Groundhog Day. We all know the movie. We all love the movie. That is when Bill Murray has the same day happen to him again and again and again. I grew up in the frozen ghettos of Northern Wisconsin; I knew what reliving the same day after day after day felt like. No, it isn’t the absolute death of culture that I was trapped in that made me feel like Groundhog Day, rather it was NBC playing the Night of the Living Dead every–single–night before having the station sign off.
That’s right. The one channel (we sometimes got PBS for Doctor Who…sometimes) our tin foil laden television (now with colour!) could pick up was NBC. Let that sink in for a bit.
The good news is, the Night of the Living Dead kicked some major booty. It was scary. It was intense. It was what hope could be if not stomped on by every other creature on this blue marble of ours. I won’t bore you about the story. I will, however, tell you what lesson we can learn as writers from this masterpiece.
Struggle sells. We rooted for the man to survive. He almost did. Almost. Why did he have to die? Think of it: Why do we have our ‘favourite’ characters live in our stories? Does your audience connect with those stories? I’m guessing they don’t. Why not? Because life isn’t like that. We like to see, even in fantasy, something real happen. Throw a car at your protagonist. See how she gets out of the way. Hell, even Superman died. Why? Because he became boring. Kryptonite wasn’t his weakness–not having a real one was. The same applies to the Living Dead. He dies because he has to.
Who do you have in your own story that is ‘too precious’ to throw a curve ball? Maybe a favourite character or even a line (darling) you just can’t toss. My suggestion, and that of Romero, is to kill them (or at least toss a car their way).
When Hollywood runs out of ideas (on a daily basis) it turns to the tried and true formula of The Remake. The new Poltergeist movie seems to be an unneeded update of the original. Will I see it? Oh, mais oui, I will be first in line to see the remake. I love horror. I love some of the actors in the movie (damn you Academy for no Moon golden statue for Mr. Rockwell). I love Sam Raimi (and I sure the hell hope Bruce Campbell kicks the Groovy level of this movie up a notch). I am a horror junkie. I saw crappy sequels of movies that I didn’t know the original existed (I’m looking at you random Netflix movie!).
Back to the original Poltergeist. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all been (if you were my age) scared shitless of tv sets for a bit. How many years in therapy did it take for me to be able to turn off the damn tv when the channels finally went to bed? Thank God for HDTV. Kids today will never know the horror of the snow sound n vision.
Besides making me scared of tvs, Poltergeist had a lot of other life-defining items for me. The little girl? Something about her never sat well with me. She was an awesome actress though. She brings out the ‘you feel for her’ that Exorcist never really did for me. The scenes of the primal fear of thunder/lightning bring to light a good grasp of psychology. Even the spirit guide was a little person. Think of that: Two of the main driving forces (Heather O’Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein) in this film were under 5 feet tall. Did the casting go with our fear of the ‘non-normal’?
Does the movie have its version of bang horror? Yes, but it builds up slowly….slowly…slowly….it keeps building to the point where even the tv set can give nightmares. That’s pacing, folks. That is suspense. That is also (mostly) what is missing in current horror today. The tease, as it were. Can the remake bring the tease back? Only time will tell.
The Conjuring. If you believe in ‘true case’ studies in the paranormal (or not), The Conjuring still comes in strong with its story building. All too often do we see a horror movie go for the effects and the scares instead of building the story. If you build the story, if you invest time into the characters, then you will have something strong.
One of the tricks to Creative Non-Fiction is to have your specific story reach and connect with a general audience. If you have a novel that is all about you, then the only person who really is interested in it is–you. Even celeb autobiographies have the core human traits exposed. For a great example of this, one needs to look no further than Artie Lange’s book, Crash and Burn. In Crash and Burn, Lange exposes the raw nerve of addiction and does so in a way that connects to people who have dealt with addiction directly or through family and friends. A case can also be made with Jim Breuer’s book,
A case can also be made with Jim Breuer’s book, I’m Not High. Breuer is a master story teller. His stories work because he can connect the experiences he had in his neighborhood, and later with is dad, with a very human connection of empathy. Breuer connects with the reader and makes them give a damn even if they do not have the same experience because he makes a real connection with every character in his book. (Note: If you do buy Jim’s book, make sure you pick up the Audio Book version. His audio book is the reason why audio books exist.)
