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Related: horror film - 1970s film
Titles: The Last House on the Left (1972) - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Stained Lens: Style as Cultural Signifier in Seventies Horror Films
The horror films of the seventies reflected the decade from which they came, but the seventies were not just a part of the story; each film was shot through the lens of a camera, and the figures and objects of the film were parts of a frame. This frame could be manipulated to achieve many narrative goals. Horror filmmakers used the frame, the camera, and the multiple possibilities of cinema to project fear. F. W. Murnau used lighting techniques to accompany his Count Orlock in Nosferatu (1922); in M (1931), Fritz Lang used sound and mise en scene to show us an enigmatic murderer; and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) gave us one of the greatest achievements in montage since Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925). In the 1970s, horror films were at their peak because America was itself a horror show. The Vietnam War was in full force; police were shooting Kent State students for exercising their constitutional rights; technology was replacing factory workers, but gasoline was still running low. The American hero of World War II had vanished, and the horror directors of the seventies were compelled to comment on this disappearance. In The Last House on the Left (1972), Wes Craven uses a family of criminals symbolically and juxtaposes them with a straight-laced family that tries to escape the new, post-Vietnam America, but the straight-laced family finds that the stain of war and atrocity affects their lives as well. Tobe Hooper created a family of economic degenerates who have resorted to cannibalism in order to survive the technological encroachment into their rural homeland of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And just when Americans thought they were safe from the seventies, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) appeared with a physical form of evil that reminds us that light cannot exist without darkness. These films not only present their ideas through narrative and character developments, but their use of the elements of film style is crucial to the successful creations of these horror films.
The first decade of film indicates that two forms of style developed: formalism and realism. In his book, Understanding Movies, Louis Giannetti explains realism as "an attempt to reproduce the surface of reality with a minimum of distortion." The Lumiere Brothers’ first experiments with film are early examples of realism (Giannetti 2). Their short film, appropriately entitled The Arrival of a Train at Grand Central Station (1895), is the recorded image of a train rolling into a station and dropping off passengers who meet friends and family. The Lumieres placed their camera in one position and simply recorded reality in front of them; they used the camera just as families now use camcorders to document weddings and birthdays.
[...] On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is formalism. If realists "try to preserve the illusion that their film world is unmanipulated, [then] formalists make no such pretense" (2). Reality is intentionally distorted and stylized in formalism. Giannetti also points out that "few films are exclusively formalist in style, fewer yet are completely realist" (2). --http://www.angelfire.com/movies/gore/stainedlens.html [Sept 2006]
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