The gothic or more commonly known “horror” genre has been around since the late 1800’s. It is a piece of fantasy that is defined by elements of fear, horror, death and gloom. It can also include romantic themes such as nature, individuality, and high emotion.
I want to explore the conventions of this genre and the effect it has on the audience, how people’s fears have changed and how the way they have been presented on the screen has changed over time. Film and cinematography has a very significant effect on viewers because of its social and emotional implications and its influence on the way we see reality. The three time periods I chose to research were the 1930’s, the 1970’s and present day. The 30’s is often referred to as the golden age of horror. It presented innovative and inventive ideas of creating and presenting fear and fright. It also shows how how filmmakers had to adapt their methods to overcome the restrictions of the production code. The 70’s was the decade was when, after many years of dormancy, the horror genre was resurrected and it saw adaptations of well known novels such as Stephen King’s “Carrie”.
The 70’s also introduced children into the genre and evolved the idea of fear from supernatural creatures to the real monsters, people. Then, I am going to summarize how these factors and genre codes and conventions have contributed to the change of the horror genre to present day. The term and basis of the gothic genre was created in the early 1760’s. The first pieces of gothic fiction that were constructed were novels and literature pieces by writers from the 1700’s. A tale called “The Castle of Otranto” was the first official story to be classified under the gothic genre. It was published in 1764 by Horace Walpole.
It was a tale about the fictional “Prince of Otranto” falling hopelessly in love with the woman destined to marry his son and heir to the throne. During the beginning of the novel, Otranto’s son gets crushed to death by a helmet of a statue of the previous Prince of Otranto. The novel sees everything in and including the walls of the castle become supernaturally alive, until all wicked actions and behaviour was destroyed. People in the 18th century who were reading this text felt deceived and that they had been wronged when they found out the novel was a fragment of someone’s imagination, and in fact fiction. Later, in the 1790’s some novelists rediscovered some of the themes and elements that were present in “The Castle of Otranto”.
One novel produced in 1794 was “The Mysteries of Udolpho” written by Ann Radcliffe. The tale was based upon a dignified villain who threatens the heroine Emily with an unimaginable fate. In the way of films, “Le manoir de Diable” was the first recorded gothic or “horror” film created by George Mieles in 1896.
In the 19th century horror films were known as “spook tales”. The french film can be translated into “The house of the Devil” or “The haunted Castle” and contains aspects such as, bats, devils, witches, cauldrons, ghosts and trolls, all of which appear and disappear in clouds of smoke. This links to the supernatural factors in “The castle of Otranto” implying that in the early stages of the genre, it was known that people were afraid of things that had some sort of non human capability and had physical power over them. In 1920 the film “The Golem was released” and was named the first “monster” movie. This film was based on Jewish folk legends of a clay man created by a Rabbi who possessed magic.The film was produced three times, in 1915, in 1917 and in 1920, the 1920 version is the only one that survived. The french film can be translated into “The house of the Devil” or “The haunted Castle” and contains aspects such as, bats, devils, witches, cauldrons, ghosts and trolls, all of which appear and disappear in clouds of smoke. This links to the supernatural factors in “The castle of Otranto” implying that in the early stages of the genre, it was known that people were afraid of things that had some sort of non human capability and had physical power over them.
In 1920 the film “The Golem was released” and was named the first “monster” movie created by Paul Wegner. This film was based on Jewish folklore legends of a clay man created by a Rabbi who possessed magic.The film was produced three times, in 1915, in 1917 and in 1920, the 1920 version is the only one that survived. The term “Golem” is used to name a creature that is dense and easily manipulated.
They are usually made from materials like clay, sand or stone. The most modern example of a Golem character is “Gollum” from J.R.R Tolkien’s “Lord of the rings”. The Golem character typically possesses qualities such as a split personality and features of a hybrid creature (Gollum is half human half fish/frog and Paul Wegner’s Golem is made from clay, but still possesses human characteristics).
Both the modern and older characters embody these attributes and are evidently similar. The similarities even go as far as both symbolising “gray” features, Wegner’s original Golem is described to be morally gray whereas in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the rings novel, Gollum is gray in colour to connote the idea that typically the Golem character becomes evil and “morally gray” because of real world evils such as wrath, pride, gluttony, greed or envy. These are a few of the seven deadly sins which also implies a religious influence, linking back to the original Golem legend which emerged from Judaism.
The evident relationship between the original Golem character from the Paul Wegner film and the famous, present day Gollum character from The Lord of the Rings Novels and films, suggests that the idea of a monster or non human character is still very relevant and current fear. However, The Lord of the rings films are not classified as horror but more fantasy and adventure. This implies that since it’s beginning, the monster sub- genre in horror has been trivialised and people have become immune to the element of it that originally would scare them, this is probably because nowadays audiences are less likely to believe that creatures like this truly exist. Although, the fact that the Golem figure was part human and part monster is interesting as it might suggest that the reason people were of it in the first place was because of the human characteristics it portrays.
The possibility that a human could transfigure into a monster that possessed seemingly evil or threatening characteristics was probably what created the fear in the first place, as it seemed more realistic. When the 30’s rolled around, it was the peak of hollywood and the film industry, but specifically the horror film industry. It was named the “Golden Age of horror” as it was when horror and gothic concepts were resurrected in the form of films and cinema.
The most successful company for horror in the 1930’s was Universal Pictures. They created a series of notable horror films in the 30’s that were named “Universal horror”. The first to be produced was in 1931 was an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 “Dracula” which was directed by Tod Browning.
The next to come was another literature adaptation, also in 1931 of Mary Shelley’s 1811 novel “Frankenstein” which was directed by James Whale. Both of these films were adaptations of classic literature and address themes such as how people respond to outcasts and people who are different from what nature defines as human.