To Die For: eight fashion horror films to watch

Mystery, manipulation, madness, models – murder?

Fashion culture’s instrumental legacy in the horror cinema canon is an obscure, vital, and often fascinating avenue left virtually unexplored by contemporary film. This didn’t used to be the case; for a time, that territory was amongst the most provocative of movie taboos.

In the mid 20th century, the fashion/horror dichotomy became a social and psychological focus for many European cult filmmakers: their films probed the uneasy union between beauty and brutality, artifice and alienation, glamour and gore, and the exploitation of the limelight.

Given filmmaking’s dependency on image and visual identity – makeup, styling, and costume design are art direction personified – it is odd that the genre most reliant on aesthetic trickery hasn’t incorporated fashion (or its victims) into its thematic scope for quite some time. Maybe, in the age of CGI and torture porn, psychotic photographers, body modification, and stalker-magnetic models are not obvious or applicable terror triggers for today’s audiences.

Still, classic fashion thrillers maintain relevancy: the film niche’s very best offerings are sensationalist, stylishly shot, and shocking enough to perturb even the most jaded modern viewer.

Below are some of our favorite classic horror films that relate to the politics and implications of fashion culture. Viewing these movies can be troubling on a philosophical level, as their inherent function is to evaluate voyeurism– the nature of being exposed and displayed, of watching and being watched. Horror and fashion, after all, are the best spectator sports ever created.

  • Blood & Black Lace (Sei donne per l’assassino)
    (1964) Directed By Mario Bava.
  • Peeping Tom
    (1960) Directed By Michael Powell.
  • Mannequin In Red (Mannekäng i rött)
    (1958) Directed By Arne Mattsson.
  • The Rat
    (1925) Directed By Ivor Novello.
  • Eyes Without A Face (Les Yeux sans visage)
    (1959) Directed by Georges Franju.
  • The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo)
    (1970) Directed by Dario Argento.
  • The Tenth Victim (La decima vittima)
    (1965) Directed by Elio Petri.
  • Purple Noon (Plein Soleil)
    (1960) Directed by René Clément.

Also, be sure to check out the excellent book, If Looks Could Kill, for intelligent discourse on the powerful bonds shared by the underbellies of film and fashion.