In the aftermath of good ol’ Hallow’s eve, with a few too many gruesome movie nights lingering in our minds’ eyes, we’ve found ourselves searching for a slightly more ‘aesthetic’ take on the thrills and spills that is the horror genre.
What makes horror so iconic? Aside from cast, script and direction, it’s often the genre’s uncanny ability to consider, question and provoke ideas about the world in which we live — and it is here that set design plays a major role. From furniture to architecture to costume, these elements combined perverse yet bewitching layers to an already freaky story — pay attention, sometimes what lingers on the surface is more telling than what lies beneath.
So, without further ado, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the most meticulously crafted and spine-tingling horror films throughout history that have, consciously or not, further fueled our lust for design.
Film: American Psycho (2000) | Director: Mary Harron | Set Designer: Jeanne Develle | Production Designer: Gideon Ponte
Horrific set design: 80s modernism (greed is good, baby)
The plot TLDR: A dashing narcissist leads a double life as a bachelor banker and serial killer.
From the chromatic colour ways, clinical tones and modernist furniture to the bombastic spurts of bloody violence and corporate theatrics, ‘American Psycho’ has mastered the art of disguise through design — poised in one moment and chaotic in the next. I Sure, the combo ofChristian Bale, Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon and Jared Leto may command our attention, but it’s really the Hill House chair (Charles Rennie Mackintosh) , stenciled walls, Barcelona chair (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) and Alanda coffee table (Paolo Piva) that holds it. It’s evil-meets-sexy with a side of serial killer.
Film: Suspiria (2018)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Set and Production Designer: Inbal Weinberg
Horrific set design Early Modernism meets Art-Nouveau (with a hint of Bauhaus)
The plot TLDR: A talented dancer rocks up for an audition at the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Co. Soon enough, a dance choreography routine turns insidious.
Here, Guadagnino’ enlists an abandoned Art Nouveau–era hotel (we love a good hotel horror) in northern Italy as the headquarters of the bewitching Markos Dance Academy, where strange rituals and ankle-breaking choreography pay homage to modernist architecture masters such as Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos. Its other location, Looshaus in Vienna, sports green-and-white cipollino marble detailing, lacy iron staircases, towering columns and sturdy early-20th Century wood furniture.
Disclaimer: we won’t force you to dance and cast spells, like the players in this film, but we can tell you the original by [enter director and year] is better.
Film: The Shining (1980)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Set and Production Designer: Stanley Kubrick and Roy Walker
Chilling design in question: Retro-futurism
The plot TLDR: Dad takes his family for a not-so-cute holiday in a haunted hotel. Goes mad, wields an axe and says, “heeeeere’s Johnny.”
Once again, hotel horror. The remedy? A bathtub Old Clare wind-down with Triumph & Disaster’s body wash. If you look closely, there’s an immaculate symmetry to every scene in this film, met with labyrinths of impossible corridors and rooms. It’s almost Escher-like in its crypticism. But it’s not through claustrophobia and dark spaces that this set builds an eery atmosphere — it’s the high ceilings, lonely expanses, stark colours and dizzying patterns of Kubricks’ curated Overlook hotel, the set generates a tension not. From the gigantic columns, vast spanning windows and modernist geometric carpets to the green, art deco and blood red bathrooms, there’s something about this hotel that holds both beauty and unease.
Film: A Clockwork Orange (1971) | Director: Stanley Kubrick | Production Designer: John Barry
Anarchic design in question: Brutalism meets space-age.
The plot TLDR: A juvenile delinquent reluctantly undergoes state-sponsored psychological rehabilitation for his aberrant behaviour, soon enough, sadistic chaos unfolds.
We know, we know, Kubrick’s in here twice, we know, but we couldn’t overlook this one in our cinematic archive of top notch design. The films set — with its Gae Aulenti, Giotto Stoppino and Gastone Rinaldi-esque attractions — seem to move between dystopian visions of brutalism and retro-futurism, with all its vibrant hues and promises. Think bright, expressive colours, art nouveau shapes and modernist furniture amidst an endless flurry of pre-punk madness. Aside from the evil wrongdoings of the central characters (a team of hedonistic delinquents) every scene has an item worth lusting over — from globe lamps to varying space age-inspired chairs, retro turntables and the sleek minimalist interior landscapes this had us tossing and turning for more (more chairs, less chaos!).
After a little less horror, a little more r-e-l-a-x-a-t-i-o-n? Head to our reservations page for some well designed, well deserved downtime.