The History of Horror Movies


Dec 09

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.