How does Hitchcock create a sense of tension and mounting horror in his film 'Rebecca'?

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest film directors of the Twentieth Century. He directed many films from the nineteen thirties right through to the nineteen sixties. Some examples are “The Birds”, “Vertigo”, “Rear Window”, “Psycho” and “Rebecca”. He is interested in the idea of an ordinary person thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He is also interested in the powerful effect of the psyche on a human being. He used the famous actors Lawrence Olivier to play Max De Winter, Joan Fontaine to play the Narrator and Judith Anderson to play Mrs.

Danvers. Rebecca was written in the nineteen thirties by Daphne Du Maurier and adapted into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in nineteen forty. It is a classic gothic horror set in a large house with an evil presence affecting the main character. It is a ‘film noir’ and deals with dark subject matter. The three scenes are all similar in that they all are based on the relationship between Mrs.

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Danvers and the narrator. They all try to outline the effect that Mrs. Danvers has on Rebecca and vice versa. They also depict the mental battle between the two women.

The lighting in the three scenes tries to show the atmosphere of the room at the time, that is the sense of evil, happiness or glory et cetera, and how the character is feeling. The scenes start similarly to each other, with a dark light symbolising distrust or tension around person or object. The ‘Morning Room’ scene starts with a shadow over the door into the Morning Room.

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The Narrator approaches the Morning Room and a dappled light flutters over her to create the ambiguous atmosphere in the room.

She advances to the door with much caution and is reluctant to enter, as the lack of light surrounding it seems to create an evil and suspicious aura. This is comparable to ‘The West Wing #1’ scene as again she approaches the door in a vigilant manner, curious as she is, but yet hesitant to draw near to the dark, daunting, shadowed area around the door. The door is light to make it seem like a temptation that the Narrator cannot resist. Hitchcock casts a huge, dark shadow over the Narrator as she approaches the luminous door.

As she reaches it, her face loses the shadow behind her and is as bright as the door in front of her. This is similar to the ‘Morning Room Scene’. At the start of ‘The West Wing #2′ she runs into the room and Mrs. Danvers is standing, arranging flowers, almost totally immersed in shadow. She looks intimidating and evil although she intends to appear to be innocently arranging flowers. Rebecca is still caught in the light of the corridor outside. This is not to show who understands the mystery better, but it shows who is good and who is evil.

At this moment the use of music is deeply effective. The incorporation of shrill, piercing, high-pitched, tremolo string notes is a metaphorical way of showing the immense psychological battle between the two. It is the peak of their conflict. As the scene goes on, the music seems to mirror Mrs. Danvers’ track of thought. Even at such a dramatic moment, she still manages to keep her manner and voice calm, whereas the Narrator is flustered and hysterical. It is as though the music simultaneously reflects Mrs. Danvers’ state of mind and the Narrator’s feelings and actions.

However, in the ‘Morning Room’ scene and ‘The West Wing #1’ scene, the entrance of the Narrator into the room is much more composed. Both scenes have slow string music but both pieces of music are very different. In the Morning Room the music is in a minor key and there is a slow drumbeat in the background. This emphasizes the Narrator’s wariness of Rebecca’s presence in the room. She looks around to see all of Rebecca’s stationary and Rebecca’s dog, Jasper, as he runs out of the room, perhaps sensing the presence of Rebecca and the malicious of the room itself.

The music the ‘West Wing 1#’ scene as she goes into the room however is in a major key of the Rebecca theme tune, and drums are not present. The strings are flowing and melodic and the lighting in the room is glorious and fills it up immediately as she draws back the curtains. Suddenly, the full extent of Rebecca’s presence is shown. The ceilings are enormous and the camera films a long shot of the Narrator gazing in awe. As soon as she opens the window the mood changes slightly. Not only does the music change put the Narrator’s expression changes into worry of being caught by Mrs. Danvers. Rapidly the music turns to a sour note.

The Rebecca theme tune plays once more but in a minor tone. The Rebecca theme tune is played continuously throughout the film whenever Mrs. Danvers is about to enter the room. This helps the viewer to realize why the atmosphere in the room has changed. As the music predicts, Danvers appears behind the translucent curtain separating each segment of the room. These curtains represent the secrets shrouding Rebecca and Mandelay. This happens again the Morning Room. Rebecca answers the telephone while sitting at Rebecca’s desk and immediately after she tells the caller, “Mrs. De Winter has been dead for many years”, Mrs. Danvers appears in front of her, her stern gaze piercing through Rebecca. It seems that Mrs. Danvers can materialize from nowhere when her presence is wanted least of all. During the ‘West Wing #2′ scene, Mrs. Danvers’ eyes show her developing ideas when she looks towards the frantic, pathetic heap of fabric and netting on the bed where the Narrator lies in a trance, sobbing and shrieking. There is a headshot of Mrs. Danvers looks from the Narrator up towards the wide-open window and back towards the Narrator and she repeats this action once more and her eyes widen as ideas are gathering rapidly in her mind.

