Opening Titles The opening titles of a film are very important as they help to introduce the film, and often the way they are done sets the atmosphere and mood or shows the setting. I have analysed some opening titles of some psychological horror films to work out the typical or common ways in which titles are introduced in this genre of film. The first opening title I have analysed is from the film ‘The Shining’. Here is an example of how the titles open in this film: The titles in ‘The Shining’ open over the image. Before the titles are brought in the camera establishes the setting, with extreme long shots of the river and mountains, then goes in to follow a car a long a road. After the atmosphere and setting has been established slightly by a viewer the titles are brought in. The font of theses titles is not particularly bold or striking, and are in blue which is not thought to be typical of a psychological horror film. The setting is still being established as the titles are being brought in. The titles do not stand out a lot against the background, although they are in capital letters and so are shown to be important.
In contrast with ‘The Shining’, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ opens firstly with a quote relating to the storyline of the film and the film idea. It shows the quote simply as a white font on a black background. The plain black background means the whole focus is on the quote and there is no distraction away from this. After this, there is an introduction to the film with a bit of the storyline being shown, this is before the title of the film has been introduced. The title that is shown appears over the image, again in a white font, and the background, although it is the image, is dark still. The title is the name of the Production company and is the only title that appears in this part of the film. This, and the reason the title includes the word ‘Presents’, shows how the film is presenting the whole film and also the actor. A tracking shot follows the actor in this part of the film, he is quite obscured as he on the other side of windows covered by blinds, in the idea of the narrative this could show that this character is going to be key in the rest of the film. The main title of the film is brought in at 1:44, and remains on the screen for 15 seconds, before the image of the skull/butterfly fades away and the words of the title are left for a second later whilst fading in to an image of the rest of the film. This title is different to that of ‘The Shining’ as it is not over an image of the actual film, it is not establishing setting as much as the psychological mood of the film, the effect of it being over black makes it much more striking and seem more important to an audience, the pale blue colour also stands out against the black. Again the title is in capital letters, showing it to be of importance.
From the film ‘Secret Window’ the first title of the Production company is brought in after 2 minutes and 34 seconds, where the main character has already been introduced, and part of the storyline has been shown to make the audience ask questions about what will happen in the rest of the film. The titles in this film are brought in over the image again, establishing the setting and are in capital letters to stand out. The main title of ‘Secret Window’ opens over the image, it appears in white then slowly fades into red. The colour red connotes danger and warning to the audience. The title is again in capital letters, showing the audience that it is important and so that they will remember it. It seems to be common in psychological horror films to have the title appearing over the image, which means setting is being established as the titles are introduced. In some cases however, the titles are brought in often over a black background, which makes the titles stand out, and often in this case the titles are used to establish the mood of the film instead of the setting. Titles also are commonly shown in capital letters, this makes them seem important and vital to the film, as well as standing out and enabling the audience to remember them. Titles usually last on screen for around 4 seconds and are placed either in the centre of the screen or at the bottom.
Camera Movement This shot from ‘The Shining’ is a tracking shot of a man walking across a lobby. This kind of shot tells the audience that this character is key in the film, it also helps establish the location and area the character is in, as it is a long shot. By following this characters movement and audience learns that this character will be important in the rest of the film, the character seems to be confident as he is taking long strides and looking around him strongly as he walks; this confidence could connote this character as the hero in the film. ‘The Butterfly Effect’ uses a similar technique, however it is different in many ways. It also uses a tracking shot to follow a character who the audience will realise is key in the film. However, in this shot the character is obscured by windows and blinds, this obscurity could connote that the character is not all they seem to be and that there is another layer to them. It could also be used to build suspense and fear of the unknown in the audience. The obscurity of this character could connote that he may be the villain or perhaps he is the hero but his mind is the villain, as in this film he battles with his mind. The way he is hidden could be showing his own battle within himself between right and wrong.
