I suppose it is no surprise that I include Alfred Hitchcock as a Horror Icon and will try and limit myself in writing volumes on his masterful artistic career. The first thing most will retort with is – wait, he didn’t do a lot of horror movies, and you are semi-right, it’s in fine details of his how they influenced other filmmakers, especially many in the horror genre. Also, many of the more recent filmmakers in our interviews on this site, note other directors, for their detail techniques in developing thrilling or suspense moments as purely original never realizing that those directors are citing techniques of Hitchcock. This horror icon will also tie with another Horror Icon, Bernard Herrmann it was amazing how they both elevated each other’s showmanship and that they died 5-years apart, hence a fitting tribute to include them both in the same month and closing out 2020. In addition, I shall touch on how Hitchcock’s influence carries onward to many genre films today and even some the directors that use his techniques.

Therefore, let’s begin with the basics, before this filmmaking giant became known as the Master of Suspense, a title that he still owns over 40-years of since his death, likely for all eternity as directed 50-feature films from silent movies to legendary blockbuster phenomenal productions. As the writing of this article, he was born 121-years ago on August 13, 1899, where he grew up in London’s East End a place haunted by the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper who linger on their tongues years after the slaughtering spree ended. When he was five, a story Alfred often told, that his stern father took him to a local police station to scare him from any wrongdoing or disobeying authorities. He stated in 1973, that he was still scared of the authority especially police and would never drive, as to avoid both parking tickets and a reason to questioned by them.  His educational background helped to formulate his detail analysis and his family upbringing founded in Victorian views reinforced his thoughts of sexuality, sensuality and societal impulses later thoroughly explored in his films. In his youth, he attended a Jesuit school known for daily corporal punishment at the end of each day, clearly aided him sensing fear and using that to create overwhelming suspense for audience.

The best way to understand and convey this man’s greatness is to follow his career, he officially entered the film industry in 1919 as a title card designer and became student of director F.W. Murnau’s techniques (i.e., German Expressionism); which he later modified and used them in set designing for his production. While his first movie was The Pleasure Garden (1925) it suffered from studio distribution problems, he continued undiscouraged gaining more responsibilities as an art director, production/ set designer and quickly learning every production crew job.

His first successful movie was The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog [1927], concerning the hunt for a serial killer who is murdering young blonde women in London, he invented a way to convey the landlady thoughts about a curious Lodger staying at her flat, in a silent movie. Hitchcock had a glass floor made so the audience could see the lodger pacing see 22.47 in the video below (this also is the full movie); it also represented his first German Expressionism.

A reporter/critic of the Daily Express considered Hitchcock’s work as a young man with a master mind. Blackmail [1929] was Britain’s first talkie as United States was quickie embracing this new luxury and it started a new trend of Hitchcock to use famous landmarks in his films.

By the 1930s his first movie for Gaumont-British company was The Man Who Knew Too Much [1934], was a success and quickly followed by the much-acclaimed film, The 39 Steps [1935] in both the UK and received high recognition in U.S. and it established another trait of his, which would eventually call Hitchcockian references with critics and filmmakers. Herein, the “Hitchcock blonde” were women who carried themselves with a regal mannerism, and yet gave chilling reception. Without missing a step Hitchcock released Sabotage [1936] loosely based on a 1907 novel, concerning the double life of a woman’s husband in a spy thriller, once again another trait emerged ‘duality/ double lives – characters switching sides”. Alfred began showing a notorious side of himself, with cast and crew, that involved pranks, some from harmless to thoroughly devilish, including catering a dinner with all foods dye blue because there were none – justified reasoning. In 1938 with the release of The Lady Vanishes, which was/is considered one of the greatest train-themed movies of the 1930s and this film as well as The 39 Steps are ranked among the top British films of the 20th century.

 

Hitchcock travels to United States in 1940

The 1940s proved what a powerhouse Alfred Hitchcock was to all of cinema, by 1945 he would release 8-films among them Rebecca [1940] which earned an Academy Award for Best Picture, Foreign Correspondent [1940], Suspicion [1941], Shadow of the Doubt [1943], Lifeboat [1944] and Spellbound [1945]. It was during this period he had a contract with producer David O. Selznick that paid him $40,000 per film which is equal to $743k in 2020; and 7-pictures for him, their relationship was highly strained. David often tried to gain control of editing, however Hitchcock outsmarted this effort, by shooting exactly what the script required nothing more, leading to the impossibility of recutting or redoing the Master’s Work.

