Horror movies throughout history reflect society; its fears, events and over all state. It’s no coincidence that after some devastating event in history happens, a strain of horror movies emerge in its path: “The fright genre has traditionally flourished in straitened times. Weimar Germany, the Great Depression and the 1970s oil crisis all coincided, not so coincidentally, with new waves of innovative, inventive nightmare visions that hold up a mirror to their eras just as much as the po-faced social-realist dramas of the day” (Billson). Horror movies thrive off the current events because it’s channeling the fears society. In the article “We’re All Dirty Harry Now”, Riegler says that “violent movie genres fed on political and social turmoil” (18), using societies fears to their advantage.
Formerly the villains of the classic "monster movie," these relics, who now represent all that is archaic in horror film history. The monster movie of the past makes way for the thriller or slasher movie of the present, while the monster villain gives its role to the deranged, psychotic serial killer. Friday the 13th series, Nightmare on Elm Street, Copycat and Seven have become the new classics in the genre of the horror film. With films like The People Under the Stairs, Nightmare on Elm Street, and New Nightmare, Wes Craven has proven himself to be a master of the creation of modern horror films. With recent masterpiece Scream, Craven shows his audience that he is not restricted by the typical conventions of the horror film.
This essay critically analyses and discusses the semantic and syntactic areas of what defines a horror genre in films. Followed by a case study of an animated film which supports and demonstrates theses horror film conventions. Then another case study which challenges and questions its position in the chosen genre. To decide whether it does hold elements of the horror conventions in both semantic and syntactic point of view, or possibly sway towards a different category of film. Before discussing the forms and functions of what defines a horror film.
Driven by filmgoers’ fascination for thrills and chills, the horror genre has continued to scare, entertain and induce nightmares into all that succumb to the genre. Taking influence from the Victorian gothic novel, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1819), horror is one of the most recognisable film genres thanks, in part, to the codes and conventions practiced during the production process of horror filmmaking. Film codes and conventions refer to ‘the rules by the which narrative is governed’ (Hayward, p 68), how film techniques are implemented to distinguish a films genre. This critical analysis aims to analyse one sequence from Sam Raimi’s 1982-film, ‘The Evil Dead’, and James Watkins 2012-film, ‘The Woman in Black’. Discussions will be made relating to the codes and conventions found in each film in which includes: iconography, mise-en-scene, cinematography, montage and sound, to emphasize that both films as fitting representations of the horror genre.
To get started we are going to start with the first era or as it’s called the silent era. This era was based on monsters such as Frankenstein (1910), Dracula (1912) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). The horror was all about the make up and the clever use of lighting, to add thrills. The first conventions were that we see are the ‘revealing of the monsters’ and the use of ‘isolated houses’ where the monsters are based. This left audiences feeling panicky.
The horror genre is synonymous with images of terror, violence and human carnage; the mere mention of horror movies evokes physical and psychological torture. As remarked by noted author Stephen King “the mythic horror movie…has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized.” (King, 786). At manageable intervals, we choose to live these horrific events vicariously through the characters in horror movies and books as a means of safely experiencing the “what if”.
Without sound, there was a heavy emphasis on make – up, adding to the horror and preparing the first convention, which is the reveal of the monster. Facial expressions and body language played big part in early horror movies as it provided the tension. A second convention was the ‘dark property in the middle of nowhere,’ using isolation as a way to build up tension. Through the talkies in the 30’s little changed (except sound). The 1950’s and 60’s focused on sci-fi, B movies and Hammer horror, often known as the ‘Atomic Phase.’ Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Alien at the Arctic Circle and The Thing (1951) are good examples.
The ideas and theory behind this slasher sub-genre of horror films can be summed up in a book. Carol Clover, an American professor of film studies, wrote a book in 1992 entitled Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film in which she described the horror film genre. In a chapter entitled “Her Body, Himself”, Clover describes how weapons play a very important role in horror movies as well as explaining her Final Girl theory. Her book’s ideas changed not only academic notions but also popular beliefs on horror films. The 2009 remake of Friday the 13th implies that Carol Clover’s ideas about 80s slasher films, including male tormentors, the importance of weapons, and the Final Girl, have stayed the same through the years.
Audiences love to be scared. Horror films attempt to find some sort of trigger in the audiences mind, and develop it to create horror. Preceded by the great horror novels such as Dracula, and developed in the early nineteen twenties and nineteen thirties in Germany. From slash movies, to the post-modern psychological thrillers, horror films have evolved into an art form. This genre relies heavily on the basic horror conventions.
Web. 19 Apr. 2014. Stephen Whitty. “ A Psycho Analysis: Alfred Hitchcock’s Spookiest Movie Brought With it The End of Hollywood Innocence.” NJ.com.