The history of horror movies

Looking back at 80 years of horror-thrillers on the big screen

It’s hard to categorise a lot of films these days without getting into a string of fiddly sub-categories. Those that were once described as horror movies, such as Silence of the Lambs and Psycho, would now be termed thrillers. That’s not to say they’re any less scary, but given the size of our film archives these days, the term ‘horror’ has now been taken up by those that are altogether more violent and gory, such as the Saw series.
The Hole (below), out in cinemas this week in 3D (of course!), is billed as a horror-thriller, yet it seems much less spine-tingling than we’d imagined, especially considering the gruesome direction in which these films have been going for the past couple of decades. Does The Hole signify that the genre has come full circle?

In the 1930s, Universal Pictures was big on gothic-meets-sci-fi scarefests, with films such as Dracula and Frankenstein (both from 1931), both steeped in suspense. Yet by the ’50s, new special-effects technology was allowing directors to branch out into alien invasions, mutants and Armageddon-type scenarios, playing on paranoia about the outcome of the Cold War. It was the ’70s that saw the first instances of real gore and violence, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and a focus on the occult. Creepy, evil children were also particularly popular.

Slasher flick Friday the 13th (1980) helped to spawn a line of films with heaps of excruciatingly graphic violence, but minimalist horror thrillers made headway towards the end of the ’90s, with movies like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and a return to the less-is-more, suspense approach of The Ring (2002). So have we really returned to less gory times? Our potted history of pioneering movies from the horror genre will demonstrate.
The Hole is in UAE cinemas now.

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