From the 1930s to today, take a detailed look at the horror genre and all it's subgenres.
|PROLOGUE: A look at the horror genre and all it's subgenres, and it's evolution over the decades, from the Universal Movie Monsters of the 1930s, to the horror villains of the 80s, to the reboots of today.
YESTERDAY AND TODAY
When I was a kid growing up in the 80's, Freddy Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers, Aliens, Pinhead, and Chucky (give or take) were the horror movie monsters that had moviegoers on the edge of their seat. Back then you didn't see rising TV teen stars and teen heartthrobs jampacked in horror movies like you did in the late 90s through the mid 2000s (Scream, which revived the horror genre in 1996 started this), so the acting was usually at amateur level, at best b-movie level as producers stuck to specifically hiring mostly actors within the horror movie community. And back at this time all horror movies were rated R and relied heavily on gore, it's musical score, and natural thrills and scares. In my opinion, the 80s (roughly thirty years ago) was a great time for the horror movie genre. Thirty years ago, folks around the age I am today were probably saying that about the 50s, but we're gonna have some fun and explore all that!
GENERATION TO GENERATION
Back in the early days of motion pictures, Universal studios was known for it's very own exclusive horror film series, "Universal Horror", starting with the 1923 silent version of the "Hunchback of Notre Dame". Several more silent horror movies were introduced in the 20s, such as "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925). Both of these titles were based on popular books and have had several remakes as they are still popular up to this day. While the 1930s brought "The Invisible Man" franchise, as well as introduced the genres forefather characters to film: "Dracula" in 1931, as well as "The Mummy", and "Frankenstein", both in 1932. All three horror icons, as well as the Invisible Man (who originated from popular books http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Horror_novels) had sequels released throughout the rest of the decade and well into the 1940s, and beyond.
Even to this day, The Mummy remains a popular character in horror as "The Mummy" movie series was updated with the first film being released in 1999, in the same vein as a fun Indiana Jones type adventure. The reboot featured Brendan Fraser in the starring role as the hero, Rachel Weisz as the love interest, John Hannah as the love interest's brother/sidekick/comic relief, and Arnold Voosloo in the title-role of the treacherous Imhotep (aka, The Mummy). The same group returned for "The Mummy Returns" in 2001, which introduced a new character, "The Scorpion King", portrayed by Dwayne Johnson (then billed by his wrestling stage name "The Rock" in his film debut). The following year, the franchise produced a spin-off based on the Scorpion King as the character received his own featured-length title that starred The Rock, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Kelly Hu (the regular characters didn't appear). Universal wouldn't release it's next Mummy title until 2008 with "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" with Brendan Fraser, and John Hannah returning to their prospective roles. Rachel Weisz didn't return and was replaced by Maria Bello, and the trio ran afowl an Asian mummy (Jet Li) in Anicent China.
And while Dracula, and Dr. Frankenstein's Monster had stand alone films with no sequels in the 90s ("Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992); "Mary Shelly's Frankenstein" (1994); "Dracula: Dead and Loving It", a spoof with Leslie Neilsen (1995); "Dracula 2000" (2000); "I, Frankenstein" and "Dracula: Untold" (both in 2014), these two characters have remained far more popular than the Mummy character pop culture-wise for years. The Invisible Man's most recent on screen reincarnation moved away from horror (and the original version), and more into the form of the science fiction/dark comedy/action film "Memoir of an Invisible Man" (1992) with Chevy Chase as an invisible man, Daryl Hannah, and Sam Neill as a government rogue. The second recent invisible man-theme movie was the science fiction/horror film "Hollow Man" (2000) with Kevin Bacon as the doctor-turned-Invisible Man gone mad, who makes trouble for his ex/fellow colleague (Elisabeth Shue), her new lover and his perceived rival teammate (Josh Brolin) and the rest of their team. The 40s also introduced "The Wolfman" who finally received an update in 2010 "The Wolfman" with Benicio Del Toro in the title role, and Anthony Hopkins, after decades of toiling in the other horror movie monster's shadows. During the 40s and 50s, the comedy duo of "Abbott and Costello" rose to fame headlining several b-movies of the late 40s and 50s opposite Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and The Mummy.
