Director Rodman Flender breaks down visual storytelling to its most basic narrative requirements. Often the centerpiece of horror and thriller films, the murder set piece is its own three-act “mini movie,” with beginning, middle and climax. With close-read examinations and comparisons of murder set pieces from the silent era through contemporary releases, students will gain an understanding of the essential tools needed to create tension and suspense on a visceral and psychological level. Deconstruction will include set pieces from classics many students know (Psycho, Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), modern favorites (High Tension, The Babadook), and lesser-known films (Edison’s Frankenstein, Horror Hotel, Kristy). Flender will also walk through his own preparation for a set piece he directed for the Dimension TV series Scream.
Topics covered include: What are the individual elements in Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene that created the template for the modern murder set piece (music, editing, cinematography, lighting, performance)? Where have directors Brian De Palma and Dario Argento taken Hitchcock’s template in films like Dressed to Kill and Suspiria? What elements in Fritz Lang’s 1931 German thriller M did Ron Howard use 65 years later in his Hollywood film Ransom? A discussion of “high” vs. “low” art will compare similar scenes in Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring and Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left — why one is considered an art film while the other is thought of as grindhouse sleaze? Which do the students prefer, and why? We will compare antagonists in murder set pieces, from man (Frenzy), nature (Jaws), technology (2001, Demon Seed), and the supernatural (Nosferatu, Final Destination 5). Hitchcock’s Frenzy will also be examined as a master-class in blocking a scene.