BEFORE JIGSAW, THERE WERE FREDDY KRUEGER AND JASON VOORHEES. Before those two were slicing and dicing up teenagers, there were Michael Myers and Leatherface. And long before either of them, there were Dracula, the Wolfman, Doctor Frankenstein, and his monster. And before all of them, there was Nergal, Lord of Death.
Horror has, among all of the genres in film and written works, one of the longest, most distinguished, and often misunderstood bloodlines in history. It is often overlooked by critics who don’t see anything more than blood and guts on the screen, or a collection of cheap scares. But what is most often missed is its commentary on society and life in general. It’s use in Magic is sorely overlooked, and in the coming blog posts I’d like to take the time and tell you why I think this is so.
This genre also has a unique ability to show, in a frank, explicit manner, the ills of society and be a warning to us if we don’t do something about it. This is where we can get away with showing some of the ugliest, most disgusting things. We can explore that shadowy side of human nature that many people would rather have swept under the rug. And people will pay money to see it! Before films were invented, the horror genre already had a long history in myth, folklore, short stories, novels, dime novels and just about anything else that could be written, printed, or told on a dark night in front of a fire. But how did anyone ever think of making a horror movie?
The invention of movies by Thomas Edison was seen at first as just a passing fad, nothing that was going to be of importance. After all, pictures and film had been around for a long time. Although Edison had figured out a way to make pictures move — and at first, it was exciting to see a person walk about, do a dance, flex some muscles — those clips became boring really quickly. But soon early filmmakers had the idea to make moving pictures tell a story, and Edison created one of the earliest film stories in The Great Train Robbery (1903), the first Western, shot in New Jersey.The French fell in love with the invention of the movie camera and almost instantly saw the potential of the machine mixed with the arts. In 1896, the first horror film was shot. It was only three minutes long but it proved that fear could be contained and retold countless times. The Devil’s Castle scared its audience and gave them a taste of what horror films would be in the future.
The art of film progressed, and along with it, horror films were one of the genres that progressed at a good pace.
German Expressionism was an important art movement of the early twentieth century that had a great influence on all film, but especially on the beginnings of horror. Expressionism was an artistic style that depicted subjective emotions rather than objective reality “through distortion, exaggeration, primitivism, and fantasy and through the vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic” way using formal elements, This is just how HorrorMagick works, taping into these primal emotions and bringing them to flesh, sometimes kicking and screaming…but back to the Tour.
One of the most memorable and influential films was the 1920 German silent movie The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
From Wikipedia, on The Cabinet of Dr Caligari2—
“The film tells the story of the deranged Dr. Caligari and his faithful sleepwalking Cesare and their connection to a string of murders in a German mountain village, Holstenwall. Caligari presents one of the earliest examples of a motion picture ‘frame story’ in which the body of the plot is presented as a flashback, as told by Francis.”
The narrator, Francis, and his friend Alan visit a carnival in the village where they see Dr. Caligari and Cesare, whom the doctor is displaying as an attraction. Caligari brags that Cesare can answer any question he is asked. When Alan asks Cesare how long he has to live, Cesare tells Alan that he will die tomorrow at dawn — a prophecy that turns out to be fulfilled. Francis, along with his girlfriend Jane, investigates Caligari and Cesare, which eventually leads to Jane’s kidnapping by Cesare. Caligari orders Cesare to kill Jane, but the hypnotized slave relents after her beauty captivates him. He carries Jane out of her house, leading the townsfolk on a lengthy chase. Francis discovers that ‘Caligari’ is actually the head of the local insane asylum, and with the help of his colleagues discovers that he is obsessed with the story of a medieval Dr. Caligari, who used a somnambulist to murder people as a traveling act.
Cesare falls to his death during the pursuit and the townsfolk discover that Caligari had created a dummy of Cesare to distract Francis. After being confronted with the dead Cesare, Caligari breaks down and reveals his mania and is imprisoned in his asylum.” The pivotal twist ending reveals that Francis’ flashback is instead his fantasy, and the man he claims is Caligari is in fact his asylum doctor, who, after this revelation of the source of his patient’s delusion, claims to be able to cure him.This story was the boilerplate, if you will, of a number of horror stories to come.