In October 2013, Universal Studios announced plans to reboot it's "Horror Movie Monsters" franchise, with Dracula: Untold being released in 2014. Universal has scheduled to release a reboot to The Mummy starring Tom Cruise in June 2017; as well as another Wolfman reboot; The Gillman; the Bride of Frankenstein; Van Helsing; and the Invisible Man. Go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Monsters to find out more about Universal's golden age horror movies.
During the 50's decade, horror/science fiction movies took flight as "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" series started in 1954, during the golden era of 3-D horror movies such as the 1952's Bwana Devil, an adventure/drama about the pair of man-eating Tsavo Lions who killed 35 constructions workers in 1898 Kenya circa was the first 3-D film. Other 3-D films, such as 1953's "The Man in the Dark" and the original "House of Wax" (the first pure horror film in 3-D) soon followed. Being one of the first horror/sci-fi movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon helped pave the way for franchises decades down the road such as "Alien", "Predator", and "Species". The Gillman character from the 50s still looks frightening, even to this day. "The Blob", and "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" were also crowd pleasers of 50's horror.
Universal only released six films from it's horror movie catalog in the 60s, whereas in the 40s and 50s they released well over a dozen per decade, and to that there were no Dracula, Frankenstein, or Wolfman movies being made as they seemingly focused on their secondary monster characters (The Creature from the Black Lagoon films, and the Abbott and Costello/movie monster crossovers). Assuming that enough Universal monster movies have been made and fan interest was shifting away, the heyday for Universal's horror movie series run ended in 1960. But that didn't kill the rest of the horror genre. Horror/Sci-Fi and B-Movies transitioned well into the 60s as they played to both big screen ("The Planet of the Apes", the original "13 Ghosts") and small screen audiences as "The Munsters" which were loosely based on several popular Universal horror movie monsters, as well as, the even more popular "Addams Family".
NEW DECADE, NEW DIRCTION
Unless it was a "Jaws" movie, or "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" by the time the 70s came, the creature feature genre had seemingly died down, as the horror genre took a more demonic and suspenseful approach. Top notch talent was recruited for films like "The Exorcist", "The Omen" series, "Carrie" (one of the few teen-angst horror flicks of the 70's), "The Amityville Horror", and "The Phantasm". There were a lot of horror movies that weren't supernatural like the original "Last House on the Left", and "I Spit On Your Grave". Sometimes the mentality and nature of man is scary enough without the monsters and demons and all that special effect/CGI stuff.
Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Gillman, and rest of the gang from decades past took second seat, at best, as the 70s introduced a new batch of creature features ("Alien", "Halloween", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and "The Hills Have Eyes")that all became lucrative franchises in the genre for the decades to come. Dracula, was the only golden age movie monster to still have noticeable movies coming out in the 70's, and has not only inspired the vampire genre, but also alternate versions of himself have been manufactured. In the Marvel comics universe, he's an ultimate foe of the superhero vampire hunter, "Blade", and has fought other superheroes in the Marvel Universe. As well as appearing in dozens of the countless other movies, plays and works of fiction. The Count also inspired the 1972 blaxploitation horror flick "Blacula".
After 3 and a 1/2 decades, the cultish horror flick of all classics, a weird, little British comedy called "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is still playing in limited releases at midnights on weekends at independent mom-n-pop movie houses. It holds the record for the having longest theatrical run for any theatrically released feature in history.
THE CRAZY 80s: (Era of the Boogeymen)
When we came into the 80s still exhilarated by the blockbuster phenom of Jaws, but now (in addition to Michael Myers) it was time to introduced a new line-up of iconic horror movie monsters as the 80s was "The Era of the Horror Movie Boogeymen". "Halloween" may have started the slasher movie genre, but the bloody 1980's horror classic "Friday the 13th" officially kicked off the gorefest. The antagonists of both franchises are similar (though Jason is probably more demonic), they both stand well over six feet, both are about ten times stronger than an average adult male, both are mutes, both wear masks and mercilessly slays whoever is in their way. But they come from different parts of the country. Jason is from the fictional backwater town of Crystal Lake (located somewhere in or around Sussex County, New Jersey), while Michael Myers is from the midwest (Haddonfeild, Illinois), along with Freddy (the fictional town of Springwood, Ohio), and Chucky (Chicago).
