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A history of horror as genre

Media: horror film - horror fiction - horror in the visual arts

"The horror. The horror." --Marlon Brando as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now

"The time is short. You die at dawn."

from the intertitles of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Robert Wiene

"Fear is the most powerful emotion in the human race and fear of the unknown is probably the most ancient. You're dealing with stuff that everybody has felt; from being little babies we're frightened of the dark, we're frightened of the unknown. If you're making a horror film you get to play with the audiences feelings" -- John Carpenter

Subgenres and tropes: bio horror - body horror - Dracula - erotic horror - exploitation - fantastic - Frankenstein - freaks of nature - gore - ghost - gothic - grindhouse - magic - mondo - monster - phantom of the opera - psychological horror - slasher - snuff film - vampire - video nasty - werewolf - zombie

Related: bizarre - blood - controversial - cruelty - dark - death - demon - devil - disgusting - disturbing - evil - fantasy - fear - gothic - grotesque - hidden - inquisition - macabre - midnight - night - occult - offensive - pain - phobia - prison - repugnance - secret - shocking - sadism - sick - strange - sublime - supernatural - surreal - terror - torture - ugly - violence - visceral - war

By region: American Horror - European horror - Italian horror - Japanese horror

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) - Roger Corman [Amazon.com]
image sourced here.

Gargoyle decorating the Cathedral de Notre Dame (1163- 1345) in Paris, France.

Dance of Death (1491) - Hans Holbein

Las Chinchillas (1799) - Goya
This Goya print may have been the inspiration for Boris Karloff's look in the 1931 Frankenstein film.



Horror can be thought of as the feeling of dread and anticipation that occurs before something frightening is seen or otherwise experienced (terror is the feeling that follows after the experience has occurred).

Compare: the experience of waiting for the scary monster to jump out of the closet (horror) with the experience of actually seeing the scary monster after it has jumped out (terror). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror [Jul 2004]

Where are the roots of the horror genre?

Where are the roots of the horror genre? How far back can we trace the figures of the vampire, the werewolf and Frankenstein's monster? What of the Gothic novel, and how did the horror of distant castles transform into that of school camps and shopping malls? Who were the visionaries, and what horrible things happened to them? Have people always been scared of the same things? This timeline shows the stepping stones along the path from the Inquisition to the Blair Witch, from Dante's Inferno to Hellraiser. Eight centuries of great works, and the events and people behind them. -- David Carroll and Kyla Ward, http://www.tabula-rasa.info/DarkAges [Oct 2004]

Horror film 1890s - 2000s [...]

see also: American Horror - European horror - Body horror - Japanese horror - Psychological horror

Psycho A horror film is a film dominated by elements of horror. This film genre incorporates a number of sub-genres and repeated themes, such as slasher themes, vampire themes, zombie themes, demonic possession, alien mind control, evil children, cannibalism, werewolves, animals attacking humans, haunted houses, etc. The horror film genre is often associated with low budgets and exploitation, but major studios and well-respected directors have made intermittent forays into the genre. Some horror films exhibit a substantial amount of cross-over with other genres, particularly science fiction.

Certain stories and themes have proven popular and have inspired many sequels, remakes, and copycats. See Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, werewolves, and zombies. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_film, Apr 2004

The horror genre is nearly as old as film itself. The first "monster movies" were silent shorts created by film pioneer Georges Melies in the late 1890s. The earliest horror-themed feature films were created by German filmmakers in the early 1900s; the most enduring of these is probably F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu 1922, the first vampire-themed feature. Early Hollywood dramas dabbled in horror themes including versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Monster (1925) (both starring Lon Chaney, the first American horror-film movie star). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_film [Nov 2004]

Horror fiction [...]

Horror fiction is, broadly, fiction intended to scare, unsettle or horrify the reader. Although a good deal of it is about the supernatural, any fiction with a morbid, gruesome, surreal, suspenseful or frightening theme may be termed "horror"; conversely, many stories of the supernatural are not horror. Horror fiction often overlaps with science fiction and fantasy, all of which form the umbrella category speculative fiction. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_fiction, May 2004

