Horror Films: Seasonal or Classic?

Ever since cinema began in the late 1800’s, audiences have been fascinated with the simplest of pictures; let it be a crying baby or an arriving train. As film genres began to form throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, one genre in particular shocked audiences all over the world. That genre is horror.

However, along with these mind numbing narratives, the horror genre faces different troubles than their genre counterparts. Horror films are almost always associated with Halloween time which as we know, only happens once a year. Horror films have to try that much harder in order to generate a mass appeal for a genre overlooked by most audiences.


With the dawn of cinema, came the horror genre. Take a look at this slideshow to get a visual feel for the movies that started it all.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Film Poster (Courtesy of IMDB.com)

One of the most famous and earliest horror films of all time is the German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which was released in March of 1920. Although this film is silent, the imagery and set design are just a few reasons why many directors find this film so influential.

“I would say the most influential horror film of all time is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho,” commented Alison Wielgus, a graduate student at Iowa, who teaches a horror film class. “Although it’s not even close to being the first horror film, or part of the first cycle of horror films…almost every slasher film made today lives in the shadow of Psycho…”

With the influence from several foreign horror films and the classics, much like Psycho, sub genres of horror began to form. Slasher films, like Wielgus mentioned, became very popular with such films as Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in the early to late 1970’s. These films pronounced violence, gore, high body counts and the iconic psycho serial killer.

From then on, horror films continued to build from their predecessors. With slasher films came psychological thrillers like The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project in the 1980’s and 1990’s. These films took a turn from their murderous ancestors and began to toy with their audiences in a more physical and mental way.

Now in the 2000’s, horror films have moved on to the more torturous side of human behavior. The Hostel films as well as the Saw franchise, are the forerunners for the sub genre of “torture porn”. Unlike psychological horror, these films exploit the human body to its fullest. Gore, sex and murder are all present in these films.

So the question is, why do audiences pay money to see these frightening images on the big screen?


The appeal of horror is quite simple, most people loved to be scared. Unlike many other genres, horror films cause a physical reaction in audiences that excites, scares and really affects them. However, the appeal for moviegoers across the globe is different for each person.

For Wielgus, she believes that the stories are the reason for the success of horror films. “…the narratives of horror films are very similar to many traditional narratives throughout civilization: the hero (or heroine) endures a number of trails and tribulations only to emerge triumphant in the end.”

For people go to the movie theater, they usually like to support the good guy, the guy who reminds them of a normal person, maybe even one of their friends or themselves. People enjoy seeing the good guy get their revenge, which happens in almost every horror film to date.

Unlike other genres, horror films are allowed to surpass the standard, realistic plot lines. Horror films have more freedom when it comes to delving into uncharted waters. Part of the appeal of these films is that the world of horror, however frightening they are, is in fact not real.

“We can watch certain things happen onscreen (both violent and sexual) that we can’t/don’t want to in real life, and reassure ourselves that it’s only a film,” stated Wielgus.

Even though for most people horror films are very frightening, there are some horror films that are not scary in the slightest but rather funny in their own regard. Horror films can leave us with two different types of emotions depending on how good or bad the film is. If it is a successful horror film, it can leave us in a state of anxiety. On the other hand if the film is not any good, it can leave us with the ability to mock it.


Whether a horror movie can make it big outside the realm of the popular Halloween season has always been an issue. However, horror films are definitely just as likely to be popular and make money outside of the month of October.

“I absolutely think horror films can be successful when they’re not released around Halloween,” commented Wielgus. “Although there has been the trend of releasing a few horror films at that time, I think the youth market is often game for horror films at any time of the year.”

According to Forbes’ “Top 20 Grossing Horror Movies of All Time” list, only two (The Ring, released on October 18, 2002 and the original Halloween, released on October 25, 1976) of the top 20 were released in the “appropriate” horror movie time release.

"Jaws" - The #1 Highest Grossing Horror Film of All Time (Courtesy of IMDB.com)

Nine of the top 20 were actually released in the summer months (June, July and August). It would make more sense to market a horror film in the summer months, for a variety of reasons. Kids are not in school, they tend to be bored and summer releases always seem to make the most money. Some of these films include Jaws (#1, June), Psycho (#5, June) and The Blair Witch Project (#14, July).

However, we cannot forget the other popular high grossing films that did not make the cut. In more recent releases, the Saw films have been released on the same weekend in October for the past six years. Similar to this, by releasing horror films in the October month it allows audiences to get excited about the Halloween traditions present in so many towns.

It’s obvious that the facts don’t lie, horror films can in fact stand on their own with or without the appeal of Halloween. Their appeal relies more on what the films are about rather than what time of the year they were released.


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