Friday, October 31, 2014

Why I like Halloween!


Why I like Halloween!
(photo by tobisagt on Deviantart)

1) 31 days of blogging about the horror genre has added up to a lot of pressure on this final post. I can't just write about whatever other dumb movie/book/game I love (I would have done We Are What We Are, for the record.) No, this has to be something GRAND, some big declarative statement on the genre or the holiday. I will endeavor to cover fresh ground, but be prepared to be disappointed. 

2) A friend of mine recently messaged me on Facebook and asked if I ever do any writing or discussions on topics other than horror. I told her that I was flattered, but horror is just my thing. She said she'd pray that I'd change. Thing is, I don't think I want to. I really like this stuff. It's fun, it's scary in a harmless way, it brings me back to my childhood, and -- if you're willing to look at it in a weird light -- it's oddly beautiful. 

3) My childhood Halloweens were spent in Diamond Highs, an upper-middle class neighborhood in San Francisco. The streets would all dip downward along the hill, making each street into a U-shape. I lived at the bottom of one of these streets, and we'd climb up and down the neighborhoods in our quest for candy. I still remember the Japanese neighbors with the tidy stone garden in the front yard. 

4) Despite my interest in the macabre, I was still a completely cowardly child. I remember the day my music class sang "There Was An Old Woman All Skin and Bones." When they screamed "Boo!" I ran out of the room, locked myself in a bathroom and cried.  I still have a strong attraction/repulsion relationship to fear. It seems like I'm always a little creeped out on some level, but I've come to cultivate that feeling.

5) Halloween meant different things at different points in my life. When I was a child, it was all supervillain costumes and candy. Trick or Treating was fun, but I didn't particularly miss it when it was gone. My tween years were all about low-level disdain, mixed with lots of slasher movie marathons, mixed with the secret joy of giving out candy to kids. High school Halloweens mostly sucked, because I was too old for trick-r-treating and too young for clubs and parties. Adult Halloweens vary. Going to bars and checking out costumes is fun, but trying to find parking and fighting the crowds at either the Castro Street parade in SF or the 6th Avenue parade in NYC is really tiresome. 

6) I think I came to the decision this year that I'm not so much into the costume aspect of Halloween. I like checking out other people's work, but I'm not much for dressing up myself. Part of the reason is that it's expensive, part of the reason is that I don't have much of a visual imagination and can't come up with anything particularly clever until at least two days after the event. 

7) That said, one of my best Halloweens involved a time when I didn't go as anything scary. It was my first Halloween in NYC and I had some dumb plan to go as Baron Samedi. A friend and I went to the costume store on Broadway and 12th and, as I was looking for stuff in the basement area, I found a Prince Charming costume. I became entranced with it, bought it, and wore it that evening. That night, I got hit on more than I've ever been hit on in my life. Everyone seems to have a thing for Prince Charming. It was nice. 

8) I dunno what my Halloween plans are this year. Money is MEGA-tight, so I'll probably just hang out in hipster bars and soak up the ambiance. I'd rather be doing big warehouse events, but that's because I've not quite let go of my twenties while my crowd is settling down. But I'm sure they'll be fun, fantastic people watching. 

Conclusion: Try as I might, I can't really come up with one grand theory of What Halloween Means To Me. I do love the fact that the entire nation seems to cater to my taste for the week before Halloween and I've really loved checking in on all the stuff I love over the last 31 days of blogging, but every year finds me in a different state for celebration. Halloween feels like a check-in for me, the same way birthdays do. I know that Halloween is basically a horror-tinged Mardi Gras. Dan Savage calls it a straight pride parade, a chance for people to celebrate their sexuality. It's definitely bacchanalian, and I like sharing all the fun of the horror genre with people. 

One of the things I have learned over the years is that my interest in horror doesn't make me nearly as unique as I once thought it did. While I do think interest in the macabre is still viewed as a little fringe-y (witness comment #2) I think most people like this stuff just a little bit. Halloween is the one sanctioned night we let the goblins out. And, if that's not your thing, trick-or-treaters are really adorable.

Thanks everyone who's stuck with me on this 31-day blogging marathon. I hollowed out my brain like a Jack O' Lantern to bring you my favorite odds-and-ends from the horror genre.

Pleasant screams!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why I like The Sandman


Why I like The Sandman

1) I fell into Goth quite by accident. I was in my teens, hanging out with a bunch of angry suburban punk kids, and slowly figuring out that I didn't really fit in with them. I was getting into Vampire: the Masquerade and I was checking out vampire books and movies by the dozen. They opened up a Hot Topic at the Serramonte shopping mall in Daly City, and I talked my mom into buying me a big black vampire tee-shirt and some black jeans. I wore them with pride the following day and one of my shitty punk friends snorted that I looked like a Goth. I had no idea what the term meant, but I liked the sound of it. I bought the Goth Rock 2 sampler CD from the used-CD store near campus, which lead to zines, which lead to concerts, which lead to clubs, and the rest is history. 90s-era Goth comes with a reading list. The Sandman rests pretty high on top of it.

2) Calling The Sandman horror is a little reductive. While the series was marketed as a horror title early on ("I will show you fear in a handful of dust") it grew to encompass all manner of speculative fiction. Most of my favorite issues -- especially the serial killer convention -- fit squarely in the horror genre, but the book is really a meta-story about storytelling itself.

3) The Sandman is about Dream of the Endless, a personification of dreams, imagination, fantasy, and storytelling that threads through all creation. He's a Byronic hero, constantly brooding and taking himself far too seriously. The book starts with him being taken hostage by an Aleister Crowley-esque occultist. The experience traumatizes him so deeply that he spends the rest of his series pushing against the boundaries of his responsibilities. It ends with him either dying or recreating himself into a more compassionate incarnation. Despite the wild digressions, the book really centers around the character of Dream. Every story presents a new facet of his personality and the strain he's under, until the tragic ending seems both inevitable and self-directed.

4) It seems like the most popular character in the series is Death, Dream's older sister. Unlike most incarnations of the Grim Reaper, The Sandman's Death is a chipper Perky Goth with a positive attitude on life and boundless reserves of compassion. My own opinion has changed on her has changed significantly over the years. At first, oh my god, I luuurved her and we should be best friends. As time went on and I had my own experiences with people passing, I got angry with how flip the Death character came off. Death is the root of all horror in existence, so the idea of making it into a goth version of every Connie Cheerful Church Camp I've ever met made me very angry in a way that now feels like I'm projected my own fears onto the character. I've eased up some, and I've come to love Death's compassion for her charges, but I still feel like I have a different experience with the character than a lot of the fans of the book.

5) There are lots of fantastic moments both great and small in the book; Dream's dinner with his brother Destruction, the lovely African story of two lovers separated by fate, a weary yet still deadly Lucifer, the long-lived oaf Hob Gadling, the Lovecraftian dreams of cities, the illustrated difference between the fantasies of girls and boys. My favorite was the aforementioned serial killer convention. I've seen dozens of serial killer stories in my time, but I've never seen one that so viciously attacks the self-aggrandizing mythologies that serial killers create for themselves to justify their behavior. Dream seems to take a swipe at the very concept of turning the serial killer into dark heroes and it works beautifully.

6) My friends and I tried to record a Sandman podcast recently, but we got tripped up on technical issues. As the conversation grew, I was impressed that there was so much stuff to cover: so many great moments and fantastic ideas, each of us with our own interpretation of the story. People gravitate to different elements of The Sandman and each experience has it's own rewards.

