horror

These 8 Horror Movie Performances Will Leave You Unsettled

For some people, the fall season means sweater-wearing weather, pumpkin carving, hayrides, and snuggling under the covers in the morning. For other people, autumn  means haunted houses, creating spooky Halloween costumes, and binge watching horror movie classics. 

We can all agree that an on-screen performance can either make or break a movie—and horror movies are no different. Here are some actors and actresses with performances that left us shaking to the bones.

Don’t worry either, these performances are so good that you can watch these movies year round so you don’t have to wait for Halloween.

Toni Collette in Hereditary

In 2018, Ari Aster made his feature directorial debut with the bone-chilling, toe-curling nightmare, Hereditary. The film itself will rattle audience members to their core, but actress Toni Collette tackles the role of Annie, an artist turned wife turned mother, without missing a beat and takes her fictional character’s inner life beyond the lines of storytelling. Collette’s Annie is not just a victim in the film–she’s the soul of it, too, and possibly even its devil–she is pure terror.

There is one scene in the movie when Annie tells her son, “I never wanted to be your mother.” At that moment, past the heartbreaking cruelty and honesty, Annie slaps her hand to her mouth just a second too late in the realization that what she said can never be taken back. The words she uttered aren’t just sadistic; it’s sadistic because there is a semblance of truth that is spoken. Collete successfully portrayed the amalgam of backbreaking roles in Hereditary while struggling to deal with traumas left behind by her recently deceased mother. The way that Collette portrays panic and grief in such a visceral way won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Lupita Nyong’o in Us

12 Years a Slave and Black Panther star Lupita Nyong’o gives a chilling performance in Jordan Peele’s Us, his followup to Oscar winner Get Out. Nyong’o portrays both Adelaide Wilson, a mother with an unclear past, and Red, Adelaide’s evil doppelgänger. Early in the film, the audience is introduced to Red and her family who are clad in red jumpsuits and eerily resembles each member of Adelaid’s family. The doppelgängers are there to exact vengeance on the Wilson family but Peele doesn’t let the audience know why until near the end.

The most chilling part of Nyong’o’s performance as Red was her voice. To make her doppelgänger stand out, she drew from real-life psychosomatics. In an article published by Variety, Nyong’o said, “I was inspired by the condition spasmodic dysphonia, which is a condition that comes about from a trauma—sometimes emotional, sometimes physical—and it creates this spasming in your vocal cords that leads to an irregular flow of air.”

Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs

Anthony Hopkins was only on screen for 16 minutes as convicted serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 classic, Silence of the Lambs, but his performance was so memorable and superb in that brief amount of time that Hopkins ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Actor. However, there was a lot of suspense and anticipation that was built up around Lecter even when Hopkins wasn’t on screen. 

During the film, the audience is fed bits of information that helps heightens Hopkins’ on-screen performance and makes Lecter more grounded as a character. To the audience, Lecter is a villain yet not the villain–a mentor, maybe even a friend to the protagonist FBI agent played by Jodie Foster, but an opponent to her as well. The ability to portray a complex and technical character demonstrates why Hopkins was worthy of an Oscar for this role. It’s worth noting that Foster received an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the film as well.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Many little girls growing take dance lessons or even dream of being a famous ballerina. In Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky, Natalie Portman portrays Nina, a young ballet dancer with a driving ambition so disturbing it makes the audience uncomfortable. Nina is a perfectionist willing to push herself over the edge for the sake of her art. 

In order to bring the prima donna to life, Portman spent hours a day training with the world’s best dancers, coaches, and teachers. Portman’s performance as the dancer who falls into madness is so convincing that it’s hard to remember that it’s just fiction. While Portman may not be able to completely relate to the dancer’s obsessive ambition, there is one thing Portman shares with Nina–Portman told Vanity Fair in 2011 there is a connection between the actress and her character: “The quest for perfection and the need of an artist to sort of please yourself and find your own way, not to be just trying to please other people.” 

Sissy Spacek in Carrie

A lot of people don’t recall their high school days quite as fondly as others may. Brian de Palma’s Carrie, released in 1976, plays on that teenage angst to an extreme degree in this Stephen King adaptation about a young abused girl who possesses very strange and terrifying powers. Actress Sissy Spacek portrays Carrie and Piper Laurie portrays Carrie’s religious fanatic mother. 

