Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A new thought on horror

Quick word test, what do you think of when you read this oen word: horror?
Something like torture? Demons inflicting torment upon people? Serial killer doing mass murders? Something ritualistic and satanic? There are many things that one word has the potential to get us to think, btu these days, it seems to indicate cheesy ways bring in the money, show off new cinematic techniques of stripping flesh off, using weapons to kill people in some weird and disturbing ways.
It's sad what horror has become: a trivial laughable shadow of what it had once been.
When I was watching American Horror Story, I realized one interesting reason I enjoyed it- it was a throwback to old-fashion horror- not all the way obvious, but much of it in your mind. A lot of the horror is literally in your head. Kinda makes you think I'm calling you crazy, doesn't it? Well, True Blood tried to hard to get "mature" audiences to get scared... and get off. It turned me off. Despite all the rave reviews, it barely held my attention through the first season. Second season, since it dealt with cults (and one thing I like to study is cultic mindsets and mentalities) got my interest better, but all the sex talk, over-the-top swearing, and useless horror... it just couldn't keep me reeled in, so I was struggling to the last episode. Then the third season. Okay, okay, I only watched halfway through. It ended up having too much sex (felt formulaic), way too much swearing (who was coming up with the show? College frat boys trying to best each other's mouths?), and very little true horror.
AHS doesn't rely on the totally obvious. Yes, there's a naked man in the first episode, who's doing something with himself, but you don't see it. It's implied, plus he's crying. Grown "men" these days would be confused at why he's crying, after all, he has a smokin'-hot maid (literally in his eyes, she's old and ugly to everyone else) that he just about had sex with, so why's he crying? When you realize the multi-layered context (the cheating that occured beforehand, the family psychology, his problems with lusting, his desire to desire his wife, and so many other issues happening at once), you may come to realize what all really is happening. And that's just one element in this deep, thought-provoking horror show. After a couple of episodes, people suddenly thought it was ruined in its taste. Why? The start of the episode "Piggy, Piggy" starts with one of THE most controversial topics in modern America- school shootings. Columbine, for one. VA Tech, for another. And, very recently, a school in Cleveland, OH. It's tragic. Immensely. I have no kids yet, but Columbine happened when I was in the 5th grade, and it truly shocked us all how far the bullied would go. Do others in, then theirselves.
The start of the episode starts peacefully in a school library-
wait, I should start in the last few minutes of the previous episode, when a group of kids, during Halloween, start messing with Tate and his girlfriend, who's his psychiatrist's daughter, Violet. The kids really have no itnerest in Violet, but they want to torture Tate, who thinks they have some really good makeup. Then they realize he doesn't remember.
Remember what? Start of next episode, silence until a couple shots are heard, worrying the small group in the library, the sounds get closer and closer, the doors get blocked and everyone hides. The blocking's useless. Tate comes in, wearing makeup to make his face look like a skull, finds a student, doesn't say a thing, aims his shotgun and blasts away. You don't see it, but the body twitching and a sharp BANG says it enough for your mind to work the details. Everyone gets it. He never says a word in the process, which makes it even creepier. Effective horror.
Why include something so devastatingly tragic in a well-rated show? Well, for one, it is called American Horror Story, but for another, it's working our fears, the things that truly shake us, down to our bones and psyche. Its subtleties and layers truly give those who really pay attention massive chills. It also reminds me of Christian suspense author Travis Thrasher, known for bizarre stories like 40, Admission, The Solitary Tales, and Isolation, among others. In an interview, he was asked what he loved tow rite about, his response was very different from what I'm used to- he wants to explore our fears. Even in his early, love-based stories, he dealt with the theme of fear, even if as a subplot, he still wrote about it. And he does have a LOT of stories.
Essentially put, I've gotten fed up with how modern-day "horror" works and am glad for movies like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and shows like American Horror Story, which rely on throwback methods and subtleties.
I'll admit, I even love the Paranormal Activity movies because of how subtle the demonology is in them. It has a much more realistic feel to them, showing a family that is as normal and American as can be, yet something's happening to them, demonic in nature.
