#AllTheHorror, 31 Horror Films 31 Days, 31 horror movie challenge, 31 horror movies, 31 Horror Movies 31 Days, All the Horror, American horror film, analysis, blog, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Cinema, close reading, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Film, German Expressionism, Halloween, Horror, House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, Night of the Living Dead, Nosferatu, October, Peeping Tom, podcast, podern family, R.L. Terry, review, RLTerryReelView, Rosemary's Baby, The Innocents, The Phantom of the Opera, The Turn of the Screw, Un Chien Andalou
If you haven’t figured out by now, my favorite genre is horror! During the month of October, I am planning to watch, and I challenge you to watch, 31 horror movies. Each day, I will add a movie with a brief (and yes, I know I am not known for being brief) analysis. Instead of a separate blog entry for each of the 31 movies, I am going to add to this entry then post what I watched/reviewed on my Twitter (RLTerry1). So, if you’re not following me on Twitter, now would be a great time! Remember to use the hashtag #AllTheHorror #31HorrorMoviesChallenge or #31HorrorFilms31Days when you post about your horror movies this month! As I am someone who enjoys order and a method to accomplishing a movie challenge, I am dedicating each 5-7 days to a different subgenre of horror. My plan is to begin with its German expressionism origins and work my way up to more recent movies and trends. Although the idea is to dedicate a whole week to the selected subgenres, I may switch it up every five days in order to get six different kinds of horror films. To my podcast friends, I would love to join the #AllTheHorror conversations this month. Send me an email or direct message on Twitter to setup a time for me to join your next horror discussion. Let’s begin!
First Group (1920-30s German expressionism, French surrealism, and early horror)
Movie 1 (10/01)
Nosferatu (1922). Directed by F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu is widely considered the first vampire movie and direct forerunner to Universal Studios’ Dracula. This early horror movie is so incredibly good that you forget that there is no spoken dialogue in the film. One of the most impactful elements of the experience of watching this beautiful example of the best of horror, is the film’s argument that vampires are real. In essence, I feel strongly that this film wants us to believe that “Dracula-like” vampires are real and must be feared. Steeped in German expressionistic cinematic stylings, this film typifies the stylistic technique by using exaggerated gothic architecture and harsh shadows. In this cinematic movement, directors used symbolic acting, events, and architecture to tell the story. Although this film IS based on Bram Stoker’s iconic gothic novel, Murnau changed the names because the Stoker estate felt it was being ripped off. Beyond the contributions to the American horror film, this film is also considered to be the first to include a montage. Now commonplace, this was an innovative decision for Murnau. The symbolism in the imagery is beautifully executed and truly creates a macabre atmosphere. While there are many ways of reading this film, some of the more common metaphors boil down to the content of our nightmares or what wakes you with trouble at the witching hour of 3am. War, disease, cancer, security, and love are certainly visible in the imagery and production design. As most of the film is covered in shadows, think of this as the dark corners of your mind. A highly visual means of storytelling, Nosferatu captures the imagination through the setting and characters.
Movie 2 (10/02)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921). Often cited as the first feature length film to incorporate the twist ending, director Robert Wiene’s German expressionism masterpiece contributed significantly to the development of the American horror film. Like something straight out of a macabre tale from Edgar Allan Poe, this early work of cinema was the first to truly depict–visually–the inner workings of a disturbed and depraved mind–a fractured psyche. The production design is brilliant. With its skewed perspectives, warped imagery, imaginative lines, shadows, and more, this film provides audiences with a glimpse into what Freud calls the uncanny. Uncanny being a chief component of the American horror film. Like with many horror films, the central conflict revolves around a mysterious death, and a bizarre investigation ensues. Whereas the plot itself may not be horror by today’s understanding, many scholars including myself, consider it to be the first true horror film. Furthermore, this film’s visual stylings inspired some of what Universal used in their early works of horror from Phantom of the Opera to Wolfman. It has it all! An ominous villain, extremes of emotions, tensions increase and release, and here is visual terror. Preceding Nosferatu by one year, this film set the foundation for German expressionistic cinema, followed by many directors. Even to this day, many horror films include exaggerated shapes, shadows, and symbolism. Although the plots of horror films have changes since this film, the visual elements it established are still very much a part of the American horror film.
