‘Tis the season for horror movie marathons. In honor of the arrival of October, let’s take a look at a few of the most iconic films from the genre.
A Revolutionary Horror Movie
Widely considered to be one of the most iconic horror movies of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho remains an influential contribution to the genre to this day. The movie is based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name. Hitchcock snagged the film rights to the novel for just $9,000, or the equivalent of about $83,000 today. Which is quite a deal, considering the movie’s remarkable success.
Looking back at the legacy of Psycho, it might be surprising to learn that the film’s production company, Paramount, wasn’t optimistic about the project. In order to move the production forward, Hitchcock agreed to both pay for the film out of his own pocket and forgo his director’s fee in exchange for 60% ownership of the film. The uncommon arrangement ended up being extremely profitable for Hitchcock. It was his most financially successful film, bringing in $32 million at the domestic box office during its first theatrical release.
The film might be best known for the infamous scene in which the apparent lead character, Marion Crane, is murdered in the shower. But that isn’t the movie’s only revolutionary bathroom-based moment. Psycho was the first American movie to show a toilet on screen and the first to feature the sound of a toilet flushing. Despite seeming relatively commonplace now, these small details helped advance what other filmmakers were willing to include in future projects. Hitchcock earned his fifth and final Oscar nomination for Best Director for his work on Psycho. And although the award ultimately went to Billy Wilder for The Apartment, Hitchcock’s films have continued to influence horror movies over the decades.
Introducing Zombies to the Masses
Today, zombie stories are a popular subgenre of horror. If you enjoy the influx of zombie content, you can thank George A. Romero for introducing his version of the creatures to the mainstream. In 1968, Romero and several of his friends pooled their money to fund his first feature, the low-budget film, Night of the Living Dead. While it wasn’t commercially successful at the time of its release, it has since become recognized as a horror movie masterpiece. Romero’s zombies were unrelated to the Vodou zombie that had influenced most lore until that point. His creatures were shambling corpses that fed upon the living, and they went on to become a mainstay in film and fiction.
In the decade following the release of Night of the Living Dead, Romero branched out into other subject matters for his projects. But while Romero was touring Monroeville Mall in Pennsylvania, inspiration for another horror movie struck. During the tour, he was shown a crawlspace where various supplies were stored. This made him wonder what might happen if people holed up in the mall during a zombie apocalypse. Acclaimed Italian director Dario Argento offered to help Romero with financing and a script for the movie, and so he got to work on his next zombie film, Dawn of the Dead.
Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead was filmed at the location of his original inspiration, Monroeville Mall. Since the mall was still operational, the crew had to shoot exclusively at night. They began at 10 PM when the shoppers were cleared out and ended at 6 AM when the mall’s prerecorded music loop began playing for the day. Locals were excited about the film and many appeared as extras, including National Guardsmen and police officers. The legendary sequence in which a biker gang raids the mall also features real bikers from a group called The Pagans, who brought their own motorcycles for the shoot. In addition to the ongoing influence Romero’s work has had on horror movies, Dawn of the Dead also received a 2004 remake that performed well at the box office, bringing in $58,990,765 domestically and $44,462,110 internationally.
Award-Winning Horror Movies
Those who tune in to the Academy Awards may have noticed that horror movies are a seldom-seen genre at the ceremony. In fact, in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards, only 18 horror movies have ever won an Oscar. It took all the way until the 46th Academy Awards for the first horror film to even earn a nomination for Best Picture. In 1974, The Exorcist earned 10 Academy Award nominations, including the first-ever Best Picture nomination for a horror movie. While The Sting ultimately ended up winning Best Picture at that year’s ceremony, The Exorcist did take home two Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Sound.
Since The Exorcist opened the door, a total of 6 horror films have been nominated for Best Picture. At the 1992 ceremony, The Silence of the Lambs became the first and only horror movie to date to win the Oscar for Best Picture. In addition, The Silence of the Lambs accomplished another impressive feat, taking home all of the “Big Five” Academy Awards — Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay (Adapted, in this case), and Best Director. This made The Silence of the Lambs just the third movie in history to win the Big Five, joining It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
The most recent horror movie to earn a Best Picture nomination was the 2017 film Get Out. Get Out was Jordan Peele’s film directorial debut, and the movie also earned nominations for Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Peele took home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, making him the first Black screenwriter to win the award. In addition to critical praise, the film also saw great financial success. Get Out brought in $175,686,870 at the domestic box office, making it the second-highest-grossing horror movie of 2017. Which isn’t too shabby, considering the fact that the only horror film to bring in more at the box office that year, the 2017 It remake, went on to become the highest-grossing horror movie of all time, raking in $328,828,874 at the domestic box office and $372,254,168 internationally.
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