Blog #26 A love letter to horror

“People love horror movies because all they are sold these days is you’re going to be beautiful, thin, live forever – horror says, maybe not buckaroo.”

Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Chiller13 documentary

There is so much to love about the horror genre, I barely know where to start. Horror films, novels, increasingly games, all of them are great in their own way. As soon as I try to articulate why I love it, ten points try to leave my mouth at once and it ends up a jumble of nonsense.

So, in my first love letter to horror, I want to focus on one of the key elements – death, destruction and how the characters handle it! Cheery stuff, I’ll elaborate.

We often like to see people suffer in horror movies. If they are unlikable characters then it feeds into the deep sense of karma a lot of us have, even if we don’t necessarily call it that. Bad people do bad things and then are punished for this. If we care for sympathetic main characters, seeing them trying to overcome the challenges and survive keep us hooked. Either way though we still expect a struggle, that in order to survive, they will have to fight tooth and nail. No one in the horror genre gives you an easy way out.

There is something about seeing the best laid plans fall apart that is almost cathartic, nothing wrong in admitting that. Whether it is a group prepared to go on a luxurious holiday and the resort is attacked by a serial killer or a labs careful experiment go wrong and releasing a monster. It is an important lesson to learn, no matter how much planning we have, something can come along and smash it to one side. At times the world can seem almost boringly ordered, horror reminds how easily that can slip away and then we will bag to return to that humdrum normalcy. Yes, our day to day lives are exhausting, we spend so much time constructing it all, our homes, our relationships, our careers. We can wish for something exciting to happen. Horror is a subtle reminder, be careful what you wish for.

***

Ah, if only I could see things I have never seen before. To come face to face with a villain and try to save the day.

Wakes up in leatherface’s chop shop.

Yeah, not quite what I had in mind.

***

Creating and following through with plans is a part of life we can all recognise.  When it all goes wrong, disaster strikes, seeing how people react is fascinating. I am a big believer in the idea that when the pressure is on, people reveal their true character. I see this in real life, where in my work people are often under great deals of stress. When things are going your way, it is easy to be positive, encouraging, tackle challenges. What about though when you are getting put through the wringer? What kind of person shows their face?

So I like seeing the suave leader become a nervous wreck, the shy loner rise to the occasion. When it all goes wrong, when your plans are destroyed, either you buckle down and try to survive or you fall apart. The results aren’t always what you expect, the inner strength of some people is so impressive. People who don’t scream natural leader suddenly find themselves in a command position and do a pretty good job. The boss sobbing under the table while one of the workers takes charge is a pretty common trope in horror.

This doesn’t always happen and it doesn’t need to. Sometimes the person in charge is a good leader. I’ve always thought a key difference between a leader and a boss is that a leader takes charge and leads from the front, a boss sits back and gives people orders. Sometimes the nervous wreck, stays a nervous wreck. That can work as well because the viewer/reader will be wanting them to rise to the occasion and bungle it or run away. The Saw movies are quite good for that, characters who can’t overcome their own shortcomings and pay the price for it.

Horror has extreme stakes as well. If you fail, death is usually the result. This makes the story easy to appreciate, if the team mess up, they will die. The tension is cranked to the max. I don’t necessarily need a huge body count in my horror but there does have the be the constant threat of death. Some of the best horror movies are one or two people in an awful situation, it doesn’t always have to be a dozen dead teens at camp crystal lake (although that can work as well!). Look at the Shinning for a good example of this.

Seeing how people handle the situations that arise in horror is one of the main attractions to the genre for me.

Blog #25 Horror Tropes

I’ve had some time off and like any well-adjusted, fully grown man I spent it indulging in a horror marathon. When you dip in and out of a genre, you can appreciate the broad strokes but it can be good to get really into a proper binging session.

I couldn’t help but notice a few characters and plot devices though that always come up. Nothing wrong with that, archetypes are there because they are recognisable and a smart writer can use that to their advantage.

I wanted to share some of the more consistently used tropes I came across though.

Evil Hillbillies

“People learn things from horror movies…like Texas chainsaw massacre teaches teenagers Texas must be avoided at all costs,” – Carl, Aqua Teen Hunger Force

So having been born in and rarely leaving Scotland in the UK I don’t pretend to know American culture very well. My understanding is mainly based on fictional portrayals which may or may not be accurate.

But good grief, even I know hillbillies are portrayed in a negative light. They are all cannibals, murders, violent, corrupt. Maybe I just picked a bad selection of movies for portraying it but it was a barrage of these characters.

Surely there can be some kind Beverly hillbillies types in there somewhere. Well done to Tucker and Dale versus Evil for inverting it, really well done and long overdue.

Priest tries to help- and dies

Well I suppose he could maybe conduct his own last rites before he bites the dust.

Ghost movies and possessed item of choice are full of this. They get a priest who is usually a character I really like, he tries to help and almost always dies. Of course, they help, and might even do something that saves the day but if they walk away from it alive at the end, I will be shocked.

Moral messages

I actually find a lot of morality in horror movies. Stark, brutal, brothers Grimm style morality but it is there. The insufferable jackass in the group usually gets a particularly brutal DEATH. The misbehaving teens die. The corrupt mayor/police chief/ teacher die as well. The loan shark and corrupt insurance brokers are put in a lethal death trap.

Again, it is quite a stark morality, not saying it is one I want to see implemented (unless I am in a particularly nihilistic mood), but it is there- and it is one of the reasons I enjoy horror.

