The Gore Score

I discovered horror movies as a little guy, having seen my first one at six and then falling in love with the genre on the for real-real until I had seen THE THING years later. When I fell for scary movies, as they will always sorta be to me, I fell hard and the older I got the more insatiable I became. It was a new love and when you fall baby, you fall hard.

My tastes changed. Slashers to monsters to classics to foreign to gore. Oh yeah, that gore phase. It hit me heavy and hit me hard. I was a fan of special effects and dreamt of following that career path myself one day – spoiler alert, I for sure didn’t – and that was what really got me into the gore – the work behind the scenes. There was an artistry to all of it, a craft. I fell in love with the personalities behind the gore, the process of it, and the risque nature that it all catered too as much of the ‘good stuff’ was cut out. Gore, even the most realistic, was just another part of movie making. Another aspect of storytelling. It was a visceral part of it that conveyed the terror and cost of facing the darkness.

I have to admit though that I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having been drawn but the sheer audacity of the gore itself. Yeah, I liked how it was made but I really loved the nastiness of it all. There was something dangerous about all of it. You’d see mainstream movies that would slip in an exploding head, or a gutted person that would rival what you’d see in the indie and foreign fare. Gore was, to my youthful self, the creme in the cookie of horror. Sure, sure, it was fantastic to find a movie with a goof story and great characters but darn it, what good was all of that if there wasn’t a head getting bisected or someone’s chest erupting into a crimson mist?

Right?

Gore is not for the faint of heart, and I get it. Even reading extreme violence can churn the stomach. What’s funny is that, as much as a kick as I got out of a bit of the old ulta-violence I didn’t really write a lot of it. I wrote some, but I never went all in for gore. I will say though, now that I have made a couple movies, I did go for a gross out in the second film, though a little bit of that ended up on the cutting room floor. There’s just something satisfying about creating an illusion of destruction knowing that it’s all done with some store bought meat, some fake blood, and quick editing.

What’s interesting is that as I have gotten older my gorehound status has sorta waned. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy a good gut munching but with the advent of ultra-gore movies coming out of the sub-basement of the underground horror movement, I find that without any reason or context, it’sjust a mass of fake blood and fake body parts. You can force ‘care’ for a character, in that, you never want to see anyone get tortured or abused (OK, I don’t want to see that) so you can take a complete stranger, a blank character, and drop them into that sort of an environment and you’ll elicit an emotional response but it’s not earned. It’s the equivilent of a jump scare. It’s cheap. With a smart filmmaker and good way to mask what they are shooting to give it authenticity you can for sure make some low rent horror look utterly believable and horrifying. Great. There is a skill to that. But it’s when you care about the character and understand the situation that it all begins to mean something. You can be affected by anything but the things that stay with you are the ones that put you in that place mentally and emotionally. So while I still get a kick out of gore, especially the fact that basic cable television gets away with things that ‘R’ rated movies didn’t just a few years ago, the grotesque thrill from watching gore with no reason or story just doesn’t have any interest for me. That’s why I never watched the FACES OF DEATH movies because, even though most of that footage was faked, I had no interest in watching just scenes of death and murder. Fake or not. And there are people drawn to the real stuff, and man alive is it ever out there to find, but again, there’s a difference. I can go in my basement and put together something to pretend that a horrible act happened but no one is harmed. People that want to watch real people being harmed, beyond an initial curiosity, are a whole other cat.

It’s weird that we’re in an era where you can make things more realistic than ever and thus nastier than ever but I still look back with fondness to the days of my youth when we’d find a movie we hadn’t seen and would be shocked at how gruesome it got. Or the thrill at seeing a gore scene pop up in a Hollywood film as if to wink that hey, we like that stuff too.

While I have aged, and my tastes had definitely changed from what they once were, I still am a gorehound at heart, just of a different kind. I don’t get a kick out of seeing gore for the sake of gore anymore, though it’s interesting to reason out how it was done and how they made it look so real. It’s an art, all of it, and I still appreciate that aspect of it. Maybe that too will change and I’ll begin to like romantic comedies and safe sit-coms about families but for now, I’ll still revel in my gore, and giggle every time a head explodes.

