Archive for May, 2006
If your idea of a good superhero movie does not involve Tobey Maguire walking away from a gravestone in slow motion, then man, this is the superhero movie for you.
Bryan Alexander of Infocult calls our attention to a lovely essay on horror by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk, singing the praises of what he dubs “cycle” horror, horror in which the viewer or reader is made to understand that the horrific events she is witnessing have happened many times before and will continue to happen many times in the future. (Think The Shining or The Ring.) Palahniuk argues that these films are in some strange way comforting, in that they imply that the victims are sacrifices made in our stead to keep the evil forces that threaten to overwhelm us (i.e. death, the monster with a thousand faces) at bay. Bryan has some quibbles, centering on both the accuracy of some of Palahniuk’s examples and whether the near-total innocence of many of these films’ victims negates the sacrifice aspect, but as you might have guessed I like where Palahniuk is going with this: certainty and repetition are a big part of what makes the horror genre “work” for me. But regardless, it’s often exciting to see a philosophy of horror originating from an outsider. I interviewed Palahniuk way back in 2001, and was delighted to discover that his next book would be a horror novel; in fact Palahniuk’s last three fiction books (Lullaby, Diary, Haunted) have all been works of horror, and it’s compelling to see how he works with the tools of the genre given his lack of, for want of a better word, an apprenticeship among the hardcore.
Speaking of thoughts on horror from the non-hardcore, the stellar comics critic Jog of Jog the Blog reviews the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, pointing out how it’s really quite a beautiful film. (And he separates “Chain” and “Saw,” which always goes over well with me.)
And what better way to follow up a post on Texas Chain Saw than a post on eating meat? Slate’s William Saletan writes on how science may be on the verge of accomplishing what both soy and human morality have for the most part failed to do–make it unnecessary to eat the flesh of dead animals.
The moral dimension of Saletan’s argument is derived in part from the recent discovery that dolphins refer to one another by name. And I don’t mean “Flipper”–they have recognizable names in their own language of clicks and squeaks. I’d make an Onion joke, but this just makes me sad.
The good people at Top Shelf have resized the panels of my comic “It Brought Me Some Peace of Mind” so that they you can see each panel in full without having to scroll down. So if that was bugging you before, it shouldn’t anymore. Enjoy!
Jon Hastings of The Forager Blog has a problem with the ramshackle plot of Art School Confidential, but his problem isn’t that there was too little plot, but too much. Ah, let him explain it to you. FWIW, I disagree about whether this point made the movie lousy–I laughed as hard at it as I’ve laughed at any movie in years–but since it seems to be a sticking point for many people who see the film and since Jon approaches it in such an interesting way, you should probably check it out.
In theory, at least, scientists believe they are capable of constructing a Harry Potter-style Cloak of Invisibility. Science is awesome.
The Transylvanian fortress commonly (though erroneously) cited as Castle Dracula is being returned to the heir of its rightful owners, who lost it to confiscating Communists in 1948. If the Commies had ditched the hammer and sickle in favor of a mallet and wooden stake, maybe they could have hung on to the thing, huh?
As enlightening and informative as the debate on torture-horror has been in the horror blogosphere and its surrounding environs–and I’m really happy to say that the ratio of light to heat that’s been generated by the discussion is staggeringly lopsided in the former’s favor–it’s also quite useful to hear the perspective of somebody who isn’t a genre junkie. So take a look at humor blogger Jim Treacher’s thoughts on Wolf Creek, a movie he finds both good and–surprisingly–not particularly graphic at all, except in an emotional sense. He makes it sound like nothing so much as the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film I’m obviously quite fond of. Very, very interesting.
The new issue of Giant Magazine has been making its way to subscribers and newsstands and whatnot, and there’s a bunch of stuff in there by me: A full-page interview with Fantagraphics co-publishers Gary Groth and Kim Thompson (as mentioned on Fanta’s blog), a review of The Walking Dead Book One hardcover, and li’l write-ups for Kramers Ergot 6 and Private Stash: A Pinup Girl by 20 Cartoonists. There’s a little profile of me, complete with a photo, on the contributors’ page as well. So you are welcome to buy it if you think you’d be interested in any of those things.
A pair of real-world stories to get us started tonight: After killing just 17 people over the past 58 years, Florida alligators have fatally attacked three people in less than a week. In human predator news, the FBI is looking for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa in a Detroit-area horse farm with the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up name of Hidden Dreams Farm.
