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History of Horror Movies

Frankenstein is a classic novel written by Mary Shelley when she was just 18; the first edition was published in London in 1818. The film was one of the first horror movies made and encompassed the ideology of people playing god, the idea of messing with science and humanity having to pay the consequences for their horrible mistake. Most horror films of this age were based on existing horror novels. The film questioned the desires of the human race for knowledge and audiences reacted to the idea of creating a new life that destroyed existing ones with fear. A certain scene was cut from the English version of the film, the part where Frankenstein’s monster drowns a young girl by accident, they are throwing flowers into the water and he throws her in and she drowns. This scene would not cause outrage in a modern day horror film, but back in the 1900’s this scene was deemed too much for an English audience, this shows just how much the horror genre has evolved over the years becoming more and more graphic not just as special effects got better, but as newer and more shocking material is needed to shock and scare audiences. The part of Frankenstein was cast to Boris Karloff, giving birth to one of horrors most famous and genre iconic actors. After Frankenstein he went on to star in movies such as Bride of Frankenstein and Scarface, as well as hosting his own TV shows, Thriller and The Veil.

- Boris Karloff

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the original title of a novel written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson that was first published in 1886. Again the movie was based on a classic novel, the original film was made in 1931.

It is about a London lawyer named Gabriel John Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll and the misanthropic Edward Hyde, but the two people are actually the same person. The ideology behind this film is the idea that you don’t know what people are capable of and that madness can take hold. In this era the idea of a respectable man descending into madness was quite scary, as for people ‘sickness of the mind’ was a very real and scary thing that was not well understood. The idea of appearances was very influential in the 1930’s and this film was considered scary, again showing how characters of modern horrors need to be more and more alien and ‘sick’ in order for a modern horror audience to be shocked by them, Silence of The Lambs villain being an example, based on a real serial killer who wore the skins of his dead female victims. Jekyll and Hyde had the conventions of a horror in the fact that it did have a villain struggling against a hero (or one could argue, an anti-hero) and this villain was deformed or hidden, needing a physical representation of their dark character. Horror films have taken this idea and developed it further into the ‘slasher’ horror movies that are still in fashion today as we can see from Creep etc., who have very physically

deformed villains. As we can see from the poster Mr Hyde is green, connoting something unknown and alien. His hair and eyebrows are longer and untidier than Dr Jekyll’s, because of course appearances meant everything in that era, as mentioned earlier. His smile reveals many teeth, which was of course bestial and threatening, However he appears tame and almost comic compared to the modern villains that feature in some of today’s horrors.

- Poster for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The original Dracula film was released in 1931, although there have been many remakes. The vampire-horror film was directed by Tod Browning and starred Bela Lugosi as the title character. Bela Lugosi then became an iconic figure and was well remembered for his role in this film, he became one of the few actors that became associated with the horror genre, along with Boris Karloff. The film was produced by Universal and is based on the stage play of the same name by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which in turn is based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. This horror film follows the convention of its genre by addressing the fears present in society at the time of its making. Back in the 1900’s Christianity was far more influential than it is now (due to secularisation) and so films such as this have many religious symbols in it, a crucifix is given to Renfield by the innkeepers wife for his protection at the castle for example. The idea that Count Dracula can hypnotise people, such as the nurse to let him into the room, shows the power of the devil when he tries to get people to turn away from their faith. It is also the woman who

falls victim to his powers, Mina goes to attack Harker and has to be saved, this reflects how in the Bible it is a woman who is tempted into eating the fruit that causes the human race its fall from grace and so it is Mina who is most influenced by Dracula. At the end of the film when Dracula is killed and Mina returns to normal, we hear wedding bells, implying that Mina and Harker are to be married and that the new equilibrium will be one that every audience member at that time could relate to, all the bad things have gone away, so it’s time to settle down and get married. This shows the dominant ideologies at that time: grow up, get married have children, and men? Always watch out for your women because they cannot look after themselves and will need to be saved from themselves if they stray.


Nosferatu is the very first vampire movie, baldly plagiarising the Dracula story to present Count Orlok, played by 'Max Schreck'. This film pushed the boat out on special effects at that time, Count Orlok cutting a much scarier figure with his slanted face, teeth and claws than the tamer seeming Frankenstein or Dracula. Nosferatu has been described as the vampire movie that actually believes in vampires, Nosferatu gives us a far more frightening bloodsucker than any of its successors; Shreck appears simply inhuman. Murnau demonstrated a brilliant talent with over light and shadow to build tension of the like that we will never see again. Ground-breaking work to shame today’s special effects and giant Hollywood budgets. Murnau changed the names of the central characters, but did not drastically alter the story from Dracula, other than the fact that Nosferatu ends differently. Ellen, the loving and innocent wife of the main hero is slightly wiser than Mina, she tries to outwit Count Orlok but she is attacked at the end of the film and when Count Orlok dies at sunrise immersed in drinking her blood, she remains alive only long enough to embrace her husband then dies, which differs dramatically from Dracula’s happy ending of the bad guy dying and the new equilibrium being a happy one of marriage between the two lovers.

For this reason Nosferatu is darker and far more foreboding, the unhappy ending combined with the excellent use of tension building shadows, the slow reach of the shadows hand towards her and the way it clutches her heart makes for a genuinely scary and sophisticated horror. This use of shadows is certainly a convention of modern horror’s, although none seem to display the same mastery over light and dark as Murnau.

History of the Horror Genre  

History of the Horror Genre

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