Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Genre Discussion: Horror!

Recently a great deal of my mind has been occupied with thinking about horror- not any particular horror, but more of horror as an actually general idea. I've obviously been watching a ton of horror as well as playing many horror video games, not only for this blog, but for my own general amusement and excitement. As my blog might point out, I don't find much horror particularly scary, but I do find a good amount of it fairly compelling. I love great horror stories. Movies that try very hard to be scary and compelling at the same time can ofttimes be completely brilliant. I love horror that tries to focus on being smart as well as terrifying, trying to blend both into wonderful and thrilling stories or ideas. It's one of the reasons I like both psychological horror and sci-fi horror as genres. They try to scare through both tension and intelligence.

My favorites types of horror have to be those types. Psychological horror can be highly effective in its execution simply because of the emphasis on characters' perceptions. Dreamlike psychological horror can be absolutely terrifying to me because I tend to have dreams that are often disjointed and highly creepy. One of my favorite psychological horror movies is Jacob's Ladder- a film that can be described as both intelligent and gritty. Definitely made in that crazy and wonderful time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when everything was as gritty as coarse sandpaper and incredibly heavy-hitting besides. I don't usually see it as a really terrifying movie, but I don't know if horror is always supposed to be absolutely terrifying all of the time.

Stephen King has spoken about the whole idea of a differentiation between the different types of horror categories. He pegged it as three different types: terror, horror, and revulsion. The difference between terror and horror may not be obvious, but compare the difference between a "terror" we don't see but know exists and a "horror" we can see while it consumes our senses.

I tend to avoid revulsion types of horror on this blog and in general. I sometimes will find the mood to rush at revulsion and revel in it, but often I find revulsion repulsive and uninteresting, an easy way to get the audience to squirm and puke up guts, but neither refined nor thought-provoking. The epitome of revulsion for me has always been the novel Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. It was the novel that gave me reasons to squirm at the ideas of pools. Ugh. Revulsion is the basest and simplest of emotional connections to fictional media. Franchises like the Saw or Hostel series and any given gross blood-ridden exploitation film represents this aspect in movies. These revulsion films tend to be incredibly popular, especially today, driving the lowest common denominator of audiences into theatres to watch some absolutely wonderful gore and blood all over the screen. I really tend to look down at these films seeing them as easy to create, easy to make easy to act in, and safe to produce or direct. There are very few real risks involved in those movies and they definitely, these days, are only produced to sell tickets. Blargh! Slasher films, gore films, and even freakout films like the Paranormal Activity films tend to really follow this trend. It's incredibly disappointing and honestly pretty upsetting.

Revulsion may not garner the same support in other media that it does in film though. While slasher films toe the line between horror and revulsion, and gross-out films know exactly what they're going for, books and video games rarely jump into this category of horror. Reading Johnny the Homicidal Maniac recently I could see, in that comic by Jhonen Vasquez, a mixture of all three categories with a definite focus on the revulsion aspect at times, but with an intelligence and philosophy behind it that really drove it into an intelligent revulsion, something I could certainly find myself really liking. In terms of video games, Silent Hill and Dead Space as series tend to have large amounts of body horror within them, trying to both repulse and sicken the player. These are met with all types of success, of course, but often give off a response of terror in their repulsiveness. Most enemies in both games to me look like pieces of meat at this point basically... and I don't find that in the least bit intimidating, but I can see how some people can get freaked out by those monsters.

As for horror and terror, these are certainly the categories I tend focus on in my reviews. Horror could be represented by any number of things... name a space horror movie for example or any given sci-fi horror movie too. Apollo 18 is right there, being fun with tiny jump scares and some small amounts of tension but having little lasting effect on the viewer. And that's the main different here. I find horror to not be a lasting category- one that sticks with you through the years haunting you as you walk down the street at night or during a sunny and smiling day. Horror doesn't make you drop your smile suddenly... wondering if you were imagining Slender Man in the corner of your vision... or a Minotaur somewhere in the bushes just waiting... always waiting... No, horror is something far removed, something that has both definition and a far-off effect. It does not effect you and never will. That doesn't take away its scariness during a movie or video game or novel, but it certainly does limit its effectiveness after the fact. Monsters like Frankenstein's monster or any given older vampire... mummies, scary ghosts and ghouls, swamp things, and weird spider creatures all tend to drive what horror is all about. I mean, hell, even older slasher villains like Freddy or Jason or Michael Myers tend to follow a horror category... at least in their earliest incarnations. Horror tends to focus on being scary in the moment, but I've found that these movies tend to have either happier or absolutely ridiculous endings. The stories don't really stick in your mind and memory as terrifying, but rather as interesting or silly or fun. How many people even find the monsters or weird slasher men scary anymore? I look at Frankenstein's monster and just go: "That was once scary? I don't even believe that."

