THE EVOLUTION OF THE HORROR MOVIE
Though not the first (that was actually the two minute long The Devil’s Castle in 1896), Nosferatu for me, set a foundation for future horror movies. Not only is it beautifully made with an almost dreamlike quality, but the vampire Nosferatu/Count Orlok (based so closely on Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula that it was the subject of much legal wrangling) is truly monstrous. Today’s sparkly vampires could take a leaf from his book. The scene where Nosferatu’s elongated shadow is climbing the stairs and reaches out for the bedroom door handle with his clawed hand being particularly chilling. Nosferatu was the first, and in my view still the best, vampire movie ever made and set a high standard for future horror movies. It's sheer quality, its deliciously dark, Gothic feel and its ability to scare without explicit violence or blood being seen, enabled the horror genre to really take off.
Classic horror movies of the 30s also included Dracula (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) among many others and were imbued with the new and extra dimension of sound. I have chosen Frankenstein not because I felt it to be the best of this bunch, indeed the sequel Bride of Frankenstein is infinitely superior underlined by Elsa Lanchester’s terrific portrayal of the bride. But because I felt one particular scene reminded cinema goers that one of, if not the, primary objective of a horror movie is to shock. This is of course when the monster, playing by the side of the lake with a small girl, picks her up and throws her in to see if she will float like the flowers they have been scattering on the surface of the water. She drowns and the audience are sharply snapped out of feelings of sorrow they had felt for Karloff’s monster. Even today, to see the violent death of a child on film is shocking, in 1933 it was unheard of.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)
A combination of various factors such as the recent World War and the ever-looming threat of nuclear war, meant that horror movies were largely relegated to B movie status. The horror movies of the late 40s tended to have been rehashes of tried and trusted monsters from Classic fiction, Frankenstein, Dracula and Werewolves to such an extent that the genre was somewhat stale. 50's movies however, while lacking a classic style, introduced an almost garish element of rock and roll with many new and colorful monsters/foes driven by the space race, UFO sightings and people’s perception of the mysteries of science. In truth I could have chosen any one from a number of movies such as The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Blob, This Island Earth etc. But Creature from the Black Lagoon is chosen as a representation of the 50s ‘Monster Movie’ scene, or sub-genre, (and also because I have a particular soft spot for it!) I loved the way that, similar to King Kong, we felt akin to our ancient amphibian ancestor (creationists look away now!) in his pursuit of love. It was originally intended to be released solely in the relatively new format of 3D, another fad of the day.
Of the films on this list, I feel Psycho to be the most important for the horror genre and its development; particularly in terms of getting us where we are today. From the previous decade where horror movies meant strange (often giant) monsters played by men in rubber suits, Psycho kicks off the 60's showing what we really knew all along, that the very worst monsters are inevitably human. More so when we consider it was (albeit very loosely) based on real life killer and amateur embalmer Ed Gein.
Quick joke, why does Ed Gein keep his heating on all year round? To stop his furniture getting goosebumps!
Anything blurring the line between fact and fiction instantly becomes more plausible and with it more terrifying. How many murderers’ neighbors subsequently tell the press, “I never thought he could do that. He was such a quiet chap, always kept himself to himself...” And, if you are reading this on your tablet/phone on the daily commute to work, are you certain that the man sat opposite you on the train doesn’t have a bloody knife and severed human head in his briefcase? Remember, you never can tell...
NIGHT OF THE
THE EXORCIST (1973)
If Psycho was the most important movie on this list for the evolution of horror, then The Exorcist must be a close second. For people of my age it was a rite of passage, the first time you saw it on video was indelibly inked into your memory. Again, like Psycho, a lot of it's power comes from the fact that the ‘monster’ was just so normal. A sweet girl, she could be your daughter or mine, but when in the grip of demonic possession she was one of the most terrifying things ever seen on screen. The blood-curdling, guttural voice with which Linda Blair as Regan speaks in when possessed, the 360 degree turn of her head, the spitting of obscenities along with thick green goo were unforgettable and unlike virtually anything seen before. How much of it was based on supposedly true events? That is open to argument as was the case with The Amityville Horror a ‘possession’ style movie in a similar vain to Exorcist.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
As a youngster this was, not unlike The Exorcist, one of those must see movies if only because of its luridly-graphic title. In truth, as we all know, surprisingly little blood is actually shown and certainly no real close ups of the fatal wounds being caused. It makes this list however, as much for its cultural importance as for its actual on-screen horror. Here in the UK it was one of the flag-bearers (along with I Spit on your Grave, Driller Killer etc) of the so called ‘video nasties’ which were deemed by some to be a threat to the very moral fabric of society and likely to turn all of us impressionable young children into sadistic killers like some real-life Children of the Corn! As a movie it was actually much better than those two aforementioned video nasties and paved the way for scary mask-wearing killers in long running franchises Friday 13th and Halloween.
THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984)
Essentially a B movie in the style of the old 50s monster movies and made with tongue firmly in cheek, Toxic Avenger caught on after an inauspicious start and eventually achieved cult status. It is widely seen as the film that built the House of Troma Production. Indeed, the anti-hero Toxie is the mascot of Troma. Delightfully trashy, camp and low-budget, Troma films include such titles as Mr Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical, Redneck Zombies and Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1,2 and 3) and frequently recycle props actors and even scenes! Horror snobs may look down their noses at Troma, but there is a place for such films (and I do NOT mean the waste bin!) After all, it is true what they say that ‘time you enjoyed wasting is not time wasted.’
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
This was not the first in the ‘found footage’ sub-genre of horror, that was another old favorite of mine, Cannibal Holocaust. But Blair Witch Project was certainly a significant milestone and a rash of such films followed in subsequent years, eg Cloverfield, REC, Apollo 18 etc. Blair Witch Project begins with the claim that it was the footage found by police a year after the disappearance of three film-making students who had been making a documentary. So shaky and amateurish was the handheld footage, and so new the concept that arguments raged over the extent of the truth behind the claim. Like so much that is good about horror in its simplest form, such as an MR James ghost story, what makes Blair Witch so successful is what we don’t see. It encourages us to use our oft-neglected imagination.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2009)
Let me start by saying that I enjoyed Human Centipede. Of course it was different, that is how it made this list, yes the subject matter is repellent (to all but the most ardent fan of coprophilia!) but is it any less repellent than the torture porn from the Hostel or Saw franchises? Again, I loved these two so please withhold any indignation. That said the basic premise of writer/director (Tom Six) must have been akin to that of Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Kenny in the ‘Scrotie McBoogerballs’ episode of South Park where they decide to write the grossest book ever! Human Centipede played its role in the evolution of horror movies simply by saying, ‘ok guys, come and out-do me’. Zombies, cannibalism, sadistic, cross-dressing serial killers? Ha! Old hat; try sequential ingestion of human feces at the hands of a mad scientist! Maybe I’m doing it a disservice and it is really an allegorical tale concerning the amount of shit we take in (are force-fed) from TV/governments/media and how those at the bottom (pun intended) suffer most.
Do you agree with my list? The aim is not to have you the readers unthinkingly agree (highly unlikely), nor to bombard me with profanities if you violently disagree (far more likely). No the aim or purpose, nay the obsession of a compulsive list maker is to stimulate conversation, comparison and contrast. Should I have included, for example, Jaws? What about something from Hammer studios? Being English and a lifelong fan of all things Hammer (who in the horror community isn’t a fan of Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee?) I was tempted to at more than one point but I intend to cover the work of that marvelous studio in another article. Tell me why, and how, you feel one movie has furthered the development of the horror genre more than another. If there’s one thing we enjoy almost as much as watching horror movies, it’s talking about them. We at Horror Central are looking forward to receiving your lists, suggestions and thoughts.
FOR THE NOSTALGIC HORROR NERDS...
HERE IS THE COMPLETE LISTING OF MOVIES PRESENT IN THE FILM STOCK TIMELINE IN ORDER OF RELEASE DATE.
Der Golem (1915)
The Beetle (1919)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
The Haunted Castle (1921)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
London After Midnight (1927)
The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
The Invisible Man (1933)
Revolt of the Zombies (1936)
The Wolf Man (1941)
The Creeper (1948)
The Thing From Another World (1951)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The Blob (1958)
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Village of the Damned (1960)
Dementia 13 (1963)
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
Night of the Big Heat (1967)
The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
The Wizard of Gore (1970)
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
The Devil's Nightmare (1971)
The Last House on theLeft (1972)
The Wicker Man (1973)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Black Christmas (1974)
Horror High (1974)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The Devil's Rejects (2005)
30 Days of Night (2007)
The Collector (2009)
Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)
Dylan Dog Dead of Night (2011)
Bad Milo (2013)
Jamie Tucknutt, 46 years old from Co Durham, England. Ever since I watched my first black and white vampire film at the age of five, then spent a sleepless night cowering beneath the covers as frequent droughts from my open bedroom window caused my (creaky) bedroom door to move ever so slightly, I have been a devotee of all that is deliciously dark. Zombies and slashers, ghosts and ghouls, or even just that fleeting shadow you caught in the corner of your eye, have the power to hold us all entranced. I look forward to sharing with you my passion for horror.