Architecture in Horror Movies
To celebrate Halloween, SPARC takes a look at a few horror films that use architecture to enhance the story. In these examples we will briefly explore the role of architecture and interior design in creating mood, defining space, and acting as a character within the films.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
Beyond the Black Rainbow relies on sleek, modern architectural design to convey a disorienting atmosphere. Lighting, color, reflection, and austere materials combine to create an unnerving clinical environment that heightens the anxiety and fear felt by the main character. And yes, she’s sitting on the modern stackable Panton chair.2010 Director – Panos Cosmatos Image credit
Don’t Look Now
Don’t Look Now uses the winding canals and ornate architecture of Venice to create a environment that reflects the confusion and psychological distress that is plaguing the main character. As he becomes more distressed, the built environment around him becomes more claustrophobic and confusing.1973 Director – Nicolas Roeg Image credit
Eraserhead makes use of nearly pitch-black claustrophobic sets. Shadow and lack of lighting dilute each room until you can’t tell where space begins and ends. In contrast, the exterior scenes use over scaled industrial architecture to enhance the feeling of unease and dehumanization.1977 Director – David Lynch Image credit
The House of the Devil
At first glance, House of the Devil seems to depict the standard creepy house aesthetic seen in countless horror movies. However, this movie differs by effectively creating tension and isolation with the use of light and shadow. Darkened stairs and halls seem to go on forever and characters are framed by architectural elements, enhancing the feeling of being trapped in the built environment.2009 Director – Ti West Image credit
Night of the Hunter
Using theatrical set design influenced by German Expressionist films, Night of the Hunter creates visually striking scenes that embody moments of unease. Exaggerated architectural elements that look more like theatrical sets, along with light and shadow create environments that reflect the mental state of the characters and effectively heighten the tension for the viewer.1955 Director – Charles Laughton Image credit
Session 9 uses a real location, Danvers State Mental Hospital, and turns it into the main protagonist of the film. As an asbestos removal crew works on the abandoned structure, its seemingly endless corridors and cavernous rooms begin to reflect the isolation of the characters. The most disturbing aspect of this film is that it almost entirely takes place during bright sunny days.2001 Director – Brad Anderson Image credit
The isolation of the Torrance family in The Shining is reflected by the enormity of the the spaces they inhabit. The family is dwarfed by large lobbies, ballrooms and maze like corridors of the Overlook Hotel. This relationship between the characters and interior space is one of the main sources of tension in this film. The exterior used for the hotel was the Timberline Lodge, The interior was based on the Ahwahnee Hotel and was the largest set constructed for a film at the time.1980 Director – Stanley Kubrick Image credit
Suspiria uses strong lighting and bold colors to create a psychedelic atmosphere that seems to be at odds with the gothic architecture of its setting. Soaring interiors create a feeling of vulnerability while color and light serve to create a disorienting effect. Art Nouveau flourishes are purposely combined with hard line geometric shapes to create deceiving spatial effects.1977 Director – Dario Argento Image credit
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