A Not So Brief Lesson In Horror

As I’ve been a little heavy on the sci-fi of late, I figured I’d give horror another go.

HORROR
• noun 1) an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. 2) a thing causing such a feeling. 3) intense dismay. 4) informal a bad or mischievous person, especially a child.
— ORIGIN Latin, from horrere ‘shudder, (of hair) stand on end.

Though this blog was made originally about the evolution of horror as a genre of film, you can’t go on talking about horror films without addressing their origins in literature.

For as long as mankind has told stories, there have been stories about the Unknown, the Other, things we might call speculative fiction. Every culture has its creation myths inhabited by demons, darkness, spirits, and the like.  Early Abrahamic, Egyptian, and Celtic mythology sounds stories of worlds beyond the physical, worlds of spirits, faeries, angels and the like, to be revered and feared.

Classical mythology is full of monsters –  Harpys, Centaurs, Cerberus, the Minotaur, Medusa, the Hydra, the Sirens, the Furies, Arachne, Scylla and Charybdis to name a few- and heroes had to navigate safely through the land of the dead on frequent occasions. Ancestor worship and the veneration of the dead began with the Zhou dynasty in China, 1500 years BC. The modern horror genre as we know it is only about 200 years old, but it has distinguished antecedents. Every culture has a set of stories dealing with the unknown and unexplained, tales that chill, provoke and keep the listener wondering “what if..?” Horror films are the modern-day version of the epic poems and ballads of old, told round the fires of our ancestors.

In the Gothic Tradition:  “The term ‘horror’ first comes into play with Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto, full of supernatural shocks and mysterious melodrama. Although rather a stilted tale, it started a craze, spawning many imitators in what we today call the gothic mode of writing. Better writers than Walpole, such as Ann Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho) and Matthew Lewis (The Monk) took the form to new heights of thrills and suspense. For half a century, gothic novels reigned supreme. As the Age of Enlightenment gave way to the new thinking of the early nineteeth century, Romantic poets of the stature of Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel) and Goethe (The Erlking) reflected the strong emotions of the movement through a glass darkly, recognising that fear and awe aren’t so very different sensations. The first great horror classic (Frankenstein 1818) was written by a Romantic at the heart of the movement – Mary Shelley.”

Nosferatu (1922)

F.W. Murnau’s German silent classic is the original and some say most frightening DRACULA adaptation, taking Bram Stoker’s novel and turning it into a haunting, shadowy dream full of dread.

Dracula (1931)

This is the first screen version of Bram Stoker’s famous tale based on the smash hit stage production. Count Dracula arrives in London and immediately works to enrapture and transform into vampires young Lucy Weston and her friend Mina Seward.

Frankenstein (1931)

Scientist Henry Frankenstein and his hunchbacked assistant, Fritz, embark on an unholy mission by stealing a body from a graveyard and a human brain from a medical college. Unbeknownst to Frankenstein, however, Fritz takes a violent and murderous abnormal brain.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

A masterly mix of horror and black comedy, is the first in a series of sequels to FRANKENSTEIN. Mary Shelley resumes her gothic tale after the face-off in a burning windmill between Henry Frankenstein and his horrific creation, the Monster.

Village of the Damned (1960)

For 10 hours, something — or someone — causes all the residents of a small British hamlet to black out. Shortly thereafter, several women end up pregnant, and the babies they give birth to have startling physical similarities: they’re white-haired and frozen-faced, with formidable intellects and the ability to communicate telepathically.

Psycho (1960)

Bates presides over an out-of-the-way motel under the domineering specter of his mother. The young, well-intentioned Bates is introduced to the audience when Marion Crane, a blonde on the run with stolen money, checks in for the night.

The Birds (1963)

Wealthy reformed party girl Melanie Daniels enjoys a brief flirtation with lawyer Mitch Brenner in a San Francisco pet shop and decides to follow him to his Bodega Bay home. Bearing a gift of two lovebirds, Melanie quickly strikes up a romance with Mitch while contending with his possessive mother and boarding at his ex-girlfriend’s house.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Seven people secluded in a Pennsylvania farmhouse face relentless attacks by reanimated corpses seeking to eat their flesh. The group, which includes a married couple and their daughter, a pair of young lovers, and an African-American man, try to keep their sanity as the living dead keep trying to enter the house.

