<$BlogRSDUrl$>

Friday, April 29, 2005

A distinctive lineage. 

As a fan, I have never equated signing to a major label as selling out. That is just naive. But if a band signs that contract, they better hope they move some fucking units regardless of what they say in CMJ or AP. That should still not compromise their output.

Along the way, other bands I have loved have popped up in ads and I could rationalize each one. Elastica owed Wire some money. The Verve owed some money for sampling a symphonic version of a Stones track. But hey, they got World Cup tickets. Blur put "Song 2" in a shitload of ads. But Damon Albarn is a shrewd little prick and I have never believed that Blur had a soul between them. But I still love 'em. You know Iggy Pop got fucked along the way and that a lot of people have made money off of him. Fuck it, let ads for cruise lines and a SUVs give him the financial stability he will need as he edges closer and closer to 60. Oasis and Bob Dylan were featured in Victoria's Secret spots. That needs no rationalization.

[..]

To make matters worse, the Counting Crows, whom I loathe, appeared in a Coke ad. I came across an article in which serial Friends fucker Adam Duritz stated why they said yes to the real thing. Again I am paraphrasing but he said, "We have a new album. So do we spend a million dollars making a video no one will play or do we do a commercial for a product we actually like and make some money." God damn it. He was exactly right because MTV would never make precious time for a video by a band that was hot way way back in the 1990s'. No, no, no. MTV is too busy pimping rides, raiding rooms and chronicling the Simpsons. I mean the ones with ten fingers. And VH-1 is too busy doing, I don't know what the fuck it is they do know? The Fabulous Lives of Celebrities' Aborted Fetuses. Something like that.

And I have not even mentioned radio. But in all fairness, I have not listened to radio in about ten years. Well, I do listen to ESPN. But radio is to music what professional wrestling is to sports. Someone once asked me why I did not listen to radio and I told them, "Because I like music."

[..]

It is indeed an indictment on the state of music when the most adventurous music being made is being heard in tv ads. An action I condemned years ago is now the only opportunity a lot of my favorite bands will ever have for exposure to a massive audience. One of the great ironies of my life is that you have to turn on the tv and wait for the ads to hear good music. But if it allows great bands to do things on their own terms, so be it. So go ahead, sell the fuck out.

P.S. The Jaguar ads that featured "London Calling" did piss me off but not as much as the Pontiac ads with "Should I Stay or Should I Go." But Clash did say “He who fucks nuns will later join the church.” Truth is advertising, I guess.


That's my brother, ladies and gents. But I bet you could tell that.

(I'm not sure there's any way to link directly to a Myspace blog without signing up first, but it's a really fucking quick sign up, and it's worth it for the reading.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Worth a read. 

The Daily Burn:

I settled on the title "Badass Heroes: Black Men in Superhero Comics." Basically, my thesis was that black superheroes represent a safe harbor to fans and creators for ultraviolence and hypersexuality. In other words, you can't have Spider-Man or Superman assfuck a retired superheroine because they need to remain the moral beacons they've always been. Apparently, however, there is a demand among fandon for retired-heroine-assfucking, so someone needs to do it. Since Luke Cage is black, and is therefore already regarded as being ultraviolent and hypersexual, no problem. Just another day at work for the HERO FOR HIRE!

Give it a look-through. Still processing, no room to comment myself. I like it when a writer's building argument leads my mind in a particular direction... and he reaches that direction in his text just as I do in my head. I refer to the part regarding American History X.

Filler up. 

John Dough is, as suggested by his name, just a guy that occupies the backgrounds of peoples' lives while he quietly lives out his stretch, leaving no impression on anyone. He's a self-made cipher, or perhaps more accurately, a self-made blank. He makes no connections and leaves no impressions, and seems to want it that way.

But this is a comic book, so of course things can never remain that simple for John for very long.

A woman enters John's life with a weary smile, a black eye, and a sad tale told over dirt-cheap diner food. And before you can say "Hey, there's some superficial similarities to Sin City up in this piece," John takes himself on a vengeance trip through your usual host of seedy massage parlors and back alleys.

This is a great book to look at. The art is often spare, lending full weight to the participants in often pages-long conversations. I found myself at first skeptical of Rob G's presentation, and increasingly more enamored with it. His lines are rough and composition unbalanced, but there's a feel to the people and places of Filler that's undeniable. Too few artists can give a range of identifiable facial expression without resorting to cartoonism, and I admire any that do it well without exaggeration.

