The History and modern conventions in horror

Horrors generally set in settings which match the genre such as, supernatural films, in a haunted mansion, graveyard, witch’s house. Slashers, set in a family home, abandoned warehouse, home outside of town in a small cabin. Torture film set in an Abandoned factory, warehouse, deserted town.

Within thrillers/horrors, we always have a protagonist(s) versus something more advanced or stronger than them, seen bellow is a visual collection of the history of horror antagonists. The plots within these films are quite simple, from teenagers running away from the slasher in Scream 2, to People swimming away from the shark in Jaws.


Taking it back to the late 1800’s we see what was considered the first horror film, Le Manoir du diable or The House of the Devil. The film is an 1896 French short silent film directed by Georges Méliès, this was the earliest example of directors creating creepy scenes and dark tones within the film.

If we review the movie we will most likely be unafraid of the topics discussed visually inside the film, due to the fact that as contemporary viewers we have come a long way and have reached new heights of creepy. The audibly lack lustered film still tells a story and bases its original theme around a classic topic, vampires, paganism and satan which at the time was most likely a common scary theme, especially due to the fact that many people within France in the 1800s were. Catholic which was a dominant religion at the time, with almost 30 million people being Catholic. frightening many people that were against the demonic topics displayed in the film. The Christian cross is even pulled out at the end (3:10), to symbolise the protagonist trying to cast out the demon from the man, which is relatable to the audience as exorcism in the church has been around for many years. Even without audio, the film still may have scared people due to its harsh visual content and also in spite of the newness of film in the late 1800s.

Moving onto the early 1900s more and more horrors were releasing, nonetheless to start off the 20th century a few horrors were still based on the same topics as the previous century such as vampires and witchcraft, some based on books written years ago and some based on current affairs, the original Frankenstein was inspired by science. Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in 1818. The book was influenced by a scientific feud that ushered in the first battery and our modern understanding of electricity, at the time electricity was just founded and was an exciting new concept, Shelley captured this new found idea and made Frankenstein come back to life, “He’s Alive!”. Bringing the dead back to life, At the time, was a fresh concept, and instead of using witchcraft for the first time science has been used, this was a terrifying concept, however, to this date producers still capitalise upon this theme as we have films and TV series using this concept – TV series titled “Walking Dead” and films titled “Resident evil”, showing that the design approach is still looked upon as a fearful idea.

As we move through to the early 1920s we see another iconic silent horror film, F.W. Murnau‘s 1922 icon Nosferatu,  Nosferatu an adaptation of Bram Stoker‘s “Dracula” novel still based upon the same concepts of (Satanism, witchcraft, Vampires etc) nonetheless, Nosferatu was different than the other vampire thrillers as it was made around the time after WWI whereby Germany in the years immediately following World War I where Germany was suffering a loss and a lack of identity, vigilantly striving to refurbish their country they had lost due to the war. A constant growing sense of nationalism and a fear of foreign countries.

Nosferatu perfectly displays Germany’s attitudes at the time of the film’s release in 1922. xenophobia is expressed by Nosferatu himself. Nosferatu is an embodiment of the unknown. While he looks human, he is truly a monster that betrays the trust of those who are blind to his real form. This relates to Germany as both Nosferatu and the unwanted groups deemed unsatisfactory by the German people under the Third Reich share this sense of being subhuman and untrustworthy.

But there is another major point in the film that reflects Germany’s fears, the plague. Nosferatu, based on the novel Dracula, in which the character attempts to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, Deaths are attached in this film to a plague, a major concern for the German people. Whilst Nosferatu was playing it also was a common practice to have a pianist playing throughout the film to add tone to each scene, such as intense situations the pianist would play at a higher pitch to build suspense mixed with high frequency. This wasn’t a new concept however was done frequently within silent films to help bring forward stronger sensations of fear within the viewer towards the film.

Moving onto the 1930’s to the late 1960s the horror genre started developing both with the technology and topics discussed, one climatic topic was giant monsters vs humans or giant monsters vs giant monsters. King Kong was one of the first argued to be a fantasy adventure film, Kong is one of the earliest examples of a sympathetic monster, where the viewer was left with a question of, who was really the antagonist and protagonist in the film. King Kong was a creature dragged from its home to be put on display only to die protecting itself. Contrary to popular belief I believe the humans were playing the antagonist rather than King Kong, The humans took the beast to New York City, only to have the beast retaliate and look as if It was the villain due to it’s aggression and destruction.


The next few years Japan and other countries started to adopt this concept of giant monsters not only was it due to the fact that there was progression in cinema and animation, which enabled the creation of realistic giant creatures but it was also due to the influential war which started in the 1940s, world war two. The development of atomic weaponry in the 1940s gave rise to its involvement in popular themes, especially due to the fact that America had nuclear bombed Nagasaki, Japan. Giant creature films started being pushed out fast!

The 1953 American film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms featured a giant dinosaur that awakens due to nuclear tests in the Arctic. The 1954 film Them! involved giant irradiated ants. Later in 1954, the Japanese film Godzilla was released. This was followed by an ongoing trend of giant reptiles created by nuclear radiation. Japan continued with a giant moth in Mothra, a turtle in Gamera, and many more that followed.

Films featuring Godzilla and Gamera were made into the 1970s, and a King Kong remake was released in 1976. Toxic waste in the 1970s inspired the release of various horror films, and the giant monster subgenre saw the release of 1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah. still to this date, 2017, we are still seeing giant monster films from the 1970s onwards, yet again, Godzilla received a 1998 remake by TriStar Pictures, and King Kong received a 2005 remake by Universal Pictures.

Not only was giant monsters a trend from the radiation WMD era but also, current events such as the 9/11 plane bombings in New York which started influencing current directors such as Matt Reeves in 2008 Cloverfield. And yet again King Kong has been rebooted, to be known as Kong: Skull Island, released in March 2017.


Horror and instruments

Within Horror films and video games, we see both diegetic and non-diegetic audio both types of audio are imperative, both non-diegetic and diegetic audio creates fear and tension, it sets the mood and draws the audience into the scene, nonetheless, it can also be a part of the scene and foreshadow upcoming events. in the video bellow from the movie (1978) Halloween directed by John Carpenter (from 0:00 to 2:00), the scene begins with off with a non-diegetic ominous soundtrack, this soundtrack first of sets the mood, it hasn’t identified current events however it simply dampens the tone of the scene to create an uneasy environment for the viewer to witness. within the scene, a combination of wind instruments such as violins and guitars, we can hear possibly a high pitched piano mixed with a glockenspiel or some type of bell possibly a wooden xylophone, however, a xylophone would be used for a more lower pitch sound due to the wood and its density versus the high pitched metal glockenspiel. The possible combination of a high pitched piano and glockenspiel could create a tiptoeing non-diegetic sound. I could also decipher a heart beating non-diegetic sound all of which, both the strings, piano and bells/xylophone builds tension inside a scene which has created the mysterious mood within the scene.




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