I thought that I would delve a bit into the history behind these movies that we love so much, so that we can fully understand and appreciate where the genre came from and what it has become.
Horror: an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear
Kinetoscopes & Nickelodeons
Thomas Edison basically invented the movie, alongside an assistant, using a certain kind of film. He came up with the Kinetoscope, which was the first device used for viewing motion pictures. It was a box-like structure with film running throughout its interior. The movies were viewed by looking into a small hole in the top of the structure. Edison eventually also created a projecting Kinetoscope. Nickelodeons were early movie theaters, and the first that focused solely on showing motion pictures. Viewers were charged five cents for entry, which is how the theater got its name.
The First Horror Movies
The first horror movie was created by none other than Thomas Edison in 1895, entitled The Execution of Mary Stuart. It was a very short film (about fifteen seconds) depicting the execution of the Queen of Scotland.
It is argued that this was, in fact, not the first horror movie. There was another entitled Le Menoir du Diable (The Devil's Castle) directed by frenchman Georges Méliès in 1896. In it, Satan is playing tricks on a couple of Knights, making things disappear and reappear. The women that appeared were delightfully frightening in their posture, and the effects were quite impressive coming from such an early and technologically primitive era. I felt a special kind of wonder viewing this, being the horror fan that I am.
The technology for incorporating sound and/or music into films had not yet been discovered, so since the films were silent, were most often accompanied by a pianist. Silent films, though certainly not for everyone, have a certain charm. You must focus completely on the images being projected, and without the distraction of music and sound can sometimes be even more frightening. It is also entertaining to see how the actors portray their characters without the use of their voices. Their motions are usually extremely exaggerated and quite comical, but this does not take away from the effect of horror. Some early silent horror films that come to mind are Nosferatu (1922), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919 - which I have yet to see, but have been meaning to do so). The first horror film to incorporate sound was 1931's Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. So that's it for my brief history lesson in horror movies. Stay tuned for more history, as we travel through the decades to discover what our favorite movie genre is all about.