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Sunday Scaries: Six Horror Films That Influenced ‘The Batman’

Warner Bros Pictures
Warner Bros Pictures

Director Matt Reeves’ latest depiction of the world’s broodiest superhero isn’t shy about its cinematic influences. Over the course of The Batman, one can easily identify through-lines adopted from similar tales of conspiracy and corruption like Chinatown and All the President’s Men, as well as gritty thrillers like Klute and Taxi Driver. This is to say nothing of the myriad references to the film history of Batman himself, ranging from subtle musical refrains in Michael Giacchino’s score that echo what came before, to easter eggs dating back all the way to the Adam West era (see if you can spot a certain Shakespearean bust somewhere in Wayne Tower).

But if there’s one genre that seems to have held particular sway over this iteration of the Caped Crusader, it’s horror. Considering that Batman’s entire modus operandi revolves around instilling fear into his enemies, it’s a little surprising that so few of his films have lifted as much from the kind that literally exists to do just that. Tim Burton’s surface-level gothic imagery borrowed some aesthetics, and Christopher Nolan’s depictions of Scarecrow and the Joker certainly have their moments, but Reeves’ film is by far the closest the world of Gotham City has come to being outright terrifying.

And just as with its other reference points, a basic examination of the film reveals a whole host of horror films that are either being paid tribute to, or in some cases borrowed from whole cloth. Here are six examples we were able to find after an initial viewing:

(NOTE: Though I have tried to keep overall story spoilers to a minimum, there will be a discussion of specific moments throughout the film that some viewers will prefer to experience themselves before reading a description of them. As such, a general spoiler warning is in effect.)

Warner Bros Pictures

Se7en

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. When the first trailer for The Batman originally debuted at DC FanDome in 2020, many fans immediately noted that the film bore a striking resemblance to David Fincher’s iconic serial killer story, both in tone and visual presentation. Reeves doing Fincher doing Batman, if you will. Well, now that the final film is up for scrutiny, it turns out that that it’s more than just a vibe. Indeed, there are entire scenes and even dialogue beats that feel like moments from Se7en have been run through a Batman filter.

Somber moments of detectives (some more fancifully dressed than others) examining the aftermaths of grisly murders, with Jeffrey Wright’s Lt. Gordon reading out the killer’s riddles with the same grave intonation that Morgan Freeman used to read excerpts from Dante’s Inferno. The Riddler’s (Paul Dano) apartment is a shockingly similar shrine to his deranged exploits, down to the myriad of journals containing self-pitying asides about how cruelly the world has treated him. To be clear, none of this is a bad thing: if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

Saw

We here at Awards Radar have made no secret about our love for the Saw franchise: two episodes of our podcast were entirely devoted to covering the series. And since it’s always played as a grungier companion piece to Se7en, any film that liberally borrows from the former as much as The Batman does can’t help but feature shades of the latter. In this case, it’s more than just a few stray similarities: the Riddler’s voice and recorded messages are uncannily similar to those of Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw, as are the visual presentations of the phrases he likes to graffiti at his crime scenes (“Sins of the Father” and “Renewal is a Lie” don’t seem that far away from “Appreciate Your Life” and “Make Your Choice”). Not to mention that his quest to expose corruption within the police force, among other places, easily overlaps with the killer’s agenda in last year’s Spiral: From the Book of Saw.

Most impressively, however, is the presence of an honest-to-God trap. After Peter Sarsgaard’s compromised D.A. Gil Golson crashes the mayor’s funeral with an explosive collar around his neck that looks like it could have come straight out of John Kramer’s workshop, he and Batman (Robert Pattinson) have a video call with Riddler, who prompts them to answer three riddles in order to deactivate the collar while a timer counts down the seconds to detonation. Though the fiery results are considerably less gory than what one might expect from Kramer’s victims, the overall setup and execution play like a scene straight out of any given Saw entry.

