Which Cameras Have Been Used to Film Top Horror Films
As filmmakers know, success is not just about the content you put into your movie. A good film can become a great film by mastering filming techniques most viewers will not fully appreciate. Using different film, or indeed different cameras can create effects on the screen that visually impress cinema-goers. This is perhaps most obvious for the horror genre, which is often populated by low-budget movies that need to make use of every trick they can to stand out.
The technology available to lower budget productions is often not as extensive as the Hollywood blockbusters, but those at the lower end of the cost scale can still make a big impact if they’re filmed on the right cameras. We’ve explored how filmmakers are moving away from the traditional film, with plenty of options available post-shooting with digital. Yet, film isn’t dead and many of the best classic horror movies made great use of traditional film, as well handheld cameras, as you’ll see below.
Few films epitomize a genre better than Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho. The tendency with modern films is to show the viewers what to fear, whilst Psycho played with your imagination and allowed you to create the images before it had to. The protagonist did not arrive at the Bates Hotel until 40 minutes into the film, which shows any aspiring filmmaker how to truly build suspense.
Special effects and techniques were not as readily available to filmmakers in the sixties, so instead, they relied heavily on shooting technique and equipment. Psycho was shot on a Mitchell BNC, described by Red Shark News as one of the most influential cameras of all time. It was not even new in the sixties, as the camera had been around since the first golden age of Hollywood, the thirties, lending itself perfectly to the black and white film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Banned in many countries following its release the Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been recognized by contemporary audiences as a true masterpiece. It was filmed for less than $300,000 and is defined by the wonderful grainy effect the filmmakers achieved using specific equipment.
Using mostly unknown actors, cinematographer Daniel Pearl shot on 16mm with an Eclair NPR 16mm camera, using fine-grain, low-speed film. It required far more light than modern digital cameras and that helped create a distinct feel to the film. Its legacy lives on in several sequels, video games and a certain degree of notoriety thanks to the presence of the iconic Leatherface.
In 1984, Warner Bros released the first Gremlins movie which had a relatively low budget for the effects it wanted to create. At just $11m, it was more expensive than executive producer Steven Spielberg intended, but it ended up grossing $148m worldwide. Filmed on an Arriflex 35 IIC Panavision PSR R-200, it was not groundbreaking in terms of the tech, but it did leave a lasting legacy for other low budget movies to follow.
It spawned a host of merchandise, games and a sequel, Gremlins 2, which cost significantly more to make. Even today, Gremlins is a widely recognized part of popular culture through its legacy and continues to be featured across multiple media platforms. Foxy Games has several titles based on classic horror films included a dedicated Gremlins game, proving it is still as popular today as it was almost 40 years ago and is even finding new audiences online. The word ‘Gremlins’ used to be used to describe problems with engines and different systems, but thanks to $11m and some standard camera tech, it now instantly conjures up images of little green monsters.
The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project is the textbook example of how to make a low budget horror movie. It did benefit from being produced in the internet age, meaning that a certain level of hype could be added. While titles like Gremlins benefited from heavy marketing and merchandise The Blair Witch Project was hyped by making the viewers believe it was a true story. To achieve that effect, the directors needed only to make it look homemade.
The entire film was made with a 16mm camera and an RCA Hi8 Camcorder and yet had a legacy that caused a widespread commotion when it finally hit the cinema. The use of such basic equipment only served to heighten the belief that what the viewer was experiencing was real, even without any antagonist being visible on the screen.
So while digital cameras are becoming the default choice of filmmakers, these horror titles show how traditional film can be just as effective, especially when creating atmosphere.