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Fearful Visions: Horror Cinematographers Reveal Their Secrets

Fearful Visions: Horror Cinematographers Reveal Their Secrets


James Kniest (Annabelle, Hush, The Bye Bye Man)

Horror is challenging in that audiences expect to be genuinely scared. The genre has grown exponentially in the last few years, with the bar being constantly raised higher and higher. There are traditional ways to frighten people, but it is imperative to not repeat what has been done in the past. It is often discussed how we can pay tribute to the classics while also bringing fresh ideas to the screen. I have worked with horror directors who love the jump-scare technique, and others who use it sparingly. I personally lean more toward the psychological aspects, and to stories with pure evil elements that could actually be real.

On the Many Approaches Horror Allows

I think anything is possible now in genre movies; the boundaries are limitless. Storywise, there is so much to draw on these days with the world as it is—anything from nuclear disaster to AI to politics and GMO. There are tons of real-life stories for fodder, and the ultimate goal is to take the audience on a fun, scary ride through both the visual style and the storyline. The demand and marketability of horror has grown so much that budgets have increased for these films, to a point where the filmmakers have more assets to work in their favor. Visually, this helps the filmmakers continue to raise the production value, to match what audiences have come to expect. They are much more sophisticated today, and they expect a film to deliver visually, even if maybe the acting, writing or concept don’t.

A scene from The Bye Bye Man, shot by James Kniest. Image courtesy of STX Entertainment

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