The “Attraction” of Horror: a ‘Psycho’analysis (part 2 of 2)

UnivHollywood_BatesMotelSuccessful movie-themed attractions (stage shows or rides) create an atmosphere that is often built upon a foundation consisting of confrontation and direct simulation rather than long, sustained narratives (King, 2000). This is true of the horror film as well. Horror is a genre nearly as old as cinema itself. The horror film, according to Linda Williams, contains three basic elements: narrative, character, and setting. These same elements can be found in movie-themed attractions at theme parks (2000).

Regarding Psycho in particular, the setting consists of very liminal* spaces such as the opening hotel, the Bates house, and bathroom. This same idea can be applied to a theme park attraction because the park guests are often corralled into smaller, intimate places that serve to advance the next element. Narrative is the foundation that both themed attractions and movies are built upon. The narrative, or diegesis, is the story. Diegetically, horror films contain a story that is segmented into the following sequence: order–>disorder–>order. Increasingly, the modern horror film is often left in disorder, or an order that is dissimilar from the original (2000). Movie-themed attractions usually introduce the park guests to a short-form story based on the original, and the ride is the vehicle that takes the guests through the story that can consist of threats and chases, followed by triumphs. In regards to the character element, the characters are those who are the instruments through which the plot is advanced. Normally, characters are people or animals, but can also be inanimate objects of significance (Williams, 2000). The park guests usually encounter characters from the source material along the journey of the ride.

HitchcockBirds“Alfred Hitchcock: the Art of Making Movies” (Universal Studios Florida) was divided up into four distinct parts, with the famous shower scene being the central focus (ThePsychoMovies.com, 2014). Just like a horror movie is divided up into parts, or has a cinematic structure, so too did the Hitchcock attraction. Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies was divided up into the following areas: preshow, 3D theatre, Psycho stage, and interactive area. There are may parallels between the famous shower scene and the live attraction. In the movie, the sequence leading up to the shower scene is very much a preshow in the same way the attraction contains a preshow area. The preshow in the movie is when Norman is gazing through the peephole into the room of Marion as she undresses. Just like Norman is visually gathering information about Marion, the park guests in the preshow area gather information about Hitchcock’s career. The preshow is the area that preps the audience for what they are too experience. By using the same principles of creating suspense that Hitchcock used, the preshow area reveals just enough to elicit feelings of anticipation and anxiousness.

Next, the park guests sit through clips of 3D versions of Dial M for Murder and The Birds. This preps the mind for experiencing the horror in the next room. Likewise, between the time Norman looked upon Marion through the peephole and puts on the wig and dress, he sits in the kitchen and presumably debates with mother on what to do. Following that scene, we return to the bathroom and enter the shower with Marion. After the 3D movie, the park guests enter the Hitchcock Stage and look upon recreations of the motel, shower, and house.

The main show at the attraction is the Hitchcock Stage where the infamous shower scene is reenacted before a live audience. In addition to the Bates House and Motel, there is a recreation of the tub/shower used by Hitchcock to film the scene. At this point in the movie, Marion is thoroughly enjoying her shower, and the audience gets both objective and subjective camera shots from inside and outside the shower. All of a sudden a shadowy figure approaches the opaque shower curtain and throws it open, wielding a knife. The sinister figure stabs Marion repeatedly and through more than fifty cuts (editing cuts), the scene is played before the people in the dark. Likewise, this same scene is brought to life for the studio audience at Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies. Through mechanical engineering and film production techniques, the cast of the show reveals how the master of suspense filmed this iconic scene.

HitchcockAttractionFinalRoomFollowing the show on the Hitchcock Stage, the park guests walk into a museum-like interactive room revealing many of Hitchcock’s secrets and techniques in some of his most notable films. It parallels the end of Psycho when the psychiatrist is analyzing Norman and explaining how and why he did what he did. Just like Norman is the master of slasher films, so is Hitchcock the master of the art of suspense and horror cinema. A close reading of these areas reveals that they each take an element of the setting, narrative, or characters and use the tool of spectacle to bring them to life for the live audience. The preshow area acts as the prime for the horror/suspense pump that is gearing up. Watching the 3D scenes from The Birds and Dial M for Murder serves to generate feelings of ensuing chaos and acts as the big event that causes something to go wrong in the otherwise narrative that is in order (remember: orderdisorderorder). Following the 3D Theatre, is the central Psycho stage that takes any order and casts it to the wind and enables the horror of the shower scene to come to life for the naked eyes of the audience.

