A Trio of Creepiness

One of the nice things about the internet and the propagation of the "new media" is that there is some really neat material available for the spec fiction fan.  As bad as the signal-to-noise ratio is on YouTube (i.e., the amount of crap you have to filter past), there are some real gems out there.

I found this linked on Tor.com:  a trio of creepy animations, just in time for Halloween.  Who says claymation is a dead art?

– "The Tell-Tale Heart" – Poe's classic tale.
– "The End" – A scarecrow goes on trial for niceness to birds.
– "Chainsaw Maid" – Exactly what it says on the tin.

Each delightful in their own way.  Check them out!

We’re Gonna Get You

So ….

The re-make of The Evil Dead opens tomorrow.  For those who don't know, it is something of a cult classic in horror movie-dom.  The movie concerns five friends trapped in the woods after one of them (the awesomely studly Bruce Campbell, in his earliest lead role) accidentally releases ancient demons.  From the trailer, the remake looks to follow the same basic story arc, but with more gore – though, by 1981 standards, the original was unbelievably gory.

I am of two minds about the remakes.  Every once in a while, a remake meets or exceeds the original.  I still think The Magnificent Seven is a better overall film than Seven Samurai.  But most of the time, remakes simply fail to capture the spirit and charm of the first one.  I hope this one is the former, because I would hate to see the legacy tainted.

Anyway, here's the relatively-calm trailer (the green-band, or approved for all audiences).  If you have a strong stomach, you can watch the unrated (the red-band) trailer here instead, but I hope you're not easily shocked or offended.

Anyway, I'll go check this out at some point.

The Horror of Horror

Today, while ostensibly minding my own business, I received an email today regarding an upcoming story of mine to be published.  Not a big deal but I was extended an invitation to join the Horror Writers Association, subject to their normal admittance guidelines.  Reading those, I believe I qualify as an Affiliate (non-voting) member based on my credentials.

I am torn.  On the one hand, the offer was extended (something that has not happened from SFWA) and being part of these associations is just part of a writer's professional development.  I expect to be part of a few before all is said and done.  The networking and exposure would balance the membership dues.

One the other hand, writing horror is my tertiary love.  I really love fantasy but if I had to choose, I'd like best of all to write pulp-y adventure fiction, like Flash Gordon, Indiana Jones, or Conan.  I've tried.  Either I am no damn good at it, I market it to the wrong outlets, or there just isn't the readership.

So why do I sell more horror than anything?

(Muse:  Are you really teeing me up a softball about the blackness in your soul?  Really?)

Well, there is plenty more blood and gore where that came from, so I'll keep writing the dark stuff.  After all, a guy's gotta eat.

Media Drift

So ….

In the last few months, I read a lot of spec fiction.  I also watched a lot of movies based on spec fiction, including movie adaptations of books I read.  When you translate media in that fashion, there is always some drift from the thrust of the story.  In some ways I think it's okay; in others, my cynical mind assumes the worst.  Allow me to elaborate.

(Muse:  Oh this should be good.)

Quiet, you!

Like I said, some migrations hold up better than others.  I have not seen Hunger Games all the way through but from the parts I have seen, it is a faithful translation.  300 was almost a frame-by-frame reshoot of the comic.  Other movies add in extra material, scenes, or even characters; the recent Hobbit movie did this and it did not really affect the integrity of the story, save for reducing the film to a glacial pace.

I've heard some complaints about movies like Clash of the Titans, that have dicked with classical Greek mythology.  That doesn't bother me, since mythology, per se, isn't owned by anyone and is subject to interpretation.  The main elements of the tale are there, even if it is  a hybrid of the tales of Perseus and Bellerophon.  Besides, what harm can it do?  Today's society is so ignorant of the classical world that it's not like this will ever hold them back from something.  It's dead knowledge.

(Muse:  Cynic.)

Oh just wait, this is where it gets fun, because here is where I have the problem.

