By Adam Ferraz
The horror film has a long and complex history that dates back to the early twentieth century, and with ancestral roots that stretch back even further, to Gothic novels and revenge tragedies and Greek tragedies, among others.
Horror films began to appear during the so-called silent era of cinema (roughly 1893-1927), and the first significant cycle of horror films started with the German expressionist cinema of the 1920s, specifically The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). These German films influenced a wave of Hollywood horror films that began in 1931 with classics such as Universal Studios’ Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931).
The 1950s and the Cold War era saw an overlap between science fiction and horror films, as well as an appeal to adolescent viewers with films such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). In the 1960s, as Barry Keith Grant wrote in the Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film, Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and its infamous shower scene began the cycle of “family horror films” and “radically reconfigured the genre” by focusing on psychological villains in a mundane setting rather than supernatural villains in a Gothic or fantasy setting. Listen to some of Bernard Herrmann’s music from that scene.
The 1970s brought an overall reexamination of genre movies in American cinema, and the horror genre during this time saw auteurs creating films such as The Exorcist (1973) and Halloween (1978).
The 1980s featured a resurgence of the sci-fi/horror blend as well as a focus on body horror and the horror comedy film. Finally, the 1990s brought both television horror (such as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and big-budget, prestige horror such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Interview with the Vampire (1994).
Despite—or perhaps because of—its convoluted and well-established history, the horror film genre remains immensely popular today, and is still finding ways to both scare and entertain people.
Pictured (above): Janet Leigh in “Psycho” (1960)
Adam Ferraz is a senior English major and Film and Media Studies minor at Davidson College.
 Barry Keith Grant, “Horror Film,” Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film, edited by Barry Keith Grant (Schirmer Reference, 2007), 394.