From real to not-so, Mac Slocum at The Lost Blog passes on word that Lost‘s third season will air without repeats–all the new episodes will be concentrated in two big chunks at the beginning and end of the TV season, so there won’t be any of that irritating bouncing around from two weeks of new episodes to two weeks of re-runs and so forth. The gap between chunks will be a big one, but this more or less brings the show’s viewing pattern in line with reality programs like, say, America’s Next Top Model, which run two “cycles” per traditional TV season.
Bloody Disgusting reports that the film adaptation of Clive Barker’s absurdly good short story “The Midnight Meat Train” has had its title drearily truncated to The Midnight Train. Sigh. Well, Barker beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. The Variety piece BD reprints also indicates that Midnight Train director Patrick Tatopolous was the special effects designer on Silent Hill, which as I’ve noted before had a distinctly Barkerian vibe.
In other disappointing movie news, Dionaea House creator Eric Heisserer informs members of his Yahoo group that Warner Bros. has pulled the plug on the film adaptation of his web narrative, retitled Sanctum. However, Heisserer alludes to having found funding from another source, so the movie may yet go through.
Finally, Curt at The Groovy Age of Horror has posted a lengthy response to my lengthy response to his lengthy responses to my lengthy responses to the torture-horror movie cycle. (And if that isn’t the phenomenon of blogging in a nutshell, I don’t know what is!) In it he advances what I think is a pretty agreeable baseline definition of horror. But I do want to stick up for myself in at least one regard: Curt characterizes me as thinking that the old Universal horror flicks aren’t real horror films, but in the post he’s referring to you’ll notice I have “real” in scare quotes; my point was that they weren’t horror films in the same way that post-Night of the Living Dead, comparatively hard-R horror films are horror films, that they aren’t horror films by the contemporary standard and/or definition. I certainly think they’re horror films; even if one were to apply my relatively narrow definition of the genre and say that only works that aim to frighten should be considered horror, these movies frightened the hell out of people at the time and I think they can still be frightening and haunting and disturbing today. I loves me some Universal monster movies, everyone, I promise!
Inspired in part by my posts on the subject, Curt at Groovy Age of Horror argues in an pair of posts that where both the current wave of brutal-horror films and their ’70s indie-horror antecedents fail is their “overvaluation of fear” as the desired end-product of the horror-moviegoing experience, specifically the “aversive aspect” of fear–that is, more than offer a roller-coaster thrill ride, these movies want to make you feel as frightened and uncomfortable as you might during a mugging or a car accident. If I’m reading Curt correctly (and I confess that my blog-reading and -writing time these days is borrowed, so I may not be paying the attention Curt’s arguments deserve–feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), he’s saying that the fear element in the horror genre is almost like a homeopathic medication–judging solely from the active ingredient it would be unpleasant in itself, but the results of exposure are actually beneficial. In horror’s case, the benefit is “the rush of risk-taking,” what Curt calls “fear that fascinates, attracts, thrills, and pleases.” In Curt’s way of looking at the genre, focusing simply on the sort of fear that “make[s] audience members leave the theater, faint, vomit, wet themselves, or at least look away” is akin to taking homeopathic remedies to cause allergies, rather than prevent them.
To which I reply, well, yes and no. And I’m afraid it’s difficult for me to come up with a better articulation of the “no” half of that answer than, well, “nuh-uh!” As I’ve said before, there is virtually no overlap between the sort of horror that interests Curt and myself. In fact, I’d likely refuse to categorize a lot of what he calls horror as horror at all, if I were forced at gunpoint to be the genre’s arbiter. Why? Because, to me, fear is precisely the point of the genre. I’m pretty much a horror elitist on that score. In fact, in my senior essay on horror I argued for what Lovecraft deemed the highest form of fear, “cosmic fear,” as being the ideal reaction inspired by horror works. To the argument that such an ideal would establish too narrow a “standard for inclusion into the genre,” as per The Philosophy of Horror author Noel Carroll, my reply was a terse “so what?” Long story short, I believe horror scary rises or falls with its scariness, and while that scariness can attract, fascinate, thrill, and please (per Curt), it should in the end, and primarily, and fundamentally, scare. If you can’t approach a genre based on how well it executes its defining characteristic, I don’t know how you can approach a genre at all.
