IMDb has created a pretty awesome infographic that calculates what horror monster/s ruled each decade of film since the 1910s. The infographic spans 110 years and puts into perspective the trending emergence of one subgenre as well as the decline of another. Out of the eleven-decade span, ghosts have ruled the silver screen for five decades, meaning more horror films have been made about ghosts than another monster since the horror genre’s inception. Ghosts dominated from 1910 to 1950 before making a comeback in the 2000s. Films like Stir of Echoes, The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project all released in 1999 and revived the subgenre of horror for the millennium.
The 1950s was the decade of the “creature feature” introducing classics like The Thing from Another World (1951), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and The Blob (1958). Before 1950, films were limited to ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and Frankenstein’s monster and kept these monsters from everyday life by locating them in an exotic place. The postwar anxieties and tensions belying the surface placidity of the 1950s society brought monsters into the contemporary American city, threatening the affluent nuclear family.
The 1960s gave rise to a 20-year reign for the vampire subgenre and in that time over 130 vampire films were released. Since the Hays Code governed the industry until 1968, vampire films of the 1960s were a way addressing taboo topics like sex and venereal disease in a metaphorical sense. We know vampires for two things: violence and sex, so all that biting and sucking was a way to troll on the code by presenting sensuality in the supernatural. With the code out of the way, vampire exploitation films of the 1970s grew increasingly erotic, catering to the heterosexual male by exploring lesbianism with female protagonists (i.e. The Karnstein Trilogy, Daughters of Darkness 1970-71). The vampire subgenre fell off in the 1980s only to regain mainstream popularity again in the 1990s. The only difference, this time, around was that the vampire flicks relied on action rather than romance.
The exploitation films of the 1970s – And Soon the Darkness (1970), Fright (1971) – paved the way for the slasher films that dominated the 1980s, but it was the monster success of the low budget classic Halloween (1978) that really kicked the subgenre into gear. Many of the films released that decade were direct to video as a result of the emergence of home video, which opened the market for more low-budget horror films.
Currently, zombie films are all the rage, making up most of the horror films today. No surprise there since everyone I know is waiting for the imminent zombie apocalypse. Zombies represent the contemporary fear of uncertainty and are the perfect tool to project societal and psychological fears. The Great Recession, bizarre catastrophes trends, unprecedented technological advances – people are unsure of what the future holds, so zombies are a way of escaping a grimly perceived future. I’ve relished in the zombie craze as much as the next person, but after seeing Contracted: Phase II (2015), I’m pretty excited for this trend to fade.