Tag Archives: Pan’s Labyrinth

Fright Club: Best Cinematography

A poetry of dread – that’s what the best in this business can conjure with the right framing, movement, stillness. Whether it’s Dick Pope creating that just-off feel of bucolic 1950s Idaho for The Reflecting Skin or Owen Roizman forever narrowing the screen, our gaze and our options in The Exorcist, the cinematographer is horror’s true master. Mike Giolakis kept us looking around us and behind us to see where the monster might be in It Follows. John Alcott (The Shining), Chung-hoon Chung (The Handmaiden) and Mo-gae Lee (A Tale of Two Sisters) haunted and mesmerized us with color, movement and atmosphere. Has anybody done it better?

Here are our nominees for the best cinematography in horror.

5. Kwaidan (1964) – Yoshio Miyajima

Gorgeous. If you’re looking for something theatrical, a true marriage between cinematography and set design, Masaki Kobayashi’s Oscar nominee Kwaidan delivers the goods.

Yoshi Miyajima lenses four different ghost stories, each almost entirely shot on highly decorated sound stages, and what he captures is the feeling of make believe that gives each story the sense that it is being told, being embellished for your spooky enjoyment.

Each story is given its own look, its own personality. It’s bold and memorable filmmaking, and an absolute sight to behold.

4. Antichrist (2009) – Anthony Dod Mantle

Whether it’s the utter poetry of the opening tragedy, the claustrophobic dread of the middle section, or the lurking menace of the final reels, Antichrist is an absolute treasure trove of emotional manipulation.

At times, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography feels at odds with the actual content on the screen—particularly in Act 1. But mining for beauty in pain is one of many ways director Lars von Trier succeeds in surprising and horrifying with this film.

Mantle finds a terrifying beauty in ugly thing von Trier throws at you, and the end result is a mesmerizing and brutal work.


3. Nosferatu (1922) – Fritz Arno Wagner

We needed to pay our respects to some of the earliest and most memorable work in cinema. Why F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu? Because nearly 100 years later, there are still images that haunt your dreams.

Fritz Arno Wagner (who also lensed Fritz Lang’s glorious M) capitalizes on the unseemly, vermin-like look of Count Orlock (Max Schreck, genius) with creeping silhouettes, lurking shadows, and camera angles that emphasized his hideousness.

Whether it’s the shocking rise from the coffin, the shadow on the staircase, or the image of the sole survivor of the ship recently decimated by “the plague,” Murnau and Wagner’s images are as evocative today as they were in ’22.

2. The Lighthouse (2019) – Jarin Blaschke

The atmosphere is thick and brisk as sea fog, immersing you early with Oscar nominee Jarin Blasche’s chilly black and white cinematography and a Damian Volpe sound design echoing of loss and one persistent, ominous foghorn.

Director/co-writer Robert Eggers follows The Witch, his incandescent 2015 feature debut, with another painstakingly crafted, moody period piece. The Lighthouse strands you, along with two wickies, on the unforgiving island home of one lonely 1890s New England lighthouse.

Salty sea dog Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) keeps the light, mind ye. He also handles among the most impressive briny soliloquies delivered on screen in a lifetime. Joining him as second is one Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson)—aimless, prone to self-abuse, disinclined to appreciate a man’s cooking.

1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Guillermo Navarro

In 2006, Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece may have somehow been overlooked as Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film, but at least the Academy had the common sense to notice Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography.

He manages to create an atmosphere equally imaginative and bitterly realistic, something befitting a child’s logic. Like a fairy tale, the screen blends the magical beauty of good and evil. His vision is as hypnotic as it needs to be, as childlike as we need it to be. It’s beautiful, innocent and utterly heartbreaking.

Fright Club: Fractured Fairy Tales

Nothing scared me as a child the way the story of Hansel and Gretel did. Do you know why? Because it’s fucking scary. But that’s the thing about fairy tales, isn’t it? There was always something—a big, bad wolf or a witch or a wicked stepmother—intended to frighten children. No wonder fairy tales make such rich fodder for horror movies.

Here are our picks for the best fractured fairy tale horror—either those films that reimagine an old fairy tale or those that are clearly inspired by them—recorded live at the Gateway Film Center.

5. Hansel & Gretel (2007)

This is a straightforward reimagining of a classic fairy tale. We’d compare it to Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997), Deadtime Stories (1986), The Red Shoes (2005) and Tale of Tales (2015).

Director Pil-sung Yim’s reimagining of Grimm’s classic “into the woods” horror upends expectations by putting adults in the vulnerable position and giving children the power.