The addition of red to the traditional B&W palette of AiT books is used to great effect. There are enough pages where the new toy gets used overzealously, but quite a few that contribute quite well; I'm pretty sure everyone's been in a place that looks like China Row. I'm also particularly fond of the panel where John enters a bathroom, the shadow from the open door casting red in pristine white bathroom... a nice foreshadow of the violence immediately following.

But here's the problem. Stories that offer a protagonist who is in every way severed from human experience make it impossible for an audience to care. Truly, why should I give a shit what happens to John Dough? He's a blank, with the corresponding no-personality of someone who would make themselves a blank, and it's impossible to be compelled by such a personality. I found myself finishing the book for posterity's sake, and to see where the art went.

Okay, here's something about Sin City, though I fucking promised myself I wouldn't do it: the protagonists in the Miller books are usually one-note jokes, but we're compelled to see where they go and what happens to them because they're colorful one-note jokes. The energy of those books is undeniable. These are men and women with a purpose, no matter how ridiculous that purpose might be. Dough offers no such energy; his presence is one of apathy, and the reader takes that cue and approaches the work apathetically.

I couldn't properly tell you if Filler is a success or a failure, because for me, it's really fucking hard to get around a protagonist I just don't care about. Why was this story made? What was the point, really? It's not a "message" book, so we need something inside the story itself to hook us through till the end, and only the art delivers that hook.

Insert your own pun about the book's title and its place in the creative output of the market here. I don't have quite the guts to be so obnoxiously cutesy.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Le Diamant Noir 

Hahahahaha.

Fulfilling his campaign promise of making American highways a safer place, President Fulton causes to be built an elevated superhighway from the East Coast to the West Coast of these United States. Soon it's the playground of gearheads and misfits, drug runners and grey market tech dealers.. that eight-lane that stretches from coast-to-coast quickly sports a society of support services of its own: folks live in shanty towns along the elevated breakdown lanes, mobsters named "oil barons" control the flow of gasoline, mechanics are like rock stars and diner waitresses are celebrities...


That right there is why I read comics. That is fucking great. Are you ever going to see shit like that anywhere else?

First one comes out June 15th. Wow.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

12 hours and 35 minutes in. 

It was a dark time for the Rebellion.

My ex-Hollywood Video buddy Brev is doing fine. He's almost done with his work, actually, which makes him a world-class asshole.

He's also quoting Eddie Izzard at me, and I think I'm the only person in the 18-25 age group that hasn't ever seen Izzard's standup act. Save your gasps of astonisment and derision for someone who fucking cares.

Joe's not moving quite as fast as Brev, but he's still doing pretty good. Almost to hour 13, and he's wrapping up page 16. It's a pretty fun concept: a modern-day mafioso who gets dropped in medieval England... and decides he wouldn't mind maybe taking over.

Things aren't going so hot for me. I got the idea to write up a satire of all the moronic romantic-comedy stereotypes, the love triangles and the misunderstandings and all that BS, and it's been fun... but it ain't coming out of me naturally. Could be these people are just very distracting... who knows.

Ah well. Still got about 11 hours to go. Doesn't look good, but hey, I felt this way about this time last year. so we'll see, eh?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

9 hours, 18 minutes. 

Joke tally:

Michael Jackson: 2

Whoopi/Ted Danson: 4

Clarkson: 4

Lemmiwinks: 3

Logan's Run: 2

Concentration Camp: 6

Nora Ephron: 2

We have no new pickup lines. We do, however, have spaghetti. And things go much slower when you have a bunch of funny people around you.

Annoying: reading someone's page while someone else READS IT ALOUD over your shoulder. Never do that, or I will eat you alive. Twice.

Think about it.

Five hours, 30 minutes in. 

Jokes made about Michael Jackson: 2

Whoopi Goldberg-whiteface/Ted Danson-blackface jokes: 4

Kelly Clarkson jokes: 3

Lemmiwinks jokes: 3

Logan's Run jokes: 2

Concentration camp jokes: 3

Most effective pickup line in a comics shop: "fuck this, I'm gonna draw dragons."

We are three hours in. 

I am informed that the cervix has the thickness of ten stacked quarters... which is essentially 21 grams. Not to be confused with that Sean Penn movie.

Yep. Now you know, too.

And so it begins. 

Here I sit, in Lone Star comics. The clock has been running for 4 minutes, and so far I have accomplished:

1) A name. (Ringwood Comics Presents: Variety Hour)

2) A general idea of where to go.

