Features and Columns · Movies

Anatomy of a Suspense Scene: Alfred Hitchcock’s 4-Part Formula

Or: how to make a scene go off without a Hitch.
Psycho Stair Scene
By  · Published on September 11th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about Alfred Hitchcock’s four-step system to a great movie scene.

Listen, I get it. Articles that purport to break down a subjective expression of human artistry into steps should raise some eyebrows. What do you mean Mr. Auteur Cinema directed every one of his banger scenes following the same formula? How can you reduce art to a grocery list?

Well, speaking of groceries, here’s a handy metaphor: think of it like a recipe. Will following the instructions for making pizza dough make you one of the best pizza-makers in the world? No. But it will give you a bitter idea of how the sausage, uh, pizza dough, is made.

The following video essay is a breakdown of the reliable ingredients that appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s most suspense-rich scenes. I’ll leave the elaboration to the video essay below, but in brief they are:

  1. A transition from movement to stillness and back to movement;
  2. Mounting music
  3. A close-up shot (or a couple) sandwiched between long shot
  4. Exploiting the Kuleshov effect

But seeing is believing. And visual learning is key when it comes to internalizing filmmaking factoids. So dive in, make sure there’s no bomb under your table, and dig in:

Watch “Alfred Hitchcock’s Four-step System to a Great Scene”

Who made this?

This video essay on how Alfred Hitchcock structures a scene is by Wolfcrow. Their YouTube channel is dedicated to educating their audience on the ins and outs of cinematography. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here. And you can check out their website here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.