The History of Horror Movies

Dec 09

1980s: Horror Classics

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Horror Movies in the 1980s


In the 1980s, horror movies were considered as low budget businesses with high profits as horror movies became a spectacle amongst audiences. More specifically, the slasher sub-genre created massive revenue to box offices and the film industry as it captivated audiences by inflicting mixed emotions of fear and infatuation. This subgenre includes dark and violent imagery and shows the main characters navigate their way through the conflicts of the film. Typically, the slasher sub-genre encapsulated the themes of an indestructible villain and the main character’s will to survive. Slasher movies typically involve a killer using bladed tools to murder a group of people.

These gruesome elements of horror movies do not externally hurt the viewer beyond the idea of the gruesome plotline and narrative being conceptualized by the movie. As a matter of fact, despite the feelings of fear and disgust, somehow onlookers cannot look away. Negative emotions within the context of aesthetics are thrilling to look at and conceptualize individuals’ fears into something tangible that could be absorbed without the risk of harm. Individuals are fascinated with ideas and concepts that they fear most. Horror movies cause a sickening feeling yet onlookers can’t look away cause viewers to grasp the feeling of shivers down their spine without negative consequences beyond the painting’s realm of reality. Aristotle explains this dilemma as “Energeia”, which is when an artist can depict a story in such detail that the audience feels immersed in the false reality.


According to Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, the concept of the aesthetic paradox. Aesthetic paradox refers to the negative feelings inflicted when looking at a piece of art. Aristotle believed the feelings inflicted within the context of aesthetics are not “real” emotions, in comparison to the emotions experienced in real life due to the lack of harm inflicted beyond the context of what the individual is viewing. In this case, Society is filled with fear, tragedy, and losses that many individuals cannot fathom to experience without their lives falling apart. Therefore, it is appealing to an audience to experience fear in forms of aesthetics as it lets individuals experience negative emotions beyond themselves. This is further explained with Aristotle’s concept of “tragic catharsis”. Catharsis is the relief of repressed emotions that cannot otherwise be experienced in the real world without negative consequences.

The success of horror movies in the 1980s also depended on the movie posters. Movie posters are a great marketing tactic where it gives an audience a sneak preview of what feeling a movie is going to inflict on its audience. During this time, horror movie marketing and design followed the same formula so the audience can draw parallels between the contents and feelings of the films. By taking inspiration from other movies, designers can import similar and familiar meanings, as well as capitalize on the successes of other movies, to draw audiences into their work. Another prominent characteristic of horror movie posters in the 1980s was the use of bold typography. 


Friday The 13th Vs. A Nightmare on Elm Street 

friday-the-13th-original-poster     nightmare-on-elm-street-1984-complete     nightmare-on-elm-street-1984-illustration-only

Designers sought inspiration from marketing and design approaches used in other popular horror movies during that time. For example, The Friday the 13th original poster resembles the Halloween poster that was released months earlier. The composition, style, and iconography of both posters are fairly similar as they both contain a prominent, identifiable killer with a sharp blade, ready to kill. Theatergoers who enjoyed movies such as Halloween will feel a sense of familiarity. When audiences see the Friday the 13th poster, it will persuade them to watch and enjoy the movie as they did with the former.


In the Friday the 13th poster, a dark glowing silhouette of a figure with a sharp bloody blade is depicted. In the silhouette, 5 figures stand in the middle of a dark forest at night. Friday the 13th is written in slasher, bloody typography. The typographic style used is called Skeuomorphic typography, where the typography mimics a look or interaction that matches the real world. In this case, Friday the 13th uses the familiarity of blood and paint to depict a violent and disruptive element to the poster. In the real world, that typography is viewed on crime scenes, vandalized property, and gives a sense of urgency and chaos. Friday the 13th stylistically uses hand-painted type and image to merge fantasy with the real world. Similarly to Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm Street uses gruesome blood imagery to insight fear into the audience and utilizes Skeuomorphic typography to captivate an audience.

To better understand these, we recreated said typographies (and “The Shining”):

nightmare-on-elm-street-reinterpretation     friday-the-13-reinterpretation     the-shining-reinterpretation

A Nightmare on Elm Street poster depicts a girl in bed scared while the villain of the movie looms above her. Designer, Matthew Peak, chose to depict her hair to lay sporadically on her body to create movement within the poster. The movie title uses a mix of bloody and sans serif typography. “The Nightmare” is written in slanted bloody typography to make emphasize the dark themes of this movie. In both movies, captions and taglines used a sans serif font to establish boldness, clarity, and a sense of urgency.