A zooming shot is used in ‘The Butterfly Effect’ from a high angle, the high angle shot shows the character to be less scary and intimidating, however the character having their back to the camera creates an idea of mystery. The camera zooms in to the character, showing them to be key, and it also goes through the mirror, connoting an entering of the character’s mind or life. The camera then reaches the character and the angle becomes lower. A zooming shot in the psychological horror genre is effective as it is like taking the audience into the life or mind of the character which is much what these kind of films are based around. A zooming shot is also used in ‘The Others’, however this time it is a clockwise rotating zooming out shot. It is very effective in this scene, as in the film the woman has just woken up from a bad dream and lets out a scream, where the camera starts off on its side and close to her face, helping the audience to relate to her fear, the camera then rotates and zooms out, the rotation causes slight confusion and then realisation as the camera turns the right way up, almost representing the woman realising that she has woken up and the dream isn’t real. The camera then comes out further and is the right way up as the woman calms down. This technique helps the audience to relate to the emotions of the woman and feel what she is feeling, which seems to be a common technique in the psychological horror genre.
Framing of Shots Here are some examples of shots from several psychological horror films, ‘The Others’ (top and bottom left), ‘The Ring’ (top right) and ‘Hide and Seek’ (bottom right). Throughout these films there are many close ups of character’s faces, which focus on their facial expressions and emotions; these commonly seem to be expressions of shock, fear, panic or thought. I think it’s important in this genre of film to have close up shots of the characters, as much of the fear in the audience relies on the emotions of the characters within the film, who they connect with the action through.
This shot from ‘The Others’ is a medium shot at a low angle. With the woman being on the left and looking up at the ceiling behind her, the audience follow her movement and do the same, an effective technique for building suspense and mystery. This shot from ‘The Ring’ is a Point-of-View (POV) shot. Similarly to the shot above, it shows what the character is looking at, but it differs as it is actually from the characters point-of-view, so the audience is seeing exactly as the character is. This is essentially effective in almost the same way as the previous shot in the way that it builds suspense, and also fear in an audience. I also noticed that these shots will come in slowly so as to give the audience time to think about what’s going to happen next.
This shot from ‘Hide and Seek’ shows an extreme long shot of a road, and the camera is following a car with its main characters in it. This shot is establishing setting and also taking the audience on a journey with the characters, showing them part of their lives. Similarly, this shot from ‘The Shining’ also shows an extreme long shot of a road and a car being followed by the camera. These kind of shots seem to be quite common in this genre of film, perhaps to show the surroundings of where the action will take place, and the locations often seem to be very remote, for example the mountains and woods in this shot, and the trees and cliff in the previous shot. This is a long-shot from ‘The Ring’ of an old house, it is a typical kind of location from a psychological horror film; it is night time and the house is big and old, as well as the old tree on the left which are also often related to this genre. It is also raining in this shot. The shot is establishing the location as well as representing the idea of the windows being the eyes of the house. This idea connotes how psychological horror films often take you through a person’s eyes and into their mind, when the shot enters the house to the action of the film. ‘Secret Window’ also has a similar long shot of an old house in a remote area. It differs as it is day time, however the trees and low angle of the shot is similar to the previous shot, the low angle makes the house appear bigger and more intimidating. Again the idea of entering a person’s mind, by entering the house through a window, in this case a ‘secret window’ is brought out in the following shots of this part of the film.
Camera Angles Low angles are used in both these shots, they can be used to give the feeling of speed and movement, this feeling of motion is brought out in both of these shots. The low angle also erupts feelings of confusion and powerlessness in the viewer within the action of the scene, and the height of the objects or characters create fear and insecurity in a viewer. An audience may feel psychologically dominated by the action in the scene. The background in the shot on the left is not very detailed, which adds to the disorientation of the audience, leading to more insecurity. I also found that many angles in this genre are just on eye-level, especially when there are around three or four people in a shot, shown in these two shots on the left. This enables an audience to see all the characters and their importance within the scene; important characters will usually be stood apart from the others, for example in the shot on the right the key woman is stood opposite the other three characters looking at them, she also appears taller, showing her higher status and perhaps power over them.
