Thursday, July 22, 2004

The nature of horror

I have been pondering what makes a story frightening.

I remember my mother told me once that when she saw the original Frankenstein with Boris Karloff (made in 1931) she was about 11 or 12 years old and literally crawled up her mother's coat sleeve because the movie frightened her so much. Unlike my youngest sister and me, she does not like horror movies, books, or anything scary. Beanie and I love horror, but we differ on the type of horror, although there are some horror books/movies that we both like. I prefer psychological horror to bloody slasher movies like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. Thomas Harris is one of my favorite authors, as are Dean Koontz and John Saul, all of whom share that quintessential something that takes the every day, turns it on its head and makes it horrific.

I just finished watching Unbreakable with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, which was made by M. Night Shyamalan. I have seen several of Shyamalan's movies and they all have an almost laconic movement like a person just out of a decade-long coma who is still feeling their way about their new reality. I didn't realize until halfway thru the movie I had seen Unbreakable before and I don't know why I didn't remember the movie because it certainly is riveting. Bruce Willis is understated and nearly silent as he moves thru his life, seemingly out of place and yet still a part of the events. It is something I've noticed that is peculiar to all the lead characters in all Shyamalan's movies I have seen. There is always a twist at the end that ties up the loose ends, that makes sense of the slow progression thru each event, a twist that is telegraphed throughout the movie, but which you do not always immediately understand. Shyamalan makes a stately progress thru the events, taking his time and carefully, methodically gathering each and every loose thread of the project, weaving them into a coherent whole.

I am surprised by Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson's performances, not only because they tend to be more bombastic, more larger than life at times, but because of the quiet depth of their characters. I am not sure if this is due to Shyamalan's direction or because of something Shyamalan has written into the scripts, but it works least as far as I am concerned. And still there is an incipient horror in each movie, but a psychological horror of what is perceived as mundane until you know the secret--and there is always a secret.

So, what makes good horror? Is it the blood and gore dripping from the pages or taking the mundane, turning it on its head (or the viewer on his/her head) and shining the light from a different angle the way children shine their flashlights under their chins and make themselves into monsters and ghouls?

As a horror reviewer, I read a lot of so-called horror and most of the time I find it difficult to sleep without a prayer of protection because every bump, twitch, shift, and sigh in my silent house could be horror creeping upon me unseen or invading my thoughts and dreams. Most of the time I am surprised to find a book labeled as horror because, other than some colorful language about insides being turned to the outside, there is little or no horror in what could have been quite frightening. For instance, I just finished two novels (Family Inheritance by Deborah LeBlanc and The Wind Caller by P. D. Cacek.

LeBlanc's book took horror to the level that frightens me the most (and gave me nightmares in the bargain) with the mix of psychological and mythological elements and threw in a good dose of Voodoo that forced me to finish the book as quickly as possible to prevent further nightmares. However, Cacek's book had the same elements of psychology and mythology, and even included a healthy dose of good old-fashioned anger and vengeance, and failed to mix the elements with a deft hand, leaving me with a story that could have been wonderfully horrific but remained flat and lifeless. There was plenty of blood, guts, and mayhem, but the violence was gratuitous at best and thrown in for effect at worst, and still the story failed to frighten me or really do more than leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.

How is it possible to take the same elements and good writing skills and turn out two such different novels? It's like giving top quality ingredients to two people and asking them to bake the same cake, one of them turning the ingredients into a cake fit for the gods and the other a cake fit for the trash. Reminds me of one of Michael Cunningham's characters in The Hours. Actually, it reminds me of my ex-husband Nick who could not turn bread, butter, and Velveeta into a simple grilled cheese sandwich that didn't look and taste like crap.

What is the difference? Level of skill? LeBlance and Cacek have turned out wonderful stories in the past, so the level of skill is about equal. Ingredients? They both had the same ingredients, albeit from different parts of the country--LeBlanc used the mythology of the Cajun bayous and Cacek used Hopi mythology. So what made the difference, set their stories so far apart? Good day? Bad day? Vision? Maybe Cacek needs glasses or a piece of the Snow Queen's mirror made in hell to sharpen her horrific vision. Who knows?

It is doubtful I will figure all this out in this post or even in the very near future, but you can be sure I will continue dissecting this particular cadaver to find out all there is to know. Meanwhile, I think I'll go darken the atmosphere and watch Red Dragon again. It's too bad I don't have Silence of the Lambs so I can shiver listening to Anthony Hopkin's soft voiced menace as Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter once again. I do so love the shivers he gives me.