Honorable Mention

Despite the formulaic ways that horror movies in the 1980s played out and were marketed, many movies stray away from the conventions of the horror genre. For example, The Shining is one of the most iconic horror movies and is still prevalent to this day. One of the most iconic parts of The Shining is the marketing used to advertise the movie. The movie poster uses custom bold typography and a bright yellow background. The bold, san-serif typography is italicized. The T within the type is emphasized as it is bigger and visualizes a scared figure facing away from the audience. Captions and taglines use a sans serif font yet again to reflect the modern decade of the horror genre.



Dec 05

The decade known as the 2000’s or the new millennia ushered in a lot of things. New fashion trends, new music and a new era of horror movies.


(image: “200 Best Horror Movies of All Time.” Rotten Tomatoes Movie and TV News 200 Best Horror Movies of All Time Comments)

During this decade, a lot was happening within the realms of horror movies. While the infamous trend of producing reboots of horror/slasher films were still present during this time, Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [2003]; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning [2006]) or the Friday the 13th Franchise (Jason X [2001]; Freddy vs. Jason [2003]; Friday the 13th [2009]) for example. There were also other things becoming popular within the genre during this time period.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [2003] (image: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Collection The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 / The Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Beginning Import: DVD,)


Jason X [2001] (image: “Jason X.” IMDb,, 9 Nov. 2001)

In the 2000’s technology was rapidly advancing and equipment was becoming more and more readily available to the public. This meant that movies can be made and executed well with a meager budget*. This would then lead on to the rise of low budget movies and the found footage genre as seen with the success had by the 2007 Spanish movie [REC] directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plazaand the Paranormal Activity movie directed by Oren Peli also released that same year.


(image: Fisher, Carl ‘The Disc’. “Horror Movie Review: [Rec] (2007).” Games, Brrraaains & A Head-Banging Life, 27 Feb. 2018,)

This particular era also saw horror movies taking interest and drawing influences from foreign movies, most specifically of European and Asian origins* and more often than not these foreign movies would get a remake made for the North American market seen as such with the example of the 2002 movie “The Ring” directed by Gore Verbinski which was in fact a remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film “Ringu” which was directed by Hideo Nakata. 

download    “Ringu [1998]”     ring_two_ver2    “The Ring 2 [2005]”

(image Ringu (1998): “1646KDTL Vòng Tròn Oan Nghiệt-Ringu.” Giải Trí Số – Chọn Phim Online Tại Đà Nẵng; image The Ring 2 (2005): Kruger, Written by:Ehren. The Ring 2 (2005) – Movie Posters (1 of 2) ) 

While the prior things stated are noteworthy trends and sub-genres, it was the interest in the revival of splatter films and grindhouse that would go on to create a subgenre of horror that would go to new extremes to redefine the landscape of horror movies in the 2000’s; Torture Porn.


(image: CBS Miami. “Steamy Hot Trailer For ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ Released.” CBS Miami, CBS Miami, 24 July 2014,)

It is often said that horror movies are a reflection of a society’s fear in their cultural and political landscape during a certain time period. During the 2000’s there was a moment in time that would go on to change the world forever, The Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001 stopped the world dead on its tracks. This event caused massive panic and uncertainty among the public. It caused massive distraught and anxieties. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center led then U.S President George W. Bush to proclaim a “War on Terror” which is essentially a military campaign in order to fight off Islamic terrorist groups. It was also during this campaign, the ever so infamous Guantanamo Bay was established and the Abu Ghraib torture incident occurred. In 2004, news regarding the horrifying and perverse ways personnel would torture prisoners were found out by the public.


(image: Chammah, Story by Maurice. “Rape in the American Prison.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 Apr. 2018)

The bleakness and violent nature of these events were picked up and mirrored by horror movies. The movies, particularly “torture porn” films, in this era mirrored the things happening around them, which in this case was extreme violence. Having also been inspired by the New French Extremity movement (movies such as the 2001 movie “Trouble Everyday” directed by Claire Denis), a genre in which gore and violence are the main focal point, movies during this time period were very bloody, gory and intense.


(image: “Top Ten Torture Porn Horror Films.” Morbidly Beautiful, 13 Oct. 2018)

Torture porn movies often played with the idea of ethics and morality. The movie 2004 “Saw” directed by James Wan and Leigh Whannell became one of the poster boys for torture porn and the movie saw massive success that would even go on to spawn many sequels. Torture porn films, more specifically “Saw”, became the trend and a major success because it encapsulated how the people felt during this era. all of the themes and ideas it presented were very relevant during this time period.