Movie 3 (10/03)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Before the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, there was the quintessential Lon Chaney cinematic masterpiece Universal Pictures’ The Phantom of the Opera. The second horror film to be released by Universal (with the Hunchback of Notre Dame being the first), this film defined the capabilities of special effects makeup. In fact, Lon Chaney took most of his secrets to his grave (I learned that at the Horror Makeup Show at Universal Orlando). Having just watched Nosferatu three days ago, it is clear to me that Chaney was channeling his impressions of the Max Schreck performance. Far different from its more modern adaptations, wether is the 2004 film or the original Webber musical, this film has a macabre, ominous atmosphere about it. It is creepy from the onset. One of the traits of a horror film is its innate ability to be pervasive, to question popular culture and provide us with different perspectives on cultural norms, traditions, sociology, or institutions. And this film does precisely that! Prior to Dracula, this is considered by many to be the first gothic romance (although you can also argue Hunchback was first). But in terms of the lighting, production design, and performances, this film became the standard that many others would follow in order to inject romance into horror. Phantom of the Opera is rich with themes! As horror often is. We have the classic romance of unrequited love, beauty vs the beast (and we have different types of beasts in the story), the very concept of a ghoul, and more. This film contributed vastly to the horror foundational library upon which many tales would be developed. Beautiful horror.
Movie 4 (10/04)
Dracula (1931). Universal continues strong into the horror genre with an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula! Bela Lugosi, who many consider to be the definitive Dracula, stars in this gothic romance that’s incredibly foundational in the American horror film. This hypnotic horror movie is both beautiful and terrifying. You may wonder why Lon Chaney did not play this iconic role since he had a winning streak with The Hunchback and The Phantom of the Opera, well unfortunately Mr. Chaney passed away as Dracula was going into production. Lugosi was not unknown to the world of showbusiness; he was the star of the Broadway show Dracula in 1927. The most memorable parts of this film are Lugosi’s performance and the brilliant cinematography by Karl Freund that give the unmistakable look and feel of the film. Not taking away from director Tod Browning, but he benefited greatly from the talent of the aforementioned gentlemen. To his credit though, Browning looked to Murnau’s Nosferatu for the overall production of his take on Dracula. Although the production design, lighting, and tone of the film are quite similar to Nosferatu, the biggest difference is the addition of sound. Drawing your attention in almost the same way Lugosi hypnotizes his victims, his background in live theatre enabled him to capture your imagination and gaze with his highly stylized mannerisms and vocal inflections. Perhaps what fascinates us with the act of vampirism is that is it like an elegant, slow-motion assault, executed with precision and politeness by a beautiful creature who charms you into giving yourself completely over to them.
