From Silent Movies to Found Footage
The Evolution Of Horror Movies
Halloween is one of our favourite holidays here at Lottoland. While our focus is generally on lotteries and living your dreams, the stuff of nightmares can be a whole lot of fun too – at least when they give us a proper good scare! After all there's nothing quite like snuggling up on the couch with the lights off, some popcorn to rustle plus plenty of cushions to hide behind. So, with that in mind, let's take a look at some of the greatest horror movies of all time to see how the genre's evolved!
BOO! Sorry, did I scare you? Well, it's the season, right? And what better way to get a good ole scare than with a classic horror film!
Fact is movies have been terrifying people from the very beginning. The 1896 short movie, L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat, wasn't what you'd call a blockbuster by today's standards, but it certainly brought the crowds in. Sure, it was just 50-odd seconds of a steam train pulling out from a station and heading towards the screen, but it caused a sensation on release. While stories of panicky Parisians running from the cinema to get out of the way of the train may have been exaggeration – it's showbiz, after all – the footage certainly filled them with the distinct sense of unease that always comes with the advent of new, unfamiliar technology. And, luckily for us, this new technology just happened to arrive just during a golden age of gothic horror literature.
Silent Stalkers [1920s]
Trains, and more importantly train tracks, are something we often associate with silent movie villains. You know the type, right? Black top hat, black cape, twiddling his moustache while the hapless damsel shrieks in silent terror, manic piano music playing in the background….
Except they never existed. The whole tied to the tracks routine appeared only in old Victorian plays, not vintage movies. It's one of those "play it again Sam" things, a cinematic association that never actually happened, but has been reinforced by parodies and popular culture in general.
That's not to say the silent era didn't have its fair share of terrifying villains. Le Manoir du diable, or The Devil's Castle, is widely regarded as the first ever horror movie. Released in 1886, it was thought to be lost forever until a copy was uncovered inn 1988, 102 years after its release. The plot involved an encounter with the demons in a medieval castle, including none other than the Devil himself.
1910 saw the first movie manifestation of one of cinema's most enduring monsters, with the release of Frankenstein. The definitive monster from the silent era, however, belongs to 1922's Nosferatu.
Count Orlok rises from the crypt.
Contrary to popular opinion, it was not the first movie to be based on Dracula, but it's certainly the first portrayal we all remember to the point where, almost a century later, Max Schreck's performance still remains one of the most iconic screen vampires of all time.
This, despite the fact that the movie makers weren't allowed to use the name Dracula, as they didn't have the rights, so they altered the story somewhat and named their vampire Count Orlok.
The Golden Age of Movie Monsters [1930 – 1940]
"It was beauty that killed the beast" - King Kong, 1933 (actual scale may vary), Bela Legosi, as Dracula, Abbot and Costello meet The Mummy (because, why not?) and Boris Karloff, as Frankenstien.
The problem with being in a silent movie was that, much like space, no one can hear you scream. And screams are what horror movies are all about.
Once talkies arrived there was no holding back the screams as new technology helped bring ever-more frightening monsters to the screen – and the best example of this has to be RKO's 1933 classic, King Kong.
The movie marked a quantum leap in practical effects and its finale, atop the then-newly-built Empire State Building, remains one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. King Kong has been remade several times since, and the great ape's allure is as strong as ever. Peter Jackson's 2005 remake brought in $550.5 million at the box office, and yet another movie, Kong: Skull Island, starring Samuel L Jackson, is set for release next year.
Also at the vanguard of this golden age was Universal Studios, who created hit after hit bringing classic horror story monsters to the big screen.
1931 saw the return of Dracula, played by Bela Legosi, and Frankenstein, played by Boris Karloff. Karloff's portrayal has long-since become the definitive "look" we associate with Frankenstein, with the neck bolts, flattened head and oversized shoes.
Other "Universal Monsters" of that era included The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and Werewolf of London (1935). Universal would continue to release movies based upon these franchises (not to mention sons, daughters, brides and other family members of the monsters), in various different movies (including several Abbot & Costello crossovers) right up until the late 50s.
Attack of the B-Movies [1950s]
Aliens sort out Washington in Earth Versus The Flying Saucers, The Blob attacks a cinema and Godzilla stomps Tokyo for the first, but not last time.
While colour and 3D movies had existed previously, these technologies truly came into their own in the 1950s. The post-war period also saw a huge drive-in movie theatre boom in the US. These proved especially popular with teenagers on dates and so studios had to quickly churn out so-called B-Movies, in particular horror and sci-fi movies, to meet demand.
Much of these 50s "Creature Features" were crude allegories that tapped into the fears of the age, most notably nuclear energy (Godzilla, 1954) the Cold War (The Day The Earth Stood Still, 1951) and, arguably the biggest fear of all in the 1950s, feminism (Attack of the 50ft Woman, 1958).
