Rear Window’s Re-Release

On March 22nd and March 25th Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window  will be re-released in theaters. The 1954 classic follows photojournalist L.B. Jefferies, who after an accident is wheelchair bound. Confined to his apartment in a wheelchair, Jefferies uses a pair of binoculars to break-up the monotony of his day. While looking through his binoculars, Jefferies believes he witnessed his neighbor murder his wife in cold blood. The old-school, psychological thriller stars famed actors of the time James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr. Popular director Alfred Hitchcock, known as a pioneer of the psychological thriller/mystery genre as well as the first director to employ 3D, directed the movie during his peak years behind the camera.

Although being snubbed for any Oscars during its release year, Rear Window quickly gained acclaim. The American Film Institute ranks Rear Window at number 48 on its list of “The 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time.” Further acclaim comes as Rear Window is listed 38 on the International Movie Database’s ranking of “The Top 250 Films.” Alfred Hitchcock and his work became so popular, the term “Hitchcockian” was coined to describe his unique brand of suspense. In the case of Rear Window, the movie’s popularity has flourished. The film has been adapted to a stage play and recreated in episodes of popular television shows as well as loosely served as the basis of the Shia LaBeouf movie Disturbia. LaBeouf is a teen serving a sentence of house arrest when he becomes convinced his neighbor is a serial killer. Besides the movie’s differences in plot and ages of the characters, the viewer will quickly notice that the loosely based remake, contains more violence and blood than the original Rear Window.

What accounts for these differences? I have seen almost every Alfred Hitchcock movie that has been released and I categorize each one as terror not horror. The differences in both films can be found in the differences between terror and horror. Ann Radcliffe, a forerunner of the Gothic Literature movement, explains the difference between these terms in her essay “On the Supernatural in Poetry.” Radcliffe states, “Terror and horror are so far opposite that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them.” Radcliffe views terror as the more sophisticated form of frightening the viewer. Terror creates an active viewer of the film as it plays on their psychological states and their ability to reason through events. Horror on the other hand, is intrusive to the audience. Horror is filled with shocking images which leaves the viewer helpless as the fear annihilates their other senses.

Hitchcock, in all of his works including Rear Window, strives to create terror. He plays with camera angles, lighting and props in order to keep from shocking the audience so greatly that they cannot solve the mystery presented. Along the way, Hitchcock uses these film elements to toy with what the characters and audience saw, heard and believes, thus employing terror to the fullest. Hitchcock has a more difficult task than directors of modern horror films. As a director in 1920s-1970s, Hitchcock produced a greater quality of work with less technology.     

Personally, I am excited by the re-release of Rear Window as it means a new generation will be introduced to a classic film and director. When I began composing this article, I asked several individuals of varying generations if they were more familiar with Rear Window or Distrubia. Although not a definitive study, I found individuals in my generation have heard of Rear Window but have never seen the movie while others, who consider themselves movie buffs such as myself, have seen both Rear Window and its loosely based remake Distrubia. By re-releasing Rear Window, a new generation familiar with the technologically produced gore of today’s horror films will become well-acquainted with the master of terror as they unplug from the technologically enhanced movies of today and dive into a world of suspense and terror.