At 27 years old, Spacek received an Oscar nomination for role as Carrie. The audience can feel Carrie’s desperation and insecurity in every scene throughout the movie. Spacek was able to show the audience what everyone feels at some point in their life–feeling like an outsider and not being able to fit in. As a teenager, it can be very traumatizing to not fit in. Spacek was able to successfully deliver a frightening performance of a variety of emotions, including a great deal of frustration and fear. By the time of her–and the film’s–violent climax, the audience can see exactly how and why Carrie has been pushed to such a point.

Anthony Perkins in Psycho

A good horror or thriller doesn’t need to depend on violence, gore, or the supernatural to make it successful–or scary. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, featuring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, is a testament to that fact. In an interview with The Record in November 1990, Perkins, who portrayed the titular killer Norman Bates, said, “There’s no place to hide in Psycho.”

Perkins made his fame by playing the deranged motel owner, and went on to play Bates in several sequels. As a product of being a tormented child in Hollywood, Perkins was able to take his experience and pour it into his acting career–especially in roles where he needed to portray the darker side of nature. He played the role of the tense and repressed man well because he drew from personal experiences. Despite being soft-spoken and eerily calm for most of the movie, Perkins made Norman Bates one of the most famous and frightening horror movie monsters of all time.

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween

More than forty years ago, executive producer Irwin Yablans asked director John Carpenter to make a low-budget movie about babysitters getting murdered. Carpenter told The New York Times in 2018, “It was a horrible idea. But I wanted to make more movies, so I said, ‘Great!’” One of the greatest slasher villains of all time, Michael Myers, was born. 

Halloween helped launch a career for actress Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh, the aforementioned star of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Curtis’s teen protagonist Laurie Strode was meant to be an innocent, repressed teenage girl who is quick on her feet. Her inner strength comes out as she’s forced to go toe-to-toe with an unstoppable killing machine, and Curtis made the role her own by the end of the first film. Since then, Halloween has spawned several sequels, remakes, and reboots, and Curtis has gone on to reprise the role of Laurie Strode in several subsequent films in the franchise: Halloween II, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween: Resurrection, the 2018 Halloween, and its upcoming sequel, 2020’s Halloween Kills.

Jack Nicholson in The Shining

Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson gives one of the most famous horror movie performances of all time in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, with multiple iconic scenes including Nicholson smashing through a door with an axe and screaming “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!”

Nicholson is not only an actor, he’s written and directed as well, and had the opportunity to write an entire scene for The Shining. He recalls being berated by his wife when he would be at home writing, telling The New York Times, “That’s what I was like when I got my divorce. I was under the pressure of being a family man with a daughter and one day I accepted a job to act in a movie in the daytime and I was writing a movie at night and I’m back in my little corner and my beloved wife Sandra walked in on what was unbeknownst to her, this maniac—and I told Stanley about it and we wrote it into the scene.”

Pulling from his own personal experiences at home, Nicholson was able to ground his growing supernatural insanity with the foundation of everyday pressures–talk about great acting!

Spooky Screenplays: 5 Frighteningly Good Horror Scripts

Halloween is just around the corner and that means binge eating candy in between visits from trick o’ treaters and binge watching late night horror flicks. Writing a screenplay is no small feat–but writing a horror screenplay requires a unique and specific process where scares and tension are as equally important as plot and character.

Horror movies need to tap into the audience’s collective fears and leverage them to make the screenplay successful. A great storyline and characters are the way to start your screenplay but you need to figure out how you will leave your audience unsettled. If you plan on writing your own horror flick in the near future, here’s a list of great screenplays you can learn a thing or two from:

Halloween

John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is still one of the most successful independent movies of all time, and set the bar for modern horror screenplays. There are several reasons why Halloween is still a staple in today’s movie culture. It is no secret that in most genre screenplays, female characters are underwritten, unsympathetic, and objectified. While Carpenter did write most of screenplay, producer Debra Hill wrote the dialogue between the three female leads played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and P.J. Soles. Thanks to Hill’s dialogue, the female leads felt more believable and authentic–which helps the audience connect with them before they become Michael’s would-be victims.