Everyone cheats

This ties into the last one a bit because the cheaters almost always die. People in the horror movies universe do seem to enjoy a bit on the side. The newest Chucky movie twisted it a bit in that the affair was between the maid and a mother. Haha gender equality I suppose, we can all be scumbags, regardless of the tools we have.

The comic relief never is

Comedy in horror movies often arises from shocked absurdism. Wow, the killer beat him to death with a plastic flamingo, what the hell!? Characters who are intended to be the comic relief never are. Honestly, I watched dozens of horror films and have never once seen a comedic character work.

I long for the day when there can be a genuinely funny character in a horror movie (note that I am discounting the genre of comedy horror like Sean of the dead, Hot Fuzz, Severance etc).

 

After all that horror, death and blood think I need to watch some comedies! Better ease into it first with Goosebumps, not totally detached with horror, and a glass of wine with my fiancée.

Blog#24 American Horror Story College

The last few days I have been binge watching American Horror Story, really great series. There are some misses, the odd bit of bad writing or type casting but overall it hits more than it misses (Asylum was my favourite).

I couldn’t help but think in some alternate reality if I was in charge of the show, what would I do?

American Horror Story: College

Box set cover– a figure in a black mask with a square graduate cap on.

Intro– a distorted marching band to the American horror theme, upbeat but distorted and sinister, there are scenes of football games, cheerleader practice but it also cuts to robed figures in ominous hazing rituals, a masked killer stalking the halls at nights.

General idea– Ravenscroft College has a dark past that freshman Cameron Sutcliffe, Cam, will have to uncover in order to save their own life and that of the other students.

Main Plot– Cam is new to the college and witnesses a brutal murder. The killer is a slender, possibly female figure wearing robes and a blood red mask with two narrow eye slits. The dead victim was the student president, Mark West, a straight A, lantern jawed popular student.

Soon unwanted national attention is on the university, the history of a similar killing spree in the 80’s is brought up.  Worst of all the killer seems to continually cross paths with Cam with many suspecting he is behind this.

What is going on at Ravenscroft college?

Subplots  

  • Cam’s high school sweetheart Monica who went to Ravenscroft just to be with him becomes involved with a sorority. Although she is initially a sweet, angelic girl, the sorority with its dark hazing rituals and sexual liaisons between members gradually twists her into a darker version of herself. There is an element of the old exploitation movies here, especially when the inner circle’s demonic leanings are revealed.
  • A private detective is hired to keep his eye on the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. With everything that is going down in the college, he doesn’t trust campus security to keep her safe. He soon learns that rather having to protect her, she is planning a killing spree and he may have to protect the other students from her.
  • Grad student John McCleod desperately wants the associate professor position in the university. However, the elderly and deranged dean expects a true show of loyalty for those he allows into his staff, John will need to entertain these sadistic trials if he wants the position.
  • There is intense pressure on the football team to perform better in the upcoming games, especially the older brother of Cam, Paul who has a distinct lack of grades and career choices. The coach supplies his players with a mysterious substance to make them play better. Bizarrely they all have similar hallucinations that the team mascot, a human sized Raven, is terrorising them. Then players start showing up dead. Surely the Ravenscroft Raven can’t be real.
  • Each episode includes the paranoid and conspiracy fuelled student radio host voicing his (usually accurate) concerns about what is happening on campus.

 

CAST

Cam Sutcliffe- Evan Peters

Paul Sutfliffe- New, previously known actor

Monica- Taissa Farmiga

John Macleod- Zachary Quinto

Dean- James Cromwell

Sorority head- Emma Roberts

Student radio- Cheyenne Jackson

Private detective- Denis O’Hare

Troubled student- Jessica Belkin

 

American Horror Story: College!

Blog #23 Long Term Greedy

I recently finished the book “What happened to Goldman Sachs” by Steven Mandis, it was a fascinating look into the world of investment banking. He summed up something I have always wanted to articulate but haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it.

Long term versus short term greedy. One can be beneficial, the other is almost always disastrous.

As you know, I don’t have anything against greed. I think it is only natural to want more of what you want, whatever it may be. Sitting with a pile of money wont make you happy but it will allow you to do things that make you happy (travel, funding worthy causes, lazing around, take your pick). Others see their pay cheque as a badge of honour, it shows how valuable they are to an organisation, I don’t have a problem with that either.

I don’t consider greedy a bad thing.

Back to long term versus short term greedy.

Long term greedy is wanting more but being prepared to wait, to plan carefully. In many ways commercial and retail banking is like this, little snippets of interest, careful loans, small returns but a lot of them built over a reliable consumer base who trust you. Bankers have to be dull and grey, gravitate towards stability and be the quiet backdrop that allows others to do interesting things. I take pride in that.

Short term greedy is wanting to make a snap decision to line your pockets quickly which can often have disastrous consequences. This is more like investment banking, wanting fast returns, having no real interest in a long term strategy, you dump the stock the second it becomes convenient to do so. There is no interest in sticking with a company or customer base, buy low, sell high, short term greedy. Generally as well the investment bankers want to be the centre of attention and don’t have the more subdued, stoic personalities on the other side of banking (in my humble opinion).

That short term outlook is fine for investment banking but the danger is when other organisations act like this- like when retail banks went short term greedy for subprime mortgages. Then boom, global recession. We cant all be short term greedy or the result is chaos. The banking profession still hasn’t full recovered from that disastrous shift from long term to short term greedy. Now we are moving back to long term, thank god.

It was a great book with some good points. Not really Lee Library worthy as it has nothing to do with improving your own writing but some good talking points.