Conclusion: The Sandman is one of the best stories I've ever read. I return to it from time to time. Like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, it's a barometer for seeing how I've changed over the years.

I promised myself that the first money I ever make selling my fiction will go a statue of Dream than I can put on my writing desk. Gaiman taught me that stories are sacred and I'm honored to both draw from and add my own small contribution to the Dreaming. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why I like Movie Psychos and Madmen


Why I like Movie Psychos and Madmen by John McCarty

1) I must have been 13 or 14 years old when I discovered this book. We were in the Barnes & Noble in Jack London Square for some day trip. I toddled over to the movie sections, looking for books on horror. I'd been reading stuff like Splatter Movies and Men, Women, and Chainsaws. I found Movie Psychos and Madmen on the shelf and flipped open the book. Included among its often-scary photos was a portrait of both Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. How could I turn it down? 

2) The book is a comprehensive history of madmen in cinema, written in a conversational style. Splatter Movies was too informal and Men, Women, and Chainsaws was too academic. Movie Psychos was approachable. I could grasp it at my age, yet it still retained enough history and insight to be rewarding upon constant rereads. 

3) Movie Psychos was my first introduction to film history. I'd never heard of German expressionism before, but the book taught me about Dr. Mabuse and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I'd never heard of the post-Psycho run of lunatics. It was the first book to teach me about that film had a fantastic legacy to discover.

4) The book also gave me the best framework I've ever used for human psychology. Because McCarty isn't a psychologist but an excellent observer of narrative, he treats cinematic character's psychoses like storylines. Every story is a puzzle, with every subtle or overt act of madness a clue. The more I get to know people, the more I realize that we're constantly dropping clues about ourselves. Movie psychos are simply more obvious in their signals.

5) I was initially interested in the book because it had a chapter on slasher monsters, but the book is dismissive of Michael, Jason, and their ilk. For all their campfire-story intensity they aren't particularly full of depth. I was initially frustrated, but the film challenged me to ask more from my horror. Scary movies could be more than their body count. The twists of the human mind made every psycho into their own private haunted house. 

Conclusion: Movie Psychos and Madmen trained my brain in how to analyze both stories and people. It gave me a passion for the exploring the depth of cinema. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to McCarty. His book provided my first instruction on critical thought. Movie Psychos is part of the DNA of this blog, my podcast, and all the other output that comes from being a horror fan.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why I like Freddy Vs. Jason


Why I like Freddy vs. Jason

1) I first asked Kane Hodder about Freddy vs. Jason while he made an appearance with Linda Blair at some local Halloween carnival. I'd just gotten into horror in a big way, and Jason Voorhees was my big heeeero. Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday had just come out an the film ended with Freddy Krueger's gloved hand reaching up from hell to retrieve the iconic hockey mask. I was all of eleven years old and a lifetime of superhero books engrained a love of the superfight. Hodder said that the film was in development, but it didn't come out until well after I graduated high school.  I wasn't disappointed.

2) I'm ultimately a Jason guy. Jason is my Frankenstein. He's ultimately pitiable, if you're willing to be reaaaaally generous about his origin story. Freddy is fun, but he's a harder guy to like. He's the bully. The whole child molestation thing also doesn't help much.

3) I got really into following the development of the movie on the internet. Multiple scripts had been written, some with really farcical ideas on how the two characters should battle. They finally turned in a script that made neither slasher the "good guy" but gave them plausible reasons to come into conflict. The movie ultimately feels more like a Nightmare film than a Friday film, but it works, in it's own overly complicated way.  It's perhaps a little too invested in tying the mythos of both movies together, but it also understood Jason's appeal. They knew he has a big, dumb, lost kid gone bad. 

4) Freddy vs. Jason isn't particularly scary per se but it has some astonishing nightmarish images, in particular Mark's nightmare visit from his dead brother. The film bears the distinct touch of legendary Hong Kong director Ronny Yu. I got into pre-takeover Hong Kong action cinema after seeing John Woo's Hard Boiled and I loved Yu's wild fantasy film The Bride With White Hair. Yu works in vivid colors and operatic fights, which made him ideal for the FvJ comic book battles.

5) A lot of the plot is actually pretty clunky and the lead characters come off as more weird than anything else, but the set pieces are cool. Krueger's boiler room looks like a nightmarish hellscape, the flashback scenes of Camp Crystal Lake establish the brutality we've long suspected was part of Jason's childhood, and the portrayal of Freddy's corruption of Jason's mother all flesh out the mythology of both characters brilliantly. 

6) Say what you will about everything that came before, the final fight between Freddy vs. Jason does not disappoint. It's one part pro-wrasslin', one part superhero battle, with a dash of Hong Kong wire work for flavor. They ditched Hodder, the best Jason actor, over stuntman Ken Kirzinger. Kirzinger towers over Robert England, and they make a great visual contrast. The battle nearly tears Crystal Lake in two, and the addition of the nearby construction site gives them a bunch of stuff to hit each other with. 

7) Jason wins. I don't care about the final knowing wink to the audience, there's one guy walking out of the lake at the end of the movie. 

Conclusion: It's often said that the death of a monster is either parody or fighting other monsters. Freddy vs. Jason obviously falls into the grand tradition of all the great Frankenstein/Dracula/Wolfman mashup. Both Freddy and Jason had their final pre-Platinum Dunes hurrah and it fulfilled every boyhood dream of mine.         

      

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why I like The Ring


Why I like The Ring

1) The first time I saw the movie, I remember getting ready to leave once Rachel had discovered Samara's body and laid it to rest. She's back with her son Aiden and all appears well. Her son asks her what happened to Samara, Rachel responds that she helped the dead little girl find peace, and Aiden responds with terror. He says "you weren't supposed to help her," and ice cubes slid down my spine. The scene immediately afterward, where Samara kills Aiden's father, was one of the scariest moments in 2000s-era horror. Everything I knew about ghosts had been thrown out the window.  We were in dangerous territory.

2) The movie is gorgeous. It's got a watched-out gloomy blue and gray tone that reminds me of old Gothic horror films. I grew up in foggy San Francisco and the atmosphere of the film reminded me of home. Melancholy coastal towns work particularly well in creating a Gothic atmosphere, which fits the ghost story.

3) Horror works best when it's simple. If you watch this tape, you die seven days later. The only way to stay alive is to get someone else to watch the tape. Otherwise, a drowned girl crawls out of your TV and kills you.

4) The interesting thing about The Ring is that Rachel isn't actually that great of a mother. Horror fiction is full of overly caring, overly diligent parents and, while Rachel will do anything to keep her son safe from Samara's wrath, we get the sense that she's too preoccupied in her own life. Aiden refers to his mother by her first name, he's able to do a lot of things for himself, and he has the kind of self-assured maturity of someone who has to a lot of shit on his own. It creates a unique family dynamic, especially after we meet Aiden's father.

5) The movie is unrelentingly grim. The story is structured like a mystery, and deciphering the enigma of Samara's life makes her both sympathetic and terrifying. When you finally learn what happened to her, you realize why she will never stop hurting people.

6) The Ring has two of the most effective jump scares I've ever seen. I'm a sucker for frightening faces and the wreckage Samara leaves behind are among the most terrifying corpse effects I've ever seen. I imagine they're supposed to be waterlogged bodies left down in at the bottom of the well, but that doesn't account for the distended jaws. I also really like Noah's death. Rachel runs to save him, finds his body, and screams. We don't see what she sees until the big reveal later on, when his face is the final one we settle on.  It remains one of the most disturbing images ever captured on film.

