Beauty In Darkness: Horror Films That Left Their MarkSeptember 24, 2020
There’s more to horror movies than shock value and fake blood. An obvious statement for those who enjoy the genre, but perhaps a surprising one for those who stay away from it. Sure, horror fans enjoy the wash of adrenaline as it pumps through their veins, and the sensation of a stomach tied in knots, but there’s much more to the genre than primal sensory explosions.
Horror films yearn to tickle and prod at our insides, but some also delight our brains with their winding narratives and awe-inspiring visuals. Below we explore some of our favorite examples of horror films that are both brutal and visually inspiring, spine-tingling and simultaneously beautiful. Their unique perspectives have shaped how the genre has shifted throughout the years, and they’ve pushed viewers to broaden their definitions of beauty.
Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to the macabre, but what makes his films so beautiful is their transparency—his deep love for his craft is always on display. 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth is no exception. For 20 years the film was contained to a notebook that del Toro always carried with him. He would doodle in it and fantasize about the film (one that he struggled to secure funding for), and through it all he never lost interest in his passion project.
Touching on everything from his childhood experiences of lucid dreaming, to religion and politics, the film is never scared to dive into dark places. The film’s colors, like a Toulouse-Lautrec painting, are those you would find in murky waters. Dark greens, blueish blacks, steely grays, and amber hues all swirl together to create a world that feels cold and endless.
For protagonist Ofelia, this cold, endless world opens up even further when she moves with her sickly mother to live with her ruthless stepfather Captain Vidal. Ofelia’s adventures into a world of fairies and fauns (and one very terrifying Pale Man) were definitely inspired by familiar stories like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, but it’s del Toro’s unique POV and visuals that have made it a beautiful nightmare not to be forgotten.
Long before self-quarantine and cabin fever affected the masses, there was 1965’s British psychological horror film Repulsion. Directed by (the very problematic) Roman Polanksi, the film focuses on the point of view of Carol, played by the legendary Catherine Deneuve. Isolated and left alone with her inner most thoughts, Carol retreats further and further into her own psyche, with dire results.
The black and white film, which is part of Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy,” was followed by Rosemary’s Babyand then The Tenant. Deneuve’s beauty may have initially worked to capture viewers (as this was only Polanski’s second film), but it’s quite clear early on that this film isn’t for the faint of heart.
As we learn more and more about the inner workings of Carol’s mind, we’re treated to hallucinations and a rollercoaster of emotions, all more frightening than the next. Carol’s feminine peignoirs and Brigitte Bardot bangs do little to assuage the underlying discomfort that grows throughout the film, and as viewers all we can do is take a deep breath and go along for the ride. It’s haunting, it’s disturbing, and it’s oddly wondrous to watch it unfold before us.
No one ever expected a sun-drenched, flower-laden horror film from Hereditary director Ari Aster. Released in 2019, visually Midsommar stands in diametric opposition to 2018’s Hereditary. Hereditary was all greys, browns, blacks, muted tones, sweaty palms, and gray-faced humans. The uneasiness viewers felt watching the narrative unfold, was heightened by the oppressive aesthetic of the film. There were no silver linings, no momentous moments of victory—just the pallid reality of a family torn asunder.
What a surprise then it was to take in the bright, almost blinding summer hues of his follow up Midsommer. Set in Sweden during the summer (arguably the most divine summers on Earth), Midsommer is chock full of white, flowing robes, perfectly executed flower crowns, and spacious #cottagecore structures. The film’s tension builds as its protagonists start putting together the creepy pieces, but from start to finish the film’s visuals are undeniably Pinterest-worthy. It’s the first time Coachella vibes, flower crowns, and midi dresses have been paired with pagan sacrifices, but it won’t be the last! We can’t wait to see what strange bedfellows Aster presents to us next…
Don’t Look Now
There’s a dreamlike quality to much of Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now. Sure, the fact that much of the film takes place in the nooks, crannies, and canals of Venice contributes to that feeling, but there’s also an emotional veil that weighs heavily on viewers from start to finish. The film immediately draws viewers in by hitting on our empathy and compassion, dazzling us even further with the romanticism of its settings.
We learn at the onset of the film that parents Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Sutherland) have recently lost their daughter Christine in a horrible accident, which has left them both shattered. Grief-stricken, they leave the British countryside for Venice, where John has accepted work to restore a church. Their arrival in Venice is exciting and offers them an opportunity to distance themselves from their recent trauma, but the beauty of their historic environ doesn’t diminish their pain. The Venice canals, dark and foreboding, add to the confusion and supernatural moments that follow. At its core, this is tale of grief and trauma, but it’s one that’s heightened by the supernatural and the deep unknowable recesses of the human mind.
Want more horror in your life? AMC's annual horror movie spectacular, FearFest, will begin on-air, online and on AMC+, the company's premium subscription bundle (currently available to Comcast Xfinity, DISH and Sling TV customers) on October 1 all the way through Halloween.
This year’s library of spooky selections features 91 titles (see the full list here), including horror franchises such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Amityville Horror, Final Destination, Children of the Corn, Insidious, and many more.