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A History of Horror

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Horror in Theatre


Vlad Dracula

The Inquisition

The Danse Macabre


Hieronymous Bosch


Paradise Lost

The Marquis de Sade

Gothic Novels

Byron, the Shelleys and Frankenstein

The Monk

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

E.T.A. Hoffmann

Francesco Goya

Penny Bloods

Lewis Carroll

Shirley Jackson

Robert Bloch

Richard Matheson


Modern Horror

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Australian Genre


Tabula Rasa

The Horror Timeline

By David Carroll and Kyla Ward

First Appeared in Tabula Rasa#1
An earlier version appeared in Burnt Toast#13

Part 3: 1970-


This is the decade where film really started to see how far it could go in terms of gritty and sordid realism as America reeled from the images and their eventual loss of the Vietnam War. As Robert de Niro so prosaically put it: 'Each night... I have to clean the come off the back seat. Some nights I clean off the blood.' Outside the genre, violent movies were drawing the crowds, the like of Taxi Driver, The Godfather and The Deer Hunter, following on from 1967's Bonnie and Clyde. It was also the decade of the (s)exploitation movie, though for the horror fan the most notable of these is Spermula, by its title alone (we're not sure if The Sexorcist counts).


While there are certainly individual novels of great merit in the genre up to this point, fiction had been dominated by the short story since the demise of the Gothic Novel in the previous century. That all changed in this decade, and the novel would soon be the dominant form. Preceded by such successes as Levin [1967], Fred Mustard Stewart's The Mephisto Waltz (1969) and Blatty [1971], the deluge began in 1973, soon finding Stephen King [1974] as a champion.


The re-growth of the popularity of horror on the stage started slowly this decade, the first real indication being Don Taylor's The Exorcism (1975), playing at London's Comedy Theatre, starring Honor Blackman and Brian Blessed. The show didn't last long due the death of another lead, Mary Ure, but received rave reviews. The Rocky Horror Show [1973] and other successes had already occurred, including major adaptations of Blithe Spirit (originally by Noel Coward in 1942) and Sherlock Holmes (1974), with America taking the hint with The Crucifer of Blood (Paul Giovanni) three years later. Another American version of Dracula (1979) [1927] was a 'miracle of production design and barely concealed eroticism', though the English tour somehow turned high drama into comic absurdity [16]. This all set the stage, so to speak, for greater things to come, in the [1980s]


A critical year for all death and speed metal, gloom and doom rock fans with the release of Black Sabbath's first album. Make all the cracks you want about their imbecility, their inability to play their instruments beyond the most rudimentary of levels, their pretentiousness, whatever -- the fact remains that there could have been no satanic/death/end of the world/crazed killer from beyond the pale metal without these Birmingham lads. -- Tristan Riley


Getting the whole gritty-film-thing off to a fine start was Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, based on Anthony Burgess' novel of 1962. With its alienating view of rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven, it engendered a rather large amount of controversy, but also carried its own message about the rights of the individual. Not strictly a horror story, excess pushes it into the genre. Stanley Kubrick's other major horrific foray was The Shining (1980). 'At 14 [David Duchovny] saw A Clockwork Orange "which didn't necessarily make me want to be an actor, but did make me want to be a criminal!"' [interview in The Sun-Herald, 21/1/96]. [Clippings]


William Peter Blatty publishes his thoughtful and theological novel The Exorcist [1973]. It 'is as superior to most books of its kind as an Einstein equation is to an accountant's column of figures' [95]. A rather good sequel, Legion, was written in 1983.


Wes Craven's Last House on the Left was loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's Jungfraukallan (1959, aka The Virgin Spring, winner of a Best Foreign Film Oscar), but became a notorious film in its own right, detailing an intricate revenge on three rapists. It created a tradition followed by Mario Bava's LHonL II (1972, really Twitch of the Death Nerve (or Carnage, or Bay of Blood...)), House by the Lake (William Fruet, 1977), the 'wildly misanthropic' [67] Last House on Dead End Street (Victor Juno, 1977), The New House on the Left (Evans Isle, 1978) and Don't Go in the House (Joseph Ellison, 1980). Yes, House (Steve Miner, 1986) is theoretically another example (it even shared Sean S. Cunningham as Producer with the original), but is just embarrassing. Wes Craven has directed a number of films in the genre including The Hills Have Eyes I ('77) and II ('85), and with other successes such as [1984] and [1996] has a popular reputation. 'Director Craven now considers [The Last House on the Left] so grim that it even shocks him' [4].


