Horror and terror  

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In 1963, Roger Corman directed The Raven, a horror-comedy written by Richard Matheson very loosely based on the poem, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. It stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as a trio of rival sorcerers.
In 1963, Roger Corman directed The Raven, a horror-comedy written by Richard Matheson very loosely based on the poem, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. It stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as a trio of rival sorcerers.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The distinction between horror and terror is a standard literary and psychological concept applied especially to Gothic literature and film (Radcliffe 1826; Varma 1966; Crawford 1986: 101-3; Bruhm 1994: 37; Wright 2007: 35-56). Horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually occurs after something frightening is seen, heard, or otherwise experienced. It is the feeling one gets after coming to an awful realization or experiencing a deeply unpleasant occurrence. By contrast, terror is usually described as the feeling of [dread] and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. In other words, horror is more related to being shocked or scared (being horrified), while terror is more related to being anxious or fearful, being terrified (Varma 1966). Horror has also been defined as a combination of terror and revulsion.

The distinction between terror and horror was first characterised by the Gothic horror writer Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823). Terror is characterised by "obscurity" or indeterminacy in its treatment of potentially horrible events; it is this indeterminacy which leads to the sublime. She says in the essay that it "expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life". Horror, in contrast, "freezes and nearly annihilates them" with its unambiguous displays of atrocity. She goes on: "I apprehend that neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and where lies the great difference between horror and terror, but in uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreader evil" (Radcliffe: 1826).

According to Devendra Varma in The Gothic Flame (1966):

The difference between Terror and Horror is the difference between awful apprehension and sickening realization: between the smell of death and stumbling against a corpse.

Horror is also a genre of film and fiction that relies on horrifying images or situations to tell stories and prompt reactions in their audiences. In these films the moment of horrifying revelation is usually preceded by a terrifying build up, often using the medium of scary music (Wisker 2005).



The Latin horrere is the root of words such as "horrific" or "horror"; it means "to stand on end" and refers to the standing hairs of goose bumps, otherwise known as 'horripilation' (see etymologies in Collins English Dictionary [1986])

Horror and terror in film

Horror and terror stem mainly from movies and literature. Horror is the feeling you get after seeing something violent and disturbing, while terror is the apprehension before something bad happens. To increase horrific feelings in the audience, plots often involve the supernatural, serial murderers, disease/virus outbreak, and surrealism. Themes involved to induce horror and terror include gore, werewolves, villains, torture, ghosts, curses, satanism, demons, vicious animals, vampires, cannibals, haunted houses, and zombies. The definition of what was once called a horror movie has changed over the years. Examples are The Silence of the Lambs and Seven. Horror is considered horror when there is an over the top amount of bloodshed and gore whereas thriller/terror is considered to be more along the route of mindgames, exemplified by the feeling of nervousness as a character is walking down a dark alley.

In the United States, the horror genre in film became popular in the early 1930s, and was especially identified with Universal Pictures. Most notable are Frankenstein and Dracula. Some of these early movies blended science themed with Gothic and horror, such as James Whale's The Invisible Man. Big names in the horror genre include actors Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and makeup artist Jack Pierce. In the 1950s and 1960s, new sub-genres began to appear. Two most popular were the horror-of-armageddon and the horror-of-demonic film. The horror of armageddon consisted of end of civilization, while the horror of demonic dealt with demons controlling people's souls and further used the supernatural element to a slightly bigger extreme. Japanese films, in particular, had the majority of armageddon films with their first hand experience with radiation in the 1950s. The horror of demonic started out as ghosts and monsters, but by the mid to late 1960s, more film makers decided to deal with satan and the devil entering one's flesh, such as Rosemary's Baby from director Roman Polanski. Armageddon films did not have as much notice until 1963, when Alfred Hitchcock directed The Birds. Rosemary's Baby brought horror film into a whole other realm. More occult films were accepted. The Exorcist remains one of the most influential horror movies dealing with an evil spirit invading one's soul. The 1970s brought with them the zombie movie, which is still relevant in today's society. Many of the same came the next twenty years, with a revival of The Exorcist in early 2000. The Saw and Final Destination franchises define what kind of mode we have entered into. Disaster films have become almost necessary, with remakes of foreign horror movies up there in equal importance. The influence of Swedish and French horror films is obvious over the past two to three years.

See also


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