Movie 5 (10/05)
Un Chien Andalou (1929). You may be wondering why this film is part of my #31HorrorFilms31Days. After all, it is not ordinarily a film that you think of when watching horror movies. However, this film in conjunction with other early works from the 1920s and 30s provided the very foundation upon which the horror film was built. At its roots, the American horror film is comprised of German expressionism, French surrealism, and Freud’s uncanny. Un Chien Andalou, directed by none other than Salvador Dali, is the definitive surrealist film. Famous for its opening scene that still evokes shock, awe, and makes you queasy to this day, this film is full of outstanding imagery that are collectively some of the most searing and memorable ever to appear on the silver screen. Just from that brief description, it should become clear as to why this film is foundational in creative the imagery of a horror movie. If expressionism sought to depict subjective emotions through architecture, lighting, and symbolism, then surrealism countered that movement by creating a super reality that destroyed rationalism in exchange for the hidden, underlying laws of our world. Releasing the creative potential of the unconscious mind was the goal. There is very little story in this film, but rather a series of sequences that demonstrate Not only is this film influential in the evolution of the American horror film, but it’s arguably the single most famous short film in history. I wish I could provide you with an analysis of the story, but there simply isn’t one. Lots and lots of surrealist images that are purely an artform meant to shock, terrorize, indulge, and humor audiences. Ars Gratia Artis (latin: art for art’s sake).r
Movie 6 (10/06)
The Mummy (1932). From the same writer who brought us 1931’s Dracula, The Mummy provides the horror genre with a foundation in creepy existential romanticism. Interestingly, Boris Karloff’s mummy costume may be instantly recognizable; however, he only spends a few minutes wrapped up as the mummy. The rest of the movie, he is dressed pretty snazzy. His makeup is incredible, not because it’s flashy but because it’s just the right amount of texture to give us the impression that he could potentially return to the sarcophagus from which he came. What The Mummy contributes to the development of the American horror film is more than the creepy romance; it provides audiences with more than an hour (yes, just 70mins) of affective atmospheric terror and dread. While both Dracula and Frankenstein have impressive creatures and effects, the Mummy demonstrates an exemplary commitment to recreating Egypt. In so many scenes, we have beautiful artifacts and decorations that transport us from our (now) living rooms to Cairo. This film may be a combination of shots on a sound stage and in the Mojave desert, but the composite on film convinces me that I am in Egypt. We may only see Karloff in his mummy wrappings for a few minutes and that terrifying face with the penetrating gaze, but his performance was so effective that these images are ingrained in our mind’s eye to this day.
Second group (1950s science-fiction, haunting, and proto-slasher)
Movie 7 (10/07)
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Universal delivers audiences another monster, but this time it is in a tropical lagoon instead of a cold, dark crypt. The 1950s was a time that horror was transitioning from far away lands and long ago times to other worldly destinations in the present and future. Nestled nicely in between The Thing from Another World and Forbidden Planet, Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon countered the common science-fiction movies of the day with a brilliant science-fiction horror that was equal parts terrifying and impressive. While space and distant planets could be replicated on a sound stage, this film chose the difficult task of shooting on top of and underwater. I am so incredibly impressed by the costuming of the gill-man and the amount of time spent shooting underwater. By all measurable accounts, Arnold is one of the greatest science-fiction horror directors of all time. In fact, two of his movies are forever inshrined in the opening song from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Whereas the earlier Universal monsters were largely the subjects of gothic or creepy romances, this was a solid horror film that paved the way for the modern film in 1960 with Psycho. The 1950s were a highly transitional time for horror and this film successfully bridges the gap between the stories of the 1920s and 30s and adds in additional kills and scary moments to provide audiences with a fantastic experience. The plot of this film is also exceptional! It has razor-sharp pacing and culminates in an exciting showdown. Little known fact, this film played in 3D in theatres of the day! While many of the scenes were shot on Universal’s backlot, the above water and under water scenes were shot in Florida. From the writing to costuming and production design, this science-fiction horror movie played such an important role in the development of horror films.
Movie 8 (10/08)
The Thing from Another World (1951). During the 1950s, horror takes a turn to the science-fiction realm. Whereas monsters were a stable of the 20s and 30s, science, space, and oceans became the settings and subjects of the films. Interestingly, this can be seen as an extension of the early monsters era because we still encounter monsters in these other worldly stories. In the 1980s, John Carpenter would remake this iconic sci-fi horror film. Although I am typically a fan of originals most, I must confess that I prefer Carpenter’s The Thing to the original. However, no mistaking it, I really like The Thing from Another World. What I respect most about this film and what I feel that it contributes significantly to the horror genre is the power and terror evoked from that which is unseen. This film demonstrates a mastery of that which we cannot see. Hitchcock once stated that there is “nothing more terrifying than an unopened door.” One of the running themes in this movement of the American horror film is the concept of being rescued by institutional, scientific, or governmental authorities. Plot wise, to be honest, I feel that the original has a stronger story; however, the visceral horror was definitely increased in the Carpenter remake.
