Wednesday, September 12, 2012
YOU DON'T SCARE US ANYMORE
I used to like reading CRACKED'S FOR MONSTERS ONLY magazine. Although I took my monsters pretty serious as a Monster Kid, I couldn't help myself when I saw the likes of John Severin and Vic Martin poking fun at Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the rest. Their priceless caricatures and spoofs of all the old monsters were too good not to appreciate.
Yep, humor and horror go together like rolls and butter, like steak and potatoes. After all, one of my most favorite of the Universal monster movies was a comedy and one of their last of the "classic era", the monster mash-up ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.
Well, CRACKED as a print magazine has not been seen on a newsstand for quite a few years and its web-based counterpart lingers on with not much to remind us of the original except for the title lettering and that its premise is humorous entertainment.
I am happy to see, however, that a horror section is included with the main webpage. While it's not anything like the original FOR MONSTERS ONLY, or even a version of the later CRACKED MONSTER PARTY, it still has the faint echo of the monster spoofs and satires of yesteryear, albeit with an edge contemporary style and sentiment.
Here is an example of the type of article that can be found on the horror pages of CRACKED.com:
4 Horror Movie Villains That Aren't Scaring Us Anymore
By Ian Fortey
August 27, 2012
This is a call to action, which is a buzz term that people in offices use that means "get off your ass." For the sake of the horror film industry as a whole, something needs to be done. Horror, as a genre, is suffering through what film enthusiasts might call "shittiness." There is a lot of shittiness in horror movies because a lot of horror filmmakers insist on repeating the same thing over and over again. Well written, well acted and unique horror is hard to come by, and that's sad. But it's not incurable. There are time-honored concepts and tropes all through horror that can still be played with and made into something awesome -- we don't need to see the same Japanese horror movie 15 times in a row. I write screenplays that feature none of this crap, so it can be done! Please buy my screenplay. Or just don't make these movies. Whatevs.
#4. Vengeful Spirits
Every movie featuring a haunting implicitly admits to life after death, which is a pretty big deal. And then 95 percent of those that exist in the PG-13 shock/scare oeuvre go on to piss all over the idea that you'll live on past death by suggesting that you're going to be a dick literally forever, slamming people's doors and appearing in mirrors or down halls when no one who isn't a film audience can see you anyway. Look at Paranormal Activity, The Ring, The Woman in Black, Insidious and countless others. Now of course the key element for it to be a horror movie is something horrible, but why are they such insufferable assholes? Is the horror that ghosts suck? They just suck and will always suck?
It's not enough anymore in a ghost story that you died horribly and your spirit is unsettled, like in The Sixth Sense -- you just need the magic of Haley Joel Osment to settle your hash, and then you and Patrick Swayze can move toward the light. Oh no. Now someone spends 80 minutes figuring out that, in life, you were forced to stress-test dildos until your hands chafed raw and so they have to burn down the old abandoned dildo factory so that you can rest in peace. Then they spend the final 10 minutes dealing with the fact that the dildo factory was actually holding you safely away from the good people of Dildonia and now you're going to go slaughter innocents en masse because you're just a prick. Up yours, ghost.
Vengeance is a fine motivator to do something awful in a horror movie, especially if you're no longer bound by the shackles of mortality. But damn, doesn't vengeance have a point? Getting revenge on everyone everywhere is just arrogant and douchey. Plus, when you're done, and everyone is a ghost, who do you think won't be hanging out with anyone ever? You, you dirty douche ghost. You'll have eternity to be pissy with no outlet because all the other ghosts will hate you for killing them.
What Can We Do?
I don't want to come out and say have your ghost not be a dickhead, but maybe give it some dimension. The problem with too many movie villains is they're flat evil. Who the hell is just evil for the sake of evil? Not even Tom Cruise is like that. Give them some depth, a reason to be pissy and a reason that they may want to hold back that pissy attitude sometimes. And maybe your twist ending should not be the same twist ending in every single other movie that was made this decade, maybe try that.
#3. Giant Things
To this day I love giant things. Show me something that's bigger than it should be and I will applaud. Shoes, a burger, boobs, I'm there. So the entire genre of giant monster movies was tailor-made for me and I still enjoy them a lot. I own Godzilla movies on DVD and I'm OK with that. I saw Night of the Lepus, a terrible movie about giant killer bunnies, and I sort of enjoyed that, too. It's really bad, though.
Though rarely as successful these days as ghost stories or slasher movies, monster still do alright. Mimic was about giant roaches, Sharktopus was about a, you know, sharktopus. There's Tremors, Anaconda, Cloverfield and gobs of others based around something that's mildly intimidating at normal size but much worse when it's truck sized. Right now, picture something that you don't want coming at your face, like a strange penis, and now imagine it's large enough to burrow through stone. Wow, that's intimidating.
The reason anyone ever liked giant monster movies is because anything on its own has the potential to be frightening, except for bunnies, but when it reaches an ungainly size, we don't know what to do anymore. Everything in our world is geared toward shit staying the way it is. In fact, right now, if you happen to wear shoes bigger than about a size 14, you have some small realization of how awful giant things are to the rest of the world. We're just not equipped to handle stuff like that. Now if you make a bunch of giant things and, because they're giant, we just assume they have a taste for man flesh, well that's just horrifying. The problem is that's also sort of the end of the movie. There are giant bunnies/cod/Swedes and they want to eat people or stomp our cities to the ground and we have to fight them with the military or maybe J.Lo and most of our friends will get eaten before 90 minutes is up.