Still horror, but another angle of it, and still effective.
I'm working on a lot of book ideas, most of them are Christian horror, and I want to write in the effective style, not rely on the cruddy formulas that Hollywood, anymore, goes with, which seems to predictable to even have a thrill factor, let give your spine chills like it did in the 70's and 80's (as far as I'm concerned, the 80's was the last decade of intelligent filmmaking before everyone wanted to grow up and lost their common sense along the way). Why write stories? Not just because I want to, but because I want to explore the harder questions (why do Christians expect people to go with the rules yet break them on their own? What really is real? What's the nature of demons and satanism? What drives our fears into existence? How does perception work? Why does the Church get so arrogant about "knowing" things when the Bible does state there are mysteries only God can know? What was the origin of the Pentagram before it became a Wiccan symbol? And on and on) and the best way I've found to do it is by storytelling. Granted, not all my stories are horror (there's a bit of sci-fi and historical mixed in), but why couldn't a Christian ask the real tough, stickler questions that shock us, or, as I've heard it put about the Bible, scare the HELL out of us? Because traditional Christian shouldn't ask the questions lest be rebellious?
Good thing I'm no traditional Christian, isn't it?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Christian horror- any merit/reality to it?

Try to imagine this, since I was a kid, I've enjoyed horror movies. Some I believe(d) are great masterpieces, others, I knew, were a waste of time and production money (remake of Piranha stands one of them). As a teen, I got into murder/mystery books, starting with Ted Dekker, then discovering Steven James, and even indie sci-fi author Kirk Outerbridge (his two books, Eternity Falls and The Tenth Crusader have immense and intense twists that ask real hard questions we should consider). The enjoyment lasted a pleasuring 5 years, then I found out something I had never really known before- some suspense had supernatural horror in it. Ted Dekker's "Adam" and Robin Parrish's "Nightmare" are great examples. So is the classic Christian masterpiece "This Present Darkness" by Frank Peretti, whatwith vivid descriptions of demons that can influence in specific ways and descriptions of actual battles of angels and demons fighting each other for the choices we humans make, from the mundane to the utmost important.
And then, I found out there's a controversy over Christian horror. What kind of controversy? The kind where traditional churches consider anything that's "horror" as Satanic. I have something to say to that: the Bible is filled with horror stories, many of which the church have no problems preaching on:
1. The most well-known, the Crucifixion of Jesus, dealing with grotesque public torture of an innocent man, wrongly accused and tried, beaten and stripped of flesh (literally) and forced to handle a truly heavy piece of wood that bears down on Him. Even when He's raised while nailed in the wrists (the Jewish view of that part of the arm is called the hand) and ankles, people are sneering and jeering at Him, challenging His divinity, especially the thief next to Him.
2. After a king has an affair with one of his soldiers' wife, he has his loyal soldier killed off, then starts to lose his sanity, and even goes to a spiritist (in the Bible, she's called a psychic or a witch, depending on the Version you read). What she summons is not what the Bible calls her "familiar spirit," but the actual spirit of king Saul's fallen soldier, which literally scares the living Hell out of her. This spirit wasn't supposed to appear, which could have made her wonder where her spirit contact was and how this one appeared. And what the spirit said shocked both the witch and his king.
3. A possessed man in a graveyard, no clothes at all, with superhuman strength no one can comprehend, tortures anyone who gets close to him, yet One manages to rid the demons within without harm.
4. And though there are literally hundreds of other horror stories, I'll leave with one last example, the very first: when perfection was tempted by evil incarnate and every perfect thing in this universe no longer knew perfection. Immortality, eradicated. Literal walks with God, etched out. Pure, untainted knowledge of anything, suddenly tainted and distorted where demons could play with people with twisted religions and rituals and reasons to hate one another.

