Monday, April 27, 2009

A Nightmare On Elm Street? Indeed.

Okay, lemme return to horror...

I was sitting watching Ben Cross embarass himself as Barnabas Collins, in reruns of the resurrected Dark Shadows (oh, and here is a link in case you aren't familiar with this daytime drama). [another aside: you might want to check out Stephen M. Rainey's Dark Shadow writings on Amazon. ] As I cringed at his scene chewing and the inability of his supporting staff to say something without making their eyes BIG, I started thinking about the current trend to revisit horror films from the 1970's and 1980's.  

In case you haven't been paying attention, and I certainly don't blame you if you haven't, such fare as
Black Christmas, Prom Night, Last House On The Left, The Hills Have Eyes, The Fog, Friday the 13th, and Halloween have all been redone. We're not talking about sequels, we're talking about virtual reboots. 

Why? It's not as though people were sitting around virtual campfires tossing out: "I wonder when we're going to see a new Last House on the Left?" Some of these films were'nt that wonderful when they were released, and updating them haven't made them much better. Trust me. Oddly enough, Rob Zombie, the force behind the pitiful remake of Halloween has been quoted as saying: 

 "I feel it's the worst thing any filmmaker can do. I actually got a call from my agent and they asked me if I wanted to be involved with the remake of Chain Saw. I said no f***ing way! Those movies are perfect - you're only going to make yourself look like an a**hole by remaking them. Go remake something that's a piece of s**t and make it good."

I agree with Rob, and still wonder why he didn't hold to his own philosophy and avoid the remake of Halloween, Carpenter's classic 'stalk and slash', which, along with Friday The 13th, jump started this genre. I don't mind people reinterpreting films, I do mind when it keeps the studios from being creative and giving new stories and ideas a start. 

I remember sitting through Turista and Hostel, and wishing for something that had story and character (sadly, Hostel actually had a germ of an interesting plot with a theme of class exploitation....which they never really developed). Horror should be more than gore. Horror has a chance to allow us a catharsis in this troubled time. It is a chance to see things about ourselves, some unattractive, that need reflection, even in a warped and twisted mirror.
So what do we have to look forward to? A reboot of a Wes Craven classic: Nightmare on Elm St.  It was such a perfect little film. Creative. Scary. Surprising. With Robert Englund and Johnn Depp for Chrissakes!!! And now? According to EW, they are remaking it, with Jackie Earl Haley as Freddy and Rooney Mara as Nancy. Why???
And also coming...The Wolfman. 

I know this is a trend and it will spend itself in time. Still, when one thinks of all the opportunities being missed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Genre No More

The time has come for horror writers, fantasy writers, science fiction writers, romance writers, and other writers of so-called niche writing to stop calling what we do genre writing. What does that word mean anyway? Genre. It's an apology. It's a sign we let the popular kids put on our back. It's the red-faced shame we feel when our parents whip open the door to the bedroom and find us writing genre into an old sweat sock while we desperately try to hide the open glossy pages of our favorite horror or fantasy magazine.

You know, I think the stuff that passingfor high literature these days constitutes its own genre. Let's call a neurosis a neurosis, or in my case, let's not.

I'm currently fighting my way through a novel by Richard Ford, one of those literary guys whose books are read by a niche, and maybe gets taught in college classes, but will probably be forgotten when the next literary love child comes along, and I'm amazed at his lack of economy and these meaningless details and passages that go blah, blah, blah.

Pulitizer Award Winning Ford, of course, was the literary type trying to redefine the novel. He looked for a level of reality that would have made Warhol shave his head and join a monastery. Reminds me of the guy who made a six hour film about a fly crawling over a woman's naked body.

Let me quote one of Ford's characters, probably speaking for Ford hmself: "If it's literature's job to tell the truth about these moments (significant or at least meaningful life episodes) , it usually fails, in my opinion, and it's the writer's fault for falling into such conventions. I tried to explain all this to my students at Berkshire College, using Joyce's ephiphanies as a good example of the falsehood."