Terrors of the occult were therefore cast aside in favour of monsters from the deep, invaders from space or regular creatures enlarged by radiation. Such movies include War of the Worlds, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, Tarantula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Blob and, of course, the movie that's widely regarded as the worst ever made, Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Going Psycho [1960s]
The classic shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Christopher Lee as Dracula and Vincent Price has a spot of bother swatting a pesky fly.
After over a decade of jaded Universal Monsters, giant bugs, rubber-suited city stompers and tin-foil flying saucers movie-goers were hungry for something more intellectual and challenging. Though few could have predicted just how pivotal and mind-blowing the 60s would become.
Huge social changes were taking place while, in Hollywood, the monolithic studios system was starting to collapse. As a result, independent productions and renegade film makers flourished.
The changing moral landscape also made space for more on-screen sex and violence, which, in turn, paved the way for a decade of increasingly gratuitous movies. Britain's "Hammer Horrors" were a perfect example, reinventing stale Universal Monsters like Frankenstein for a new, more cynical audience. Hammer Studio's best success, however, has to be their Dracula movies starring Christopher Lee.
Then there was the notoriously frugal Roger Corman. Through the late 50s and early 60s Corman was mostly interested in Edgar Allen Poe adaptations and worked extensively with Vincent Price. By the end of the 60s, however, he had fully embraced 60s counter-culture and, in doing so, also helped launch the careers of future renegades Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese.
And, of course, we have to discuss the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, and his 1960 classic, Psycho.
Psycho was game-changing because the "monster" wasn't some lumbering giant or phantom from the shadows, Norman Bates was quiet, unassuming and, for all intents and purposes, "normal" – and all the more terrifying because of it.
The infamous shower scene terrified audiences when first shown and continues to give goose bumps to this day. Likewise, Bernard Hermann's infamous score can still be heard in pretty much every horror movie soundtrack since, every moment of tension, every orchestral stab, every empty "jump scare".
Though technically not a "slasher", or even a horror, Psycho single-handedly created the slasher horror genre that would truly come into its own in the following decade.
Slashers & Blockbusters [1970s]
The devilish Damien, from the Omen, Linda Blair, in The Exorcist, Leatherface, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mike Myers (no, not the Austin Powers guy) in Halloween, "Smile you sonnova....", Jaws, 1974, and John Hurt gets something on face in Alien, 1979.
In the 70s, competition from indies meant that, rather than playing it safe, big studios also started to release some really experimental and risqué films. Flower power was dead and the sour taste of Vietnam all-pervasive. The result was a second golden age for horror, and movies in general.
Standout pictures include 1973s The Exorcist, which didn't so much scare audiences as traumatize and scar them for life.
Other demonic highlights included 1976's The Omen, starring Gregory Peck, Stephen King's first film adaptation, Carrie, also from 1976, and, from 1979, The Amityville Horror.
Technology as an adversary was also a recurring theme in 70s horror, as witnessed in movies like The Car and Demonseed.
The 70s was also the era when slasher horrors came of age. First came The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, from 1974, followed four years later by John Carpenter's classic, Halloween.
Both of these movies were franchise makers, resulting in multiple sequels and reboots. It was a similar story with Phantasm and Alien, both released in 1979.
But surely the biggest franchise of them all was 1974's Jaws. The movie not only launched the career of Stephen Spielberg, it single-handedly invented the summer blockbuster while also giving millions of movie-goers aqua phobia for decades to come. (You can already hear that music just thinking about it, right?)
Here's Johnny! (And Freddy, and Jason) [1980s]
"HERE'S JOHNNY!", Jack Nicholson in The Shining, "Groovy!" - Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead 2, "You gotta be. !*%^ing me!", John Carpenter's The Thing, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Freddy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street and always coming back for more, it's Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees.
1980 saw the release of what is, in my own humble opinion, the best horror movie ever made. The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson and directed by the great Stanley Kubrick, was a huge success both commercially and critically. One critic who famously took a dim view of the movie, however, was author Stephen King, who felt that Kubrick had taken too many liberties with his original novel. Still, following the success of both Carrie and The Shining, Stephen King fast became a hot commodity in Hollywood and, now, a full 36 years later, his books and adaptations remain as popular as ever.
Another milestone release from 1980 was the first Friday the 13th movie. Jason Voorhees' mother was the adversary in the first movie. The following year, however, Jason himself appeared in Friday the 13th Part II and again, in 1982's Friday the 13th Part III, when he first donned his trademark hockey mask.
Hiding from a psycho in a summer camp is one thing, but how do you hide from an undead sicko who can kill you in their dreams? The only solution – don't sleep – or Freddy will get you!
Freddy Krueger made his first appearance in 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street (as did future superstar Johnny Depp) instantly becoming another classic horror villain on par with Leatherface, Jason and Mike Myers.
The 1980s represented a quantum leap in movie special effects. Computer generated imagery appeared for the first time during this period, though the biggest advances were in the fields of practical effects and makeup. And the two biggest names in the business were the legendary creature creator Stan Winston (Alien, Terminator, Predator, Edward Scissorhands) and Rick Baker, who, not only gave us An American Werewolf in London, he also created the makeup effects for Michael Jackson's thriller video.