Movie 9 (10/09)
House of Wax (1953). Vincent Price jumpstarts his career in horror in the classic House of Wax. A little known fact is that, while many think of this as the original, it was actually a remake of the earlier Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). This visually stunning horror film still holds up well today. Although the 2005 remake is more horrific in terms of the visceral horror, the 1953 version’s plot is more sound and the characters far more interesting–especially the character of Professor Jarrod (Price). Even by today’s standards, this film is highly disturbing and assaults the eye at every turn. From the melting life-like faces of wax figures to a vat that’s designed to pour molten wax over human bodies. Many argue that Price’s Prof. Jarrod is a prototype for the slasher that would be perfected by Hitchcock in Psycho. Price’s performance in this film is highly memorable. He may be recognized first and foremost by his unparalleled creepy voice, but his acting is top notch as well. Interestingly House of Wax is in color whereas his most famous role of Loren in 1959’s House on Haunted Hill would be in grayscale. Between Jarrod skulking about and stalking his prey wearing a black “Jack the Ripper” coat and hat and composer David Buttolph’s haunting score, the atmosphere in this film is exceptionally macabre. If you are frightened or creeped out by wax figures, then you are in for a treat because the cinematography in this film provides many lingering shots of wax figures seemingly staring at you. Perhaps they are crying out for help because they are a prisoner of the museum.Unlike 2005’s House of Wax, this one may not be a cut-and-dry horror film, but that is to its advantage. It’s the whodunit element to the plot that gives this film more substance than its future counterpart.
Movie 10 (10/10)
House on Haunted Hill (1959). Prior to Vincent Price’s House on Haunted Hill there weren’t many movies about haunted house movies. At least, none that have stood the test of time in the way that this film has. While this isn’t a true haunting movie, it certainly contains many of the plot elements and scares used in today’s haunted house movies. Much like the whodunit concept provided House of Wax with a more substantive plot, it also did the same for the plot here. In terms of practical effects, House on Haunted Hill was one of the first to use a pulley system in order to make a skeleton dance across the floor. If you had the pleasure of watching this film when it was first released, you may have been in a theatre where a similar system was rigged up for a skeleton to fly over the audience during that scene. While this may not be a “scary” movie, it is still an important horror movie in the evolution of the American horror film. It came at a pivotal time as screenwriters and directors were slowly transitioning from the classical horror film to the modern. It wouldn’t be until the following year that Alfred Hitchcock would give us the first modern horror film in Psycho. Most memorable in this film is the performance of Vincent Price! From his smirks to macabre gestures to terrifying voice, he is the strongest actor and demonstrates the ability to carry the film. Back stabbings, twists, turns, and a haunting atmosphere give this film brilliant production design and action points. It truly set the standard for the haunted house concept even though it has a whodunit element to it. Future haunting movies would borrow from House on Haunted Hill in order to achieve their desired effects.
Movie 11 (10/11)
The Blob (1958). Happy 60th birthday! This classic 1950s science-fiction horror B-movie has everything that you want in a film of this era. And it’s not just Steve McQueen in the lead role, the whole movie is grossly underrated for it’s entertainment value and contribution to the horror library. Whereas there is little in this film that will induce nightmares. the film is incredibly successful at building up suspense and generating tension through the various levels of conflict. I love the practical effects in this movie. Although the movements of the blob are mostly jerky, it is highly effective at increasing the level of the very disturbing nature of the movie. Interestingly, The Blob was the first movie to specifically target the teenage audience. It was made to provide a great experience in a traditional cinema and drive-ins. There is also some meta aspects to the movie as there is a scene with a horror movie within a horror movie. I loved that! I would totally watch the movie that they were watching at the town cinema. Even for its day, this movie knows precisely what it is, schlock and all. Unlike many modern horror movies, this one does not take itself too seriously yet never stoops to gimmicky plot devices. There is an intangible fun factor with this movie that enables it to be enjoyable 60 years later.
