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?

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