Friday, April 24, 2020

Zooms Lens Put to Imaginative Use in Shadows of Fear

The "Sugar and Spice" episode of TV's Shadows of Fear uses the zoom lens in an imaginative way for an interesting effect.

Anne's (Sheila Hancock) husband, Victor, is having an affair. She's known it for a while. She found a letter to Victor from his mistress. But tonight Anne has other problems. Her son hasn't come home. She has reason to believe that Victor picked up the boy from school. But why would he? And where are they now?

As the night wears on, Anne wonders if she should call Victor's mistress (her phone number was in the letter) to see if Victor and their son are with the mistress. But neither Victor or his mistress know that Anne knows about them. If he and the boy are not there, Anne will have revealed her knowledge to the mistress for nothing.

In the following scene, Anne breaks down and phones the mistress. The camera zooms closer to Anne's face every time the phone rings.

Ringing and zooming work together in mutual support. Anne wants to talk to the mistress, yet doesn't want to talk to her. Ever been there? Where you dread talking to someone, yet are anxious to do so? Each time the phone rings, Anne expects and wants the mistress to answer, yet is relieved when she doesn't.

The zooming heightens this tension. We only zoom during the phone rings, each zoom bringing us closer to Anne's tense face. It has been said that comedy is a long shot; tragedy a closeup. Seeing a character up close helps the audience to identify with that character and empathize with her emotions. And horror is a genre that requires strong audience empathy with the protagonist.

Apart from heightening tension and character identification, the zooming in "Sugar and Spice" serves another purpose. Shadows of Fear featured plays that were videotaped on TV sound stages. Back in the 1970s, TV cameras were larger and more unwieldy than today. None of that handheld, shaky-cam style of shooting permitted by later, smaller cameras.

As a result, TV shows that were shot on sound stages in the 1970s were "stagy" and "static." The zooming in "Sugar and Spice" is an example of an innovative director trying to liven up the visuals in what is essentially a stage play.

"Sugar and Spice" was directed by Patrick Dromgoole.


For more information on sound and cinematography in 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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