What Is The Evolution Of Horror Movies?

The evolution of horror films and how the genre aims to scare in different ways

Scaring people with tales of terror has been a beloved pastime for people for a long time, from monsters to the supernatural to movies that just f*** with your mind, these films main aim and purpose is to scare us and to play on our fears. And we love it! Don't we?

Gothic Foundations

The roots of horror cinema lie within the soil of Gothic literature, where authors like Horace Walpole and Mary Shelley told tales of haunted castles and ghostly creatures. These early works served as the cornerstone for the cinematic nightmares that would follow, and helped inspire wannabe horror filmmakers to delve into the darkest recesses of the human psyche.

The Birth of Cinematic Horror

Le Manoir du Diable, sometimes known in English as The House of the Devil, is widely thought of as the first horror movie released, in 1896 . But it wasn't until the dawn of cinema in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that filmmakers really began to experiment with the possibilities of visual storytelling, bringing the landscapes of Gothic literature to life in vivid detail. 

German expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) helped pave the way for the emergence of cinematic horror.

Universal Monsters

The 1930s and 40s marked the golden age of horror cinema, as Universal Pictures unleashed a parade of iconic monsters upon the silver screen. With classics such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Wolf Man (1941), Universal introduced everyone to larger-than-life creatures that would become cultural icons for generations to come. 

The Rise of Psychological Horror

In the swinging sixties, a new breed of horror cinema began to emerge—one that delved more into the depths of the human mind. Films like Psycho (1960) and Repulsion (1965) explored the psychological underpinnings of fear, plunging horror lovers into the twisted psyches of their protagonists with unnerving intensity. These films challenged traditional notions of horror, eschewing supernatural monsters in favor of more nuanced and psychologically complex narratives.

The Slasher Boom

The 1970s and 80s witnessed the rise of the slasher film, a subgenre characterized by its relentless killers, inventive death scenes, and high body counts. Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) became cultural phenomena, terrifying audiences and inspiring countless imitators in their wake. 

With their emphasis on graphic violence and graphic thrills, slasher films pushed the boundaries of what we had seen before and what was considered acceptable in mainstream cinema upto that point.

The Supernatural Resurgence

In the wake of the slasher boom, horror cinema underwent a supernatural resurgence in the 1990s and early 2000s, as filmmakers sought to explore new avenues of fear beyond the realm of human killers. The Sixth Sense (1999), The Blair Witch Project (1999), and The Ring (2002) helped breathe new life into the genre, introducing us all to a new wave of supernatural terrors to try and scare them senseless.

These movies have continued up to this day, with the likes of The Conjuring, featuring haunted house stories, continuing to thrive.

The Love For Found Footage Movies

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was probably the first well known found footage movie, but it was the above mentioned Blair Witch Project that helped bring this genre to the mainstream in the late 90's that has continued to this day. So many other movies have been released since in the genre, aiming to emulate The Blair Witch Project's success such as Paranormal Activity (2007), [Rec] (Which features on my best Spanish horror movies list) (2007), Creep (2014) and Lake Mungo (2008) among the many.

New and Current Trends

In  more recent years, technology has played a big part in horror movies. Movies like Unfriended (2014), Cam (2018) and Host (2020) used technology as the central element of the fear and touched on digital themes that everyone in this day and age could relate to and are familiar with. (Shoutout to Deadstream as well if you want a funny horror to watch)

Psychological horror continues to thrive as well with the likes of Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019), and folk horror is also making a bit of a comeback, with The Witch (2016) being a good example. Supernatural horror is not going anywhere either, which is great for me as that is probably my favorite sub-genre of horror.

Social commentary has also never been more used in horror movies, or in life in general really, and even eco horror based movies are doing well. Right now we have never had it better in terms of the depth and genres being released in horror. I have only touched upon all of this really but I am interested to see what happens in the next ten years and if any themes we haven't really seen yet come to the party, soto speak. What new ways will filmmakers try and haunt us?

Other articles you may want to check out:

What Made Scream Such A Beloved Movie?
What's The Scariest Movie According To Science?
Differences Between The Book and Movie Of 'The Shining'

And don't forget to get involved on my horror Twitter and horror Instagram pages!