Early Horror Films: The Beginning of a Genre by Rory Vogel

November 25, 2011

Enthralling audiences for more than a century, the horror film genre has generated countless well-known images of terror and the macabre. With the invention of motion picture technology in the late 1800s, people began producing horror movies almost immediately. The House of the Devil, intended as a comedy but now considered to be the first example of horror conventions onscreen, was released in 1896. Such films as Frankenstein (1910) and The Student of Prague (1913) followed, but the genre really gained steam after German directors produced The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Nosferatu (1922).

The House of the Devil Movie Poster

The House of the Devil Movie Posterpublic domain

In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the director of a mental institution and his somnambulist cohort are accused of murder by a man who turns out to be one of the inmates. Set in the landscape of a northern German town, the memorable film leaves viewers doubting which character is insane and which is rational. Nosferatu is considered the first important vampire movie. With his long, curling fingernails and sharp teeth, the blood-sucking monster scared audiences for decades after the movie’s release.

The popularity of these films paved the way for such classic American horror films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Monster (1925), and The Phantom of the Opera (1925), all featuring the stunning performances of Lon Chaney. American directors later created the first zombie and werewolf movies, White Zombie (1932) and Werewolf of London (1935).

White Zombie

White Zombie Movie Poster.public domain posted at formedveny.freeblog.hu

About the author: An avid fan of horror films, Rory Vogel studies liberal arts at Bergen Community College.


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