One more memory pops into mind, the memory of relating the story of Silence of the Lambs to my now-ex-husband Nick who had refused to go see the movie with me. The lure of telling the tale in Lecter's deeply menacing soft voice was too strong to resist, as was the complete and utter joy of watching Nick crawl up the back of his chair and up the wall to get as far away from the voice and the story as he could. Some horrors are worth revisiting . . . and that is one of them. Mmmmmmm

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Babies, time, and hell rides

In The Chronicles of Amber Roger Zelazny wrote about a royal family who were at the center of time and reality. The reality in which the rest of humans live is but a shadow cast by the royal court of Amber and it is in the minds of the royal family that each reality is traversed as they change their surroundings to reach the particular reality they wish to visit or in which they wish to live. Although classed science fiction and somewhat fantastical in nature, Zelazny might have been onto something.

When a baby is born their unfocused eyes try to make sense of the world around them, a world of color blobs that move and speak, sing and touch, leaving a lasting impression, but there may be something else at work. In recent years as physics pushes back the boundaries of space, time, and reality there is a growing belief the universe is conscious, that its particles, down to the smallest muon, quark, etc., may have a consciousness that is interactive.

What if a baby is the bridge between realities, not fully in our universe, but visible because we believe the child to be visible, and yet able to interact with the world/reality from which it comes? Children have to be taught to read and write and yet some children cling to wrong habits of writing in reverse. Could it be that is how they see the reality in which they have come to live? Is their well documented ability to see things that adults cannot see proof they have not completely severed their link with another reality, a reality adults have been taught not to see or believe?

Add to this the possibility that the big bang could have been created in a laboratory and deliberately encoded with messages from its scientist/creator and you have the beginnings of something more than a short story or science fiction/fantasy novel. You have the glimmerings of truth. The signs are all around us and there is plenty of allegorical and cryptic writing to point the way.

The Bible says if we but have the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains and that we must be born again to see the kingdom of heaven. What if those aphorisms are not religious in nature, but scientific truths? In the very ancient days, religion was used as a tool to preserve knowledge, but a primitive mind, one used to following and believing in the wisdom and all knowing abilities of god/desses, may have mistaken science for religion and began to worship what was meant to be preserved until such a time as mankind's mind was ready to see the truth.

Do we create the reality we see? Are we shadows of a central universe, a central reality that gives us existence and in which our belief is necessary to maintain solidity, dimension? Is a baby the bridge between where we have been and where we may return if we but open our eyes and see past the reality we have collectively created? Does it really matter?

I want to know.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Got a script?

Here's a possibility if you don't mind prostitution.

SCRIPTS WANTED (Pays $1,000.00)

"LMC3 Productions, Inc. need scripts in the 100k to 200k
range, these films will be shot in High Def. Comedy, drama,
horror and children scripts. Big plus if a major chain is written
into story line (i.e. McDonalds, Pizza chain, 76 Union, etc.)"

Enough of that.

I have been busy commenting all morning, catching up on the attention my friends and acquaintances deserve, not to mentions reading my well known and sometimes feared personal views around. I had fun. Sorry if the rest of you didn't.

I also noticed something. Several of my friends believe--and often state--that no one would want them or consider them possible intimate partners (even for a night), but that ain't so. I've said this before and I shall repeat it again: when the big one is dropped and food is scarce who do you think will still be standing and living and maintaining the status quo? All of us well upholstered, voluptuously endowed, and insurance table fat/obese people. Yep. All you skinny people will either die in the first blast or you will die shortly thereafter from lack of food. However, the rest of us who planned for the future by storing food where no marauder, thief, or crazed thin mint can get at it...on our bodies. I don't really think we planned it that way, but Mother Nature certainly did by giving us the kind of metabolism that keeps more than it throws away or burns up.

You could see the rise in obesity (at least by insurance industry standards and BMI ratings, which include the likes of Russell Crowe, etc.), as Mother Nature or God or whatever power you choose telling us the end is near and it's time to plan for the lack of a future the likes of which we enjoy now instead of a symptom of rising disease and falling discipline with regard to food.