 

Hitchcock Run-in with FBI:

Hitchcock who always stayed away from the law enforcement due to mistrust, was temporary placed under surveillance by the FBI because in March 1945, he and Ben Hecht consulted with the California Institute of Technology about the development of a uranium bomb. This was to build a “McGuffin” (another Hitchcockian device) plot piece for his famous spy thriller Notorious [1946], at the time Selznick complained that it’s science fiction, only to see that in August 1945 two atomic bombs successfully dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

1950s Sheer Showmanship for Hitch:

The film Strangers on a Train [1951] a storyline of two people crossover each other lives to eliminate the others primary target, this storyline been used since countless movies such as Throw Momma from the Train (1987) or many television shows. In 1954 he had a pair of wonderful films first Rear Window, which has inspired many filmmakers and then Dial M for Murder in which he experimented with 3D cinematography. In addition, he looked into the television market, and realized the potential of this medium, hence launching first Alfred Hitchcock Presents (later renamed the Alfred Hitchcock Hour) running from 1955 to 1965 and he directed 18 of 361 episodes. He made his famous cameo appearance with introductions with a droll delivery enjoyable black humor becoming an iconic celebrity, and his themed mu8sic became forever tied to him, Funeral March of a Marionette by the French composer Charles Gounod.

The following year he reveled a comedy mystery movie, The Trouble with Harry [1955], which felt as if Alfred was showing mischievous side to all.

Shortly, afterwards he created a film, that critics panned as uninteresting and resulted poor box office receipts, however his masterful skills shine clearly impressive future cinematographers, directors, and composers alike. It was Vertigo [1958] a masterclass of incorporating multiple layers of psychological and sociology, balancing both obsessiveness and one’s acrophobia which suggest a man’s prideful inadequateness; as well as incorporating Greek mythology of Pygmalion, in this case creating woman in one’s own ideal look in very manner. The film contained wonderful score by Bernard Hermann, who worked on several pictures with including and horror classic Psycho. He closed the 1950s with the best non-James Bond action thriller North by Northwest [1959], which again incorporated another Hitchcockian trait of the “wrong man accused” and instantly became a blockbuster at the box office. At this point in his career, even though he had not won the Oscar for best director, he was considered among the finest, and no one told him what to direct, only merely asking.

Hitch helps a Mother and Son

Psycho [1960], a personal favorite of mine, is likely his best-known movie, based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel inspired by the real-life serial Ed Gein, achieved ever-lasting greatest as the true first slasher. The film incorporated plenty of incredible cinematography, POV (point-of-view) and never-before seen violence in one brutal shower scene for the audience of then. He used his own money, thereby controlling the rights to it until his death, and his loyal television crew to achieve a quality low-budget horror movie, layered with more psychological impact. In the end the film broke many taboos in cinema, and he became the genius of beating, manipulating the multiple censorships boards that existed then. Then there’s Bernard tremendous input:

In 1963, he attacked, the audiences with his environmental horror film The Birds, instantly considered a masterpiece, which introduced to a doomsayer character, which commonplace in the horror genre (i.e., Crazy Ralph in Friday the 13th [1980]). The film was based on a short story from1952 by author Daphne du Maurier, which starred in Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright (Alien [1979]) and Tippi Hedren and part were filmed in the real Bodega Bay, California.

 

The 1970s, Alfred’s Last Decade

He returned to Britain for Frenzy [1972] a psychological thriller, which contained his first-time nudity and included perhaps the best example of a detailed murder in film history, the brutality was a reflection of how Hitchcock was witnessing society’s bloodlust for these acts. Family Plot [1976] was his last movie, his career spanned 6-decades with his films obtained 46- Oscar nominations and 6-wins, but highly overlook for Academy Award for Best Director. He did though earn 31-awards, including the AFI Life Achievement Award and knighted 4-months before his death.

 

His Influence with Past and Current Directors

He created 15 “Hitchcockian” techniques which will be covered in a future article, however the most common in horror film, the camera movement to mimic a person’s scope thereby creating a twofold for viewers, first as voyeurs and secondly accessories, tight framed shots delivery anxiety to all. Hence, he didn’t rely on special effects, because they truly didn’t exist in his era of filmmaking, rather he understood how to create suspense by impacting their fear and psychological situations of the characters as everyday individuals able to relate to the audience. In fact, Steven Spielberg used a textbook recreation of narrowing the depth of vision of audience for his film Jaws [1975], build that important anxiety especially in the underwater scenes while give a POV from the shark’s perspective.

Comedic director Mel Brooks was one of the first directors to honor with homage to Hitchcock in his film High Anxiety [1977] where he featured references to Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds, Dial M for Murder, The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur, Rear Window, North by Northwest, and Rebecca. He sent the screenplay to Alfred for approval who made minuscule tweaks and then signed the script. It is a great comedy to watch, to see masterstrokes in paying homage.