Both of these books resemble exactly the story that The Conjuring brings. They all make a connection to what makes us human. They tell us, ‘You are not alone’ and, in doing so, they demonstrate that emotion can be generated for a person you do not know because that person already tapped into the primal force of ‘you’.
The Conjuring taps into that force and it does so with a grace that makes you wonder ‘is this real?’. If, by the end, you have to google the subject matter of a movie (horror or not) then that artist has done his job–a lesson worthy of study through this film (and one to adopt in your own writing!).
What can I tell you about Sharknado that you don’t already know? It is probably the biggest cult hit of recent years (enough to spawn a small franchise) and it is part of the highest rated show ever to appear on the SciFi network. That’s right, the sequel actually beat out BSG. If that doesn’t make your mind explode then maybe this revelation will push you over the edge. Sharknado is also the first sign–ever–that Tara Reid can, indeed, read. We know this because that is how she delivers most of her lines.
The acting isn’t bad. Who doesn’t like to see Steve aka Biker Mouse from Mars dude aka Blondie McMuscles in a big screen (depending on the size of your tv) production? The writing is pretty something too. But what brings this movie into its own is the idea. The sure balls of the person coming up with the script to pitch makes this film stellar.
A bunch of sharks taking over Cali? Boring. A tornado that rips through LA? Seen it. But a tornado that is made up from a bunch of sharks? You mean Jaws really can show up in my toilet? Now, we’re talking.
It just goes to show that if you dream big and put in the hard work needed, even if those dreams include sharks spinning in mid-air, you really can pull off something amazing.
The one movie that really scared the crap out of me as a kid was Alien. This movie changed my idea of what science fiction could be and what horror could open up. The facehugger pictured here is the reason why I slept with my hand over my face for about 14 years. Yes, the argument was already posited that my sleeping with my hand in such a way actually mimics the facehugger rather than protects from it, but hey, I started it when I was 7.
This movie built a franchise, a world, and a hell of a lot of nightmares (a dancing spoof and one very cool space herpes reference). Was it the fear of the unknown that made this movie so terrifying as a kid? There were a lot of movies that dealt with the unknown and a general distrust of tech, sleeper cells and xenophobia. This movie goes beyond all of the traditional sci-fi as horror genre by pushing the storyline. Again, all of the special effects and super creeps in the world won’t hold up to a great story brought to life by a talented crew. It is their humanity that made this movie more frightening. This wasn’t some sort of ‘teens go out on a romp and start dying’ type thing. This was ‘People stuck in a job they didn’t want to be in and getting screwed over, used and abused by their employer’ type thing.
The time had a lot to do with the effect. Families were settling down and usually trying more than a few jobs to hold ends together. A group of vets were being refused jobs they were qualified for just because America wanted to exorcise its demons and cleanse its conscious, not by addressing its own evil, but by scapegoating the ones sent to fight. Then again, maybe a face hugger scared the crap out of me because I am an asthmatic who never could be more than two steps away from his rescue inhaler. They may not be able to hear you scream in space, but neither can they hear someone with a full blown attack cry out either.
The movie Alien will be played in all its glory for the Great Digital Film Festival brought to Montreal by Cineplex. I am going to the February 2nd showing. If you want to say hi, please do so. I’ll be the one watching the movie not with his fingers over his eyes, but rather across his mouth.
‘Stay away from Captain Howdy.’ That is the lyric, isn’t it? I saw Strangeland a few years ago. I think I had to rob a RedBox to watch it. What brought me to the movie was Dee Snider. Yes, I am an SMF. I remember seeing Twisted Sister live with Sebastian Bach before and stuff like that sticks with you (in a good or bad way). This movie made me see Dee Snider in a different way.
Snider writes this film which is part creepfest and part warning of a pre-dawn internet free for all. The movie feeds in on our fears of the online creepoid stalking the net waiting to meet either a young girl/boy or Chris Hansen. (For the record: If you are on his show enough to have your GPS listing the target house as a ‘favourite’ then you might want to rethink your life choices.) It taps into those fears and gives us a bit of a ‘look at me!’ type venture.
Can you identify with Snider’s character of Captain Howdy? Isn’t that the sign of a good writer? No matter how much of a monster the villain is, there is something identifiable about the man. Did Snider go a bit too far in insane isolation? Give the movie a whirl and find out. I think we are all a bit Captain Howdy in some aspect.