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Spook Tales: The History of Horror Films

Yeah, they were actually called spook tales! Amazing, right?

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Superiposition photography circa 1889.


It all began when spiritualists and photographers developed “spirit photography” in the 1860s, using superimpositon and double exposure to capture ghostly photos.

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Nosferatu, 1922


Early narratives in photography and film came from European folklore and legends, branching into psychological concepts at the turn of the 20th century. Still, these films were silent, so the terror had to be conveyed purely through rudimentary visuals. This is where film-making trickery and fascinating costume and makeup come into play.

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The Golem, 1915


Of course, these movies had to overcome certain technological limitations. As old film is incredibly low resolution, scenes couldn’t be shown in the dark. A modern audience would watch and find it odd that so many creepy encounters seem to take place during a brightly-lit day, but that’s just because we’re accustomed to seeing horror movies filmed in pitch-black.

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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1919


For your horror film party, or for the first night you’re not at work and don’t need to study, here are a few of the revered silent classics that are best enjoyed by candle light with plenty of popcorn. It’s definitely an adjustment watching a silent film, so pull up your favorite fantasy movie soundtrack for the background. I’ll spare the detailed synopses so you’ll get to be surprised and amazed, just like the 1900’s audiences who didn’t get trailers and previews.

  1. 1897: La Squelette Joyeux (The Happy Skeleton); The first spooky film with a minute run-time.

  2. 1915: The Golem; The first monster movie! Based on a Jewish folktale.

  3. 1919: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; Enter psychological horror: a look into the mind of a madman!

  4. 1922: Nosferatu; a film so close to the original Dracula, the director got in a legal battle with Bram Stoker’s widow over the rights!

Have a Scien-tastic Halloween!

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