 

The Shining

This movie’s script, written by Stanley Kubrick and co-writer Diane Johnson, is a shooting script–a version of the screenplay used during the production of a movie or television show, and is different than a spec screenplay. Kubrick is a master director, and seeing how he planned to build tension outside of the dialogue and simple stage directions is a master class in suspense.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist may be more than 40 years old, but it can certainly rattle your bones and leave you with chills. One thing to note is the lack of a movie score; there are of course the iconic piano key notes throughout the movie, but there isn’t a dedicated score outside of that. It may be obvious to the audience at first but as the movie progresses, the minimalist music helps lull the audience into the screenplay, helping them forget they are watching a movie.

 

 

Psycho

After skillfully building tension with a crime plot centering around protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), director Alfred Hitchcock does something uncommon in Hollywood, and especially in 1960: he switches the point-of-view of the film’s lead about 50 minutes into the film by killing Marion off. The audience is left with creepy motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) as he struggles to get away from his domineering, hot-tempered, and murderous mother, or so we think until the script delivers yet another iconic plot twist.

Scream

Kevin Williamson, writer of Scream, opted for a shocking first scene–making the movie’s opening one of the most iconic in horror movie history. The film begins with a young woman, Casey, innocently flirting with a stranger over the phone, before it ends with her frantically running for her life. Because Casey was played by A-list actress Drew Barrymore, who was also put front and center in the film’s marketing, audiences were really thrown for a loop when the phone conversation takes a sudden turn from flirty to menacing. The script never lets up either, giving Wes Craven one of his most meta films of his career, one that deconstructed the entire slasher genre.

Happy Halloween From NYFA!

Watch if you dare for a #NYFAHalloween scare! Wishing you a #HappyHalloween with this compilation of horror films produced by #NYFA students!

Posted by New York Film Academy on Monday, October 31, 2016

 

 

 

New York Film Academy (NYFA) Remembers The Life and Achievements of Cult Filmmaker Larry Cohen

Screenwriter, producer, and director Larry Cohen, a filmmaker with a passionate and loyal fanbase, has passed away at the age of 82 (his birth year has often been reported as 1941, but his family and census records confirmed that this is incorrect, as reported in the New York Times). Cohen, whose career in film spanned several decades, was best known for his unique work in the B-movie genre scene.

Cohen was born and raised in New York City before going to film school. He had a particular passion for noir films, as well as the work of Casablanca director Michael Curtiz. He turned the former into a career in the late 1950s and 1960s, writing for crime television shows like The Defenders and The Fugitive, and later in the 1970s writing for Colombo.

It wasn’t long before Cohen pivoted to more genre fare, creating the NBC Western series Branded in 1965 and the sci-fi ABC series The Invaders in 1967. He began writing films during this period as well, including the sequel to The Magnificent Seven.

His directorial debut was the 1972 crime comedy Bone, starring Yaphet Kotto, which Cohen also wrote and produced. Two years later Cohen made It’s Alive, a horror film about a killer mutant baby, which was eventually a modest hit. The film was scored by frequent Hitchcock-collaborator Bernard Hermann and its pharmaceuticals-adjacent story showcased a career characteristic of Cohen to incorporate social commentary into his B-movie horror. The film spawned two sequels and a 2009 reboot.

His genre films also typically included police and crime elements to them, including 1976’s God Told Me To. In the 1980s, Cohen built a reputation for producing, directing, and writing low-budget horror films with a cult following. 1982’s Q: The Winged Serpent featured a giant monster flying around midtown Manhattan while also focusing on two detectives following a multiple homicide case.

Cohen’s best-known film, The Stuff, came out shortly after, in 1985. The film includes a killer alien substance that the general public became addicted to, and included social commentary on consumerism, advertising, and the tobacco industry. Despite its over-the-top premise, the film is still regarded as one of the best low-budget horror films of the 20th century.

Cohen continued to write and direct for the next few decades, including the Maniac Cop films; Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell and Forest Whitaker; and Cellular, starring Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, and Jason Statham. In 2006, he was invited to participate in the TV anthology series Masters of Horror along with other notable filmmakers like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Joe Dante, Dario Argento, James Gunn, Robert Rodriguez, and Guillermo del Toro.