The Exorcist is made into a movie, written by Blatty and directed by William Friedkin. It becomes the top grossing movie up to that date (so to speak), and won Blatty an Oscar, along with Best Sound (and eight other nominations) and was a wonderful movie. It was followed by an expensive but somewhat silly sequel in 1977, then Blatty returned in top form for Exorcist III in 1990. A re-edit of the original appeared in 2000.[Clippings]


Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show opens for 50p a ticket at the Royal Court Theatre, quickly becoming a hit and ultimately achieving true cult status. The camp production is a send-up of [1950s] SF and horror movies. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a celluloid version with the same director (Jim Sharman) and most of the cast of the original was a commercial failure in 1975, but has since also achieved a cult standing. The sequel, Shock Treatment (Sharman, 1981) has done less well, but is worth checking out.


A Maine author gives up trying to write science fiction and suspense novels and tries again by padding one of his horror novellas to double size. Carrie becomes an instant best-seller, and launched a career that would see Stephen King become one of the most widely read modern authors ('whatever he writes is mainstream fiction' [51]). Other novels include 'Salem's Lot (1975), The Stand (1978/1990) and It (1986), and he has also had considerable success with short fiction (for example Skeleton Crew in 1985), novellas (Different Seasons in 1982) and non-fiction (Danse Macabre in 1981), as well as more experimental forms -- the serial novel The Green Mile (1996) and the e-book Riding the Bullet (2000). His sharp eye for detail and character have proved somewhat resilient to being adapted for the screen, though there are notable exceptions [1990]. A more spectacular flop, however, was the 1988 stage musical of Carrie which lost its producers some eight million dollars. Because of its popularity King's fiction has become centre stage in the American debate over censorship, particularly within schools, though Omni Magazine says on the matter his works are 'almost simplistically humane and moral' [30]. Some of the pre-Carrie novels were later published under the name of Richard Bachman. [Article]


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper) is perhaps the most notorious of the slasher genre. This is the second important work to be based on the case of Ed Gein [1957] (other examples are Three on a Meathook (William Girdler, 1973) and 'probably the most clinical and closest to the truth' [4] Deranged (Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby, 1974 -- not to be confused with 1987's twisted study of trauma shock directed by Chuck Vincent)). Halliwell says of Massacre, it is 'nothing but shocks and gore, but the beginning of the wave of such deplorable movies...' [3] whereas McCarty reckons that 'rather than gobs of graphic gore, it's the pervading atmosphere of violence and depravity... that makes it seem so relentless' [4]. Actually, we thought it was rather good. Sequels followed in '86, '90 and '94.


Harlan Ellison is awarded the Edgar award for his short 'The Whimper of Whipped Dogs' (a story unlikely to have been commissioned by the New York Tourist Bureau). The enfant terrible of the modern era has had great success in a multitude of forms and mediums, proving himself 'one of the field's most controversial yet talented writers' [32].


Young Frankenstein combines Mel Brooks' usual silliness with a reverent recreation of the mood (and actual sets) of the [1930s] Frankenstein with a rather strange and popular result. Indeed, from a list compiled in 1983 it was the fourth most popular horror film made since 1950 (behind Jaws [1975], The Exorcist [1973] and Jaws II (1978)) [50]. Mel Brooks is possibly more interesting for being the Executive Producer for David Lynch's The Elephant Man [1990].


Jaws, written by Peter Benchley from his own novel, saw the coming-of-age of the monster movie, and became the top-grossing movie of the seventies. It is director Steven Spielberg's purest entry into the horror genre, though Duel (1971), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Minority Report (2002) are pretty damn funky. Jaws won Oscars for John William's music, Sound and Editing. As at least somebody in Hollywood believes, when you're on a good thing, stick to it: various sequels followed. 'Depending upon how you look at it, this is either a poor man's Moby Dick or a rich man's Creature from the Black Lagoon' [4].


