Halloween in 2016 will, hopefully, provide some light relief in a year in which all our heroes died, impending apocalypse looms, and evil clowns are stalking the streets. Business Insider lists the holy trinity of Trump, Trotsky and Boris as popular costume choices because, who needs the supernatural when politics itself is diabolical? Although fiction is far less scary than post-fact politics, cinematic horror continues to provide limitless inspiration for both costume and the catwalk.
When film was still in its infancy – a curiosity shown at sideshows and travelling fairs – film-makers across the globe were capitalising on the spooky side of cinematography. The Lumière brothers were animating dancing skeletons in France in 1895 (Le Squelette joyeux), while unknown film-makers in Japan were creating shorts such as Shinin no sosei (Resurrection of a Corpse, 1898). Magician-turned-film-maker Georges Méliès is thought to have created the first horror film in 1896, with the short Le manoir du Diable (The Devil’s Manor), which features a bat-transformation, spectres and an incarnation of the devil in just over three minutes. That’s almost a higher rate of subterfuge than the Trump campaign trail.
Sartorial obsessions are an undercurrent in many horror films, from the decadent European aristocracy of many vampire movies to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman (Mary Harron, 2000) and Buffalo Bill’s desire to create a “woman suit” from the skin of his victims in The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991). Here are 11 films that define scream style.
1. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)
German expressionism has cast a long shadow over cinematic horror. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) is celebrated for its art direction of distinctive jagged sets and skewed perspectives that visualise the inner turmoil of the characters. It has had wide resonance in popular culture, from influencing Tim Burton (especially Edward Scissorhands, 1990) to appearing on the single for the Bauhaus track Bela Lugosi’s Dead. The fashion world is equally enamoured, with collections from US-based designer Robert Geller and label Nicholas K paying homage to the film, with horizontal stripes resembling the angular set design, and distinctive all-black slimline silhouettes.
2. Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931)
Hollywood horror emerged from beyond the grave in 1931 with Universal Studios’ productions of Dracula (Tod Browning) and Frankenstein (James Whale). Dracula was Universal’s most successful film of the year and cemented the wardrobe of the vampire in the popular imagination while making an overnight star of Bela Lugosi, who even insisted on being buried in one of his capes. The white tie and bat-like cape was borrowed from an earlier stage version of the production, also starring Lugosi, in which the high collar aided his on-stage disappearance. Vampires, with their capes, tailoring and impeccable aesthetic sense are undoubtedly the supernatural beings with the most sartorial flair.
3. Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)
Clothing the undead was vital to the Universal horror boom of the 1930s, and many films were given their signature looks through the combination of Vera West’s costume design and Jack Pierce’s makeup. Pierce’s design for the Monster in Frankenstein (1931) made Boris Karloff an overnight star and became the defining look for the Creature first imagined by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in 1818. West, head of Universal’s costume department from 1928, costumed some of Hollywood’s earliest monsters and accompanying damsels in distress. The Horror-obsessed Mulleavy sisters behind the Rodarte label drew on ideas of assemblage and construction for autumn/winter 2009, including Karloff’s Frankenstein. “Franken-Green” was a key colour, and strapped leather resembled straitjackets and body bags. The Monster also resurfaced for summer 2013 courtesy of Christopher Kane, who used nuts and bolts as fastenings, complete with prints of Karloff in his finery.
The most chic character in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is Elsa Lanchester as the Monster’s Mate. She may only appear in the last minutes of the film, but the lightning-bolt streak of silver in her electric-shock hair created a stylish horror icon. The hair has also found its way to the catwalk, from Galliano for Dior, to Lagerfeld for Chanel.
4. The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
Hitchcock’s icy blondes, clad in tightly cinched Edith Head suits, are a perennial source of inspiration for designers. The Birds (1963), starring Tippi Hedren and costumed by Head, inspired the violent imagery at Alexander McQueen’s collection for spring/summer 1995 that turned models into living roadkill. The sharp tailoring that Head required her leading ladies to wear has become an enduring reference. McQueen – with a background in tailoring – was often inspired by Head’s costuming, and even pastiched the Vertigo (1958) poster for one of his show invites.
5. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
The gothic look of horror was eschewed from the 1960s, as Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) marked a turning point in which the monster without became the monster within, less easy to identify through costumes or makeup. Roman Polanski took this approach when adapting Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby for the screen in 1968, telling costume designer Anthea Sylbert to think of Doris Day movies to make the ghoulish events of the film more striking in their contrast. The resulting candy-coloured 1960s wardrobe and distinctive Vidal Sassoon pixie cut sported by Mia Farrow has found its way to the catwalk via designers such as Joseph Altuzarra and Tata Naka.
