James Gunn Looked To The Titans Of Horror History For Inspiration On Brightburn's Design

Before announcing his role in writing a new "Superman" movie, James Gunn had already eviscerated the Superman concept in 2019. Produced by Gunn, "Brightburn" followed Brandon, a young superpowered being whose alien pod crash-landed in Brightburn, Kansas, before being subsequently adopted as a baby by the Breyer family. His Superman-like abilities included impenetrable skin, flight, increased strength, and, of course, heat vision. However, unlike his DC Comics counterpart, Brandon grew up to be a pretty terrible child that wanted to rule the world instead of saving it. Brightburn was an ultra-violent menace to society, sporting a red mask designed by the filmmaker to sit alongside other, classic horror designs.

Not only was "Brightburn" the ultimate antithesis of the classic Superman story we know and love, but it nose-dived into horror without looking back. In addition to sporting some very gory, bloody action, Brighburn is positioned by the filmmakers as a horror figure, often lurking at the edge of a frame or as a silhouette to be observed from afar. The aesthetic of his costume, a far cry from the one Superman wears, is especially telling as to what "Brightburn" aspires to be for the genre. Gunn's intention with designing Brightburn was always deeply rooted in horror, and he used other familiar imagery as inspiration.

'Rooted in horror'

In an interview with SYFY Wire, Gunn described the design process for Brightburn's mask, revealing several familiar horror names served as the benchmark:

"I just gave so many notes on that mask, trying to create a really truly iconic horror movie character in the same way that Freddy Krueger is, or in the same way that Leatherface is, or in the same way that Jason is. Trying to create something with that same sort of feel that is instantly scary [and] plays with the superhero-ness of it all but at the same time is most definitely rooted in horror."

The jury is still out if Brightburn is a "truly iconic horror movie character" like Gunn intended for him to be, but the final design speaks volumes as to how we're supposed to see him. Instead of being a point-blank evil version of Superman, Gunn aptly decided to lean into the genre superheroes are not known for being in. "Brightburn" subverts expectations by appealing to horror tropes, aside from the anti-Superman elements that characterize the film.

Take the world

While projects like "The Boys" already explore the dark side of superheroism, "Brightburn" does so in a different, less satirical manner. When Brandon kills the cops while his mother (Elizabeth Banks) hides from the chaos, the resulting bloodshed is more horror-tinged than anything. Brightburn is a shadowy, inescapable figure that hunts its prey without remorse, obliterating anything that poses a threat along the way. Brandon's "take the world" mantra, embedded into his mind by his contact with the alien pod, is an obvious subversion of what Superman is meant to represent. However, the way "Brightburn" portrays it differs from other alternate superhero media.

The critical reception to "Brightburn" was mixed, to say the least, but the film proved superheroes belong in the horror genre, too. For better or worse, "Brightburn" took itself seriously, and flipped the Superman origin on its head without feeling the need to give audiences a glimmer of hope. The red mask and cape he wears represent that radical change by resembling the likes of Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, for good reason. "Brightburn" is a self-contained, small-budget horror flick that takes simple notions to an extreme, best represented by the terror the titular character unleashes.

For better or worse, "Brightburn" producer James Gunn is now in charge of the next era of Superman on the big screen as the new co-head of DC Studios. Let's just hope that "Brightburn" is not a sign of things to come, tone-wise.