The album Welcome To My Nightmare is released, including Steven and the title track, possibly rock musician Alice Cooper's best known work (particularly as it was succeeded by his stint in an asylum). This was succeeded by the From the Inside album (1978). Cooper makes the occasional cameo in movies such as John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness (1987) and as Freddy Krueger's dad (not necessarily one of the hundred maniacs).


Interview with the Vampire is released by Anne Rice. Adding far more to the mythos than 'Salem's Lot, it heralded the new direction of Vampire fiction, portraying a vibrant and truly alive community of the undead. Anne Rice became a prominent horror author, her work including a number of direct sequels to Interview, including The Vampire Lestat (1985). She has also had success with historical fiction, and soft and hard-core pornography. Meanwhile the historical vampire novel was also being successfully treated with series from Les Daniels (starting with The Black Castle) and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (starting with Hotel Transylvania) both from 1978. Neil Jordan directed a successful version of Interview in 1994, and Michael Rymer took on The Queen of the Damned in 2002.


Dario Argento releases perhaps his best movie, Suspiria, though Profundo Russo, aka Deep Red (also 1976), is another contender, and we're personally fond of Phenomena (1983) and Opera (1990). A master of style and occasionally substance, Argento moves from realistic crime fare, such as his earlier work and Tenebrae (1982), to the ultimate in baroque slasher movies. He is one of the best-known of a large number of European film-makers who explored the boundaries of horror in the Seventies and Eighties, along with the like Mario Bava (for example Black Sunday, 1960) and the amazingly prolific Jesse Franco. 'It's like when you come out of your apartment in the morning, and the sky's just so blue you have to roll your head around to look at it. That's the way [Argento's] films make you feel' [107 -- attrib. to Maitland McDonagh].


They Came From Within, aka Shivers (among others), is an early work of Canadian director David Cronenberg, one of the best modern directors of understated psychological horror (well, and overstated...). This and his Rabid (1977) take Romero's premise [1968] and add a healthy dose of sexual release. His unique visions continued in The Brood (1979), Dead Ringers (1988, an adaptation of Bari Wood and Jack Geasland's 1977 Twins, at least for legal purposes), The Naked Lunch (1991, sort of an adaptation of the controversial William S. Burroughs' 1959 novel), and Crash (1996 -- even more controversial, from Ballard's novel), though he is possibly best known for his remake of The Fly (1986 -- winning an Oscar for make-up). Cronenberg also made a convincing psychiatrist/psychopath in Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990), [1987].


The young child as evil being has another success -- David Seltzer's The Omen is released (directed by the prolific Richard Donner). Seltzer has a widely quoted, and over-rated, remark about only doing it for the money. It won an Academy Award for its music. A series of novels detailed the cinematic plans for the series, which evaporated due to falling returns after number three (which at least let us see Sam Neill as the Anti-Christ). There was also a competent if unambitious fourth entry.


And in the master's chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can't kill the beast
-- Hotel California, The Eagles


The Swiss artist Hans Rudi Giger opens his 'Necronomicon I' exhibition in Europe. It is banned in France and Germany for the supposedly pornographic contents of his 'landscapes'. However, it was their quality of horrific inhumanity and macabre industrialism that attracted international attention and landed him a particularly successful design contract [1979]. In 1984, the American punk group The Dead Kennedys included a Penis Landscape as a poster in their album Frankenchrist; to have it also banned. 'Necronomicon II' was exhibited in 1985, and he also did design work for the film Species (Roger Donaldson, 1995).


Halloween introduced the world to Michael Myers, one of the classic slashers, and indeed it was the first popular indication of the shift from sordism to more mainstream or less serious works as characterised by [1980]. It was the work of talented director/writer/musician John Carpenter, whose other genre outings include The Fog (1980), The Thing (1982) [1951], and Village of the Damned (1995) [1951]. Halloween was designed to be the first in a series of movies unrelated apart from their date, but after (currently) six sequels following the exploits of Michael Myers, only Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982) remains of the plan.


