The gothic tradition is rooted in many great works of fiction such as, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Dracula’. It comprises many distinct features including Gothic architecture, lighting and the colour black. Setting is a very important aspect of the gothic tradition. In the two film texts studied ‘Psycho’ and ‘Edward Scissor hands’, the directors have used the gothic tradition to create interesting effects. To define the word gothic when being used in the form of a novel, one can say that it contains supernatural or horrifying events.
Alfred Hitchcock the director of ‘Psycho’, uses many effective camera shots throughout the film to add depth and tension to the atmosphere of the scene that the viewer can easily relate to. For example when Marion the leading female role is traveling on the highway in her car towards the ‘Bate’s Motel’, prior to her arrival the scene shows a very open and light space around her. There is lots of other traffic on the same stretch of road and gives a presence of safety in numbers to the viewer.
As the sunset starts to emerge the lighting dims and Hitchcock uses a medium close-up shot of Marion in the car, the focal point being her face that is the only luminous thing that can be seen. The background behind her is not clearly visible and is set to a Gothic shadow view. As she continues to drive away further from her home the weather changes to heavy rain, the whole atmosphere draws in on her and the frantic music that plays adjacent to the fantastic camera shots results in a penetrative impact upon the viewer. As she continues driving it comes to attention that there is no other traffic visible.
Solitarily driving down the highway Hitchcock takes a shot that shows what Marion would see from behind the windscreen. He takes a high angle shot looking down on to the road and all that can be seen are the road markings lit up by the headlights and only stretches so far as approximately 100cm in front of the car. This gives a feeling of isolation and curiosity as to what lies on the tarmac ahead. When Marion finally pulls of the highway and into ‘Bates Motel’, one of the fist camera shots we see is of a large house in shadow.
Hitchcock films it using a low angle shot to make the house look more superior and threatening, this camera technique is used to make the viewer feel vulnerable. The house is of a very Gothic nature, the lighting especially created to set the old, menacing house in a black shadow so that the outline is only visible, contrasting against the night sky. The house has a very overgrown ‘ramshackle’ appearance and there are only two lights that can be seen both coming from two upstairs windows that are set closely on one of the corner rooms.
The blinds of both windows are drawn and then the viewer is able to see Mother’s figure as a shadow walking past the window, and almost looks like a ghost more than a human. Later, when Marion is in her cabin, Hitchcock takes a camera shot of her standing in front of a mirror. He cleverly does this to reinforce in the viewer’s mind the illusion that ‘Psycho’ is not a film but reality as if there was a camera crew taking the shot then they would be seen also n the reflection.
Hitchcock then diverts the camera to an open window beside her bed, it is almost as if it is letting the darkness in from the outside of her room and the view beyond the window frame is of the house. The house has become even darker and no visible features can be seen eg. The front door. It is completely shot in darkness and is just an outlined silhouette, next to the house stands a single very ugly drawn tree that is also in shadow, only allowing its shape to be seen due to the lighter background.
This creates a very eerie feeling that the music adds to which all highly compliment the Gothic Tradition. Behind the motel is an isolated, desolate area that is largely overgrown and is where the swamp situated to dispose of Marion and her belongings lies. It is enclosed by spindly trees that have no leaves or blossom; this makes them look dead, and makes the area look unattractive. The colour black is used very much throughout this film to emphasize all the Gothic elements that Hitchcock has used to perfect the setting.
When Marion accepts the invite to go and eat her dinner in the parlour from the main office, stuffed birds surround her and Hitchcock makes a particularly remarkable shot in which Marion is in the bottom right hand side of the camera and behind her left shoulder can be seen a huge owl with it’s wings spread out to make her look like she was it’s victim that it was about to pounce on, kill and eat. The stuffed birds are everywhere and those towards the ceiling almost look as though they are circling above her in flight.
They are made to look even more menacing by their shadows that create a larger image of them that creates an enlarging image of them. The birds are all birds of prey and in one shot that focuses of Marion you are able to see a stuffed crow behind her which symbolizes death! At one point during this particular scene Hitchcock uses a very clever camera shot in which he’s in alignment with one of the birds of prey to show that the bird is a representative of him and his evilness.
The bird that represents him is then seen above two pictures of naked women who represent Marion when she’s in the shower, so in a sense almost gives away what will happen next through imagery! The birds are the most Gothic features of that scene but all the other props that are used also have a Gothic appeal, for example- the swirly, long candlesticks. To emphasize the charactors of the two people Hitchcock has placed the light beside Marion so that when the camera shoots at her, her face is lit up and when it focuses on him he is in shadow and in a darkened corner away from the light.
Just before he commits the murder Hitchcock takes another shot of the house on the mount using the same low angle camera technique that gives the impression of power. The two lights that were bright upstairs have now been turned down to a minimal level of lighting and dark black clouds have congregated in the background which gives a far more atmospheric feeling to the surroundings of the Motel. Hitchcock chose to make all the bathroom facilities and decoration brilliant white so there would be a bigger more lucive contrast with the blood red when Marion was stabbed to death.
When she is in the shower Hitchcock always uses a medium close-up, high angle shot to show that Marion is vulnerable, small and weak. However when the camera is on Bates it looks up to him like the house and so gives him a sense of superiority as well. ‘Edward Scissor hands’ the other film studied, also showed Gothic elements that had been used to create a successful effect by the Director, James Burton. Burton starts the film off with a magical fairy tale beginning where a grandmother is telling her granddaughter a bed time story.
