As Halloween approaches, there’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than to watch a horror movie. But, with so many to choose from, the decision can take hours. So, we’ve saved you the hassle and produced a decade-by-decade guide to the genre, offering the best the genre has to offer, from its humble beginnings to the present. We will discuss our favourites in the history of horror, along with a few other recommendations, to get you started down the dark, twisted path. In part 1, we will look into the first half of the last century of horror, from its surrealist infancy to the birth of the slasher film. So, turn off your lights for creepy effect (and also to convince annoying trick-or-treaters that no one’s in), and turn on one of the following flicks, which we promise will give you a fright to remember.
1920s – Nosferatu (1922)
The 1920s were a pivotal time in the horror genre of cinema. It was at this time that the genre began to find its feet, and following suit were the establishment of traditions still lingering in present day. Surreal explorations into the human psyche, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, represented some of horror’s highest points both then and since, while Phantom of the Opera began the tradition of re-telling classic, creepy tales on the silver screen. The scariest and, arguably, greatest horror film of the twenties was Nosferatu, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The studio could not access the rights to the original title, hence the name change, but they did succeed in crafting several principles in cinema – the creepy, monstrous villain; the use of distorted shadows for eerie, atmospheric effect; the jump-scare – the list goes on.
1930s – Dracula (1931)
As Hollywood grew during the thirties, so too did the American horror industry. This decade brought us the classic beasts of the genre, including The Mummy and Boris Karloff’s square-headed monster in Frankenstein. But without a doubt, the most enduring creature to hit the silver screen was Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, the first film adaptation to portray Bram Stoker’s vampire as a slick-haired aristocrat with a heavy Slavic accent and billowing black cape.
1940s – The Wolf Man (1941)
By the forties, the horror genre was so saturated with Dracula, Frankenstein and friends, that these classic monsters often crossed over into each other’s universes, changing from genuine objects of fear to household icons. This over-saturation called for new monsters and stories, and so was born The Wolf Man, one of the decade’s finest horror flicks. The Wolf Man himself became a household name by the end of the decade, but the forties also offered more psychologically-explorative films, such as Cat People and Spiral Staircase, which delved into the dark corners of the human mind, and blurred the lines between the supernatural and human-generated terror.
1950s – The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Following the era of vampires and werewolves, there came the rise of science fiction and growing public fears over the Cold War that quickly dominated fifties horror cinema. Godzilla saw Tokyo attacked by a fifty-foot lizard, The Fly treated audiences to the sight of a scientist turning into an insect, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon gave us the enduring image of a bipedal fish carrying Julie Adams off to its watery lair. Of course, the 1950s weren’t just about sci-fi critters. The growth of the British Hammer production company gave us some of the best gothic horror films to date, most notably Christopher Lee’s unforgettable turn as Dracula in 1958.
1960s – Psycho (1960)
In the sixties, the genre moved beyond the dominant realm of campy monster movies and into the new ground of psychological horror which touched on more sophisticated themes. Rosemary’s Baby featured a highly controversial and disturbing story of satanic pregnancy, while Night of The Living Dead kicked off the zombie film genre as we know it today. But the greatest horror of the decade was Hitchcock’s Psycho, which not only told a disturbing tale of Oedipean psychosis but also kick-started the slasher genre. The timelessly iconic shower scene has been one of the most referenced and parodied of all time, and continues to be so. On top of being genuinely scary, it is also one of the most well-crafted horror films of all time.
Sam Young and Max Randall