Sunday, April 5, 2020

Creative Lighting in Boris Karloff's Thriller

An admirably creative use of lighting appears in a 1961 episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller, "God Grante That She Lye Stille."

Margaret (Sarah Marshall) is a young woman possessed by a witch's ghost. In the end, the witch is defeated and expelled from Margaret's body. Margaret then lies exhausted in bed, attended to by Edward (Ronald Howard), a doctor who has fallen in love with Margaret.

Margaret and Edward speak. Edward helps Margaret sit up in bed. They hug and make plans for their future. Then Margaret is set back down in bed, whereupon she dies.

Observe the lighting in this scene. Margaret is initially brightly lit. But when she is set back down on bed, she is placed into darkness.

There is no logical reason within the story for this sudden darkness. All the presumed light sources in the bedroom should still be functioning. This change in lighting nondiegetic in that it doesn't originate from within the story.

Aesthetically, the change in lighting is symbolic and emotional. A subtle way of symbolizing the life leaving Margaret, while also conveying the emotional pain felt by Edward (and hopefully by us, the audience).

This change in lighting is subtle, because I doubt that many viewers consciously noticed it. It more likely affected them solely on an unconscious, emotional level. I myself wasn't sure the lighting had changed when I first saw this episode. Rather, I did a double take, thought it might have changed but wasn't sure, then replayed the scene. Of course, this would have been impossible in 1961 when the episode first aired.

The cinematographer was Benjamin H. Kline. Directed by Herschel Daugherty.


For more information on lighting for horror, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.

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