The history of the horror film itself, like that of cinema in general, is first of all an economic history. Before putting blood in the eyes of spectators in dark rooms, we must talk about budget, production, distribution, etc. Because if the horror film remains associated with a historical image of “series B”, even of film “cheap” intended for an adolescent public, it is today a market which weighs.
At the Roots of Horror: Economic History of a Film Genre
In the 1930s, the monsters had a good time in cinemas at the very moment when America was sinking into crisis. Movies such as Dracula of Tod Browning then of Frankenstein by James Whale are enjoying great success, Mathias Kusnierz precise “indeed these films bring in a lot of money. We can explain this situation by the fact that the crisis which strikes the Americans feeds especially their anguish of poverty, the cinema is a kind of remedy to escape this anguish. The films don’t speak directly about impoverishment, it comes a little by the tape, there are penniless characters who metaphorize the crisis and the films bring to the spectators a kind of exoticism“. Moreover, what allows American industry to maintain itself in this very difficult time for the United States economy, it is also the invention of the model of the double program. That is to say that the ticket price is maintained, but spectators can now have access to two films, Mathias Kusnierz add “this invention of the operating and distribution departments was systematized in the 1930s to respond to the drop in attendance caused by the crisis. For the “two films for the price of one” ticket solution to be profitable, the bonus film must be inexpensive to produce and relatively short. This is what the Americans call the B movie, which will be translated in France by the expression Série B. It is therefore a low-budget film, without great artistic ambitions, which makes it possible to encourage the spectators to find the way rooms“.
Horror and late capitalism: evolutions of a genre and its figures in the neoliberal era
From the 1970s, a new golden age for horror cinema began. This is the time of the release of a large number of classics of the genre: The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974), Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975), shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). In addition, zombie films send us back to the anxiety aroused by “post-modernity” – whether this effect is sought by the producers or whether it is a question of what the spectators project into it. Zombie films can be seen as one of the main cultural manifestations of this phenomenon, especially since it is a globalized and popular cultural product, according to Manouk Borzakian “zombie movies talk about our behavior, human society, and more particularly Western society, in more or less serious crisis situations, and how we make a lot of very bad decisions, and that in the end, it turns out to be much more serious than the crisis itself. What happens inside the groups that form in zombie movies is often more dangerous than what the zombies are doing outside.. Besides, there is also a fear of downgrading in zombie films, Manouk Borzakian adds “there is an absolute anguish of becoming a zombie oneself, which is something even more agonizing and unacceptable than dying. If we consider that zombies are the metaphor for a sort of superfluous humanity, which no longer has any use, not even to be exploited, then obviously there is this anguish of being part of this sub-humanity which would be the culmination of alienation, in the sense that one would be absolutely dispossessed of oneself”.
- Excerpt from the film Ed Wood by Tim Burton, 1994
- Archive, extract from “All the thrills reunited”, Demons and wonders of cinema, 07/24/1965
- Excerpt from the film Cut by Michel Hazavanicius, 2022
- Interview excerpt
george romero from 2013
- Excerpt from the film The night has devoured the world, by Dominique Rocher, 2018
- Excerpt from the film
paranormal activity by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joos, 2011
Manouk Borzakian: Zombie geography, the ruins of capitalism, Playlist Society editions, 2019