This essay was completed for TV and Film (Extended Diploma)
Part One – Narrative Analysis – Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock’s world renowned Oscar award winning horror and thriller Psycho is set in a small motel called the Bates Motel. The entire film is black and white (film noir). Hitchcock decided to do this because the film would look and feel a lot more disturbing and unnerving compared to a brightly saturated film, this idea was inspired by French Diabolique (1955), a film of the same genre. The colour scheme today remains iconic and brings authenticity to the film. You can tell just by the colouring and setting of the film that it is in fact, Hitchcock’s Psycho. Despite the hidden technical genius of the film, in this article I will be analysing the narrative of the film and why it is still one of the most recognised movies in history.
The film features protagonist Marion Crane, a woman who has had an affair with another man. From the beginning of the film the audience already know that Marion is considering leaving home, but not by herself. Marion decides to steal 40,000 dollars as being trusted by her boss to take to the bank. The setting and opening narrative to the film tells the audience a lot about the mischievous Marion. She is complicated in both life and character, and indecisive on most things. The audience perceive her as a trouble maker, and rightly so. However all the other characters in the film see her as normal and trustworthy, hence her boss trusting her with 40,000 dollars.
Marion eventually ends up at the Bates Motel due to wether conditions that match the mood of the film, where she meets Norman Bates, an average and troubled looking young man later revealed to be the villain. Norman appears to be living with his mother, when questioned by Marion about his mother, Norman seems distraught and very anxious to reveal any information about her, as he tends to slow down whenever she is mentioned and performs unusual body actions such as scratching his head and shoulders, this is a great method of foreshadowing for the audience. The weather and setting is perfect of the genre, a horror film would not have the same effect as if set in a busy hotel at 12pm on a sunny day. Marion stays in Cabin 1, a reminder of how discreet and unpopular the motel appears to be despite the horrific weather.
As clever as this shot is, Hitchcock doesn’t just pay attention to positioning and angle but also the lighting. The whole film is lit entirely using white light (as well as the lights in shot) to match the colour scheme and aura however the use and positioning of light used in Psycho always leaves many shadows. In this shot you can see the darkness outside the window, shady lighting in the centre creating an unnerving shadow in the corner of the room. The use of lighting truly links with the character’s emotions, especially the film’s score.
After Norman’s character is introduced and a few conversations are held, the shower scene takes place. Taking seven days to shoot, possibly the most famous scene in film history centres around the murder of Marion. The suspense leading up to the shower stabbing is intense, the lighting of the bathroom is bright white, much like a surgeons room and the shots are held for a long period of time, a little too long to make the audience feel uncomfortable. The shower scene itself is fast, using a large amount of shots (over 70) during the stabbing. Despite the large variety of shots, the knife is never seen on Marion’s skin, yet the audience are aware that the knife has struck due to the intense music and the shots of the shower water, now stained red.
By this time in the film, the audience have almost forgotten the setting behind the film, being so immersed in Marion’s adventure. The original character’s including the two lovers are informed that Marion has been reported missing for over a week, and sister Lila and private investigator Milton decide to search for her, both finding the Bates Motel.
Masterpieces such as this come with good twists, and twists enable the viewer to then spark a conversation about the film but not spoil it, hence why the receiving end of the conversation will want to know the twist. Although this isn’t the sole purpose of one, it is a fantastic promotional factor. Phsyco did receive a sequel in 1999, but alike most sequels to masterpieces, did not receive anywhere near the box office income or seats at the Oscars as the original.
Part 2 – Genre Analysis – Shaun of the Dead
A spoof film intends to inflict a humorous alternative vibe to a genre. They can be done to the extreme, the Scary Movie franchise have released six films following the success of the others. Spoof and parody films are often tossed aside by award ceremonies and critics, however Edgar Wright’s zombie comedy film Shaun of the Dead received nominations for best screenplay the British Independent Film Awards in 2004 and the NME awards for best film in 2005. Shaun of the Dead is not only a zombie comedy and fantasy (cleverly classed as a zomcom in the tagline, a a play on mixture between a romantic comedy and a zombie comedy) but also a social satire. Most parody/spoof films such as Blazing Saddles or Scream play with the primary genre and mock it’s connotations however Shaun of the Dead mocks its audience and also British society in many ways, one example being the fact that zombies have taken over the London yet protagonist Shaun’s plan is to go to the pub.
Shaun is a simple man with complicated issues, stuck in what the film establishes is a part time job for most teenagers and has troubles with his relationship with girlfriend Liz after Shaun unwarily puts his friend Ed’s needs first. This alone is a typical plot connotation of romance films (a good example is Tom Shadyac’s Bruce Almighty, except with the protagonists job) the fact that the protagonist has a distraction or attachment to something, putting it before his relationship or another character.
Spoof films need to have an obvious representation of the genre they are portraying, and in Shaun of the Dead’s case, zombie films. This can be done by using typical connotations of the genre and adding a comedic spin on them. For example, in zombie films, survivors usually have to find a weapon, whereas in Shaun of the Dead, they spend a few minutes throwing records at the zombies, and picking and choosing which records are valuable and shouldn’t be thrown.
Another way Shaun of the dead subverts the structuralism of a horror film is when the zombie attack is taking place, both Shaun and Ed fight against a woman, this is humorous as they are scared of her, this goes against Propp’s character theory as the male lead is recognised as strong both mentally and physically however this is not the case with Shaun and Ed. In addition the seriousness is taken away from the attack against the zombies as both characters start conversing with each other during the attack. This is amusing as they are oblivious to their surroundings. Furthermore, after killing the zombies they return inside the house and have tea and Cornetto (a running joke throughout the film series) this is another comedy aspect as it shows that the zombies have had no impact on them what so ever whereas if this was a conventional horror film the victims would be more distraught of what has taken place.
Shaun of the dead uses many theories such as Todorov’s narrative theory; this was used to create equilibrium at the start and towards the end disequilibrium, this theory is common in most horror films in order to create a narrative concept. Propp’s character theory was also used, this helped to establish the postmodern ambiance in the film as it challenges the typical character types in horror films overall this added humour in the film as the characters were not adopting their traditional roles.
Even in the horror world, much of Shaun of the Dead’s action takes place in the bright morning in a London suburb. When they become aware of the zombie threat, the film’s characters react by calling for emergency services; and when that’s busy, Shaun and Ed plop onto the couch and watch the news for answers. Even after they dispose of two zombies in their backyard, Shaun and Ed return to the news to assess the situation, as we all might do. These characters are relatable and behave in ways that make sense emotionally, as opposed to the dramatic, survival-minded decision makers of most zombie movies. After arming himself with a cricket bat, Shaun’s first instinct is to rescue his now ex-girlfriend Liz and his mother Barbara (Penelope Wilton). In a hilarious sequence, he and Ed mull over the best attempt at rescue, and then set out to gather Shaun’s loved ones and hole up at the Winchester.
Shaun of the dead is incredibly clear in how it portrays horror and romance and combines them with comedy. It is why it is an award winning show, having an incredibly relatable British outlook on the apocalypse isn’t just amusing for us brits, but also to the world.