6. Suspiria (1977)
A hauntingly beautiful giallo film of 1977 is Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Inspired by Art Nouveau and shot in Technicolor, Suspiria’s sultry color palette creates a disorienting backdrop that relies on vibrant reds and pale blues to carry the tone of the film. Suzy (Jessica Harper) arrives at a ballet school to study dance, and along the way discovers a secret coven of witches.
Argento’s use of red throughout the film symbolizes the lurking danger awaiting Suzy and others. The shades of pale blue that pop up in support make reference to the cold end of life and the innocence of fresh blood in a vein.
The cult-like integration of the colors mimics the experience of Suzy as she continues on in her new school. While the colors represent a perilous mood to the viewer, they also signal an alluring quality that seduces the audience. It is clear that Argento’s vision would not be the same without such a lively color palette.
Suspiria was remade in 2018 with Tilda Swinton starring as Madame Blanc, Mother Helena Markos, and Dr. Josef Klemperer. Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion, while Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Patricia Hingle. The original film stars Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc.
7. The Love Witch (2016)
A film that uses vibrant color to support an amorous storyline is Anna Biller’s 2016 cult film, The Love Witch. Biller’s feminine look is created by saturated pink undertones and elaborate set designs that sing with color.
The Love Witch is about Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a witch that seduces and drugs men with whom she wishes to control. With each new man and failed relationship in Elaine’s life, the stitches of pink remain just as bright and cheery as the beginning. The film has murder, sex, and drugging potions, but the overall color tone suggests a more romantic, nostalgic vibe reminiscent of the 1960s.
The Love Witch stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine, Gian Keys as Griff, and Laura Waddell as Trish. Robert Seeley plays the ill-fated husband to Laura, Richard. The movie was written, produced, and directed by Anna Biller who shot on 35mm film.
8. Drive (2011)
Another Nicolas Winding Refn cult film with a vibrant color palette is 2011’s Drive. A primary color palette is stylistically featured, a popular tool in Refn’s directing belt. Reds, yellows, and blues remain the stars of the screen, but the subtle choice to include a complementary color to the blue shades is what adds a layer of depth to the film.
Orange works as a highlight for innocence and openness in the film, such as during the moments with the Driver (Ryan Gosling), Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son. Orange also works with blue to symbolize creativity and ambition, like when the Driver is at the auto shop working. Refn’s interesting use of color, especially in Drive, could be due in part to his color blindness.
Drive is another film on this list featuring a minor role for Christina Hendricks. Ryan Gosling plays the cool Driver, Carey Mulligan plays Irene, and Bryan Cranston plays the fast-talking Shannon.
9. From Beyond (1986)
The pinkest movie on the list, From Beyond is a 1986 science-fiction film directed by Stuart Gordon. From Beyond begins with two scientists activating a Resonator machine which causes otherworldly creatures to break into the physical world. After a problem occurs with the machine, Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) is treated in a psychiatric ward as mentally unstable, until he meets Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton).
With the team of McMichaels and Detective Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), the creatures from the Resonator machine are proven to be not just a figment of Crawford’s imagination. The pulsating pinks and glossy look of the film frames the uncomfortable nature of the film, all the while drawing in an audience with neon visuals that exaggerate a quintessential, science-fiction disaster.
From Beyond is based off a short story by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The screenplay was written by Dennis Paoli, who also co-wrote Re-Animator.
10. Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)
The only Canadian horror film on this list was directed by Panos Cosmatos. Beyond the Black Rainbow premiered at the Whistler Film Festival in 2010 and was then picked up to be released theatrically.
The use of color in this film is comparable to Enter the Void in that it is used to stress emphasis on the senses while watching. The extreme closeups with yellow washes and orange filters represent a constant glow of authority with a tinge of warmth and hope. However, the dominant color of Beyond the Black Rainbow is the overwhelming red that coats the film. The vibrant red is clinical, dangerous, confusing, and smothering.
The film stars Eva Bourne as Elena and Michael Rogers as Dr. Barry Nyle. Eva’s character is held in isolation under Dr. Nyle’s insane, watchful eye. Elena gains psychic abilities after being mistreated and experimented on, and escapes by the end of the film.