All that to say, if you're goign to hate Christian horror, which does have Biblical ground to it, why not hate the Bible? Because you don't read it as horror? Many have and have painted terrifying portraits of the Crucifixion and Sheol, and worse. Now that I think about it, there was even a poetic description of an actual medical condition when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He was so strained with suffering, His own pores started bleeding, and he had to be tended by angels.

A great author underrated

Question for you: what kind of authors do you read? I don't mean genre-wise, I mean reputation and renown-wise?
Do you read extremely well-known authors like James Patterson, Ted Dekker, Stephenie Meyers, Cassandra Clare, and Anne Rice?
Or maybe widely-known yet not-quite-as-well-known authors Steven James, Stephen R. Lawhead, and Jim Butcher? The difference between the two sets? One set is mainstream known, the other is known on a more underground way, even though they're New York Bestsellers.
Then there are very lesser-known authors: Mike Duran, Kirk Outerbridge, Melanie, Jack Cavanaugh, Randy Alcorn, and Eric Wilson.
I'd like to have attention paid to that last author. I first heard of Eric Wilson when myspace still have popular life in it (once upon a time, I had one) and he sent me a friend request. I can only suppose he saw me on Ted Dekker's friends list and decided to take a chance. Why put it that way? At the time, he was on his way to release his fourth book (which was still a couple motnhs away from street release). At first, I wasn't sure what to think, books with titles like "Dark to Mortal Eyes," "Expiration Date," and "Best of Evil" seemed like very unusual titles to me. When I saw the cover of Expiration Date, I literally thought it dealt with zombies (it was during the start of that whole zombie-crazed movement in pop culture, not too long after The Dawn of the Dead remake came out on DVD), so I decided to try. Noticing that, somehow, it was the sequel to Dark to Mortal Eyes, I figured I'd read from the beginning. I'd read the Left Behind series and a couple of Ted Dekker books... but I was in no way prepared for what the pages in his debut book held: a deep story about a woman coming to find her father she never knew about, a man suspicious about this woman he'd never known of that's saying he's her father, and the timing with a vintner competition coming along making even more suspicious of her, and an old woman that knows too much about the man, not much about the young woman, and yet is about to unleash literal Hell on Earth in a very bizarre way.
How would this relate to a zombie book? Turned it doesn't, because Expiration Date had nothing to do with the crazed pop culture obsession with zombies, it dealt with something heavier, darker, and so much more important- whether we're dealing with fate or if we truly do have free will with a unique spiritual story: a man coming back to his hometown, only when he starts touching people's hands, he feels numbers burned onto his skin, yet nothing's there. I takes him a brief while to figure out what they really are, but dark spiritual forces are trying to trick everyone into no longer believing what he says (and using a different kind of trick than I've ever heard of) as well as a demon portraying a cruelly personal trick on him dealing with something tragic from his past.
A few books later, I start to notice something- his novels are interconnected in both overt and subtle ways. I got used to that with Ted Dekker's books, then found out that was inspired by Stephen King, but the connections between Eric's books blew my mind away. Characters that seemed to be one way in one book turn out to be something entirely different in another book, additional background given while kept  consistent in a "timeline" of sorts. And what I didn't know, I found out on his website. The connections I didn't pick up on threw me off, then I thought back to the stories and specific scenes and I realized how I hadn't picked up on them.
He has a few different series based in different genres: horror (Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy, The Senses Series [tragically short-lived for the talent he proved to have in the pages]), and suspense (The Aramis Black Series and the By The Numbers Series).
At this point, only his novelizations based on three Kendrick Brothers films (Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof) and his latest two books (One Step Away and Two Seconds Late) I haven't read, I haven't had a chance to get my hands on them. The saddest part is, with how stickly the publishing industry's getting due to the digital revolution, it's getting harder for his books to get noticed.
Luckily, I'm a shameless author and book promoter, that's why I'd like to ask you a favor:
Check out his books and consider his latest book. An industry full of double standards and other such issues won't find much reason to publish something all the way if not too many people aren't interested (a couple good authors got lost in the mix a few years back because they didn't get attention at all).
