*For Part II of my Beautiful Horror Series, click here!*
I love horror. I love beauty. And I love both of those things in one pretty, shiny, terrifying package.
There’s something to be said for being scared by something aesthetically and visually enticing. A movie with striking, artistic visuals pulls me in and won’t let go. It creates a delicious tension that deepens my experience of being scared. Who doesn’t want that?
Here are some of my favorite beautiful horror films. I won’t bother you with too much commentary. If any of these films entice you, you can find the plot summaries hyperlinked in the titles. Otherwise, save for a few comments, I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves! Leave your recommendations in the comments!
One of the most iconic horror movies of all time, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari basically invented German Expressionism in film. The film uses surreal sets with distorted lighting and twisted details to create an eerie, disorienting effect. When Dr. Caligari arrives, and people start dying, the creepiness and odd beauty of the film amplify your sense of dread and horror.
This movie is more about the visuals than plot or characterization, but after watching it, you won’t really mind. Mario Bava, acclaimed Italian horror director (Black Sunday, Black Sabbath) practically invented the Giallo horror genre in Italian cinema (though some would argue that Dario Argento would be the one to perfect it). Blood and Black Lace is simply gorgeous. In the best way possible, it’s rich, vibrant, and macabre.
When people think Giallo, they think of Suspiria, the classic Italian horror film. This film is a feast for the eyes with lurid, bloody, and ghastly scenes. I mean that in the best way possible. The colors are aggressive and outrageous, which lends distinctive surrealism to the story and makes you feel like you’re stuck in a nightmare. And because it’s all beautiful, you find yourself captivated. You can’t look away. Even when sh*t gets craaaaazy.
A reimagining of the original Nosferatu (an excellent film in its own right), Werner Herzog’s film mimics key shots of the original while retaining its own unique point of view. The visuals are softer, even delicate, which drove home how this film’s vampire is a more sympathetic character, though by no means less terrifying. Just as the original achieved a timeless unease, this film’s striking, dreamy style will haunt you long after you’ve seen it.
What hasn’t been said about this film and its aesthetic? There are too many shots to choose from! I can’t really add anything to the already rich discussion of this film. I love the use of color, both muted and loud. I love the subtle and purposeful asymmetry, especially when so much of the film adheres to those rigorous Kubrickian frame compositions. I love how some scenes remind me of abstract art. I love how deceptively simple the wide shots appear until you realize all the details in the background. Most of all, I love how Stanley Kubrick hurled a literal ocean of blood at the screen, and it looked like a million bucks.
If you follow this blog, you know I’m already obsessed with this movie. Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, stellar 80s fashion, and lush images from Tony Scott. Vampire Miriam and her lover John are effortlessly hot and stylish (only Catherine Deneuve can pull off those glasses, don’t even try). They move smoothly from goth nightclubs to classically decorated apartments. The hunting scenes are bold and compelling; the seduction scenes are gauzy and melancholy. Every frame is enticing, like the lovely and cruel Miriam.
This serial killer movie is just as violent as other serial killer movies, but this movie has iconic visuals to die for. Director Tarsem Singh loves to load each frame with operatic, mythological imagery, which makes a lot of sense for a film that takes you inside the mind of a sadistic, misogynistic serial killer with severe daddy issues. The further the film ventures into the killer’s mind, the more imaginative and twisted the images become. A truly disturbing film.
The first time I saw this movie, I thought, how very, very Scandinavian. The look of the film is bare and minimalist, echoing the depressing, solitary lives of the characters. Muted colors and blue-gray tones stand in stark contrast to smears of blood. You’ll feel cold watching this. You’ll feel lonely watching this. But when emotions bleed through or when limbs fly through the air, you’ll feel exhilarated and very, very disturbed.
First, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo gave us À l’intérieur, an incredibly violent and graphic film. Then in 2011, the French duo gave us Livide. This film focuses on how atmosphere can do the heavy lifting. It’s not as violent, as the gore is employed to artistic, lyrical effect, crimson against a sea of shadows, like a gothic fairy tale. And the house is gloriously creepy, decaying and overgrown, full of weird trinkets and ghostly inhabitants. You don’t even need the subtitles to feel like you’re being watched.
Neil Jordan has a gift for committing sumptuous imagery to film. Remember The Company of Wolves and Interview With The Vampire? Each frame is laden with meaning and nuance. Byzantium is no different, with vivid scenes that oscillate between bold and delicate, bloody and gauzy, often blending elements of both. I found it very appropriate for a story about a mother and daughter on the run, desperate to be free from those who would kill them for being vampires.
Okay, maybe this movie isn’t totally horror, but it is about pretty vampires in pretty places, so it makes the list! I love how ethereal Adam and Eve are. The spaces they inhabit are beautiful, cluttered, and elaborate. I found myself pausing scenes to take in all the details. The visual style underscores the way these vampires see existence–gorgeous, intricate, elegant, and infinite. Eve surroundings are light, airy, and filled with her priced books, all of which reflects the joy she finds from learning everything she can about life. On the other hand, Adam hides from the world in his cavelike, ruined house, full of countless items strewn about like junk, which reflect his current emotional state of ennui and weariness. You really believe that these two are otherworldly, immortal creatures pondering their place in a modern world.
Obviously, I have a thing for vampire movies.
What are your favorite beautiful horror movies? Leave ’em in the comments.