But the 80s horror movie icon who delighted moviegoers the most over the past three decades has been the 1984 debut of Freddy Kruger in "A Nightmare On Elm Street". Ultimately the Friday the 13th and Halloween movies are bloodier with bigger body counts (usually starting at 13 and up per movie guaranteed, while the Elm street flicks usually did 3-8, relying more on suspense and plot than tongue-n-cheek gore) but the thought of a murdered serial-killing, child molester that torments your child's soul in their dreams until he eventually kills them would scare anyone. Freddy's sarcastic humor also kept moviegoers and fans of horror entertained from sequel to sequel as the heroine (Nancy, Alice, Kristen, whoever) uses all of their resources to defeat the evil dream demon. A few years later, in 1987, came "Hellrasier", and possibly the most powerful 80s horror villain (if not the most popular), "Pinhead". The "Hellrasier" series was the "Saw" of the 80s in terms of it's supernatural torture porn.
A year later, "Child's Play", the story of a voodoo chanting, serial-strangling criminal who transfers his soul into the body of a popular children's doll and tries the claim a young boy's body was an interesting concept in the beginning. But after the first sequel, "Child's Play 2", received mixed reaction from fans of the original, the second sequel "Child's Play 3", was released 9 and 1/2 months later, and just that fast, the momentum had faded. Chucky's name stayed relevant throughout the years, but never quite reached the popularity ranks of Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers.
As we moved into the 90s, it seemed like moviegoers also moved past the 80's undead boogeyman craze, as people started leaning over more towards big budget, Hollywood action movies (especially those delivered by Warner Bros., as they had the action movie game on lock during this time). And all those erotic and psychological thrillers that peaked in the mid-eighties was still the rage...can you say "Basic Instinct"? With the exception of "The Silence of the Lambs", "Misery", "Bram Stoker's Dracula", and the surprise hits "Candyman", and "The People Under the Stairs", all of which (except for the latter two) had big names and budgets attached, the first half of the 90s produced few horror movies that played to mainstream audiences. Sure "Hellrasier III: Hell on Earth", and "Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday" came out in within that time period, but only played to the core horror movie audience. "Tales from the Crypt presents: Demon Knight" starring William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, and Billy Zane was another critically-acclaimed horror goody that had only decent-not-great box office, grossing 20.9 million on a 12 million budget, making it only a moderate success and a campy, cult classic among horror fans, and a home video rental/sales hit during the years of it's heyday. Another 90s horror fave that was largely overlooked was 1992's "Dr. Giggles", a horror/comedy film that features the late Larry Drake ("LA Law" and "Darkman") in the title role of a homicidal mental patient (with a tall order desire to be a doctor) who violently escapes the nuthouse, returns to his hometown and starts making deadly housecalls. It also stars Holly Marie Combs ("Charmed") as the film's victimized heroine. Both, the Tales from the Crypt movie franchise and Dr.Giggles were released though Universal, as well as The People Under The Stairs, who's plot and house was inducted into Universal's annual Halloween Horror Nights shortly after it's 1991 release.
But all this change around Christmas 96' when "Scream" opened in theaters. A campy, humorous thriller of a horror movie with talented young actors (for a change), an expert and experienced director (R.I.P. Wes Craven), and fresh new screenwriter at the beginning of his career (Kevin Williamson). After the first Scream, other teen-oriented horror movie from: ("I Know What You Did Last Summer series", to "Disturbing Behavior", to the "Urban Legend" films, to "The Faculty", to "The Rage: Carrie 2", to the duds "Idle Hands" and "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" to the first three "Final Destination" films, to even 2001's "Valentine") tried to cash in on the latest marketing trend, as the Scream trilogy kicked off the dead teen/slasher movie craze of the late 90s. Even to the point of having their characters posed on the theatrical posters the same way the Scream characters did. Putting the most well known actors in the movie on the posters (despite whether or not they only have five minutes of screen time) to sell the movie. All this came under quick scrutiny after the Columbine massacre in 1999 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre as the PG-13 horror movies came into play in an attempt to keep the violence down in horror movies, as well as sale more tickets to minors. The popular Scream franchise, which itself is a spoof of the horror genre, would soon inspire the straight-to-DVD comedy "Shriek, If You Know What You Did Last Friday The 13th" the even more popular "Scary Movie" franchise.
