Member Blog Post
Greetings and salutations, all. Joshua T. Calkins-Treworgy here, with another Point of Order. Today’s subject- Light, Darkness and Shadow, in horror narrative (film mostly).
I like to think of this element of horror, or any other genre for that matter, as ‘The Triumverate of Illumination’. We’ve all seen horror movies where the scene was too dark to really make out enough detail, frustrating us all as viewers. ‘I can’t see what’s going on- what’s happening?’ More often than not this occurs with lower-budget flicks, and as fans, we want to see the carnage or action that we came for.
Why is that? Is it that we’re drawn to the gore and mayhem? Do we revel in it? Or is it perhaps that we want an idea of what the worst could be for us as potential victims? For most, it’s a matter of ‘seeing is believing’- we want the full picture if we’re going to try and suspend our disbelief long enough to be invested in the narrative.
One of the most brutal scenes in horror cinema history takes place in broad daylight; the rape sequence in ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ (original and remake). This harrowing snapshot into the dark heart of terror has two layers of nasty going for it. A) It happens in broad daylight, and B) It could very realistically happen to any one of us in the audience. We expect atrocities and terror in the night, but not so much in the day.
Light is used in horror often to suddenly or only partially reveal the evil, the twisted, the profane. Without it, we go blindly in, and nobody wants that boredom. The clever use of flashlights, candles, and/or lanterns can give strength to a film.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Darkness. Representative of the mysterious, the unknown, and death, Darkness is relied upon heavily in the genre. Hearing the snarl or footsteps of the beast from beyond the stretch of moonlight, we tremble. Only something truly awful happens or lives in there.
Imagine you come to in a pitch black room, the coppery tang of spilt blood heavy in the air, a cold concrete floor under your hand and back. You can hear something metallic scraping the floor a few yards away, a lazy scritch-scratch as a blade lolls over the floor. The taste of your own bile rises in your throat, and you open your eyes and see, well, nothing.
This can be bad, but in most horror films, it is used only briefly, or balanced with even amounts of light-producing props and components (or night-vision cameras in ‘found footage’ films). After all, the audience wants to see something, and the filmmakers only have X amount of time to tell the story in. However, this is where Shadow comes into play.
Of the 3 illuminations, Shadow has the greatest versatility and range. Shadows can be gauzy and faint, angled, deep and foreboding, or anywhere in between. Most horror films strive to make the best use of shadows whenever possible. Shadows are adaptable, bending, warping and reacting to light, which plays as a truer metaphor of the contrast between good and evil in the world we live in. It is the very nature of shadow to be furtive, suspicious, wicked, and the best horror films show how to utilize shadow to its fullest (Hellraiser, Legion, Insidious, Drag Me To Hell, Sinister, Lo to name a few). Shadow is the gray area, and sometimes, in comic books especially, we get some of our greatest heroes/antiheroes from the realm of Shadow. The Punisher, Batman, and Ghost Rider come immediately to mind, along with Constantine, Preacher, Hellboy and Spawn.
So, can you think of a prime example of one of the Illuminations in the horror cinema field? Leave a comment about it below! Thanks for stopping in, take care of yourselves, and as always, keep reading.