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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.


Off the back of health anxieties surrounding ebola and growing antibiotic resistance, we can expect to see more films presenting the impact of epidemics upon the population. Mathieu Turi's Hostile is a classic 'sole survivor' film, whilst Joe Lynch's Mayhem is the story of a man trapped in his office following the outbreak of an airborne virus. Meanwhile, the erstwhile Patient Zero follows one man's attempts to find a cure for a virus which has turned the infected into highly-effective killers. See also The Third Wave, starring Ellen Page.


Horror likes to put its own spin on our struggle against terror. The eighth instalment of the Saw series hits the big screen this week, whilst the prequel to The Purge is due early next year. In a twist on the genre, Abruptio will look at the terror from the perpetrator's viewpoint, when the main character is forced to commit brutal murders in order to stop the explosive in his neck detonating.

Nuclear war

We're living in an age when nuclear warfare seems to be just around the corner. Just like the 1950s, we're about to see a range of films starring enormous terrifying monsters. Rampage, due to be released next year, will star Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson as he battles three monsters, whilst that other action-film veteran Jason Statham will be wrestling with a giant sea creature in Meg later in the year. Finally, that iconic 50s lizard will make an appearance in 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters.


This is one trend and fear we don't appear quite done with just yet. It performed well at the box office in September, and we can expect to see more frightening clowns in the coming months. Clowntergeist, The Night Watchmen and The Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space might keep you going until the second chapter of the Stephen King clown-fest arrives in (hopefully) 2019.

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