Most of us enjoy horror films year-round. Even though Halloween is considered a special occasion, there is no reason not to watch other months of the year. Some of the first horror movies were considered some of the best in cinema. There was little to no option in terms of choosing your favorite film. Nowadays we can pick up one of the classics or sit through ones released in theaters. There are ones with animals that are unsettling and ones with zombies that seem overused. There are jump scares and atmospheric movies to create tension. We will be looking at some of the very first in horror cinema and how it started. Are these films just as great to watch now as they were during release? Let’s take a quick look at how this industry came to be!
Horror as a Genre
Most of us probably know the works of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, who were great authors for their time. Then there is Edgar Allan Poe, who people associate most darker forms of poetry with. They have all helped influence horror as a genre in cinema and continue to do so. Ghosts, vampires, demons, zombies, and psychopaths are some of the most used and for good reasons. They can be used for comedic purposes, to tell a story, frighten you, and even evoke emotion from viewers. We know of movies such as Hotel Transylvania or Shaun of the Dead that use these elements for comedic effect. Other movies include Scary Movie (series) and Zombieland that may evoke some form of nostalgia while also being hilarious.
It’s easy to think horror is best with sound, but what if there was no sound? The first full-length monster movie, titled The Golem, was released in 1915. This movie was inspired by Jewish legend about a clay man created by a magical rabbi. It was successful enough to warrant a comedy two years later and a prequel 3 years after that. Only the last film remains, with the length being over an hour and a half. If anyone decides to take the time to watch, it’s also safe to note how similar the golem looks compared to another monster. That monster would be Frankenstein’s Monster. Mary Shelley is noted to take much inspiration from this Jewish legend, and it clearly shows in her work. Later on, Boris Karloff would take inspiration from The Golem and turn it into a portrayal of Frankenstein’s Monster.
After the Silent Age…
Many horror movies started to come about, except this time they came with sound! This sparked a revolution with the various monsters we depict today. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, King Kong, all dressed for success. Each type of monster created by Universal seemed to have been taken from some legend or mystery. Dracula having evolved as a fictional character from Vlad III, the original Dracula novel only becoming popular due to movie depictions. Frankenstein’s Monster derived from Jewish lore. The Mummy is inspired from the Tutankhamen Exhibit, which had toured the world and is contributed for curses that followed. King Kong was inspired by a book where an explorer meets African natives describing this “King of the African forest,” later discovering it to be a gorilla.
All these monsters and more would mark a golden age of horror. Audiences loved them during their initial releases, with critics still praising these films to this date. There have been very few to capture the magic of the originals, being a very deep part of history. There have been numerous remakes, sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, with some being mild successes. The 1999 film The Mummy and Peter Jackson’s King Kong are a testament and tribute to those early classics.
The First in a String of Classics
Dracula is an all-time favorite classic for many. It was one of the first in a long line of monster films. The movie starts out simple enough, some businessman traveling to a castle in Transylvania with locals warning him of danger. The businessman’s name is Renfield and he is automatically welcomed by the Count as he arrives. This movie starts to get pretty crazy really fast. Dracula and Renfield discuss plans to lease a place in London. Not too bad, but unsettling as to why London of all places. As Dracula turns into a bat, Renfield faints and is surrounded by the Count’s three wives. Dracula waves them away and instead decides to attack Renfield himself.
The entire movie is pretty much Dracula in London, with Renfield as his insane slave. He meets people and attacks them later, uses some hypnotism, and of course many of us know the ending. It’s actually a very good film. We suggest watching when you get the chance. Here you also meet the earlier version of Van Helsing, not the modern one that hardly anyone has cared about. Starring Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing, it’s a treasure to explore. We suggest to watch all other subsequent films released by date to gauge the differences in quality.
Horror Classics: Not Dead, and Still Loving It!
It’s amazing to see how far we have come in terms of screen quality. Our tastes may have changed, but the quality in films themselves have not. You can still get something from watching The Invisible Man (1933) or The Wolf Man (1941), or maybe even Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). All respected and amazing films, even today. Little can compare to the classics, but there will always be other depictions. As long as directors can add to others’ work or remake it into their own stories, then the monsters will live forever.