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Commentary: The evolution of horror movies

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Deja Goode
Arts Editor

There are a lot of different elements that make up the essence of Halloween, such as costumes, family traditions, decorations and the actual history of the holiday. One of the most important parts of Halloween is the horror genre, more specifically scary movies. These films influence costumes and really big events to celebrate the spooky season, but it is important to recognize how these movies have progressed into what they are today. 

Over time, scary movies have evolved from conceptually thrilling to visually thrilling.

The first horror film originated in Paris, France in 1896 with a short film directed by Georges Méliès called “Le Manoir du diable” (“The House of the Devil”). 

The three minute silent film tells the story of the Devil and how it can come in many different forms such as a bat which takes a traditional approach to a spooky character, or a friendly looking man with a cool hat. There is no dialogue, just visuals which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. 

Conceptual pieces were more common in the early 1900s and were heavily influenced by the idea of ghosts and demonic spirits. “The Haunted Curiosity Shop” filmed in 1901 displayed an image of an apparition inside of a local man’s shop. While directors and filmmakers did not have the technological advantages we have today, the visuals were still very impressive for their time. 

These short films were colorless and silent, but still manage to capture the audience’s attention with the main character’s chaotic movements and exaggerated facial expressions. The story was told through movement and pictures and the plot was delivered effortlessly.

Between the 1920s and 1960s, the idea of monstrous creatures based on realistic things was the common trend in horror films. With Frankenstein, Dracula, vampire bats and evil gorillas that hunted people, monsters in suits added an entirely new feel to what was considered scary on film. 

The monster in the “The Gorilla” produced by Allan Dwan released in 1939 was none other than a man dressed in a gorilla costume. Throughout the film, the gorilla’s presence was not scary at all, but the actor’s role of being completely terrified of the creature was what made the film what it was. And during this time period, that is what made a lot of the horror movies iconic, and costumes a little more fun during Halloween.

This continued in the 1980s with Lewis Teague’s “Cujo,” adapted from the Stephen King story of a canine who gets bitten by a rabid bat and begins killing the family and their neighbors. With scenes filled with gruesome bites and heavy blood from the dog’s deadly attacks, the realistic situation was the scariest part about the film. How would one cope with knowing their dog could potentially get sick and go crazy? This lingering thought made me not ever want to get a large dog as a child, but visually it made the skin crawl too. 

Visuals became graphic as wounds and blood were elements added in horror films to make viewers uncomfortable, or in better terms, extremely scared. Serial killers films peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “Halloween” (1978) and “Friday the 13th” (1980) are some of the biggest serial killer based horror films of all time. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are the faces behind the art of gore in horror films. 

These movies are known for their gruesome murder scenes with enough blood, guts and gore to last a lifetime. Both classics have been recreated several times in the past 20 years and are continuing to evolve today based on the appeal in horror films changing every few years. 

Today, all of these elements are incorporated into the modern scary movie, but only a few of them manage to do so without making it overwhelming to the viewer.

“The Haunting in Connecticut” (2009) presented all of the scare tactics that have been seen in past films, making it one of my favorite horror movies to date. Even better, it is based on a true story. 

A boy who is terminally ill with cancer and his family move into a house that used to be a morgue and all of the spirits and baggage left in the house follow him. 

In this movie we get visual scares such as pop ups that will leave you anxious for the entire film, and conceptual scares with the idea that he is possessed by spirits around him because he is closer to death with his illness. 

Since then, there have been movies that have balanced every single of these aspects with the additional technological advantages such special effects and the access to new scary stories that the world has yet to hear. 

There is no telling what is in store for the future of the horror genre, but based on past movies it has potential to surpass the level of greatness it has achieved now.

Deja Goode can be reached at deja.goode@laverne.edu.

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