10 Horror Films That Changed the Genre



Neve Campbell appears simultaneously scared and tough in Wes Craven’s “Scream 3.” Joseph Viles Dimension Films/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Neve Campbell appears simultaneously scared and tough in Wes Craven’s “Scream 3.” Joseph Viles Dimension Films/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The "Scream" franchise is the most popular example of a strange subgenre called metahorror. A metahorror movie knows and understands the tropes and clichés of horror movies, folding them back on themselves, playing with audience expectations and even allowing the characters to understand that they're in a horror movie.

A typical masked killer stalks the usual teen victims in "Scream." The difference is that the killer and some of the victims realize the murders are following standard slasher movie protocol. While the movie addresses topics like disaffected youth and attitudes toward drugs and sex, it simultaneously comments on horror movies themselves.

"Scream" director Wes Craven experimented with self-aware horror before. "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" came out in 1994, two years before "Scream," and deals with the emergence of "Nightmare on Elm Street" villain Freddy Krueger into the real-world of actress Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in the original "Elm Street movie. Craven appears in "New Nightmare" as himself. But it was the runaway success of "Scream" that introduced audiences to metahorror, opening the door for self-aware horror movies like "Zombieland," "Seed of Chucky," "Jason X" and "Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil." 2012's "The Cabin in the Woods" might be the apex of the metahorror subgenre, with the characters trapped in a horror movie simulation and a plot that ties all horror movie tropes together into a single theory of ritual sacrifice.

Keep reading for more links to shocking horror movie stories.

Author's Note: 10 Horror Films That Changed the Genre

I'm a huge horror fan, and it was a real pleasure to research and write this one. Horror fans have strong opinions about their favorite movies, and it was hard to trim this list down to 10, so I'm sure some readers are going to disagree with a few choices. It was interesting to see how the changes brought about by one horror film can pave the way for another horror film to come along and change things again. "Night of the Living Dead" probably doesn't happen without "Blood Feast" happening first. "Scream" makes no sense without two decades of slasher movies to play off of, starting with "Halloween."

Related Articles


  • Abrams, Simon. "Happy Birthday, 'Blood Feast.'" RoberEbert.com. July 3, 2013. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/blood-feast-digging-into-the-guts-of-the-very-first-splatter-film
  • Allen, Graham. "Shelley's Frankenstein." Bloomsbury Academic. 2008.
  • Bowles, Scott. "Director recalls making of now-classic 'Blair Witch.'" USA Today. July 13, 2014. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2014/07/11/blair-witch-project-sidebar/12510371/
  • Ray B. Browne and Pat Browne. "The Guide to United States Popular Culture." Popular Press. 2001.
  • Dirks, Tim. "The History of Film: The 1970s: The Last Golden Age of American Cinema (the American 'New Wave') and the Advent of the Blockbuster Film." AMC Filmsite. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.filmsite.org/70sintro.html
  • Ebert, Roger. "Night of the Living Dead." RogerEbert.com. Jan. 5, 1969. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-night-of-the-living-dead-1968
  • Ebert, Roger. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." RogerEbert.com. June 3, 2009. (Feb. 18, 2015). http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920
  • Feaster, Felicia. "Nosferatu." Turner Classic Movies. (Feb. 19, 2015) http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/437|0/Nosferatu.html
  • Frontline. "Jaws - The Monster That Ate Hollywood." (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/hollywood/business/jaws.html
  • Larnick, Eric. "20 Things You Didn't Know About 'The Exorcist.'" Moviefone.com. Oct. 6, 2010. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://news.moviefone.com/2010/10/06/20-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-exorcist/
  • Miller, Frank. "King Kong." Turner Classic Movies. (Feb. 19, 2015) http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/2690/King-Kong/articles.html
  • Pedestrian Productions. "About." Birth of the Living Dead. 2012. (March 5, 2015) http://yearofthelivingdead.com/about/
  • Stafford, Jeff. "Jaws." Turner Classic Movies. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/81465|0/Jaws.html
  • Stein, Elliott."The Dead Zones." Village Voice. Jan. 7, 2003. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.villagevoice.com/2003-01-07/film/the-dead-zones/
  • Truitt, Brian. "'Exorcist' creators haunt Georgetown 40 years later." USA Today. Oct. 7, 2013. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2013/10/07/exorcist-40th-anniversary/2764565/
  • Weber, Bruce. "David F. Friedman, Horror Film Pioneer, Dies at 87." The New York Times. Feb. 15, 2011. (Feb. 20, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/movies/15friedman.html?_r=3&scp=1&sq=david%20f.%20friedman&st=cse&


Is Godzilla a Dinosaur?

Is Godzilla a Dinosaur?

Is Godzilla, the King of Monsters a dinosaur? HowStuffWorks talk to a few paleontologists to get their opinions.