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8 of Pretty Little Liars' Most Uncanny Movie Homages

8 of Pretty Little Liars' Most Uncanny Movie Homages

8 of Pretty Little Liars' Most Uncanny Movie Homages

PLL’s creators, writers, and directors clearly have a thing for Hitchcock and other film greats.


At its surface, ABC Family’s juggernaut Pretty Little Liars is just plain terrific entertainment, pitting teen girls with an ugly secret against a team of hooded, tech-savvy blackmailers, extortionists. and would-be killers who comprise the A team. The series features appealing leads, a thrilling, twisting mystery, and a whole lot of heart when it comes to personal storylines (including two excellent coming-out stories). But for avowed movie lovers, PLL is so much more. The show’s creators, writers, and directors, who have a particular affinity for Alfred Hitchcock given the mystery genre, continue to pepper the series with thoughtful homages to some of the silver screen’s greatest moments. We haven’t seen a "Rosebud" moment yet on PLL, but it could happen. Here are a few of our favorite movie nods.   

Pretty Little Liars ep. 3:24

Rebecca - 1940

PLL’s season 3 finale was billed as an homage to Hitchcock’s thriller North by Northwest, and the writers certainly worked in several NBNW nods. Red Coat flew in on a prop plane (you may recall the famous shot of Cary Grant running from a crop duster in NBNW), the lighter Toby picked up pointed toward the northwest, and the lodge where the Liars nearly went up in flames was named Thornhill Lodge (after Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill). But the most striking image from the episode is a silhouette of Spencer and the other Liars framed by flames, much like the lady’s maid Mrs. Danvers in Hitch’s first American film, Rebecca (based on the Daphne du Maurier novel). The sapphic-leaning Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) is obsessed with the memory of her employer’s first wife, so much so that she runs her fingers through the silks in the late Mrs. de Winter’s underwear drawer. It’s no accident that the Liars, obsessed and haunted by Alison’s memory, should find themselves caught among the flames.

Heavenly Creatures - 1994

Pretty Little Liars Ep. 1:19

With this still of Emily and Paige reveling in the autumn leaves, PLL’s writers give a tip of the hat to Peter Jackson’s epic first feature, Heavenly Creatures. Kate Winslet, in her first film role, costars with the ever-watchable Melanie Lynskey in the true story of teen girls in '50s-era New Zealand caught up in an a relationship so obsessive that they that commit matricide when their parents attempt to tear them apart. While both Emily and Paige had their fair share of problems coming out to their parents, matricide was likely never on the table, but PLL’s writers scored big with this subtle nod to blissful young love. 

Pretty Little Liars Ep. 2:25

Psycho - 1960

Alison may be PLL’s ultimate icy Hitchcock blond, but Hanna makes for one hell of a doppelganger for Ali, and also for Janet Leigh’s doomed Marion Crane in Psycho, Hitch’s blueprint for the slasher film. PLL’s second-season finale leads the Liars to a Bates Motel-like dive that houses A’s lair. The motel is even equipped with a creepy taxidermist modeled after Norman Bates, although it's Mona who ends up in a mental ward at the end of the episode. While Hanna makes for a terrific Marion, thank goodness the similarities ended there. No one wanted to see Hanna face down in a shower drain. 

Pretty Little Liars - Ep. 1:03

Blow Up - 1966

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up captures the laissez-faire attitudes of life in Mod London, but buried within gorgeous camera angles emphasizing isolation and alienation is a plot about a fashion photographer who may or may not have captured a crime on film while snapping photos in the park. PLL’s writers, being the cinephile geniuses that they are, found a way to work Blow Up into their oeuvre of movie homages early on in season one. The crime, in regard to PLL's plot, is in the eye of the beholder. Emily and Maya finally share their first kiss in a photo booth at a party only to discover the photos have been stolen. Later, A tacks dozens of copies of the photo booth pics to the wall, forcing Emily to come out. 

While Emily’s mom struggles to accept her daughter's revelation, the Liars love her unconditionally. The photos can only be used against Emily if she believes what she sees in them is wrong. On the surface, PLL pays slick homage to Antonioni, but at its heart, the scene gets to the crux of Emily’s coming-out dilemma.

Pretty Little Liars Ep. 1:22

Vertigo - 1958

Go big or go home, right? PLL’s first-season finale went big, taking on Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo with Spencer Hastings standing in for Jimmy Stewart’s heights-fearing Scottie. Spencer may not be afraid of heights — she’s not afraid of anything, really — but she makes for the perfect hero to battle with her sister’s psychotic fiancé, Ian, at the top of the bell tower. In Hitch's film the ultimate Hitchcock blond, Kim Novak, plays the dual role of Madeleine/Judy, who hurls herself out the window of a bell tower in what appears to be a suicide, but it turns out it wasn’t her body that flies out the window. In PLL’s version of Vertigo, A tosses Ian down the bell tower only for the body to then go missing. 

Pretty Little Liars Ep. 3:18

Spellbound - 1945 

PLL’s third season gloriously pays homage to Hitch’s Ingrid Bergman-Gregory Peck starrer Spellbound, with Dr. Sullivan standing in for Bergman’s psychoanalyst Dr. Constance Petersen and Emily as Peck’s troubled amnesiac patient John Ballantyne. Emily enlists the help of Dr. Sullivan when she’s troubled by flashes of memories of the night she was essentially roofied and ended up at Ali’s grave. In Spellbound, Constance analyzes Ballantyne's surrealistic fever dream — designed by Salvador Dalí — to unlock the mysteries of his amnesia. While PLL doesn’t quite duplicate a Dalí dream sequence in the episode, Dr. Sullivan uses hypnotherapy to help Emily recall, in gauzy dream form, snatches of memories of Ali. 

Pretty Little Liars Ep. 1:12

Rear Window - 1954 

Rosewood is a fishbowl. A may see and know all, but also, the Liars and their families are under continual surveillance from watchful townsfolk, classmates, and neighbors. The town’s central coffee shop is called Rear Window Café with good reason. The Liars, their parents, and loved ones are all continually surveilled. Midway through season one, A runs Hanna over with a car because she's seen too much, and she winds up housebound in a wheelchair —  like Jimmy Stewart’s L.B. Jefferies in Rear Window. But rather than doing the watching, as a laid-up Jefferies does from the confines of his apartment building and wheelchair, Hanna is the one who's being watched — or is she? 

Pretty Little Liars Ep. 4:06

The Birds - 1963 

In PLL's fourth season Spencer and Toby travel to the spooky town of Ravenswood to follow a clue (and to set up a spin-off) only to encounter an otherworldly/apocalyptic feel, not unlike the impending sense of doom that pervades Hitchcock’s The Birds. Bodega Bay in 1963 looked a whole lot like Ravenswood in 2013. 

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Tracy E. Gilchrist

<p>Cinephile, cyclist, proud cat lady and unabashed Pretty Little Liars guru.</p>

<p>Cinephile, cyclist, proud cat lady and unabashed Pretty Little Liars guru.</p>