Shiverin' 6: Awesome Winding Staircases
It's a sight both thrilling and familiar -- the winding staircase, especially when seen from directly above or below. Many directors and cinematographers use such shots for their guaranteed visual punch -- the landings create artificial frames, the spirals imbue the center of the screen with a sense of the infinite. Plus, the practical purpose of the stairway suggests a journey and not an easy one. Different films have used the winding staircase to evoke different things -- vertigo, insanity, a descent into hell, and even female genitalia. This Thanksgiving weekend, we give our gratitude to one of the great visual tropes in the horror-thriller by presenting six films with staircases we love.
As usual, click the thumbnails to open a larger version of the picture in a new window.
1. The Spiral Staircase (1945)
Director: Robert Siodmak
Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca
We couldn't very well run a salute to spiral staircases without The Spiral Staircase. This shot, taken from the perspective of Ethel Barrymore's character, comes from the end of the film.
2. Vertigo (1958)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Director of Photography: Robert Burks
As acrophobic detective Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) pursues the suicidal Madeline up the stairs of the church tower, he makes the mistake of peeking over the railing...
Oh, well, doesn't seem that bad.
Wait a minute...
Oh crap oh crap oh crap...
3. The Haunting (1963)
Director: Robert Wise
Cinematographer: Davis Boulton
The shot comes in from the side rather than directly above, but it doesn't diminish the power of the most unstable library staircase in cinema.
4. Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966)
Director: Mario Bava
Cinematographers: Antonio Rinaldi, Mario Bava (uncredited)
It's no surprise that Bava shows up on our list. Here we see the same staircase twice, during two different sequences. One shot is taken from below, the other above, but the key difference is the startling change in lighting. Bava's films have always proven that a little darkness in the right places can completely transform the look of a location -- and here we have evidence of that.
5. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
Director: Dario Argento
Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro
As one of the killer's prospective victims arrives at home, she walks underneath this staircase. Argento's really not messing around with the sexual imagery, is he? Paging Dr. Freud...
6. Shallow Grave
Director: Danny Boyle
Director of Photography: Brian Tufano
One of the better psychological thrillers of the last fifteen years also features a rather striking staircase. It leads up to the flat shared by Juliet (Kerry Fox), David (Christopher Eccleston), and Alex (Ewan McGregor). This shot is taken from a point in the film just before avarice, suspicion, betrayal, and homicidal mania tear the three apart.
Do you have a favorite staircase shot? Or are you particular to another bit of architectural design? Let us know in the comments!