My discovery of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle began by detailing the dynamics of the three different phases (lasting 5 years each) -- the restless warm-up phase (energy levels at baseline, but capable of being stimulated), the manic phase (energy levels spiking), and the vulnerable phase (energy levels crashing into a refractory state).
Although these phases repeat endlessly in a cycle, we can still draw boundaries around a self-contained 15-year interval that has its own distinct zeitgeist. And these intervals begin with a restless phase and end with a vulnerable phase. The other two possible ways of drawing the intervals (beginning with a manic, or with a vulnerable) do not slice up history into recognizable and cohesive intervals. It's natural enough -- crashing into a refractory state is a natural end-point, soaring into the sky is a natural mid-point or climax, and doing warm-ups is a natural start-point.
At a higher level of dynamics, these 15-year intervals alternate between high-energy and low-energy versions, although that is not important for this post. But briefly, the high-energy cycles are those beginning in 2005, 1975, 1945, and 1915; the low-energy cycles begin in 1990, 1960, and 1930 (and 2020).
The only thing I notice about the high vs. low-energy cycles is that in the high-energy cycles, the villains tend to be invaders on the victims' wholesome supposedly safe home-turf, whereas during the low-energy cycles, they tend to be dwellers of a creepy lair into which the victims are drawn.
Something about the intense cycles makes people aware that danger can strike at home, whereas the low-key cycles make people think danger is only out there somewhere -- and therefore, home base is still safe. I think during intense cycles, people resonate more with getting out of the house to do exciting things (whether they actually do so or not), so they don't feel the need to sanctify the home. During low-key cycles, people resonate more with just relaxing at home, and need to feel that place is sacrosanct.
Let's look at how this changing of the zeitgeist plays out in the domain of horror movies. The point here is not to exhaustively list every example of the dominant genres for a given interval. We're looking at the big picture. And since the focus here is on where the boundaries between cohesive stand-alone intervals lie, I'll be using lists instead of prose to get the point across simply.
I'm not including the 2020s because cultural production has more or less ground to a halt across all domains, as our collective cohesion has come unglued. Big cultural production requires high-scale cooperation, so it is over, with only small-scale niche trends taking its place.
* * *
2005 - 2019: Torture porn, possessed / invaded home, paranormal investigation / science, found footage, reboots / vintage / retro
Key series: Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity
Notes: The found footage trend grew out of the previous cycle's focus on urban legends being real -- there was documentary physical evidence, they were not merely a fictional narrative. In this cycle, found footage served to establish paranormal activity as an entirely mundane phenomenon (explainable, engineerable by human science), rather than a supernatural one.
1990 - 2004: Postmodern, self-aware / meta-, deconstructing, fiction invades reality, urban legends
Key movies: Candyman, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, In the Mouth of Madness, The Blair Witch Project, The Ring
Key series: Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend
Notes: Slashers and serial killers were still the main villain type, only now they had taken on a legendary status of their own, after saturating the market during the previous cycle. Basic Instinct took these trends into the adjacent genre of erotic thrillers.
1975 - 1989: Slashers / serial killers (human, animal, alien, cyborg, machine, supernatural)
Key movies: Alien, The Thing, Christine, The Terminator, Predator
Key series: Jaws, Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child's Play
Notes: This genre reflected the reality of serial killers during the height of the rising-crime wave, and is distinct from mass-murderers. Unlike similar movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which take place within a single small location like a house, the slasher is a hunter who stalks prey across a wide range of territory, relentlessly. The Child's Play series segues into the self-aware / "fiction invades reality" zeitgeist of the 1990-2004 cycle, since an icon of pop culture and advertising is the conduit through which a serial killer stalks targets in the real world.
1960 - 1974: Cursed / haunted / killer-occupied house (often Gothic)
Key movies: Psycho, The Haunting, Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Key series: Edgar Allan Poe by Corman, Hammer horror
Notes: The main difference with slashers is these are set in a single location, which is the killer's own lair, whether the victims wander haplessly there or are abducted. The slasher killer stalks a range of territory, invading the victims' familiar home-turf.
1945 - 1959: Sci-fi crossovers, creature features (aliens, robots, mutant animals, beasts)
Key movies: The Thing from Another World, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, Tarantula!
Notes: Creatures generally invade the wholesome home-turf of the victims, rather than unwitting victims wandering or being abducted off to the monster's lair. Few horror movies were made, of any genre, immediately post-WWII, so these are all from the '50s. Faustian bargain -- advances in science & tech alert monsters to our presence, which they home in on. Or sci/tech creates these monsters from harmless beings. Similar to the "dangers of culture" theme in the '90-'04 cycle, only there it was the arts (fictional narratives), not sci/tech, that spawned the monsters.
1930 - 1944: Monsters dwelling in a Gothic lair
Key series: Universal classic monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Mummy, Wolf Man)
Key movies: King Kong, Cat People
Notes: In contrast to the creature features of the '50s, the classic monster movies generally focus more on the lair of the monster, which unwitting victims are drawn into. The lair is typically Gothic, borrowing from the Expressionist trend of creating unsettling environments. Only now, it is a lair where much of the action takes place, instead of a hide-out while the monster is not terrorizing its victims out there on their home-turf.
1915 - 1929: Expressionist, Old World folk / fairytales
Key movies: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Golem: How He Came into the World, Nosferatu, Haxan, Phantom of the Opera
Notes: Most innovation in the early film industry was technical and visual, not narrative, so these drew heavily on existing traditions for their story. Generally the menace invades the comfy home-turf of the victims.