So what do we call this high fallutin' genre that seems to have captured the hearts and minds, and corrupted the souls of so many MFA candidates and professorial staffs? 

Let's call it the novel that isn't a novel, the story that doesn't follow convention and seeks to express itself regardless of the entertainment value. It's enlightenment spread across the testicles like Ben-Gay (or Icy-Hot)..take your pick. Let's call it AvanteGardeInABox

Me? I'm gonna go play with the other nerds. I want stories that have beginnings, middles, and ends...I want epiphanies. I want to eat popcorn as I read and feel like when I close a book cover that I haven't just read something being forced upon me by Dick Cheney at a literary Gitmo.

So from now on, when one of those literary types tries to shove you into a niche and comment on your crass commercialism by identifying you as a genre writer.....turn a ferocious eye on them and say: "Oh yeah???!!!  You, too!"

Then run like hell and go read a comic book.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hero Worship

Flash fiction for Good Friday.


"When I was little I used to fantasize about being Jesus."

Steven smiled at Carrie's words. He leaned back in the booth and made himself more comfortable. Outside rain continued to wash along the curbs of the city, flushing debris and dirt into the sewers. When he was younger he used to sail popsicle rafts along those tiny rivers.

"It's probably a pretty common thing for young kids to do."

Carrie nodded and stirred her coffee. "I used to imagine what it would be like to be crucified. I used to think how cool it would be to hire someone to crucify me in the night. Top secret. In the morning, people would come around and find me up there, hanging. At first I thought that it would be okay to be tied to the cross; but as I got older, it occurred to me that ropes would be a pale substitute for iron nails."

Steven pushed his tongue against his cheek and glanced toward the door of the cafe. It opened and a fat kid came in, his hair flat against his head. He was a punching bag of kid.

"God, I wish I were Jesus," she said.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Writing Darkly

According to a posting for the topic of the next writers' group meeting...we are going to explore the darkness. 

At first glance dark writing seems like an obvious concept. If we attempt to define it though, things get shaky. We can start off by assuming "dark" refers to a mood or theme. The word "dark" itself, besides addressing a lack of light refers to something characterized by gloom. According to another definition, dark, when used as an adjective can also refer to something threatening. Something concealed and mysterious. Or it can be something morbid or grimly satiric.

A lot of writing can crowd in under this umbrella. While many works of modern fiction have dark elements, perhaps it becomes dark when that is one of the primary intents of the author. For surely, while Harry Potter has dark elements, no one would ever consider it to be dark fiction. Nor would we consider the likes of Tom Sawyer to fall under that shadow, although Twain has some scary moments in the book.

I write a good deal of dark literature. And it is a deliberate process. I want to upset people. I want to give them something they'll remember, not because it's good writing, but because they are home alone, it's raining, and they keep trying to remember if they've locked the front door. 

I believe the key to writing dark literature is to start with the true and the mundane. The more fantastical something is, the less impressive the fright and less disturbing. That's not to say that monsters and Halloween "thingys" can't be scary, but the more they attach themselves to the "real", the more effective they are. Consider the Frankenstein monster; horrifying to people around the turn of the last century, but less terrifying now because of the advances in science. However, Shelley's themes remain intact:the idea that those who meddle in the wrong closets of nature will bring forth tremendous consequences. Frankenstein's monster now becomes a metaphor. Biological warfare, anyone?

As for the mundane...what could be more mundane than a house in the country where a family sits in front of a television set? Ask Jerome Bixby, author of "It's A Good Life", the tale of a town held captive by a twisted little boy who can alter reality with a wink. It remains one of the scariest "Twilight Zone" episodes ever seen. What can be more mundane than the shy, nervous motel manager in Robert Bloch's Psycho? What's more mundane than the soft and well-spoken Hannibal Lecter?

The most frightening monsters are those that wear the human masks; those that look back at us from the mirror.