The following essay will contrast the horror movies of the 1940’s and 1950’s with today’s plethora of gore and mayhem. The basis of the paper’s thesis will rest upon these previous films having greater cinematography and creativity than the bombardment of today’s high tech industry.
This type of fear, and involvement of death in horror as represented in the 1950’s film era is seen in The Curse of Frankenstein. The psychology of this film is riveting. It is the classic horror tale of man trying to cheat death or more aptly put it is man trying to be God. In the scenes that depict the creation of Frankenstein’s monster and the camera angles (both the low and the high angles) reveal to the audience the otherworldliness of the moment. The film also has a very strong use of light and shadow especially in scenes with the monster and Frankenstein together. This is especially true when in the film the stray bolt of lightening brings the creature to life; in the symbolism of nature bringing the creature to life where science failed is also a small evidence factor that contributes to the idea of these effects having a greater sway on an audience because of their metaphorical qualities than the slasher films of today whose main purpose is to frighten but not seduce. The movie The Curse of Frankenstein seduces the audience by giving them a chance to feel compassion for the creature and diabolical understanding for the doctor, but none of these emotions would be possible is not for the camera angles aiding in this portrayal and the use of light and shadow (especially in the lab).
Another effect in the movie was the depiction of the monster. The monster was created to embody a very animalistic side of nature and thus the creature was more of a blank canvas (Carrol Nightmare and the Horror Film 17). The monster was violent yet in the film the audience, through the course of the movie and the lighting effects as they represented and lingered on each character in certain fashions (i.e. the progression of the film increasingly shadowed Dr. Frankenstein while the monster became increasingly vivid) allowed the audience to relate more with the monster and to associate the animalistic symbols in the film with Dr. Frankenstein; for it is Dr. Frankenstein who is the monster, “The fact that audiences tolerate, even seek out and enjoy, a film designed to horrify them, can tell us a great deal about what it is in these films that makes them inspire fear or dread” (White 7).
The horror movies of the 1940’s and 1950’s brought something different to cinematic history; the empathizing of the audience with the monster. In today’s horror movies the anti-hero has over swamped the screen, the lighting effects are nonexistence as digital has taken the place of talent. Choices are being made in the film that allow CGI to almost be a viable character instead of emotions as portrayed through effects such as lighting and camera and sound.
The monster films have definitely changed dramatically than when The Curse of Frankenstein was conceived. The replacement film of this genre is more about action. This can be seen in such movies as Blade (each version) and Dracula 2000. There is no real possession of the audience in these films. Blade especially does not do the genre justice as its characters are ill developed and its light focus is minimal as it only delves into the use of sunlight and lamplight (on the street scenes and in warehouses). The darkness in the film is not a weighty character, and even the night scenes are too bright. The only truth behind this film in regards to it being a horror film is the club scene where the lights are flickering at fast speeds and the dancing crowd is being consumed by vampires. But even in this scene the focus is about the gore and the technique utilized to represent the gore. It seems to be increasingly true that a horror movie in today’s market is only a horror movie if it uses the right amount of blood and guts.
These two different movies, The Curse of Frankenstein and Blade tell of varied expectations from the audience. It seems that the former movie’s audience dealt more in subtlety and today’s horror movie audience deals with gore and blood, the more blatant story and affects than the older horror movies. Thus, the difference in audience seems to be cut and dry, the Frankenstein audience prefers a slow moving plot with suspense while the Vampire audience of today wants fast action and an anti hero.
Carrol, Noel. The Nature of Horror. “The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.” Vol. 46,
No. 1. pp51-59. Autumn 1987.
Carrol, Noel. Nightmare and the Horror Film: The Symbolic Biology of Fantastic Beings. “Film
Quarterly.” Vol. 34, No. 3. pp16-25. Spring 1981.
White, Dennis L. The Poetics of Horror More than Meets the Eye. “Cinema Journal” Vol. 10, No. 2. pp1-18. Spring 1971.