There is a certain money-grubbing element in the entertainment industry that is quick to latch onto a success story and try to siphon from it, leech-like, for its own gain.  In this case, I would be thinking of the upcoming World War Z movie.  From what I can see from the previews, it is not even remotely related to the "source" material.  It's Brad Pitt in a zombie apocalypse movie – maybe with decent action, effects, and a soundtrack.  Perhaps I would even pay to go see it.  But it does not appear to resemble the book at all. In the book, the narrator was a reporter, who gathered stories after the crisis was over.  Pitt's character is in the midst of the action.  Fast zombies versus slow zombies.  And on.  So why call it World War Z, if not in an effort to cash in on the success of the book?  If they had called "Zombie Movie #85" would it generate as much buzz?  (Actually that self-parodying title might have, a la Zombieland.)  I see a very cynical effort behind that, rather than letting the movie rise or fall on its own merits, someone along the way tried to predispose it for success.  That leaves me with a sour taste.

So where is the line drawn?  What differentiates between a little poetic license and an abomination of an adaptation?  I dunno.  That's what makes this a fascinating subject, as it is always up for debate-slash-reinterpretation.  I doubt it's a linear distinction for anyone, but probably more of a matrix:  a combination of personal resistance to the idea and a strong affinity for whatever source material is being lifted.  Is this even worthy of discussion?

Any thoughts?

Arrrrrrrr? Click-clack. BLAM.

So ….

I am just returned from my most recent trip to the desert southwest.  Great visit, had a wonderful trip with Mrs. Axe.  En route, I put my new Kindle to the test (wonderful device, more on that later) while reading the novel "World War Z."

Written by Max Brooks (son of legendary comedian Mel Brooks), "World War Z" is written from the point of view of a journalist compiling a report for the United Nations a decade after the end of the Zombie War, comprised of eyewitness testimony from survivors.  The blurbs come from various government officials, military members, scientists, and ordinary citizens caught up in a whirlwind plague that spreads to every corner of the globe.

The book covers accounts of everything from the initial contagion in rural China, to the spread of the plague, to the collapse of every society around the world – some (India, Iceland, Japan) more total than others (America, Cuba, Micronesia).  The stories are visceral and raw; one character describes (SPOILER ALERT – highlight to read) a swarm of zombies EATING their way up a jam of cars on I-80 between Lincoln and North Platte in Nebraska, where the cars were so tightly packed that the occupants could not drive, or even open their doors to get away.  Having driven that stretch of road countless times, the description of that scene left my blood cold.  Brooks also wove real geopolitical threads into the story.  Countries argued with each other about the way forward, tempers flared, ancient enemies (notably, Jews and Arabs, but there were many others) refused to cooperate, even in the face of annihilation, and weapons of mass destruction flew as often as accusations.  The narrative also highlights survivor efforts to fight back, including desperate rear-guard actions, the adaptation of new tactics and weapons to the new threat, grim plans that doomed as many people as they saved, and a desperate three-month battle in the sewers beneath Paris.  Bolt-action rifles and training that emphasizes "aim for the head" (re: my title for this entry) replace tanks and bombs as the watchwords of the world's militaries.  Needless to say, the human world that emerges as the nations struggle to overcome the zombie menace is radically different in political, economic, and even ecological terms.

It's not perfect, though; the stories of survivors lack distinct voice, to my taste.  Sure, dialogue and word choices are varied but I rarely got a feeling of distinct tone from the characters.  Also, I had some issues with the basic premises of the world gov'ts using mountain ranges as natural defensive positions.  Zombies are humans, after all, and are perfectly capable of wandering across mountains, especially since they are not vulnerable to freezing, disease, or other cold-weather hazards.  Finally, the entire book owes its entire heritage to George Romero's ideas on the subject (few recent zombie fictions don't).  I don't think it struck any new ground in the genre and was, essentially, very derivative.