3) A HotSpot connection.

4) A very large bottle of water.

5) I am also sitting next to a guy I haven't seen in 7 years. I used to work at Hollywood Video back when I was a precocious teenager, and so did this guy. It turns out no one at our little table can draw... at all. And that's a relief.

I'll be cheating. I'll only be typing a script, and maybe storyboarding some stuff out if it helps me visually. So there's that.

Come on by if you're in the Dallas area, I'll be here till probably noon tomorrow, and the store stays open the whole time. Huzzah, eh?

We'll be here. Me, my buddy Joe, and my long-lost buddy Brev will be sitting in the corner near the D&D stuff. I'm pretty sure the balloons tied our table won't survive the night.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Here's something. 

I care about Seven Soldiers and Klarion the Witch Whatever about as much as I care about Countdown to Infinite Ballwashings.

Which is to say not at all.

We do not need a dozen essay-length pieces every time Grant Morrison turns out another 22 pages.

We just DON'T.

STOP!

It's the most wonderful time of the year... 

So we're approaching the comic world's one-two punch of Thanksgiving and Christmas, 24 Hour Comic Day and Free Comic Book Day. Longtime readers may remember my participation in 24 Hour Comic Book day last year (scroll down to April 24th, "Start Your Engines"), which was simultaneously a personal trip through Hell and an extremely rewarding experience.

You see, I did the go-it-alone experience. Due to scheduling conflicts I wasn't able to attend the lock-in at Lone Star Comics last year and had to keep myself going over the span of 24 hours, with no one around to keep me honest. It's an interesting experience. If you have even the slightest ambition toward creative thought, I suggest you give the "go it alone" experience at least once in your life.

This year I'll be doing the community version at Lone Star's HQ, along with my good buddy Joe. I'll be armed with a laptop. I'm no artist and can't even pretend to be one, so I'm just going to see how many pages of script I can turn out in that time span before collapsing into a pile of fatigue.

You should give it a shot, yourself. Unless you're a pussy... and then, you know. I understand.

Pussy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A brave new world of comics. 

Maybe this is just too easy, but, okay. I saw this at Newsarama (after neglecting to visit the site for several weeks) and I can't help but comment:

How did writer Rick Spears come up with such an idea to combine two different and distinct genres [zombies and westerns]? “Well, the two genres came together for me because of the Italian filmmakers,” said Spears. “Two of the best strings of Italian genre films are the spaghetti westerns and the Italian zombie (or zombi) films. When you’ve got Corbucci’s Django sitting next to Fulci’s Zombie on the shelf it just sort of seeps into the brain. I just know I like westerns, the gritty brutal Italian ones, and I knew we could make it awesome.”


Right. Or you used to play Deadlands.

It's not hard to connect the dots. Both westerns and apocalyptic zombie stories share a common trait: what humans do when they exist in an essentially lawless and fatal situation. Do they flourish or fold?

(Deadwood gets this better than perhaps any other western in a long time, including that firesale-at-the-Western-clichés-depot bonanza that was Firefly.)

This, Mr. Spears, is pretty fucking far from new territory.

Here's what we don't need any more of: zombie westerns. World War II stories with supernatural elements. Reworked origin stories (or as I like to call them, "fan fiction with a budget.") Transparently obvious JLA proxies as parables on power or juvenilia. Post-apocalyptic stories with marauding vampires or whatever. Ripoffs of the Terminator, that involve smart and rebellious machines. Black leather trenchcoats. Characters named Lazarus, Cain, Caine, Kane, or Kain.

And we sure as shit don't need any more superhero books.

Hey, Writers of America, try something wild and original. Write a straight western that doesn't involve a big heist. Write a zombie story that isn't a Romero ripoff (Romero did a pretty good job of that, himself.) A straight war story, because war is pretty goddamn dramatic and macabre and funny and sad all on its own. A post-apocalyptic scenario that stars nothing more than completely average humans (please, no ex-SEALs), because shouldn't that scenario, handled well, be utterly captivating on its own? Write a good story and, if you feel the flow and the audience does too, build a strong character out of it. Don't walk into your comics thinking "franchise."

And don't create another goddamn superhero. Believe me, you have nothing new to contribute. No one is interested on your very slightly different interation of Iron Man.

Name your character Jeff or Lisa. Something nuts like that.

