Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Thousand Hacking at the Branches

Henry Thoreau is attributed as saying, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." It's a quote that I've always found fascinating ever since I heard it from the lips of Captain Howdy in Dee Snider's "Strangeland". I believe the meaning is that it is better to get to the core of the evil and deal with it than waste time with minions. I prefer to twist it around in a kind of reverse. I like the idea of it being about tapping into evil rather hacking away at it to get rid of it. There are thousands brushing against what it is to be evil and amongst them is a true monster. In a recent interview to be posted next month I brought up my dislike of pathetic punk and rabble sort of evil. I have a real taste for the boogeymen the monsters fear.

Every now and again there is a story or a movie where a group of ne'er-do-wells or even outright miscreants are out doing their damage, sowing chaos, and/or generally ruining other people's lives. Then they come into a situation like so many others before, except that this time they will be the victims. There is more than one way for the worse evil to prove that it is worse. It doesn't always have to be the stock answer that they are more violent, more sadistic, or more perverted. Here is where manipulative and insidious is more fun, even if eventually it comes down to a gruesome end for the lesser evil. Another choice I find less than desirable is for the victims to be brought down by their own in-fighting. Some find great satisfaction in that, but I find it wears thin. This leads to one of the defining elements of hard-core evil.

Like anything else, it's easy to overuse it, but I find the worst evil that villains can do is bring out the evil in otherwise good people. It's nothing to make the selfish and the uncaring to commit heinous acts, but if you can make upstanding people willingly do the wrong thing, what they would never do on their own in most other situations, then you're getting somewhere, evil-wise.

There is an unasked question here. Where does the protagonist fit into this story? A lot of the time there isn't one; not in the sense of a hero. Sometimes it may be the least offensive of the victim villains. Some other good person caught in the middle and able to provide a sense of urgency or heightened tension is a good choice. Things can get complicated. That is a consideration to keep in mind. Tying back to last week, it is a more relatable, good, person that provides for a greater anchor to the horror for the audience. Finally, the three-way conflict has its own pros and cons. The dynamic is different, and it affects the warp and weft of the mood, pacing, and character requirements as much as it does the narrative fabric.

Mood: meditative.
Music: Original Sin by Meat Loaf and Instruments Of Destruction by N.R.G.

Meat Loaf: Welcome to the Neighborhood
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Various: Transformers: The Movie [Extra Tracks]
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