A History of Horror

A History of Horror

A History of Horror

A History of Horror


Ever since horror leapt from popular fiction to the silver screen in the late 1890s, viewers have experienced fear and pleasure in exquisite combination. Wheeler Winston Dixon's A History of Horror is the only book to offer a comprehensive survey of this ever-popular film genre.

Arranged by decades, with outliers and franchise films overlapping some years, this one-stop sourcebook unearths the historical origins of characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman and their various incarnations in film from the silent era to comedic sequels. A History of Horror explores how the horror film fits into the Hollywood studio system and how its enormous success in American and European culture expanded globally over time.

Dixon examines key periods in the horror film-in which the basic precepts of the genre were established, then banished into conveniently reliable and malleable forms, and then, after collapsing into parody, rose again and again to create new levels of intensity and menace. A History of Horror, supported by rare stills from classic films, brings over fifty timeless horror films into frightfully clear focus, zooms in on today's top horror Web sites, and champions the stars, directors, and subgenres that make the horror film so exciting and popular with contemporary audiences.


Before there were horror movies, there were written or spoken horror narratives, fables handed down from one generation to the next, and, as we shall see, theatrical presentations designed to thrill and horrify audiences. The origins of the horror story may be traced to the beginning of narrative itself, or at least as far back as the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2000 B.C.) and Homer’s Odyssey (circa 800 B.C.), both of which involve a variety of contests between mortals and monsters with a strong otherworldly flavor, in which man is but a tool, or pawn, of the gods. Dante’s Divine Comedy (1310) has served as the template for a series of terrifying visions of eternal damnation, as we shall see, and stories of lycanthropy can be traced to the Middle Ages, especially in French folk tales. Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (1590), along with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s two-part poem Faust (1808 and 1833), also proved fertile ground for filmmakers from the late nineteenth century onward, chronicling the tale of a man who sells his soul to Satan in return for illimitable wisdom and power, only to be (perhaps inevitably) disappointed by the transaction. Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) is generally considered the first horror novel, and the work of Gothicist Ann Radcliffe, whose most successful foray into the genre was undoubtedly The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), was also popular with audiences. M. G. Lewis’s The Monk (1795) was an even more horrific novel, and Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) chronicles another ill-advised pact with Satan.

Most famous of all these early works is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), which was created as the result of a bet of sorts by Lord Byron, who, ensconced in his summer house on Lake . . .

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