Evolution of the horror film

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Megan McGraw, Online/Multimedia Editor

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” said Johnny as the decaying corpse of the living dead shambled its way through the graveyard.

To a horror buff, this quote is easily recognizable from “Night of the Living Dead.” With October upon us and Halloween fast approaching, an examination of a staple of the holiday–horror films–is needed.

The soul-purpose of the horror film is to elicit fear, anxiety and disgust in order to startle audiences.

For decades, even a century, filmmakers have used various techniques and the creation of monsters to scare families for generations. So, where did the nightmare inducing film genre begin?

The “first” horror film dates back to 1896 with French director George Méliès’ “Le Manoir du Diable” or “The Haunted Castle.” Far from fear inducing, the movie opens with a large bat flying around an empty manor. Within seconds the bat morphs into a man who begins conjuring up demons and skeletons. A three-minute silent film, “Le Manoir du Diable” was not only the beginning of what would be a launch-pad for the horror film, but the first vampire film as well.

Twenty-six years later, “Nosferatu’s” Count Orlock is born. “Nosferatu” is a badly plagiarized adaption of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” (Another film of the silent era, in which German director F.W. Murnau used lighting to create shadows of his vampire creature moving toward his victim.)

In the 1930s, Universal Studios became synonymous with classic horror. Beginning with “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” Universal would birth some of the best classic horror films for the next nine years. Unlike their predecessors, films like “Dracula” had the advent of sound on their side.

However, it was not the introduction of the talking picture that made them popular, but America’s mastery of a lighting technique known as Chiascuro that would push them forward. The use of Chiascuro lighting created distinct areas of light and darkness in film, which helped to evoke terror, of what lurked in the darkness.

Horror films of the 1950s laid claim to mutant creatures and aliens from outer space. The 1950s would also be the pinnacle of Alfred Hitchcock’s career. A man whose motto was, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible,” Hitchcock had a distinct visual style. By using innovative film techniques, Hitchcock created anxiety with his shots. The twist ending was also a staple of any Hitchcock film. Hitchcock’s 1960 film “Psycho” is what he is most recognizable for.

While still retaining the founding techniques for conjuring screams, the horror 1970s would change the idea of villainy in horror films.

The 1970s led to a change in character for the horror film. No longer were ghosts, ghouls and goblins the villains of the story. John Carpenter gave birth to the “slasher/stalker” film in 1978 with “Halloween,” where even your brother could be the bad guy. Horror films of the ‘70s created paranoia and anxiety; no one was excluded from being the force of evil. The ‘70s brought forth movies like the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Carrie,” and “The Exorcist,” many of which have been remade for today’s audience.

With remakes of horror flicks in great abundance, it is often hard to find an original film concept. In 1999, a group of filmmakers would do something to change the horror game completely.

On July 30, the “Blair Witch Project” was released in movie theaters. The film itself was claimed to be “found footage,” following a group of students researching the myths behind the Blair Witch. Set up to look like an actual documentary, the story is almost believable and you never actually see the monster.

This film would spawn the likes of the “Paranormal Activity,” series and Norwegian hit “Troll Hunter.”

A history over a century old, the horror film continues to captivate audiences. It is constantly evolving with the times and technological advancements. Oftentimes, the horror film is used as a social commentary on world fears. We see this in films like “Contagion,” where fear of disease runs rampant in today’s society. There is no longer a need for gore, guts and gratuitous violence to disturb audiences.

One thing is for certain. Whether it is a remake of a classic or an original concept, the screams associated with horror films will never cease.