7) The movie terrified me more than most horror films because it felt inescapable: Samara's vengeance was so lethal that the only way you could escape it was to feed other people to her. Samara looked like something otherworldly. Watching her crawl out of the well remains one of the greatest horror images of all time.

Conclusion: The Ring reprogrammed the way I viewed horror. It broke a lot of my expectations, it approached the genre with intelligence, and it created a monster that seeped into the dank basement of my subconscious. I saw Samara every time I turned off the lights. The Ring brought me back to my childhood fear and I'll love it forever.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I like The Blair Witch Project


Why I like The Blair Witch Project

1) My first big road trip was a journey to Pasadena to attend the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors with my high school friends. We saw the Munsters' doom buggy, I ran into Marc Dacascos in a hallway, we watched some pro-wrasslin', and I caught the Ghastly Ones live on stage. In between it all, I kept seeing this poster around the convention hall: 





This was mercifully before the age of viral marketing, social media, Io9's pop media coverage, or any of the other ways we're all constantly connected to streams of information. I'd heard the missing posters had something to do with a movie that had taken Sundance by storm. The second night we were there, my friends and I scored free tickets to a special late screening at a nearby theater. 

2) I had no idea what I was in for, but I was a horror fan surrounded by horror fans. Collectively we'd seen the worst possible films that humanity had to offer. What could some weird little art house movie do to us? 

3) The movie started without a lot of preamble. It looked like a genuine documentary about a haunted experience. We knew it was fiction but goshdarnit, it looked so real

4) Things start getting weird slowly. People get lost, but that's not entirely surprising given that the filmmakers are a bunch of city kids with a camera. They start losing their shit, blaming each other, and falling apart. All the while, the legend that they've been investigating turns out to be true. 

5) For me, the tension became quickly unbearable. I was acclimated to horror in from the 80s and early 90s, where everything was obviously artificial. Slashers telegraphed their kills in highly-ritualized kabuki dances. Ghosts had their tiresome dripping walls and spooky sound effects. I'd never seen real people being haunted by something whose rules I couldn't understand. Because I'd been so invested in the genre, most horror movies made me feel like I was an insider, more akin to the monsters and ghosts than the victim. Blair Witch Project put me back in the victim's shoes. 

6) As the attacks got worse, I began to wait eagerly for the daylight. The attacks always seemed to ease off once nighttime dissipated. By the end, the characters weren't even safe in the daylight. Then they discovered the old house. . . 

7) The scene of Heather making her final confession has been parodied over and over again, but the actual moment has tremendous power to it. She has been pushed past the point of endurance and has no hope left anymore. It's some of the best acting I've ever seen in horror cinema.

8) I'll never forget what happened after the credits rolled. An entire theater full of hardcore horror fans, who had seen he worst of the worst, rose up from their seats silently as one and left the theater. It was eerily quiet. They all acted like the world had ended in front of them. We left the theater into an empty Pasadena street.   

Conclusion: Watching The Blair Witch Project for the first time was one of the best experiences of my life. I was completely smitten by the movie and became it's fiercest advocate. Unfortunately, the movie couldn't survive the world-of-mouth of the real world. The shaky cam nausea was a real issue (I have a harder time with it these days) but there were also tons of meatheads who wanted blood and monster make-up. It was a soft touch movie and I admired that. The whole found-footage thing has been done to death but it's still an effective immersive tool. I really like The Blair Witch Project. I know it's become sort of a touchstore of early 90s pop-culture, but it's also one of the most important foundations of modern horror cinema.        

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why I like Berberian Sound Studio


Why I like Berberian Sound Studio

1) I saw Berberian Sound Studio in the worst possible circumstances: I watched the entire thing on my iPhone over several sessions walking on an elliptical machine at my local gym. Cardio is both necessary and incredibly boring, and I had gotten sick of listening to podcasts while I worked out. I saw some less-than-stellar movies, but Berberian Sound Studio captured my imagination. I got into Only Lovers Left Alive at around the same time, and I've been a fierce advocate for both films since. It seems like there have been a lot of smart, classy horror films over the last few years and I was really excited to share them with people. 

2) Like Only Lovers, Berberian is total sound porn. Instead of music, Berberian focuses on the sound engineering and foley work used to make an effective horror film. I've never seen a film that made such brilliant use of sound effect work.

3) Confession time: I've never much cared for the "golden age" of 1970s Italian horror cinema. I think most of the appeal comes from a strange mix of nostalgia for an era that was before my time, a misreading of incompetent film making that gets confused for camp, and a gorehound's delight in a few key scenes of truly nasty gore effects. I'm watching Lucio Fulci's Zombie 2 on the second monitor as I type this and no one ever remembers anything substantial about the film. They just remember the eye gouging and the shark fight. I do like The Beyond and the Argento film Phenomena but Italian horror doesn't really work for me. But it does make a fantastic backdrop for Gilderoy's mental breakdown. 

4) I am embarrassed to admit it, but I see far too much of myself in Gilderoy. I'm small and easily bowled over, and I'm often shocked when people act selfishly. His timid personality puts him at a huge disadvantage when he's brought to Italy to work on some perverse giallo film. My own experience in Italy taught me that the people can often be, um, unnecessarily assertive. A sheltered person like Gilderoy would easily be bowled over. Gilderoy's immediate supervisor is rude to him without reason, the receptionist is dismissive, and everyone either blows him off or talks down to him. The only one who treats Gilderoy decently is the film's director, and he's a manipulative narcissist with grandiose ideas about the misogynist trash he's creating.

5) The film takes places in a strange film noir world. The hallways disappear down impossible distances, the rooms never seem to be properly lit, and the recording rooms are all like tiny coffins. The entire movie world feels like an echo chamber, which is perfect for the best aspect of Berberian Sound Studios: the masterful use of sound.

6) I've never seen a movie so lush with aural detail. You never actually see the movie Gilderoy is helping to make, but the horrific special effects conjure up a pretty clear image of how nasty the movie must be. Sound is used to brilliant effect in the film. Every cut lettuce, every dropped melon feels like a violation of the human body. I've heard a thousand screams captured on horror cinema, but I've never heard anything as gut-wrenching as the screams of frustration captured in the recording booth.

7) The movie follows Gilderoy's descent into madness, as his life begins to thread into the movie. Perhaps the occult nature of the film casts a spell on him, perhaps he starts going insane, perhaps he was insane to begin with, a man who appeared out of the film itself. The ambiguity made the ending frustrating for a lot of people, but I found it intriguing. I can't wait to go back and revisit the film. Hopefully next time on a better screen. 

Conclusion: I've never seen a horror film that so effectively used the mechanics of cinema to deliver tension. Watching Gilderoy degenerate to the chaos around him becomes almost operatic. The line between film and "reality" gets razor-thin over the course of the movie. It's a rare treat, and one of my favorite recent horror films.                 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I like Shadows in the Asylum: The Case Files of Dr. Charles Marsh


Why I like D.A. Stern's Shadows in the Asylum: The Case Files of Dr. Charles Marsh

1) A little autobiographical note: my first post-college internship was for the San Francisco District Attorney's office's criminal investigation division. The bulk of the job involved preparing discovery documentation for defense attorneys, which meant I spent my days looking through fascinating information processed through extremely tedious forms. One murderer in particular, a mentally-ill drifter who butchered a teenage girl, had a lifetime of paperwork stretching back to institutionalized forms from the late 1950s. Taken together, the entire case file presented the sordid, sad details of a man's mental degeneration and the institutional failure to treat him properly.