During the 2010’s the bloodlust for torture porn movies were declining, while there were notable films made during the start of the year such as “The Human Centipede” (2010) directed by Tom Six and “A Serbian Film” directed by Srdjan Spasojevic, The genre was overall declining. The 2010’s saw a change of pace from gruesome intense gore and violence to a more psychological and atmospheric theme. This is evident when “Saw” directors James Wan and Leigh Whannell made massive success with their movie Insidious which was also released in 2010**.  Movies in this new era such as 2013 film The Conjuring also directed by one of the “Saw” movie directors, James Wan, focused on slow burn instead of shock value. It was obvious that the cultural landscape was changing.

Saw (2004) vs The Conjuring (2013)

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            Movie 1: Saw (2004)                Movie 2: The Conjuring (2013)

(Image link for Saw [photo hosted by pbs.twimg;] & The Conjuring [via media-amazon;])

While movies in the 2000’s and 2010’s were drastically different in terms of presentation and prevalent themes in movies, the movie posters are quite similar. For this comparison we are comparing the 2004 Saw movie poster with the 2013 film The Conjuring poster.

At a glance, one thing that stands out is that both of these posters do not show any of the cast/characters present in the movie. Instead it shows an object and location relevant to the story. The “Saw” movie poster has a severed hand as its focal point. Above, a dirty serrated saw stained with blood splatter can be seen. This is done because Saw revolves around body horror and the things people will do in order to survive which usually meant cutting off extremities. In “The Conjuring” movie poster audiences are presented the house in which the movie takes place. It also shows a noose which alludes to a notable scene in the movie. Both movies give a quick synopsis or glimpse into what the movie is all about. In this sense, the movie posters become a symbol.


(image: Murrell, Robert. “Dont’ Watch This Alone!: SAW (2004).” Merc With A Movie Blog)

The color choices for both posters seem to be very bleak and muted in nature. Both posters mostly use the colors black, white and red, which can represent the depressing and dark nature of the films. The color’s chosen here convey a sense of hopelessness which could also be found in both movies.


(image: Staff, C., & Collider Staff (355 Articles Published). (2018, October 26). Best Horror Movies of the 2010s So Far.

 On the other hand, “The Conjuring” movie poster features a Serif typeface and is more uniform in nature. By using a Serif typeface it also gives off a sense of “age” which is rather proper for this movie as “The Conjuring” takes place during the 1970’s. The font used in the movie title seems to be based on Trajan. While it is rather more uniform and tidy compared to the “Saw” movie poster, the poster still manages to give a sense of chaos and anxiety. It does this by having the word “The” in the movie title placed asymmetrically to the left. It gives the audience a subtle sense of chaos. It gives them a subtle taste of the slow burn and constant dread ever so present in the movie.


(image: Dolladopt, et al. “The Conjuring [New DVD] UV/HD Digital Copy, Ac-3/Dolby Digital, Dolby.” EBay, 23 Oct. 2013)

This is a recreation poster based on the movie’s posters “Saw (2004)” and “The Conjuring (2013)”. The poster contains two main elements: “the broken hands & feet” and the “Hanging rope tree.” A cloudy day was chosen as the background of the poster to show a feeling of frustration and potential danger. Chalkduster fonts are used as the main title, showing an unclear and abstract communication, which is similar to the emotion under the font on the poster “Saw”. The date of the movies were Source Serif Variable fonts shown circle around the title following the flow of the tree and feet. This typeface is similar to the movie poster “The Conjuring.” Overall, this poster contains visual elements and visual language associated with the same atmosphere as the movies “Saw” and “The Conjuring.”



Nov 27

1950s: The Golden Age

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"Defend Your Country: Enlist Now in the United States Army" Recruitment Poster by Tom Woodburn

“Defend Your Country: Enlist Now in the United States Army” Recruitment Poster by Tom Woodburn

The Golden Age of cinema peaked throughout the fifties, as pop culture seemed to become more embraced, and movie posters began to use a similar propaganda like style that was sparked by posters generated during World War 2. During this time movie posters became an exceptional form of advertising, and horror films used the poster as a great tool to manipulate people’s fears and dreams.

Ava Gardner in The Little Hut (1957)

Ava Gardner in The Little Hut (1957)

The general aesthetic of horror films from the Golden Age is often associated with the pop art movement, which began to take flight during the fifties – containing bright colours, bold text, and montages of dynamic imagery. Generally the subject matter for these posters was often the main character or creature, a pin-up girl, a large title with flat colour and a shadow, and a small portion of text to display the names of the actors & actresses involved in the film. The posters were often hand-drawn and painted, just like any other piece of artwork.