In 2017, Cohen participated in a documentary that profiled his career, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen, which featured actors and filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, and John Landis. The film recently screened at New York Film Academy-Los Angeles along with a Q&A panel with the filmmakers. Cohen was scheduled to appear but was ultimately unable to attend; he lamentably passed away two days later.

After news of Cohen’s death became public, there was an outpouring of praise for him on social media by both his peers and by filmmakers who cite him as an influence in their own work, including Guillermo del Toro, Edgar Wright, and Joe Dante.

The New York Film Academy is deeply saddened by the loss of an auteur filmmaker who carried both a respect and a passion for his craft. Rest in peace, Larry Cohen.

 

The Architecture of Fear: Level Design Lessons from Haunted Houses

 

Los Angeles celebrates Halloween better than any other city on Earth. Maybe it’s because so many Hollywood special effects artists live here, or because there are so many theme park enthusiasts who create their own home-made attractions. Or perhaps it’s because LA is home to many famous Halloween-o-philes including Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, and Guillermo Del Toro. Whatever the reason, there is something special about Los Angeles at Halloween time.

Every year at Halloween, instructors from the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Game Design school give the same advice: If students really want to learn some great lessons about level design, they should visit a haunted house. Not a real haunted house, but one of the dozens of fabricated haunted houses that can be found around the greater Los Angeles area during the Halloween season.

It doesn’t matter if it is an elaborate one like Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, one of the many walk-through mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm, or a neighborhood haunt, there is a lot to learn from these haunted houses.

Here are seven scary hints from Halloween Haunts to make the most out of your spooky video game levels:

  1. The three S’s.

While an amateur horror level designer might only concentrate on creating scares for their haunted level, there are actually three ways to engage a player: Story, Scares, and Spectacle. Use story to capture the player’s curiosity. A strong story will make the player want to see “what happens next” and continue their way through a level. Spectacle are those epic moments that will dazzle and impress the player, making the player say “That was amazing! I wonder what’s next?”

Scale often plays a big part in epic-ness. The bigger, the better! Scares actually slow down the player as they creep their way through a level, especially if they think a scare is coming. However, if you can engage your player with story or distract them with spectacle, they won’t see the scares coming!

  1.   Foreshadowing.

While many horror movies and games rely on jump scares and shocks, the best scares come when the player is actually expecting them. The horror game demo P.T. on the Playstation 4 might be the scariest game ever made, but it isn’t frightening just because the game looks and sounds scary.

It’s scary because the player knows they have to pass by that stupid bathroom door yet again and something horrible is going to happen when they do. The anticipation is what makes the game terrifying.

  1.   Sound is your ally.

Nothing unsettles a player like sound. Blowing wind, the creak of an old house, the scrape of a foot along the floor. Use sound effects to not only to set the mood and augment scares, but also to foreshadow them. Think of how sound is used in the Friday the 13th video game to announce the presence of the murderous Jason. Once the player associates a music cue or sound effect with an upcoming scare, watch them start to panic!

  1.   Use sense.

Players can’t use their sense of smell or touch when playing a video game. Horrific environments like filthy or blood-splattered rooms lose its impact if the player can’t smell or feel it. Limit these types of locations to maximize their impact, or at least have the player character react to them to help cue the player that this is a gross place to be.

  1.  Limit the field of view.

Players get nervous when they can’t see what’s ahead of them. Use darkness and dense fog to obscure players’ field of view. Or if you are inside, corners are a great way to hide what’s coming next. There might be something horrible lurking right around the corner…

  1.   Spread out your scares.

Fight the temptation to fill your level with wall-to-wall scares. The anticipation of a scare is much more frightening to a player. However, avoid predictability with your spacing.

For example, you might want to have a player move through two empty rooms before encountering a scare. Then switch it up to frighten them after three rooms, and then change it and frighten them in the next room. Your player will be expecting to get scared, but they will still be surprised when it happens.

Rhythm is the key to good scares. At the end of the level, you should ramp up your horror to a frightening conclusion; either let the player escape or lure them to their doom!