The Exorcist (1973)

Regan MacNeil, a 12-year-old who is possessed by the devil. After exhausting all other practical options, Regan’s mother, Chris, acknowledges the supernatural nature of her daughter’s condition and recruits Father Damien Karras to stage an exorcism.

Jaws (1975)

During the height of beach season, the Massachusetts resort town of Amity Island is terrorized one summer by surprise attacks from a great white shark. Three unlikely partners team up to hunt down the rogue and destroy it: the new chief of police from New York, a young university-educated oceanographer, and a crusty old-time fisherman.

Carrie (1976)

Carrie White has her first period while showering after a physical education class. Her mother, Margaret, a religious fanatic, never told her about menstruation, so Carrie thinks she is bleeding to death. Her cries for help are met with abuse by the entire gym class. The gym teacher, Miss Collins is horrified at Carrie’s naivete.

Halloween (1978)

An exercise in simple, pure horror, HALLOWEEN takes us into the world of a mad killer, Michael Myers, who at a very young age stabbed his older sister to death. Locked away for many years in a mental hospital Michael escapes one night and returns to his hometown to continue his killing spree.

Salem’s Lot (1979)

A writer returns to his New England home town only to find its genteel citizens are turning into vampires. This cable version of SALEM’S LOT was released theatrically overseas as BLOOD THIRST and… A writer returns to his New England home town only to find its genteel citizens are turning into vampires.

The Howling (1981)

Popular female reporter in Los Angeles who cannot escape the horror of a traumatic experience that she suffered while trying to capture Eddie Quist, a dangerous serial killer. When her psychologist recommends a retreat to “The Colony,” up the Northern California coast, she reluctantly agrees, hoping to recover from her nightmarish visions.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

David Kessler and Jack Goodman are two American students on a backpacking tour of Europe. Wandering the backroads of gloomy East Proctor, England, they find a pub where the unhelpful locals act suspiciously strange. The unsuspecting boys flee the pub in search of lodging after being warned to avoid the moors.

Poltergeist (1982)

Life in the Freeling family’s tract home is comfortably bland, but frisky poltergeists soon put a little excitement into their daily routine–moving furniture and communicating with their youngest daughter, Carol Anne, through the television set. Unfortunately, harmless pranks quickly turn nasty and the previously friendly ghosts kidnap Carol Anne, trapping her in the spirit world.

The Thing (1982)

A group of weary scientists enduring the winter in an isolated camp deep in Antarctica chance upon an alien spacecraft buried in the ice. Near the strange craft is the body of an alien being, frozen solid. Thinking they have made the find of a lifetime, the scientists bring the alien body back to camp and thaw it out.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A replusive, decaying figure with razor-sharp appendages (and an even sharper sense of humor!) suddenly appears in the dreams of four Los Angeles teenagers. It is the ghost of Freddy Krueger. A replusive, decaying figure with razor-sharp appendages (and an even sharper sense of humor!) suddenly appears in the dreams of four Los Angeles teenagers.

Hellraiser (1987)

The tale of a man and wife who move into an old house and discover a hideous creature–the man’s half-brother, who is also the woman’s former lover–hiding upstairs. Having lost his earthly body to a trio of S&M demons called the Cenobites, he is brought back into existence by a drop of blood on the floor.

Child’s Play (1988)

The Lake Shore Strangler, a mass murderer who has plagued the Chicago area for months, meets his untimely end when he gets shot in a toy warehouse. Left for dead, the killer summons the strength to.

Pet Sematary (1989)

Dr. Louis Creed, having just moved to Maine with his wife and two children, is heartbroken when he finds that his daughter’s beloved cat has been hit by a truck and killed. Thankfully, a strange, elderly neighbor called Jud knows a secret that may spare the young girl’s tears.

