Fashionably Frightening: Iconic Horror Looks

This week Cara Balen explains why fashion is so important within the scary movie genre, and delves into some of the most iconic looks in horror history.

Not all horror movies and series rely on simply splattering as much blood and gore as they can onto our screens, and not all scary scenes need jump-scares and things that go bump in the night. Sometimes the best horror moments come from the artistry created by a subtle blend of disturbing cinematography and fashion flair.

Personally, I find that it is these types of horror flicks that interest me the most because the scariness is not always obvious or conspicuous. The sense of dread and unease that is prompted by the aesthetics of the screen lurks behind every jump-cut, close up, and piece of dialogue, because clever costuming and thematic photography remains a constant throughout each film.

That is why fashion is so important in the world of thrillers and horror. It can make the audience squirm with disgust or spark up their curiosity without uttering a single word. So, to celebrate Halloween in style, here are some of my favourite iconic horror looks that have
been featured on our screens.

(Warning: there may be spoilers ahead!)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: Myrtle Snow

When thinking about aesthetically pleasing horror, AHS always comes to mind. Somehow the directors Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk create artwork with gore and guts, and manage to make the frightening look beautiful. Fashion plays a huge role in the storytelling of this series, whether through the infamous skull face worn by Tate in Murder House, or the iconic all black attire sported by the witches in Coven.

However, one of the archetypal looks from the show has to be that of Myrtle Snow. From her frizzy curtain of vivid ginger hair down to her leather gloves, Snow always steals the scene with her eclectic mix of clashing fashion items. Yet, her most show-stopping look is comparatively simple: a flowing red dress paired with red lacey gloves and black shades.

Contrasted with the beige background and the black mourning clothes of those around her, Myrtle Snow stands out like the very flames that will soon bring forth her execution. The red dress mirrors the previous white one she wore to her first burning, which serves to represent the blood which Myrtle now has on her hands, unlike before when she was innocent.

If anyone has doubts that this is an iconic fashion moment, they just have to listen to her inexplicable yet somehow fitting last words: ‘Balenciaga!’, before the flames engulf her already fiery attire. What an icon!

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: Buffalo Bill

It would be remiss of me not to mention, in an article about horror movie fashion, a movie that creates its horror out of just that: fashion. And no, I am not about to suggest that we should consider Buffalo Bill’s skin suit an iconic piece of fashion – that would be quite worrying! But it is worth looking at the way in which director Jonathan Demme creates eerie suspense by contrasting Buffalo Bill’s hippie-like attire with his revolting murderous acts.

The audience is subjected to close up shots of Bill’s body, including his ‘love’ tattoo, whilst the film intermittently cuts to shots of one of his victims screaming in the basement. The juxtaposition of ‘peace and love’ clothing and the sheer violence he commits causes us to squirm in a way that the typical slasher mask never will.

Here, fashion is used to show Bill’s disturbing mindset as it gives us a glimpse into what lies beneath his twisted façade. I would argue that it has set a precedent for scary movies which use fashion to unexpectedly add to the horror, rather than simply pouring blood on the clothes of its murderers and villains.

STOKER: India Stoker

If you have seen Stoker then you’ll know what a perverse and peculiar film it is. But you will also have seen how director Park Chan-Wook plays with the cinematography of each scene to create intense yet beautiful shots. It is as if each frame could be a piece of art.

Much like Silence of the Lambs, Stoker uses fashion items, namely shoes, as a focal point for the creepy storyline. In a moment of creative genius, Park matches up the opening and closing scene in a way that distorts the audience’s expectations. What we assume to be an innocent woman, India Stoker, looking at red flowers, is in fact a violent killer who has doused white flowers in blood.

It is here that we have an iconic horror look. India has created her outfit out of pieces that she has collected throughout the film’s process: her father’s belt tied around her mother’s blouse, and shoes given to her by her uncle. Each item had a role in the wickedness played out on our screens, such as the belt used to strangle her sexually violent date or shoes that represent her uncle’s obsessive tendencies towards her.

Stoker shows how everyday clothing can become infected by the horror that surrounds them, imbuing them with a kind of symbolism that will make even the strongest person shiver.

SCREAM QUEENS: Chanel Oberlin

The world of comedy horror is also worth a mention on this list, as fashion can often serve to add something unexpected and therefore comical. The scream mask from Scary Movie comes to mind, or the striped suit and green hair combination made famous by Beetlejuice. But for me, nothing can top the self-proclaimed ‘goddess of fashion and telling it like it is’: Chanel Oberlin.

Scream Queens combines goofy jokes, witty punchlines, and slapstick with overt violence and dreadful mystery. The chic cherry on top of the cake comes in the form of Chanel, the meanspirited anti-heroine. All of her looks are iconic, as it is hard to argue that she shouldn’t be praised for maintaining her runway ready style even when hiding a dead body.

Such a contrast between her pristine outfit and grotesque corpses is a source of hilarious black comedy. Yet, I have chosen this particular look, as she is walking through her protesters, because it showcases the way in which Chanel pairs glam with attitude. Looking pretty in pink with what appears to be Dior earrings, a Georges Hobeika dress, and Valentino heels, Chanel shows that she can pull off a classy look even when being embroiled in a murder scandal.

EL LABERINTO DEL FAUNO: Pale Man

For the last iconic look, I wanted to include a nod towards the incredibly talented special effects and prosthetics makeup artists, without which we would not have horror as we know it today. Guillermo del Toro has created masterpieces which centre on such special effects, and whilst it is up for debate whether El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) is a horror movie in the traditional sense, it would be wrong to ignore such a giant in the sphere of movie monsters and creatures.

Regardless of whether the film itself is a scary movie, one cannot deny that one of its antagonists, the Pale Man, is absolutely terrifying. Perhaps one of the quintessential fantasy monsters, the Pale Man’s design incorporates the stuff of nightmares. With his hanging translucent skin, bloody mouth and protruding ribs he instils fear in the audience – and that is without mentioning his utterly blood-curdling eyes sitting in his bony hands.
Special effects artist Arjen Tuiten and costume designer Lala Huete really pulled this character straight out of the darkest depths of their imaginations, showing how a little bit of movie magic and a lot of prosthetics can transform someone into something that looks like it comes from Hell itself!

You can find out more about Cara’s work by following @BalenCara on Twitter.

All images are stills via their respective studios.

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