While we all love classic cringe-worthy, gore-driven thrillers, there is something to be said for those thrillers which capture our attention through a different vessel: beauty. Although creepiness and beauty as characteristics may seem contradictory, when paired together, they make for incredibly captivating cinema. The way these contrasting qualities work on screen creates a conflicting yet intriguing story, both emotionally and visually- simultaneously catching our eye and sending chills down our spine. So, here are 5 beautifully horrific films to watch!
This psychological thriller presents the violent and terrifying mental breakdown of Nina Lesser (Natalie Portman) in perhaps, the most beautiful way possible. Of course, we clearly see the creepy plot-line of this film: Nina’s loss of sanity in the pursuance of the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Throughout the film, we continually wince at Nina’s webbed toes, cracked knees, sprouting of feathers, and strange relationship with her mother. This film exquisitely captures the essence of undiagnosed mental illness, scaring us just as much as it scares Nina. However, Black Swan does not rely completely on triggering discomfort in viewers. The story is presented with an essence of grace and allure. The after-hours ballet studio, the practices, the dances, the sensuality, the costumes, and of course, the physical performance of Swan Lake all play into this film’s captivating beauty. While unsettling us, Black Swan becomes visually compelling and overwhelmingly beautiful: a tragic story which devours our every sense.
Another psychological thriller, The Shining demonstrates loss of sanity within the context of isolation, alcoholism, and a paranormal haunting. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance alone is enough to keep us terrified throughout this film. His facial expressions, speech, and visions all play into his ever-growing outright creepiness. And then, there is the eeriness of this massive, isolated hotel, and the apparent presence of other beings (such as the twins) which also keep us thoroughly frightened. However, this movie does not stand as a horror-thriller film alone. The physical hotel, the interior design, the colors and patterns- all of these things serve to create an aesthetically pleasing film, as well as a creepy one. And then, of course, there is the famous elevator scene. Although the blood pouring out from the open doors is of course gory and terrifying, the way it splashes about the walls and fills the entire room feels strangely poetic and beautiful, in a way. The visual beauty of this film elevates it from your average horror-thriller, to a masterpiece which one cannot look away from.
EYES WITHOUT A FACE
If you were to read the story of Eyes Without a Face, it would seem nearly impossible to find any beauty in it. The thought of a plastic surgeon kidnapping various women and deconstructing their faces in order to reconstruct and replace the mutilated face of his daughter is entirely disturbing. And even the sight of this film, in many ways- the surgeries, as shown on screen, and the maimed faces of the kidnapped women- leaves viewers chilled and unsettled. However, as strange as it might seem, there is something eerily beautiful in the mask of Christiane (Edith Scob). Its smooth, emotionless structure brought to life only by Christiane’s wide eyes is oddly captivating. It creates a curiously enticing image while also metaphorically representing her search for identity. In this way, Eyes Without a Face presents a gruesome tale in a strangely aesthetically pleasing way.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Another considerably gruesome film, Silence of the Lambs combines both aspects of beauty and horror in order to create the perfect chiller. We hear and see the horrifying work of Buffalo Bill in this film: his killing and skinning of his victims. We also experience a first-hand account of Hannibal Lecter’s cannibalism- all of which is certainly enough to keep us thoroughly disgusted and creeped out. However, there is a strange beauty that can be found in certain shots of this film; for instance, in the scenes with Hannibal and Clarice. The way Hannibal’s image is consistently shot between the bars of his cell, and the ways in which the two characters study and connect with each other is equally appealing as it is strange. There is also the colorful, erotically bizarre, but visually enticing Buffalo Bill dress up scene, and the face mask used to constrain Hannibal. All of these elements of the film are equally unsettling and interesting to look at.
While much of the focus of The Village is on the ominous mystery of what lurks in the forest, it is impossible not to notice just how visually stunning this film truly is. Throughout the entirety of the film, we are unsettled by the oddities of the village leaders, the red X’s left throughout the town, and the apparent monstrous beings that “dwell” in the woods. However, the creepiness of this film is matched by its beautiful warm tones, emphasizing the reds and yellows of the forest through the reds and yellows of the people’s cloaks. It also provides some incredible shots of the overbearing forest, which prove to create a simultaneously eerie and stunning image, thus creating the familiar creepy beauty effect. Had this film lacked this type of aesthetic beauty, the story and visuals would have been seriously lacking.