  1.   Scares come from diagonals.

Haunted house experts have revealed that a guest is more frightened when a scare comes from an angle rather than straight on. The reason? Evolution has honed a human’s peripheral vision to watch for danger that comes from behind and the sides of a person. When a danger “appears” from out of nowhere, the result is much more startling!

The best way to learn more from a Halloween Haunt is to experience one for yourself! If you can overcome your fear long enough to take note on how these fear-masters use psychology to maximize their scares, you too will be making scary levels like a pro!

H40: The Five Timelines of Michael Myers and “Halloween”

Cue the haunting piano music: Michael Myers is back in theaters this October with a brand new Halloween sequel. In true 21st century filmmaking fashion, this sequel is also somewhat of a soft reboot – a sequel that is technically in the same timeline, but retains many of the classic beats (and the title) of the original.

But which timeline? The Halloween franchise first began in 1978 as an independent horror film written and directed by John Carpenter (and produced and co-created by Debra Hill) and was an instant classic. The silent, hulking serial killer Michael Myers became a Hollywood icon as he murdered babysitters and their boyfriends in a painted William Shatner mask. Halloween quickly spawned a series of sequels, spin-offs, and remakes — all of which interweave with distinct continuities.

Here then, are five different timelines of the Halloween franchise in its first 40 years — who knows how many more retcons will come about in the next four decades!

Timeline #1
Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

This could be considered the original timeline, as it incorporates the first six films of the franchise (with one exception, which we’ll get to.) The first two films are very closely linked, filmed close together, with the same leads, taking place all in the same night (October 31, natch.)

After a brief departure from Halloween III, the real star of the franchise — Michael Myers — came back due to popular demand. He wasn’t joined by lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis, however, who had gone onto movie stardom in the 80s with smash hits like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda. Fortunately for the producers, veteran actor Donald Pleasance, a big get for the first two films, stayed and helmed the series as Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis for the next three films.

Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, Laurie Strode, was killed off-screen in a car accident and the fourth film shifted focus to Laurie’s niece, Jamie Lloyd. Halloween 4 was released ten years after the original, in 1988, and quickly followed up with Halloween 5 in 1989.

The timeline finally came to an end in 1995, with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The movie expanded the franchise’s mythology and dove deep into the supernatural, dark mystical side of Michael Myers. One of its stars was a very young Paul Rudd playing Tommy Doyle, a character from the first two films. The movie ends with the death of series constant Dr. Loomis, and was dedicated to the memory of Donald Pleasance, who died just a few months before its release.

Timeline #2
Halloween III: Season of the Witch

The reason the franchise is called Halloween and not Michael Myers is because John Carpenter envisioned the series as an anthology of distinct horror stories, each set in their own universe with nothing to do with each other — much like Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, and the Cloverfield films.

However, the huge success of the first film led to a direct sequel, Halloween II, which came out in 1981. This film started the notion that Michael Myers was superhuman, which was continued and explored in the rest of Timeline #1 (see above.)

But by the third film, Carpenter finally wished to move away from Michael Myers and the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, came out in 1982, and had none of the cast or characters from the first two films. It was also a completely different story — about evil Celtic magic from Stonehenge and androids that wish to kill the trick-or-treating children of a Northern California suburb.

Halloween III most certainly doesn’t take place in the same universe as Michael Myers. In fact, one of the characters in the movie is watching a commercial for the original Halloween, meaning the Jamie Lee Curtis films are just as fictional in the world of Season of the Witch as it is in ours.

Timeline #3
Halloween, Halloween II, H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween: Resurrection

It was only three years in between Halloween 6 and H20, but filmmaking was already evolving and Wes Craven’s Scream had upped the horror genre for moviegoers everywhere. In 1998, to celebrate two decades since the dawn of Michael Myers, the franchise released another sequel, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the role of Laurie Strode for the first time since 1981.

With the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, the series had to retcon her character’s death, and so this film takes place after Halloween and Halloween II — but NOT Halloweens 4, 5, and 6. While this brings Laurie Strode (and presumably, Dr. Loomis) back to life, this change in the continuity did not bode well for Nurse Chambers, a character played by Nancy Stephens in the first two films. She appears again as the character in the opening scene of H20, where she is quickly dispatched by a middle-aged Michael Myers.