Alien, 'nothing less than a gigantic "Boo!"' [5]. They were trying to film Dune but ended up with the most Lovecraftian movie ever made (certainly more so than any of the adaptations), with no small thanks to Mr. Giger [1978]. And the actors were just as surprised at the chestburster scene as everybody else was. It was directed by Ridley Scott, who also gave us Blade Runner (1982) (not to mention a couple of non-horrific but nonetheless wonderful movies on the side). Alien was followed by the very different, but still influential, Aliens (James Cameron, 1986); Alien3 (David Fincher, 1992) was good-looking but disappointing, and that goes double for Alien: Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997). The original won Best Visual Effects for its year. Dark Horse Comics gave the acidic critters their own title, including the cross-over Aliens Vs Predator (1990).


Also released was Mad Max, an independent Australian movie that created a genre. It was the first feature of George Miller, a former doctor who had became interested in the mentality of using cars as a weapon whilst working in casualty (as opposed, he says, to the machinations of a gun culture) [42]. While at heart an action movie, this post-apocalyptic melee contains elements of horror not present in the two sequels (1981 and 1985). As well as these, Miller went on to more mainstream successes (including Witches of Eastwick (1987)), but isn't the George Miller who directed Man From Snowy River.


Another sub-genre was brought under scrutiny this year with Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato), one of the first films banned in Britain in the 'video nasty' cases [1982]. Though cannibalism had been a part of the movies almost since its inception, the Cannibal Movie is of a specific type, involving primitive tribes, displayed as filthy and almost sub-human, with explicit savagery and often the undercurrent of soft porn. As well as [1961], other examples include Deep River Savages (Umberto Lenzi, 1972), Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals (Joe D'Amato, 1976) and Prisoner of the Cannibal God (Sergio Martino, 1978).


A new fantasy magazine, Fantastica, is sued by Fantastic Films and forced to change its name. After four issues of the original concept that simply wasn't being read, the format was changed to fit in with the title. Originally edited by Bob Martin, Fangoria is currently the best-selling horror 'zine, and with a predilection for lurid images, snappy captions and well-written articles it's still going strong. There were other film-orientated 'zines, like GoreZone and the British FEAR, but Fangoria has outlasted them all.


This is when 'the tide ebbed', certainly in the genre's biggest crowd-puller, the cinema. Horror was losing a lot of its mainstream appeal, becoming the domain of the teenager, whereas the grittiness of the seventies became the cartoon violence and escapism of the eighties. The ever-increasing realism of special effects led in one direction to movies where watching flying bits of body became the point, though there are more than a few examples of the power of the medium in capable hands. Despite this, the horror novel had now become firmly established with both quality work and a plethora of formularised shocks (Dean R. Koontz being a prime example). Along the way the British 'mature-age' comic industry came into its own, creating its own cult following [1984].


After the re-emergence of horror on stage in the [1970s], producers became more confidant, and we started seeing bigger budgeted shows, starting with Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in 1980 [1840s], and [1986]; but not everything was a success. We have already commented on Carrie's demise [1974], and musical versions of A Clockwork Orange (1988, penned by Anthony Burgess, who later condemned it [1971]) and Metropolis (Michael White, 1989) also failed to draw crowds. The Woman in Black (Stephen Mallatratt, 1989), however, is a big-budgeted and long running-show, a 'stunning adaptation' [16] of a novel by Susan Hill (1983).


Friday the 13th, directed by Sean S. Cunningham, is released. The first in an ever-increasing series it is perhaps most notable for not having a hockey-masked killer called Jason. Still, it was a slaughter-spree among teenagers at a holiday camp and 'propelled the independent, low-budget splatter movie into the big time' [4]. Jason X in 2001 was the tenth in the series, and since then he's met Freddy (2003). Frank Mancuso, producer of the series since number 2, is also the force behind the otherwise unrelated Friday the 13th TV series (1987).


