Written by Tom Naughton (Lunar Ponyo)
From Michael Myers creeping around the sides of houses, hiding dead bodies at night, to Lights Out which plays on our fears of the unknown in the dark, horror movies are intertwined with the darkness more than any other genre of film. This makes sense, after all, our natural survival instinct is being scared of what we don’t know, and the dark is the ultimate unknown. But, an underappreciated aspect of light that’s used in some of the greatest horror movies to great effect, is sunrises/sunsets.
If the night represents the unknown, the terrifying, the omni-present dread, then the sunrise/sunset represents security, the peaceful, the beautiful. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we always see sunrises/sunsets at the beginning and ending of horror films. Sunsets are used at the beginning of a film to represent the night creeping in and taking away the security; the calm before the storm.
The sunrise used at the end of horror films represents an escape of some kind. An escape from the darkness, an evil. For example, hopping on a pickup truck and riding into the sunrise to escape Leatherface wielding a chainsaw.
(Pictured: Final Scene of Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
A perfect example of the use of sunsets in horror is the 1977 Japanese classic Hausu. This horror movie incorporates sunsets more than once. I feel the use of them in Hausu is supposed to represent the still, subtle beauty shown in the beginning of the movie. This is to contrast the chaotic, loud horror that the characters find themselves in later in the movie when the shit hits the fan (notice when said shit hits said fan and goes completely ape shit it’s at night).
(Pictured: One of the first scenes in Hausu)
Even resident dark dweller Michael Myers himself has a sunset before he strikes, accompanied by an ominous skull in the trees.
(Pictured: Scene of Michael Myers stalking Laurie Strode)
There’s already natural beauty to sunsets/sunrises and horror filmmakers throughout the decades have utilized that aesthetic to great effect. Whether that be to rip the light away from the sky or bring security to the final girl. They represent a transitory period which, in itself, is just as haunting as the light from the moon or a hook to the face.
(Pictured: Bram Stoker’s Dracula)
I’ve always felt that if something is so unbelievably tranquil then it has to be followed with chaos – the yin and yang of the sun and the moon. It transports us to an almost altered reality right before slamming us down into the brutalness of the night. As the sun rises and the sunbeams bleed out over the horizon, so do the victims of a sharp kitchen knife. Long live sunset/sunrise horror, or at least until the sunlight vaporizes us away like Nosferatu.
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