Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Return of the Space Horrors

In space no can hear your spleen!

Watching Stargate Universe's opening two episodes I was struck by the thought once again how frightening space is. It's as dangerous as working underwater and because of the much greater distances involved help is that much further away if not entirely out of the question. This is just as a matter of the man versus nature plot, though it must be further extended to include machines as a part of nature, making it man versus his environment. The nature of your location is consistently deadly, but only failure of your safety devices, your ship included, can end your life in most situations. It can be debated back and forth whether the meteor punching a hole through your ship or the ship's then unsustainability is the cause of your death. There is also the matter of which is more likely to be dealt with, preventing the meteor strike or repairing the damage.

Back when Star Trek: Enterprise premiered the first season seemed to be very horror oriented with a lot of panicked what is that quickly followed by how many are dead now and look what it did to him/her. Space was a very scary place because of the aliens, so many of which were menacing, and well, alien--admittedly they could always go more alien and you would in your own setting. This is what it is all about after all. Back in the Anatomy of a Horror Setting when I covered science fiction horror pairings, options for your setting considerations, I covered how the horror of aliens works and relies on fear of the unknown. Nothing is more unknown that creatures that have never previously even come into contact with anything you know. Different biology, different outlook, different beliefs and the only similarity an expectation that the universe is dangerous.

Of course you don't have to go out into space to end up on the receiving end of its horror. Lots of times the aliens come to Earth and wreak havoc. This is one of the least well done kinds of horror for some reason. Too often they end up leaning too heavy toward the science fiction or worse they fall back on a deus ex machina to extricate the protagonists, and the entire planet, from the alien threat, which is entirely non-conducive to horror. These are not bad movies or novels, in some cases far from it, but they do not fit the horror mould. Consider how much more horror there is a hopeless situation, or better yet one with only a small glimmer of hope in the form of great determination and likely sacrifice, weighing your own morals versus the freedom or even survival of your species. That's not just great horror, that's exciting storytelling.

Mood: spacey.
Music: Isle Of Avalon by Iron Maiden and Headswitch by Bruce Dickinson.

Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier
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Bruce Dickinson: Skunkworks (2 CD)
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No Horror This Week

My apologies, but I have been working on a secret project. I hope you had a good hump day nonetheless. I will return again, as my schedule indicates, on September 29th. Sorry for the inconvenience.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Scareless Horror

One of the distinct qualities of the horror genre is that it does not strictly have to rely on actually causing the emotion for which it is named. A crime novel cannot be without a crime in it. An action movie must have action. A science fiction role-playing game has to have science--though admittedly it need not be fictional science, the fiction stemming from either plot or character or the fact the gaming isn't real is sufficient.

Horror can have no scares for the reader or viewership. It can have no horror for the characters involved. What it needs is to have certain elements. A good example of this is the current trend with vampires. For these stories to be, say urban fantasies, they would have to have certain tropes that make it fantasy. This would cause its own problems since much of what describes fantasy is rooted in medieval or Tolkienesque fantasy.

Certain character types just scream horror (or fantasy) even if they engage in drama or action or comedy. Sometimes these rise to the level of cross genre, other times they do not. This seems to be very true of drama. There are no cross-dramas. Drama is integral to anything and everything that is dramatic or a dramatisation. So too is horror except in a pseudo form of reverse. This makes for great versatility and draws in a larger audience, which is good for all involved.

Mood: harried.
Music: Coming Soon by Queen and Black Lodge by Anthrax.

Queen: The Game
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Anthrax: Sound of White Noise
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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Subtle, Real Subtle... Actually No

I just watched the movie "Paranormal Activity" for the first time on Monday. It is a slow burning film with subtle horror for the most part, as far as horror movie goes. It is very inline with movies like "What Lies Beneath" as much it is similar to "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" in their strict documentary style with less than stable camera shots (though P.A. is much smoother with the camera) and lack of soundtrack or score unless such sounds are rooted in the scene. After watching the movie I was struck with the idea for this Hump Day Horror. This mostly applies to movies but it could also be to used for novels and creating scenarios for role-playing games. Subtle is good, but sometimes, or rather there reaches a point where, it's time to take off the gloves and go for the blatant. It can be a fine balancing act to decide when and where to do either.

Looking through the discussions for a movie like Paranormal Activity at the different sites illustrates the vast differences between people expectation of what is scary. There is a disappointment with the scare levels, with, in essence, the film's reality as it pertains to how paranormal happenings occur. There is also the old incorrect stand-by that one person's preference overrides everyone else's. This is all a part of that balance in its own subtle ways, but isn't exactly my point. I was watching the movie and thinking how I like subtle, but I like it to pay off too. While I enjoy these slow little movies as I call them I like the in your face horrors more. That does not preclude subtle. This is especially true if the subtle parts stick with you and provides ongoing horror after the movie or book or game session is over.

The point is that subtle is fine, subtle is great. It's a needed part of good layering. It can bind action to themes. It can be a by-product of deep thinking peeking through, things only hinted at, hiding in the fringes of a subject matter. That is the way much of the world works and that approximation in fiction adds realism, grounds the fantastical, and as previously stated provides something to mull over, debate about and savour after the fact. The benefit of subtlety and layering is the strength it adds to a work upon repeat reading or viewing. It also widens the audience. Everyone gets something out of it. It's like the grown up or horror equivalent to animated comedies with obvious jokes for the children and the savvier, mature or more intellectual humour--or requiring foreknowledge such as with in-jokes--for the parents watching the feature with them.

Mood: bifurcated.
Music: Dragula by Rob Zombie and La Mer by Nine Inch Nails.

Rob Zombie: Hellbilly Deluxe
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Nine Inch Nails: The Fragile
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