Jaws and Hitchcock's Psycho inspired new horror movie The Strangers: Chapter 1, as director explains its lack of gore

The Strangers: Chapter 1
(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Horror fans may get a shock when going to see The Strangers: Chapter 1 in theaters, not because of the killer trio, albeit they are scary, but the general lack of blood and gore. But this was director Renny Harlin’s plan all along as he believes that real fear lies in real life and what isn't shown – something he has learned from one or two genre masters.

"It's the reality that makes it so frightening because anybody can relate to it and anybody could find themselves in that situation," Harlin reveals in an exclusive interview with GamesRadar+. "It's not about squirting blood and things like that."

Starring Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez, The Strangers: Chapter 1 is just the first installment in an upcoming trilogy which is a new take on the 2008 movie The Strangers. The movie follows a young couple on a cross-country road trip when their car suddenly breaks down, forcing them to spend the night at a nearby Airbnb. There they are soon terrorized and hunted down by three masked strangers.

Fans of the original directed by Bryan Bertino will know that bar It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton being shot in the head, you don't really see much gore at all. Harlin’s reimagining is not very different as, even though it does include a little more blood and guts, the kills are very realistic and believable, and according to the director, this was entirely intentional. "I think real violence is brutal but it's not so sensational," says Harlin, 2It's not so visually crazy as movies like to make it seem."

Madelaine Petsch in The Strangers: Chapter 1

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

But the lack of blood splatter is no modern medium, as over his illustrious career Harlin has learned the tricks of the trade. "I feel like I learned from every movie, always," says Harlin, who has directed many horrors over time such as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and The Exorcist: The Beginning. The Deep Blue Sea helmer also took inspiration from some major filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg when shooting Chapter 1’s kill scenes.

Hitchcock, whose most famous line was "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it," is often considered the master of suspense, something that is executed perfectly in his 1960 flick Psycho, particularly that dreaded shower scene. Harlin spoke on Norman Bates’ attack sequence: "You see a woman being killed with a knife in the shower, and you imagine that it's the most violent and bloody thing you've ever seen, but you don't really ever see the knife enter the woman's body," adding, "but you imagine much more."

When it comes to chasing the perfect shot, Harlin looks to Spielberg’s Jaws and how the filmmaker reshot scenes in his editor’s swimming pool to get the timing of the big shark reveal right in order to best shock the audience. "It's very instinctual, it's almost like science," Harlin adds.

In that sense, it seems as though The Strangers: Chapter 1 will be filled with tense wait scenes and shocking reveals rather than buckets of blood, just like Hitchcock and Spielberg’s works. Just don’t take Harlin’s inspirations too literally and expect a great white or two to pop out.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 hits theaters on May 17, 2024. For more, check out our list of the best horror movies, or keep up to date with upcoming horror movies heading your way this year.

Editorial Associate, GamesRadar+

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering TV and film for SFX and Total Film online. I have a Bachelors Degree in Media Production and Journalism and a Masters in Fashion Journalism from UAL. In the past I have written for local UK and US newspaper outlets such as the Portland Tribune and York Mix and worked in communications, before focusing on film and entertainment writing. I am a HUGE horror fan and in 2022 I created my very own single issue feminist horror magazine.