Most horror films from the 1890s through the 1920s were based on classic themes, such as hauntings by ghosts or demons and stories of the devil. Many were also based on gothic literature, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the poems of Edger Allan Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Traditional folklore, such as the German legend of Faust- a man who sells his soul to the devil, and stories about vampires, and golem also provided inspiration for horror movies.
These themes have continued to be popular in the genre, but post World War II horror films began to reflect contemporary concerns. During the ’50s fears about the atomic age and radiation influenced horror films. Japanese and American filmmakers made movies about giant monsters created by exposure to radiation. During the late ’60s and 70’s the generation that had fought in Vietnam and gone to Haight and Ashbury was demanding a more raw, realistic representation of violence and sex on the big screen. Horror films answered this demand with films like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Many of these films were remade when graphic violence became popular again during the post-9/11 era. Horror films today continue to reflect political and social concerns. Eli Roth, the man behind the controversial “gore-porn” Hostel films, has even claimed that his films are a commentary on corporations that profit off of the deaths of Americans.