2) Horror fiction is full of people finding discarded documentation. Beleaguered heroes are constantly finding old case files, mysterious tomes, and newspaper clippings pasted on serial killer's walls. These little clues provide tantalizing glimpses into the origin of whatever evil the characters are facing. D.A. Stern's Shadows in the Asylum is an epistolary novel where all those little clippings tell the story of a doctor, a mental patient, and the supernatural horror stalking them both.

3) The novel never breaks from it's central premise. The entire book is told in therapy session reports, newspaper clippings, surveillance footage, and album liner notes. While it seems like the haphazard nature of the collection would prevent close identification with the characters, but the doctor's notes show the the man's struggles, doubt, and acceptance.

4) Because of the way the story is told, the events feel very real. Fiction has a lot of fundamental artificiality that comes from trying to create a prose style. As the novel effectively mimics different forms of formal documentation rather than telling a single narration, it really does feel like a found artifact of some terrible event.

5) The book also does mental health facilities better than anything I've ever seen. Horror is full of Arkham Asylum-style madhouses, full of cackling madmen beating their heads against padded walls. The psychiatric care facility in the book seems to function correctly. It's a higher-end institution, with good counselors, regular treatment, and a strong drug regimen. It seems plausible, which makes the supernatural elements seem plausible.

6) The horror at the core of the story unfolds slowly. For most of the book, the tales of shadows creeping the hospital hallways seem like ordinary delusions. The doctor finds a potential cause, resolves it, and the book appears to be on the way to a happy ending. Once the real evil makes itself known, the book takes on a new level of fear. The book is ultimately a Lovecraftian horror story, where the monster is something alien and unknowable, causing havoc with it's presence in the asylum. It's one of the scariest creatures I've ever encountered in horror fiction.

Conclusion: I'm really sad that Shadows in the Asylum didn't get a bigger following. It's a really unique and scary book, one of the best haunted-house stories I've ever read. It creates one of the most convincing fictional worlds I've ever seen, and rewards people for falling deeper into the story. I own several copies of the book so I can come back and revisit it over time. It has my highest recommendation.
               

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why I like Ju-on: The Grudge


Why I like Ju-on: The Grudge

1) Before we begin, a brief autobiographical digression. I was raised in a family that practiced Japanese Buddhism in San Francisco. My family hosted Japanese exchange students, my brother spent a lot of time in Japan, and I'm generally inclined to be favorable to all things Japanese horror. 

2) Ju-on is my favorite horror movie of all time. I've seen it dozens of times and I'm still scared by it. When I used to have closing duty at GameStop, I'd put Ju-on on the monitor to keep me company. I have watched as many Takashi Shimizu movies as I can get my hands on. I love the movie beyond all rational sense and perspective. I don't discuss it often because I really don't want to hear any dissenting opinion that might change my perspective. 

3) One of the scariest things about the film is that Kayako Saeki's rage cannot be stopped. As a person acclimated to the western idea of haunting, where a tormented spirit can be put to rest, there's no escape from Kayako's vengeance. What happened to her was so awful that no amount of appeasement will work. Her rage is a virus that infects and corrupts everything that it touches. 

4) Because a straightforward story about an unstoppable doom would be an exercise in futility, Ju-on is broken up into a nonlinear narrative about the first family to fall victim to the curse, the hospice worker that takes care of the invalid grandmother, and the police investigator that falls to the grisly aftermath. It effectively turns the film into a series of interconnected vignettes, short stories tied together by a monster. The overarching story involving the poor hospice worker takes the final doom of the curse to a new and frightening place. 

5) The movie has a lot of scenes of people hiding in beds, being haunted in their sleep, or just having Kayako's spirit watching them as they lie huddled in fear. My childhood often involved burrowing under covers and doing my best to control my bladder. I recognize the fear of the dark and the safety/vulnerability of hiding in bed. Ju-on exploits this masterfully. 

6) We're never quite clear on what exactly happened to the Saeki family. We see all of their spirits in one form or another. The boy/cat seems to act as a harbingers. He doesn't act like a typical ghost child, standing and staring at people with a bloody head wound. Instead, his spirit has been fused with the cat. The hissing sound the boy makes renders him as even less than human. It reminds me of traditional obakemono demons, animal spirits that torment the unwary. 

7) The final scene between Kayako and Rika, where Rika lays paralyzed with fear and Kayako's freshly-murdered body crawls down the stairs after her is one of the most terrifying things I've ever seen in my life. The classic theory about horror is that it's often only scary when you can't see the monster, but the deliberate pacing, the horrible croaking sounds, and Kayako's vicious sense of purpose combine to make the scene one of the scariest things I've ever seen committed to film. It's a nightmare incarnate, and that's why it works so well with me. 

Conclusion: I'm more into creepy-horror than startle-horror. Most American horror films these days seem to be about creative a very specific rhythm of tension-shock-shock-break. I like movies that create a nightmarish atmosphere. Ju-on is utterly relentless, gloomy, and oddly beautiful. I have watched it dozens of times and I still find something new to discover in it's puzzle-box narrative and strange mysteries. It's my favorite horror film of all time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why I like Resident Evil 2


Why I like Resident Evil 2

1) I'm fairly certain that Resident Evil started the zombie renaissance. When I got into the horror genre in my tweens, the most recent major zombie story was the Return of the Living Dead franchise, which was several years old at the time. The genre was leaving the franchise slasher era of the 80s and entering the ironic slasher franchise era of the early 90s, with a handful of supernatural horror tales interspersed between. Nobody was doing anything with zombies at the time. While 28 Days Later probably brought the zombies into the mainstream audience, the Resident Evil franchise brought the subgenre back to horror fans my age. 

2) I started playing the series at the second game and I'll never forget the very first game screen:


It's an old trick that gets me every time: if you tell me I'm about to see SOMETHING HORRIBLE, I'm going to work myself into a tizzy worrying about whatever it could possibly be.

3) Both Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid were the first games that crossed the line between games and movies for me. Both used a lot of cut scenes to great effect. I remember the intro movie to RE2 very well. Having not played the original game, I came in to the story as the two lead characters did, alarmed as I found myself trapped in a city under siege.

4) I don't remember who I played as first. I usually play female characters if given the choice, but Leon Kennedy was a cop and had a gun. Either way, I remember the first nerve-wracking slog through Raccoon City's ruined streets. The characters are hard to control, the zombies are all over the place, and you were constantly under assault. Much has been made of the tank controls that early RE games used, but they definitely added to the vulnerability. I was used to playing agile characters, but now I was stuck in a clumsy shell. It amplified the horror, making my video game avatar an extension of myself.

5) The interesting thing about the Resident Evil games is that they took place in a Universal Horror reinterpretation of our world. The characters and the technology were all modern, but the spaces that the characters resided in had a Gothic architecture and sense of decay. Puzzles all involved clockwork architecture, the police department and mansion all concealed areas that looked like Dark Ages castles, and the crazy villains were operatically, House of Usher-crazy. Underneath all the modern trappings, the mad experiments that birthed the T-Virus came from Frankenstein's Castle.

6) Because I started the series at Resident Evil 2, I bypassed the worst of the bad voice acting that characterized Resident Evil 1. No master of unlocking cracks for me. Because of that, I took the series deadly serious. I wanted to know everything about the world, about the T-Virus, about the horrible Tyrant that relentlessly stalked you through the police station.

7) The game pulled me into the world so effectively. I found all the little clues in the police station, I read all the reports, I heard about the doomed efforts to keep the monsters out. It created a thoroughly engaging fictitious world. The longer I played, the more I accepted the quirks of the control scheme. I developed a particular strategy for moving through corridors and fighting different monsters, which I had to constantly reevaluate in the face of new threats.