Thomas Harris releases Red Dragon, creating Dr. Hannibal Lector, one of the most successful (if non-realistic) portraits of a serial killer, and a precursor of the craze to come. Harris' success is the combination of a sparse but effective narrative with a chilling eye for detail, a trend continued in the sequels The Silence of the Lambs (1988) [1991] and Hannibal (1999). Michael Mann adapted Red Dragon as Manhunter (1986) masterfully, and Brett Ratner provided a more commercial but still effective version in 2002. [Journal]


An American Werewolf in London, directed by John Landis, is, um, strange. It also received an Oscar for Best Make-up. 'Any resemblance to characters living, dead or undead is purely coincidental.' Landis' Innocent Blood (1992) didn't do so well in the US and was retitled A French Vampire in America, in Australia at least. This film almost gets an entry of its own for not feeling obliged to kill the vampire in the final act -- but while it's great fun it simply doesn't have the same sense of dignity that made the original such a success. An American Werewolf in Paris (Anthony Waller, 1997) didn't have much bite.


Horror enters the reasonably new field of role-playing games with Sandy Peterson's Call of Cthulhu, released by Chaosium. Based on Lovecraft's fiction, and with an emphasis on atmosphere and characterisation, it became one of the most popular (non-D&D) RPGs available [1927]. Other examples of horror in role-playing are Mayfair's Chill (1990) and White Wolf's Vampire (1991). Peterson had an even bigger success as designer of the computer game Doom. [Article]


In England several movies were proceeded against by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the first of the 'video nasty' cases. The movies were Cannibal Holocaust [1979], Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, 1979), I Spit On Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, 1980), Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap, Umberto Lenzi, 1980) and SS Experiment Camp (originally Lager SSadis Kastrat Kommadatur, or SSadistic Castration Camp Commander, Sergio Garrone, 1976). The court action was successful, and the videos banned. This is but one indication of the shift in public awareness of horror since the Seventies.


With a little publicity from Stephen King, an obscure film made in 1980 becomes another 'instant classic' of horror. In Evil Dead, director Sam Raimi creates a tangible air of menace with some superb camera work, even if the cast are hard to tell apart. The hilarious sequel appeared in 1987, and we wish they had kept the original title of the increasingly separate third entry -- Medieval Dead. Sam Raimi was also instrumental in the production of Shaun Cassidy's American Gothic, and directed The Gift (2000).


Clive Barker, a London playwright, releases his short story collection The Books of Blood. They are the first mainstream success of one of the most prominent and important figures over the next decade, fuelling controversy about the limits horror should abide by. 'For in spite of his spectacularly warped imagery, deadpan black comedy, and morbidly fetishistic sexuality, Clive Barker is essentially a nihilist' [72]. The Books are soon followed by the novel The Damnation Game (1985), whereas Weaveworld (1987) is the first of a number of dark fantasy novels, the best of which is Imajica (1991). [1987].


Alan Moore, already an accomplished writer in the British comics scene, takes over the regular Swamp Thing title at issue 20 for DC. Along with his V For Vendetta (with David Lloyd) and Watchmen (with Dave Gibbons), he was able to show a innovative and enormously intricate style, with subjects ranging from Super-Heroes, fascist dictatorships, pure horror and the occasional pirate ship. His popularity led DC to hire more British writers for the mature-age, horror-orientated market and in 1993 Karen Berger grouped this particular style under the Vertigo imprint. Moore had long since left for other things (including From Hell [1913] and his subsequent work in the so-called America's Best Comics imprint), and Neil Gaiman's revolutionary Sandman was the star, among notables such as Hellblazer. Gaiman went onto success in other mediums with American Gods.


Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street is a movie that takes itself seriously, in direct contrast to the cult figure of wisecracking (and teenager-slicing) Freddy that grew out of it [1972]. Strangely, of the currently seven films in the series, only the odd numbered movies are worth watching, though the first and last (Wes Craven's New Nightmare) are much more than that, perhaps forming a trilogy with Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). Of various strange offshoots (including a TV series), the film Freddy vs Jason (2003) was the most successful, and kind of fun. [Article] [Journal]


Video technology for home use had been available since the late Seventies, and started becoming an option for movies not deemed worth a cinema release. This year the obscure Blood Cult claimed to be the first horror film designed explicitly for the video market. The trend caught on, but instead of encouraging a wider variety of less-mainstream work, a deluge of sequels and remakes was the result, perhaps as a result of the monopolisation of the production and distribution companies. Troma and Full Moon studios offered alternatives with their distinctive styles, managing to mix sequels with the distribution of more innovative work, but neither could be said to be producing memorable successes, perhaps the best being Stuart Gordon's work with Full Moon.