By the end of the film, Myers has attacked Laurie Strode and her family, but is decapitated by her to make sure he never comes back. He does come back, however, in the film’s sequel, Halloween: Resurrection.

Halloween: Resurrection, released in 2002, is very much of its time, with a story revolving around webcams and the Internet, and the then-brand-new medium of Reality TV. It also stars Tyra Banks and Busta Rhymes, who might play the only character in any of the timelines to karate kick Michael Myers through a window.

The film opens with a cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis, once again portraying Laurie Strode, who dies for a second time in the franchise — this time on screen as she falls from the roof of a psychiatric hospital.

Timeline #4
Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009)

Sound familiar? These two films take the exact same titles as the original two, but they are 100% remakes in the truest sense of the word, and which was very much in fashion at the time. Fresh off his critical gorefests House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie decided to tackle the Michael Myers franchise next, remaking Halloween in 2007.

Dr. Loomis is back, this time played by yet another British veteran actor, Malcolm McDowell. Zombie’s Halloween has much more focus on Michael Myers before his breakout and All Hallow’s Eve killing spree. It’s also more of a tension-builder and slower horror film, very much in style then and even still now.

The film received mixed reviews but made a decent amount of money at the box office, enough to warrant a direct sequel and the tenth film overall in the franchise. This new Halloween II harkens closer to the convoluted plotlines of Halloweens 4-6 than it does the original sequel though, dealing with hallucinations and flashbacks and revealing, like Timeline #1 eventually does, that Laurie Strode is actually the sister of Michael Myers. It ends with the death of Dr. Loomis (that makes two for him) and with Laurie now committed to a psychiatric hospital (that’s twice for her.)

Timeline #5
Halloween, Halloween (2018), ???

After considering a sequel to Zombie’s films or yet another reboot, the rights holders and producers of the franchise decided to do a sequel to the original Halloween. This film, once titled Halloween Returns, would have followed the first two, just as 4-6 did in Timeline #1. Soon indie director David Gordon Green and frequent collaborator Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride) came on board to work on the film.

In the writing process, Halloween II was taken out of the continuity, so that this sequel, which takes place forty years after the original (and twenty since the release of H20) is a direct sequel to only the original Halloween, and ignores the events of every other Halloween film that follows it.

The film will harken back to the original in plot and tone as well, as Myers will slowly make his way around town on Halloween night, picking off babysitters and anyone else who gets in his way.

It also brings back, once again, Jamie Lee Curtis as character Laurie Strode, who, as far as we know, isn’t the sister of Michael Myers. Whether Laurie Strode will die for the third time in the series or live for yet another sequel remains to be seen.

It’s doubtful Busta Rhymes will be back to karate kick Michael Myers through a window.

How Horror Movies Have Changed Since Their Beginning

Dracula with blood on his mouth

Terrifying people through stories? It’s been a pastime of we humans since antiquity, with a large swathe of folklore centered around things that go bump in the night (particularly supernatural goings-on, or anything related to—and exploiting—our innate fear of death.)

With such a strong precedent in literature and oral history, it’s no surprise that the horror genre was very quick to get its feet under the table soon after the advent of cinema.

Over the course of a century, film horror as it appears in film has gone through many peaks and troughs, leading us into the somewhat contentious period we find ourselves in today.

Where the genre will go over the next hundred years is anyone’s guess, but sometimes it’s good to look back on the long road we’ve traveled to get to this point.

The First Ever Horror Movie?

The origins of horror as a film genre begin with—as with many things in cinema history—the works of George Mellies.

Just a few years after the first filmmakers emerged in the mid-1890s, Mellies created what is widely believed to be the first ever ‘horror’ movie in 1898, complete with cauldrons, animated skeletons, ghosts, transforming bats and, ultimately, an incarnation of the Devil.

While not intended to be scary—more wondrous, as was Mellies’ MO—it was the first example of a film (only just rediscovered in 1977) to include the supernatural and set a precedent for what was to come.

The Literary Years

Between 1900 and 1920, an influx of supernatural-themed films followed with many filmmakers—most of whom still trying to find their feet with the new genre—turned to literature classics as source material. The first adaptation of Frankenstein was released by Edison Studios in these early days, as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Werewolf (now both lost to the fog of time.)

