Horror Essay, Research Paper

In the course of the 20th century, film audiences have come to regard being scared out of their minds as one of the best forms of entertainment. This love affair with horror starts with the fantasy films of France's Georges Melies. His trick-photography shorts, filled with witches, devils, wizards, imps, and mad doctors, were both spooky and funny, and audiences flocked to them internationally in the 1900s. More deliberate attempts at horror soon began appearing in America: Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde reached the screen in 1908; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in 1910. Master filmmaker D.W. Griffith eventually set the tone for the genre with his seven-reel chiller The Avenging Conscience (1914), a dream of madness and guilt drawn from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. The German Expressionist cinema produced two landmarks of horror in the wake of World War I. The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1919), written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer and directed by Robert Wiene, used distorted sets to bring an unrelenting sense of doom to its tale of a sleepwalker controlled by a sinister hypnotist. F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922), a liberal (and unauthorized) adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, depicted the vampire's supernatural powers through imaginative camera tricks. Elements of horror also distinguished such German silents as Paul Wegener's fantasy The Golem (1920), Wiene's thriller Hands Of Orlac (1925), and Fritz Lang's science-fiction classic Metropolis (1926). Director Paul Leni capped his German filmmaking career with the creepy Waxworks (1924), in which wax statues of killers come to life. Leni later came to America, sticking with the atmospheric and the bizarre for his haunted-house thriller The Cat And The Canary (1927) and The Man Who Laughs (1928), an adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel about a mutilated clown. By the end of the '20s, American films had developed a tradition of horror in which Leni could readily find a place. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1920), the sixth filming of Stevenson's tale, was the strongest to date, thanks to actor John Barrymore. Rex Ingram's occult thriller The Magician (1926) combined eroticism and shocks. Lon Chaney created the extraordinary make-up for his celebrated roles: a mad doctor and his ape-man assistant in A Blind Bargain (1922), indelible portrayals of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom Of The Opera (1925), and a razor-fanged vampire in director Tod Browning's London After Midnight (1927). Chaney died in 1930, before he could star for the Universal production company in Browning's sound film Dracula (1931). The part went to Bela Lugosi, who repeated his stage triumph and immortalized himself as Stoker's vampire. That same year, Universal released a second horror classic, Frankenstein, directed by James Whale. The film was also a star-making vehicle for Boris Karloff, who brought pathos as well as terror to his role of a monster sewn together from parts of dead bodies. Despite the legendary status of both films, Browning and Whale went on to achieve even greater heights in horror. In Browning's Freaks (1932), a troupe of sideshow freaks takes revenge on a beautiful trapeze artist who tries to kill her dwarf husband. Too bizarre for audiences of its day, the film is now beloved for its unique blend of terror and compassion. Whale's gifts for both humor and horror reached their peak in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), with Karloff bringing an even greater depth and sensitivity to his performance as the monster. The early 1930s was one of the richest periods for horror, with Freaks one of seven classics released in 1932 alone. Fredric March won an Academy Award for his performance in Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, still the most powerful version of Stevenson, thanks to director Rouben Mamoulian's innovative treatment of camera movement and sound. Bela Lugosi continued to create memorable portraits of pure evil, with his mad scientist in Murders In The Rue Morgue and his voodoo wizard in White Zombie. Boris Karloff and director Karl Freund introduced a new horror icon in The Mummy. Director Michael Curtiz brought speed and wit to The Mystery Of The Wax Museum, with Lionel Atwill as a disfigured artist who turns people into wax statues. Carl Dreyer's Vampyr, a French-German co-production, remains unsurpassed for its atmosphere of pervasive evil and its chilling scenes of possession. Other classics appeared over the 1930s. Working with special-effects genius Willis O'Brien, producer/directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack made the classic King Kong (1933), in which a giant ape runs amok in New York City. In Island Of Lost Souls (1933), Charles Laughton brought to life H.G. Wells' Dr. Moreau, who turns animals into semi-humans through sadistic medical experiments; Laughton also made real the sufferings of Victor Hugo's deformed bellringer Quasimodo in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939). The Black Cat (1934), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, featured Karloff as a devil worshipper who's hunted down by a vengeful Lugosi; in The Raven (1935), Lugosi is a Poe-obsessed madman who mutilates escaped-criminal Karloff. Freund remade Hands Of