Demonic possessions, masked killers and supernatural monsters – these are the stereotypes that come to mind when we think of horror movies. But that genre is so much more than just blood and guts; many of today's pop-culture trends have their roots firmly cemented in horror. Here are a few ways in which the scream-inducing genre has been ahead of the times.
Whether it is a statement about race like in George Romero's 1968 classic zombie flick Night of the Living Dead or a homoerotic subtext that exists in movies like 1936's Dracula's Daughter or 1985's A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, horror movies have never shied away from tackling subjects that reflect the leading edges of the sociopolitical climate of the time.
"[Horror] is a very visceral genre and often its considered childlike so people focus on things such as monsters and violence and terror and so when you have something that's pushed so far in the foreground, it's easy to slip things underneath into the subtext," notes Dave Alexander, editor-in-chief of Rue Morgue magazine. "I think the horror genre tells us more about ourselves than any other genre out there."
Shared Cinematic Universe
When Universal Studios announced that it would be relaunching its famed monster movies back in June, many critics were quick to point out how the rebooted versions of Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's monster and the Mummy would meet up in a shared universe akin to Marvel's The Avengers.
But while Marvel Studios took the box office by storm when they released The Avengers in 2012 – the superhero team-up grossed more than $1.5-billion (U.S.) worldwide – very few people realized that Universal's monster movies from the 1940s pioneered the idea of a shared movie universe.
After a slew of solo adventures, 1943's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man marked the first time that two of Universal's classic monsters clashed on the silver screen, while Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and Dracula all made appearance in 1944's House of Frankenstein, 1945's House of Dracula and 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
In 2003, New Line Cinema released Freddy vs. Jason, a crossover between their wildly popular Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises. The movie had been teased since 1993's Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday and earned just less than $115-million (U.S.) worldwide, proving that there was still a demand for shared cinematic universes.
Hollywood's Biggest Stars
Horror movies are, for the most part, made on the cheap. Because of this, producers take chances on unproven directors and actors, which is one of the reasons top-paid stars like Johnny Depp (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Jennifer Aniston (Leprechaun), Charlize Theron (Children of the Corn III), John Travolta (Carrie) and directors such as James Cameron (Piranha Part Two: The Spawning), Peter Jackson (Bad Taste) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) all got their start in the genre.
"If you're an actor, you want to be a working actor so you take what you can get. Anything that will pay the rent and get eyeballs on you to further your career," says Alexander.
"[For directors], it gives those guys a chance to hone their technical skills because often they'll have a set narrative … [that's] going to bring enough people to movies theatres for the film to make money and so they can work within those guidelines to hone those chops."
The Golden Age of Television
What do Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and House of Cards all have in common? (Spoiler alert.) Most of their central characters are killed off well before they can make it to the series finale.
One of the driving forces behind today's golden age of television is the fact that no character is safe, which until Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 thriller Psycho was unheard of.
"Psycho was a major turning point in cinematic history because not only did it show that the monster was human … but that the monster can kill off your leading woman part way through the film, which [was] absolutely shocking at the time," explains Alexander.
"It broke the formula. You see that on TV all the time and it's almost become its own cliché."