For most of us, a trip to the cinema is an escape from reality, a chance to put your worries on hold for 90 minutes. The horror film often provides the greatest release, giving us the adrenalin rush of a rollercoaster ride. Being terrified shouldn’t be a state we actively seek out, yet while other cinematic genres come and go, horror has been consistently successful through the decades.
The most successful horror movies are often those which tap into timely societal fears, feeding them back to the audience through a filter of shadow and fog.
The first successful wave of Hollywood horror came in the early thirties. With the U.S plunged into depression following the stock market crash of 1929, Americans began to grow hostile towards the immigrants who had been arriving en masse since the turn of the century, fearing the extra competition for scarcely available jobs. Three of the biggest horror movies of the time, ‘Dracula’, ‘The Mummy’ and ‘King Kong’, feature villains arriving from foreign locales to wreak havoc and have their wicked way with fair-haired American actresses. In the fifties, Britain was experiencing similar mass immigration and, once again, it was ‘Dracula’ and ‘The Mummy’ terrorising audiences, now courtesy of Hammer films.
The real life trauma of the Second World War meant the production of horror films was largely halted during the forties, as movie producers (naively?) assumed audiences would rather indulge in lighter fair. By the fifties, however, horror was back in a big way, this time preying on the tensions of the cold war and the fear of communism. Both ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and ‘Invaders From Mars’ feature residents of small town America having their personalities stolen, becoming mindless drones whose sole purpose is to serve an invading alien race.
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