…c…

Losing and Finding

It’s no secret that I am a devotee of the ‘found footage’ and POV subgenre of films. I think it’s fair to even call me a fanboy of sorts. There’s a power to that immediacy, to that manner of storytelling. I have talked about it before and having seen lots and lots and lots of these films my passion for them has yet to dampen.

Yeah, there are some mediocre entries, and some terribly lazy films based on that notion but there are also some very good and powerful ones. I think for me the fun is in finding the ones that are in the rough. Out of sight. Not as easily found. Lately I have been digging into YouTube and have found some gems. There’s something really pure and democratic about found footage and POV films in that anyone with a camera can make them. It’s up to the filmmaker/s to decide how stripped down or how over the top the films are. While some find this style tiresome – and I can see where it can absolutely be tiresome – there is also a freedom for the filmmakers to create as they wish. So much is dependent on the story and how it’s told that you can take something very simple and make it absolutely harrowing.

I happened upon EXHIBIT A recently, a POV film that tells the story of a family in turmoil as seen through the eyes of the daughter. It’s not a horror film, per se, but it’s absolutely chilling and real in a way that many mainstream dramas wish they could be. The use of the camera as a witness to the family, and to the tale as it unfolds makes the viewer feel as if they are a voyeur, able to see the larger picture but unable to change its path.

Another recent re-watch was of the film THE TUNNEL, a POV film following a news crew as they explore a tunnel system where homeless people have disappeared. Here you have the interjection of interviews and news footage (not so dissimilar to the way that POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES works) cut in with the POV footage of the crew as they descend into the tunnel system. This is a horror that is inherently inspired by aspects of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT but it creates its own voice and once it’s done they have created their own story of dread and haven’t relied on some of the pitfalls that undo so many other films.

There is power in the unseen, in these films, in the aspect of the campfire tale that they offer. The power of forcing us to use our imaginations to create the horror and to fill in the blanks. Lovecraft was very good at this, giving enough rough detail to aid us in creating the most horrible of things in our minds. You have to give something though. Some sort of something Even if it’s simply the dread of the actor. The beauty of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is that we have such a vibrant view of the witch, of what she is, but it’s mostly from descriptions, from reactions, from evidence, and from her myth itself.

Brilliant.

Another thing that really pulls these sorts of films together is when they use the medium they are utilizing. That is to say, when the film reveals something that wasn’t discovered at first. The film LAKE MUNGO does this brilliantly, revealing truths up into the credits, thus changing how we see the film over and over again. The film LEAVING D.C. does a nice job of this also, showing a common man chronicling his move and happening upon something larger. He uses audio and his camera to capture things that he doesn’t experience at first but which reveal themselves as true upon examiniation. This allows the main character to be as vulnerable and in the dark as the audience is and the horror that is revealed becomes a shared link.

These films can be so very powerful but yes, they can be lazy.

You get the running in the dark.

The shaky cam screaming.

The dragging into the darkness as the camera watches.

Young people going places they are not supposed to.

People ignoring the warning signs of danger and bumbling straight into the jaws of terror.

This list can really go on and on but if you have seen one bad found footage or POV film than you can name the clumsy tropes before they even happen. And clumsy is the perfect word for it because the films that ‘get it wrong, are very clearly making a movie for money alone. And hey, do what you gotta do, but that disingenuous nature screams aloud because the filmmakers are simply hitting moment markers and ticking things off of a list. They are making one of these films because they are inexpensive and, for a time, were the flavor of the month.

This sort of filmmaking is what turns a fad into a trend into a nuisance. See: vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, and any of the movie trends that has taken hold of horror from time to time. Despite this though, there are still great films out there, and waiting to be made in this subgenre. Like anything else the power comes from how the work is made and what the story it is that is being told. Sure, there’s still going to be a lot of awful movies out there but I’ll accept them so long as there are still gems to find.

