The spiral staircase

The spiral staircase, as an image that is well-known, is often used in cinema to create interesting atmospheres

A common representation of a spiral staircase could be a special element of interiors, frequently employed in movies for specific requirements atmospheres of a particular type: the spiral staircase with typical circular and enveloping shape is often used in movies to add interesting visual elements, creating particular moods or emphasize key moments during the story.

A spiral staircase is used as a multi-perspective element in psychological thriller films or horror mystery movies, but not only, because its image is powerful, and the scenes that unfold around it remain etched in the memory. 

Here are some examples of movies in which spiral staircases played a significant role, and we’re focusing our attention on a 1940s film, a special psychological thriller movie, The spiral staircase (Rko radio pictures, directed by Robert Siodmak, starring Dorothy McGuire, Ethel Barrymore, George Brent, Kent Smith, Rhonda Fleming, Gordon Oliver, Elsa Lanchester…) based on the novel of the same title by Ethel Lina White.

The spiral staircase: such an iconic element!

The spiral staircase: such an iconic element!

As we said, for several reasons, the spiral staircase element is frequently utilized as a focal point in films, especially psychological horror movies or film noir types, from the black and white age to now, in vanguard movies or more classical genres; including their visually appealing appearance, we could say that the spiral staircase can express its symbolic connection to mystery or ambiguity, and their role in driving narrative flow or creating tension mood.

Let’s give some examples to make the idea:  

We can mention the classic movie “Gone with the Wind”, 1939: the protagonist Scarlett O’Hara climbs a spiral staircase to reach her bedroom in various scenes, maybe the spiral staircase could symbolize her personal life challenges and the passage of time through various scenes of the movie..

Many of Broadway’s old vintage shows used the spiral staircase as their backbone on stage, around which the action takes place.

Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Vertigo”,1958, features a spectacular spiral staircase in a church bell tower, becoming, even in this situation, an iconic element of the movie, maybe symbolizing the protagonist’s feeling of disorientation and dizziness.

In the popular horror movie  “The Exorcist”, 1973, a disturbing sequence of scenes takes place ascending and descending a staircase introducing a claustrophobic and mysterious aspect to the story; the same is true for the movie “The Shining”, 1980, where one of the most memorable scenes is set on a big straight staircase, creating a sense of suspense and restlessness.

We can mention, why not, also the world of “Harry Potter”, the spiral stairs are located in Hogwarts, like the famous staircase that moves into the castle, and the special spiral staircase within the Saint Paul Cathedral. All these stairs add a touch of magic and mystery to the setting.

You could go on forever, paying attention to the fact that, in various movies, along the history of cinema, the spiral staircase and the like are often used creatively to add visual, symbolic or narrative elements,  emphasizing tensions and revelations, great changes for the protagonist, dreamlike and surreal nature scenarios.

The spiral staircase: from the novel to the movie

The spiral staircase from the novel

Among all the movies nominated and those left behind, there is one in particular, perhaps the first of the series, which takes the name that refers precisely to its characteristic element, “The Spiral Staircase”.

I’m referring to a psychological mystery thriller directed by Robert Siodmak and produced by Rko radio pictures. Based on “Some Must Watch” White’s novel, the movie changes some elements of the story and of the setting, but keeps the same suspense, anxiety, mystery.

The film The spiral staircase tells the story of Helen Capel, played by Dorothy McGuire, a mute servant who works in a country dark house: the plot develops with a series of murders that begin to occur in the area, by a mysterious serial killer targeting young,disabled people. And the mute Helen-Dorothy McGuire turns out to be the next victim. 

The story is set in a New England town, United States, unlike the book, which sets the story in the United Kingdom (and the protagonist is not even mute in the original story!). The serial killer we mentioned is the owner of the house, professor Warren (George Brent), and, as we said, many scenes take place right in the isolated and labyrinthine house, in continuous games of light and shadow.

The spiral staircase, central element in the house, conveys into a subterranean realm that is both dark and symbolic; is also a focal element for many scenes in which the protagonist is required to confront danger and discover the identity of the killer, and helps to enhance the dark and mysterious atmosphere. 

This atmosphere of suspense, the silent main character and the scenography with the distinctive spiral staircase create an atmosphere typical of the psychological thrillers.

In fact we can unequivocally affirm thatThe Spiral Staircase is a precursor of this kind of movie, and the canons of an entire genre in the years to come are foreshadowed by this movie: disturbing atmospheres, the nagging close-ups of the murderer’s eye,dilated by madness in which a distorted vision of reality, is reflected the feeling of tension rising helped by the special use of the camera, even the use of unusual environmental elements.

The reasons behind the use of the spiral staircase as an icon

The reasons of the spiral staircase

Just look at certain shots to have no more doubts: the image of a spiral staircase can be truly powerful, when it is represented in a suggestive or dramatic way, as a staircase wrapped in shadow, with soft lighting that creates strong contrasts, adding a touch of mystery or magic in certain contexts. 

It is evident in the movie we talked about, The spiral staircase (by Dore Schary production, written by  Mel Dinelli, box office hit and appreciated by critic reviews), a movie that also received an oscar nomination for best supporting actress, thanks to Ethel Barrymore performance. But it’s not the only way, just let the imagination go a little…

A powerful representation could include the spiral staircase element through a visual play of light and shadow, contrasts that highlights the enveloping shape of the circular anatomy; so a spiral staircase may increase a sense of depth, a mystery mood. Also unusual perspectives, such as a plane from above or below, can amplify this effect; The power of the image can also be captured in a well-made photo.

If there are unique architectural details that characterize the spiral staircase, such as elaborate handrails or ornaments, particular parapets or other details, they can emphasize the visual power of the structure. Everything is simpler, even in a photo, because the spiral staircase has a dynamism all its own.

An aura of suspense,of intensity, of anxiety, is easily created with some care: a twilight atmosphere or even a dark overall tone undoubtedly creates a dramatic mood. All this is associated with symbolic elements or metaphorical elements, as we have seen in a very synthetic way previously, that can connect with the meaning of the story or context which houses the spiral staircase.

Discover the spiral staircase by Officine Sandrini

If you are looking for the distinctive element to give a unique design touch to your spaces, the spiral staircase could be perfect for you: with their irresistible warmth and irrefutable functionality, these installations represent the essence of modern elegance.

Discover the exclusive models of Officine Sandrini spiral staircases: fill in the following form to receive our new brochure free of charge. Become the protagonist of an amazing and inspiring space, tailored and uncompromising!

    Download the brochure

    Fill the form to receive Officine Sandrini's new brochure directly in your inbox!

    I have read and understood the information pursuant to Article 13 of Legislative Decree 196/2003 'Personal data protection code'