Paintings in Horror Films
Are you a lover of art? How about horror movies? Those who find themselves at this intersection will be happy to know that there are many films that combine these two genres of creation. From movies to short films, the works mentioned here focus on haunted paintings and disturbed artists.
Color Me Blood Red, 1965
Written and directed by the grandfather of gore, H. G. Lewis, Color Me Blood Red follows the story of a struggling artist named Adam Sorg. The artist is plagued by his inability to find the perfect shade of red for his works, but after his girlfriend, Gigi, accidentally pricks her finger he realizes that blood makes the perfect red. Sorg dives into a murderous spiral as he tries to get more and more blood for his artwork. One of the works (which, collectively, leave much to be desired) features a green fish with a long snout, and in place of a tail is a foot wearing a red stiletto. Sorg just ends up covering most of the painting with big splatters of red blood. This looks as ridiculous as it sounds, but the artist willing to kill for his art and the macabre humor throughout the film make this a really fun watch.
Supernatural, S1 E19 Provenance, 2005
Supernatural follows the story of Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers whose occupation is monster hunting. In this episode of Supernatural, Sam and Dean come across a haunted painting that kills its owners. The painting, which is a portrait of a family, depicts a seated mother with her three children and husband. The husband stands directly behind his wife and his left hand rests on the shoulder of his daughter. While everyone else in the portrait stares out at the viewer the father looks down at the daughter. Sam and Dean discover that the portrait is of the Merchant family who were all allegedly murdered by the father. They attempt to kill the malevolent spirit by burning the portrait, but when that proves futile, they launch an investigation into the Merchant’s family history—they soon discover that not all is as it seems.
The Road Virus Heads North, 2006
Based on a short story by Stephen King, this film follows a horror author named Richard Kinnell. While traveling from Boston back to his home in Maine, he stops at an estate sale. Among the items for sale is a painting of a car driving foreground across a bridge. The man driving the car has an unsettling smile, with pointed teeth and an evil glint in his eyes. The woman selling the work tells Kinnell the story of its artist, a troubled man who had recently committed suicide. With his new painting in hand, Kinnell continues his drive but notices that the painting begins to change. Kinnell suddenly realizes that the driver from the painting is following him—the background of the painting reflects the scenery the author has recently passed on his way home. The bridge becomes a church, a water tower, and then Kinnell’s own home. Despite throwing away the painting multiple times and even burning it, the work continues to return. Eventually, the demonic man driving the car shows up at Kinnell’s house.
The Devil's Candy, 2015
Artist and metalhead Jesse Hellman moves into a new home with his wife, Astrid, and daughter, Zooey. The previous owners of the home had died, leaving behind their son Ray who regularly hears the voice of the devil. Upon the death of his parents, Ray finds that he is no longer able to drown out the voice, and begins to murder children in the town. At the same time, Jesse begins to hear the same voice and, falling into a trance-like state, paints a horrifying scene of children’s faces, their eyes smudged with black and mouth open in silent screams. Among the faces is his own daughter, who grips her head in pain and is surrounded by red-hot flames. Ray turns his attention to Zooey, and as her parents fight to keep her safe, Jesse soon realizes that all the faces he has been painting are those of the missing and murdered children in the town.
Velvet Buzzsaw, 2019
This comedy/horror and Netflix original takes place in the turbulent contemporary art scene of Los Angeles. A gallery worker, Josephina, discovers that a man who recently died in her apartment complex was a prolific artist named Vetril Dease. Dease’s final wish was for all of his works to be destroyed, but Josephina becomes so mesmerized by his works that she steals them from Dease’s apartment. Dease’s works become an instant success. Gallery owners, critics, and art advisors alike are driven by greed as they try to get their hands on Dease’s work. As the comically pretentious elite fight amongst themselves over Dease’s works they slowly, one by one, begin to die in seemingly inexplicable manners. An art critic, Morf, slowly begins to piece together that Dease’s collection of works is cursed and has been causing all of the sudden deaths at the hands of art pieces. From animatronic figures to falling sculptures, the art enacts its revenge on those who seek monetary gain in their artistic pursuits.
The Witches, 1990
In the 1990 remake of Witches, a grandma tells her grandson the story of her childhood best friend, Erica, who was kidnapped by a witch. After weeks of searching for Erica, her parents realize that their daughter has appeared in a painting that hangs in their home. While they never see her move, Erica changes positions in the painting and, over the years, she ages until one day vanishes from the image. Erica lives out her entire life trapped in a painting.
This memorable adaptation of another Stephen King novel features a creepy painting of a woman playing the flute. The painting is hung on the office wall of Stanely Uris’s father. The woman in the painting has a long head that curves slightly to one side. One eye is lower than the other and both are a clear white color, her small lips pressed together in a stern contortion. As Stanely returns a book to his father’s office, the painting falls from the wall. When Stanley goes to hang the painting back up, he realizes that the woman is no longer in the painting. He hears the sounds of a flute, and as he turns, the face of the woman appears from the darkness smiling down at Stanley, with a mouth full of sharp teeth.
From murderous artists to cursed artworks, the joy of painting and the joy of horror combine with powerful synergy in these films. The intersection between art and the macabre in film doesn’t stop here though. Many other scary movies revolve around different mediums of art. For example, Deep Dark and The Blind Beast both revolve around crazed sculptors, and Shutter and Polaroid focus on haunted photos/cameras. Outside of this, there are other examples of movies that, while not focusing on haunted paintings or artists, artworks still play a visually pivotal role. Examples of this include the highly praised works of Ari Aster’s Midsommar and Hereditary. The eerie murals of Midsommar and the miniatures of Hereditary play important visual roles in the films. The relationship between horror and art gives way to spectacular and visually stunning movies. These films create a fun subgenre of horror that can appeal to everyone while giving an extra nod to art lovers looking for a good scare.
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