I suppose my attraction to these stories and films is that they capture what I love so much about scary stories and their telling – how they differ between teller and tale and that will always draw me back to horror. The dark is very deep and very hungry and I cannot wait to hear about the many monsters that live within in.

…c…

 

Flint Fright FilmFest 2018

When we started things in 2011 with a horror convention I don’t think any of us would have imagined where we’d be in 2018. Most groups that work on conventions either make it or don’t, and let’s be honest, most don’t make it. I don’t know if it’s strictly financial as much as it is about why they got into things. Which is not to say that there’s something blessed about being in it for the fun of it, for the fans, and not the money. There are plenty of shows that are about the money and which are successful, so it’s not just that. I think, for us, the passion to do the shows though has been what has gotten us through the hard times. It helped us see the road as it was and not as we wanted it to be. And it helped us to evolve what we did instead of just folding.

For us, we were hyper-aware of a need to face the reality of our situation. The thing for us was to do the events, to do low cost horror events for this area and when we simply ran out of money and resources to adequately do coventions in the way that made sense for us we looked within ourselves and why we were doing things and we pivoted. We wanted and still want to do conventions but we can’t, so if we can’t and still want to do these events what are we going to do?

We moved on.

We did our Monster Marketplace, a sort of mini-con and film festival and from there were switched over to a film festival. It was a natural fit for us. We had already been showing movies since our first convention and had already gotten movies from around the world in the past so we were pretty confident that we could do it again. We’d also put on the bigger shows so this would be manageable. Finally, with the help of the website Film Freeway that served as as way to promote the show and bring in the films. I tell you what, just like with self publishing, film festival work – on either side of the camera – has gotten worlds easier. When I was involved in a film festival in 2005 they used the site Without A Box, which was similar, but it was much more involved and not nearly as streamlined – the wonders of evolving technology, eh?

Last year we had to figure out how to get through nearly 1200 movie submissions, our notion of free submissions backfiring on us, but this year, with a two dollar fee to submit, the entries were just under 300 and much more manageable and honestly, just as good. We got some fantastic stuff submitted. Having made a couple shorts myself now and having submitted them to festivals, I know how rare it is to get your film accepted (none yet for me, alas) and how special that can be. Sure, there are films that get entered into tons of festivals but those are the outliers and not the norm. We know what we are, a small festival with awards and prize money that may not wow but we work to put on the best show we can and we choose the films that we think best represent what we want the show to be.

We reject a lot of films but never without understanding that we are rejecting something people worked very hard on and were passionate about. All we can do is to be true to what we’re trying to put together and hope for the best. This year we added a couple of twists to things, adding some filmmaker panels and vending to the show in the hopes that it might add something to the day. The panels and vending didn’t go over as well as we had hoped though that was due more to the attendance than anything else. That’s still the thing that confounds me. Flint is a city desperate for things to do and for events, especially that are low cost, but we are still not getting through to people.

So frustrating.

It was a good show though.

And heck, I sold a few things as well, so that’s always a bonus.

Our panels were fantastic. I love that we were able to give some people who have skill, talent, and stories to tell a chance to tell those stories. I love that we tried to bring vending in to give attendees more to do and people a chance to sell their wares and promote what they do.

I love that we got to highlight some local and regional films along with the worldwide ones.

I love the relationships and friendships that form at these shows.

We had a couple of issues, which are to be expected with any show, but we oevercame them and made as good a show as we could. More than anything I am happy that we were able to show nearly forty movies from around the world – and from our own area, so people could see what is out there. Short gain – it’s great to get a good scare and the more voices telling those stories the better. The long term gain – by listening to voices we don’t usually hear, even if they are ‘just’ telling horror stories, we start to learn to hear about the rest of the world. If we don’t hear one another, we’ll never learn that it’s only by all of us working together that the world gets better.

The hardest part of the day, for me, was the awards because the memorial awards are hard. They always will be for me. But they mean the most to me. I love all of the awards but those are personal and it’s great to be able to honor people we loved and able to reward movies that deserve recognition.

Ours is a small show, compared to so many out there, but it’s one built with passion and love and I hope that the folks that come out appreciate that and why we do what we do.

