October 17, 2013

From Nosferatu to Jigsaw: a Look at the History of Horror Films

Whether you're currently working on a horror film or just a fan who watches a ton of them, learning a little bit about the history of horror is not only the most fun history lesson that exists in life, but it will also help filmmakers put certain horror concepts into a much clearer context. John P. Hess unfurls the last hundred years of horror filmmaking, covering everything from German Expressionism to independent slasher films.  Continue on to watch yet another excellent film course from Filmmaker IQ:

Scaring our fellow man with tales of death and dismemberment has been a time-honored tradition since humans could pantomime a stabbing motion. But, according to Filmmaker IQ's horror film lesson, the first major influences of horror film came from the great gothic horror writers, like Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Bram Stoker (Dracula), and Edgar Allen Poe.

The Magician of the Moving Image himself, Georges Méliès, is credited as making the first horror film entitled The Manor of the Devilhowever it wasn't until the end of WWI that the genre matured from an exploration of the medium to an expression of the human psyche. The fact that the first quasi-horror film movement was German Expressionism seems fitting. Films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Golemand Nosferatu are considered to be German Expressionist films, however the movement itself is quite difficult to define and therefore attribute to certain works.

Hess describes the rise and fall of popularity and success in horror subgenres as "cycles" (more on "cycles" in the video.) One example of this process occurred in the late 1940s. After over 20 years of monster movies, which made characters like Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man famous, studios moved away from horror once it started verging on (and becoming) parody.

It took a small division of RKO, the smallest of the Big 5 studios, to spearhead the making of low-budget horror films, which were more cerebral and psychological and used more sophisticated filmic techniques, like chiaroscuro lighting to cast dramatic shadows instead of relying on makeup and costumes. The first of these films was Cat People.

Flash forward to the 70s and early 80s when a string of low-budget independent horror films found either great success at the box office, with critics, or with fans. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is often considered the film that inspired the entire slasher genre. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) demonstrated that low-budget horror films can be profitable -- extremely profitable. With a budget of $325,000, Halloween has gone on to gross $240 million dollars, making it one of the most profitable independent horror films of all time. The Evil Dead utilized the burgeoning new distribution platform -- VHS (Home Video.)

Filmmaker IQ's horror history lesson covers so much more, so carve out a little time in your day to watch Hess discuss the history of horror below:

What do you think? What is your favorite horror film/movement? If you're a horror filmmaker, what horror film movement influenced your work the most?

Link: A Brief History of Horror -- Filmmaker IQ

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3 Comments

I love the classic horror genre. I'm more of a fan of the moody, atmospheric horror than the slasher stuff (more 'The Conjuring than 'Saw'. (Tho I am fond of the first Halloween and I like Tim Burton's 'Sleepy Hollow' so go figure....) I grew up watching the Universal Monster movies on Sat. mornings and it probably had a lot to do with me getting into this field. Personally, I think 'The Bride of Frankenstein' is the most influential for me: The expressionist style, the sets, the moody lighting was all excellent. I do hope the genre gets out of the torture-porn (as some in the industry call it) and rediscovers (as a whole) the moody, subtle creepiness that defines some of the classic movies.

October 18, 2013 at 1:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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TJM05

Hmm...not a single Japanese film mentioned.

October 18, 2013 at 8:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Christopher

Normally I just watch / read your content however I must say that John has impressed me in a big way. He is well researched, entertaining, and a great speaker.

October 19, 2013 at 2:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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