6. The Wicker Man (1973)
The folk horror subgenre flourished in the late 1960s and early 70s, focusing on cults, superstitions and imagined pagan rituals. The Wicker Man (1973) is the best-known of these films, which investigate the darkness that can lurk behind the facade of a rural idyll. Designer Gareth Pugh cites The Wicker Man as a constant source of inspiration, and in his autumn/winter 2007 collection, the square-shouldered silhouette paid homage to the effigy itself. Luella Bartley also turned to the film the following year in a collection inspired both by Britt Ekland’s character in the movie, and the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall.
7. The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975)
In the dystopian suburbia of Stepford, Connecticut, the men systematically murder their wives and replace them with compliant and pneumatic domestic-goddess robots. The costume, designed by Anna Hill Johnstone, play a key role, marking the women’s transition from human to robot. The book and film drew heavily on Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), which shattered the illusion that American housewives were gripped with domestic bliss. The Stepford Wives has been used as a reference for designers keen to emulate the chiffon and florals of the mid-0s. Orla Kiely mixed Stepford Wives with the preppy, Palm Beach styles of Lilly Pulitzer for spring/summer 2016 resulting in maxi hemlines, cotton lace dresses and an abundance of frills. South London-based designer Phiney Pet’s Deptford Wives collection took a more satirical approach, featuring pastel colours blasted with slogans such as “Housework Sucks” and “Bored”.
8. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Alexander McQueen was adept at translating dark, romantic visions into high fashion. His graduate collection in 1992 kickstarted his obsession with the gruesome, titled Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims, and featuring locks of hair sewn into the lining. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980), costumed by Milena Canonero, was behind a collection in 1999, named The Overlook, after the film’s hotel. Kubrick’s classic has become a perpetual fashion reference, from the carpet in the hotel inspiring whole collections, to Stuart Vevers’s debut at Coach that saw him replicate Danny Torrance’s Apollo sweater.
9. The Hunger (1983)
The vampire movie was updated for the 1980s in Tony Scott’s feature film debut The Hunger (1983). The film begins in a nightclub with post-punk band Bauhaus singing Bela Lugosi’s Dead, neatly linking the film’s cinematic heritage with stylised goth subcultures. With stars Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, it’s little wonder that the movie has had an enduring influence on style. Deneuve was dressed by Yves Saint Laurent for her role, while Milena Canonero – who had designed for boutiques before moving into costume – was responsible for the remainder of the wardrobe. Preen took The Hunger as its starting point for its pre-autumn 2013 collection, resulting in a “New Wave edge”, according to Tim Blanks, with fabric texture inspired by the film’s lighting. But it was Alexander McQueen who took the film as his central inspiration for his spring/summer 1996 collection The Hunger. Towards the finale, a transparent plastic bodice filled with live worms acted as a reminder of the mortality that escapes Deneuve’s Miriam’s lovers, entombed in coffins throughout most of the film.
10. Twin Peaks (David Lynch, 1990)
Not strictly film, but David Lynch’s seminal TV series has had a resounding impact on the world of style, and the correlation between high fashion and haute horror is evident in the collaboration between Lynch, and Carol Lim and Humberto Leon at Kenzo. Touches of Lynch’s unique look could be traced in the Kenzo pre-autumn and menswear 2014 collections, leading to a full-blown collaboration for the autumn womenswear show that it labelled the third in its “Lynch trilogy”.
With soundtrack and centrepiece sculpture by Lynch, the catwalk show featured colours such as Laura Lilac (named for Laura Palmer) and zigzag patterning resembling the show’s Black Lodge. Lynch’s distinctively disturbing aesthetic, evident in films such as Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001), has also provided inspiration for Comme des Garcons, Prada and Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton. For an updated TV reference, Stranger Things’ Barb is a popular choice.
11. A Tale of Two Sisters (Jee-woon Kim, 2003)
Based on a folktale called The Story of Rose and Lotus, psychological horror A Tale of Two Sisters (Jee-woon Kim, 2003) broke all box-office records for horror on its release in South Korea. The film was a key reference for Rodarte’s autumn 2008 collection, whose blood-soaked aesthetic took three months of working with a dyer to perfect. The collection also drew on Japanese horror, especially the haunting figure of the onryo. Clad in floating white funeral robes with long, thick, unruly black hair, examples of the onryo appear in Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) and Dark Water (2002) as well as Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge (2002).
The Fashion of Film by Amber Butchart is out now, published by Mitchell Beazley