank you then runs off the porch! It doesn’t get any better then that:)
Love it! Of course, he wasn’t really throwing you under the bus… as Mommy you are supremely invincible!
Oh, shame on me but I have not watched The Psycho yet. it is considered to be one of the scariest movies! I think i should watch it for sure.
I saw it for the first time my freshman year of uni… I was so freaked out – I didn’t take a shower for a year… and finding a bathtub in a dormitory that’s clean enough to use is not easy! I’m over it now… I’ve seen much worse – but Psycho definitely scared me more than any movie before or since.
Great post and timing for the halloween 😉
Excellent summary of horror films through the years. I actually saw Psycho for the first time at a drive-in theater at about age 9 – it scared the crap out of me! To this day, nothing has had that visceral effect – Hitchcock was the best.
Thanks, Dana. Perfect first exposure to Psycho I’d say… I was 17 – and it had the same effect. As for Hitchcock – he was the master! I just watched two of his silent films – The Ring and The Manxman – both about love triangles – I loved The Manxman. In brief, the hero’s girl and best friend have a big secret they’re not telling him… Hitchcock ‘invents’ screen sex with the ‘grinding’ of a mill and a long, slim steamship gliding into a harbour that left me in stitches. A little skill at lip-reading also goes a long way with here. Yeah, Hitchcock WAS the best…
Great post, very informative. Can you believe they are making a third blair witch movie? Oh, what did Paranormal Activity do?
Thanks. If they are up to Saw 5, why not Blair 3? Argh!
Still waiting on Paranormal to turn up here!
i found clock work orange by far one of the most disturbing books. well written and a nice story but also with a serious background.
one movie which is missing here is FUNNY GAMES. never seen a more horrorfying movie before. although you hardly see the violence directly. its all happening in your head.
I found A Clockwork Orange – well, if not unreadable… yeah, for me, it was unreadable – all that flipping back and forth to the glossary… and I think I tried reading it when I was about 18… I should revisit it.
As for Funny Games – there are a lot of films, especially from the last couple of years, that are not included here. And you are right – it was one of the most horrific movies I have ever seen. I saw the English language remake (which I unerstand Michael Haneke more or less duplicated shot for shot from the Austrian original) and was absolutely shattered. All of that brutally in real-time… all of that psychological horror… I shudder to recall… It was possibly the only movie I ever gave five stars and loathed completely!
Gosh! I definitely like this blog!! Thank you so much for sharing!
Thanks! I look forward to sharing some more. ;-}
Great post!!!!! wow, that’s something i was looking for!
love the exposure to classic horror films, i myself can say i haven’t seen a couple of these movies, but it makes me want to go out and rent them! Cool side images as well!
Glad you enjoyed!
good!!!! i like ,thank you!
oh, i definitely have to watch all films, always had a lack of time
thanks for sharing
Yeah, I’m considering retiring from reviewing films so I have time to catch up on all the ones I’ve missed. Of course then – I won’t be seeing the new ones! Sigh… so little time… glad you enjoyed. Veronica
I’m sorry, I don’t wanna be a cinema-nazi, but I fail to see how The Clockwork Orange is a horror film.
Sure it’s a post apocalyptic dystopian drama, and it has elements of suspense, and discomfort; but it’s not horror per se.
It’s all in how you define horror. I think horror overlaps genres. In the late 80s and 90s no one wanted their films defined as horror – horror was out of fashion… So Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a ‘drama.’ Shades of ‘a rose by any other name’?
I guess I take a broad view of what horror is. There are those who consider only slasher types to be horror. Your view is somewhere in between? I’m not out to convince you A Clockwork Orange is horror – only that it’s a film worth seeing (with at least some elements of horror in it.)
Also, I might complain, but this is an awesome post. A mighty good and informative text; I’m gonna send this to some friends.
Good job, sir.
Glad you liked! Cheers, Veronica
the second image is so afraid me… ‘~~~~’