Both Hendrix (2018) and King (2010) take us through the horror history of the 60s 70s and 80s. Using references, explain this process in your own words, then think about the current trends of horror movies in your life time. What kinds of social of political changes in the world during these times do you think can be reflected in the horror you’ve read/watched/heard from that particular era?
While the horror genre as of late is experiencing a resurgence in popularity with the critical and commercial success of films such as the recent adaptation of Stephen King’s It. The genre spent most of the 20th century trying to gain the recognition and legitimacy other genres held within the literary canon. When horror enthusiasts think of a notable era for the genre, the latter half of the 20th century from the 60s and onwards is often cited as somewhat of a golden age. With auteurs such as Dario Argento and authors like Stephen King being prolific throughout the period.
The 60s ushered in a wave of cultural change that came as the result of factors such as the civil rights movement, and ongoing political tension between America and the communist powers of the time. For written forms of horror however, it marked a time when publishers tried their best to shake off the genre’s stigma when trying to market it to the mainstream. Often resorting to cover art that suggested something was from a more accepted genre, or in some cases the absence of the term (horror) itself when describing a story on its cover or blurb (Hendricks, 2018). This perception of the genre arguably extended into filmmaking, as productions of horror films during the 50s and 60s (at least in America) were often conducted in a rushed manner that usually started without even having a completed script (King, 2010).
The 70s would see the beginning of America’s attempt at curbing the global drug trade with what is now known as the war on drugs, as well as the growing involvement of the west in the conflict taking place in French Indochina. Figures synonymous with horror’s modern era would also finally make mainstream debuts. With Stephen King releasing Carrie in 1974 and John Carpenter releasing the seminal slasher film Halloween in 1978. Films such as The Omen and The Exorcist would carry inherit religious undertones with them through their subject matter and arguably draw inspiration from the gothic romance genre mentioned in Hendricks (2018).
During the 80s, the trend of graphic horror films that started in the 70s with Halloween and Ridley Scott’s Alien would continue with films such as Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street. The trend coincided with a time when audiences around the world were accustomed to seeing the harsh realities of war or reports of grisly murders on their television sets. Growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, horror films varied from ones which centred around the ideas of urban myths or folk legends such as Candyman and The Blair Witch Project, adaptations of existing Japanese horror properties, the attempted revivals of both The Omen and Exorcist franchises, and the torture porn genre popularised by franchises such as the Saw franchise.
Throughout the history of horror though, whether it’s from the early 60s or present time. Whether it was premarital sex, hysteria from serial killers on the loose, or even fears associated with atomic radiation. It wouldn’t be an unpopular opinion to say that horror films gave viewers a glimpse into the views of that society.
Hendrix, G. (2018). Prologue. In Paperbacks from hell: The twisted history of ’70s and ’80s horror fiction. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books.
King, S. (2010). Danse Macabre. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.