As she starts to tell it the camera shoots through snow which eventually reveals a big mansion on top of a cliff. ‘Suburbia’ the small community of average people lies below the cliff and unlike the mansion that stands upon it, is a brightly coloured, happy and social place. Burton uses camera shots to depict the huge contrast between the community and the isolated, solitary house on the hill. Within the mansion walls, where the only resident is Edward Scissor hands, the camera pans through an overgrown driveway into a magical garden.
As Peggy Boggs, one of the main charactors of the film enters the mansion drive the whole setting takes a vast atmospherical change. The set from being very neat and tidy, changes almost indistinguishably to an overgrown, unkept, confined garden. Such props as stone gargoyles are used to emphasise the Gothic feeling that Burton tries to pass to the audience. What strikes one as most odd and is a great contrast to ‘Psycho’ is the word that Peggy Boggs uses to describe the house, she describes it as beautiful and Burton uses a high angle shot that shows a close up image of her magical facial expression as she says it.
The garden although firstly thought was poorly kept takes a dramatical change as Peggy Boggs goes further in and has a huge colourful array of flowers and many thriving, healthy green bushes that have been carved in to remarkable animal figures. Burton uses this scenery to make the house seem less threatening than it did on first impressions from the start of the driveway. This scene is also taken in daylight, with a bright, shining sun and the house not shown in shadow, unlike ‘Psycho’ which is essential to create an eerie, Gothic effect.
Burton also makes sure that the camera focuses on the Gothic architecture and other Gothic features of the house such as the large solid, old wooden door, the big lion doorknocker that Burton makes a close up camera shot of, and the church- style windows. When Peggy Boggs enters the house, Burton shoots the camera at her on a very long, high angle. Burton uses this shot, as the area that surrounds her can also be seen and as it is all in shadow and Peggy stands in a thin channel of light that floods solitarily into the dark, gloomy room, a great contrast between light and dark can be shown.
Burton then shoots around the room focusing in on Gothic related props like the old throne that has been covered in dust sheets which creates an ancient, abandoned effect towards the audience. ‘Edward Scissor hands’, which can be closely related to another famous Gothic film, ‘Frankenstein’, also shoots close up camera shots on the contraptions and machinery that have created the main character, Edward. In many other Gothic novels apart from these, bringing bodies back to life has for a long time been an obvious favourite with authors. However when methods to do this started involving science big issues were raised concerning this.
The camera follows Peggy Boggs as she goes slowly up the magical, windy staircase. Here, Burton uses some of the most regularly used Gothic elements such as very low lighting, creaking noises from the stair case and floor boards after every step and cobwebs that line the hand railings. The camera looks down on her as she proceeds up the stairs which makes Peggy Boggs look small and vulnerable. Peggy wears a bright violet suit that makes her stand out clearly against her dull surroundings, Burton uses this to show the contrast of Suburbia and the mansion.
When Peggy meets Edward the scenery and Edward’s shy character, make this particular scene a lot less Gothic than it could have been. Although Edward appears from shadows, he can be clearly seen as half of the roof is missing letting a more than sufficient amount of light into the room. As this scene is shot in an open- aired sunny room, Burton creates a calmer atmosphere which gives the audience the impression that nothing bad is going to happen at the present. During the scene when Peggy takes Edward back to Suburbia, Burton uses a series of long, two shots which again fulfills his aim to show contrast.
Against the garish scenery of Suburbia Edward really stands out as he’s the only black thing in sight. Suburbia, from the outside is extremely unrealistic and delights the audience eye as this ‘picture perfect’ place is unveiled. The insides of the houses are much more related to normal, realistic living which signifies the room for evil, and the charactors of Suburbia’s residents are far in contrast with the setting. When Peggy Boggs opens her front door to let herself and Edward in the colour scheme which is the complete opposite of Edward’s signature colour comes to the audience’s attention.
The walls are all white washed which symbolizes purity and reflects Peggy’s good, generous and loving personality. Towards the end of the film the witch hunt gathers for Edward, tension builds up and the sky turns black, which is a key factor that Burton has finally used to create a sinister, Gothic atmosphere. The mansion garden, shown throughout the film to be a colourful, wonderful place, is plunged in to a deep darkness. The flowers black, the animal carved bushes threatening, and a garden that now matches the interior, of the Gothic mansion upon a hill.
In these films one can conclude that both directors have tried to incorporate influences and elements of the Gothic Tradition in to the desolate and sometimes bleak film settings. In particular, the attic of the large house in which Edward Scissor hands lives and the large dark remote house where Norman Bates live, both have a strong correlation with Gothic Traditional architectural style. This is often characterized by dark 12th – 16th Century castle type structures with vaulted ceilings and pointed arches.
Also they have used many symbolic objects within the sets that portray themes dealing with macabre and other events typical of the genre. The lead characters in both films are to a large extent depicted as social outcasts, displaying severe psychopathic tendencies thus further reinforcing the Gothic impression created by the film sets. From studying the films I feel that they both successfully display the Gothic Tradition and the settings and other background props greatly contribute to achieve this distinctive theme.