Things were starting to roll at this point as we move into…

Title card from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Golden Age of Horror

Widely considered to be the finest era of the genre, the two decades between the 1920s and 30s saw many classics being produced, and can be neatly divided down the middle to create a separation between the silent classics and the talkies.

One the silent side of the line, you’ve got monumental titles such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922), the first movies to really make an attempt to unsettle their audience (with the latter title being Rotten Tomatoes’ second best-reviewed movie in the horror genre of all time and cementing just about every surviving vampire cliché in the book.)

Once the silent era had given way to technological process, we had a glut of incredible movies that paved the way for generations to come, particularly in the field of monster movies – think the second iteration of Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932) and the first color adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).

The 30s also marked the first time in the industry that the word “horror” was used to describe the genre—previously, it was really just romance melodrama with a dark element—and it also saw the first horror “stars” being born. Bella Lugosi (of Dracula fame) was arguably the first to specialize solely in the genre.

And as well as unnerving its viewers, the genre was starting to worry the general public at this point with heavy censoring and public outcry becoming common with each release. Freaks (1932) is a good example of a movie that was so shocking at the time it got cut extensively, with the original version now nowhere to be found. Director Tod Browning—who had previously created the aforementioned and wildly successful Dracula—saw his career flounder at the hands of the controversy.

The shock value of Freaks is one of the few that has aged well up until present day, and is still a highly disturbing watch.

The Atomic Years

Somewhat ironically, Freaks was banned for thirty years in the country that really came into its own during this period: Great Britain.

The Hammer horror company, while founded in 1934, only started to turn prolific during the fifties but when it did, it was near global dominance (thanks to a lucrative distribution deal with Warner and a few other U.S. studios). Once again, it was adaptations like FrankensteinDracula, and The Mummy that put the company squarely on the map, followed up with a slew of psychological thrillers and TV shows.

And, of course, you can’t mention British horror without paying respects to Alfred Hitchcock, singlehandedly responsible for establishing the slasher genre, which we’ll see a lot of as we travel further forward in time.

Another hallmark of the 40s-50s era of horror came as a product of the times. With war ravaging Europe and fears of nuclear fallout running rampant, it’s of little surprise that horror began to feature antagonists that were less supernatural in nature—radioactive mutation became a common theme (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Godzilla), as did the fear of invasion with The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide, both big hits in 1953.

The latter marked the earliest rumblings of the “disaster” movie genre, but it would be a couple more decades before that would get into full swing.

Freaks movie poster

The Gimmicky Years

3D glasses? Electric buzzers installed into theatre seats? Paid stooges in the audience screaming and pretending to faint? Everything and anything was tried during the 50s and 60s in an attempt to further scare cinema audiences.

This penchant for interactivity spilled over into other genres during the period, but quickly died down in part due to the massive amounts of expense involved.

For horror in particular, this gave way to the opposite end of the spectrum: incredibly low budget productions.

From the late 60s onwards, so insatiable was the American appetite for gore that slasher films produced for well under $1 million took hold and were churned out by volume. That’s not to say that there weren’t some masterpieces produced during this time, though; George A. Romero emerged triumphant and kickstarted zombie movies in this period, having produced Night of the Living Dead in 1968 with just over $100k.

It went on to gross $30 million, and the living dead rose in its wake.

The Exorcist

All Hell Breaks Loose

Literally.

Occult was the flavor of the day beween the 70s and 80s, particularly when it came to houses and kids being possessed by the Devil.

The reason for this cultural obsession with religious evil during this period could fill an entire article on its own, but bringing it back into the cinema realm we can boil the trend down to two horror milestones: The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976).

Supernatural horror was now very much back in vogue, and harking back to its cinematic origins, literature once again became the source material.

This time, however, it wasn’t a Victorian author whose work had fallen out of copyright, but a gentleman named Stephen King.

Carrie (1976) stormed the gates, and The Shining (1980) finished the siege (with 1982’s supernatural frightfest Poltergeist following soon afterward).

