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Shadowvision: “THE INNKEEPERS”

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Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black and white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.

For this installment of Shadowvision, I chose a film whose aesthetics would perfectly match the medium once stripped of color: THE INNKEEPERS. A slow-burning Ti West endeavor about a haunted hotel, THE INNKEEPERS was one of my favorite horror films of 2012, and one that still challenges my threshold for creepy intensity when watching it alone. Knowing the hotel’s color palette would provide great natural contrast, and that the technically proficient camerawork would well befit the viewing experience, I rounded up a copy of the flick and jumped right in.

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For THE INNKEEPERS, a higher contrast will equal a more authentic black-and-white experience—but be careful of going too high, as you may not want to blow out the whites in the image. However, once you’ve found that visual sweet spot, the film will do the rest, as the Eliot Rockett’s cinematography is incredibly striking and effective when stripped of its bluish hue. In fact, one can see West’s classic haunting-film influences much more clearly in black and white, which works thematically in the film’s favor, considering how enamored of ghost stories our protagonists are.

THE INNKEEPERS in black and white benefits from West’s atmospheric approach to the narrative, which is amplified substantially with the color removed. Every corner seems much more mysterious and ominous, and Claire (Sara Paxton) appears to be even further out of her element when confronting the forces of the dark. For example, in the famous piano scene, the mounting dread appears to be much more simplistic in its inception, and Jeff Grace’s score more directly enraptures the viewer. In addition, the architecture of the haunted Yankee Pedlar is much creepier when translated into a monochrome presentation, as the atmosphere bounces between endless and claustrophobic.

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The narrative itself benefits greatly from black-and-white rebranding, as the peculiar framework and quirky dialogue quickly transform into something far more captivating. The scenes between Claire and Luke (Pat Healy) feel drawn from an indie comedy of the ’90s, or possibly a more upbeat version of New Wave cinema. The scarier scenes are also enhanced from this approach, and the ghosts feel much more spectral when stripped of their color, especially that of Madeline O’Malley (Brenda Cooney). Adding to that effect, the darkness of certain scenes, especially in the third act, seems much more dangerous and inescapable when deprived of the colors surrounding it.

In black and white, THE INNKEEPERS’ tonal switches feel more contained to each chapter, and a film that’s already scary and funny appears to be almost a cross between William Friedkin and William Castle, replacing shocking gimmicks with boiling-hot intensity. The performances remain on the same par, save for that of Kelly McGillis, whose harbinger character feels much more befitting of a black-and-white horror production. However, West is clearly the star here, as even with the visual alteration, his driven vision is what makes the film so horrific, telling you exactly where the fear is located and dragging you toward that darkness without repose or reluctance.

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I could see many fans of THE INNKEEPERS becoming black-and-white converts in regards to their preferred version, myself included. West, Rockett and Grace truly have made a film that works with or without color—and in the latter case, it plays like a timeless fright film tied only to its time by its props. The ghosts may be the obvious scare factor, but in black and white, the Yankee Pedlar is the true terror, consuming both the souls of its inhabitants and the bated breaths of its observers.

Recommended for black-and-white consumption?: Yes.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Content Manager for FANGORIA, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, a graphic novel and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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