The word 'splatterpunk' is invented by David J. Schow at a party, and refers to fiction that pushes the limits of taste into gory and sexual excess, a cousin to the SF cyberpunk movement, both of which were anticipated by John Shirley. The modern trend perhaps dates back to The Exorcist [1973], and Clive Barker kicked it into high-gear with [1984]. Sammon [72] lists three main influences: the splatter movies of Romero [1968], Argento [1976] and the like, punk rock and video pornography. The 'movement' caused a great deal of argument in the late Eighties, and led to the erotic horror thing [1989]. [Article]


Gothic, directed by Ken Russell. It was based on the events of [1816] using, among other things, images from [1781]. This British director has long been known for his vivid film-making, notable examples being The Devils (1971, based on Aldous Huxley's 1952 The Devils of Loudun), Altered States (1980, from a novel by Paddy Chayevsky (who disowned the movie)), and the hilarious Lair of the White Worm (1989), [1897].


Dan Simmons becomes one of the most powerful new-comers in the field with Song of Kali, 'quirky, tough-minded, literary horror-fiction' [43], followed by Carrion Comfort in 1989. As well as success in the horror field his SF is getting him noticed -- Hyperion won the 1990 Hugo award.


And all the achievements of [1911] and [1925] pall, on the side of sheer exposure and returns, to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera. With lyrics by Charles Hart, with Richard Stilgoe, and stage effects one imagines would mirror William Beckford's wilder dreams, it expresses all the overpowering romanticism of its source.


Hellraiser marked Clive Barker's entry into the movies in a spectacular fashion (well, he was involved in Underworld (George Pavlou, 1985) and Rawhead Rex (Pavlou, 1986), which is why he took up directing. And then there were his much earlier but only recently released efforts, Salome (1973) and 'The Forbidden' (1975-8). Oh well). Under all that gore is a very well-made, powerful (and oddly poetic) movie, unfortunately the start of an increasingly irrelevant series. Clive Barker adapted the story from his own Hellbound Heart, and then went on to direct the far more accessible Nightbreed (based on Cabal), and the disappointing Lord of Illusions (1995). Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992, based on Barker's The Forbidden) and sequel show the dangers of trying to mesh Barker's work with more mainstream horror ideas. Resurrected lover indeed.


Peter Jackson succeeds the atmospheric The Quiet Earth (Geoff Murphy, 1985) as the voice of horror from New Zealand with Bad Taste, the first of (currently) three splatter movies (with Meet the Feebles in 1989 and Braindead in 1992) from this popular and cult figure. His claims as his two principle influences George Romero [1968] and Buster Keaton [31]. However, these movies didn't prepare the world for his excellent treatment of a 1950's murder case in Heavenly Creatures (1994) -- or a movie or three about hobbits.


The first of the Hot Blood series is released, edited by Jeff Gelb and Lonn Friend. The meshing of explicit sex and sexuality with the horror field came of age, and has become the most obvious trend of written Nineties genre fiction. Still mostly collections of short stories (though, more accurately, it's the anthologies that are getting the label attached) further examples include Dan Simmons' Lovedeath (1993), Dark Love, 1995, edited by Nancy A Collins and others, and, perhaps the most successful so far, Ellen Datlow's 1994 anthology Little Deaths.


For the horror genre as an entity, the Nineties seemed to be a decade of compromise and self-consciousness. It split into increasingly self-contained factions -- the vampire genre, young adult novels, the production-line sequel machine, the indulgent nostalgia market, and even the extreme end of the business seemed to draw in on itself. Even the wonderful successes of the late '90s ([1996] and [1999]) have seemed to have little effect outside their particular niche.

What did deliver the goods? The best results seem to be come from those who can play with genre, and still keep a straight face: Jeunet and Caro's marvellous double Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, Michael Almereyda's dark comic adaptation of Dracula [1897], Nadja, Gregory Widen's The Prophecy and M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense all manage some intriguing twists. We also have some favourite authors of our own -- David J Schow, Tanith Lee, Joe R Lansdale, even Stephen Donaldson, all take an intelligent and non-restrictive attitude to what horror actually is.