Understand your genre, inside and out, intimately, before you even think about slapdashing bits and pieces of other genres in there for "flavor." You need to know why something works before you start fucking with it.

Discipline yourselves.

Why?

Because I'm fucking tired of zombie westerns.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A discussion. 

(Disclaimer: I know I'm in way over my head, so don't bother reminding me. I'm also talking in stream-of-consciousness mode, so anyone looking for a coherent "point" is in the worng place.)

So that happened.

So... I'm not sure what to say, or even if I should say anything. I'm in a position where if I say anything, anything at all -- good, bad, or neutral -- I'm going to come off to you as insensitive, or possibly vile. Why's that, you ask?

Because I'm male. Secondarily, because I have not experienced the trauma of rape. That cuts my knees out from under me right off the bat.

(See, already you're shrinking back from the monitor.)

I understand the points made and concede my error. I realize my own relative indifference to the topic; when I look at the Fanboy Rampage comments section, I'm less inclined to be offended and more likely to think, "boy, you guys have sure killed that joke stone dead." I have the luxury of approaching the topic of rape from a blissfully ignorant outsider's point of view.

Here's my concern. We all operate under some idea of what is and is not acceptable to say in social discourse. Your typical cliques and communities, online and off, find their balance, their particular chemistry. They absorb people who synch with it, and chew up and spit out those who don't. And everyone in these communities just "knows" what can and cannot be said aloud.

So I'm thinking, as (I believe) Rose suggests, that what we "know" is acceptable really isn't at all. And then I wonder about who gets to decide such things. And why. I'm not being cutesy by hinting or intimating at Rose or anyone else, here; I'm wondering these things in a purely hypothetical sense. What or who guides social discourse, and by what right?

You tell me. I don't know.

The "boys' club" vibe is very prevalent amongst the online comics community, and certainly among the bloggers and various hangers-on. We also happen to be creating a community centered around literature that is, by and large, really fucking violent. A lot of our humor is based around violence and the absurdity thereof. Do we go too far with it? Should something be said?

Oh, hell yeah.

At the same time, most loud declarations against this or that abhorrent trend really turn me off. Steven Grant, for instance. Usually I love the guy. But he writes a column noisily and prolifically against the use of rape as a cliché story device and I, unlike many of my brethern, find myself completely lukewarm. To me he's not saying anything daring, or groundbreaking, or new, or even hard.

Well, no shit, Steve. What's next, a blistering column railing against the evils of child pornography? Way to tackle the thorny ones, big guy.

And then start the "me, too" responses, and I find myself clicking away.

Maybe we need the big voices to say something loudly, long enough, for people to really start listening. Maybe we need constant vigilance shoved down our throats in an uncomfortable fashion. Maybe a steady erosion of the current, diseased status quo is what's needed to affect real change.

And maybe I don't want to hear people say, in public, how much they're against stuff it's really easy to be against. It all smacks too much of a self-congratulation festival, of a bunch of people standing around and celebrating how enlightened they all are. And I basically just want to smack the shit out of them for being the self-righteous, back-patting little egomaniacs I hope I never become.

But I only feel that way when I hear it from men.

Hmm.

So maybe non-traumatized men just have no place in the discussion. I'm cool with that. But I wonder what it could mean, to have no-discussion topics that groups of people are forbidden from discussing.

You tell me. I don't know.

Another burning question. 

I need your help. This question has reached existential dread proportions.

Are you supposed to tip Sonic servers?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Cuz I'm not wincing alone. 

Look. I DARE YOU!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Crazy Washingtonians. 

This has probably been covered on other blogs already, but I don't really care and I haven't checked, and it's worth a second look by the fans of comical books that come by this blog.

Penny Arcade's take on what the Eisners define as a "digital comic":

The Eisner's are for "long form" comic works I believe, which is why a lot of the comics you read online aren't eligible for one. Scott does a strip, sure, but apparently if you put the strips one over the other and put them in a book the judges become confused. I'm sort of surprised that Scary Go Round doesn't fit the bill, or maybe it simply wasn't submitted, because it's sort of irresistible and charming and has been from the word go. Achewood has been an obsession for years, but one of the greatest things about it are the blogs by each character, something that wouldn't fall within range of the judging apparatus. It's cool to see Kazu on there in the digital category, but I'm trying to figure out what exactly they mean by Digital Comic.