Scream (1996)

A hyper-intelligent serial killer preys on the teenage denizens of a small town, using their fascination with horror movie conventions to set up his diabolical doings. An intelligent, well-crafted… A hyper-intelligent serial killer preys on the teenage denizens of a small town, using their fascination with horror movie conventions to set up his diabolical doings.

Saw (2004)

A young man named Adam wakes to find himself chained to a rusty pipe inside a decrepit subterranean chamber. Chained to the opposite side of the room is another bewildered captive, Dr. Lawrence Gordon. Between them is a dead man lying in a pool of blood, holding a .38 in his hand. Neither man knows why he has been abducted, but instructions left on a microcassette order Dr. Gordon to kill Adam within eight hours.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The action begins with nurse Ana waking up to discover her boyfriend has become a tasty midnight snack for a formerly cute neighboring kid. To her horror, she realizes that the whole town is in a similar state of ghoulishness, until she runs into still-alive cop Kenneth; the levelheaded Michael; and Andre, a rebel with a pregnant wife in tow.

Hostel (2006)

Paxton and Josh have embarked upon a hedonistic tour of the continent, and somewhere along the way they picked up an Icelandic lunk named Oli. In Amsterdam the trio partakes of the pastimes most dear to frat boys everywhere: weed, prostitutes, and nightclubs. But when a fellow traveler tells these thrill-seekers about the decadent scene that awaits them in Bratislava…

28 Weeks Later (2007)

Six months after the rage virus was inflicted on the population of Great Britain, the US Army helps to secure a small area of London for the survivors to repopulate and start again. But not everything goes to plan.

The Mist (2007)

This film adaptation of a Stephen King novel is an intense and terrifying ride from beginning to end. The monsters are scary to be sure, but it is the humans that provide the real horror.

Shutter (2008)

A newly married couple discovers disturbing, ghostly images in photographs they develop after a tragic accident. Fearing the manifestations may be connected, they investigate and learn that some mysteries are better left unsolved.

The Wolfman (2010)

In 1891, Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells) is confronted by a ultrahuman wolf-like creature in the Blackmoor woods. He tries to escape, but is mauled and killed by the beast. Gwen Conliffe , Ben’s fiancée, has contacted his brother, Lawrence Talbot, the world-renowned Shakespearean actor, saying that Ben disappeared a month ago. Lawrence leaves his theater tour to return to his family’s estate in Blackmoor where he has an uneasy reunion with his estranged father, Sir John. Later, it is revealed that Lawrence’s mother, Solana (Christina Contes), had committed suicide when he was a boy. Lawrence saw his father standing over her dead body, after which, Sir John sent his young son to an insane asylum in London, ostensibly for suffering delusions…

The Thing (2011)

In 1982, an extraterrestrial spaceship is discovered beneath the Antarctic ice by a Norwegian research team: Edvard (Trond Espen Seim), Jonas (Kristofer Hivju), Olav (Jan Gunnar Røise), Karl (Carsten Bjørnlund), Juliette (Kim Bubbs), Lars (Jørgen Langhelle), Henrik, and Peder (Stig Henrik Hoff). Paleontologist Kate Lloyd is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson and his assistant Adam Finch to investigate the team’s discovery. After viewing the ship, Kate, Sander, and Adam are informed that the group has also discovered a survivor of the crashed ship buried in the ice. The alien is transported to the Norwegian base in a block of ice. Sander orders the retrieval of a tissue sample from the creature against Kate’s warnings…

Enough with the educational side of this though. In the field of modern film, horror has come a long way from the days of F.W. Murnau’s German silent classic Nosferatu. And even though modern day horror films  tell the same age-old stories our ancestors once told (stories warning of mysterious strangers in the night, of monsters and things that dwell in the darkness, stories of things gone heard but unseen), they do it with a more interactive flair. The storyteller and the camp fire have been almost effectively replaced by Hollywood, the big screen, and special effects . It’s safe to say that as long as there are people, there will be stories and people to tell them. And so long as there are storytellers to capture the essence of the unknown with their words, there will be horror stories.

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