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The Horror Film

The Horror Film

Edited and with an Introduction by Stephen Prince
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Horror Film
    Book Description:

    In this volume, Stephen Prince has collected essays reviewing the history of the horror film and the psychological reasons for its persistent appeal, as well as discussions of the developmental responses of young adult viewers and children to the genre. The book focuses on recent postmodern examples such as The Blair Witch Project. In a daring move, the volume also examines Holocaust films in relation to horror.Part One features essays on the silent and classical Hollywood eras. Part Two covers the postWorld War II era and discusses the historical, aesthetic, and psychological characteristics of contemporary horror films. In contrast to horror during the classical Hollywood period, contemporary horror features more graphic and prolonged visualizations of disturbing and horrific imagery, as well as other distinguishing characteristics. Princes introduction provides an overview of the genre, contextualizing the readings that follow.Stephen Prince is professor of communications at Virginia Tech. He has written many film books, including Classical Film Violence: Designing and Regulating Brutality in Hollywood Cinema, 19301968, and has edited Screening Violence, also in the Depth of Field Series.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4257-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction: The Dark Genre and Its Paradoxes
    (pp. 1-12)
    Stephen Prince

    Along with Westerns, musicals, and gangster films, horror is one of cinema’s basic genres, one that emerged early in the history of the medium. Georges Méliès depicted the Devil as a vampire bat inThe Haunted Castle(1896). The first screen adaptation ofFrankenstein, produced by Thomas Edison, appeared in 1910. The wolf man even made an early appearance in 1913’sThe Werewolf.

    Other genres emerged in the early days of cinema, but unlike some, such as Westerns and musicals, horror films have retained their popularity into the present period. For example, two of the biggest films of 1999,The...


    • Shadow-Souls and Strange Adventures: Horror and the Supernatural in European Silent Film
      (pp. 15-39)
      Casper Tybjerg

      In the literature on the horror genre, the films produced by Universal in the early 1930s, beginning withDraculaandFrankenstein, are often regarded as the foundational works. Indeed, one frequently comes across the argument that it is not possible to speak of a horror genre, properly speaking, prior to 1930. In the introduction to Roy Kinnard’sHorror in Silent Films: A Filmography, 1896–1929, we read:

      The horror film as a genre was officially born in the early sound era, on November 16, 1931. On that date, Universal Pictures released their now-classic production ofFrankenstein. . . . [It...

    • Before Sound: Universal, Silent Cinema, and the Last of the Horror-Spectaculars
      (pp. 40-57)
      Ian Conrich

      Between 1928 and 1930, the short but significant period in cinema history when the silent film was replaced by the all-talkie, the American movie industry underwent a number of dramatic economic changes. In order to accommodate the demand for sound-on-film productions, there was the costly rewiring of cinemas and the installation of audio equipment; theater orchestras were dismissed by picture palaces, while the studios built new sound stages; and many stars of the silent period, who had trained in mime and lacked the appropriate screen voice, found they were not required for the talkie productions, which now favored performers from...

    • Children of the Night
      (pp. 58-69)
      Carlos Clarens

      Not without trepidation, Universal released the filmDraculaon Valentine’s Day, 1931. At first, there was no mention of the picture’s unusual theme—“The Strangest Love Story of All,” the advertising posters hinted in a cautious tone. Over the novelty of the “Love Story” the critics were enthusiastic, and lines began to form at the Roxy Theatre in New York City. It eventually became Universal’s biggest moneymaker of the year. The film restored the true meaning of the wordvampire, which had come to stand for predatory females of the Theda Bara school.

      Draculabegins well. A few snatches of...

    • The Horrors of War
      (pp. 70-82)
      David J. Skal

      It would probably have come as no surprise to the elderly Jewish man at Radio City Music Hall that one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite movies wasKing Kong.¹ The Fuhrer couldn’t get enough of it. He talked about the monster picture for days after it was first screened at the Chancellery (he liked to watch a film every night, if possible). Along withSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs, another favorite,King Kongoccupied a place of honor in Hitler’s private cinematic pantheon.

      A figure like Adolf Hitler can probably never be completely understood, but politics and popular culture have...


    • Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film
      (pp. 85-117)
      Isabel Cristina Pinedo

      The universe of the contemporary horror film is an uncertain one in which good and evil, normality and abnormality, reality and illusion become virtually indistinguishable. This, together with the presentation of violence as a constituent feature of everyday life, the inefficacy of human action, and the refusal of narrative closure, produces an unstable, paranoid universe in which familiar categories collapse. The iconography of the body figures as the site of this collapse.Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killerunfolds in this postmodern universe. The film, which details the sanguinary activities of a psychotic serial killer, was ready for release early...

    • Dread, Taboo, and The Thing: Toward a Social Theory of the Horror Film
      (pp. 118-130)
      Stephen Prince

      Beasts, demons, and other nefarious creatures that stalk through horror films are legion, as are the diverse critical interpretations they call forth. For example, monsters, and the films in which they figure, have been regarded as excavating “archaic fears . . . and deeply buried wishes,”¹ anxieties connected with sexuality and death,² masochistic pleasures generated through the imagery of suffering, violence, and death,³ and fears of ideological collapse and breakdown.⁴ Despite the apparently disparate nature of such interpretations, however, a common, connecting logic unifies them. This is the logic of a psychological model, in which horror films are interpreted as...