Athena Voltaire is a pulp-action serial that could just as easily be printed out if it was presumed anyone would purchase it. It doesn't require this medium. So when they say "digital," do they mean that it was created with digital technology? Whoops, now we need to include virtually every currently produced comic. Let's ratchet it back to manageability: is it just that the shit is hosted online? That's kind of ignorant. Scanning a piece of art and hosting a .jpg of said art is not a mystical process, akin to alchemy. They make machines that will perform this apparently bold feat in under ten minutes. So, in the case of Mom's Cancer - which is excellent in the way all autobiographical comics aspire to be - he's actually got a publishing deal which made him withdraw it from the web. Is it still digital? Sure, it's up now, for judging. When it hits print in 2006, will it be eligible for another Eisner, simply because it underwent an entirely trivial state change?

I don't think they've actually thought much about it. Do they just want in on some of those Webs they've been hearing about? The Internet is not the Ethereal Goddamn Plane. It's a display medium. It has capabilities unique to it. Will we have a "stone" or "clay" category, after the coming apocalypse? I submit to you that we would not. It's an odd, irrelevant, insulting distinction that serves to demarcate otherwise identical work, for no other purpose than to corral the medium. Period.

Also worth noting is their digital frustration.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Here we go again, with the horror. 

Did you read Sean and Bill's thoughts? Yes? Good. Let's continue.

First, it's a bit strange, but I've gotten some apologies from people... apologizing for not agreeing with me fully. Guys, I don't want you to agree with me 100%. That would be scary and useless to discourse. Nothing's better than smart people disagreeing respectfully, let me tell you.

Here's my problem with Scream: that movie wants things both ways. Its bravura opening sequence promises a smart, genuinely unsettling slasher film with enough wits about it to have actually literate dialogue. Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn't live up to those first, oh, 15 minutes or so. What we get afterwards is the kind of movie that wants it both ways: tweaking of the slasher genre on one hand, honest example of the genre on the other.

The result is mishmash, the kind of movie that wants to give you jump-scares and gory deaths, and then pat you on the back and make a snarky little joke to reassure you it was okay to be scared, because we're above all this claptrap, right? After all, it's just a silly little movie, and we know all the rules of it, so we're above it! Having our cake and eating it too.

Dishonesty. An inability to express an honest emotion (fear) without immediately ripcording back into being above it all.

I've seen it done before, and I've seen it done better.

(There was another movie that was made in the mid-80's, a pure satire take on the Dead Teenager films where the prom, Homecoming, and the Big Game all took place on the same day, so a cast member could die at each one. I can't for the life of me remember the name. I do remember there was a shop teacher obsessed with making horsehead bookends. Anyone know the movie I'm talking about?

I'VE FOUND IT! The movie in question is Student Bodies, a highly recommended viewing for fans o' the genre. Thanks, Joe.)

Here's the thing about teenagers and horror movies: yeah, I appreciate the rite of passage that is watching R-rated slasher flicks when you're 12 or 13. I do not think teenagers, or audiences in general for that matter, are by default dumb or otherwise ignorant. But the movie studios think we are, at least judging by their output. What we're getting now is apparently aimed at 15 year olds, and these people must think pretty fucking poorly of them. No one not named M. Night Shyamalan or Guillermo del Toro is even trying anymore, okay?

Instead we get our WB Stars in Peril movies that invest zero time in characters, precious little more in plot, and instead waste all their creative energy on gimmicks (that are usually quite lame, except for perhaps Final Destination) and "inventive" deaths. These modern slasher movies all rely on the basic idea that its audience is familiar with how a slasher film is supposed to work, so that the pesky business of building a story and characters people give a shit about can be discarded right away. It's Paint-By-Numbers, where every color is red.

Whatever happened to smart horror? Whatever happened to something that got inside your head and started digging into places that made you squirm? Where's our Jacob's Ladder? Where's our Silence of the Lambs? Why aren't we being treated like fucking adults anymore? You cannot cultivate a smart audience if you DO NOT GIVE THEM SMART FICTION.

It's all splatter, now. It's true, as Sean says, that there are many scenes in Silence that are graphic or otherwise unsettling. I consider very few of them to be "gratification" horror of the kind I described before.

The autopsy? The jizz-lobbing? The cock-tuck? The lurid descriptions of cannibalism? This isn't gratification. This is rising dread. This is building atmosphere. Unsettling moments, unsettling incidents, scenes, and dialogue, that set the tone for the movie and inform Clarice (and the audience) that you are in out of your fucking depth, and the only way out is to keep digging. Silence is certainly not devoid of gore, but the gore is all the more effective (and utterly shocking) because of the atmosphere built by the other 110 minutes of the movie.