8) The game has a palpable sense of loneliness. You spend so much time fighting alone for your life that it became a relief every time I ran into another human being, especially Claire/Leon.

Conclusion: Horror gaming has a different rhythm than most other media, in that it doesn't follow the same peaks-and-valleys structure that more passive media often follows. The games are relentless exercises in horror, and I loved slipping deeper into the madness of the Raccoon City's zombie infestation.    


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why I like the ending lightsaber battle in Empire Strikes Back


Why I like the ending lightsaber battle in Empire Strikes Back

1) We're going outside the typical horror genre on this one, but bear with me. 

2) In the book Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film, splatterpunk writers Skipp and Spector advance the theory that horror is the engine that powers every movie you've ever loved. All conflict is based on the fear that something bad is going to happen. While I feel like their theory rounds up too many narrative strains into horror, it did make me consider scary scenes in all those movies beloved by the culture.

3) The classic slasher scene is one of slow, deadly stalking. The camera follows the victim as they creep through the dark, their pursuer close at hand with their knife drawn. It's as animalistic as horror gets; we're all afraid of the crazy person with the sharp object. As time has gone on, the victim has become more frail and the victim has become more hulking and brutish. 

4) The first stalking scene I ever saw as a kid was Darth Vader stalking Luke Skywalker through the underbelly of Cloud City. It took me years before I could ever watch the movie again. 

5) It's hard to be scared of Darth Vader these days. I spent last week at Disney World, where I saw a stage show where Darth Vader got beaten up by a six year old. His masked features were on tee-shirts and in cartoon drawings wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Oversaturation kills all the great monsters, but in all the merchandising crap we forget how fucking scary he is. 

6) Luke Skywalker is completely unprepared for the fight. He ignored Yoda's instructions and rushed to his friend's aid, falling into Vader's trap. He meets his opponent in a room that looks like Freddy Krueger's hellish boiler room. Vader is a massive dark silhouette silently waiting for his opponent, his respirator overpowering the soundtrack. They fight and it's clear that Skywalker is overpowered. He flees, Vader in pursuit. 

7) Everyone remembers the big reveal before Luke takes the plunge off the antenna, but the scenes that stick with me are Luke's slow creep through the silent hallways. It's one of the few quiet scenes in the Star Wars films. We feel Luke's fear, and the ominous sounds of Darth Vader's breathing takes a new edge. It reminds me of Jason's distinctive ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha sound. The first time Vader attacks, he sweeps violently down at Luke from an alcove. It's a horror movie jump scare.

Conclusion: Every kid has that story of the ostensibly-for-children movie that scared the crap out of them. Disney movies are often the culprit, but mine was Empire Strikes Back. Darth Vader was genuinely terrifying in the movie, and the script makes it very clear just how far Luke Skywalker is out of his depth. He's pushed to the limit of his endurance, which makes the revelation of his lineage all that more horrific. It's a brilliant horror scene in a non-horror film.     

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why I like Elvira


Why I like Elvira

1) At this point in my life, I'm over watching bad movies. I spent a lot of my college years on various couches watching badly acted, badly made, incompetently produced dreck looking for laughs. While "bad" is highly subjective (I'd still argue that a lot of the Friday the 13th movies are good, if you judge them on their own merits), "bad" often means "boring." It's frustrating to watch a movie sabotaged by incompetence or laziness. The only way a bad movie can be salvaged is by having genuinely funny comedians provide running commentaries to it. 

2) Most people think of MST3K/Rifftrax when they think of goofing on bad films. I never found the MST3K guys funny. They have a sorta Midwestern mild politeness that blunts most of their humor and makes their comedy about as edgy as a church-camp comedy skit. When you're working with oddball sci-fi/horror stuff, you gotta work a little blue. Your material has to be saucy. You have to be playful and edgy. You gotta be Elvira.   

3) I'm a child of the 80s and Elvira means Halloween to me. She was the Santa of the season. You know Halloween had come around when her beer ads popped up on TV and her cut-outs appeared in grocery stores. She's the harbinger of the Halloween season. And she's fun.

4) Elvira is like a more vivacious version of the Addams Family and the Munsters rolled into one. As I pointed out in my Munsters article, Elvira has a hard time believing the world isn't as weird as she is. Like the Addams Family, she's so joyfully, unselfconsciously ghoulish.     

5) Terry Pratchett once wrote that his earthy old witch Nanny Ogg was the kind of saucy old woman that England still produces: full of interesting life experiences, fond of beer and a raunchy joke, loud, brassy, and fun. Elvira fits that description, with an added dollop of vampiric glee.

6) Now, hrm, here's where I am going to get in trouble. Look, I'm a feminist. I recognize male privilege, I like Anita Sarkeesian, I do my best to live decently and ignore the toxic messages in our culture, so I try not to be one of those guys that constantly harps on people's appearance but OH MY LORD Elvira is stunning. She's got a burlesque vibe, vamps for the camera. she's sexy and campy at the same time. I'm pretty sure she was one of my first crushes.

Conclusion: I'm watching the 13 Nights of Elvira on Hulu as I watch this and I love it! She's lost none of the charm over the years, and the internet's lack of parental standards allow her to make the best off-color jokes. She's funny, charming, and one of the best things about Halloween.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why I like Interview with the Vampire


Why I like Interview with the Vampire

1) Romantic vampires annoy traditional horror fans. Aside from taking cheap shots at Twilight, purists like their monsters pure. I was listening to the Scream Queenz Dracula podcast and they nailed the classical definition of a vampire: their sexuality is predatory. They're seducing you in order to eat you alive. There's nothing underneath the charm. That  kind of vampire is fine, but I really like Interview with the Vampire, the book/movie that is often accused of being the forerunner of the sad-puppy vampire.

2) IwtV is the first major work that features the vampire as the protagonist, and it creates a compelling one. I get that a lot of people find Louis Hamlet-like waffling frustrating, but I like the fact that he fundamentally doesn't want to be a murderer.  The big different between Anne Rice's vampires and Stephanie Meyers' vampires is that Louis has to take human life to survive. Most people don't want to die, but the question is how willing they are to kill innocent people in order to preserve their own life, especially when their instincts compel them to do so.

3) As I mentioned in the Addams Family post, there are two things that always appeal to Goths: antiquity and romanticism. IwtV is a very romantic movie. Lestat loves Louis, Louis cares for Claudia, Claudia loves Louis, Armand loves Armand. They all pull apart and crash into each other, goading their paramours to be what they want them to be, and occasionally trying to kill each other. It's all a bunch of grand passions mixed with homicide, set against a backdrop of European cities at night.

4) Speaking of, let's talk about Lestat for a second. When I saw the movie as a kid, I thought that Lestat was the villain. He killed people without remorse. He was Gentleman Death, dressed for a night out. "It's your coffin, my dear." I was a good-hearted kid, I didn't want my heroes to hurt anybody. As I got older, I began to share Lestat's frustration with Louis. Louis' problem isn't that he doesn't want to hurt people, it's that he refuses to accept what he is. It's why that "still whining, Louis" line still gets a laugh every time. Plus being Lestat just looks like more fun.

5) The big tragedy of the film is Claudia. She's turned as part of a misguided act of mercy, then forced to mature into an adult while keeping a child's body. Despite loving Louis, he will always view her as a child. And, of course, her attempt to free the pair from Lestat's clutches has horrific consequences.