Soon after Dr Caligari, other great European horror films were released, cementing the structure of the genre. In 1921 a Hungarian film called The Death of Dracula, the first vampire movie, was made, the first of many adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel. In 1922 Nosferatu was produced from an unauthorized film adaptation of Stoker’s novel. It was shot on location and because of copyright problems, the vampire was named Nosferatu rather than Dracula and
the location was changed from Transylvania to Bremen. In 2000, a film called Shadow of the Vampire was made that explored the question of what would happen if the central character, played by Max Schreck, were a real vampire.
Of course, the legend of Faust was brought into play as a movie in 1913 with Student of Prague. A student makes a pact with the devil for wealth and women. (It sounds like a pact made every week by some of the magicians I know in the United States.)
The Jewish story of the Golem was also used in early monster movies, such as in The Monster of Fate (1914) and the remake in 1917, The Golem and the Dancer. These were interesting stories of a man-like creature made of clay, bought to life by a secret Hebrew prayer placed into its mouth, based on the idea that God, or rather the secret prayer, can create life where there was none. The version of 1920, The Golem, was an expressionistic film that had many of the same story components we see later in a more recognizable form in the Frankenstein films.
Okay, now that we’re talking about monsters, in this case the man-made kind: Many people don’t know that the first Frankenstein monster movie was made in the United States in 1910 by, of all people, Edison, in his Edison Studios. It was a 16-minute one-reel film, and there were some differences from the elements of the story as we know it, most notably that the monster was not created from body parts but inside a cauldron of chemicals.
During the early twenties while Hollywood was still learning how to walk but did not talk yet, there were some horror films made with the first American horror film star, Lon Chaney. Chaney had been a stage actor known not just for his performances but also for the transformations of grotesque makeup that he used for his characters. He was known as the “Man of a Thousand Faces.” His 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was considered a classic until the Charles Laughton version. Chaney’s ultimate performance was as the disfigured, deranged Erik in The Phantom of the Opera in 1925. It was the dark, expressionistic tones that helped set the standard for horror films in the ’30s. The unmasking scene is still a pivotal moment in the genre.
In the U.S., the 1930s were the years where horror films in Hollywood came to the forefront and entered into their Classic Age. Dracula, with Bela Lugosi, and Frankenstein with Boris Karloff arrived in American theaters in 1931. These films marked the beginning of a rush of different horror films. Dracula was based on the stage play of the same name, in which Bela Lugosi had won great reviews as the Count from Transylvania. Universal bought the rights to it and wanted to cast a known actor as Dracula. The actor everyone wanted was Lon Chaney, but, unfortunately, he had passed away in 1930, forcing Hollywood to do something it never really likes to do: hire the stage actor for the film.
Universal had decided to do two films at the same time. Sound was getting popular in the U.S., but most theaters still hadn’t been turned over to sound. However in most of Latin America the theaters were newer and had already been converted, so the studio decided to shoot the English version during the day and the Spanish version at night to save money. Director George Melford was hired to direct the Spanish version, while Tod Browning did the English version with Lugosi. Melford realized this was an opportunity for him. With his Director of Photography at his side, Melford
would watch the dailies shot by the English version unit and try to outdo them with better camera movement, lighting, and so forth. To this day many critics consider the Spanish version more impressive visually than the English version.
Just a few thoughts on the History of Horror and HorrorMagick, as we close on another Halloween, I will write more soon but till then,Stay Gold….
Sources: Wikipedia, Horror screenwriting : the nature of fear by Devin Watson ,http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/a-brief-history-of-horror/, http://nofilmschool.com/2013/10/a-look-at-the-history-of-horror-films
HorrorMagick: A GUIDED TOUR OF HELL was originally published on The Hidden Left Hand