Overall, I rather enjoyed the whole thing.  It's light, it's a diversion, and there is something about the end of the world – viewed through the lenses of characters no different from the reader, on ground the the reader themselves might have trod upon – is always appealing. 

I give it 3.5/5 stars.  If you like zombies and don't go into it expecting it to break any ground, then you'll probably like this.

Boo!

So ….

In honor of the festive evening just around the corner, I thought I would ask:  what makes a horror story scary?  Why not, right?  Horror writing definitely falls under the speculative umbrella, and under the larger genre fiction canopy.

Is it the spilling of blood and guts?  (Doesn't seem so.)  I think folks can be squeamish about gore and bodily fluids without necessarily being scared of it.  This is where so many cheap horror movies get it wrong.

The presence of monsters and grinning serial killers?  Not in and of itself.

Justin Bieber?  Yes, but for other reasons.

Well, I have my own opinions about what makes horror scary.  As part of my slipshod research, I turned to our trusty friend Google, and searched the phrase, "what makes horror scary?"  Try it, you'll get a lot of responses.  I read through a bunch of them.  The various entries cover the gamut of opinion, including some strengths of any well-written story, regardless of genre ("clunky wording knocks the reader out, lowering their fear…"  Well, duh.)  But as I read through, there is one thing that almost every page agrees on:  you have to screw with the reader's imagination.

To me, one of the best ways you can do this is tap into the universal fears that seem to affect the human psychosis.  I laugh at serial killer and monster movies, though I might jump at the "shocks."  I really don't feel scared.  But "Jaws" is still hard for me to watch, as I have a deep and abiding fear of the ocean.  You see?  Spiders crawling over someone who is poisoned and unable to move; yeah, some people are so freaked by spiders, they might get scared enough to toss the book aside.  But remember, THEY are scaring THEMSELVES, by imagining it happening to them!  Any woman with young children will feel her blood run cold if you describe a mother's mounting panic as her child vanishes in the middle of a crowd; again, they put themselves in that situation you're writing, imagining it's their child. 

I've read before that victims of infidelity experience "mind movies;" that is, picturing their significant other doing things with their affair partner.  Often, those movies are far worse than anything that actually happened.  As human beings, we can't help it.  When confronted with something shocking, our minds often dive to the worst possible place.  As with so many other facets of writing, I think it better to leave some things UNSAID.  There is no way that you, the writer, can scare me, the reader, any worse than I can scare myself.  When you let me fill in some of those blanks on my own, you are going to frickin' own me by the end of the story.  I think it's a lot better to throw a whole bunch of uncertainty in the reader's head and let them sort it out.

I will never forget the night – many years ago – when I was playing a very scary video game.  It was a weekend, so I was up at 3am or something.  Pitch dark, save for the glow of the monitor.  Headphones on.  I was into it, it was intense, my blood was pumping, my heart racing.  I kept getting little frights on the screen but I was coping.  Then the hand fell on my shoulder.  I screamed in the most blood-curdling way a man can, which in turn scared the hell out of Mrs. Axe, who had just come out to see if I was coming to bed anytime soon.  The rational part of my mind knew there was no monster, no slavering demon coming for my soul … but in that split second, my imagination dove into the pits of my nightmares and I reacted before I could stop myself.

To me, good horror is about dragging the reader's imagination to a place they don't want to go, but can't resist staying out of.  Ambiance, uncertainty, feelings of dread and tapping those basic human fears writ large in adulthood … these are your tools.

************************

On a completely unrelated note, and since I had not mentioned it lately, NaNoWriMO is right around the corner.  I wanted to participate this year but that pesky entity known as "Real Life" is going to interfere, and in a bad way.  I was all set too; had my idea, had my schedule lined up.  I have done it and I think it was productive – and it is good to challenge yourself.  I encourage anyone to try, even if you have never written before.  Go here for more on it.

As the man with the painted face often said, TTFN.