6) The idea of immortality has a lot of appeal. For one thing, you can live long enough to see future cars. You also get to live a life unfettered by death. I'd love to imagine what experiences would be open to me, what sights I could see. I think I'd give up the sun for that.

Conclusion: Vampires endure because they walk the line between monster and wish fulfillment. There's a lot of perks to their condition, but it comes with some intense personal costs. Interview with the Vampire was the first time I was ever able to vicariously step into a vampire's lace cuffs. It's romantic treatment of vampirism and angst saturation did encourage a trend I don't necessarily love, but I really like this story. It takes the romanticism of vampires without sanding down the fangs.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why I like Ed Wood


Why I like Ed Wood

1) It's real easy to tease Tim Burton these days. His reliance on specific cinematic signatures have been the subject of parody by funnier people than I. His work feels like one of the bands I've listened to thousands of times during my adolescence, where it's lost the sparkle after all those repeat viewings. Taking all those old movies for granted dismisses the fact that Tim Burton's best work is fucking awesome!

2) Out of all his work, I come back to Ed Wood most of all. As much as I love Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, they seem more like stylistic exercises and fairy tales. They establish his style. Ed Wood is a more adult story. 

3) I like Johnny Depp's portrayal of the character. Ed Wood reminds me of every good natured 1950s gee-whiz sitcom child. He doesn't get down or discouraged about his dreams. Every problem has a solution, every calamity can be worked around. His singleminded go-get'um attitude occasionally veers toward the selfish, and Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi is possibly worse off for having met him, but he's the kind of guy who gets things done. 

4) Sometimes enthusiasm makes up for a lack of talent. In the scenes where Ed Wood is actually filming, we quickly realize he has no idea what the fuck he is doing. He shoots in one-takes, he hires people with no real grasp of English, and he truly believes he can fool people into believing that a dentist with a cape over his mouth could pass for Bela Lugosi. The amateurishness would be contemptible, but it's paired with a genuine love of the medium. Ed Wood loves movies. He's the most enthusiastic amateur out there, and his rollicking seat-of-your-pants style makes his story compelling. Bad movies these days often fail due to a lack of inspiration. They feel made by committee, they play it safe, and they market-test all the flavor out of their stories. I have a copy of Plan 9 From Outer Space and I can't really bring myself to watch it again. But it's unique, goddamnit

5) One of the most admirable things about Ed Wood's personality is how accepting he is. He takes misfits under his wing, he works with religious fundamentalists for funding, he buddies up to a hammy old actor, and he manages to get them all to share his vision. Even better, he accepts himself. The man has an interest in gender-nonconforming behavior, which he reveals with very little shame. That leads to one painful rejection, but he eventually finds the right girl to share his life with. I like movies about people with winning personalities. They create the most interesting social networks. 

Conclusion: It's tough doing anything creative. You have to press back against tidal waves of inertia and apathy. There are a zillion stories of tormented creative types, but there are very few that capture the sheer iconoclastic joy of being a weirdo, celebrating your weirdness, and making something memorable with your friends. Ed Wood is one of my go-to feel good movies.        

Friday, October 17, 2014

Why I like How To Write Horror Fiction


Why I like How To Write Horror Fiction

1) In marathoning through 31 days of blog posts, it's amazed me how often I've gone back to my childhood. I live in a near-24/7 horror bubble, but I don't think too much past assuming that it's where my natural aesthetics lie. This little experiment in strip-mining my interests has helped me to find my origin story.  No other book has shaped me more than How To Write Horror Fiction.

2) I was by all accounts a pretty easy kid. I didn't cause a lot of trouble, never really acted out, and was easy for my parents to get a handle on. They taught me how to read at a young age, which I'll always be grateful for. The library quickly became my favorite place, and they used to drop me off there if they needed me out their way for awhile. I'd spend hours wander the stacks, following my interests. One day, I happened to come across HtWHF

3) Written by the legendary William F. Nolan, HtWHF is a nuts-and-bones explanation of how a horror story works: how to build tension, how to create monsters, how a plot is supposed to naturally flow, and how to use violence to maximum effect. I've read a lot of books on writing over the years and a lot of them read like New Age self-improvement books. HtWHF taught the nuts and bolts of story construction. It made storytelling seem like something I could do

4) Nolan comes from a different era of storytelling. There were more markets back in the day because more people read short fiction. The stories guys like Nolan and Ray Bradbury wrote defined horror fiction. While the sensibilities have changed significantly, the core lessons remain valuable.

5) I've been holding off on rereading HtWHF until after I finished my MFA in writing horror fiction. I wanted to see if what I learned or if anything I tried to do felt different from what Nolan laid down in the text. The reputation that MFAs homogenize their students has some truth, especially one geared towards commercial fiction, but I learned a lot in the program. Two books and a couple dozen short stories later, I've approached HtWHF with new appreciation. The lessons remain useful, and it's a good refresher course on the basics. 
 
Conclusion: Writing is such a crapshoot. It's hard to succeed, it's often not taken seriously, and you have to find your rewards within the process itself, but it has proven to be one of the best things in my life. It's been a way to synthesize my love of reading, my love of stories, and my observations on life into an art form. It's made me happy, if "happiness" means something more complex than simple self-indulgent euphoria. Sometimes that happiness can come with the weight of obligation, but the sense of purpose it gives in exchange is worth it. Nolan's book had a massive impact on my development. He made me want to be a writer.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I like the Addams Family


Why I like The Addams Family

1) This is gonna start with another "look how big a wimp Joe was" stories. My dad took me to see The Addams Family film when I was a kid. I covered my eyes during the walk through the cemetery, though my imagination vividly conjured up the horrible images of all the dead Addamses. When they got to the scene where Pugsley and Wednesday violently recreate Shakespeare, I was crying and had to be taken home.

2) Years later, as a sullen Goth teenager, I went back to the Addams. I started with Addams Family Values, worked up the courage to watch the first film, then bought a collection of Charles Addams comics. I was still worshipping the ground Tim Burton walked on, and I wanted more stories set in strange dark fairytales. 

3) If there are two things Goth kids respond to, it's romance and antiquity. The Addams family have both in spades. Their house is a crumbling old Victorian abode, much like the one I grew up near in San Francisco (I refuse to believe that the Addams actually live in New York City, no matter what the musical tries to say), full of old antiques for the family to lounge on.

4) As to the romance, Gomez and Morticia are positively gross in love with each other. Because they live in their own tiny crazy world, they never deal with the mundane crap that most cohabitating couples deal with. They fawn and swoon over each other, waltz constantly, and babble sweet nothing in French. It's all so cute. Every once in awhile, I see a run on my social media feeds about how people are looking for romance like Gomez and Morticia share. 

5) The Addams Family are just plain odd. Unlike the Munsters, who seem completely unaware of their strangeness, the Addams see their strangeness as normal and don't see how the rest of the world doesn't go along the exact same way. The charm of the Addams, beyond their cute morbidity, is that they are so completely comfortable in being themselves. Because of that, I've never seen a more loving family portrayed in any medium (once you get past the occasional lighthearted murder attempts.)

6) I have a strange relationship with morbidity these days. When I was a kid, I used to read anything I could on death and dying, in the certainty that my own life would last forever. The older I get and the more I've encountered death as a reality, the more I find most people who profess to be morbid as either wearing it as an affectation or as having not suffered any real loss in their lives. But the fact is that death is interesting. Funerary rites are interesting. Lurid murders are interesting. The Addams Family is a way to find humor in the dark side of life. 