But on the “yes” side, I think Curt’s on to something when he talks about the “aversive” aspect of fear being overvalued these days. This is something of a semantic point, but isn’t it true that if a film truly succeeded in being completely abhorrent, no one would see it? After all, even those of us who enjoy seeing abhorrent things–well, we enjoy seeing abhorrent things. I may not be interested in the kitsch frisson that Curt’s favored works produce–that thrill-ride thing–but at the same time I acknowledge that there is a part of me that finds the unpleasantness of very dark horror to be, in some way, pleasurable. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t watch it. In the past I’ve tried to pinpoint this pleasurable aspect by theorizing that I appreciate the genre’s certainty (see also here), even if what it enables one to be certain about are that evil is rampant, that things are fundamentally awful, that there will be no happy endings. (Whether I’m talking about the movie or the real world in which it was created depends on how pessimistic, or how honest, I’m being that day.) A psychoanalytic approach would indicate that we seek out horror in art for the thrill of the forbidden (and that the fear response is simply our psyche’s way of placating our superegos for the sin of our transgression). For his part, Carroll bypassed both personal and Freudian explanations and said, simply, that “[o]ne wants to gaze upon the unusual, even when it is simultaneously repelling.”
However you slice it, there is something pleasurable about the unpleasantness of fear.
(On an unrelated note, but probably not as unrelated as you’d think, this is essentially why I can’t bring myself to see United 93–I just can’t derive pleasure from a realistically rendered account of the real terrorizing and murder of real people in an atrocity that fresh in my mind and heart. There’s no pleasure to be found there for me, even the dark pleasure of terrible certainty.)
My point is that pleasure must, definitionally, be an aspect of any work of art we profess to enjoy or appreciate, and that while you don’t need to reduce it to Curt’s explanation that fear is the pinch of salt you throw in the water of your endorphin receptors to bring it to a thrills’n'chills boil, nor should you, as I believe the likes of Hostel and Wolf Creek may be doing, ignore that pleasure entirely and aim your movie at people as some sort of punishment for either their perceived failings or those of their society or culture. Nutshell version: I do think fear is THE defining aspect of horror, and as such can’t be overvalued. However, I think fear itself is pleasurable in some way unrelated to the roller-coaster rush, or else we wouldn’t be interested in the genre, and striving to create the most unpleasurable film possible therefore forces people to derive pleasure from elements not present in the actual film, leading to much weaker horror filmmaking generally. Looked at in this fashion, I wonder if all the breathless political readings afforded these films stems from the fact that the only way they can be viewed in a non-aversive fashion is if the critic chooses to interpret them as a cudgel against political, cultural, or aesthetic forces (anything from neoconservatism to Ritalin-addled cellphone-wielding teenagers in movie theatres to Scream-style WB Stars In Peril flicks or spooky J-horror remakes) she dislikes. Whichever tack one takes with these movies, I don’t recall if I’ve ever seen praise for one that’s able to stay within the four corners of what was projected on the screen. Is that because what’s there is so “aversive” that even those who profess to appreciate them must look away?
Everyone saw my serial-killer comic over at Top Shelf’s site, right?
Happy Mother’s Day! Celebrate with Jason Adams’s look at five horror-movie moms. “You got red on you.”
If you love water monsters the way I love water monsters, you’ll love these promotional pics from the upcoming giant-shark movie Meg.
I admit, this isn’t necessarily hitting my buttons the way it might if the beast’s size was simply implied–as it is it doesn’t take advantage of water’s depth and consequent mystery. But still, pretty cool, no? (Hat tip: Bloody Disgusting.)
Over at Slate, Sam Anderson reviews He-Man and the Masters of the Universe on DVD. God, did I love that show as a kid, and I’m realizing how influential it continues to be on my imaginary life today. Anderson pinpoints why, ironically, when he talks about what he thinks doesn’t work about the show:
It’s set among craggy gothic castles and dramatic stone arches on a generic action-planet called Eternia; the time frame is a kind of medieval future in which battle axes coexist with freeze rays, video screens, flying Jet Skis, and memory-projectors.
To the young (and old) Sean T. Collins, that was precisely what was so cool about the cartoon: It took everything a young boy digs–superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi, swords, guns, monsters, villains, secret identities, superpowers, aliens, cool vehicles–and smashed them together, logic be damned. I don’t think the journey from He-Man to Kill Bill (or to David Bowie, actually) is a terribly long one, you know?