With these hallmarks of horror now firmly established, the foundations were laid for…

Leatherface running in Texas Chain Saw Massacre

The Slasher Years

If there’s one trope that typifies the 80s, it’s the slasher format – a relentless antagonist hunting down and killing a bunch of kids in ever-increasing inventive ways, one by one.

Arguably kicked off by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, the output became prolific over the next decade. For every ten generic slashers, however, there was one flick that would end up becoming a cult classic even if critical success was mixed at the time—HalloweenFriday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street are the most prominent examples, which became so successful that they spawned their own long-running franchises (the first time in the history of the genre that multiple sequels became commonplace.)

Plenty of imitators and rip-offs followed too, particularly in the Holiday-themed department. Some were a lot better than others as the genre descended to its most kitschy.

The Doldrums

Suffering from exhaustion in the wake of a thousand formulaic slasher movies and their sequels, the genre lost steam as it moved into the 90s.

The advent of computer generated special effects brought with it a number of lackluster CGI monster titles that did little to revive the genre such as Anaconda (1997) and Deep Rising (1998).

But it was comedy that ended up saving the day. Peter Jackson’s early foray into filmmaking saw him taking the splatter subgenre to ridiculous extremes with Braindead (1992), and Wes Craven’s slasher parody Scream (1996) was met globally with overwhelming success.

The genre as a whole limped on without much fanfare into the 2000s save for a few box office successes.

The zombie subgenre, however, sprang back into un-life during this decade, arguably spurred on by the unprescedented success of Max Brook’s novel World War Z (later becoming a film in its own right.) The video game adaptaion of Resident Evil (2002) was among the first of the new wave, followed swiftly by 28 Days Later a few months later, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Land of the Dead (2005), I Am Legend (2007) and Zombieland (2009.)

Cabin in the Woods

The Present Day

The state of the horror industry is hotly contested. With the genre seemingly relying on churning out remakes, reboots and endless sequels, many argue that it’s languishing in the doldrums once again with little originality to offer a modern audience.

The resurgence of ‘torture porn’ is also derided as a subgenre, having come back into the fore in the wake of the 2000s Saw and Hostel franchises with no signs of slowing down.

On the other hand, glimmers of hope shine through with examples of extreme originality and artistry. Cabin in the Woods (2012) has been heralded as this decade’s Scream, and the recent releases of The Babadook and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (both 2014) have breathed new life into the genre.

The Future

With perhaps more subgenres than any other branch of fictional filmmaking, it’s difficult to see how anyone can expand or advance on anything that has come before in cinematic horror…

… but no doubt somebody will, and it’s highly likely that the film school students of today will become the Alfred Hitchcocks of tomorrow.

Want to prove your knowledge of Horror Movie history? Take NYFA’s Horror Movie Death Quiz now!

Horror On The Small Screen

Author: Glynis Rigsby Chair, Acting Department, New York Film Academy

The Walking Dead

With the massive success of shows such as American Horror Story, Dexter, and The Walking Dead, television programming and productions have begun to shift to capitalize on the upswing of popularity in serialized horror vehicles. Different from the Vampire/Werewolf craze of the earlier 2000’s, new shows such as Penny Dreadful, Salem and Bates Motel focus on the more horrifying and gruesome aspects of the genre that production by cable networks allow.

This new push towards the ‘grit’ of horror in a more serialized aspect has also brought a change in the acting style of modern horror. Previously, horror was considered a ‘camp’ genre but American Horror Story (an Emmy winning series) has drawn such heavy hitters as Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates to roles new to a genre that can now incorporate season-long arcs that allow the development of previously unseen character complexity in this genre. These new developments in modern horror allow continuous development of characters, living longer than their film counterparts and containing greater psychological complexity than ever before.

Actors traditionally known for their film work, including most recently, Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett, are finding success inside a blend of pulp fiction, horror comics and the winning development teams at HBO, Showtime and others. While these roles provide a challenge to actors in terms of complexity and depth, there is also the added challenge of having to act realistically amidst the blood and guts that lurk around every corner. Actors are faced with having to not only deliver an emotionally truthful scene, but to also believably shriek and scream when they’re stabbed at the end of it. Prosthetics and gallons of fake blood can take a lot of getting used to for an actor, and with the current wave of modern TV horror, it’s something that’s sure to be around for a while.