We never look past the event we’re working on so for now, the world is open. There’s an event on the calendar for April but truly, the world is open.

We’ll see what happens next.

Whatever it is.

…c…

Embracing the Horror

This is one of those topics that I write about from time to time because it ceases to amaze me how utterly stupid and narrow people can be when it comes to the horror genre.

I mean, let’s be straight honest here for a moment, there are biases against EVERY genre, people hate musicals, and dramas, and romances, and comedies, and on and on because people are people and for some reason you can’t just dislike something but have to actively and aggressively hate it these days. It’s the troll mentality of our culture. The mentality that hates grays and insists on living in black or white.

Love.

Hate.

Whatever.

What makes me laugh, consistently laugh, are the directors, and writers (and I am sure other artists say the same mess but I thankfully don’t see it) who go to great pains to insist that their work, whatever it is, isn’t horror. Heavens to Betsy no. It’s a THRILLER. Or GOTHIC. Or SUPERNATURAL. Or whatever. All manner of euphemisms to get around saying something is horrific. And sure, not everything IS horror, and horror isn’t the be-all end-all but it’s the audacity of how hard people will work not to just say that a film is SCARY.

The irony is that it shows how little these people know about horror and how vast the genre is. These creators assume that horror is a man in a mask brutalizing young women. They assume that horror is nudity and gore and loud music. They assume all of the worst of the genre and forget that three are masters that can create  the most devlish art with just sound and shadows or artists that can create a symphony in blood soaked halls. The people that beg off any suggest that their creation could be seen as MERELY horror are also the people who knew darn well what they were doing and should their work be a crossover hit then they’ll say, well, sure, it’s horrific but I wouldn’t say it was HORROR. They’ll lazy embrace the benefits so long as they don’t have to get their hands dirty. Heaven forbid.

These are people who use the genre for their gain but decry it when interviewed.

Much like comedy is more than fart jokes, horror is more than scantily clad co-eds being slaughtered by a maniac. It is lazy to see the most obvious examples of something and to use that as your basis for why your work isn’t like that. If it isn’t then it isn’t. Do your thing. But we tend to know what we’re making and whether what we are making is like something or not or fits into a box. If you get put into a box then you can spend your time fighting your way free or you can push the boundaries of that box outward and find the good works that yours is like. Lean into it.

The more you fight to say your work ISN’T like something then the more time you are spending not talking about why your work even matters. And honestly, most art embraces lots of aspects of humanity in order to be memorable. A comedy can be tragic. A romance can be scary. The best art sees the whole picture and can say more than one thing.

If you work harder to do that, to create work that could fall into many slots, that can speak to more than one person or…you can just spend your time crying about how people think your work is something you don’t like and tick off the hours mopping up that spilt milk.

Shade deployed.

…c…

Perfect Endings

As fans we all have our ‘perfect’ endings for the things we love, be it movies, books, comics, or something else that is more than a self-contained work. There is a gulf of difference between the solitary work and the series, an investment of time and emotion that most singular works don’t inspire. While a book that is a stand alone may disappoint someone the series will call out the wolves, the angry hoards that are just as passionate about their anger as they are their joy.

Woe be unto any that dares a series for you are inviting a world of chaos your way.

Naturally I wrote a series.

Well, it didn’t start that way, it just, well, happened. I wrote a book of short stories about some cute little flying sheepies and a witch. When the book reached it’s conclusion I figured that was the last thing I had to say about things. The story was complete. Oh but I did like those sheepies, and did fancy that world I had created and though, well, what if I just wrote some history from time to time to amuse myself. Thus, I entered the world of Tumblr and started to post some of the history of the Land of Man, where the initial story – The Meep Sheep –  took place. As I wrote these histories I realized how much fun I was having writing about this world and suddenly there was a second book. And dope that I am I opened a door in that second book – The Kreep Sheep – that I felt compelled to close. That’s the foolishness of the writer, opening doors you then have to close. So then we had a third book, a proper novel, that was meant to tie up the loose ends I had unraveled. Now, for me, there’s not some huge fan-base clamoring for my writing so thus there’s no wild band of crazed weirdos all upset at me for destroying their beloved.