Also on the fantasy beat is Dark But Shining’s Daniel Laloggia, who’s touting Lloyd Alexander’s young-adult mythology series The Prydain Chronicles. (And he does it without spelling “Prydain” correctly even once! Aw, I kid because I love.) I’m one of those rare birds who read Tolkien as a child but gave Narnia a pass entirely until I was in my early 20s, so much of my elementary-school reading time was occupied by other, lesser-known fantasy cycles, the best of which were Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Tales of Earthsea, and Alexander’s very Welsh Prydain books (as well as his high-adventure series, The Westmark Trilogy). I’ve found that where Tolkien, LeGuin, and even Cooper hold up when read as an adult, the Prydain books do feel like kid stuff–but very smart, and increasingly dark, kid stuff indeed, kid stuff deeply infused with the joy of imaginative storytelling. If you’ve got a kid with Harry Potter fever, The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron and all the rest are highly recommended for your rugrat’s reading pleasure.
Here in the real world, Mexploitation’s Joachim Ziegler takes a trip to Tepito, Mexico City’s anything-goes street-market district cum free-fire zone. Among the goods (illicit and otherwise) he finds for sale are prescription drugs, high-end electronics, child pornography, and human remains. Stranger than fiction, as the saying goes.
If you’re in the market to expand your horror-based reading on line, you could do a lot worse than to visit Where the Monsters Go, the ever-expanding listing of horror blogs. I’d estimate that I’ve added around twenty sites in the last week alone. Check it out!
Finally, in the next day or so (possibly sooner) I’ll be posting a big thinkblogging piece I’ve been meaning to write for a long, long time–a response to this post by Curt at The Groovy Age of Horror. Until that time, why not click over to Curt’s and bone up?
The kind folks at Top Shelf have published another of my comics on their website, and I’d be delighted if you’d go and check it out. It’s called “It Brought Me Some Peace of Mind”–google that phrase with quotes around it and you’ll find out what it’s about. I wrote it and Matt Rota drew it. Please enjoy! (And while you’re there, you can take a look at another comic of mine, “Destructor Comes to Croc Town”. Something for everyone!)
You might think you don’t like contemporary hip-hop and hip-pop because it’s boring, derivative, materialistic, sexist, and stylistically conservative–in other words, because it’s like hair metal with looser clothes (at least for the guys)–but it turns out the real reason you don’t like it is because you’re racist. Well, that’s what Sasha Frere-Jones would have you believe, anyway. Slate’s John Cook kicks this unbelievably idiotic notion (as he puts it, and I’ve seen this sort of sentiment expressed with a straight face, “If the number of black artists in your iPod falls too far below 12.5 percent of the total, then you are violating someone’s civil rights”) right in the nuts.
I’ve talked about falling out of love with hip-hop before, and I like to think that it doesn’t make me racist, but simply someone who’s interested in other things musically, or at worst an old fuddy-duddy who’s still reliving the glory days of A Tribe Called Quest and Fear of a Black Planet. (For what it’s worth, Ghostface Killah continues to make knockout records.) Whichever it may be, there’s something really, really weird about critics making an argument that the more popular something is, the more worthy of critical praise it becomes, which is essentially what’s going on when people are anathematized for not liking hip-pop. I guess it’s an aspect of the backlash against “rockism,” and that backlash can be really perverse–and in some ways pointless, because “rockism” is predicated on people having an extremely narrow definition of what constitutes rock and roll, which is inherenty un-rock and roll.
Did everyone else appreciate the use of a monumental horror-image on The Sopranos last night?
I’ve said it before: Horror will infect any available space, and the Internet is no exception. (Bryan Alexander chronicles this phenomenon on a daily basis.) Case in point: this eBay listing for a haunted teddy bear. It includes a backstory reminiscent of The Dionaea House or Stephen King’s “The Monkey.” And the bear is currently going for $360.00.
(Hat tip: The Missus.)
There’s a pair of noteworthy new horror blogs I thought I’d mention to you:
Hellraiser Gallery is an effort dedicated to all things Clive Barker, so obviously it’s already required reading chez ADDTF.
Tolerated Vandalism is a brand-new generalist horror thinkblog, of the sort I think we could stand to have a lot more of.
Check them both out, and tell ‘em Sean sent you.