The grotesque and horror

The arts of the grotesque are so various as to resist definition. Here we have the plenitude of the imagination itself. From the Anglo-Saxon saga of Grendel's monster-mother, in Beowulf, to impish-ugly gargoyles carved on cathedral walls; from terrifyingly matter-of-fact scenes of carnage in the Iliad, to the hallucinatory vividness of the "remarkable piece of apparatus" of Franz Kafka's In the Penal Colony; from the comic-nightmare images of Hieronymous Bosch to the strategic artfulness of twentieth-century film—Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of the 1922 classic of the German silent screen, F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu the Vampyr, to give but one example. The "grotesque" is a sensibility that accommodates the genius of Goya and the kitsch-Surrealism of Dali; the crude visceral power of H. P. Lovecraft and the baroque elegance of Isak Dinesen; the fatalistic simplicity of Grimm's fairy tales and the complexity of vision of which, for instance, William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily is a supreme example—the grotesque image as historical commentary. --Joyce Carol Oates, April 1993, originally published in Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque, Copyright © 1994 by The Ontario Review, Inc.

See also: Joyce Carol Oates

Ambivalence in Aristotle's Poetics

Poetics () - Aristotle [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
image sourced here.

Two translations from chapter four, on why we like things which are painful to see, for example: horror:

See also: art horror - representation - Aristotle

The Black Death [...]

The Black Death (also The Plague, and latterly Black Plague though not called this in earlier times) was a devastating epidemic in Europe in the which started in the late 1340s and is estimated to have killed about a third of the population. Most scientists believe that the Black Death was an outbreak of bubonic plague, a dreaded disease that has spread in pandemic form several times through history. The plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis which is spread by fleas with the help of animals like the black rat (Rattus rattus) -what we would call today the sewer rat. Sometimes, the term "Black Death" is used for all outbreaks of plague and epidemics. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death [Mar 2004]

Holocaust [...]

Holocaust refers to the Nazis' systematic extermination of various groups they deemed undesirable during World War II: primarily Jews, but also Communists, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti (also known as gypsies), the physically handicapped, the mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish, Russian, and other Slavic intelligentsia, political activists, Jehovah's Witnesses, some Catholic and Protestant clergy, trade unionists, psychiatric patients, and common criminals all perished alongside one another in the camps, according to the extensive documentation left behind by the Nazis themselves (written and photographed), eye-witness testimony (by survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders), and the statistical records of the various countries under occupation. The exact number of deaths during the Holocaust is unknown. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust [Aug 2004]

Grand Guignol [...]

Grand Guignol is an adjective describing any dramatic entertainment featuring the violently gruesome and gory.

The phrase comes from the "Grand Guignol" theatre in Montmartre, Paris, which specialised in such entertainment. It opened in 1897. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_guignol [Jun 2004]

André de Lorde, (1871-1933 (?)) was the chief author of the Grand Guignol plays. He wrote more than a hundred plays, all of them devoted chiefly to the exploitation of terror. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%E9_de_Lorde [Nov 2004]

The Inquisition [...]

The Inquisition was a permanent institution in the Catholic Church charged with the eradication of heresies. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition#History [Sept 2004]

Why Does Horror Appeal to Us?

What is it about horror that is making us walk out of the smug comfort of our homes to sit for three long hours in the darkened halls only to have our nerves frayed? What is it about horror that tingles our pleasure buds? Are we truly a bunch of sadists deep inside who delight in all the blood and the gore and the suffering that the poor protagonists undergo? Is it to appease the animal in us that we delight in horror films? -- Juhi Bakhshi, http://www.tribuneindia.com/2003/20030823/windows/main2.htm [Nov 2004]

The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart (1990) - Noel Carroll

  • The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart (1990) - Noel Carroll [Amazon.com]

    How can we be genuinely frightened of vampires, though we know they don't exist? How is it that people find pleasure in being scared out of their wits? Carroll presents the first philosophical and aesthetic analysis of the horror genre. This book should be of interest to advanced students in philosophy, media and cultural studies and literary criticism.

    Noel Carroll, film scholar and philosopher, offers the first serious look at the aesthetics of horror. In this book he discusses the nature and narrative structures of the genre, dealing with horror as a "transmedia" phenomenon. A fan and serious student of the horror genre, Carroll brings to bear his comprehensive knowledge of obscure and forgotten works, as well as of the horror masterpieces. Working from a philosophical perspective, he tries to account for how people can find pleasure in having their wits scared out of them. What, after all, are those "paradoxes of the heart" that make us want to be horrified?