Giant monsters only have so many options in movies, and that's depressing because there's potential for more, there really is. It's just you don't see it so often.
What Can We Do?
Give that giant monster a job. A purpose in life. And have your protagonist respond logically. If all the bunnies on earth were as big as Buicks tomorrow, how would we reasonably adapt to that? Really big fences? Breed a race of even bigger dogs? Abandon faith and start worshiping a bloodthirsty rabbit god? There's a rich tapestry of potential ideas here. It's all fine and good to have one town in the middle of nowhere be swarmed by giant naked mole rats, but what if all the naked mole rats were huge and they started migrating into LA and Moscow, and maybe not even to eat us, but to destroy our crops and make giant babies that burrow into our homes and sleep there? That's a large-scale problem that we'd need to deal with. Make that movie, someone.
#2. Fictional Serial Killers
Serial killers are fascinating. The idea of a human being capable of the atrocities linked to someone like Albert Fish or Jeffrey Dahmer is difficult to comprehend. What makes a person do that? It's literally insane. And in the real world, that's as close to a monster as you'll ever find, so it's not hard to see why so many real killers have their stories adapted to film -- it's the dark side of humanity. It's intense shit. And then there's Saw. Friday the 13th. Halloween. About 400 others.
Real serial killers will forever be bound by the limits of what they actually did. And then they were caught and the story is shared and we all know it. But a fictional serial killer is only bound by a writer's imagination. Most writers imagine serial killers as a cross between extremely low-budget, inbred circus people and a disgruntled hardware store employee, and if the need arises, they will get supernatural powers just because.
People liked the Saw franchise, but come on. When did that son of a bitch find the time to be that meticulously insane? The killer died in one of the movies and they still made 10 sequels and a line of frozen dinners. What the fuck is wrong with Jason Voorhees? How come he was just an unfortunate little mutant boy in part 1 and by part 10 he had literally killed people in hell, space and New York? Why doesn't anyone medicate Michael Myers? He really needs it. They need to stop putting him in an institute run by Scientologists and put him someplace where people believe in the power of pharmaceuticals.
Psycho came out in 1960, and serial killers have only progressed insofar as they've achieved both higher body counts and crazier ways to obtain them. For every Hannibal Lecter, who is physically capable of not murdering every person who shares the screen with him, there are 30 guys in masks who apparently cannot not kill everyone they meet. I'm no criminologist, but bugfuck crazy and skilled with a knife or not, if you kill everyone you meet all the time, you're going to get caught pretty quickly. Not all police officers just started that day and have never seen a gun, a criminal or the out of doors before.
What Can We Do?
Serial killers are not necessarily impossibly powerful, silent monsters, nor are they super geniuses with degrees in engineering. In fact, most serial killers in real life were average people. Average looks, average job, average intelligence. Not chairmen of the MENSA chapter from hell. So maybe your killer should be a guy who, once a month, takes a hammer, drives across state lines and kills all the mailmen in a small town. Or maybe he goes after hitchhikers, that used to be popular in movies. Crimes of opportunity, rather than methodical, shithouse crazy planning. Just an idea.
#1. Vampire, But ...
Bela Lugosi's finest role was as Count Dracula. He suaved the shit out of that character. And the concept of the vampire really captured people's hearts and minds, as evidenced by the literally one fucktillion pieces of vampire fiction produced each and every day in the world today. Twilight, True Blood, Blade, Let Me In, Fright Night, it goes on. Kids love their vampires. But the title of this entry has a but in it. A big ol' but. A but you want to grab, know what I'm saying? Yeah, you know.
If you look back over that list, you'll be able to see how the straight vampire genre breaks down a little in the examples given. They're all about vampires, but there's more. Blade is a vampire, but he's also half human and he can walk in the day. Twilight is about vampires, but they sparkle in the sunlight and regularly attend biology class. True Blood is about vampires, but if you've been watching this season, you'll notice that they actually managed to start no less than a dozen other storylines at the same damn time, including ghosts, werewolves and some kind of completely preposterous flamboyantly gay voodoo line cook demon.
Dracula appeared on the big screen in 1931. It wasn't even the first vampire movie, but it's arguably the biggest. After 80 years, the vampire lost its luster and the genre needed tweaking. So now vampires can walk in daylight, or their faces open like butts with teeth in them, or they sparkle in sunshine and are sexually attracted to girls with the personalities of hat racks. Basically they're vampires because we're told they're vampires and often don't meet the rules anymore.
Some people still make traditional vampire stories, and some of these tweaked versions are still pretty good, but there's so damn many of them, it's like finding out the Kardashians have 30 cousins and they're all getting spinoff shows: It's too much for the human brain to deal with. Ease off, man. Relax.
What Can We Do?
For starters, maybe reconsider a vampire film. Wouldn't you rather make a movie about swamp monsters? No one's making those, they're due for a renaissance. If you're still committed to your vampire idea, then at least be aware of the genre. Is your vampire a badass loner who hunts other vampires? For the love of God, stop now. Is your vampire a suave, misunderstood sex machine? STOP. Does your vampire wax poetic ever? At any time? No. No no no.
For more horribly funny stuff like this, head on over to the horror section at CRACKED.com.