Horror films through the ages

If you’re a fan of horror movies, rejoice. This is your time to live, because we have over a hundred years’ worth of film to consume. Horror can be enjoyed throughout the whole year, but it hits differently during October, aka spooky season.

Horror is a complicated genre with several subgenres to explore and a rich cinematic history that begins with what is considered the first horror film, the 1896 “Le Manoir du Diable” (“The House of the Devil”). Since its inception, the genre has spawned countless films with something new to fear in every era.

The Silent Era (1920-1931)

The early horror films in the silent error emerged from German expressionism — an extreme anti-realism art movement that began after World War I. The films were silent and had no color. They were over the top in their distortion of reality, which helped them bring out the frightening imagery.

The two most famous films of this style are “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) and “Nosferatu” (1922).

The “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is about Dr. Caligari, a man who uses a somnambulist to commit murders for him.

“Nosferatu” was an unauthorized and unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula.” There are several differences in the film from the book, including the name of the vampire being changed to Count Orlok. The film is renowned today for its eerie, gothic feel. It is also the first film to show a vampire dying from light exposure.

A remake of the film is in the works from indie horror darling writer and director Robert Eggars.

The Golden Age (1931-1954)

The Golden Age in Hollywood was for all films, including horror. This was the time when the studios made so many films — low and high budget alike — that it helped raise the standards of what films could do and lowered it. This era coincided with the invention of sound and color in films.

Many of the horror films of this era came from the first cinematic universe with Universal Classic Monsters. The company adapted goth literature into mainstream hits including “The Mummy” (1932), “The Invisible Man” (1933) and “The Wolf Man” (1941).

Paramount offered its hand in the genre with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931) and Warner Brothers offered “Mystery of the Wax Museum” (1933).

There were so many horror films and experiments in this era that it’s hard to find one film to talk about. However, the unfortunate reality of studios churning out hordes of films is that the films end up devolving into self-parody. “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948) — need I say any more?

The Atomic Age (1954-1968)

Horror is not just fantasy; sometimes it reflects reality. The Cold War brought new fears to the American conscience with the fear of atomic war. This helped both science fiction and horror, combining the two for some real thrills.

The film that started this style of film is “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954). Its images alone can strike fear in the hearts of horror fans like me.

This was the style of horror where large monsters were created in the aftermath of nuclear war. “Them!” (1954) dealt with ants, “Tarantula!” (1955) with spiders and “Attack of the Monster Crabs” (1957) with crabs.

If there was a fear in the men who wrote these films consciousnesses, they just made it large. Cue jokes over “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” (1958).

Just like the golden era, the films range from classics like “Godzilla” (1954) and “The Fly” (1958) to films that resembled parody like “Robot Monster” (1953).

“Psycho” (1960) is the classic film from this era that was not about human destruction or monsters. It focused on a serial killer, which helped ground the horror genre in the future.

A Horror Renaissance (1968-1991)

This era coincided with the end of the self-imposed industry Hays Code, a code that prohibited profanity, suggestive nudity, graphic or realistic violence and more. With the code being lifted, artists could finally show more on screen.

It all began with the “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), a film that revolutionized the zombie horror subgenre and showed future horror films a roadmap in providing both social commentary and fear.

There were surreal, experimental films like “Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and “Eraserhead” (1977); slasher films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) and “Halloween” (1978); body horror films like “The Fly” (1986); and a film series about the anti-Christ with “The Omen” (1971).

If there’s a frightening idea some place in your head, this era featured it.

This era ended with “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), a film that plays both as a police procedural and a serial killer horror that shows the human potential to commit horrifying violence.

Modern Horror (2001-present)

Modern horror combines all eras together, sometimes with remakes of the classics.

There are the modern slasher films like “Saw” (2003) and “Hostel” (2005), the development of the found footage style with the “Paranormal Activity” franchise and the popularity of blockbuster horror film series with the ever-expanding “Conjuring” universe.

“28 Days Later” (2002), a zombie film, explores the illusions of safety in safety. “The Purge” does the same thing but without zombies and in a parallel United States that allows one day a year with legal crime.

“The Witch,” “Heredity” and “Ex Machina” are films that attempt to provide horror while sharing big intellectual ideas.

And there is so much more today that it’s tough to share it all. Fortunately, these films and more are available on many streaming platforms, so you can buckle in for a horror marathon over Halloween weekend.

Photo from slashfilm.com.