The changing face of horror

The monster from popular 2002 horror movie The Ring

Imagine seeing the face of the Frankenstein monster in theaters for the first time. Imagine that you were one of the first to see the haunting image of Dracula’s castle or hear the howl of the Wolf man.

Those images, now so mundane, were at one point considered frightening. The Frankenstein monster was grotesque, the castle was rich in haunting atmosphere and the werewolf’s howl sent chills down people’s spines.

These horror movies inspired fear in their time but one would argue that they no longer have that same power. A lot of the techniques of horror from the age of Frankenstein are still employed today but to a different degree.

For one thing, the advent of technology has greatly increased the realism of horror movies. Also, film standards are less stringent than they were in the 1930s when movies like Frankenstein and Dracula were released. The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, also known as the Hays Code prohibited the portrayal of brutal killings in detail or murder in a way that could spark imitation. This is not the case today, as exemplified by such brutally violent films as Saw, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Human Centipede.

Dir. James Whale’s iconic Frankenstein (1931)
The older films were about the atmosphere; the horror of the unnatural in unnatural places. They featured uninhabited castles with dripping stone walls, locked rooms, secret dungeons, abandoned and overgrown graveyards, creaking staircases, clanking of chains, swirling mists and sudden shrieking winds.

Atmosphere still plays a key role in modern horror films such as Paranormal Activity and Silence of the Lambs but is enhanced with help of technology. The atmosphere of modern horror movies are less about the supernatural and more about the everyday gone wrong.

As technology has progressed so have the techniques of terror. An increase in the quality of sound, costume and visual effect serve to make the horror all the more realistic, and therefore more terrifying, for viewers. Dracula or Frankensteinare no longer as terrifying to modern audiences because we’ve come to expect horror films to be incredibly realistic and engaging as a result of technology.

In movies of old, evil creatures and monsters were supernatural beings, they were costumed to resemble nothing remotely human. These days, evil is more likely to have a human resemblance, suggesting that modern viewers find the idea of evil that looks human scarier than evil in a mask.

In a sense, the fundamentals of horror have not changed all that much over the years. As human beings, we still find the same fundamental concepts frightening but, thanks to our imagination and technology, there will always be new methods of conveying those fundamental fears and new frights are to be had from them. In the words of Edgar Allan Poe, “Perversity is the human thirst for self-torture.”

With files from Amanda L. Shore


Top five scariest movies

What films are constantly touted as being the scariest of all time? Lists come out every year from various media and no two are ever the same. Out of ten different lists, the following five classic films have appeared the most frequently and these old-school scares are guaranteed to send a chill down your spine.


5. Alien, 1979
A science fiction horror film about a murderous alien who stalks and kills the people aboard a spaceship, very much resembles a haunted house type film, only it takes place on board a spaceship and has an alien instead of monsters and ghosts.

The most common element of horror in haunted house type films is when things jump out unexpectedly or when the audience is waiting for something to jump out, which this film has lots of and where it derives most of its horror appeal.



4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it “as violent and gruesome and blood-soaked as the title promises,” and American film critic Rex Reed said it was the most terrifying film he had ever seen. This gruesome film about a group of friends who fall prey to a murderous family while visiting their grandfather`s old farmhouse, was banned outright from some countries and removed from theatres after various complaints.

Nonetheless, the film grossed $30 million dollars and inspired a re-make in 2003. Loosely based on the story of real life murderer Ed Gein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspires fear as a result of its desolate Texas setting; broken down homes and hardly a soul around, the character of Leatherface with his mask made out of human skin. And just when you think it can`t get any worse, it does.


3. The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
A blending of crime and horror, this film centers around the need for FBI trainee Clarice Starling to consult with cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, in order to apprehend another serial killer, “Buffalo Bill.”

Roger Ebert called The Silence of the Lambs a “horror masterpiece” and describes the fear in this film as inspired by the “terrifying qualities” of Hannibal Lecter, especially when he is first seen by Starling. “His speaking voice has the precision of a man so arrogant he can barely be bothered to address the sloppy intelligence of the ordinary person. The effect of this scene is so powerful that it underlies all the rest of the movie, lending terror to scenes that do not even involve him.”



2. Psycho, 1960
Sometimes called the first psychological thriller, the fear in this filmed is inspired by the character of Norman Bates, a lonely motel owner who lives with his mother.

Fear is created through the suspense of trying to discover what’s really going on and the idea that no one is safe as the unknown murderer might appear at any moment.





1. The Exorcist, 1973
In February 1974 Stanley Kauffmann wrote in The New Republic, that this was the scariest film he’d seen in years, “… If you want to be shaken—and I found out, while the picture was going, that that’s what I wanted—then The Exorcist will scare the hell out of you.”

Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel by the same name, The Exorcist is concerned with the demonic possession of a young girl and her mother’s desperate attempt to free her daughter by having her exorcised by two priests. The power that the demonic presence wields is particularly frightening especially as it gets stronger and stronger, transforming the young girl into a terrible monster.

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