A young man facing impending fatherhood gets into a car accident next to a deep, dark and mysterious woods. He loses himself and is rescued by a lone little girl with a lantern.

From here, Yim’s sumptuous visuals and eerily joyful tone create the unshakable sensation of a dream—one that looks good but feels awful.

As our protagonist unravels the surreal mystery that’s swallowed him, Yim offers a parable—as fairy tales often do—about the value of children. But don’t let that dissuade you from this seriously weird, visually indulgent gem.

4. Black Swan (2010)

Based on the ballet Swan Lake, which itself is inspired by German folktales The White Duck and The Stolen Veil, Black Swan takes a dark turn.

The potent female counterpoint to Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 gem The Wrestler, Black Swan dances on masochism and self-destruction in pursuit of a masculine ideal.

Natalie Portman won the Oscar for a haunting performance—haunting as much for the physical toll the film appeared to take on the sinewy, hallowed out body as for the mind-bending horror.

Every performance shrieks with the nagging echo of the damage done by this quest to fulfill the unreasonable demands of the male gaze: Barbara Hershey’s plastic and needy mother; Winona Ryder’s picture of self-destruction; Mila Kunis’s dangerous manipulator; Vincent Cassel’s other dangerous manipulator.

The mind-bending descent into madness and death may be the most honest look at ballet we’ve ever seen at the movies.

3. The Lure (2015)

Here’s a great Eastern European take on reimagined Eastern European fairy tales, like Norway’s Thale (2012) and Czech Republic’s Little Otik (2000).

Gold (Michalina Olszanska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) are not your typical movie mermaids, and director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s feature debut The Lure is not your typical – well, anything.

The musical fable offers a vivid mix of fairy tale, socio-political commentary, whimsy and throat tearing. But it’s not as ill-fitting a combination as you might think.

The Little Mermaid is actually a heartbreaking story. Not Disney’s crustacean song-stravaganza, but Hans Christian Andersen’s bleak meditation on the catastrophic consequences of sacrificing who you are for someone undeserving. It’s a cautionary tale for young girls, really, and Lure writer Robert Bolesto remains true to that theme.

The biggest differences between Bolesto’s story and Andersen’s: 80s synth pop, striptease and teeth. At its heart, The Lure is a story about Poland – its self-determination and identity in the Eighties. That’s where Andersen’s work is so poignantly fitting.

2. Der Samurai (2014)

This film is influenced heavily by fairy tales, especially the concept of the big, bad wolf, as are The Company of Wolves (1984), Big Bad Wolves (2013), and Freeway (1996).

Writer/director Till Kleinert’s atmospheric Der Samurai blends Grimm Brother ideas with Samurai legend to tell a story that borders on the familiar but manages always to surprise.

Jakob, a meek police officer in a remote German berg, has been charged with eliminating the wolf that’s frightening villagers. Moved by compassion or longing, Jakob can’t quite make himself accomplish his. But a chance encounter with a wild-eyed stranger wearing a dress and carrying a samurai sword clarifies that the wolf is probably not the villagers’ – or Jakob’s – biggest problem.

Pit Bukowski cuts a peculiar but creepy figure as the Samurai – kind of a cross between Iggy Pop and Ted Levine. As the cat and mouse game gains momentum, it appears the Samurai is here to upend all of Jakob’s inhibitions by eliminating anyone keeping him from embracing to his primal urges.

Kleinert’s sneaky camera builds tension in every scene, and the film’s magnificent sound design echoes with Jakob’s isolation as well as that of the village itself. And though much of the imagery is connected in a way to familiar fairy tales or horror movies, the understated approach gives it all a naturalism that is unsettling.

1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece is Influenced visually and logically by fairy tales. It takes us to a fairy tale land but is not set on any existing fairy tale, not unlike Argento’s greatest work, Suspiria (1977), and Jee-woon Kim’s brilliant Tale of Two Sisters (2003).

But honestly, there is nothing on earth quite like Pan’s Labyrinth. A mythical cousin to del Toro’s beautiful 2002 ghost story The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth follows a terrified, displaced little girl who may be the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, daughter of the King of the Underworld. She must complete three tasks to rejoin her father in her magical realm.

A heartbreaking fantasy about the costs of war, the film boasts amazing performances. Few people play villains—in any language—as well as Sergi Lopez, and Doug Jones inspires terror and wonder in two different roles. But the real star here is del Toro’s imagination, which has never had such a beautiful outlet.