Is there a single film genre that has been around longer or evolved as much as horror?
Horror films are constantly being contemporized, and once an original idea hits the theaters, producers everywhere try to cash in on it. This is why the genre is often regarded as formulaic and tired, as it is now. See, we are once again in the middle of a dry spell, waiting for an original idea to come along — but more on this later.
It is easy to pinpoint the horror films that have sparked change in the cinema. Of course, one can argue which films had the most impact on the genre, but for the purposes of this exercise, the following films should do.
It wouldn’t be unfair to call F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu the most important horror film ever made. It wasn’t the first horror film ever, but it’s arguably the most significant of the ‘20s. The film, which is essentially an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has its roots in German Expressionism and is the influence for just about any horror movie — even if today’s filmmakers have never heard of it. Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula, though, is the one we’ve all come to remember. It may not be the first but it’s the one that got the attention from mainstream American audiences. Along with Frankenstein, Dracula introduced a new wave of horror films. The 1930s and ‘40s were filled with variations of these films, as well as other monster movies and creature features, such as The Wolf Man (1941) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).
I don’t want to call the rest of the ‘30s and ‘40s horror stuff inconsequential, it’s just that it really was of no consequence. The Night of the Hunter, which came along in 1955, is the next stop on this horror tour. Robert Mitchum plays Harry, a murdering convict trying to find money hidden in a young girl’s doll. The film represents a turning point in the evolution of horror in the way that it portrays a real family being traumatized by a psychopath. It’s a whole lot scarier than vampires and monsters.
The next year, Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers hit the theatres. This sci-fi horror film represents a number of shifts in the industry. Most notably, it offers an interesting criticism of McCarthyism and Communist paranoia in the way alien impostors are replacing humans.
The film has been remade a number of times and is no doubt the influence for films like The Stepford Wives (1975) and even Gremlins (1984).
In 1960, everything changed. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho changed the way all movies — not just horror movies — were made. Its influence can be seen, quite literally, in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), which spawned the slasher craze of the 1980s. That trend has never really gone away, as Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) brought the slasher back and set the scene for ‘90s horror. Since Nosferatu has been deemed the most important horror film ever, it’s hard to say where that leaves Jaws (1975). Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster did for the ocean what Psycho did for the shower. It also changed the way films were produced, directed and marketed.
For the last several years, horror has been stuck in an incredibly disappointing torture subgenre, courtesy of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974 and remade in 2003. Others of this kind include Saw (2004), Hostel (2005) and Turistas (2006).
These films will continue until a new Psycho or Jaws comes along to create a brand new, totally original formula.

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