A History of Horror Films: A Prologue
Alexander Davis is the latest member to join the Popcorn Horror team. As well as his column looking at horror novel adaptations ‘Book vs. Movie‘, he will be writing essays for us on the history of horror.
Ever since I was a kid, I loved monsters. Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, Ghosts and Ghouls, even everyone’s favourite walking nuclear reactor, Godzilla. I devoured anything monster related that I came across. From Scooby-Doo to Power Rangers, if it had monsters in it, I was there. If you were to ask me why I loved monsters, as a kid, I would not be able to tell you. Well except for Godzilla, I thought a titanic, dinosaur like monster, destroying cities was cool. Hell I still do.
As I grew older, I began to expand my love of monsters, to include horror movies. Yes, I still watched for the monsters, but I began to lose my sense of wonder for monsters, they instead began to scare me. The first horror movie that I remember genuinely scaring me was Pet Sematary (1989). That is when my love for the horror genre truly began. Liking monsters as a kid had planted the seeds, Pet Sematary was what caused them to flourish.
Fast forward to my teenage years. Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Evil Dead, and countless others, only fuelled the fire. They scared me, fascinated me. Not just for the fact they did that. It made me interested in the practical side, the music, the actors, the writing. I began to take great interest in each aspect with every new movie I watched.
Fast forward to today. Sitting on my bed, typing these words onto my laptop (Which has a snazzy Bela Lugosi background.) and listening to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes. I think it would be safe to say that I’m a bit of a fanatic. And as a fanatic, I agreed to take on a great task; to talk about the history of horror movies!
This series of articles will cover the History of Horror Film. It will be done decade by decade, starting with the 1920’s. Although there might be a split in some decades, depending on the amount to cover. But let’s first talk about some things before the 1920’s.
Horror movies have been around a looooong time. Longer than you might think. In 1896 a short film called The Haunted Castle, was released. It was directed by Georges Méliès, and its runtime is over a whopping three minutes! Which was actually considered to be long, for the time.
In 1908, we got our first ever adaptation of the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Unfortunately –like a lot of movies from that time- it has been lost, and not much is known about it. But being the first film to be adapted from the classic horror novel is a mighty boast.
In 1910, we were given the first ever adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It was produced by The Edison Manufacturing Company, which was founded by Thomas Edison. It may be overshadowed by its Universal counterpart, that would come later, but being the first of hundreds of adaptations of Mary Shelley’s novel has earned this film a place in history. It only runs at sixteen minutes long, meaning a lot of the novel is left out. But the movie is still ambitious and well done. If you’d like to see it, you should be able to find a copy online, since it is in public domain.
In 1915, we were given another legendary horror movie called The Golem. It is, sadly, another lost film. A sequel was made in 1917, however it has also been lost. Will a surviving print ever be discovered? I certainly hope so. The third movie in the trilogy, The Golem: How He Came into the World will be talked about in the next article.
There are more horror movies that were made before 1920, but sadly a lot of them are lost. But the one’s that survived, show us just how the film industry was making horror movies from the beginning. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now. And again, I really hope that some day, surviving prints will be found, so that we can all enjoy them.
In the next article I’ll be taking a look at the 1920’s. The Golden Age of horror movies. So I hope you’ll stick around, you might learn something. I’m sure I will.