The Economics of the Horror Film
Douglas Gomery University of Maryland
The horror film has its origins in the rise of popularity of the novel and theatre as mass entertainment. Throughout the 19th century, English Gothic novels (and their stage adaptions) made early mass culture entrepreneurs rich. Thus it was not surprising that at the turn into the 20th century, with the rise of the cinema, this wealth of accumulated horror plots would be fashioned into moving pictures. The horror genre had long proven it could raise an intended fear and dread in audiences (as well as profits), most frequently from an abnormal threatening monster disturbing the "natural" order ( Carroll, 1990).
The horror film ranks certainly as one of the most popular and profitable of film genres. Hollywood has long exploited interest in monsters and mayhem to make money. Indeed through the production, distribution, and exhibition of motion pictures in the United States, motion picture entrepreneurs have regularly utilized the profit-maximizing possibilities of horror movies. This chapter seeks to understand how the U.S. film industry has come to produce, distribute, and exhibit horror films. Specifically my goal will be to seek to understand how the horror film has fit into the economic history of motion pictures, leaving to Carroll and others (see the other fine chapters that follow in this anthology) to fathom the anthropological, psychological, and social implications of cinematic horror.
Before directly answering my research question, I lay out a method by which to analyze the economics of Hollywood film genres. How can one best understand the American movies as a business, where economic decisions by corporate leaders lead to the production, distribution, and exhibition of certain types of Hollywood films?
During the decade of the 1910s Hollywood arose as an industry to define the cinema of the United States as well as proper motion pictures throughout the