The extraterrestrial creature was often the focal point of the poster, along with the movie’s title, as they were often the largest imagery on the poster. Secondary to those two elements would often be the pin up girl, and the cast’s names. These features came together to create a genre of practically identical movie posters, as many of the posters made during this time followed these tropes, but were just arranged in different ways.

Movies depended heavily on their posters as their main source of advertisement, this meant artists and graphic designers had to make sure they knew who their intended audience was, and they had to effectively communicate the illusion that the movie was trying to depict. It became clear to designers that teenagers were the intended audience for a majority of horror films, so they often made posters that illustrated scary looking creatures, hypersexualized women, and fantasy. Essentially designers had to intrigue viewers to see a world unlike their own, so they dove into the interests & desires of their audience, hoping to appeal to the largest audience possible, by making posters that were quite explicit, but would still peek the curiosity of its possible viewers.

Creature From The Black Lagoon

Creature From The Black Lagoon

Movie 1: Creature From the Black Lagoon

In the Creature from the Black Lagoon poster, we see a large sea creature holding a pin-up girl who seems to be in distress. Your eye probably then also sees the bold white title with a black outline and shadow, the text is sans serif, and has a slightly rigid texture to it, which is another common trait of Golden Age movie poster typography, the use of mimicking unsettling textures that amplify the feel of the movie. The movie title’s text also alternates between words that contain drastically large capital letters and drastically small capital letters – the most important words of the title are emphasized by this (Creature & Black Lagoon), while the transitional words of the title (From The) are less emphasized, once again making the viewer focus on the most important parts of the movie poster.

Next to the title we see two unknown figures, both looking like divers, possibly the heroic figures of the film – but by making these figures mysterious the designer once again gives hints about the film, without revealing too much, and also sparks possible plot lines, like: will the girl be saved? Or will the creature prevail? –  these unanswered questions help entice the viewer. Near the bottom of the poster we see a series of three images that also give a glance to other scenes in the movie, and above these images is medium sized sans serif type in yellow, displaying the names of the starring members of cast, while the other cast names are below it in a smaller white sans serif font. In the background of the poster there is a green and blue gradient, that helps symbolize the aquatic aspects of the film. Even though Golden Age posters had a lot of contrasting elements, they were still able to achieve an overall cohesiveness through the use of hierarchy, by changing the sizes and colours of certain elements Golden Age posters were able to direct the viewer throughout the entire poster.

The bright flat colours of the type definitely stand out among the dreary swamp like colours of the background. The type is almost over exaggerated in a way that reflects the fear of the movie. Another iconic feature of the Golden Age posters is their tendency to combine many different fonts in different colours, this creates lots of tension, which is also perpetuated by the horror movie genre itself. The slanting of the movie’s title is another trait that is seen throughout this genre during this time, the title’s are often warped in different ways to give a creepy tone that best reflects the theme of the movie. With having an arched title for this poster, it makes the title stand out like crazy, but it also creates a great sense of movement, that works well with perpetuating the hectic-ness associated with the fear depicted in the imagery of the girl being held captive by the creature.

The Day The Earth Stood Still

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Movie 2: The Day The Earth Stood Still

In The Day the Earth Stood Still poster, similar to the Creature from the Black Lagoon poster, we see what looks like an alien (or the main creature) holding another pin up girl who seems to have been captured by the alien. In the background we see outer space with a creepy giant hand grabbing the Earth, meanwhile war and destruction occupies the mid-ground. Just like  the Creature from the Black Lagoon poster, the movie’s title is in a white font, the font is quite bold, and is sans serif with a small black shadow behind it. Judging by the heavy weight of the font, it looks very futuristic, yet still portrays these underlying serious tones. There is slightly smaller bold yellow sans serif text at the very top of the poster that helps set the scene for the movie, once again without spoiling anything, but just enough to entice the viewer. At the very bottom of the poster we see a lighter weight type, that is still yellow and sans serif, displaying the cast names. The yellow text at the top and bottom of the poster help to perfectly frame the imagery, this happens a lot with Golden age posters, where the text often surrounds the important imagery, helping frame and emphasize it. 

Both The Day the Earth Stood Still poster and the Creature from the Black Lagoon poster are practically identical, in terms of subject matter, even the type uses the same colours, since the yellow and white contrast so well from everything else on the poster, so that they don’t get lost in the imagery. Both paint a picture of similar scenarios, just taking place in different environments. The Golden Age posters definitely assert the main creature as their source of fear, along with the typography, these two elements work hand in hand to create the drama in the poster. 

