One of the most obvious parts of the filmgoing experience is the presentation of images given to the audience. Many factors contribute to the scare factor in a horror film, such as sound, acting, tension, and so forth. Sometimes it is simply the visual of a setting so disturbing that it forces the audience to cover their eyes in fear. The visual can be dizzying in its complexity or awe-inspiring with its simplicity. The following list recounts settings in horror chilling enough to remain with the audience long after they have closed their eyes.
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In the first Saw film, the audience is immediately transported into what appears to be a once abandoned bathroom. There is a tub, a set of urinals, and of course a body on the floor. The audience is made to feel the automatic uncleanliness caused by any association with public bathrooms. There are lots of blues and whites leading to a melancholy emotion. As the film progresses and everything is revealed to be the opposite of what it seems, the audience comes away clearly remembering the image of that horrifying setting.
Each foray into Leatherface’s house finds the audience gazing upon one horrifying object after another. When Pam (Teri McMinn) stumbles into the living room, the audience watches through her eyes, images of a couch made of bones or of a lampshade made of human skin. Each object demonstrates the insanity of the family residing there. The entire setting uncovers one disturbing revelation after another all the way to the climax where Sally (Marilyn Burns) finds herself sitting in a chair in which the arms are literally that of a human being.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The house from the original film is now iconic. However, what made the house such an interesting setting for a horror film is that at first glance it seems like a rather welcoming home in a slightly upper class neighborhood. Unlike the Dutch Colonial from The Amityville Horror, this is not an immediately menacing domicile. One can easily see a family living happily in the Thompson house. Yet, as the film slices forward, it begins a metamorphosis into something sinister. With the progression of each film, the house becomes its own evil entity, forever engraved in the minds of horror audiences.
One of the most memorable settings from the Scream series is found within the third installment. It is appropriate that a series with a theme centering on the effects of film violence would at some point take place on a movie set. What makes it all the more interesting is that the audience is familiar with this movie set being that it brings the audience back to settings from the original film. For a fan of the series, it is quite thrilling to experience the déjà vu when Sidney (Neve Campbell) is once again running up the same stairs in her now fake house. Yet, one difference is that this time she is confronted with the bloody “ghost” of her mother.
As with most films by Dario Argento, gore is used as a way to capture a visual moment of art. The gore and violence is not necessarily used to conjure up realistic images but are instead created for the effect the visual will have on the audience. In the film, Phenomena (also released in the U.S. as Creepers) the most stunning moment of horror comes when Jennifer (played by Jennifer Connelly) is pulled into a room of true insanity. The setting of this room contains a pit of decaying bodies. This pit contains not only dead bodies and maggots but also all the remaining fluids left over from these bodies. Jennifer is caught off guard and ends up falling backward directly into this pit of repugnance.
A heart stopping moment in the Alien franchise is when Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley ends up in one of the most frightening settings from the series: The nest of the alien queen. In proving her true heroism with rescuing Newt, Ripley finds herself surrounded by alien eggs, alien guards, and the queen, herself. As Ripley scans the setting, her eyes survey the queen, the queen’s egg sack, and the depositing of an egg from that sack. The audience is immediately overwhelmed with disgust, horror, and eye opening wonder at the imagination and scope of the settings from this film.
This feature provides audiences with a setting filled with claustrophobia, terror, and one revolting creature after another. After descending down into the caverns, the characters are left with no choice but to force themselves through a tiny passageway. The image of the women struggling through the cramped space immediately lends itself to claustrophobia. After emerging, it is one horrific moment after another as each are killed off, one by one. Whether being killed among the pile of decomposing bodies or hiding in a pool of blood, the claustrophobic setting of the film is one that will stay with audiences long after their first viewing.
In the film, audiences are provided with seemingly random scenes from a videotape that when spliced together project a series of unsettling images. One image is that of the well. The setting of the well is chilling, as it is revealing the location of the body of a dead girl. Albeit, a diabolical dead girl. When Rachel (Naomi Watts) ends up in the well, it provides a moment of horror when the girl, Samara (Daveigh Chase), floats to the surface and demonstrates the loneliness the little girl must have felt. The truly chilling moment of this setting is when it is frozen on the television screen and whoever sees the video watches helplessly as Samara begins to climb out of the well and walks towards the screen.
Silence of the Lambs
The labyrinthine basement of Buffalo Bill is a setting certain to leave audiences with a chill. From a room with a decomposing body in the bathtub to the well in which the victims are forced to live out their last days, audiences watched in terror as Starling (Jodie Foster) made her way through the labyrinth to Buffalo Bill. One particularly visually disturbing moment is when the audience views through Catherine’s (Brooke Smith) eyes the remains of fingernails in the wall of the well. The fingernails were from victims unsuccessful in their attempts to climb out of their prison.
The Overlook Hotel is the setting for maniacal ghosts of the past, all attempting to gain the soul of one young boy with a special gift. There are several candidates in the setting of this hotel for the winner of most horrifying. The woman in the bathroom definitely leaves her mark. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) cutting his way into the bathroom where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) screams in terror is also terrifying. There is one visually disturbing moment after another. However, the moment that brings the most visual chill is the image of the blood flowing from the elevators in slow motion. This setting is shown throughout the film a few times, hinting at its horror until finally it is Wendy that stumbles across it in actuality. She watches helplessly as at first it is one gush and then a never ending waterfall turning into a river that cascades through the set carrying along pieces of furniture with it. It is an image that haunts audiences long after their first viewing.