The Art of Horror

Delve into the dark art of fright, fear and the unknown

'Saturn Devouring His Son' by Spanish artist Francisco Goya.

Frights on film: cinema

Horror is an enduring genre of the silver screen. Art History for Filmmakers explores the four principal categories of the genre: religious horror, supernatural horror, body horror, and monsters – from dragons to giants and aliens. “Horror . . . contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates [the faculties],” writes Ann Radcliffe in “On the Supernatural in Poetry”. Read the history behind fright in film, including Goya’s influence on Guillermo del Toro and the reprisal of Old Testament terror in the blockbusters of today.

Count Orlok looks in through a window in a still from the 1922 expressionist horror film 'Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror', directed by F. W. Murnaul

Shadow play: lighting design

“Art consists in eliminating,” says F.W. Murnau, director of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922). “For just as you . . . suggest light by drawing shadows, so the cameraman ought to create shadow too.” It’s a cliché to say that light cannot exist without darkness, however their interplay is thematically and technically integral to cinematic horror. Released after the Great War, Murnau’s Dracula-inspired classic is a masterpiece of chiaroscuro. If art consists in elimination, so does lighting in cinema – and Nosferatu is famous for its innovative use of directional light. It can divide space, mask or tease character, and selectively draw the eye. Read about what we do in the shadows

A still of the skeleton fight scene from the 1962 film 'Jason and the Argonauts', animated by Ray Harryhausen

Monster mash: animation

Animators, through stop motion, digital or flip-book style animation, are uniquely placed to bring fantastical beasts and monstrous dual states to life. Simon Ward-Horner, who animated hit films such as Space Jam, describes how the art style and its techniques are particularly suited to portraying Dr Jekyll-like metamorphoses: “A morph has the outlines of one body shift to form the shape of a new one. This kind of transformation is extremely effective in horror scenes.” If you’re interested in grizzled werewolves, changeling witches, or the decrepit portrait in a young man’s attic, this one’s for you.

Portrait of British jewellery designer Theo Fennell at one of his London show rooms, 16th February 2000.

Horror couture: jewellery

From antique poison bottles to skull-inspired memento mori rings, jewellery-maker Theo Fennell’s designs are famous for being witty, quirky and romantically macabre. His previous clients include Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, Lady Gaga and the prince of darkness himself Ozzy Osbourne. Fennell opened his first fine jewellery shop in Chelsea, London, in 1982, with his wares later appearing in prestigious stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. Read an interview with the artist whose work includes solid silver Marmite lids engraved with ruminations on the transience of all things (“sic transit gloria mundi”).

Picture of 'The Mid-life Crisis', book from the Ladybird 'Books for Grownups' series

Repelling memories: childhood and creative vision

In Creative Vision, Jeremy Webb lifts brief sketches of early childhood memories from his notebook. He recalls how images by Ladybird Books’ illustrator Frank Hampson simultaneously repelled and intrigued him; he recalls the absurdity of pelicans and how unlikely they look; he recalls, too, “the spine-tingling power and emotional impact” of photographer Robert Doisneau’s The Higher Animals (1954). Perhaps, Webb suggests, his life experiences growing up had a significant effect on his own photography – that even shock and repulsion are vehicles of revelation. Read Webb on the process of excavating memory for creative inspiration.  

Images above and on the homepage are courtesy of Getty Images.

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