Orlac as Mad Love (1935), giving Peter Lorre one of his finest roles as the maniacal Dr. Gogol. The Werewolf Of London (1935) brought the first lycanthrope to the screen. The audience for horror, waning in the late '30s, was reinvigorated by Son of Frankenstein (1939), Universal's third outing in the series. Karloff made his final appearance as the monster, but the film was dominated by Lugosi's riveting portrayal of the murderous Ygor. The studio also had a hit with The Wolf Man (1941), with Lon Chaney Jr. as the tragic Lawrence Talbot, who survives a werewolf's attack only to become a beast himself. Universal used its new star and new creature in numerous films throughout the early '40s, often in combination with Dracula and the Frankenstein monster; Chaney also did most of the honors in several Mummy films of the era. During this boom, low-budget studios such as Monogram and PRC made numerous horror quickies starring Bela Lugosi (The Devil Bat, aka Killer Bats, 1941; The Ape Man, 1943), John Carradine (Revenge Of The Zombies, 1943; Bluebeard, 1944), and George Zucco (Dead Men Walk, 1943; Voodoo Man, 1944). At RKO, producer Val Lewton brought a new quality and depth to the genre. His belief in creating shocks while keeping horror offscreen suited the young directors who worked for him: Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, 1942; I Walked With A Zombie, 1943), Robert Wise (The Curse Of The Cat People, 1944; The Body Snatcher, 1945), and Mark Robson (Isle Of The Dead 1945; Bedlam, 1946). Lewton's restrained approach also rubbed off on such contemporary works as the haunted-house thriller The Uninvited (1944), and persisted in later horror films from Tourneur (Curse Of The Demon, 1956) and Wise (The Haunting, 1963). England's stylish anthology Dead Of Night (1944), although more surreal in its chills, shared Lewton's concern with psychological horror and stands as one of the scariest films of the decade. Two masterpieces of the 1950s would echo Lewton in their ability to explore the poetic without sacrificing horror. Director Charles Laughton evoked the beauties and terrors of childhood in The Night Of The Hunter (1955), which features Robert Mitchum as a psychopathic preacher who marries a widow, kills her for her money, and then stalks her kids after they run away with the loot. In Georges Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage (1959, aka The Horror Chamber Of Dr. Faustus), an insane doctor kidnaps young women and attempts to graft their faces onto his disfigured daughter — a Grand Guignol premise, yet Franju and his cast succeed in making real the desperation and hopelessness of the characters. In the early 1950s, the short-lived 3-D craze produced three memorable horror films: The Maze (1953), directed by William Cameron Menzies; House Of Wax (1953), a remake of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum, in which Vincent Price made his horror-film debut; and The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), with an amphibious monster that would return for two sequels. Most of the decade's big-studio thrills, however, came in science fiction; horror movies were usually low-budget films for drive-ins and double-features. Bela Lugosi had his last hurrahs acting in Ed Wood's Bride Of The Monster (1956) and Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959). Vincent Price established himself as horror's new star with producer/director William Castle's House On Haunted Hill (1958) and The Tingler (1959). The prolific Roger Corman produced and directed a slew of genre films, including The Undead (1956) and The Wasp Woman (1959), as well as spoofs such as A Bucket Of Blood (1959) and The Little Shop Of Horrors (1960). As Corman's budgets got bigger in the '60s, he made a series of Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price, including House Of Usher (1960), The Pit And The Pendulum (1961), Tales Of Terror (1962), and The Masque Of The Red Death (1964). American audiences of the late '50s and the 1960s provided a reliable market for England's Hammer Films, which launched a torrent of scare fare with The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror Of Dracula (1958), the genre debuts of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Although such Hammer productions as The Brides Of Dracula (1960) and The Curse Of The Werewolf (1961) had their admirers, the landmark in British horror of '60s was Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), a terrifying look into the mind of a serial killer. Rejected by the public and denounced by the press, the film crippled Powell's career; not until its 1980 revival did Peeping Tom receive the accolades it deserved. The serial-killer shocks in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), inspired by real-life mass murderer Ed Gein, were more brutal than those of Peeping Tom, yet Hitchcock's film proved enormously popular — and prompted a plethora of Gein-based shockers, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991). Although Hitchcock had implied more mayhem than he actually showed, he showed enough to excite a trend of increasingly graphic violence. Hitchcock himself was the immediate beneficiary, employing some grisly shocks in The Birds (1963), a cautionary thriller in which birds turn against human beings. But Hitchcock couldn't have anticipated that an entire subgenre, the spatter film, would emerge in the wake of Psycho's profitability, beginning with two low-budget gore-fests