About a month ago, I ran an article celebrating ten horror movies that proved how well a scope aspect ratio can suit the horror genre (which usually favors a narrower frame). But I had to leave out a lot of beautiful movies. Here, then, is round two of my aspect ratio geekery.
Tales of Terror (1962)
Director: Roger Corman
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Although Corman is most often discussed as the kind of rushed, super-low-budget exploitation, in the early 60s he joined forces with American International Pictures to cash in on the re-birth of classical gothic horror with a series of intelligent and well-produced Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. In addition to such venerated talents as screenwriter Richard Matheson and star Vincent Price, one of Corman’s key collaborators across this series was director of photography Floyd Crosby (father of David Crosby of The Byrds, for you trivia hounds). Corman and Crosby used the wide frame to take full advantage of the large, beautifully decorated sets, helping to make these by far the best looking movies of Corman’s long career. Tales of Terror is an anthology, which re-tells three of Poe’s greats: “Morella,” “The Black Cat” (though the adaptation also draws heavily on “The Cask of Amontillado”) and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.”
Director: Freddie Francis
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
In addition to their well-known run of gothic horror movies, England’s Hammer Studios also produced a series of effective thrillers in the 1960s, the most disturbing of these is probably Paranoiac. Francis was a brilliant cinematographer himself, and always brought great visual flair to his work as a director. Grant was a staple of Hammer’s 60s output, and paired with Francis produced some of his most striking compositions for this intense chiller.
Director: Ishiro Honda
Cinematography: Hajime Koizumi
Based on William Hope Hodgson’s short story “The Voice in the Night,” and originally released in the U.S. under the lamentable title “Attack of the Mushroom People,” this is one of Godzilla director Honda’s best films, and represents possibly the finest work of Koizumi, Honda’s usual cinematographer throughout most of the 60s. Honda specialized in ensemble stories; in Matango, the wide frame is often used to capture most or all of the seven stranded castaways who film the story’s social microcosm. It’s also used to show off the dark corners of a spooky derelict ship, and the almost surreal forests of the island.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cinematography: Bill Butler
This is one of the most celebrated movies of all time, in or out of the horror genre. Do I really have to tell you how well Spielberg and Butler composed it, using the wide screen to give a sense of the town, the crowds, and the vast emptiness of the sea?
Director: Dario Argento
Cinematography: Luciano Tovoli
I doubt I’ll ever make one of these lists without including an Argento movie. This was the first of his three collaborations (thus far) with Tovoli, and it is easily one of the most gorgeous horror movies ever photographed. Every space is made to feel at once vast and confining, with uncertain threats always implied in the shadows, in the backgrounds, in the spaces filled only by color and shadow.
Director: Ivan Reitman
Cinematography: László Kovács
Ensemble comedy benefits tremendously from allowing scenes to play out in long, wide takes, so that the actors can build a natural comedic rhythm together. Here, Reitman and Kovács create compositions that are both beautiful and functional, and play to not only the comedy, but also the epic scale of the adventure.
They Live (1988)
Director: John Carpenter
Cinemaotgraphy: Gary B. Kibbe
Kibbe became a recurrent collaborator with Carpenter in the latter half of the director’s career. Here, they craft a visual style which marries horror, modern action, and the spaghetti western to create images that are chilling, exciting, and funny. Cityscapes and crowds made up of disguised aliens and unsuspecting humans often fill the frame, while other scenes stress the isolation of the film’s leads in the downtrodden regions of this urban nightmare. Monitors, billboards and posters are placed to draw the eye to the messages of conformity and oppression which really do surround Americans day in and day out.
Alien 3 (1992)
Director: David Fincher
Cinematography: Alex Thompson
Fans continue to unfairly malign this merciless addition to the Alien series, but there’s no denying that first-time feature director’s renowned visual style was already on display here, his bold concepts marvelously realized by veteran Thompson. Fincher was insistent on using low angles throughout the movie, and groups of towering prisoners at times fill the frame, while in other scenes extreme wide shots are used to show the characters speckled about the rich, complex interiors spaces. However, the film also uses some striking tight close-ups, most notably the famous shot of the Alien moving in close to Sigourney Weaver’s face. This stands alongside the original Alien (1979, discussed in the previous article) at the top of the series in terms raw of visual impact.
American Psycho (2000)
Director: Mary Harron
Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula
For a movie about the glossy artifice of 1980s upper-class American culture, Harron and Sekula created a glossy, manufactured look, with extremely precise framing to show off the bright, shiny surfaces and inane décor that continually surround Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) and his victims. It is a movie that uses expert composition to show just how cold and empty such superficial perfection can be, how often it exists only to mask the ugliness below.
The Woman in Black (2012)
Director: James Watkins
Cinematography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Hammer gets another entry on this list, this time in their re-born 21st century incarnation. Watkins and Maurice-Jones create a number of both lovely and chilling classical images of interior and exterior spaces in which horror lurks in the corners and the shadows.
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