1930’s/1940’s. The Depression era hit’s america. Horror has a resurgence of popularity. Films such as Dracula by Tod Browning or Frankenstien by James Whale help Americans escape the awfulness of their modern day (King 1981) In literature, Shudder Pulp reaches popularity and continuing on from there, Lovecraft and weird tales enjoy their time in the spotlight as the horror of the era.
1950’s. The postwar era begins and horror slips out of American interest to be replaced with Science fiction. Weird tales plods steadily along.
1960’s. Horror begins a new with the publisher, Jerry Gross. Hendrix (2017) makes note that though Gross published Gothic fiction It was this style which created a foundation from which horror could begin anew. This foundation was, The Occult. Due perhaps to the way the world was rapidly changing, faster than a generation born in times of deep religion and strife could manage to accept. This irrational fear of the occult becomes a pillar of the new age of horror.
The Guardian novels of the late sixties, published under the pen name of Peter Saxon were done in the pulp style of the Thirties, juiced with the trendy panic of the occult. What they managed, was to bridge Jerry Gross’s Gothic fiction into a world where that style was more horrific than romantic (Hendrix 2017)
Moving back into the sixties, an important book then movie was made which help pave the way for horror to become more mainstream. The book and film, Psycho, was based on the real life murders by Ed Gein, the real life Norman Bates who butchered women and used their skin and bones to make household objects. Rebello (2010) believes that these murders and the works inspired by their happenings brough fear home for America.
1970’s. The Vietnam war ends and America is shocked to have lost. Images of that war were brought home and for some it was the first time seeing the destructive power of the twentieth century. Abortion is legalized and the pill reaches widespread use. Three novels that were written encapsulate these changes and turned the massive uncertainty America felt, to fear. Ian Levins, Rosemarys baby. Thomas Tryons, The others and William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist. These books took children and strangers and made them representational of everything that could and to some, had gone wrong with the modern day. Alongside this, film adaptations of some of those works (The Exorcist, which won two Academy awards) pushed horror to new heights of popularity and could claim to be more than just trashy entertainment. But what these films really did was finalise the 60’s and 70’s obsession with the devil (Hendrix 2017 )
1980’s. Muir (2010) comments that the eighties were fueled by two things. Reaganism and the apocalypse. The Republican party ruled American in the eighties and Regan’s presidency was rife with controversy and confused. The cold war, still in its prime drove Americans to paranoia. Horror films such as The thing, by John Carpenter, played on a fear of the AIDs crisis and the end of the world by some mysterious evil. The Fly by David Cronenburg, was a look back into some of the classic eras of horror. Perhaps an escape from times of massive unrest and political confusion. And though not a horror film, The Terminator, by James Cameron, caught the fear of our new technology and told us it would be the end of humanity. All together, there works translated the new societal issues into various types of cinematic bloodbaths.
In the twenty-first century I believe horror has begun to reflect a new societal fear. First let’s take down the names of some of the most popular horror films over the last twenty years. The purge, by James DeMonaco. It follows, by David Robert Mitchell and 28 days later, by Danny Boyle. These three films all have very different settings, monsters and characters but I would argue that they all represent the new great fear that humanity has adopted.
We are no longer terrified by monsters and magic. It’s the not the unknown which plagues our nightmares but our humanity. The blank spaces on the map have all been filled in. We can travel across the world in hours and send pictures and videos across vast distances in seconds. We have gained mastery over our spinning rock, so what is there left to fear?
Well look at the news.
Growing divides between political parties
Oppression by governments, loss of confidence in authority.
The enemy of the 21st century is us. Take The purge. A film where all the violence in America has been removed as now there is one night of the year when all crime is legal. When you can kill without consequence. Our true nature is revealed and we see our great capability for violence. The film strips away all the rules and values which protect us and gives us a different view of humanity. One which shows our true animal nature. It follows, a film about a monster that hunts down whoever carries a curse which is transmitted from person to person through sexual contact. Yes the monster is the threat but the real enemy in the film is people. You are given the curse by a stranger or worse someone you love. Your trust is betrayed. You are alone and the one act of true connection which all humans have a right to is turned into a weapon.
28 days later flips the script a little. The video series by Cracked (2004) makes a point which I believe reflects my argument and also adds to it. Zombies are not just the enemy, they are us. In each decade the zombies of the time come to reflect fears of what society believes people are becoming. In 28 days later that fear is the fear of the consumerism of the twenty-first century. Unlike in other films, Danny Boyle’s zombies sprint across the film, tearing and destroying any living thing in their path. This is a fear what we can do to ourselves and of what we have become. A mindless heard of violence and consumption. Prince (2004) summarizes horror as a genre which will never go out of fashion. His reason for this is simple.
We will never tire of being afraid of our fellow human beings.
King, S. (2010). Danse Macabre. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton
Hendrix, G. (2017). Paperbacks from Hell. Philadelphia, America: Quirk books
Prince, S. (2004). The horror film. New Jersey, America: Rutgers University Press
Muir, K, J., (2010). Horror Films of the 1980s. North Carolina, America: McFarland
Rebello, S. (2010). Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho: Open Road Media
Cracked. (2004 October, 4) 4 terrifying psychology lessons behind famous movie monsters [Video file] Retrieved from https://www.cracked.com/video_18311_4-terrifying-psychology-lessons-behind-famous-movie-monsters.html