If you'd like a link to his latest book, here it is:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Piranha, a spiritual review

You know that typical thing people say about movie remakes? That they're normally terrible? I tend to agree, whatwith the intelligence of original classics being dumbed down for my generation (in which illiteracy's rampant, let alone near lack of common sense). So, for this, I'll admit I haven't seen the original Piranha. And, for the most part, I wish I hadn't seen the remake. So why did I see it? My stepdad saw it, without his glasses, saw a review saying it was better than Jaws, and he saw (and loved) the original, so he figured it'd be nice.
What a waste of $3.27 at the local rental store.
Yet, I won't focus on the graphic sexual content, nor the drug use, nor the majority of the story. What I will focus on is relevant to the elements that seem spiritual, even if in a subtle way.
First off, part of it does seem pretty typical- a young, teenage guy wanting to join a huge party (think American Mardi Gras on steroid overdose), especially since he's been hired to be a cameraman. A cameraman for something, I suppose for copyright reasons, can't be called Girls Gone Wild, yet it is essentially that in every way. Just one problem for the guy, his mother, who's the local sheriff, expects him to babysit his younger siblings (neither of whom are even pre-teens yet). So, being the typical rebellious teenager, he and his siblings find a way to go around their mother's system so he can join the party and get paid.
However, the director of this shot is... how can I put it lightly or politely? Well, I don't think there is a way, so I'll just say it. He's Mr. Prideful-Hotshot.
He wants things done his way, with no leniency. He expects the cameraman to work, but also enjoy... as well as the enjoyment has no sense of decency at all.
Rather sad, but that's how he is. In fact, when the cameraman's two siblings get stuck on an island without a way to get back inland, and they realize there are thousands of piranha waiting for them to enter, they scream for help, incessantly, until any help will arrive. What they least expect is their own brother to notice them while filming a shot involving a topless lady in a paraflyer, sees them, and is shocked. The director, who could care less if they the President's kids, doesn't care who they are, just yells at his cameraman for "ruining" his shot... even after the "object" of the shot gets chewed in half.
And that's just on that side of the lake. On the other, the sheriff and her one-man-crew are trying to get the rowdy pack of anti-authoritative partiers to abandon the beach. Before they even listen to any reason why they should, they basically give the "screw-you" treatment and continue to party, until one of them gets nipped at, then eaten, leading (very quickly) to mass chaos. Chaos, mind you, that involves the sheriff trying to help as many people as she can on her boat (which leads me to see her as a decent human being trying to look out for the well-being of others, no matter how they live their lives) while piranha are enjoying the mass buffet. Then again, there are those who don't want her help, they want their own way to get away.
One man demands and yells at a topless woman (who's crying out anyway) to "GET ME OUT OF THIS WATER!" She's unable to before he meets his demise, but not from being eaten, but his getting smashed by a reckless boat.
Another guy, on a jet ski, is trying to get out, screaming at people to get out of the way, not letting them have time to swim out of the way before he chops people apart with the ski propellers. Then his engine gets stuck. He's so focused on self-preservation and selfishness, he doesn't hear the woman screaming, the woman whose hair's stuck in the propeller, all tangled up.
*Yank* Hair's tugged.
*Yank* Hair's tugged again, "AH!"
One or two more yanks, he kills her- her hair, along with all the skin on her head, ripped off.
Yes, it's bloody graphic, with people not caring about the help offered to get them out of danger. Help offered by people willing to throw away comfort and safety to go out into the danger theirselves to save others.
Oh, that guy who yanked the woman's flesh off? His jet ski's engine goes bad, leaving him stranded, and a mass of people climb onto the jet ski until can't hold anymore people, leading the boat to tip over, leaving no one to safety.
The only other safe spot that turns deadly is a platform the ends up having too many people on top of it. The sheriff recognizes the eventual hazard, knowing she can't save them in time. And when the wires are snapped apart, one whips a girl in half, who was in isolated safety, only to slide in perfectly clean-cut half.
The sheriff seems to symbolize those willing to put their neck out on the line, knowing the risks that come with the job, but will not give up on what they know they must do.
