Haunted Houses and Horror Movies | History of Fear

This Halloween season there will be more haunted houses open in America than at any time in our history.  The fear industry is alive and well with new horror movies and character Halloween costumes each season.  It seems fear is now a big business.

Somewhere along the line Hollywood found the fear formula in movies.  Hollywood writers and directors created characters and movie stars that enticed the public to consider fear as wholesome and wanted entertainment.

The characters spawned hundreds of new costumed figures and toys.  Haunted houses grew from simple ghosts and spirit themes to a whole assortment of fear characters to terrify the public.

Continue reading below or return to the Funtober home page or our Haunted House home page.

Horror Movies Do Not Win Best Picture Oscars

Have you noticed the absence in Hollywood of Oscar winning horror movies.  Never has a fear movie won the Best Picture Oscar.  Lots win for special effects and more have great box office success but none ever win for best picture.

Let’s take a look at some great major Hollywood movies.

The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), and The Sixth Sense (1999) are arguably the only fear movies to have been nominated for best picture.  The Exorcist came closest with a loss to Robert Redford and Paul Newman’s The Sting in 1973.

So if you are in Hollywood and want to win best picture you do not make a horror movie.

However if you want to make a money making movie then horror movies are where the bucks are at.  Fear sells movie tickets.  Hollywood has taken notice and now releases several major blood and gore horror movies each month.

The haunted house industry has also taken notice.  It is not surprising that zombies, serial killers, Jason, chainsaws, and the supernatural are major haunted house themes.

Haunted Houses and History

In the early 20th century disposable income was very low.  There were only a few commercial haunted houses held anywhere in the country prior to World War II.

In the 50’s and 60’s there were lots of carnavals with rides, ferris wheels, and small rollar coasters traveling the country going from town to town.  These carnavals usually had a fun house trailer as part of one attraction.

A trailer that customers entered with a dark maze, narrow passages, lights, sounds, uneven walkways, and mirrors meant to scare visitors.

I remember passing through many of these fun houses in my early teens many years ago.  Generally there was not a connection between the fun houses and horror movie characters.

Eventually the major theme parks such as Disney, Cedar Point, Six Flags, and others built fun house type attractions that eventually became Haunted Houses.

The real haunted houses around the country were places such as homes, cemeteries, prisons, hospitals, factories where strange occurences happened down through history.

It became natural to ignore real haunts in favor of better commercial locations with the idea to build a haunted house and attach some form of horror movie character to the haunted attraction.

Since the early 1990’s the haunt industry has undergone phenominal growth.  Maybe because of horror movies, improved disposable income, the population demographics, or the overall growth of movies, costumes, and haunts in general.

In any event fear sells in America.  Halloween is now the 2nd largest commercial event behind Christmas in the country.

Horror Movies and Fear

As a kid way back then you had the “B” type Roger Corman monster movies such as Creature from the Black Lagoon or the character movie spinoffs of Dracula, Godzilla, Frankenstein, and The Werewolf.  We saw lots of “sons of” and “brides of” these characters.  They were oh so scary for the times.

The major Hollywood movies were a little different from the “B” movies.  Frankenstein and Dracula both came out in 1931.  Alfred Hitchcock with Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963)  made movies with real actors many who went on to make major Hollywood contributions.

Many actors did crossover from horror movies to television and back into movie productions.

One such actor was Michael Landon (Bonanza) (Little House on the Praire).  He had a leading roll in the “I Was a Teen Age Werewolf” movie in 1957.  He was the werewolf and two years later he was a TV star.

Many haunted houses still have monsters and werewolfs chasing visitors through their mazes.  These characters are timeless.  More terrifying today are the updated killers such as Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface, and Freddy.

Of course the horror movies had their own stars.  Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and Bela Lugoisi all were able to cross over many times through televsion, horror movies, and into major motion pictures.