Third group (1960s emergence of the slasher, psychological horror, and the modern zombie)
For an article on the first modern horror film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, click here. I am not covering it for #AllTheHorror because I’ve written many articles on it.
Movie 12 (10/13)
Peeping Tom (1960). Released the same year as Hitchcock’s Psycho, this voyeuristic horror film was met with a gross amount of negative press, so much so that it completely derailed the career of director Michael Powell. Perhaps this film was ahead of its time. Had it been received more favorably by critics then, it’s entirely possible that it could have earned the moniker “the first modern horror film” instead of Psycho since it was released a month prior. It’s highly disturbing and will give you chills as the victims look into the mirror, watching their faces as they are stabbed to death. It reminds me of a precursor to the torture porn movies that would not appear commercially until the first Saw. Much like Psycho, this film also contains a psychological trauma element in it. Mark, our peeping tom, was forced to watch terrifying experiments that his father would conduct. Whereas this film may have been thought to be shocking for shock-value alone, it is not without its depth. I appreciate this film for its commentary on the theory that we are all voyeurs. Not only is the audience fixated on the actions inside the cinematic window, but they are also enamored by the director who is crafting the story.
Movie 13 (10/14)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Happy 50th birthday! Controversial director Roman Polanski’s cinematic horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby is just as horrifying today as it was when it was released. The tension, suspense, and psychological terror still haunt audiences today just like it did 50 years ago. Inducted into the Criterion Collection, this film was groundbreaking for horror cinema and paved the way for later supernatural horror films like The Exorcist. What I appreciate most about this film is the power to frighten audiences without ever giving the audience something on screen to be frightened of. In fact, we never see Satan’s child. There is unthinkable danger around each corner of this brilliant motion picture. While many post-modern horror films rely primarily upon shock, this film uses the power of that which is horrifyingly inevitable to thrill the audience. Polanski provides lots of exposition in the first act that carries audiences through the rest of the film. Countering the approach from Hitchcock, in which the characters are at the mercy of the plot, Polanski’s characters emerge as real people in a situation that feels incredibly real. In a masterful fashion, Polanski’s direction enables the characters and plot to transcend the story. It’s that realness that increases the terror felt in the film exponentially.
Movie 14 (10/14)
The Innocents (1961). Based on Henry James’ story The Turn of the Screw, the 1961 The Innocents is a heart-pounding psychological horror film that successfully adds in elements of hauntings and possessions. The film instantly draws you into this seemingly innocent world of gardens, English countryside estates, and orphan children. If you like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, then you will definitely enjoy this film. While some stories suffer in the translation from page to screen, the film cleared up some of the ambiguities from the novel. Unlike many horror films in which most of the most disturbing or frightening moments take place in the dark, director Jack Clayton crafts terrifying moments during the day. The combination of stylistic editing and fantastic cinematography enabled Clayton to provide audiences with an atmosphere of dread during the second and third acts. While the first act may seem as though it starts out slowly, it quickly begins to ramp up the suspense and the anticipation of the dread that is about to befall our central character of Miss Giddens. You may be wondering why the title of this film is The Innocents instead of the novella’s The Turn of the Screw, and that’s because there was a stage adaptation titled The Innocents before the movie. The central theme in this film is the loss of innocence, and it is left up to the audience to conclude whether the phantoms are real or figments of Miss Giddens’ imagination. That being the case, it gives the film a realness that can easily serve as material to discuss in a film studies class. Contributing to the evolution of the horror film, it demonstrably clear that this film provides the horror library with a model of excellence in the haunting and possession sub-genre. Cocktail Party Massacre highlights the film’s subtext of sexual repression and projection. Themes such as human sexuality and past trauma are recurring themes in the American horror film. In fact, many horror films are similar to morality plays. But these plays are told through creative, frightening ways.