As for Bruce Willis's essential performance in The Sixth Sense: I would argue that Willis is America's Everyman actor, and as a result audiences blend him into his role with little "bump" much moreso than with other marquee actors.

Typical. 

How is it that my favorite comics store has its own blogspot site, and yet I didn't know about it? And Neilalien did?

I think I'm slipping in my old age. Age 24, I shake my fist at you.

Verily. And forsooth.

Horror is Honesty, Part Deux 

A couple of interesting responses to my Horror is Honesty post, courtesy Sean Collins and the unimpeachable Bill Sherman. Both worth reading, with very valid disagreements to some of my points.

I'm really pretty bogged down at the moment, but I'll be responding to their responses shortly. I love a good horror talk.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Horror is honesty. 

That’s not to say horror is the TRUTH. Horror is HONESTY. These are two seperate things.

There are no pretensions in horror. There are no places to hide. It’s about stripping away your hiding places and becoming your naked, bare-ass self in the face of something bigger and badder than you. There are no defenses. Horror is about stripping away your shields and seeing what’s left.

Can “what’s left” survive the worst the world has to offer? When all the rules and conventions and parameters of society are stripped away, when it becomes nothing but primal survival (mental or physical), do we really have what it takes?

There is no room for the endless self-referential wink-fests that are Scream and its ilk in real horror. Those are dishonest movies. They wallow in the conventions of the genre and behave in such a way that they do not allow the viewers to have an honest thought or feeling about any of its characters or proceedings. No emotional attachment is invested; therefore no visceral shocks are possible. Nothing hits you in the gut. Nothing is memorable… the best these movies can supply you in the way of primal impact are the too-commonly-used jump-scares, as well as excessively messy and inventive deaths.

But you know what? Any schmuck with a digital editing suite can create a jump-scare in about 20 minutes. Show someone walking slowly. Introduce silence. Then quickly jump-cut with a screeching soundtrack… voila. You’ve just made a $15 million movie for Dimension Films.

The result of this trend is an obsession with mechanical one-upsmanship in horror movies. What was once perhaps the most intimate of genres, what people allowed to slip further into their reptile brain more than any other style of fiction, is now a laundry list of mechanical fetishism. And mechanical fetishism makes a spectator sport out of horror film; when we are keeping tally, when we are observing the story rather than experiencing it, we are disconnected.

This is a disservice. I’d go so far as to call it a sin.

I call the modern crop of slasher-horror movies “WB Stars in Peril.” The actors chosen are meant to provide a sort of emotional shorthand; WBSP movies put bland-but-known actors into key roles, so that the aimed-for audience of teenagers can instantly identify and empathize with the characters on screen. This provides the director and screenwriter reprieve from having to flesh out characters we actually give a shit about.

(Here’s what I don’t get: why are R-rated horror movies perpetually aimed at an audience that cannot see them without a parent or guardian? More and more you find studios chopping movies down to PG-13 so the “valuable” 15 Year-Old Dumbass dollar can be obtained, which of course neuters a good horror film of its impact. What the hell happened to making movies for adults? Are we really so certain adults are “done” with being scared?)

Name actors, no matter how small their name is, are a mistake; would we have cared as much about Cole in The Sixth Sense if he was played by a better-known child actor? Probably not. Recognizing name faces, name actors, pulls us out of the experience of the horror film. We again become detached. That’s no longer a scared teenage girl running from a psycho with a mask made of flesh; that’s Jessica Biel, and that’s how we know her and refer to her character. She is no longer the anonymous any-girl; she’s a fucking Revlon model.

Don’t even get me fucking started on the prolonged necrophiliac date-rape that is Dark Castle Entertainment. I used to think you were an ally back in the days of your Tales from the Crypt episodes, Zemeckis, but no more. That’s line-in-the-sand shit right there.

I think of Scream and its ilk, and its fetishism of function over form, and its total disregard for the visceral experience. Kevin Williams, Joss Whedon – these men do not see the forest for the trees. They’re too busy being cute and “playing” with conventions they do not understand the meaning of or use for.