The director (who's other crew member blatantly says "We're making a porno, not a drama!") is the epitome of selfishness, not caring who's in danger as long as he gets his shots, not even caring that he uses extreme swearing around a couple little kids (maybe he's one of those people who think "They'll learn cuss words eventually, right?" Such apathy has already caused a major downfall in America, so why not in a movie?), and his worst show of selfishness is when he dragged out of the water after being half-eaten by the piranha only to notice... a beloved part of him gone.
The total ruin of the movie- a graphic shot of his part, severed, floating in the water, then swallowed by a piranha, the immediately belched up and left alone. Seriously? An immense waste of production money.
So, overall, despite the sheriff who's looking out for her family (no matter how rebellious they are, and she does rescue them from the flesh-eating fish) and the selfish director (they're the essence of the spirituality in this film, the conflicting nature of humanity as well as spirituality), this film is not worth seeing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Am I so simple?

First off, for my first post, I'd like to discuss something gritty and realistic: the persecution of what I believe. See, my life as a Christian hasn't just been bumpy and complicated, it's been a real doozy of a roller coaster ride in life. If it weren't for how hard Jesus had promised life would be (He hadn't included any vague terms that it would tricky nor left room for possibility, He spoke of it as happening now and grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it tricky), I would have decided to do the same as David Kinnaman said in his thought-provoking (yet really good) book, unChristian, and that is "I actually made the official decision to quit Christianity three or four times." One may read that and think "If you thought about it, why not do it on the first try?" Because, thought it's not in the Belief Contract (may as well act like one with how everyone acts like it's a short-term belief system), having the Faith doesn't include quitting as an option, that'd be more of a liability.
But what kinds of things would have Christians quit? Back in the Early Church days, they would have gotten death threats (no, wait- promises) to renounce their faith or die... or maybe watch their family members get killed. Today, it's as simple as calling someone "uneducated", "stupid", or even a taboo word in our culture- "retarded." Why call anyone that?
For one, our American education system sees any kind of faith as superstition. And superstition has no place in well-learned people nor places.
For another, believe it or not, it's mentioned in the Bible, but differently. If an atheist were to say "Christians are stupid, the Bible says so," only technically would be they be right- the Bible says SOME Christians are "uneducated", which, in American slang, can equal stupid, etc. The Apostle Paul announced to the Early Chruch, after his conversion from Judaism to the Way (as it was called originally) that he did know some were uneducated, some were rich, everyone from different regions, and he was okay with that (keep in mind, Paul, originally Saul, was raised as an extremely well-taught Jewish Pharisee, no room for any thought about any other religion nor people who weren't Jewish, no matter what, and he was sharply educated). Above all, every single person had a talent, given by YHWH, to be used for His glory. All that, spoken by a well-educated, very eloquent man with a dark religious past (just as the Catholic Church had assassins during the Inquisition, the Synagogue had professional hitmen like Saul back then, killing of Way followers).
Now, what's that got to do with me? Funny thing is... though I wa raised by a religiously devout mother who tried to raise me on the Bible from childhood on, I was also raised in a divorced family, where my father was a religious skeptic, so I was essentially left on my own to decide what I wanted to believe. And I did believe. I believed in paranoia, paranormal stuff, and other things that, in the eyes of the Traditional church, would make no sense in view of believing in the Bible, yet I didn't know much about the Bible from the start, not even the part of Paul telling the crowd what they were like yet encouraging them to use their talent. Not until after I read a statement from someone that "...Christians are supposed to be stupid!" I told that person that I was in college, and colleges don't accept stupid people, not even Clown College. Since then, I've been learning many interesting, many disturbing, many beautiful mysteries about my faith. To this day, things have never been the same way people expect me to see it. Life is just too bizarre and personal, too full of uniqueness and complexities to let a ruining faith of anti-belief ruin my spiritual life. Am I simple? Maybe, but that's just because I don't know everything, yet I'm willing to learn.