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Sunday, December 23, 2007

It Came from Hollywood: A History of Horror Movies, Part 3

Following the horrors of World War II, America became a vastly different place. This, in turn, profoundly affected the entertainment industry--particularly the fictional horrors of the movies. The gothic scares that had been all the rage during the '30s and '40s had lost their power. Classic creatures like Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolf Man, et al simply no longer cut the mustard.
The new horrors of the world had much to do with modern science, and so it was in the 1950s that science-fiction and horror intersected like never before. It suddenly seemed like every other film had some sort of creature grow to gigantic proportions thanks to atomic age radiation--whether it be ants (Them!, 1954), spiders (Tarantula, 1955), or just about anything else. Even human monsters were mutations created through mishaps of science--most notably in the 1958 chiller The Fly.
Extending the sci-fi horror theme to include another great fear of the 1950s--the Red Scare--the genre unloaded a barrage of flicks having to do with alien invasions, including The Blob (1958), The Thing from Another World (1951), and the one which most closely paralleled Eisenhower-Era America's terror of communist takeover, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).There were some exceptions to the rule. Gothic horror still had a bit of life left in it, as evidenced by the landmark House of Wax (1953), the first major 3-D production. It also helped establish the career of one Vincent Price, a refined art lover and Yale graduate who had been working in Hollywood since the late 1930s without much notice. Following up with two Fly pictures as well as House on Haunted Hill (1959), Price was a new horror icon before the decade was out.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean in the U.K., a new movie studio was taking shape that would become at the same time both a throwback and a groundbreaker. Hammer Films was a production house built almost completely for the creation of horror movies. Particularly, they were interested in reinventing the classic monsters of old, with a modern flair. Kicking things of with 1957's The Curse of Frankenstein, and following through with 1958's Horror of Dracula and 1959's The Mummy, Hammer brought back the old baddies, this time in bold technicolor, and--most shockingly of all--with plenty of blood. A taboo throughout much of the history of the horror genre, the use of blood became a Hammer trademark, and would most certainly be a sign of things to come. Along the way, Hammer made horror legends of director Terence Fisher and actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
Yet the promise of Hammer was a deceptive one. While the graphic violence would hint at what the next turbulent decade had in store for the genre, horror would nevertheless move further away from its gothic roots than ever before, and land smack dab in the real world. In the 1960s, the monsters would become us.
Other major releases:

Part 1: The Silent DeadPart 2: Gods & Monsters
Soon to come: Part 4 - The Times They Are a-Changin'


Mr. Karswell said...

Gojira ('54) is another excellent example of post war anxiety and reaction transfered to the silver screen, in the form of a giant monster.

B-Sol said...

Oh, definitely! I think I'll add that one to the list of other major releases.

cindy said...

great movies! i totally loved the movie 'them' and get teased when i watch it every time it comes on!

B-Sol said...

Hey, nothing to be ashamed about. My wife still gets totally freaked out by that movie.

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