Speaking of video; the 80s were all about video. VHS technology meant that, for the first time, you could watch new horror movies at home, and demand was huge.
Sure, a lot of really terrible movies were churned out during this period but amidst the dross were some absolute classics from some of the best names in the business including John Carpenter (The Fog, The Thing, Prince of Darkness), James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens), David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly) and Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series).
And, of course, there was Stephen Spielberg, who wrote and produced 1982's Poltergeist and also made us laugh in 1984's creature comedy, Gremlins. Another comedy horror classic, Ghostbusters, also came out that year. If you've never seen it do yourself a favour, ignore the much-maligned remake and check out the original instead – your funny bone will thank you for it.
Indeed, the 80s had no shortage of memorable characters and monsters including An American Werewolf in London, the masochistic Pinhead, from the Hellraiser movies, the psychotic doll Chucky, from Childs Play and the invisible jungle hunter, The Predator.
Blood, Guts and Chianti [1990s]
Got chianti? Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Ghostface from Scream, the only scene anyone remembers from The Blair Witch Project, Gary Oldman as Dracula and the velocraptors from Jurassic Park.
While the 80s represented a third golden age of horror, the 90s was without a doubt the decade of the psychological thriller. Standout examples include the Stephen King adaptation Misery, Copycat, starring Sigourney Weaver, Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct, Danny Boyle's directorial debut, Shallow Grave, David Fincher's masterpiece Se7en and Robert De Niro making one of his finest and most chilling performances of all, in Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear.
But surely the most terrifying of them all has to be Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. Though not the first time Lecter appeared on screens (Brian Cox played him the 1986 movie Manhunter), Hopkins brought a charm and gravitas to the role, immediately ascending well above Norman Bates in the pantheon of all-time movie villains.
1993 also saw the return of a creature long-since neglected by Hollywood, when Spielberg brought dinosaurs back from the dead in Jurassic Park.
Aliens made a comeback, too, in movies like Independence Day and Men in Black, as well as the conspiracy-rich TV show, X Files.
The definitive monsters of the 1990s didn't come from outer space, however, nor were they interested in drinking Chianti – they wanted blood!
This, after all, was the decade that gave us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, From Dusk till Dawn, Interview With A Vampire, Blade and, best of the bunch in my opinion, Bram Stoker's Dracula, from director Francis Ford Coppola and staring Gary Oldman as the Count himself.
It was also the decade that saw Al Pacino hamming it up in The Devil's Advocate and everyone else saying "I see dead people" after seeing M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense.
In 1996, Peter Jackson achieved mainstream success with The Frighteners, a movie which helped him secure the director's chair for the Lord of the Rings movies.
That same year also saw the first instalment of the smart and self-referential horror comedy franchise Scream, from Freddy Krueger creator Wes Craven.
The decade ended, however, with a new type of movie that would shape horror movies well into the 21st century, with the release of indie movie, The Blair Witch Project.
Shaky-cam Versus Zombies [2000 – Present]
"I want to play a game" - Saw, The Ring, 2002, The Eyes have it - Pan's Labyrinth. Sinister, Babadook, 28 Days Later, "Have a cup of tea and wait for all of this to blow over", Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead.
While I personally didn't find it all that scary (or interesting, or entertaining), Blair Witch was certainly successful, spawning an entirely new genre known as "found footage" movies. Standout examples include shaky-cam creature feature Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity franchise.
Of course just because somebody filmed it doesn't mean you should watch it – as we all learned the hard way by watching The Ring. The 2002 firm was itself a remake of a Japanese movie and both it, and The Grudge, proved that there is such a thing as a good remake.
Vampires stopped being cool after the 90s. In this new age of smartphones and social media somehow, for whatever reason, the new millennial monsters were zombies. I could easily fill an entire article just on naughties zombie movies alone, but instead I'm going to pick the best two, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002) and Edgar Wright's hilarious horror comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004).
One of the biggest horror franchises to emerge at the turn of the Millennium was Saw. While often associated with grisly torture there's no denying that the original Saw was a very smart psychological thriller and a worthy successor to movies like Se7en.
Another big millennial franchise was Final Destination, whose protagonists foolishly believe they can cheat death. (And whose creators don't seem to understand the meaning of the prefix Final.)
In more recent times, along with a string of lame remakes, we also got some great fresh new horror films such as the smart and satirical Cabin in the Woods, written by Josh Whedon, Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth and Babadook, one the cleverest, creepiest and most original horror movies made in recent years.
The franchises continue, too, with the Sinister and Insidious movies, as well as The Conjuring movies and its spin-off Annabelle.
Fancy a Scare?
Horror movies are all about good scares – proving that sometimes a shock can be good. And we can think of no better shock than waking up on the morning of Halloween to discover you’ve become a multi-millionaire overnight!
You know who'll get a shock too? Your boss, on the realization that you won't be coming in on Monday because you've won €260 million playing our PowerBall special jackpot!