Russell Cherrington, Senior Lecturer in Film Production, discusses the different sub-genres within horror films and what he loves about them.
Although horror films are more popular around Halloween, my love for the horror genre stemmed from when I used to ask my mum if I could stay up late on a Saturday night to watch classic black and white films like King Kong (1933) and Godzilla (1954) films.
A moment I’ll never forget in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) is when Doctor Frankenstein cries out ‘it’s alive’ as the creature is reanimated back to life. This was when my love of horror began.
If you made a list of the main ingredients for a good horror, you would instantly think of dark, hostile environments, paranormal activity and the bad guys. But there’s more to horror than this and jumping out of your skin in the cinema. Here are some of my top Halloween horrors with a different take on fright.
Horror films are often considered funny, we laugh at the monster and the people being pursued by monsters more than we are afraid of them. Often, you find genius within horror which helps take the edge off the fear.
Fear of the unknown
Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932) is a great example of a horror film that affects you in more ways than just fear. In this film, people are afraid of Freaks because they see deformed humans being forced into slavery within a circus freak show, and it makes us feel uncomfortable and unsettled.
F.W. Murnau and his take on Dracula is still, in my opinion, the most frightening Dracula adaptation translated to the screen from Bram Stoker’s Gothic Novel. Nosferatu (1922) was made using early film techniques but Max Schreck’s performance and look is like none other in horror cinema. It’s creepy because he’s a man who doesn’t look like the rest of society. The story is very faithful to the novel and shadows are used to create tension and fear.
Great novels and fairy tales are often a source material for horror films. Jean Cocteau’s beautiful adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, while still a film of cinematic wonder, is full of character living in a dark castle with inanimate objects coming to life because of the curse that has been brought upon them. The film uses the complete sense of the surreal which makes you fall in love with the Beast as Belle does. It is the actions of man and the misunderstanding of the Beast which resonates with the viewer and of course the power of love that brings Belle and the Beast together.
The Wicker Man (1973) made by Robin Hardy with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward is a good example of the psychological horror genre. It is like no other film before it and mixes folklore with fantasy and horror in equal measure. There is a saying that once you see something you cannot un-see it. This film works to that principle and shows that horror is often more internal, and that fear comes from a lack of understanding.
Evil versus erotic
Horror films can often use seduction as a weapon, whether it be a vampire biting the neck of a beautiful woman, or a woman snaring a man to feed a demon. In Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) sex is used to fuel every aspect of the narrative. Julie brings Frank back from the dead by seducing and killing men. The whole subplot of the film is about pleasure and pain.
The misunderstood baddie
Finally there is Nightbreed (1990), again made by Clive Barker. The good guys are the monsters who live below a graveyard called Midian. They are hunted by a crazed Doctor Decker who is trying to convince Aaron Boone that he is a killer, when in fact it is the good Doctor himself.
In 2012, when I was visiting Clive Barker, his assistant Mark Miller gave me two VHS tapes of the work prints for Nightbreed. Upon viewing them it became clear to me that everything that was missing from Nightbreed was contained within these tapes and the DVD of the original film. So I took the original film script and all the different versions of the film and started work with my editor Jimmi Johnson on a new version.
What was created in five weeks of editing was a 145 minute version of Nightbreed, which had more to do with the novel Cabal then the film released in 1990. So I called it Nightbreed – The Cabal Cut (2012).
The film was shown at film festivals around the world and caused Morgan Creek to release a Director’s Cut of Nightbreed in 2015. In October 2017, Nightbreed – The Cabal Cut was released on Blu-ray and sold out in minutes. It is the end of a journey which I began all those years ago watching black and white horror movies on BBC 2 as a child.