, Research Paper
The Evolution of the Horror Film
How on earth do horror film directors sleep at night? Don’t they ever wake up and say, “Is this what my life is about: making people fear dark rooms, old houses, and things that go bump in the night?” How do they stand it all? What inspires them to create these vividly outrageous spins on reality? These may be the questions often asked by people who don’t quite understand the method behind the madness that is the horror film. These questions will be answered in this paper as it explains the development of the horror film to its present form.
Ah, the horror film. One of life’s many oxy-morons, how else can a large audience gather together to scare themselves to death in perfect safety? The horror film was introduced to the masses in the early thirties, a time when Americans sought to escape into fantasy- through their attractions to fantasies that stood their hair on end.
In the beginning, horror films concentrated on ghosts, vampires, witches, and miscellaneous monsters. With a few exceptions, Hollywood’s first wave of horror films maintained a degree of reticence that seems positively “namby-pamby” compared to the “disgustingness” of our time. Occasionally a film like the 1932 Dr. Jekyll exhibited some slight frankness about sex and somewhat graphic scenes were cut from Frankenstein. Like horrid novels before them, horror films of the thirties and forties constantly imitated that dismemberment, bloodshed, and decay were to be found nearby in time or space, but the camera almost never caught them. Films of the period did not get noticeably more gruesome.
Movies, then, consisted of monsters, monsters, and more monsters. They either terrorized the city in attempts to transform the human race into his own or channel aggressions that were brought on by everything from frustration to ignorance of the world around him. Such monsters as the classic Dracula and Frankenstein.
Advertisement for movies of the thirties and forties, like Frankenstein, were on giant posters with the title and stars’ names in large letters followed by a scene from the movie that was bound to draw attention. Truth be told poster representation was usually better than the actual film-well by modern standards-but to unexposed audiences of that era those films were the “cat’s pajamas”. Unaware of the film?s potential quality, moviegoers never noticed or paid no attention to detail. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for graphic–even semi-graphic photography. Early camera techniques were fair frames usually consisted of actors were being constantly stabbed, choked, or shot by shadowy figures in the dark. The camera also had a knack for bringing botches in costume to the center of attention.
Early films’ costumes were that of a great imagination but limited funds and/or materials. Dark circles around the eyes, tattered clothing and frazzled hair was as good as make-up could get. Monsters were never complete without the help of sound effects “personnel”. The sounds of footsteps in the dark, the howling of werewolves and the creaking of doors could now be portrayed instead of suggested thanks to recordings.
In the beginning, sound effects were done in a compact room containing a single hanging microphone and the bare essentials of sound. They were shoes and a box of sand; washboards; mini-doorways made of wood; balloons; watering cans; sheets of metal; and one or two men trying to minimize the lapses between screen action and sound.
When it comes to horror movies of the fifties and sixties not very much can be said. These were the times when aliens first became popular. Alien insects invading earth; in search of a potential slave race; strange love triangles; or a human possession by an n alien force. Werewolves and Dracula were still popular. Twisted directors took it upon themselves to make these movies a lot scarier. This was a rather important factor in the social lives of American teenagers. In the sixties, demented psychotic killer was created in the film PSYCHO
As the film industry got increasingly larger the process of poster making became costly and too slow moving for anxious film directors. So, lo and behold Coming Attractions made their first appearance. Coming attractions are a summary through intriguing movie clips formed to entice the audience to spend even more money on yet another “must-see” movie.
Films did improve upon themselves in the department of sound and picture quality. Camera angles were now more in-tune with the goings on in the picture and there less mistakes, although quite a few times microphones had been spotted hovering at the top of the screen, which is why the envelope effect was created.
Costume designers discovered such man-made materials as nylon, faux fur, and foam rubber. All of which were used to create muscled suits, animal costumes and masks.
As time went by the human tolerance for fear increased, challenging directors to up the effort they put into their next shocking film. Thus writers of the seventies tried to tap into the greatest fears of the time – stalkers? of all forms: dead or alive, male or female, young or old. It had just became the sign of the changing times that it was no longer safe to leave doors unlocked. Stories of troubled youths who were predestined to be killers, strategically killing friends and family members to warn their target victim that they could be next i.e.: “Jason” and “Michael Myers”.
