The Horror Film

The Horror Film

The Horror Film

The Horror Film


In this volume, Stephen Prince has collected essays reviewing the history of the horror film and the psychological reasons for its persistent appeal, as well as discussions of the developmental responses of young adult viewers and children to the genre. The book focuses on recent postmodern examples such as The Blair Witch Project. In a daring move, the volume also examines Holocaust films in relation to horror.

Part One features essays on the silent and classical Hollywood eras. Part Two covers the postWorld War II era and discusses the historical, aesthetic, and psychological characteristics of contemporary horror films. In contrast to horror during the classical Hollywood period, contemporary horror features more graphic and prolonged visualizations of disturbing and horrific imagery, as well as other distinguishing characteristics. Princes introduction provides an overview of the genre, contextualizing the readings that follow.

Stephen Prince is professor of communications at Virginia Tech. He has written many film books, including Classical Film Violence: Designing and Regulating Brutality in Hollywood Cinema, 19301968, and has edited Screening Violence, also in the Depth of Field Series.


Along with Westerns, musicals, and gangster films, horror is one of cinema's basic genres, one that emerged early in the history of the medium. Georges Méliès depicted the Devil as a vampire bat in The Haunted Castle (1896). The first screen adaptation of Frankenstein, produced by Thomas Edison, appeared in 1910. The wolf man even made an early appearance in 1913's The Werewolf.

Other genres emerged in the early days of cinema, but unlike some, such as Westerns and musicals, horror films have retained their popularity into the present period. For example, two of the biggest films of 1999, The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project, were horror pictures. In terms of sheer output and the blend of horror with other narrative formulas, the genre today is thriving.

Blade and Blade II (2002) kick-started the vampire movie by adding an MTV aesthetic and ample doses of flamboyant violence. Attracted by the genre's energy and popularity, many contemporary filmmakers closely identified with horror have remained active within the genre. John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (2001) was a zombie movie set on the Red Planet. Stuart Gordon, of Re-animator fame, returned in 2002 with Dagon, another H. P. Lovecraft adaptation.

These lurid instances of the genre coexist with more highbrow productions, such as The Others (2001) and Signs (2002). Classic monsters live on, sometimes with bigger budgets and more special effects than ever. Witness Godzilla (2000), The Mummy (1999), and The Mummy Returns (2001). Haunted houses remain a staple, never quite giving up their ghosts, as in The Haunting (1963 and 1999) and 13 Ghosts (1960 and 2001). And stalwart series keep on coming. Halloween Resurrection (2002) let Michael Myers off the leash again, while Jason X (2001) launched Jason Vorhees into outer space in the twenty-fifth century. These were complemented by efforts to start new series, as in Jeepers Creepers (2001) and with a degree of self-conscious mockery in the slasher subgenre (Scream 3 [2000] and Scary Movie [2000] and its sequel [2001]). And, a decade after Silence of the Lambs, the modern era's most indelible serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, made two more teeth-gnashing appearances, in Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002). The genre's great vitality even makes horror show up in surprising places, like the male action film. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, battled Satan in End of Days (2000).

Copyright © 2004 by Stephen Prince . . .

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