Horror movies have always had the sickest style

Scary movies are grounded in a rich aesthetic tradition, and the fashion proves it.

October 24, 2018

Horror movies, as a genre, are uniquely preoccupied with aesthetics. They’ve birthed or popularized phantasmagoric double exposures, the use 50+ different camera angles (Psycho used 78), even the first big leap of Steadicam faith. The classics often redefined what a set could be: warped Expressionist landscapes, saturated color stories that elevated the film’s surreality (Suspiria, The Shining), ancestral castles cast in unnatural modern lighting.


And then there’s the fashion. The genre’s obsessive reliance on appearance to sharpen the world of a film naturally extends to costume. That horror films often veer into camp and back only makes its fits more unforgettable. The freedom that comes with disregarding reality lends itself well to the characters who inhabit this canon. As the greatest jump scare of them all — Halloween is this weekend and you definitely don’t have a costume — it felt appropriate to send up the most stylish scary movies.

1987 — Hellraiser

Unlike a lot of the films on this list, Hellraiser is known not for its lighting, or its sets, or its intrinsic cinematic value, but for Pinhead, shown above. The iconic Cenobite’s looks reflect his sadomasochism, penchant for body modification, and flair for the dramatic. Even without seeing the film you’d recognize his head (it’s covered in pins), but look closer and you’ll clock his floor-length leather dress (Neo wishes), bleached eyebrows, and a pale blue smoky eye.

1998 — Blade

There’s not a lot to say about Blade, because Wesley Snipes says it all. The on-trend tiny glasses, the leather duster, the fangs: it’s all fashion. Please enjoy this collection of Blade clips set to DMX's “X Gon’ Give It To Ya.”

1992 — Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Ohhhhhh my god Bram Stoker’s Dracula is so good. It’s so bad and so, so good. Francis Ford Coppola’s foray into canonical horror is also impossibly stylish. Gary Oldman as Dracula in the most outrageous powdered wig and red silk kimono. Keanu Reeves’ Vejas-reminiscent leather vests over linen and the worst English accent I have ever heard onscreen. The bride’s chiffon headpiece, elaborate lace collar, and glossy red lip. Winona Ryder’s Mina Murray in her impeccable pastel period (but which?) ensembles. Come for the camp, stay for the clothes.

1982 — Cat People

Cat People’s heart is pure camp, and its exterior is pure sex. The peak of this messy film is, obviously, Natassia Kinski (she of the pink Angora in Paris, Texas), who wears the hell out of an extremely ‘80s unisex feathered chop.

1935 — The Bride of Frankenstein

I have not seen this movie! I’m sorry! But I know style when I see it, and despite being on the cover of a plastic bag in every Ricky’s I have ever stepped foot in, Elsa Lanchester’s Bride of Frankenstein is impossibly stylish. From the winged eyebrows to the streak of white, had she lived in 2018, the Bride would absolutely do makeup tutorials on YouTube.

1980 — The Shining

Shelley Duvall is aesthetically unstoppable in everything she’s been in, but her trembling, teary Wendy/Kubrick Victim are grounded by her penchant for layering turtlenecks under overalls. Then there’s Jack Torrance’s red corduroy jacket, the twins’ dollish blue dresses, and Danny’s high-fashion knits (is that Kenzo?).

1996 — Scream

Scream is not bulletproof, fashion-wise, but terrorized Drew Barrymore’s banged blonde bob and oatmeal sweater cement its place on this list.

Honorable Mentions

Blood and Black Lace (1964), The Birds (1963), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Hunger (1983), Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), It Follows (2014), Possession (1981), not purely horror but — Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970), we LOVE a habit: Ms. 45 (1981), Nosferatu (1922).

Horror movies have always had the sickest style