Films may have had features such as gateways to hell, relation to a supernatural object and the female voice-over introduction, popularized in the seventies. Leading directors made uncompromising, bleak, yet sickly humorous movies that often contain gratuitous nudity with sprinklings of nuclear scares and cold war paranoia overtones. Criticisms were “too artsy” or “too cheap” or “too disgusting”.
On the upside, these were movies that encouraged the audience to hope the star makes it out alive. Many never realize that because the actor or actress is the star? he or she won’t die-too quickly. In the eighties Freddie Krueger and Jason ruled the horror field. Freddie lived in dreams and staying awake to avoid him never worked. This blew the minds of teenagers and scared the mess out of young children. Jason just wouldn’t die. In the movie no matter how fast you ran he always caught up though he was walking.
Special effects were becoming very important to the film’s execution. Used (not abused) wisely, they can help propel a story to the next level helping to engulf the audience in the moment.
In the sixties and seventies special effects in the sound department were much better with the help of the primitive computer. Eighties sound was unbelievably better. The improvement of the computer gave the most accurate sound/action timing available.
In recent years horror films have been more elaborate and contain actual plots unlike earlier years when a horror film didn’t necessarily make much sense. “In earlier films a climax and elaborate costumes were thought to produce a successful horror film.”(Brickett 56) Well maybe, out of supposed fear certain elements are added to make the film seem more’ attractive to the target audience-whoever they may be. “The love angle,” writes Amber (a college student in Illinois)”drags down most of the classics to modern audiences. The older movies suffer for this now, because of the love element that was added is borrowed by the romantic comedies of the time. How many horror movies get stopped for the sake of ‘DRAMA’, this really clashes with the mood and atmosphere the movie makers are trying to achieve.” Directors may argue that “if that’s what it takes; that’s what it takes.”54 “Old classics such as the Werewolf movies, Dracula, and Frankenstein have been updated time and time again. They have either been the answer to a gore writer’s rut or the result of a vision of something the director felt he could improve upon.”(Johns 184)
In the early nineties horror just didn’t appeal to the public. It caused many to yawn towards horror. Major themes of mid-nineties horror films were based on killers: alien viruses, characters from old folklore, from other dimensions, and most recently ones bent on revenge. Like Michael Myers they also strategically killed friends and family but modern psychotic killers try to manipulate the mind by paranoia.
This particular theme has been portrayed in many of Wes Craven’s thrillers. Thrillers are considered by some as movies that mock the whole horror genre. The movie SCREAM (1997), a slasher movie full of pure unpredictability, deviated slightly from the rest of his films. They usually focused on a strong manifestation of evil. They are similar in that a methodical mad man such as Freddie Krueger (sexual deviant), Krug (cannibalistic), and Pluto (supernatural) tortured their victims in an unmerciful “game of death”. Their unholiness was often counter-balanced by a strong female heroine who when pushed to the brink of desperation finally struck back with an equally violent tenacity. Thrillers have become extremely popular amongst teenagers.
Promotions, promotions, promotions! With commercials, posters, and book covers, radio stations giving chances to win tickets to premieres, and invention of the Internet; the movie industry has taken advantage. Advertisements for movies “greet” you as you sign on.
Camera technology of today is as good as it’s ever going to get. With the new freeze frame photography, morphing, DVD picture, computer graphics, and animatronics make quite the spectacle. Morphing has replaced the ‘fade into character’ technique, computer graphics have made the impossible that much more believable. Cloning, scenes involving dismemberment, the embodiment of evil spirits in forces of nature, or the exaggeration of demon possession. As the years before, make-up has been used to create monsters, deaths, and various other sights so shocking and so believable that you turn on the lights before you go the up the stairs. And besides a movie is just a movie, Right?
For years and years horror films have served as stimulation of the mind, you spend ninety minutes in the theater trying desperately to figure out what will happen next, just to prove yourself to the person sitting next to you. They serve a deeper purpose than that: “Horror has been painting images on the silver screen that seep out of the darkest corners of the human existence. Pain, pleasure, fear, and love can all be the same emotion because in real life, all feed off the human soul and lead to the ultimate conclusion?death” (Tudor 87)