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Fearful Visions: Horror Cinematographers Reveal Their Secrets

Fearful Visions: Horror Cinematographers Reveal Their Secrets


Toby Oliver (Wolf Creek 2, Get OutHappy Death Day)

Generally, the horror genre can be fun and rewarding to work in for the cinematographer. You get to deal with otherworldly elements, the supernatural, the extraordinary, violence, blood and action, but above all, it must be scary—and most often dark. Darkness is your friend in a horror movie, and I’m always challenged by having to light and shoot scenes that take place in near-total darkness, but we still need to see something. Often, however, it is what you don’t see that is the most frightening—so it’s very different from shooting, say, a romantic comedy.

On Horror With a Humorous Side

When a horror film has comedic elements, it depends on the tone established by the director. Both Get Out and Happy Death Day contain humor, but presented differently: Get Out has very funny scenes breaking up an otherwise quite dramatic approach to a thriller, while Happy Death Day has a more irreverent tone overall with some genuine scares thrown in—it’s a more lighthearted movie. So the cinematography in Get Out has a naturalistic approach from the beginning that only slowly develops into a horror look, and Happy Death Day has a bright college-comedy feel at the start, then changes more deliberately to a stylized, darker horror scheme in the scary bits. Because it’s a time-loop story, it flip-flops between different looks throughout the movie.

A scene from Happy Death Day, shot by Toby Oliver. Image courtesy of Blumhouse/Universal Pictures


These nine horror cinematographers share their gear of choice, the secrets to their style, and more in MovieMaker’s 2018 Guide to Making Horror Movies, on newsstands October 31, 2017 and available now in an expanded eBook edition.

Featured image photograph courtesy of New Line and Warner Bros.

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