The really intelligent people, those who are worth your time and energy, know that intelligence, a killer smile, loving heart, beautiful expressive eyes, thick lustrous hair, generous nature, and a thousand other little beauties are worth more than a fashion runway body or even the body of a marathon runner or athlete. It's find if that's the way you were designed by Nature and genetic heritage, but there is much more to beauty than outward appearance. Beauty is no guarantee of what really matters and is usually a sign that someone has been genetically gifted and left the rest to chance. When you do not tend a garden it ends up overgrown by weeds and eaten by animals and the remaining plants are stunted and tough. Beauty is about more than looks. Beauty is in the intangibles. Even Galahad figured that out when he chose to marry the pig-faced girl who saved his life and led him safely thru the dangers and he was rewarded by marrying the princess of his dreams and her inner beauty shone outside as well.

As one friend recently reminded me, intelligence is Uber-sexy. So get over yourselves and show the rest of the world what most of us already know--you are eminently bang-able. Accept it. It's true. In the meantime, get over yourself.

And before a certain person reminds me to take my own advice, forget it. I know the truth and I'm not closing myself off to possibilities, but he'd better be able to track me down because I am never going looking for him again. I hope he has a good map and a better sense of direction.

When you get right down to it, I'm sick and tired of the way people judge the good and worthwhile in life. Their views are skewed at best and downright stupid the rest of the time. Talent, the ability to love, a generous heart, and so many more intangibles are worth more than all the surface beauty in the world. A little (or Tammy Faye Baker style) makeup, some surgery, drugs, diets, and the rest do little more than teach us to value only what the rest of the world values, the rest of the world as defined by Madison Avenue. That's a small piece of real estate with a very long reach, but it's not all powerful unless we make it so. Skinny bodies sell clothes because they don't get in the way of the line and flow of the cloth, but then clothes hangers work just as well and talk less.

If you want to work for something, work on improving your mind, your heart, and your taste. The importance of the rest will descend to its proper level of not important.

When you get right down to it, lean steak is all right, but for real flavor you want a steak with a lot of marbling (fat) and you get many more meals from a well fleshed cow than from a thin cow. When I spend my hard earned cash on steak I want to really enjoy the meal and get my money's worth. Don't you?

Monday, July 19, 2004

Monday, Monday

That's all I can say about today.

Okay, I have something else to say, but it may not be worth writing -- like that has stopped me in the past.

Got a very late start today because of a very late night watching all nearly six hours of Rose Red by Stephen King. It was really pretty good and quite scary in parts, but I felt energized and creatively activated to write some good old fashioned horror. I even watched the bonus feature about Ellen Rimbauer's diary, which was really fictional. Come on, folks. This is Stephen King we're talking about and not Ken Burns.

Anyway, I got up late at the tail end of a very strange dream about being invaded by a bunch of people bringing food and getting together to form a death watch for someone I don't even know . . . or at least didn't know about in the dream. They just barged into my home and set up casseroles and marked out sleeping space without an invitation or a reason as far as I could see. It ended with a discussion about Wicca versus Christianity and being called a devil worshiper and all kinds of weird things, to which I ended by explaining Wicca and some of the fallacies of Christianity. Go figure.

Very strange dreams indeed. They could have been brought on by a coming invasion of my space in August when my landlords have decided they absolutely must come up here for two three-day weekends to stain two sides of the cabin or maybe my imagination is just overly active.

At any rate, I need to put the DVDs back into their nifty Netflix mailers and send them back so I can get more movies this week when I should be writing and researching and doing all kinds of writerly things. It's just too beautiful outside and every time I put Queen and Pat Benatar on Real Rhapsody thunder booms and my phone line de-stabilizes and I end up with silence and no music. It's like something is trying to tell me to get to work and forget about listening to music and playing games and surfing the net when I should be quietly writing while listening to the edifying sounds of Mozart or Rachmaninoff or working on the new website, for which I have not quite designed a logo. Still, I'd rather dance to Freddy Mercury cranked as high as it will go and drive dirt under my fingernails while I play with plants and seedlings and cut herbs to hang and dry. I'm feeling very natural today with overtones of Queen rock and roll tingling thru my dancing and singing muscles.

However, I did do something writerly today. I edited Beanie's essay about Dad and loving animals on a little farm outside of Columbus, Ohio. It was a very colorful editing project and I'm sure she will soon be perusing my journal to notify me I have made further mistakes of spelling and omissions of words. It's okay. She's entitled to a little fun and it helps me since I do little more than run spell check on my journal posts and do not read them over often. All my posts are from the fertile, and sometimes mercurial, soil at the top of my head.

I'll shut up now. Nothing much else to say.