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Cat’s Cradle: Horror is everywhere

The first horror movie to win an Oscar for best picture was 1991’s Silence of the Lambs. Equal parts police procedural and grindhouse horror, Director Johnathan Demme brought the low-budget thrills of horror to a wider audience. This was due, in part, to his early works with b-movie king Roger Corman, who makes a brief cameo.

Horror has been a part of film since Edison’s first film, Frankenstein. Though horror is often placed at the fringe of cinema, some of the most recognizable directors got their start in horror, be it making or watching horror films.

Recently, The Batman showed an aspect of this inspiration, taking the hero back to its gothic-detective roots. The Riddler’s puzzles and traps are reminiscent of Saw and Zodiac. The character introduces a slasher feel to the film, with some shots pulled straight from horror classics like Halloween.

The Batman wasn’t the first blockbuster that’s horror bent, though. Steven Spielberg’s breakout film Jaws is an often-overlooked horror film. Blending in elements of New Hollywood violence, creature effects straight out of the ’50s and a star-studded cast, Spielberg created a high-budget horror.

This pension for violence is maintained across Spielberg’s early work. Indiana Jones is not without a gruesome villain death. Melting villains and still-beating hearts tied Spielberg back to a root in grindhouse cinema. Films like Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Blood Feast left an impression on cinema: unflinching violence that worked its way into the mainstream.

This has been the groundwork of the directing trio of Sam Rami, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. The trio first worked together on the film The Evil Dead. Directed by Sam Rami and edited by the Coens, the film was a low-budget success, with cheap thrills and unique cinematic techniques.

Specifically, the Coens' use of montage as seen in the first time Ash revs his chainsaw piques interest. Using close-ups, zooms and quick-cuts, the sequence has a violent frequency that stands out while Rami’s ground-level camera movements and tilted close-ups of characters' faces became a signature of his style.

This style of filmmaking inspired the early careers of the directors. Blood Simple came out three years after Evil Dead and was the directorial debut of the Coen brothers. It was Texan noire that employed elements of horror found in the prior film: specifically, the same low to ground camera movements of Evil Dead

This continued into other Coen films like Miller’s Crossing. A crime drama set in the 1920s, the Coens imbued the film with stark violence of a horror film, the twisting close-ups of Rami’s films and a small cameo by Sam Rami.

Rami in turn used similar editing techniques used by the Coens in his films The Quick and The Dead and Spiderman (2004), tightly paced montages that place the action in close-up and always cutting on the action. It adds a frenetic feeling to each transition that has been employed in other directors' works.

Director Edgar Wright wears his inspirations on his sleeve, often openly discussing where his films draw inspiration. From giallo to British murder mystery, Wright’s films are unique for their tight editing and camera work. Examples include Shaun waking up in Shaun of the Dead or the opening montage of Hot Fuzz. Wright’s early work employs the montage for quick transitions and a wry sense of humor.

Horror has had a deep influence on media. Though often forgotten, early horror changed the course of films. In part, it introduced a level of violence relegated to the fringes of cinema. In a comparable way, it has given directors a road into the industry. As an editor, director or producer, horror has worked its way into film, and it’s hard to imagine film without it. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him be425014@ohio.edu.


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