7) The farther I get from the Musical, the less I like it. No Addams family member should have the goal of wanting to be more normal. 

Conclusion: I like to check in with the Addams Family from time to time in order to remind myself that I'm still a little bit weird. The older I get, the more cluttered my life becomes with compromises and concessions to the oppressive crush of the day-to-day world. I like my family quite a bit, but it would sometimes be nice to have a family like the Munsters or the Addams. It's a place where my dark side could fit in.    

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why I like Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors


Why I like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
(Poster image by Jason Edmiston)

1) I gotta start this one up with a controversial point: I think that the original Nightmare on Elm Street film hasn't aged all that well. It's a good movie and has some great imagery, but it's also very dated. 

2) One of the best things about NoES movies is that the teenage victims tend to be better-developed than most slasher movie characters. We need to know who they are so we know what Freddy will use against them. And who is more vulnerable to the depredations of Freddy Krueger than a bunch of kids in a mental health facility? 

3) I like that this movie brings back Nancy Thompson from the original movie. Nancy is one of the best final girls in horror history. She's smart, proactive, brave, and resourceful. We rarely get a chance to see final girls after they survive, but I like that she's become a youth crisis counselor. She didn't break down, she didn't become paranoid, she took her experiences with Freddy and turned it into something positive. 

4) The kids in this movie are awesome. While none of them seem particularly unwell, they all have strong personalities and meet the challenge of Freddy Krueger head-on like a bunch of mini-Nancys. My favorites are the punk rocker and the wizard master. 

5) This is right before Freddy got super-goofy in part four. He's got a sense of humor, but it's deeply cruel. One of the most famous kills is when Freddy jams the would-be actress into the television. He says "This is it, Jennifer. Your big break in TV! Welcome to prime time, bitch!" before he smashes her into the screen. It's funny, but not ha-ha funny. It's the bleakest, blackest humor imaginable, which makes it the perfect fit for Freddy Krueger. 

6) The fight in the graveyard is pure Harryhausen. The junkyard itself looks like a Gothic reimagining of urban decay, with the stacks of cars framing Freddy's grave like an arena. I really like John Saxon, especially after Enter the Dragon and his epic battle against Krueger marks the highlight of the film. 

7) There are some great scare scenes in the movie. Most people favor the aforementioned TV smash, but my two are the veins-as-marionettes for sheer squick factor, and the "sorry kid, I don't believe in fairy tales" death of the Wizard Master, because that's the way I'd probably go. 

8) Larry Fishbourne 

Conclusion: The saga of Freddy is ultimately one of inherited guilt. The kids are paying for the sins of their parents, and we can see the strain it has taken on the last of the so-called Elm Street kids. They are aided and empowered by sympathetic adults, but they ultimately confront and defeat Freddy themselves. Dream Warriors is a story of youthful can-do spirit. It's all the Scooby-Doo and Hardy Boys stories I loved as a kid, with a compelling monster for them to go up against. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why I like Fatal Frame


Why I like Fatal Frame

1) As I confessed during the Haunted Mansion post, I'm actually a gigantic chicken. I'm drawn to horror because it has a powerful impact on me, but I like the experience to be vicarious. Video games are about as close as I can come to getting directly involved with anything scary. 

2) I got into all the big horror games when they started coming out for the Playstation. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Parasite Eve, I played them all. The only one that was almost too much for me was Fatal Frame

3) Video games are almost all power fantasies. You're usually a Space Marine or a SAS officer or an indomitable yellow eating machine or something like that. You're almost never a skinny teenage girl trapped in a haunted house looking for her missing brother. The only weapon you have to defend yourself with is the Camera Obscura, an old-style box camera that can capture the dead.

4) "Ropes! There are more ropes this time!"

5) Fatal Frame scared the bejeezus out of me. The game is one of my most intensely atmospheric horror scenarios I've ever played in my life. The ghosts you meet, the dark halls that you wander down, the horrific recordings you find, all create an unrelenting world of terror. I used to rush from save point to save point so I could take regular breaks. 

6) The ghosts are also the scariest ghosts I've ever seen in horror fiction. They're the restless spirits of the people who died following the disaster of the failed strangling ritual, and they wear their torments on their bodies. It's hard to pick which one is the worst, but I'm torn between the woman whose hanging went wrong and the woman who wore the blinding mask and is condemned to wander the halls of the Himuro mansion with blood-soaked bandages over her gouged eyes.  

7) I used to lose entire days playing this game. I'd play it broad daylight, with the windowshades open and plenty of people in the house. If I really lost my nerve, I'd mute the game and blare the Wu-Tang Clan through my stereo. I liked imagining the Ghostface Killah materializing before Miku Hinasaki like he did for Huey Freeman in that episode of The Boondocks, helping herto be strong and walk righteous. 

8) The gist of the story, from what I can tell, is about sacrifice. As abominable as the strangling ritual is, the consequences would be much worse if it was never performed. We feel bad for the poor shrine maiden, but sacrificing her keeps the world whole. The game's theme asks us to examine the horrible cost of duty.        

Conclusion: Fatal Frame is one of the things that sparked my love for Asian horror. It's atmospheric and emotionally rich in a way that western horror often can't compete with. The game is genuinely, relentlessly scary. I'm kind of sad that the newest game seems to have a focus on fan service, because Fatal Frame was the best survival horror franchise in video games.   

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why I like The Long Walk






Why I like The Long Walk

1) I'm a sucker for stories about death contests. The first short story I ever read in class was The Most Dangerous Game and I've been fascinated by idea of deadly contests ever since. I'm always drawn into any story that involves making a sport out of life and death. 

2) I started reading Stephen King around the same time kids these days get into Young Adult fiction. While King isn't specifically a YA writer, his old horror novels are pretty kid-friendly. I know a lot of horror fans from my generation got our start reading him. 

3) I had heard that King wrote a bunch of books under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. They were supposed to be more dark, more extreeeeeme than his usual work. Kids love things that are more extreme -- look at all youth marketing from the 90s -- so I couldn't wait to check them out. Most of the early Bachman books dealt with either cruel adolescence or death contests. The Long Walk combined them both. 

4) The gist of the story is that there's a future contest where a hundred teenage boys walk as far as they can, followed by soldiers on a halftrack. If they slow down, they get a warning. After three warnings, they get shot. If they leave the road, they get shot. If they attack the soldiers, they get shot. If anyone from the crowd tries to help them, the interfering person gets shot. Warning get removed if a kid goes an hour without getting another one. They're given food and water at regular intervals. The last survivor gets the Prize: anything they want for the rest of their life. Simple enough.

5) Nobody dies for a good long while in the story. No one talks about dying. They talk about "getting a ticket." The kids walking the race are all laughing and joking, but there's an edge to their humor. The narrator notices one kid wearing sneakers and wonders what the kid was thinking. Someone complains about a charley horse, gets a couple of warning, and eventually walks it off. By that point, we know that something is very wrong, but King never directly explains the danger until the charley horse kid gets gunned down by the soldiers on the halftrack. The other walkers react with shock; the Long Walk just became real to all of them. 

6) One of my favorite things about the book is how little we learn about the world that it takes place in. "Worldbuilding" has become the big buzzword in speculative fiction, but saturating The Long Walk with details would have taken the focus away from the characters. We get the sense that something terrible has happened to America and it's become a fascist Orwellian state. One of the walkers had his father taken away by the authorities. Another has a connection to the creator of the Long Walk. That's all we really need to get and we don't need much more than that. 

