I’d have to say doors, but just by a hair. After all, doors are more ambiguous than windows (because you can’t see through them), and ambiguity is always scary. If a door is locked, the question can always arise of whether it’s REALLY locked. Even after you check just to make sure, the question can still remain.
Stanly Kubrick knew doors are scary, which is why he placed so many in his thematic encyclopedia of horror themes, The Shining. Doorknobs are scary too, of course, because when one starts to turn – especially in a horror movie — you don’t know who’s on the other side doing the turning.
Once a doorknob DOES start turning in a horror film, it’s a good bet the ambiguity will soon come to an end. It turns once, twice, then – sure enough – it starts to rattle. Then the banging starts.
The best what’s-behind-the-door scene of all time? Maybe the one in the original version of The Haunting, where the door actually seems to bend from the force outside it like one in a nightmare. The black-and-white masterpiece Night of the Hunter makes some of cinema’s best usage of doors as symbols of (evil) parental authority. (As in: "Don’t make me open this door.") The original Exorcist would have to make the top of the list for good door action as well (both open, closed, and repeatedly slamming). So too would the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One of the scariest scenes in the latter occurs after Leatherface has been chasing poor Sally around through the sagebrush for minutes on end. Finally she makes it to the gas-station/barbeque store and apparent safety. But after she runs inside, the door stays open. The fact that Leatherface doesn’t run through it immediately frightens us before we know exactly WHY it does (the reason being, of course, that the guy in the gas station is part of it too).
None of which is to say that windows can’t be scary as well. They also have the advantage of being scary both when you’re on the inside looking out, and on the outside looking in. Consider, for example, the one that the face of the murdered husband seems to be staring out of in the original version of Diabolique. The closer Vera Clouzot and Simone Signoret look – and the closer we look with them – the harder it is to figure out whether we should be frightened of what we’re seeing or not. Which only makes us more frightened.
Ambiguity again. The feeling of just… not knowing. It’s what’s hiding behind all the horror movie doors and windows that scare us most.Read More