Mise-en-Scene In terms of setting and location I discovered that a lot of psychological horror films start off in everyday locations and situations that people may find themselves in, many of these are domestic; such as the two locations shown in the shots on the left. Both of these shots are set in the bedrooms of the characters, in everyday situations. This way of starting out the film in a location or situation an audience can identify with forces them into a false sense of security that it is safe. It can also be used to build fear, as the audience may be waiting for something to happen . The lighting in these shots is low-key, conveying the idea of evening or night time, a common time of day for the start of a psychological horror film to be set in. Darkness is often associated with fear or the unknown and a less safe time than day time when everything is light and there are more people around. Low-key lighting creates stronger contrast between light and shadows, these shadows obscuring certain areas of the scene; this obscurity connects with the feeling of unknowing what’s around or what’s going to happen next. This kind of lighting is often used to create suspense and connote evil, or sinister characters/events.
The costume in this genre seems to generally be that of ordinary, everyday clothing, which tells us something about the characters and their backgrounds. For example; the girls in the shot above are wearing school uniforms, showing them to be teenagers who go to school. The outfits of the people in the shots on the right are also everyday clothes. Characters tend to be white, and generally of middle class; shown by their houses and location of where they live, typically suburban areas.
Editing Directions In terms of editing of cuts, I have noticed that in this genre of film there are a lot of reverse shots, with shortened cutting rhythm. This draws the audience’s concentration to the smallest details in the scene, as well as suspending their enjoyment. The small details may include facial expression, objects, environment etc.
Also in terms of editing, I noticed Reaction Shots are often used in this genre to create suspense. There is often a shot of a significant object, for example the doorknob in the top left shot and the clock in the top right shot. These objects could mark an upcoming important event, or symbolise a significant theme in the film. These shots are then followed by the ‘reaction’ of the participant in the film, expressions of fear, concern, confusion and shock are common on the participant’s faces during these reaction shots.
Sound Techniques In a lot of psychological horror films, diegetic sounds like rain are used often to create mood and atmosphere, for example in ‘The Ring’, the girls are sitting in the bedroom and the sound of rain, and also a very quiet sound of TV noise is playing. These diegetic sounds tend to set the scene and help the audience to settle into the mood of the film. In terms of non-diegetic sound, music is also used often and very effectively in this genre. It is used mostly to create atmosphere and mood, which typically seem to the eerie and creepy. An example of this is in ‘Hide and Seek’ where the strange music makes a perfectly ordinary situation seem strange and uncertain. The music is also carried over more than one scene creating a sound-bridge, which also connects the two scenes to each other.
Narrative Theories The narrative theories I think apply to the films I have studied are mainly; Claude Levi Strauss’ and Todorov’s. However, in ways Propp’s theory also applies but not in its original form. For example in terms of Strauss’ idea of binary oppositions, many of the films within the psychological horror genre that I researched displayed this concept; there are many ideas of good and bad, in ‘Hide and Seek’ the good side is presented through the innocent girl and the father’s usual self, and the bad side is presented through the father’s bad side and his actions due to an illness corrupting his personality. ‘The Others’ also displays concepts of good and bad, through the idea of alive and dead; the main family are firstly presented as good as the audience believe they are alive, but later the audience find out they are dead, and so question whether the family is good or bad. Light and dark and night and day also apply to most films in this genre, where night and dark are presented as being the time of danger in contrast with day and light which are safer. In terms of Todorov’s theory, a lot of films can also be applied to these ideas; ‘The Ring’ presents an equilibrium in the functional storyline at the beginning of the film, the famous ‘tape’ is presented as the disruption of the equilibrium, as it disrupts the functionality of the film and people start to realise that the tape is dangerous and try to put a stop to it. Similar to in ‘Hide and Seek’ where the bad side is presented through the father’s illness, Propp’s theory of types of characters including heroes and villains is also shown. For example, in ‘The Secret Window’ the protagonist is presented as the hero, trying to save the life of the girl he loves (who could be seen as the heroin), and his brain disorder is presented as the villain, opposing himself and causing conflict within the film. In many ways Propp’s theory applies, however it is just applied in a different way to the typical folk tales, the different types, especially villains, are not always actual people but sometimes events/illnesses/personality traits or other factors that oppose the hero, who is generally the protagonist faced with a difficult task.