The Narrator cannot see this but the viewer can because the camera follows her every move, glancing only at the Narrator occasionally. Mrs. Danvers’ face becomes crazy and obsessed. She seems to live her life vicariously, living through Rebecca’s spirit. She gazes at and strokes Rebecca’s fur coats as though they are a symbol of worship. Constantly throughout the ‘West Wing #1′ scene the idea of Rebecca’s status being much higher than the Narrator’s and her presence being to the Narrator’s even though she is dead, is continuously portrayed during this scene.

The tall ceilings and windows in comparison the Narrator make her seem minute. Mrs. Danvers Represents Rebecca by standing almost a head above the Narrator and always remaining perfect posture while the Narrator curves her shoulders inwards. There are often headshots of the two in conversation and Mrs. Danvers seems to look down as the Narrator like an adult to a child. Mrs. Danvers begins to take the Narrator on a tour of the room after thoroughly questioning her about her being in the room. She shows the Narrator all of Rebecca’s clothing, even down to her underwear!

Light is cast over Mrs. Danvers face as a look of fixation, obsession and insanity is in her eyes. She has the expression of complete and utter fascination, similar to one of an awestruck child. She swiftly draws the now rather bewildered Narrator to the dressing table. She immediately replaces a hairbrush that the Narrator had slightly moved earlier. Then there is a headshot of the Narrator sitting down at the dressing table whilst Mrs. Danvers’ brushes her hair telling the Narrator about Rebecca’s daily routine when getting ready for bed. On the dressing table is a picture of Mr. De Winter. This shot reflects the memories in Mrs. Danvers’ mind. She is recalling and reminiscing the times when she would sit and brush Rebecca’s hair. The picture of Mr. De Winter symbolises the way Rebecca comes between the Narrator’s relationship with Mr. De Winter. Often the camera is watching the two women as they walk around the room. The camera is reminiscent of Rebecca’s spirit watching what is going on. It seems that Rebecca’s presence affects Mrs. Danvers greatly. By now her face is a ghostly white and her words reflect what Rebecca’s feelings may have been towards the Narrator.

The music starts a slow crescendo whilst Mrs. Danvers is brushing the Narrator’s hair and she then leads the narrator to the bed where Rebecca once slept. A light is cast over once side, perhaps where Rebecca would sleep before her death. There is a pillow case that has been embroidered by Mrs. Danvers that the light emphasises on strongly. This goes on to have a significant importance at the end of the film so it is highlighted strongly to make sure that the viewer notices it. Mrs. Danvers becomes more and more crazed and obsessed. The Narrator becomes frightened and her face has fixed into a panicky trance.

She tries to stay as far away from Mrs. Danvers as she can, physically, but a psychological boundary stops her. This boundary may b Rebecca. The music is now in a minor key and is very quiet. It is delicate like the nightdress of Rebecca’s that Mrs. Danvers is showing the Narrator. The Narrator is dappled with light and Mrs. Danvers’ face is as ghostly as ever. The mottled light reflects the same feelings that the Narrator had on as approaching the Morning Room, yet they are more intense. She is somewhat unsure and her thoughts and emotions are contrasting and in all directions.

The conclusions of all three of the scenes are very similar. They all finish with the Narrator cracking under the pressure of Mrs. Danvers gaze and stabbing words. The music reflects Mrs. Danvers’ thoughts and the Narrator’s actions and expressions. The ‘West Wing #1′ scene finishes with Mrs. Danvers’ trying to coax the Narrator to jump out of the window to her death. The music mirrors her words and the repetitiveness of what she says and the high, penetrating note imitate the Narrator’s straining, blank, thoughtful expression.

The same thing happens in the other two scenes, but the earlier the scene the less extreme the incident. Each scene is a repeat of the previous one but more extreme as the film progresses. In ‘West Wing #1′, Mrs. Danvers’ tells the Narrator that she may as well leave because she is not wanted or needed in Mandalay. She forces the Narrator up to the door until she can go no further. She invades her personal space and corners her physically and mentally. In ‘the Morning Room’, Mrs. Danvers asks her about dinner and what she wants posting.

She knows that the Narrator has no idea because she has no one to send letters to and wants to give her a real challenge of deciding what the dinner will be. Mrs. Danvers has purposely come to the Morning Room just to intimidate the Narrator. The scene ends with the Narrator frantically trying to hide a broken heirloom in the desk draw. Once again, the music is of long, lingering, high pitched, powerful notes to reach the pinnacle of tension in the scene. Without the first two scenes with the Narrator and Mrs. Danvers in, the ‘West Wing #2’ could not have happened.

The first two scenes were vital in order to build up the relationship between the two women so that the full power of ‘West Wing #2’ can be shown. ‘West Wing #1’ scene creates tension slowly but it creates a great deal of it. However, ‘West Wing #2’ is a huge burst of tension all at once. It is so immense that you could hardly believe that two people could have such an effect on each other! I think that it is the prime example in the film of how Hitchcock creates a sense of tension and horror in this film. I believe it truly justifies Hitchcock one of the greatest directors of all time.

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How does Hitchcock create a sense of tension and mounting horror in his film 'Rebecca'?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

How does Hitchcock create a sense of tension and mounting horror in his film 'Rebecca'?

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