5 Perfect Black and White Horror Shots

By  · Published on December 6th, 2016

One Perfect Guest Curator

From our guest curator Nicolas Pesce, director of The Eyes of My Mother.

The shot above is from Nicolas Pesce’s new film, The Eyes of My Mother, a modern take on the black and white horror film. As Pesce explained when we spoke with him, his decision to shoot The Eyes of My Mother in black and white is about setting a very specific mood for his film:

The horror movies I love came out of film Noir. Guys like Robert Wise and William Castle and Hitchcock. They were changing the style and tools that film Noir had developed. What appeals to me about movies like The Night of the Hunter or Straight Jacket is the idea that it’s a family drama first and foremost. Then they use the genre elements to heighten the scares and tension. The black and white and the way they use it, the heavy shadows and the more impressionistic takes on everything, really creates this mood that is not achievable in color in the same way. I think it immediately puts the audience into the sort of mindset that I want them in.

Since its debut at Sundance – where it ended up on our Top 12 Films of the Festival list – we’ve been impressed with Pesce’s film, not just his ability to create a mood, but also the long-lasting and unnerving impression it makes on its audience. To dig further into what inspired him, we asked Pesce to guest curate a list of 5 perfect shots from black and white horror films. Below you will find his selections along with his own brief explanations as to what makes each shot so memorable.

ERASERHEAD by David Lynch (1977): The Eraserhead baby and the way Lynch shot it is some of the most effective body horror out there. With the black and white and film noir lighting, he draws attention to all the parts of the frame you don’t want to look at.

STRAIT-JACKET by William Castle (1964): This is the stuff of German Expressionists’ and Tim Burton’s dreams. The lines, the patterns, the perspective. It’s unsettling and odd, and dizzying. All the best things for a horror film.

REPULSION by Roman Polanski (1965): This shot is so surreal. The deep focus and the seemingly forced perspective of the set create such an odd atmosphere. Polanski really plays with our perception of reality here. It feels nearly real, but something is so terribly off.

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER by Charles Laughton (1955): The cinematography and production design in this film really make it feel like another world. This underwater shot is so brutal and gruesome yet elegant and beautiful all at the same time. That simple juxtaposition is unsettling and amazing.

THE HAUNTING by Robert Wise (1963): Boy do I love split diopter shots. We get two perspectives in the scene without cutting or racking focus. With the split diopter, Wise tells two suspenseful stories at once without breaking the tension or distracting from the performances.

The Eyes of My Mother is in theaters now and can be found on Amazon Video as well as iTunes and other On Demand services.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)