Creepy Countdown: The fear of the known
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When Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, a reviewer wrote that what made it so frightening was the air of reality attached to it, by being connected with the favourite prospects and passions of the times. Contemporary science was in the midst of an exploration of the nature of life and death itself, and whether it was possible for humans to create life: perfect fodder for the tale of the creation of Victor Frankenstein's monster. She was far from the only writer to have found inspiration in society's fears. In 1866, Charles Dickens' ghostly The Signalman exploited the contemporary fears over the newest invention, the steam train. By the end of the century, when fears over immigration and moral degeneration abounded, Bram Stoker wrote of the invading vampire from Transylvania in Dracula. When horror involves our very real, everyday fears, it becomes so much more frightening. And so, when our anxieties change, so too do our tastes in horror. In the 1950s, when fears about the Cold War were at the highest, and nuclear war seemed to be imminent, a string of films featuring radioactive monsters hit the big screen, such as Godzilla, Them! and Tarantula. A decade of high-profile assassinations, from the Kennedys to Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., led to more realistic horror in the 1960s, when Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho set a new bar for cinema in the level of violence and brutality it depicted. By the 1970s, the unsupervised 'latch-key kid' generation made children themselves into a danger from the possessed Damien in The Omen to the destructive Rosemary's Baby. Fuelled by the AIDS epidemic, fears turned to disease and infection in the 1980s. The Thing considered the effects of a parasite infecting a series of hosts, whilst The Fly saw Jeff Goldblum become half-man, half-fly in a horrific cross-breed. By the turn of the century, in a neat repetition of Dracula's concerns with identity, films such as Single White Female and The Silence of the Lambs considered whether appearances really could be deceptive. This shifted again in the early part of the new millennium, when 28 Days Later and Saw showed us people launching their own wars on terror to mimic that going on in the wider world. Fears, as we've seen, don't stay static. Recent films, such as Unfriended and Smiley, have exploited our growing dependence upon technology. If we want to predict upcoming trends in horror, we could do worse than consider what the fears of our age are.
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