In the summer of 99, two very different, controversial supernatural horror movies were released: "The Sixth Sense", and "The Blair Witch Project" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blair_Witch_Project. As part of a brilliant marketing strategy, The Blair Witch "Project" was exactly what it's name suggests, a $60,000 project as producers first touted it as the true story of a trio of missing college students/amateur filmmakers who went missing in the woods while filming a documentary on the "supposedly legendary" Blair Witch of the Black Hills Woods near Burkittsville, Maryland. It worked (on some) in the beginning, but doubt began to overshadow curiosity and the truth soon came out. Despite the film grossing over $100 million domestically (248.6 million globally), the hyped quickly fizzled over the course of the next year and by the time a sequel was released in Halloween 2001, all momentum had deteriorated as the public felt betrayed. The people of the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland (around 200 at the time) complained about the scores of groupies and thrill seekers coming out to look for the site where the three allegedly abducted college students were last seen. With the exception of Joshua Leonard, who (while not amongst Hollywood's elite) went on to have a mildly successful Hollywood acting career taking on many supporting roles in film and making many TV guest appearances, his co-stars weren't as lucky. Heather Donahue's biggest project outside of the Blair Witch's, was a Freddy Prinze, Jr. rom-com, the 2001 summer flop "Boys and Girls". She was in a hand full of under-the-radar independent films, and only a hand full of TV roles from 2001-2005, other than that, she went nowhere. Ditto for Michael C. Williams who only appeared in a one-time guest spot on "Law and Order" in February 2000.
In the meanwhile The Sixth Sense broke box office records at it's time, taking in almost $300 million domestically ($672.8 worldwide), and remains a favorite among critics, and all movie fans alike.
THE 2000s AND TODAY
With the exception of the Underworld series and the first Scary Movie, the 2000s mostly brought in a lot of family friendly horror movies that carries the [PG-13] rating, or remakes and sequels in one form or another. Whether you were looking for teen horror, adult horror, supernatural horror, or reality-based horror. A lot of old favorites have been resurrected, such as Freddy and Jason in their first movie together, as well as remakes to their original movies. Michael Myers got the remake treatment too, from Rob Zombie. Universal has also resurrected their monsters in 2004's "Van Helsing" which united Frankenstein's monster, The Wolfman, and Dracula (as the antagonist) on the big screen for the first time in decades . There's also been remakes to: ("Thirteen Ghosts"; "The Exorcist"; "The Hills Have Eyes"; "Prom Night"; "My Bloody Valentine"; "The Last House On The Left"; and the horror/sci-fi flick "Silent Hill", based off the 80's video game). There were American remakes of Asian horror cult classics such as "The Ring" and "The Grudge" franchises, and "The Eye", as well as the mediocre "One Missed Call". And the 2000s also brought torture-porn to the forefront starting with the Saw "series" Then others followed like the Hostel series, the French horror flick Haute Tension (retitled as High Tension in America), The Descent, and the remakes to two The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, as well as it's sequel.
After year 2000, as the teen slasher genre (rather PG-13, or Rated R) began to age as flicks like: (the serial-killing cupid slasher flick "Valentine" (2001) with David Boreanaz and Denise Richards; the vampire flick "Cursed" (2004) with Christina Ricci; the possessed video game flick "Stay Alive" (2006) with Frankie Muniz; "Pulse" (2006) with Kristen Bell, and similar teen-driven horror flicks), i'ther all-out flopped, or did so-so box office and received shitty reviews from even the second-rate film critics and fans. During this decade the horror genre seemingly went to i'ther one of three ways to get the best results:
#1. The Big Budget Hollywood Route. Getting big names and top of the line special effects helped attribute the phenomenonal critical and commercial success of horror/fantasy "What Lies Beneath" with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer directed by Robert Zemekis. In 1999, Zemekis founded "Dark Castle Entertainment" and collaborated with Warner Bros frequently. Robert Zemekis got in the horror game for a few years and released a slew of ghost tales the includes: (the remake of "House on Haunted Hill" (Halloween 1999) with Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, and Ali Larter; as well as the remakes to "Thirteen Ghosts", which was stylized as "Th13teen Ghosts" (Halloween 2001); and "Ghost Ship" (Halloween 2002) with Julianna Margulies and Gabriel Byrne). During the 2000s, Dark Horse Entertainment also produced "Gothika" (2003) with Halle Berry; the 2005 remake to "House of Wax"; The Reaping (2007) with Hilary Swank; a straight-to-video sequel called "Return to House on Haunted Hill" (2007); and 2009s horror/thriller "Orphan", a film in the spirit of 1956s "The Bad Seed" and 1993s "The Good Son" that stars Vera Farmiga as the maternal heroine, and Isabelle Furhman in the title role as a seemingly perfect "child".
