The horror film is organized by the division between self and other, which can be defined in sociopolitical or psychoanalytic terms. The emblematic figure of the genre is the monster. Monsters such as vampires and zombies often straddle (and therefore unsettle) binary oppositions that are used to define human existence, such as life/death, man/woman, domestic/foreign, and healthy/degenerate. While exemplary horror films, such as James Whaleâ€™s Frankenstein (1931), portray the psychology of the monster sensitively, most cast the monster into abjection, expelling it from the world of the narrative in order to restore order and normalcy. More than any other genre, horror is defined by its effect on audiences, who expect to be frightened, shocked, or disgusted.
German expressionism provided the silent periodâ€™s greatest horror films, such as F. W. Murnauâ€™s Nosferatu (1922). Classical Hollywood films, such as Jacques Tourneurâ€™s Cat People (1942), used offscreen sound, character reaction, and shadows to evoke a monstrous presence without violating the Production Code (see Classical Period).
American independent films such as George Romeroâ€™s The Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Larry Cohenâ€™s Itâ€™s Alive (1974) combined horror conventions with social and political analysis.
Roman Polanskiâ€™s Rosemaryâ€™s Baby (1968) and William Friedkinâ€™s The Exorcist (1973) accorded the horror genre mainstream respectability.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, teenage horror subgenres like the slasher film, as in John Carpenterâ€™s Halloween series, introduced the genre to a new generation.
Some of the most innovative horror films of recent years have been made in East Asia, such as Hideo Nakataâ€™s Ringu (1998) and Miike Takashiâ€™s The Audition (1999).