7) The teenagers who walk the Long Walk are all (mostly) volunteers. Some do it our of desperation, some think they have a shot at winning, some are fulfilling a death wish, and some (like the narrator) aren't entirely clear why they've chosen to participate. As the story goes on, we get to know their personalities and motivations. Horror often works as a hotbox that puts people into situations that reveal their character. It turns the book into half-dystopian horror novel, half-meditation on mortality. 

8) Teenagers make great protagonists for brutal dystopian stories. They're old enough to have some ability, but young enough not to have any agency against the adults that force them into deadly situations. The one thing that the book conveys more efficiently than anything else is the walker's sense of powerlessness.      

Conclusion: It's popular to dismiss Stephen King for a lot of his little stylistic quirks, but there's no question that he's an absolute master at building suspense. We feel the walker's strain, their exhaustion, and their mental degeneration. It sucks being a teenager in the dystopian future, but King managed to create one of most compelling visions of teenage murder games that I've ever read.            

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why I like the Haunted Mansion


Why I like the Haunted Mansion 

 1) Despite this empire of horror I've built for myself in this quiet corner of the internet, I'm actually a massive chickenshit. Unlike a lot of horror fans I've met, who seem impervious to frights. I'm drawn to this stuff because it affects me so deeply. I like to keep a safe distance between myself and the horror in question, which is why I don't do haunted house events. I'm definitely curious about them. I've spent entire days watching Youtube videos of people walking through Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, but I need serious reason to even set foot near one.

2) When I was a kid, my parents took me on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I was deathly afraid of skeletons as a kid so I started crying the second I saw the skeletal captain sitting on top of his pile of loot. The Haunted Mansion was obviously out of the question. 

3) Years later, when I'd gotten deep into the horror genre, I decided to finally brave the terrors of the Haunted Mansion. Turned out that it's not only is it a lot of fun, but it's a charming ride.

4) I like the way the Mansion looks. I'm not from the South, but those old plantation homes are definitely evocative of a time long gone. Even waiting in line is a blast. I like looking up the vine-covered walls and reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. 

5) I'm told that a big part of the Disneyland design is that the experience is meant to be immersive. It seems to hold true, as every place you look holds some tiny sliver of detail.

6) I like climbing in the doom buggies and puttering along the dark track. I'm a sucker for an animatronic diorama, so watching the head in the crystal ball and the ghosts spinning through the ballroom all give little family-friendly scares for my cowardly self. I usually ride the Haunted Mansion a couple of times whenever I'm in Disneyland. It's a gleefully dark little blast of joy for my inner child. 

7) Whenever I travel abroad, I like to visit the Disneyland parks to see how they do the Haunted Mansions abroad. When I went Disneyland Paris, I saw that they'd created a ghost town version of the Wild West. It's interesting to see how classic rides are reinterpreted in different cultures.

Conclusion: When you grow up upper middle class in California, you're going to have some Disney in your childhood memories. It's got such an elemental pull on me that I'm visiting Disney World next week. The Haunted Mansion is a tiny little dark hideaway in the Magic Kingdom and I'm one of a legion of devotees that treasure the ride.   

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why I like Halloween H20


Why I like Halloween H20

1) We rarely see what happens to people who survive horror movies. I assumed most of them go insane, like Sally Hardesty at the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We never see them twenty years later, when they're barely holding it together.

2) I like that there are times when it's very difficult to like Laurie Strode. We don't blame her, as we can see the terror she lives with, but we also feel sympathy for her son. He's had to live with a mother who's tightened her grip on him over the years out of (justifiable) paranoia. 

3) There are people who dislike Michael Myers and Laurie Strode being siblings. They say it takes the fear of random violence from the first movie and makes it into a family drama with more knives. Twenty years later, the decision paid off. H20 is about how destructive the ties of family can be, and how we never really know the people closest to us. 

4) Jamie Lee Curtis is a fantastic actress. Halloween H20's version of Laurie Strode is not an easy role to pull off and Curtis pulls it off with aplomb. I got chills during the scene towards the end of the movie when she closes the gate, calls to her brother, and the familiar theme fills the air. 

5) It's one of those rare slasher movies where the teenage knife-bait feels extraneous to the story. Laurie Strode's arc is so compelling that the teenagers they set up to be victims feel more like a drag on the narrative than anything else. 

6) The ending is one of my favorites in horror cinema. She knew her brother was just going to sit up in the ambulance, and the end result of her escape is her brother pinned to a tree. He reaches for her with such pathos in his eyes, and I don't know if could have stopped myself from taking his hand. We never know why Michael does what he does, but we get a sense in that moment that he's under tremendous pain. The scene plays out as it does, and Myers' hold on his sister's life is ended. 

Conclusion: As far as I'm concerned, that's the last film of the original Halloween series. It was the correct send-off for both characters, not the abomination that followed. Halloween H20 is a genuinely good film, as well as being one of the best of the post-Scream slashers.     

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why I like Hack & Slash


Why I like Hack & Slash

1) There are a lot of comics out there that think beating up monsters equals horror. The medium has been dominated by superhero books for so long that most people think of comics as fight books, with battles breaking out every few pages. While the stories are often exciting, they're action stories rather than horror stories, with the monsters replacing criminals and supervillains. Hack & Slash is a fight book that uses the tropes of slasher fiction as the basis for it's over-the-top battles.   

2) In Hack & Slash, movie slashers are a type of undead monster that come back from the grave to fulfill their twisted need for revenge. The energy that resurrects them is puritanical in nature, despising youth and sex, and the resurrected slashers target young sexy people on their way to finish their mission. It's an effective way to tie up all the slasher movie cliches into one coherent mythology.

3) Cassie Hack is a survivor of a slasher movie massacre, where her undead mother went on a rampage and slaughtered the kids who tormented her daughter. Cassie barely escaped with her life, and the experience scarred her. She started dressing like a Suicide Girl and crossed the country hunting slashers. Eventually she met up with Vlad, a massive deformed man who breathes through a respirator that looks suspiciously like Jason's hockey mask. Together, they battle slashers all around the world. 

4) I like that Cassie and Vlad's quest feels a lot like Sam and Dean Winchester's hunting efforts from Supernatural. They live out of their van, scrape money together doing odd jobs off of Craigslist, and search the news for further evidence of slasher activity. Heroism on a budget is always appealing, but the economic troubles that Cassie and Vlad go through come are much more prominent in the storyline. 

5) The social dynamic between Cassie and Vlad is really interesting. Vlad deeply loves Cassie, but Cassie has been wrestling with her sexuality. Fighting monsters that target sexually active people will put a whammy on a person's sex drive, and it doesn't help that Vlad looks like a monster. It makes their interactions bittersweet and sad, especially when tragedy strikes their ranks. 

6) Cassie Hack is a well-developed character. While the art tends toward too much fan service, she comes off as believably damaged. She reminded me a lot of Laurie Strode from Halloween H20, someone who's barely holding together but can bring down the fire of wrath if need be. 

7) Most of the stories, especially the early issues, are fun little slasher tales that hearken back to the genre's heyday. Creator Tim Seeley really knows his stuff, and the book is full of in-jokes that recall specific movies. As the book continued, slashers like Evil Ernie, Chuckie, and the legendary Re-Animator Herbert West made appearances. It helped tie the series to it's cinematic roots while serving as a homage to one of the most entertaining subgenres in horror. 

Conclusion: Not all parts of Hack & Slash work. Towards the end of the run the book got bogged down in it's own mythology and started deviating from the original ideas while keeping the characters static. But for the first few collections the series was one of the most interesting, engaging takes on slasher film stereotypes.