Indeed, what the Nineties did offer was the chance to redefine the genre -- present real straight-edged vehemence coupled with an intelligence and knowledge to explore consequences, unbound by convention. It was being shown in the late Eighties, the sort of attitude that gave Simmons' Song of Kali, Harris' Silence of the Lambs [1981] and John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer their sheer power. It was shown in the likes of Mike Leigh's Naked, Geoffrey Wright's Romper Stomper and Metal Skin, Rolf De Heer's Bad Boy Bubby, and the novels of people like Kathe Koja. With all this, not even Hollywood was immune... [1999]


Twin Peaks, created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, proved that horror can still be successful on television, though it was eventually suspended due to a lack of ratings. The show ran for thirty episodes over two seasons and was followed by a rather good (if not quite as expected) movie in 1992. The show built on a great many sources, including the dramas Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944) and Born to Kill (Robert Wise, 1947 -- featuring a victim called Laura Palmer), and has even been seen as a study of Marilyn Monroe's death. While Mark Frost has since became a successful novelist (starting with The List of 7), David Lynch, remains one of America's most innovative film-makers, with works such as Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001).


Misery, (nicely directed by Rob Reiner from King's novel [1974]) wins an academy award for its lead actress Kathy Bates, the first acting Oscar awarded for a horror film since [1931]. Followed by The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1995), Kathy Bates in Dolores Claiborne (Taylor Hackford, 1995) and The Green Mile (Frank Darabont, 1999), the 1990s have started treating King's plots, and mood, with respect. There has even been some watchable TV mini-series (Mick Garris' The Stand in particular).


Jonathan Demme's adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs is released to popular and critical acclaim and much debate. Whether or not a 'meretricious piece of sleaze' [39], it is superbly written and directed (but the book's better). It won Best Actor, Actress, Director, Film and Adapted Screenplay in the 1991 Academy Awards. It was followed by Hannibal (2001), a brave attempt to film the unfilmable. [1981].


American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is a lovingly detailed look at the world of 1980's commercialism through the eyes of a psychotic murderer, a book 'gutted..., becoming a media scandal, at the hands largely of those who had not read it or -- worse still -- had read excerpts only' [40]. The book was filmed in 2000. With The Informers in 1994, Ellis introduced a more explicit horror metaphor for his vision of universal soul death. [Clippings]


With a distinct lack of original genre successes in early '90s cinema, it seems horror fans (among many others) were more than happy to follow the career of Quentin Tarantino, debuting in style with Reservoir Dogs. Powerful and disturbing, it has been followed by a selection of movies, from QT-scripted True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993), Oliver Stone's enormously fun re-mix of Natural Born Killers (1994) and then the undiluted vision of Pulp Fiction (1994), that are perhaps most notable for having such a wide variety of style and effect. His first official horror entry -- Robert Rodriguez's From Dust till Dawn (1996) -- showed he should stick to making gangster flicks. 'Quentin, I walked out of your movie [Reservoir Dogs], but I want you to take that as a complement. See, we all deal in fantasy. There's no such thing as werewolves or vampires. You're dealing with real-life violence, and I can't deal with that.' [Rick Baker, in Quentin Tarantino: Shooting From the Hip].


Goosebumps, by Robert Lawrence Stine was the publishing phenomena of the decade, shifting an enormous volume of material and generating a number of less successful spin-offs (such as the TV show in 1995). For the first time in a long time, people were reminded that kids do like to read. There were many other authors who also rode the wave, perhaps the best being Christopher Pike (who's Sati and The Last Vampire are excellent novels). The more recent, and more spectacular, success of Joanne Kathleen Rowling's Harry Potter series (fantasy with a dark edge) shows it hasn't stopped yet, and there is interesting work for a variety of age groups, from the studied but compelling tragedies of Lemony Snicket, to the grandeur of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Various authors' attempts at adult fiction (Stine's Superstitions and Pike's A Season of Passage) did not translate. [Article]


Chris Carter's The X-Files had the ability, at its best, to walk into a cliche and then twist it into something wonderful. Appearing at the tail end of the direct Twin Peaks [1990] influences, it has now started a whole lot more of its own -- conspiracies and pseudo-science are all the rage, whilst Carter added his own serial-killer of the week Millennium to the mix [1997]. Meanwhile, the other shows that dared carve out their own niche on our screens didn't last as well, but did some good things -- American Gothic and Forever Knight were the best, and even Kindred had... potential. Then came Buffy. The X-Files movie (Rob Bowman) appeared in 1998. [Article].


