The 9 Most Important Horror Genres Of The Last Century

The horror genre is one that expands and grows along with the human condition. With the evolution of mankind comes new and unique ways to scare an audience. In short, the creature features that terrified audiences in 1931 probably wouldn’t do much to the more conditioned audiences of 2020. But, as the saying goes, progress is progress.

As early as the 1920s, movies have been creating and recreating new terrors to unleash on the silver screen. Each age has had its own brand of horror, and this list pays tribute to the genres created by the passage of time.

9 The 20s: Artistic Suffering

The 1920s were the era of German expressionism, surrealism, and the silent film. As unlikely as it seems, horror was one of the first genres to be explored through the medium of film. Because of this, audiences have legendary classics like The Phantom of the Opera, The Man Who Laughs, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Nosferatu, all of which horrified viewers through visuals and technique, mostly due to disfigurement and despair.

8 The 30s and 40s: Monsters and Madmen

Along with the Great Depression and WWII came the golden age of horror, bringing to life such unforgettable and iconic monsters like Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Mummy. These flicks followed a certain theme of either man wanting to play God or somehow become involved with powers they could not understand.

Art imitates life, and these films represented the fear of powers going corrupt or otherwise awry beyond humanity’s control.


7 The 50s: Alien Invaders

With the arrival of the Space Race came the fear of war from beyond the stars. Missiles became deadly laser beams, scientific spacecraft and satellites became flying saucers and weapons of war, and the communist threat became mirrored as alien monsters, invaders, and strange creatures from other planets. It was this dread that created films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and  Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These were movies that had one simple warning, watch the skies.

6 The 60s: Madness of the Mind

Horror films of the 1960s could be divided into two camps. On one side, the scares came from science gone wrong. Films like Night of the Living Dead and Eyes Children of the Damned were cinematic reflections of the threat of nuclear war, making science the enemy.

On the other came the horrors of the mind, using psychological deterioration to bring films like Psycho and The Haunting to play with an audience’s perception. Either way, it’s a mind game on both fronts.

5 The 70s: The Satanic Panic

After the new wave of sex, drugs, and rock-n’-roll that was the 60s, a conservative religious spike swept the nation in fear of turning away from traditional nuclear family values. Although it arguably began with Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, the so-called “Satanic Panic” influenced the rise of demonic horror films like The Omen, The Exorcist, and The Amityville Horror. The results were arguably scarier, but there was also a definite presence of the battle of good and evil, and the good guys didn’t always come out on top.

4 The 80s: Killers and Creatures

The 1980s was when horror truly let its hair down. Considered by many to be the zenith of the genre, the 80s gave gorehounds films that satisfied their ghoulish appetites with some of the most insane, over-the-top, and stylistic horror movies imaginable.

The era that brought fans big hair, spandex, and Donkey Kong spawned the likes of Jason Voorhees, the Gremlins, Beetlejuice, and a slew of other various killers, creatures, and other bloodthirsty threats. Whether for horror, comedy, or both, business was good.

3 The 90s: Scary and Self-Aware

The beloved freaky flicks of the 80s soon went from classic to cliche, but the 90s trends that followed suit didn’t fault them for it. In fact, there were plenty of films that mixed in scares with satire that blended the genre together in a remarkable way. Of course, for every Scream and Army of Darkness, there’s a Blair Witch and Candyman. It was a transitional period that gave fans the best of both worlds.

2 The 00s: Human Horrors

This decade shifted sayings in the horror genre, making threats less monstrous and more human. While it’s true fans still got movies like Underworld, The Grudge, and Constantine, many of the more popular films consisted of psychological thrillers with more realistic antagonists and tons of graphic violence.

This era turned away the mythic monsters in exchange for the likes of Saw, Hostel, and Red Dragon. The evil lurked not behind fangs or claws, but in the wicked hearts of sadistic humans.

1 The 2010s: Serious and Supernatural

In recent years, the over-the-top violence has had its 15 minutes of fame, and horror has shifted into more supernatural territory. The fear of the unknown or unknowable/unexplainable is what truly dominates the realm of horror for many fans, as represented by films like Insidious, Black Swan, and The Conjuring. It’s the things that become irrational or mysterious that keep viewers on their toes.

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About The Author

Zach Gass (848 Articles Published)

Zach Gass is a writer from East Tennessee with a love for all things Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel. When not writing for Screen Rant, Zach is an active member of his community theatre, enjoys a variety of authors including Neil Gaiman, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkein, and is a proud and active retro-gamer.

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