I’m reminded of Roger Ebert’s closing comments on Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho:

I viewed Hitchcock's "Psycho" a week ago. Attending this new version, I felt oddly as if I were watching a provincial stock company doing the best it could without the Broadway cast. I was reminded of the child prodigy who was summoned to perform for a famous pianist. The child climbed onto the piano stool and played something by Chopin with great speed and accuracy. The great musician then patted the child on the head and said, "You can play the notes. Someday, you may be able to play the music."

It’s too bad. What do you remember more from Silence of the Lambs? All the gore, or Lecter slithering his tongue? The guts, or Buffalo Bill fucking with Starling with his night-vision goggles? Do you remember the blood and guts or do you remember Lecter being wheeled out in straitjacket and mask? Do you remember viscera, or do you remember a chilling line of dialogue?

That is DREAD. The feeling of IMPENDING HORROR. IMPLIED menace, as opposed to “gratification” horror that is modern bloodsplattery. Horror that threatens knowingly, the kind of thing that lets you know you are in out of your depth, no one can help you… and as intimately as you know this, so does your predator. John Carpenter understood this concept and employed it perfectly in Halloween; that movie was 95% dread and 5% gratification.

The result is a dishonesty from filmmakers and a disconnection from audiences. I bet every single one of you has been in a good, suspenseful movie, only to hear some 17 year old jackass crack a laugh at a particularly tense moment, to prove how cool he is. Do I believe this is because we’ve all become desensitized to violence? On the contrary, I think we’re more pitifully equipped to cope with violence than ever; hence the faux-cool response meant to express detachment. Congratulations, parents of America: our children are completely incapable of expressing an honest emotion in public, even an emotion completely appropriate (yes, even paid for) to the situation.

The best horror is honest, and bare bones. Convoluted plots can work, but the question you must ask yourself is: if you strip away the plot and the window dressing, is the theme still alive and pumping? Is the engine of the story still intact? If so, we have good horror.

Look at Psycho, look at Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These are the godparents of the modern slasher film, which for better or worse is the forerunner of modern horror. (Both, along with Silence, were based in part on the same real life incident, as well.) Hitchcock kept his filming of Psycho deliberately low-budget and low-rent, preferring a general shabbiness to the slickness prevalent in modern horror. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the absolute antithesis of slick technique, and yet any five-minute stretch of it is more memorable, more nerve-frayingly horrific, than entire running lengths of horror films made today. The package of a movie, its presentation, should reflect the state of mind of the characters and, by extension, the audience. Movies that look like music videos simply cannot suck you in as effectively, though some modern movies (such as Saw) are starting to get the idea.

There’s a pretty good article in a recent issue of Esquire that tackles this very idea, as it relates to American remakes of popular Japanese horror movies. The remakes, according to the article, miss the basic point: the Japanese movies rely on some form of incoherency, of randomness, of uncertainty, to generate their horror. American remakes are too obsessed with creating mechanical plot point after mechanical plot point, dragging the audience around by its nose and forcing coherency and rationality where there ought not be any. Indeed, the absence of rationality is the source of horror for these movies; sooner or later, the remakes may realize the concept translates over the Pacific.

This is why the crop of horror video games doesn’t work, especially those “survival horror” games from Capcom. Naturally I’m thinking of Resident Evil, that cribs so heavily from Romero and yet fails utterly to grasp that Romero’s stories are simple and streamlined and very, very basic. Their plots take no more than a sentence to summarize. Horror video games, with some notable exceptions, concentrate too much on elaborate plot and melodrama; dread and fear are almost by-products, or interruptions for long cut-scenes of tedious revelation after revelation. And their scares are so often only the lame jump-scare.

Horror is honesty. Horror is the genre we allow past all our defenses; it is a story form meant to engross more than almost any other. As such, it requires consent from both sides: honesty from the storyteller, and honesty from the audience. Even humor, our last and most vital defense, becomes yet another tool for the horror storyteller to inform, to show, to bludgeon you over the fucking head with their truth.

Are you honest enough for horror?

(Some good reading:

An article from the New Yorker on Halloween: H20 and the evolution of the series and its audience.

Ebert reviews of Psycho, both original and remake.)

ADDENDUM: That's Kevin Williamson, not Kevin Williams. I don't know if I have a mental block or something, but I always fuck that guy's name up.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Paging Henry Rollins. 

Go over to Rick's place, read that top post, and call him a fucking liar.

Maybe that'll work.

Friday, April 01, 2005

I like it when someone gets it. 

So, there's a four-star review for Sin City.

Make no mistake, man: you're gonna love it or hate it, no middle ground. But... ain't that how movies should be?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?