Fear is Best Captured on Cinemascope

Cinephile Chino Hernandez on the depiction of fear during Hollywood’s Golden Age, when simpler times yielded more sophisticated scares

Words Chino Hernandez

James Stewart’s character in Rear Window sits in a wheelchair during the exhilarating finale of the 1954 classic film. The murderer slowly creeps toward him, ready to end his life through strangulation. With broken legs, there is no way to run. His only weapon: the darkness and a vintage camera with exploding bulbs. As his attacker moves toward him, he shoots him with a bright flash. Bang! He is blinded and disoriented. He shoots again. Bang! He buys himself a few minutes as the man in the dark stumbles into the shadows. Will this give Grace Kelly enough time to arrive with the authorities?

Director Alfred Hitchcock, Header: Hitchcock, with actors Grace Kelly and James Stewart in Rear Window (1954). Paramount Pictures/x-ray Delta One. License: CC BY NC SA 2.0

No modern-day auteur could capture fear as well as Alfred Hitchcock, did during his run in Hollywood’s golden age. The English auteur used no monsters, creepy crawlies, zombies, and ghouls to keep the horror flowing. Special effects never saved him, though fear was looming in every corner of his cinemascope lenses. Will we ever again experience a moment as frightening as Vera Miles felt when seeing Norman Bates dressed up as his mother? Will we ever hate the idea of heights as much as we did when James Stewart hung on the ledge of the tower in Vertigo? Will we ever hear another deafening scream as Doris Day’s in The Man Who Knew Too Much? Where is our modern-day Hitchcock?

“Where is our modern-day Hitchcock? If there is something I fear more than fear itself, it’s that Hollywood is running out of stories to tell.”

If there is something I fear more than fear itself, it’s that Hollywood is running out of stories to tell. Are we too invested in comic book movies, shimmering vampire franchises, S&M soft-core porn disguised as romances, and the 100th revamp of that unoriginal Disney movie? When will we get an iconic horror movie moment like that time Tippi Hedren was attacked by birds while stuck in a telephone booth? Will hors d’oeuvres ever be served on the makeshift casket of a dead schoolmate again ala Rope?

As twisted as they were, Hitchcock had simple ideas. He understood that terror in cinema did not mean blood and monsters. It was about putting regular people in extraordinary circumstances that put their lives on an uneven keel—to bring the ordinary into the world of the unordinary. Unfortunately, today’s cinema is afraid to re-discover this classic type of fear. This leaves modern Hollywood stories to feel unauthentic, unoriginal, and insincere. To me, dear reader, that is the scariest tale of all. •

Anthony Perkins in Pyscho (1960)

Originally published in Malamaya #1 2017. Edits were made to the article.

Chino R. Hernandez is a movie addict, foodie, and curious traveler. An old soul and lover of art, he spends his time watching films from Hollywood’s Golden Age, pretends to write like Ernest Hemingway, and dines out way too much. He currently runs a blog, Chinomatography dedicated to the “ins and outs of film.”

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