There are many forms of art and expression but I am particularly interested in that of horror so I would like to discuss the history of horror as a genre. Let’s look at the origin of horror in three areas poetry, fiction, and movies. Then let’s think how it is evolved in each of these areas.
One of the earliest forms of expression and art is poetry and what is probably the first and most famous horror poem is La Comedia, or The Divine Comedy as it came to be known, written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. Dante is an Italian writer that created The Divine Comedy which is a four part series of poems that describe the four levels of hell, this is why this work of art is also known as Dante’s Inferno. In this set of poems Dante describes not the Devil but his layer and in doing so personifies hell to show the evil that lives there. For example say you walk into a person’s house for the first time, once in their living room you see a display case with trophy after trophy in several sports reason would dictate that this person is an athlete to say the least. That is what The Divine Comedy did for the Devil, showing us his living room so to speak showed us his soul without ever meeting him in the poems.
What might be known as the first Horror or Gothic Horror Novel is The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole. There is nothing supernatural in this novel so it is not a supernatural type story, no ghost or vampires or anything like that. This story deals more with murder and darker themes of that nature. It is all about a king going mad killing a bunch of people including his own wife so not really that off from plays of the time or earlier even but still this is known as the first Gothic novel.
Moving on to a more modern art form, let’s talk about movies. The first time that a supernatural type scenario appeared in a movie was with the creation of some silent shorts by Georges Méliès. From his collection of silent shorts the 1896 Le Manoir du diable or “The House of the Devil” is his most famous and it is seen as being the first horror film ever. The film is only three minutes long and all that really happen was a bat flew into a castle and turns into a human/bat creature called a Mephistopheles. It then goes to a caldron calling some ghosts, spirits, witches, and a skeleton. So this film can also be seen as the first vampire movie. A later film called Nosferatu (1922) is sometimes known as the first vampire movie and many people even believe that the vampire in the film was real.
It is always fun to the see the origin of a genre and see where it was and then think to today and see how it was evolved. How these movies, books, and pomes from the past seem tame to us now but at the time of their introduction they were ground breaking. At the time their inception they would have scared your pants off and I have to admit that even today Nosferatu creeps me out.