Hitchcock AttractionThis was a main attraction at the theme park until its dismantlement in 2002 to make way for the Shrek: 4D experience. From the aforementioned explanation by one of the producers of the attraction, the audience was completely immersed in the magic of bringing a Hitchcock thriller to life, and got to witness the most famous single scene in all of cinema history. This was all done with practical effects, just as Hitchcock would have done it. But, with the advent of computer generated imagery and incredibly accurate and time efficient non-linear video editing, most of the effects can be generated in other ways. Although it remained one of the most popular attractions at the theme park until its closure, Universal saw the future of attractions and decided to do away with nostalgia and pave the way for digital simulated attractions (Singer, 2013).

Click HERE for Part 1

*(adjective) 1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process; 2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold

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“On Cinema and Theme Parks” (part 10)

My Book

The overall theme of movie-based theme parks has gone from exposure and education to simulation and immersion—much more experiential. Instead of seeing how Harry Potter movies are made, guests at the Studio-Parks want to feel like they are Harry and his friends. And, this is not something that could be achieved by the former models of original Universal Studios Parks or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. So, the parks have to change in order to remain relevant and viable tourist destinations. Concurrently, movie and television studios are going through their own evolutionary process. In many ways, a careful examination of modern cinema compared to its predecessors reveals that storytelling has been removed from its pedestal to play second fiddle to salesmanship.

As explored earlier, spectacle and visceral thrills are the principal drive for the modern (1990s-present) cinema-based theme park attractions, and, for some, they confirm the worst tendencies identified within the Hollywood blockbuster: the epitome of apparently vacuous rollercoaster experiences. According to King (2000), “the label ‘thrill ride’ is a term often used approvingly in Hollywood publicity and by some film reviewers in the press, presumably because a trill ride is precisely what many viewers want from modern cinema” (2000, P27). The late 1980s and the 1990s saw the arrival of theme park attractions that claim to allow the park guest to ride the movies; movies became theme park attractions. But now, theme park attractions are inspiring films. Beyond being the inspiration for films, the idea of being able to market a horror, action, or epic film or film franchise or the ability to create themed attractions from the narrative is at the forefront of studio executives’ minds, as cross-promotion is an important financial strategy (King, 2000).

CinecittaParkMapCreating attractions from cinema is not unique to the United States. The former Italian cinema powerhouse, from the early to mid twentieth century, Cinecittá Studios, known as the “Hollywood on the Tiber” is following suit with its American counterparts and converting the production lot(s) into a movie-based theme park. Located outside Rome, Cinecittá Studios, Italian for “Cinema City,” opened its gates this year (2014) to the public to experience the magic of movies on this side of the screen (Associated Press, 2014). According to Emmanuel Gout, president of Cinecitta, “Here, the idea is that people will also enter not only sets, but the confusion of a place where we are shooting movie. Everything will be illusion…the visitor will become a protagonist of the day, becoming a star, becoming involved in some fake movie” (Associated Press, 2014).

CinecittaStreetsThe model of this theme park appears to be more reminiscent of how the classic American movie-based theme parks were setup; however, there is one big difference. At the new Cinecitta Studios (theme park), park guests will actually don costumes and take hold of props to act in scenes from movies. So, in many ways, this park differs from its American counterparts because it is not defaulting to digital simulations and special visual effects; instead, it’s using practical technologies to create the illusion that the guest is actually on the set in the movie as a character in a given scene. Still, three-time Academy Award® winning production designer Dante Ferretti knows that audiences and guests want more than an immersive experience into movies, but want thrills as well. So, there are rollercoasters and water slides, amidst Roman and Egyptian ruins, to accommodate those guests seeking more conventional amusement park attractions (Associated Press, 2014).

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