    • Toward an Aesthetics of Cinematic Horror
      (pp. 131-149)
      Steven Jay Schneider

      There is no dearth of scholarship on cinematic horror. Indeed, to judge from the sheer number of single-authored volumes and edited collections published on the genre in recent years—including historical surveys (e.g., Tudor, Skal, Jancovich), sociocultural analyses (e.g., Hawkins, Crane, Williams), philosophical investigations (e.g., Carroll, Freeland, Schneider and Shaw), psychoanalytic and gender studies (e.g., Clover, Creed, Grant, Pinedo, Schneider), and catch-all anthologies (e.g., Gelder, Jancovich, Silver and Ursini)—it would seem that the horror film’s oft-noted propensity for redundancy, sequelization, and overkill has found its non-fictional correlates in the world of academia.¹

      Interestingly, however, and not a little surprisingly...

    • Scraping Bottom: Splatter and the Herschell Gordon Lewis Oeuvre
      (pp. 150-166)
      Jonathan Crane

      The horror film has legs. Commencing with primal scenes of pixilated hellspawn in George Méliès’sLe Manoir Du Diable(The Manor of the Devil) (1896) and continuing without surrender until the bloody excesses of the present day, the genre of grotesque mayhem, occult freaks, and implacable killers has endured. While subject to periodic waxing and waning in relative popularity, the dark genre has never been threatened by the ignominious void of complete extinction. Unlike the vanished horse opera, buried beach blanket bingo, or moribund song and dance spectacular, the unparalleled exercise in fright seems incredibly robust and quite even immortal....

    • Mondo Horror: Carnivalizing the Taboo
      (pp. 167-188)
      Mikita Brottman

      The kind of film that has come to be known as the “mondo movie” first became popular in the 1960s, when films likeMondo Balordo(1964),Mondo Bizarro(1966),Mondo Freudo(1966), andTaboos of the World(1963) tried to capitalize on the huge success of the seminal mondo film,Mondo Cane(1962). The mondo films of the 1960s featured (often-faked) catalogues of bizarre practices from around the globe, such as dog eating in the Philippines, tribal fertility rituals, and South American cargo cults. The new mondo movies of the past two decades, however, are far more vivid and explicit...

    • Horror and Art-Dread
      (pp. 189-205)
      Cynthia Freeland

      Some recent movies herald a change in horror films during the past decade or so:The Sixth Sense(M. Night Shyamalan, 1999),Blair Witch Project(Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, 1999),The Others(Alejandro Amenabar, 2001), andSigns(Shyamalan, 2002). In these films the horror is subtle and lingering, a matter of mood more than monsters. Such horror differs from other waves of the genre—the psycho killers of the 1960s, the slashers of the 1970s, and self-conscious 1990s parodies likeScream. Recent films of uneasy suspense return us to the understated horror of classics Val Lewton produced,Cat People...

    • Horror and the Holocaust: Genre Elements in Schindler’s List and Psycho
      (pp. 206-223)
      Caroline J. S. Picart and David A. Frank

      Schindler’s Listis now the primary source for the popular understanding of the Holocaust, having achieved the status of sanctioned history.¹ The movie “has provided millions of Americans with what will surely be their primary imagery, and understanding of, the Holocaust.”² However, when we juxtaposeSchindler’s Listwith Claude Lanzmann’sHolocaust, Art Spiegelman’sMaus, Primo Levi’sThe Drowned and the SavedandSurvival in Auschwitz, and even Hannah Arendt’s much contestedEichmann in Jerusalem, we believe Spielberg’s work is revealed as a rhetoric far less commensurate with the trauma of the Holocaust because it ultimately falls back upon the visual...

    • Developmental Differences in Responses to Horror
      (pp. 224-241)
      Joanne Cantor and Mary Beth Oliver

      Almost everyone seems to be able to remember an occasion in their childhood when an especially terrifying mass media portrayal took hold of their consciousness and left them frightened, shaken, and troubled for a considerable period of time. Many researchers have reported that such enduring fright reactions, which often involve sleep disturbances and nightmares, are not at all uncommon (Blumer; Cantor and Reilly; Eisenberg; Hess and Goldman; Himmelweit, Oppenheim, and Vince; Johnson; Palmer, Hockett, and Dean; Preston).

      Although, for ethical reasons, children’s responses to the horror genre per se have rarely been investigated directly, a considerable amount of research and...

    • The Appeal of Horror and Suspense
      (pp. 242-260)
      Mary Beth Oliver and Meghan Sanders

      The idea that people would expose themselves to entertainment that is designed to evoke feelings of horror, dread, and often disgust is a seemingly puzzling phenomenon. After all, entertainment and entertaining diversions are presumably supposed to be enjoyable, uplifting, or pleasurable. Given the popularity of frightening films as a form of entertainment, however, the experience of cinematic horror obviously delights many moviegoers, with the variety of pleasures derived from viewing this type of entertainment generating considerable attention from media researchers, psychologists, and scholars in related disciplines. This chapter examines social and psychological approaches that have been employed to examine both...

  6. Contributors
    (pp. 261-264)
  7. Index
    (pp. 265-272)