Horror movies are movies intended to inspire feelings of suspense or fear in viewers. The genre of horror is very wide and can be divided into several sub-categories; perhaps the most important division among horror movies is the motivation behind the film, whether there is a purpose in provoking fear in the audience or whether it is done for its own sake. Often, especially in more modern horror movies, the means through which fear is stimulated (which may include violence) stirs up controversy.
Because horror is a popular genre in all mediums of narrative, it is not surprising that the first horror films were made shortly after film was invented. The House of the Devil, or Le Manoir du diable in French, made in 1896, is often credited as the first horror movie ever made.
The early 1900s through the 1940s saw the popularity of horror movies featuring monsters, such as werewolves, vampires, and mummies. Often these films blended horror with adventure or black comedy, and were therefore not meant to be taken as serious drama. Often, B-movies included elements of this genre. Some well-known horror films from this genre include Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, and Nosferatu. Eventually, horror films in general shifted away from Gothic influence and took on more relevant conflicts.
With Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho came a major change in not only horror movies, but cinema in general. Aside from drastically weakening the effect of film censorship, it also had a sweeping impact on conflict in horror movies; Psycho centers around a psychotic, sexually repressed motel owner who, unable to handle his own neurosis, unknowingly murders his guests. After Psycho came several more films featuring "man vs. man" conflict.
Psycho is often considered to be the roots of a genre that would come to prominence in the 1970s and flourish until the end of the 1980s: slasher films. In slasher movies, the main action features a serial killer who murders several expendable, often two-dimensional, characters throughout the course of the film. Slasher movies often did not take themselves seriously and drew most of their appeal from their portrayals of quick, sudden deaths, which usually portrayed large amounts of blood and gore. Some well-known slashers included The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream.
Horror films today often rely on heavy violence to portray feelings of terror, such as Hostel and Saw. Others, however, are more atmospheric in nature, like The Sixth Sense.
As mentioned above, usually critics distinguish horror films as either art or less sophisticated indulgence by the intentions of the filmmakers. Films such as Friday the 13th and other "gore" films are often viewed as cheap exploitation, whereas Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs are generally lauded for their psychological study, The Exorcist, The Omen and their sequels and Salo are praised for being genuinely frightening, and Scream is accepted for its parody of the slasher genre.