    The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment (1991) - Walter M. Kendrick

    The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment (1991) - Walter M. Kendrick [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    From Kirkus Reviews
    In The Secret Museum (1987), Kendrick traced the rise and influence of literary pornography. Here, in an equally freewheeling study, the Fordham English professor excavates another cultural back-alley--that of horror literature and film. Kendrick's basic thesis is two-fold: that horror arises from ``the fear of being dead,'' and that, since this fear is endemic to the modern (i.e., post-1750) condition, horror entertainments tend to recycle the same themes and styles. Drawing on impressively deep research, he develops both ideas admirably (although failing to deal adequately with the theory, propounded by Stephen King in Danse Macabre and by others, that the modern horror glut has arisen in response not only to death but to the terrors of contemporary life: nuclear war, urban violence, etc.). Kendrick finds horror to be a primarily emotional medium, with its roots in the 18th-century ``invention'' of intentional emotionality: ``modern fright is a kind of connoisseurship, a deliberate indulgence that recognizes no aim beyond itself.'' By century's end, he shows, with the appearance of Graveyard poetry and the novels The Castle of Otranto and The Monk, horror's course had been set, with the obsession with the past and sepulchral settings, even the tendency to graphically depicted terrors, all in place. During the next two centuries, these traits underwent many transformations, which Kendrick details thoroughly and colorfully--his discussions of Grand Guignol theater and of mid-20th-century horror films are particularly insightful, while his appreciation of contemporary horror's self-awareness, as exemplified in fans' ``sophisticated'' approach to film gore and in the rise of ``psychotronic'' criticism, is refreshingly on the mark. Of most value for its in-depth look at the genre's seminal works, Kendrick's lively and penetrative ramble through horror's vaults is an excellent companion to King's Danse Macabre, which remains the last word on contemporary horror. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --via Amazon.com

    Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (1999) - Richard Davenport

    Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (1999) - Richard Davenport[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    SIPs: rococo gothic, gothic film, gothic imagination, gothic aesthetics, gothic imagery (more on SIPs)

    From Publishers Weekly
    Though separated by time, place and vocation, Neapolitan landscape painter Salvator Rosa, English novelist Mary Shelley and American filmmaker David Lynch all belong to the same exclusive club. So argues Davenport-Hines (Auden), often persuasively, in his sweeping examination of modern Western culture's fascination with the dark side. Davenport-Hines holds that a coherent antirationalist tradition can be traced through the work of figures as diverse as Francisco Goya, the Duke of Argyll, Lord Byron, Theodor Adorno and 1980s rock singer Robert Smith of the Cure.

    He deftly situates the gothic broadly defined here as a nonconformist sensibility marked by a morbid fascination with death, decay and the uncanny.

    In a history that includes the barbarian invasions of Rome and the nature-defying hubris of medieval European architecture. Of course celebrated gothic novelists such as Ann Radcliffe, Matthew "Monk" Lewis and Horace Walpole receive treatment, but more interesting is the author's identification of gothic elements in the work of artists seldom placed in the gloom-and-doom tradition, such as Alexander Pope's carefully planned, and to the 20th-century eye almost kitschy, gardens.

    The book's efforts to make spiritual confreres of figures as apparently unrelated as Pope and Ian Curtis, the suicidal frontman of gloomy rock group Joy Division, accounts for much of its appeal. And, indeed, the clear delight Davenport-Hines takes in making bedfellows of poets and pop stars, philosophers and splatterpunks, indicates his own penchant for the bizarre and subversive. Although his definition of the gothic becomes at times too elastic, this richly illustrated survey is no less enjoyable and informative for its author's ambition. (June)
    Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

    From Library Journal
    The enduring interest in Gothic and macabre images and stories has drawn the attention of contemporary scholars and critics. Departing from recent volumes that analyze the Gothic in contemporary culture and arts, British critic Davenport-Hines (Auden, Pantheon, 1996) has produced a comprehensive survey of Gothic themes in art, architecture, literature, and film since the early 17th century.

    Arranged in a sometimes disjointed combination of historic and thematic exposition, the book traces the Gothic imagination: its roots, the 18th-century "Gothic revival," the 19th-century classics (such as Frankenstein and Dracula) that epitomize the genre, the American Gothic, and manifestations of the Gothic in popular culture and film. The level of detail is sometimes excessive, and some chapters seem to lose their focus, but overall, this work provides an informed and readable survey of the genre. Unfortunately, the notes are difficult to use, and the in-text citations are not always clear or explicit. For larger public libraries.AJulia Burch, Cambridge, MA
    Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. --via Amazon.com

    see also: gothic - excess - evil

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