There truly is an incredible class of filmmakers using these lessons among them John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, William Friedkin, Wes Craven, and most recently Jordan Peele. However, some critics have tried or attempt to label each of these as the new Master of suspense, and they have respectfully and publicly declined that distinction noting that Alfred Hitchcock, the true and only owner of the prestigious title of fame.

 

In 2000, director John Ottman’s Urban Legends: Final Cut, notes several homage references to Alfred, for example Vertigo, Strangers on a Train, and Psycho; including a prestigious (fictional) Hitchcock award. Many critics panned the movie, and those who have covered it, often miss connections to Hitchcock, a sad reflection. The close out music played during the credit is the famed Funeral March of a Marionette by the French composer Charles Gounod.

Likely, the best student of Alfred Hitchcock is director Brian de Palma all of his films contain some element or technique of Hitchcockian weaved into them, for example his flick Body Double [1984] clearly displays scenes of voyeurism, Rear Window, and other references to Vertigo. Robert Zemeckis, director of What Lies Beneath [2000] shot the movie with Hitchcock in mind, from the cool blonde Michelle Pfeiffer to Harrison Ford’s character named Norman, clear reference to Norman. In 2007, Disturbia, by director D. J. Caruso used Hitchcock’ Rear Window for inspiration of a high school teenager confined to house arrest begins to spy on his neighbors believing one is a serial killer. There are many new directors entering the ranks of filmmaking each day and year, and they continuingly cite David Fincher as their inspiration, for the primary reasons “…of technical skills and tight framing, creative relatable characters…” Sounds awful familiar doesn’t it? David often quoted as “… he [Hitchcock] heavily inspires my work and every suspense filmmaker worth their salt was [in some manner] … inspired by Hitchcock…” David’s character often has a duality to them and his film Panic Room [2002] is considered as Rear Window meets Straw Dogs.

 

Popular Culture Continues to Honor Hitchcock

 

Musicians continue to incorporate love for Hitchcock into their lyrics from Lady Gaga to the former metal band Prowler and even Coroner’s “Mental Vortex” [1991] used the image of Anthony Perkins from Psycho [1960]. Lastly, the progressive death metal band Sadist release an entire homage album for Alfred Hitchcock entitled “Spellbound” [2018], with cover art representing several of his films and most of the song titles are his film names, with lyrics about them too; therefore, one can easily understand the phenomenal impact Hitchcock had in cinema, and why his methods continue to inspire filmmakers, writers, directors of photography and composers.

 

In closing let’s recall his best lesson, one I repeat often, surprise versus suspense. The scene is set with people at a café and sudden explosion occurs that’s surprise, now take the same scene, add in someone planting a bomb under table to go off at 1p, have an individual the audience cares about at the table. One’s best option a Mother and baby sitting at the table, close in frame of table with a clock on the wall, begin toying with the emotions of the audience. As they squirm and panic you can gleefully control everything.

Listing only for Feature Films Alfred Hitchcock Directed:

Number 13 [1922]

The Pleasure Garden [1925]

The Mountain Eagle [1926]

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog [1927]

When Boys Leave Home [1927]

The Ring [1927]

Easy Virtue [1927]

The Farmer’s Wife [1928]

Champagne [1928]

Blackmail [1929]

The Manxman [1929]

Murder! [1930]

Juno and the Paycock [1930]

Elstree Calling [1930]

East of Shanghai [1931]

The Skin Game [1931]

Mary [1931]

Number 17 [1932]

The Man Who Knew Too Much [1934]

Strauss’ Great Waltz [1934]

The 39 Steps [1935]

Sanders of the River [1935]

Sabotage [1936]

Secret Agent [1936]

Young and Innocent [1937]

The Lady Vanishes [1938]

Jamaica Inn [1939]

Rebecca [1940]

Foreign Correspondent [1940]

The House Across the Bay [1940]

Suspicion [1941]

Mr. & Mrs. Smith [1941]

Saboteur [1942]

Shadow of a Doubt [1943]

Lifeboat [1944]

Spellbound [1945]

Notorious [1946]

The Paradine Case [1947]

Rope [1948]

Under Capricorn [1949]

Stage Fright [1950]

Strangers on a Train [1951]

I Confess [1953]

Rear Window [1954]

Dial M for Murder [1954]

To Catch a Thief [1955]

The Trouble with Harry [1955]

The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956]

The Wrong Man [1956]

Vertigo [1958]

North by Northwest [1959]

Psycho [1960]

The Birds [1963]

Marnie [1964]

Torn Curtain [1966]

Topaz [1969]

Frenzy [1972]

Family Plot [1976]

 

*If one noted all of Hitchcock’s credits it tallies over 600 (minus 40 for Thanks)