Phew.

There’s a sense of ownership that happens to fans that invest themselves deeply into a series, a sense that they have a say in how the story should end. That doesn’t mean that it will change things but let’s face it, with all the creators in the world and all the fans, the louder they are, the angrier they are then there are creators that will be influenced by that. Most though are pretty set on which direction they want to head in and it is what it is. Fans don’t always love that though, believe me.

I was a fan of the Paranormal Activity series from the beginning and my wife and I adored the movies but by the end the series had lost its way and it ended on a huge kick in the junk. I am not sure I have ever been as frustrated and angry about a series as I was about the last entry of the PA films. Jeepers creepers. The thing is though that that was the ending they wanted. That was the ending they chose. I don’t have to like it but that’s the direction they went in. I can get upset, I can complain but just as I didn’t like it there are people out there that thought it was fabulous and were satisfied. The same goes for the controversial ending to the Dark Tower series. It was agonizing and brilliant and it was one of those things you would either love or hate and I stand sort of in the middle, both loving AND hating it. More than anything I love the guts that King had to do his ending and his books. But that’s the thing, in creating a series you have to accept that whatever ending you choose it will never live up to the hype that the fans have created for it.

And it can never live up to that hype.

Never.

As fans we feel a misguided ownership of the series and in our hearts WE know what is right and wrong and how things should go. Only, they know how THEY want it to go, not how other people would perceive as a ‘good’ ending. So as smart as we fans like to think we are the fact is that it’s all a crap shoot. If you are tuned into what the core of the story is and you follow that all the way through then wherever you end up is where you are meant to be, at least in your own heart and if you can live with it then you’re doing a lot better than most folks. I pity author George R.R. Martin because whatever he writes as the ending to his Game of Thrones seires it will never live up to what fans have created in their heads over the years.

And what a drag that is.

We have lost sight of simply enjoying things.

We have lost the sense of fun of losing ourselves in other worlds.

We don’t have to like where we always end up but there’s a beauty in that journey.

Sure, we don’t want to feel cheated after that investment of time, money, and emotions, but that’s the risk. You play the game and you see where it leads.

Sometimes literally.

Games are not immune to poor endings and they now are part of the fray, part of the dangerously thin ice that connects all art and creation.

Done well you are legendary.

Done poorly, well, that’s why we have Twitter it seems.

There is something beautiful about the long form narrative found in a series. Something deep and rewarding for creator and fan both. Hand in hand you are walking along a brambled path with no idea where you’ll end up but each step takes you deeper into a story that wraps itself around you like a snake.

Sometimes that snake will bite.

Sometimes you’ll charm it and it will grant you a wish.

It could go either way, friend.

Shucks though, when you fall in love you don’t question it, you just buckle up and hope for the best.

And art, the best kind of art, is a heck of a ride.

And worth the risk.

 

…c…

That One Time I Used To Do Stuff

As much of a movie person as I am I can’t say I ever had aspirations to direct, act, or really be involved seriously with film. I have an awful memory, I am not a leader, and I can barely balance a pencil so forget a movie budget. I am a film voyeur, not participant. I will say though that there was a time when I loved making movies. From about seventeen to nineteen some friends and I would make the most ridiculous and (in retrospect) offensive movies and we loved it. My main friend and I were movie geeks who lived and breathed films and loved to quote to one another from them. When he got a PXL 2000, the world changed. It was a device put out for kids which allowed them to film for up to five minutes in black and white on a cassette tape. It still blows my mind. They were crude but there was a beauty to the device and the magic it could create and we loved it. We made about half a dozen films with it, all horror and all lost now, and my friend even knew how to do blood effects in black and white (good old choco syrup!) and for the first one we did together he even did the fishing line tied around things to create ghost effects. It was incredible to have a sleep over and shoot all day and night and have something finished to look at when we were done.

Continue reading “That One Time I Used To Do Stuff”

The Brutal We

It’s hard to see where things took the turn, but turn they have.