from director Herschell Gordon Lewis, The Blood Feast (1963) and Two Thousand Maniacs (1964). In Italy, Mario Bava made several atmospheric, stylish, and frequently gruesome horror films, most notably La Maschera Del Demonio (1961, aka Black Sunday), with Barbara Steele as a vengeful witch who returns from the dead; I Tre Volti Della Paura (1963, aka Black Sabbath), an anthology of horror tales featuring Boris Karloff; Sei Donne Per L'Assassino (1964, aka Blood And Black Lace), a serial-killer thriller; and Operazione Paura (1966, aka Kill Baby Kill), in which the ghost of a little girl drives her victims to suicide. Psychological horror reached a new plateau in the '60s in director John Frankenheimer's Seconds (1966) — about a man given a new body and identity by a mysterious organization — and in two films by Roman Polanski: Repulsion (1965), in which a woman's sexual terrors drive her to murder, and Rosemary's Baby (1968), a Lewton-esque thriller about a woman victimized by devil worshippers in contemporary New York. Horror lost its most promising talent in 1968, with the death of 24-year-old director Michael Reeves. From his uncredited debut co-directing Castle Of The Living Dead (1963), Reeves displayed an intense, individual style, which matured quickly through The She Beast (1965), with Barbara Steele, and The Sorcerers (1967), with Boris Karloff. He died shortly after completing the amazing Witchfinder General (1968, aka The Conqueror Worm), in which Vincent Price gave perhaps his finest performance as a corrupt witchfinder in 17th-century England. That same year, an independent American film provided the next landmark in horror: George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead (1968), in which the dead leave their graves to feed on the living. This gripping, low-budget shocker inspired an international wave of hungry-zombie movies, including Romero's own gory sequels Dawn Of The Dead (1979) and Day Of The Dead (1985). The early 1970s saw such handsome horror films as Harry Kumel's erotic vampire tale Daughters Of Darkness (1971) and two tongue-in-cheek thrillers starring Vincent Price, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Theatre Of Blood (1973). Mario Bava's slasher tale Antefatto (1971, aka Twitch Of The Death Nerve), directly anticipated such sequel-spawning slice-and-dice-killer tales as Sean Cunningham's Friday The 13th (1980) and Wes Craven's A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984). Bava followed with the popular Gli Orrori Del Castello De Norimberga (1972, aka Baron Blood) and the far superior but seldom-seen Lisa And The Devil (1972), in which he combined poetry and shocks in a dreamlike atmosphere worthy of Laughton or Franju. In 1973, a single film changed the face of the genre as thoroughly as Psycho had in the '60s: The Exorcist, a vastly profitable adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel, directed by William Friedkin. The sight of a young girl undergoing hideously realistic possession torments demonstrated new extremes that horror could probe, and numerous graphic occult thrillers (and their sequels) appeared in its wake, including Beyond The Door (1975), The Omen (1976), and The Amityville Horror (1979). Even Mario Bava took highlights from his Lisa And The Devil, intercut them with new possession-themed footage, and released the result as House Of Exorcism (1975). More original work in the '70s came from independent, low-budget filmmakers. Larry Cohen made imaginative, fast-paced horror films with unusual political and moral overtones, such as It's Alive (1974), God Told Me To (1976, aka Demon) and Q (1982). Canada's David Cronenberg explored madness, deformity, and disease in They Came From Within (1975) and The Brood (1979); in the '80s he'd make two of the decade's wildest and most terrifying films, Videodrome (1982) and The Fly (1986). David Lynch's entropic nightmare Eraserhead (1977) established him as a unique visionary, and he went on to fulfill that reputation in Blue Velvet (1986) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). Other directors who made their reputations in horror during the 1970s include Brian De Palma (Sisters, 1973; Carrie, 1976; The Fury, 1978; Dressed To Kill, 1980; Raising Cain, 1992), John Carpenter (Halloween, 1978; The Fog, 1980; The Thing, 1982; Prince Of Darkness, 1988), and Italy's Dario Argento (Suspiria, 1976; Inferno, 1980; Tenebrae, 1982, aka Unsane; Creepers, 1985). In recent years, leading filmmakers have made stylish forays into the genre. Werner Herzog revisited Murnau with Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979), and Stanley Kubrick adapted Stephen King for The Shining (1980). Bram Stoker was the source for Ken Russell's tale of vampirism and human sacrifice, The Lair Of The White Worm (1989), as well as for Francis Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). But horror also remains a fertile ground for low-budget independents, such as Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, 1982; Brain Damage, 1988; Frankenhooker, 1990), Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, 1983; Darkman, 1990; Army Of Darkness, 1993), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, 1985; From Beyond, 1986; Bride Of Re-Animator, 1990), and Clive Barker (Hellraiser, 1987; Nightbreed, 1990). Today more than ever before, as long as people want to be entertained by a movie, there will be an audience for horror.

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