Movie 15 (10/15)
Night of the Living Dead (1968). George A. Romero’s timeless horror classic Night of the Living Dead was a groundbreaking masterpiece in 1968 and continues to inspire today. Although it is not the first zombie movie (that would be White Zombies followed by I Walked with a Zombie), it is the first modern zombie film. Every zombie movie made ever since can trace its roots back to this iconic horror film. When you think of a zombie, this is perhaps what you think of. Place yourself in the seats of 1968 cinema. Eight years prior, Hitchcock gave you the first modern horror film, and other directors began to emerge to craft their horror stories for the screen. While slashers were beginning to develop, hauntings, and possessions also began to emerge, George A. Romero took a shoestring budget and decided to shock audiences with something never seen before (and thankfully before the new MPAA rating system took full-effect). He didn’t invent the zombie, but he did invent THE zombie movie. Since most of us horror fans have seen this multiples times, reviewed it, and even watched documentaries about it, I thought I would talk about the sociological themes found in the film. Themes in Night of the Living Dead include alienation, cannibalism, racism, and identity. Furthermore, there is an interesting question one could ask: who is the true enemy? Understanding the sociological implications of this film come into full view when exploring when the film was released. What was happening at the time? The US was emerging from the height of the civil rights era and the aftermath of the Vietnam war. One of the common theoretical approaches to understanding the themes of this film is to view it as analogy of the US in Vietnam. Moreover, the zombies can be seen as racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation minorities in the US. There are so many approaches to studying this film. Beyond the groundbreaking content and story within the film, Romero also broke ground by making the strong leading man black, which was against the norm of Hollywood at the time (and to some extent today). There is so much to understanding the significance of this film, the power of its storytelling. Entire articles and books have been written on it, but I hope this brief paragraph inspires you to open your mind to the phenomenal nature of Night of the Living Dead.
Fourth group (1970s/80s horror, slashers and possessions reign, franchises are born)
Movie 16 (10/16)
Halloween (1978). That music, tho! With a Jack-O-Lantern in almost every scene and a mysterious POV of the killer following by a shocking reveal at the beginning, John Carpenter’s nerve-wrecking thriller Halloween terrified audiences with its home invasion meets slasher to redefine what a horror film could do! In fact, this film is widely regarded as the definitive slasher and was the highest grossing independent film of all time when it was released. Furthermore, Halloween also provides us with the archetype final girl Laurie Strode played by Jamie Lee Curtis (the daughter of Psycho‘s Janet Leigh). There is so much to love about this film that entire books could be written and classes taught on it. It’s funny, exciting, terrifying, and more. It was directed with as much attention to the art of the story as the visceral horror of the action. Much like with Night of the Living Dead, I don’t seek to review this iconic film per se, but instead want to do a brief film analysis. Heavily influenced by Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov who wrote prolifically on a character arc that was comprised of five stages: equilibrium –> big event upsets the order –> an acknowledgment of what is going on –> begins the path to resolution –> through a showdown, resolution is reached and order is restored. There is a strong feminism theme in the film evident by the strong, independent Laurie who stands her ground and protects herself and the kids. She is never objectified nor painted to be helpless. She typifies the final girl through her androgynous clothing, studious behavior, and the fact she fights with the main villain and survives. With minimal dialogue, Carpenter focused this film on the powerful, memorable visual storytelling told through the creative and effective use of substantive cinematography. Instead of stooping to the inclusion of frame upon frame of gore, Carpenter chooses suspense and tension for these elements provide a film with substance and narrative. Although Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released prior to Halloween, this film truly understood the emerging slasher genre, and perfected it! It is the model on which so many other films are based.
Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!
Thrillz (theme parks): Thrillz.co