ANALYSING ALFRED HITCHCOCK TRAILERS OF THE THRILLER/HORROR GENRE Jess Sutherland
FACIAL EXPRESSIONS From studying the trailers of three of Hitchcock’s thrillers ‘The Birds’ ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Psycho’, I have found that close-ups or mid-shots of facial expressions are used frequently and are extremely effective in creating suspense or shock. Here are a few I have screen-shot, this slide I have two of the famous ‘Hitchcock blondes’: Grace Kelly and Tippi Hendren. Grace Kelly’s expression in Rear Window is of concern and worry, the audience is probed to empathize with her concern. Tippi Hendren in The Birds expresses emotions of shock and fear, one again this can affect an empathetic audience.
In this shot, there is an obscured view of James Stewart’s character behind his magnifying camera lens, this adds mystery, whilst focusing on his skeptical eyebrows and narrowed, concentrated expression on the upper half of his face; This all intrigues Hitchcock’s audience, and pulls them in, inquisitive of what he is seeing through his lens that concerns him so deeply as we can see from this shot. An eye-line match is used from the previous shot via jump-cut to this shot of the main character’s suspicious neighbor he has been spying on. In the trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2157838617/ the soundtrack suddenly silences, rising the tension, as we see the neighbor has spotted Stewart’s character watching him, then instrumental suddenly bursts back in creating sudden shock in the audience.
Anthony Perkins is famous for his role as Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s most well-known thriller Psycho . I noticed that this film was in black and white – one of the reasons Alfred Hitchcock did this was because he thought it would be too gory in colour. But the main reason was that he wanted to make the film as inexpensively as possible. However, I think it adds more mystery and horror to the film itself. Anthony Perkins looks up to the camera with his intimidating smirk and almost deadly stare in the trailer, to the famous orchestral score in the film that grows in volume throughout the trailer. Vera Miles plays the stereotyped helpless female character in a horror/thriller genre. In this shot we see her facial expression of nervousness, the lighting used highlights her face and concerned emotions to the audience.
TITLES As my media group are making a film opening, we will need to consider title for our final piece. I like ‘Psycho’s title as it is very distressed looking – especially the lettering on the word PSYCHO which has negative connotations in itself - and uses a simple but bold palette of black, white and red; Red often is associated with blood and danger, suiting the genre perfectly. Overall this title is effective in showing their target audience exactly what this film entails. Saul Bass often designed these titles for Hitchcock.
Here are the titles from the trailers of ‘Rear Window’ and ‘The Birds’. He often uses elaborate title sequences for his time in his actual film openings, but has kept these simple and easy to digest for the audience in the case of a quick trailer. However he has still kept character in the titles by using a range of fonts and colour schemes to produce a different range of effects. ‘ Rear Window’s title is very dramatic with a contrast created with the black and white despite this being a colour film. The bold type also creates more focus in the viewer. In ‘The Birds’s title there is more of a chaotic font used that is askew, in a less threatening colour of blue.
ADDITIONAL TITLES Although these kind of titles are used traditionally for trailers, I still think they are extremely effective and I really like the way they build up suspense to the actual colour screenplay, or can be used in-between shots related, building up a mysterious narrative.
Hitchcock also uses these in his trailer for ‘The Birds’ http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi1056113433/ (watch from 4:13 onwards) which effectively plant these rhetorical questions into the viewers mind, increasing their intrigue and desire to watch on. As well as notifying them of the content his target audience is looking for in a film.
These two shots are from the trailer of ‘Psycho’. The typeface in motion splits across the screen in each shot, once again emphasizing distress and destruction, suiting the film’s own genre and narrative concerning murder and schizophrenia. Using a shot from the beginning of the film, an overlay of ‘Hitchcock’s chilling masterpiece’ in sharp distorted capitals, and a white contrasting font: immediately linking the disturbing extreme close-up shot of Perkin’s eye spying, with it’s dramatic title.
OTHER SCREEN SHOTS TO NOTE These are also some effective shots Hitchcock has used in his films. I have chosen these both because they use mise-en-scene of rain having negative connotations in each shot, and are shot very darkly, having only one source of light to focus on, increasing tension and mystery for the curious viewer. For the shot above, Hitchcock has emphasized the obscured figure handling a suitcase through the alleyway. For the shot on the right the sign reading: ‘BATES MOTEL’ and also ‘VACANCY’ below it is highlighted by the lack of lighting in the rest of the shot. The lettering itself is also slightly distorted from the rain on the car windscreen through which it is seen.
This last shot I have chosen is from the effective and shocking ‘shower scene’ from Psycho, one of the best known scenes in cinema history . Featuring 77 different camera angles, the scene runs 3 minutes and includes 50 cuts. Most of the shots are extreme close-ups, except for medium shots in the shower directly before and directly after the murder. The combination of the close shots with their short duration makes the sequence create more empathy in the audience: an example of the technique Hitchcock described as "transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience”. The killer – seen above - is completely obscured and their identity a mystery throughout the thickening plot of the film. The whole sequence is filled with highly tense and unsettling music. This shot is just one of the split-second flashes on screen, as the figure violently uses a stabbing motion through the blur of the cascading water. Hitchcock is renowned for this scene, due to its graphic nature, yet not once is flesh shown to be punctured. Saul Bass, who I mentioned earlier as a designer for the title sequences, also contributed greatly to the making of this scene.