Horror Films are unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience. Horror films effectively center on the dark side of life, the forbidden, and strange and alarming events. They deal with our most primal nature and its fears: our nightmares, our vulnerability, our alienation, our revulsions, our terror of the unknown, our fear of death and dismemberment, loss of identity, or fear of sexuality.
Horror films go back as far as the onset of films themselves, over a 100 years ago. From our earliest days, we use our vivid imaginations to see ghosts in shadowy shapes, to be emotionally connected to the unknown and to fear things that are improbable. Watching a horror film gives an opening into that scary world, into an outlet for the essence of fear itself, without actually being in danger. Weird as it sounds, there's a very real thrill and fun factor in being scared or watching disturbing, horrific images.
Whatever dark, primitive, and revolting traits that simultaneously attract and repel us are featured in the horror genre. Horror films are often combined with science fiction when the menace or monster is related to a corruption of technology, or when Earth is threatened by aliens. The fantasy and supernatural film genres are not synonymous with the horror genre, although thriller films may have some relation when they focus on the revolting and horrible acts of the killer/madman. Horror films are also known as chillers, scary movies, spookfests, and the macabre.
One actor who helped pave the way for the change in outlook and acceptance of the horror genre was Lon (Alonso) Chaney, Sr., known as "the man of a thousand faces" because of his transformative, grotesque makeup and acting genuis. He was the first American horror-film star. He appeared in numerous silent horror films beginning in 1913 at Universal Studios in collaboration with director Tod Browning (in films including Outside the Law (1921), The Unholy Three (1925) with Chaney as a criminal ventriloquist, and West of Zanzibar (1928)). In the first of Chaney's two horror masterpieces, he appeared in the earliest version of Victor Hugo's novel about the hunchbacked Quasimodo - a tortured bellringer in a cathedral in director Wallace Worsley's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) - the second film version of the classic tale. [The first version was The Darling of Paris (1917) starring vamp Theda Bara as Esmeralda.]