Zodiac

Some may quibble with the classification of this investigative thriller as horror, as the second David Fincher film on this list is tonally much more in line with All the President’s Men than it is with your standard fright fest. That said, it does revolve around a serial killer who wears a disguise and dispatches his prey in especially bloody death scenes, so for the purposes of this list it’s fair to say that it’s at least horror-adjacent. One thing that cannot be disputed, however, is how influential the film (and indeed, the real-life events that inspired it) have been on The Batman.

Reeves has discussed at length how the Riddler’s costume design was loosely based on the Zodiac killer’s own costume, right down to a signature logo that replaces a gunsight with a question mark. Both killers taunt the police with letters that show off some seriously creepy handwriting, as well as ciphers that look virtually identical to one another. In addition, both films depict the frustration and desperation inflicted upon those who attempt to apprehend these madmen, although Batman and Gordon are ultimately more successful than the protagonists of Fincher’s film.

Halloween

It doesn’t take more than a few seconds into The Batman before the influence of John Carpenter’s legendary horror film can be keenly felt. In an extended and unsettling opening shot, we see through the Riddler’s binoculars as he surveys the home of Mayor Don Mitchell Jr, his first prospective target. The first-person POV and the heavy, ragged breathing feel completely synonymous with those of Michael Myers, and indeed the famous tracking shot that opens his film is visually and audibly dominated by both.

Beyond that, there is a moment later in the film that feels ripped right out of Halloween. Before the aforementioned Gil Colson ends up in his exploding collar, Riddler stalks him from his own car. After Colson gets in the car, he notices that the windows are fogged up, which gradually alerts him that he’s not the only person in the vehicle. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the exact same interaction happened between Michael and Annie (Nancy Kyes) in the garage of the family she was babysitting for, although compared to Colson she was permitted a much less prolonged demise.

Peeping Tom

On the subject of voyeurism, multiple scenes of both Riddler and Batman follow their perspectives as they spy on someone from afar. The film uses this as a starting point in its larger exploration of “how different are they, really?”, but in addition to linking the hero and villain together, it also gives them common ground with Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm), the central character of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom.

The 1960 chiller is often credited, along with Psycho (released the same year) as helping to originate the slasher film, though in a way that’s curiously more in line with The Batman than with Alfred Hitchcock’s film, the voyeur in this instance is portrayed in a more tragic and sympathetic light. Before dispatching his victims, Lewis likes to watch and film them in compromising situations, which could potentially be seen as an analog parallel to Batman’s surveillance tactics, and conjures a similarly icky feeling in an early scene where he monitors Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) in her apartment, inadvertently watching her undress. Lucky for Selina, Batman’s no killer in this particular continuity.

Christine

We return to John Carpenter for the final entry on this list, and specifically his adaptation of the Stephen King story about a killer car with a mind of its own and an evil agenda to match. Though the Batmobile in this incarnation (and in most versions, come to think of it) is lacking in any form of sentience, and is in fact significantly less gadget-enhanced than usual, it has a distinctly sinister screen presence when it first appears, its engine roaring to life in a manner that clearly terrifies Colin Farrell’s proto-Penguin.

This would be enough to warrant a comparison to Christine’s titular Plymouth Fury, but there’s also the trailer-friendly stunt involving Batman’s souped up muscle car emerging from a fiery explosion to consider. In an interview with Empire, Matt Reeves describes the approach to the car as such: “[The Batmobile] has to make an appearance out of the shadows to intimidate, so I thought of it almost like Stephen King’s Christine. I liked the idea of the car itself as a horror figure, making an animalistic appearance to really scare the hell out of the people Batman’s pursuing.”

And as if to justify this entire article, he concludes by stating, “There is absolutely a horror-genre aspect to this movie.” Well-noted, Mr. Reeves.

Warner Bros Pictures

Did you catch any horror influences on The Batman that we missed? Leave them in the comments!

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Written by Myles Hughes

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