My favorite of the categories has always been terror, the most defined and elevated form of horror according to Stephen King's list in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre. I find that the media that scares me the most are the ones that I think about often. A creepy dark-haired boy staring out from a window in Noroi, the entirety of the 1981 movie Possession, but especially how the wife acts throughout the movie... I think about what truly scares me, what I find truly terrifying... the psychological torment present in Sauna or 1408, the journey through darkness that James Sunderland has to pass through in Silent Hill 2 as he loses his grip on reality, and Johnny Truant's journey of self-discovery and personal and impersonal darkness in House of Leaves. Hell, even the horse jumping off of the ship in The Ring or the vampire problem in 'Salem's Lot counts. Terror is the highest level of horror and easily the most subjective. It often relies on more telling and less showing- basically the "Nothing is Scarier" principle as defined by TVTropes. I keep seeing that this terror is very popular in very small circles. It is gaining in popularity recently, but also very slowly. I'll get into this a little further down.

Mostly these categories are defined emotional responses to stimuli. And honestly I find that one can easily add more categories as well. I mean do any of these really deal with literal and actual panic? Think back on some of the crazes from the early part of last century with the War of the Worlds radio broadcast... or even more recently at the more prominent and successful found footage films like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. There is an element of an association with panic and hysteria from the audience, almost as if they too are caught up in the emotions of the piece just as the characters on screen are. It's not as simple as just watching the horrific proceeding, but becoming a part of something you were originally not part of... self-insertion into the proceedings, something that does not really happen with any other genre. Think about even something like a haunted house (like the ones that exist close to Halloween) and all the teenage girls who go in and scream their heads off. There's an element of belief to that panic. Or do you not believe me?

Well, whether you do believe me or not I have a story to prove my point. A personal story from my personal store of personal stories. I am not simply a weird computer moth creature staring at the screen and typing with my weird wing-fingers. I also like scaring people at night. I was a part of a haunted corn maze group a few years ago. I dressed like a colonial zombie and helped to scare some people. I looked absolutely ridiculous... the Fabio or corn maze zombies with both longer hair and a too large shirt basically exposing me to the elements. Most people inside of that corn maze just found it fun and a good time all around looking at ridiculous monsters while trying to figure out and incredibly easy corn maze, but little children and young women would get absolutely terrified, and I always wondered about it. Children don't know any better. They are young and believe in everything from vampires in their closets to angry mothmen under their beds, but why do young women face the same fears between reality and fiction? Full disclosure: there was also one high school guy who may have been terrified as well, but I couldn't tell if he were serious or not. No one could because nobody expected a decently aged male teenager to be afraid of a corn maze while he was with his friends. My point here isn't some sexist rant or anything either, because... no, I'm not into that... but rather to point out that some people can get so into a fake scene of fear that they can honestly start going hysterical and threatening to urinate their trousers out of pure and unbridled fear from a man who is the Fabio of colonial zombies. I never knew that people would cry from fear by going into a fake scary corn maze with students who had on hastily put together costumes and make-up... but there was that and a lot of it. And you have to wonder about the nature of fear in that circumstance. You have to wonder about what's going through people's head. You have to wonder what causes people to become afraid over things like that.

I live in New England, not too far from Salem, Massachusetts. A few years ago I went into a gimmicky haunted house there. I was probably in my mid-teens at the time.I went in with my younger cousin and we had a good time looking at all the ridiculous costumes. Everybody had a good time and the costumed beings were trying their best to be scary and make people scream. Jump scares can often work for cheap screams, but not for panic... but there was this group of three teenage girls about my age at the time, and the ENTIRE TIME in that haunted house they were screaming their heads off absolutely terrified at costumed beings somewhat reaching out for them sometimes and moaning every once in a while. Yes, there was darkness and monsters... but none of it was real. I didn't actually have to fear for my life. Hell, none of them were even going to touch me. I found most of it funny... enjoyable certainly, but also seriously very amusing. I wonder how a person can seriously find themselves so into a situation they know to be fake. It's something I will never understand.

Of course horror can happen on so many levels from media to real life to inside your own head. I mean, the reason that the Slender Man is so popular today is because of his ability to show up anywhere at anytime and maybe you don't even remember it with the videos featuring him really blurring that line between fantasy and reality. How do you know if you've ever seen Slendy? How do you know if you haven't watched all of those videos of yourself you've taped, combing through each one to find the one with some film scratches and a man in a nicely tailored suit with impossible proportions? YouTube has gone a long way to make those lines incredibly blurry, with regular guys like MarbleHornets really going a long way in helping to create an online mythology. Creepypasta as well does a similar thing with all of the lost footage of crazy TV shows and such. I've always found the Candle Cove stuff really dark and satisfying for its creepy edge. But even look at something as silly as Ben Drowned or the weird Pokemon videos of the weird things that could possibly happen in the world of video games. They can be terrifying. You wonder if something like that could happen to you. I've been following most of these things for years, but it's only recently that many of these scary YouTube things have been gaining an audience. It's still niche and probably will never be mainstream or find any mainstream success, but it's incredibly satisfying to see that people are really finding some of these modern horror mythologies compelling. Some might argue against the value of a creature lie Slender Man, but how many of our own monsters in popular culture are created from movies or books? None of them are actually real... even if we truly want them to be.

