What's your character's point of view? A killer POV will help you murder that perspective.
One of my favorite thing about the horror genre is that it has its own visual language. There's something special when you can tell a genre by the shots and camera angles incorporated by the director and cinematographer.
The shot that indicates horror to me is the point of view. There are so many famous versions of this shot, when we slip into the eyes of the killer and size our subject up. They are very popular in slasher films.
Today, I want to talk about how you can use these shots in your own work. We'll talk about how to shoot a killer POV, a killer's POV, and look at examples of both in film and television.
Sound good? Let's get started.
How to Shoot a Killer POV Shot
As we hinted above, this will be a very pun-ny journey through POV shots and killers. The truth is, these shots are one of the building blocks of horror.
So what exactly are they?
What Is a POV Shot?
A POV shot is as if the viewer were looking through the eyes of a specific character in the movie or TV show.
What Is a Killer POV Shot?
In horror films, these are POV shots that are done from the perspective of the killer in a movie or TV show.
Why Use a POV Shot for the Killer?
You want to create fear and anticipation in the audience while they view your horror story. What better way than to use the subjective point of view to put the audience into the eyes of the killer?
This can build suspense as you see the killer approach a person who doesn't see them. You can add grisly shots as the killer cuts someone apart. And you can hide the identity of the killer, by just using the reactions to their appearance and never revealing their faces.
Film theorist Adam Charles Hart writes about the killer POV shot:
"Horror films in the 1970s and after are very much concerned with instilling paranoia in the viewer about offscreen space—that which cannot be seen is unpredictable and threatening and defending against those unseen threats requires a hypervigilant attentiveness to the corner of the screen. As noted above, it is frequently a break in the coherence of the camerawork—an obstruction, a hesitation in movement, a shaky frame—that signals the presence of a subject whose look is identified with the camera. As such, the POV camera emphasizes the presence of the frame, and the viewer is made fully aware of the presence of a conscious choosing of the framing. Clover notes that the shakiness of POV camera indicates a weakness in its bearer and prefigures their ultimate defeat (186-87). She questions how anyone could take the threat invoked by the POV camera seriously as, she asserts, it always carries with it these connotations."
Let's look at some popular examples from famous horror movies and TV shows.
Examples of a Killer POV Shot
Perhaps the most heralded use of the killer's point of view was in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. We see it in the shower scene, and then later on the top of the stairs. Hitchcock intercut the POV shot with reactions and even a shadow figure to manipulate the audience into thinking they were seeing real violence.
Unconventionally, I think Jaws has one of the most consistent and interesting POV shots, that of the shark. We see legs gyrating in the water, skinny dippers, and even Chief Brody's kid having a panic attack. We slip in and out of the shark's point of view keeping the actual killer out of our sight, making us think he is lurking in every pool of water.
One of the most famous recent uses of the POV shot in horror is from AMC's The Walking Dead, when we switch to the victim's point of view as Neegan beat them to death. Everyone was on the edge of their seats, trying to discern who was murdered. It was a really interesting subversion of the POV shot trope.
Finally, I think it is important to talk about Halloween, which uses Michael Meyers' point of view and slow walk to bear down on people. It feels like the classic example of this shot and also one of the most fulfilling of them.
Killer POV Shot Strategies
When it comes to shooting your own killer POV, you have to take into account a few things. First off, what is the killer looking at? The camera is going to move with the characters they are following, so block that out, and then decide what angle you want.
You should also pick a lens that resembles a human eye. I would opt for something wide-angle, allowing the audience to really get into the first-person point of view. Let these shots feel steady but still have enough bumpiness for them to come across naturally.
Doing a POV shot gives you the chance to have a lot of stuff drifting back and forth past the camera. That could be tree branches or curtains, whatever you want, but you have the time and space to get creative with it.
Another thing you should plan is how to transition out of the shot. What's a clean way to get out of it? It could be cutting into the people you're watching, or cutting away to someone else.
Summing Up "How to Shoot a Killer POV Shot"
Now that you're equipped with the tools to shoot a killer POV shot, it's time for you to get out there and do it. Set up your serial killer and follow some victims. Align them in interesting places in the story, and see if you can subvert different POV angles to fool the audience.
Got a favorite POV shot in a horror movie? Let us know in the comments.
And go out there and shoot your shot!