#2. The American Remake of Asian Horror Ghost Stories Route. The American remakes of "The Ring" and "The Grudge" were a big successess. The sequels to these films "The Ring Two" in 2005, and "The Grugde 2" wasn't as well received, but it still did decent box office globally. Other American-remade-Asian-horror-flicks (2005s "Dark Water" with Jennifer Connelly and John C. Reilly, 2006s "Pulse", and 2007s "One Missed Call") didn't fare well with critics, horror fans, or general moviegoers, and this fad aged quick.
#3. The Independent/Low Budget Route. In 2004, "Saw" was released on a $1.2 million budget and took home $55.1 million in the states ($103 million global total), and inspired six sequels and a slew of imitators (like "Scream" did) as Saw is responsible for ushering in the torture porn genre. When the Saw franchise and the torture porn got old (by the end of that decade), and supernatural horror (the "Parnormal Activity" franchise, the "The Conjuring" franchise and the like), kicked in, as well as other ambitious, modernized horror franchises, ("Insidious", "Sinister", and "The Purge") who are trying to make their mark and leave an impression. 2016's "Don't Breathe" was also a huge, surprise late summer horror hit. With a budget of $9.9 million, "Don't Breathe" almost ended it's theaterical run with $152 million worldwide ($89.2 domestically), and was well received by both critics and moviegoers.
A great place to go to catch up on all current horror movie news is at: www.upcominghorrormovies.com/
HEROINES IN HORROR
Aside from the creation of a good and memorable horror movie villain, the writers must also create a memorable heroine, and one who isn't a damsel in distress. A classic example of this is the physical and psychological change of Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor character from Terminator to Terminator 2. In most cases, it's good to have a female protagonist instead of a male, because a woman can get away with being vulnerable and tough at the same time. This will be a hard and convincing act for a male actor to pull off. It'll be different if it's a Bruce Willis-style action movie, then the male protagonist can have a female love interest on his side. In horror it works the other way around, occasionally the heroine may have a love interest or companion that she may ultimately lean on for support. Although they all eventually (usually) die off after appearing in so many franchise films, staying real to the fact that you can only survive danger so many times. Here are some good examples of a perfect horror movie/sci-fi heroine
Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley: "Alien", "Aliens", "Alien 3", "Alien Resurrection")
Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor: "The Terminator", "Terminator 2: Judgment Day")
Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling: "The Silence of the Lambs")
Kate Beckinsale (Serena : the "Underworld" film series)
Milla Jovovich (Alice: the "Resident Evil" film series)
Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode: "Halloween" (1978), "Halloween II" (1981), "Halloween H20", "Halloween Resurrection")
Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson: "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), "A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors", and "Wes Craven's New Nightmare")
Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott: the "Scream" film series)
Carrie Anne-Moss (Trinity: "The Matrix Trilogy")
Jada Pinkett-Smith (Jeryline: "Tales From The Crypt presents: Demon Knight"; Niobe: "The Matrix Reloaded", "The Matrix Revolutions")
Lisa Wilcox (Alice Johnson: "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master", "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child")
Patricia Arquette (Kristen Parker: "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors")
Julianne Moore (Clarice Starling: Hannibal)
Diane Lane (Special Agent Jennifer Marsh: "Untraceable")
Penelope Ann Miller (Dr. Margo Green: "The Relic")
Lar Park Lincoln (Tina Shepard: "Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood")
TIL' MY NEXT PIECE...