The History of Horror: From Folktales to Modern Day

Horror is a genre of fiction that has been around for centuries, and has been used to evoke fear, dread, and suspense in its readers. It has evolved over the years, ranging from folktales to modern day films. This article will look at the history of horror, from its beginnings in folktales to the modern day horror movies of the 21st century.


Folktales are stories that have been passed down orally from generation to generation, and are typically set in a traditional time period. The origin of folktales can be traced back to ancient times, as they have been used to explain the world in a supernatural way and to instill moral values in children. Over time, these stories evolved to become more fantastical and creative. Examples of folktales that are still told today include Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and The Three Little Pigs.

Gothic Literature

Gothic literature is a subgenre of horror that originated in the 18th century in England. It is characterized by its dark and mysterious elements, such as ghosts, vampires, and other supernatural creatures. The genre is often set in castles and other dark, foreboding places. Examples of gothic literature include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.

The Silent Film Era

The silent film era was the period between the late 1800s and the early 1930s where films were made without the use of sound or dialogue. This period saw the rise of horror films such as Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and The Phantom of the Opera. These films used imagery and music to create suspense and fear, and had a lasting impact on the horror genre.

The Golden Age of Horror

The Golden Age of Horror began in the 1930s and lasted until the mid-1950s. This period saw the release of classic horror films such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man. These films combined the elements of gothic literature with the use of special effects to create a more realistic and terrifying experience for the viewer.

Horror Movies of the 1950s and 1960s

The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of what is known as the “creature feature” genre. These films featured monsters such as aliens, giant insects, and mutated creatures. Examples of these films include The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Blob, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These films combined science fiction elements with horror, creating a unique viewing experience.

Horror Movies of the 1970s

The 1970s saw the rise of the slasher genre, which focused on a masked killer who stalks and kills his victims. Examples of these films include Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th. These films used intense violence and suspense to create an unsettling viewing experience.

Horror Movies of the 1980s

The 1980s saw the release of a new type of horror film known as the “splatter film”. These films focused on excessive violence and gore, and often featured supernatural elements such as ghosts and demons. Examples of these films include The Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Fly. These films pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in horror films and paved the way for more extreme forms of horror.

Horror Movies of the 1990s

The 1990s saw the release of more psychological horror films such as The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, and Se7en. These films focused on psychological horror and suspense rather than violence and gore. These films often featured characters with complex psychological issues, making them more emotionally engaging for the viewer.

Horror Movies of the 21st Century

The 21st century has seen a resurgence of horror films, with the emergence of new subgenres such as found footage, zombie, and paranormal horror. These films rely heavily on special effects and jump scares to create an intense viewing experience. Examples of these films include The Conjuring, The Babadook, and It Follows.


The history of horror has changed drastically over the years, from folktales to modern day films. Horror has had a lasting influence on popular culture, and continues to be a popular genre of fiction. From its beginnings in folktales to its current state in the 21st century, horror continues to be a genre that evokes fear, dread, and suspense.


1. McKean, E. (n.d.). A Brief History of Gothic Literature. Retrieved from

2. Noll, S. (n.d.). A Brief History of Horror Films. Retrieved from

Other Frequently asked questions

How far back does the horror genre go?

The horror genre in literature is rich with history, stretching all the way back to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. These works explored themes related to death, demons, evil spirits, and the afterlife.

What is the origin of the horror story genre?

The horror story genre was brought to life by the renowned Horace Walpole and his incredible work Castle of Otranto (1765), making it a legitimate literary form!

What are the major influences of horror?

What are the major influences of horror?

In the earliest horror films, the effect of horror was usually created by means of a macabre atmosphere and theme; German Expressionist cinema had a great influence on these films. The Student of Prague (1913) and The Golem (1915) are two early examples of German films that dealt with dual personalities and medieval Jewish legend respectively.

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