3 Great Horror Films for Studying Cinematography

Cinematography is tricky business. But mastering it especially if you’re making a horror film can ensure your film will stand up against the greats. While cinematography can be used to bring in the scares, it can be used for so much more. Here are some horror films you can use to help hone your cinematography skills.

Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Torro and DP Guillermo Navarro)

What to Look For: Perspective, Cinematic Effects

People loved the beauty as well as storyline of Pan’s Labyrinth but as a filmmaker and aspiring cinematographer, it’s the perspective and various cinematic techniques you should pay careful attention to. The use of color in the film helps convey and differentiate scenes from Ophelia’s imagined world versus her reality. The warm tones showcased her imagined world while the bluish tones communicated her harsh reality. They also effectively used camera movement to allow viewers to see how Ophelia sees her reality. The fluid tracking and POV shots show her curiosity as she explores the labyrinth.

The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme and DP Tak Fujimoto)

What To Look For: Communication of Power

Perhaps one of the best examples of excellent cinematography in a horror film, there’s no denying The Silence of the Lambs is a truly brilliant film. Tak Fujimoto used plenty of amazing techniques in this film but one thing that stood out was his way of communicating Clarice’s subordination against the male characters of the film. For instance, male characters were often seen as larger in the film and captured from a low angle shot – making them appear bigger. Clarice and most female characters were often shot from a high angle and thus in smaller frames. This creates a visual representation of dominance that the males like Hannibal, Buffalo Bill and Dr. Frederick Chilton – had over the females and their victims. Most males were also seen staring directly into the camera while the female characters had eyelines just off the screen.

Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton and DP Chivo Lubezki)

What To Look For: Color

When Tim Burton first created the film, he envisioned it to be in complete black and white to help communicate the Gothic vibe of the piece and the story. However, they eventually decided to shoot in color and instead desaturate it to an extent that it looked monochromatic. This helped convey the eerie mood of the film and also helped viewers capture that horror “magical” nature of it.