What all of this comes down to is that I enjoy my horror like some people enjoy fine wine. I look at it in both a critical and receptive manner. I love finding myself terrified by creepy stuff- be they stories, movies, YouTube videos, or situations. One of the main reasons this blog exists is for me to showcase different horror STUFF and point them out- yes, reviewing them and giving my impressions, but also really broadcasting forgotten or rare gems that should be watched/played/looked at and duds that should be heartily avoided by everybody all the time. I always look at it like this: without this blog I would have never watched two horror movies: Sauna: Wash Your Sins and The Reaping. While The Reaping was a pile of donkey dung and probably one of the biggest wastes of movie time I have ever seen, Sauna was effective and wonderful, being both an absolutely brilliant and terrifying movie in a genre (psychological horror) that I absolutely love. I simply want to share what I love and hate with all of you reading this blog, from the hardcore horror fans to any random dude or gal just surfing and stumbling onto some of my posts. I don't just rely on horror reviews as you might see, but those reviews are the meat and potatoes of what I do on here and they are frankly what I enjoy the most about the whole blogging thing. I can't get enough of looking at some horror and sharing my views in writing to anybody who is willing to read what I put down.

Now, is horror effective and wonderful and just as artistic and important as any other genre? Of course! Even without critical acclaim, horror remains one of the greatest and most lasting genres that exists. The genre usually does not include the super-serious OSCAR MOVIES but who cares about those pieces of crud? I mean, I can still remember Black Swan winning at those MOVIE OSCARS and I found it literally detestable that that movie should win anything but absolutely worst big budget psychological movie ever. I mean, seriously? Anybody who actually likes that movie really should get their cranium checked for leaks because that movie was awful, legitimately and seriously awful. It did not work on any level and attempted to mainstream what was and is essentially niche. It made a genre that when it is good is almost perfect into a big dumb spectacle movie about Natalie Portman needing to get boned for some reason and then having weird issues about said hypothetical boning. And although there were a few decent moments, most of it was just so incredibly shallow, focusing so much more on Natalie Portman's heaving bosom and her fake masturbation than it did on any real substantial SUBSTANCE. And if that's what mainstream horror or thriller or WHATEVER is nowadays then I want absolutely nothing to do with that at all. I'll stick with my obscure and amazing little movies that nobody has ever heard of and that I love completely.

Horror should mostly exist for those looking to be frightened. Horror is there to scare first and foremost. Without fear what is horror except a story? No- true horror... whether it involves terror, horror, or revulsion... or anxiety, panic, despair, or a true unbridled fear... is something that tries to make you shudder in the depths of the night when you least expect it to do so. It takes your mind and throws it to the ground, stomping on your safety and sending you reeling under the covers. True horror, the best horror, only exists to terrify and to be as excellent at that as is possible in the story or idea. And while I complain about movies and games and all other types of horror at times, I absolutely love this genre more than anything else I can seriously think of. And that's why I find it so confusing when horror fans start bashing each other over the heads over which series are the best rather than just enjoying what horror is. I could care less about what a franchise gives me. Silent Hill is full of some wonderful and absolutely terrifying games. Why do I care about canon in a game that essentially focuses on the minds of individuals? So if the franchise changes style with every new game, why should I ever worry? I don't want every game to be Silent Hill 2. I want new and different things every time. Don't give me Pyramid Head in every game. Instead focus on some new and brilliant ways to scare the crud out of me. I could go on a fan rant for hours... so I won't, but I think that every single person who honestly thinks that Silent Hill  is terrible and it's all about CANON CANON CANON CANON CANONCANONCANONCANONCANONCANON should really start thinking about why they fell in love with the series in the first place. It's not about canon. It's about fear. It's about interesting sets, interesting and terrifying creatures, wonderfully macabre environments, and an exploration of a human mind. The games are all unique and wonderful in their own ways... even the one that suffers from trying to be like the movie. And I just don't see why people have to hate on something like Book of Memories when they have no idea what the hell the game even is yet.

And maybe that is a lesson to me as well: to simply enjoy without worry, without ranting... without... yeah, that's not going to happen, is it? I'm chill with Silent Hill... pretty sure I'm anti-chill with a ton of other things. I love horror. Absolutely adore everything about it. I love the sounds, the looks, the tropes, and the worlds of horror. I've been wanting to discuss horror for a very long time, touching upon what I love and what is brilliant about the genre. I do have 31 days of horror reviews coming up in October, so I guess I really do have a crazy focus on horror. Anyway, I'll probably put out a post about October Night III at the end of September, but expect on October 1 that there will be another insane month of horror reviews. And I'll probably pass from exhaustion... but that's okay! I didn't need to survive this October anyway!

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