Fear Scares You

Hollywood learned the science of fear and how our brain processes our senses and emotions.  Think about these major types of themes:

  1. Animals, Creatures and Monsters
  2. Zombies
  3. Haunted Houses
  4. Supernatural
  5. Killers and Death
  6. Ghosts and Spirits
  7. Vampires
  8. Science Fiction

Best Movies by Major Hollywood Themes

Animals, Creatures and Monsters

  • Silver Bullit 1985 (werewolf)
  • Jaws 1995 (shark)
  • Alien 1979 (creatures)
  • An American Werewolf in London 1980
  • Arachnophobia 1990 (spiders)
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954
  • Cujo 1983 (rabid dog)
  • The Birds 1963
  • Children of the Corn 1984


  • Night of the Living Dead 1968
  • Resident Evil 2002
  • Night of the Comet 1984
  • Dawn of the Dead 1978

Haunted Houses and Supernatural

  • The Amityville Horror 1979
  • The Exorcist 1979
  • Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 1973
  • House of Usher
  • House on the Haunted Hill 1959
  • Poltergeist 1982
  • Pyscho 1960
  • Rosemary’s Baby 1968

Killers and Death

  • Friday the 13th 1980
  • Saw 2004
  • Halloween 1978
  • Helter Skelter 1976
  • Psycho 1960
  • Scream 1996
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003

Ghosts and Spirits

  • The Blair Witch Project 1999
  • The Exorcist 1973
  • The Shining 1979
  • Candyman 1992
  • Carrie 1976
  • Poltergeist 1982


  • Bram Stokers Dracula 1992
  • Blade 1998
  • Dracula 1931

Science Fiction

  • Frankenstein 1931
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978
  • Night of the Comet 1984
  • Alien 1979
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1970

More About the Horror Movies

Chucky came to life in the movie Child’s Play in 1988.  I am still scared of dolls.

Ever wonder why there are scary Corn Mazes.  Think about the movie Children of the Corn in 1984.  Oh remember Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton were the stars.

The Devil came to life in the movies Damien and Omen II in 1978.

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street and most of it sequels.  However most people forget that Johnny Depp made his move debut in that movie.

Many haunted houses use the theme of haunted dreams, spirits return from the dead, and nightmares in the dark.

The creature in Alien 1979 still scares me and chases Sigourney Weaver through space.

Wesley Snipes was a vampire hunter in Blade 1990 and its many sequels before his problems with the IRS.  (Talk about a scary subject.)

Night of the Living Dead 1968 & 1990 are my first recollection of flesh eating zombies when a statellite full of radiation falls back to earth.

Psycho 1960 made Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and the Bates Motel iconic figures.  I have never ever made it all the way through watching Psycho.

Rosemary’s Baby 1968 was Mia Farrow’s hit movie.  Talk about a nighmare and strange neighbors.

Scream 1996 and Creepshow 1982 are more spoofs of the horror films.  However it is tough to ignore the Ghosface figure s impact on the haunted house characters.

Helter Skelter 1996 was about the psychotic cult leader Charles Manson and the murder of Sharon Tate.  A theme repeated over and over in haunted houses.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 starred Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy who later made a couples movies we all remember.

Jason debuted in Friday the 13th 1980 also with actor Kevin Bacon.

Halloween 1978 featured the character Michael Myers and starred Jamie Lee Curtis.

My All Time Favorite Scary Movies

I am sure you have your favorite movies.  We all do.  My favorites are Poltergeist 1982 and The Exorcist 1973.  Of course you remember the absolute evil in Poltergeist and the litte girl saying “They’re here”.

No one who saw the Exorcist will forget Linda Blair and the head spinning scene during the exorcism.

And finally the line “I see dead people” from The Sixth Sense movie in 1999 is my most interesting movie.  I did not figure “it” out until the end and I have ever only seen the movie one time.  I refuse to watch it again as it was so good the first time.

Movies and Haunted Houses

Hope you get a chance to see some of the new horror movies coming out in 2013.  They can now do amazing things with computer scenes which make the movie effects remarkable.  I still like the way technology has combined fear, a little blood, and some interesting characters to continue to grow the haunted house industry.

Many will disagree with my list.  There are simply too many great fear movies to list them all.  So what scares you?  Killers, the supernatural, haunted houses, space aliens, or something new or old created by Hollywood.

The next 50 years will feature a remarkable growth in the fear industry.


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