Nothing is ever entirely original. That’s not a bad thing and that doesn’t cheapen any of the content we watch and love. Storytelling has been around for thousands of years and most things follow the same basic themes, there’s bound to be repetition from time to time. Horror in particular is largely defined by trends. When on thing achieves large-scale popularity, studios rush to churn out something similar. These movies often do manage to stand on their own, but they nonetheless borrow the basic concept from something that’s already considered a mainstream success.
In this piece, we’ll be looking at films that lifted moments, visuals, concept and style from not just previous horror movies but the entire scope of cinema in general. Directors take influences from all sorts of different places, not always just the kind of feature they’re working on at the time.
Artists take influences from all sorts of places. How they use and shape those influences can be what turns something from a feature that could be considered a rip-off into a truly original work.
Friday the 13th Part 2
Friday the 13th Part 2 is pretty famous at this point for borrowing one of its biggest death scenes from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood. The spear kill is incredibly more graphic in the latter, but the setup is almost exactly the same. There are mixed accounts of whether or not this was intentionally borrowed. The two scenes are almost identical, but different enough to stand apart as examples of how American and Italian horror approach the same splatter setup.
Grave Encounters is one of my favorite found footage horror films of the early 2010s. I think it’s a bitingly witty commentary on the climate of paranormal TV shows that was incredibly popular at the time. I think’s a genuinely scary movie. But a couple of its biggest scares were almost identical to a few moments in the acclaimed Spanish found footage feature REC. Both movies are great on their own, but there’s without a doubt some heavy lifting going on in those moments.
John Carpenter is the first to admit that the iconic opening shot of Halloween is heavily inspired by the opening of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. In fact, Carpenter’s up front about all of his influences, which is what makes him such an interesting filmmaker. He pulls from so many different sources, but his movies are so completely and uniquely his. These scenes are not overly similar, but the impact of one on the other is immediately clear.
The Funhouse very intentionally riffs on Halloween for its opening sequence, but it keeps going in a very strange way that makes the joke not kind of unclear. It’s not parodying Halloween, which is why it earns a place on the list. Maybe it’s just pointing out that if Michael didn’t wind up just killing his sister, everything he’s doing in that opening tracking shot is really creepy—but that’s also kind of the point in Halloween. In The Funhouse, the kid is just playing a prank and spying on his sister in the show. Which is weird and bizarre. It’s a very strange scene, not to mention a bold way to open the movie.
The Evil Dead
I feel like this entry is a great example of what this list is supposed to be about. Evil Dead is a wholly ferocious, original film in its own right but at the same time it bears many similarities with Equinox. There are scenes that have the same basic setup, but they are told in entirely different ways. Looking at them side by side is kind of fascinating. Equinox is also about a group of friends in the woods who stumble across an old book that unleashes the forces of evil. There are deep similarities, but huge differences, allowing both films to be examined on their own merits.
Fright Night lifts the basic premise from Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window. But that’s just a jumping-off point for a movie that’s much more focused on making a great, witty commentary on the vampire genre and the way it had changed by the mid 1980s. Still, the moment where Charley discovers Jerry is a vampire and sees that Jerry sees him watching is a great nod to Hitchcock’s classic.
It’s not a scene, per se, but Suspiria is widely known for its visual style. The fluidity and intense use of colors are usually what draw people into seeing the film in the first place. But Suspiria’s color palate is completely inspired by Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Argento made a specific choice, even pointed that Technicolor animation style as what they should strive for. He wanted to convey that same sense of otherworldliness of animation, but apply it to a genuinely visceral horror story.