The Scream series at the cinema and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997) on TV provided the new look of horror -- media-savvy, slick, self-referential, hugely popular -- and occasionally scary (Buffy season 2-3 in particular contained more than a few chilling moments). They are also significant in providing stardom to their creators and principal writers, Kevin Williamson and Joss Whedon -- a rare (and wonderful) thing. A link to the past is provided by Wes Craven [1972] who directed the Scream series, and also the similarly referential New Nightmare in 1994. Despite all this success, most follow-ups, even by Williamson and Whedon (such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Angel) have been less interesting.


The imminence of millennium's end was not without its influence, providing a couple of SF-type things about the date itself (the best of which was Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)), but also the return of the religious film in a big way. This was preceded by The Prophecy (Gregory Widen, 1995) and made more obvious with the like of Stigmata (Rupert Wainwright, 1999) and, God help us, Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days (Peter Hyams, 1999). Russell Mulcahy's Resurrection (1999) was another interesting contender. There were various interesting anthologies (Douglas Winter's Millennium was good reading (renamed Revelations in the States), but why did it only cover 100 years?) and a world-wide multi-billion dollar panic as well. To our mind, the best of the lot started in this year -- season two of Chris Carter's already promising follow-up to The X-Files [1993] called, funnily enough, Millennium. Under James Wong and Glen Morgan, the show explored a multitude of possibilities in an always-fascinating fashion, leading to a spectacular climax (and then there was season three, which we don't really want to talk about).


Although better known internationally for its giant monster movies [1954], Japanese cinema has a strong tradition of more subtle horrors. This year, Hideo Nakata's Ringu appeared, achieving great success at home and abroad. Other recent examples are Sogo Ishii's Enjeru dasuto (aka Angel Dust, 1994), Takashi Miike's Oodishon (Audition, 1999) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo (Pulse, 2001). They are challenging and evocative films, often involving shifting perception, alienation and growing dread. Ringu was based on a novel by Kôji Suzuki, and there is a complex web of alternates, including remakes, sequels and a prequel (Gore Verbinski did the US version). Hideo Nakata has kept busy, including the excellent Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water) in 2002.


This year, the neo-realism bubbling under the surface of the decade became mainstream, and the results were extraordinary. David Fincher's Fight Club and Sam Mendes' American Beauty were non-compromising, non-genre cinema made with clarity. Of course, there has never been a lack of intelligent drama, but these share with horror the sense of danger and wonder in the transgression of limits. There were a number of direct precedents, such as Fincher's earlier work (in particular Se7en, 1995) and Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998), and numerous other signs as well [1990s]. US television drama was pushing new boundaries, and works like Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze) showed a similar attitude with more fanciful fare. The writer of American Beauty, Alan Ball, went on to do the series Six Feet Under (but we prefer The Sopranos).


The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez) proved that if slick and self-referential weren't strict requirements for success, then perhaps media-savvy was. Whilst at heart a gimmick, it did not compromise itself, and scores many points for simply doing its best to scare people. The sequel arrived in 2000.

And that's about it, for now. Stay tuned.


Several entries written by Tristan Riley. In addition to the bibliography, various names and dates were taken from issues of FEAR, Fangoria and GM magazines, and the odd encyclopedia. Thanks to Kate Orman, Rob Hood, Iain Triffitt, Steven Caldwell, Fiona Webster, the Groenewegens, Brian Misaiszek, Jon Ingi, Michael Cook, Richard J. Welter, Jae Ward, Bill Keir, Marcy Thompsom, 'Gina', Jane Stokes, Patricia Andersen, Melissa Cassiday and the staff of Galaxy Bookshop, Kings Comics, Red Eye Records, Strathfield Library and the State Library, NSW.



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