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How Long Have We Been Scared?
by Jon Schuller

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I am not horror movie fan, but I can vividly remember going to see Rosemary's Baby with Chris at the Lee Theatre in Ft. Lee, N.J. We'd heard it was a scary film but, what the heck? Well, we didn't sit through the entire picture, I can admit. The scenes kept getting more and more creepy which was, of course, the film's objective. It certainly worked on us.

That started me thinking about movies that make people afraid, unnerved and more than a bit unsettled. We know the films' intent but we go and watch them anyway. Maybe, if we're in a theatre – or the comfort of our homes – we realize, unconsciously, that it's only a movie, right? Well the greatest film-makers throughout the world have known this and the effects keep getting stronger and more horrifying; especially with the advent of C.G.I.in modern pictures.

Horror films have been around for over 120 years. The first films, while short and only a few, were scary, innovative and directed by cinema's pioneers like Georges Méliès of France, England's George
Albert Smith and America's Edwin S. Porter. The medium was new but these men, and others like Thomas Edison and William Frieze-Green (England), saw the incredible potentials of movies to entertain and inform. Scary stories have been a part of humanity's history for millennia. Plays and literature abound with the natural and the supernatural. Once again, we see that films were simply a logical next step in story-telling.

The list of frightening movies that started in the late 19th Century and that continue today in the early 21st Century is rather long, needless to say. What I'd like to do is simply take some titles and talk about them. No doubt, you have some that you like and may re-visit now and then; that's great. Hopefully, everyone will add to them as we discuss this subject.

Pioneer film-maker, Georges Méliès, made many innovative and original films. In the late 1890s, he made Le Manoir du Diable, The Home of the Devil, which has been deemed the first horror film. An interesting take on the
Frankenstein story appeared in 1910 from the Edison Studios. America took the lead in the genre when Lon Chaney, Sr., the multi-talented actor and make-up master, began making some of the most frightening movies ever seen. He had already made many pictures but by 1920, he changed to films completely with his innovative and inventive make-up and prosthetics in The Penalty. He was unrecognizable as The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923. 1925's Phantom of the Opera became his signature movie, scaring thousands of movie-goers. He became The Hypnotist, a vampire, in 1925 in London After Midnight. Between 1912 and 1930 he appeared in almost 300 films.

Germany became another innovator in the magic of movies as its film-makers experimented with light and shadow, foretelling Film Noir in later years. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) are premier examples of the genre.

America's Universal Studios re-established the United States as a prime horror film maker, with such pictures as Frankenstein in
1931 with Boris Karloff, The Invisible Man (1933) starring Claude Rains, The Mummy (1932) and The Wolf Man (1941). All of these, and many more, combined creative make-up and camera effects in order to scare audiences and start a series of sequels and imitators.

The 1950s and 1960s introduced us to Hammer Films from England and their full color horror characters, led by Christopher Lee as Dracula, with a host of beautiful actresses nearby. By the 1970s and '80s, more youthful lead characters were showing up in American films, like Night of the Living Dead, The Shining and Jaws, starting a new trend of frightening animal movies.

All of these genres – and many others – continue to see creative ideas based on the guiding principles that began as movies were just starting to take hold on audiences around the world. Scaring all of those people made money for the burgeoning studios, their casts and crews. Movies became the Number 1 worldwide entertainment and the demands for bigger and better haven't stopped in over 120 years.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

When Is It Leaving? Where Is It Going?

I'd Forgotten About That Completely

He's a Spy? Yeah. Right.

May I Quote You On That?

A Penultimate Year For Movies

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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