After World War 2, the Golden Age horror films showed new enemies for people to fear. People started to become more afraid of the monster they could not see, or the monster that harmed society, or the monster that was made up of their worst nightmares. This led to the creation of tons of movies that fed off of these fears, and curated great amounts of movie posters that were able to meet the expectations of potential movie goers and start tropes that carried on throughout the following decades.


Additional Information 

Graphic design that influenced Golden Age Poster design

The contribution of design played a key role in the success of movie poster images. The concept of creating a visually stimulating artwork that represented film was becoming an increasingly competitive field of work. As the world was going through a rapid change in society, typography was altering as well. In the Golden Age, the viewer is becoming increasingly apprehensive in noticing patterns of design from past decades, borrowing from previous images across the globe. The act of reusing ideas without plagiarizing is classified as Pastiche 

screen-shot-2020-12-09-at-11-39-25-pm  screen-shot-2020-12-09-at-11-40-27-pm

(left ) Jean Carlu – Office Of Emergency Management, 1941

(right) Saul Bass – Man With The Golden Arm, 1955


Various Graphic Design Posters that contributed to the advancement of horror film style:


Paul Rand – Orbacks department Store, 1946



William Sandberg – Nu (now) , 1959


Laszlo  Moholy-Nagy ,  Pneumatik , 1923


These 3 posters all use a very playful approach when considering space and orientation. The way they are assembled are done in a way of randomness  but seem to be done in a practical order, a level of precision is required. they are simple but yet haunting, unsettling but extremely interactive.

Nov 06
Movie 1: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Movie 1: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Movie 1: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – zoe


sourced from

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was the silent film that kickstarted the whole Horror genre. The plot of the movie features a hypnotist, dangerous due to insanity, who uses a somnambulist, a sleepwalker, to commit murders. In the poster for this movie, we see a deranged-looking man carrying a lifeless woman through what seems to be a dark cave. Although, the most eye-catching part of this poster is the bold, white typography that you probably looked at first. This bold, decorative typeface was very commonly used for horror movie posters in that era.

The typography used in this poster is a sans serif decorative font. It is a combination of both sharp and rounded points as well as light and heavy line weights. There is also a combination of different x-heights in the type. The combination of different kinds of type makes this poster more unsettling because of the lack of unity in the typography. Also, this type gives us an idea of the main focus of the movie by making the most important words the biggest.

In addition, the typography used in the poster can often tell us what kind of movie, or horror movie, the viewer is about to experience. This type of typography, when used for movie posters, shows that the movie will be more psychologically thrilling rather than outward horror. Some good examples of this typography being used in other eras would be The Shining poster, which is mentioned in the 1980s page, and the poster for the movie Frankenstein.


These are some mock-ups that I made of mine and Jasmine’s names using this font. As we can see, there is a variety of different line weights and it does not feel very unified at all. Although this typography is very unsettling to look at, it definitely works for this type of movie. If any other font was used, it would absolutely change the feel of the poster, as well as the expectations for the overall vibe of the movie.



original photo found on

As an experiment, I decided to create an alternate version of the poster for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but instead of using the font that already exists on the poster, I swapped it for something different. Instead of the decorative font on the original poster, I used a bold serif font. Clearly, when the font for the title is changed, so does the whole vibe of the poster. Immediately, the vibe changes from silent psychological to serious and chilling. Many people do not realize how important typography is for the message. if the typography changes, ao does the message that it gives off, without even changing the words.






Movie 2: Nosferatu

One could argue that Nosferatu was the beginning of the vampire craze in the Early 1920s and the start of horror movie culture. Unlike the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, where it focused more so on suspense and psychological disturbance, this film also has a violent and gory undertone. These kinds of films were the beginning of a new error of entertainment for the general public and movie lovers alike.

Interesting enough the typefaces that were used for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the Nosferatu’s original posters, although they came out in the same era, are quite different in appearance. The Nosferatu poster uses a serif typeface that is quite elegant, with think stokes and little variation. Traditionally, this type of typography or calligraphy make a design look more gentlemanly and well-mannered. This is also a reflection of the era, where chivalry was not dead.

The Nosferatu poster is mainly black and white with a shadow of a man-like monster creeping up a staircase. The typeface is set in an uppercase, modern serif typeface, highlighted in yellow and white at the bottom of the page. The letterforms are long and thin with low set crossbars. It was not unusual to see type appear this way, this gives the viewer comfort of familiarity. The thrill of what this horror is about remains hidden in the shadows, very much like the villain of the movie.jasmine-and-zoe-nosferatu-style-01

Since the original Nosferatu poster features an elegant font, I decided to try to re-create the same appearance with a typeface similar to the original. Using my name (Jasmine) and Zoe’s, I tried to give the same feeling that the original artwork did.