There’s a sort of casual brutality that has become like a skip in a record and we’ve yet to pick the needle up, as if we like the monotonous drone more than the tune itself.

And this doesn’t come from someone who says all of this casually. I am a dyed in the wool fan of horror – books, radio shows, podcasts, music, movies, comics, all of it – and I get the allure of filmed violence. As a teen I adored special effects artists and wanted to do that as a career. I knew how the deaths were done, at least how they COULD be done, so I focused on that, on the gore. I loved it. The gorier the better. And in books I loved the language used and how it all still held together within a story. To this day I still love gory movies and books, though I don’t necessarily seek them out as I used to. Not because my stomach has soured as much as my empathy has grown.

It’s hard to watch people be brutalized and kill, even in fiction, and that’s a good thing. It means that we still have that empathetic response to others and that we appreciate that this is horrible. And it also means that the creators did their job well because we cared enough to be upset.

The problem though is that so many things are becoming all about the brutal ‘punchline’ and not about the rest. The characters are puppets to be pushed this way and that and always towards a nasty end. Sometimes this works, as is the case of many slasher films and stories, though it’s a very thin line to walk. It’s about intent, investment, and outcome. I go into a slasher film with little investment in the characters, I know they want to gross me out, and I don’t feel bad about it. But if I watch something like a television show that I have invested countless hours in and they kill off someone brutally it’s upsetting because I was invested, to some degree in that person as well as their journey. It ‘hurts’. And again, that’s powerful. But brutality for its own sake is little more than junkfood and nourishes in the same way. Yeah, junkfood is fun, and it can hit the spot, but it doesn’t nourish you. It doesn’t give you anything long term.

Yet with each year we are pushing more and more towards this ‘junkfood diet’. And it’s not about watching ‘GOOD’ television and films and reading ‘GOOD’ books because that’s all subjective and personal, no, it’s about watching and investing yourself into things that reward you for it and not punish you. It’s spending time and money on things that treats you and the work fairly. It’s not about pushing boundaries to push them because boundaries are often written in sand, no, it’s about pushing the story. Sometimes the stories have to go to dark places, brutal places, but the creators should have a reason WHY it goes there beyond ‘because’. That’s not a reason.

I absolutely admit to loving gory films but I also take umbrage with a series like SAW that spent seven films showing the worst of Man and ended with a final message of – sorry, there’s no redemption, only suffering. Even if that’s the story they wanted to tell it’s a crap way to do it because investing that many hours into something to come up with that is not ‘artistic’, it’s cruel. Which is the thin line that franchises walk. You have to be true to the story but also be true to the fans. Don’t placate or kowtow to the fans but play them fair. Don’t drag me through several movies and make me care about people and things and then pee on my shoes. And that’s not to say that I expect a happy ending, no, but I expect you to be fair to me and not make me regret the investment. I expect you to be fair to the story and, if it has to go dark, give me a reason and a why and some answers. One of the cruelest films I have seen is Irreversible and it’s cruel because in the end, by telling that story in reverse, it’s beauty that cuts the deepest, not brutality, though it is a brutal film. A film like SERBIAN FILM is utterly cruel and brutal but it’s one film. If I had to sit through a series then I’d be mad as heck. If I invest myself into a television of film or book series I want the creators to follow the story but to at least give thought to me, the audience, as they play out their hands. Yeah, you can go brutal, it’s the easiest thing to do, but sometimes restraint is not just more impactful but more heart-wrenching. You can show a beloved tree sawed down and it’s sad but if you watch the family watching helplessly as it is, seeing the emotion on their face, that makes it worse. Now, the decision though comes with how the rest of things played out – if it was a show about cruelty and brutality then playing something that is utterly cruel with more finesse throws people off. Sure, some will get mad that it wasn’t more ‘hardcore’ but most folks, who are invested in the characters and show itself, will feel that sting of emotion more deeply. Yeah, revulsion has its place but it isn’t a feeling that you can overplay without people simply tuning out.

And they will tune out.

All around us we are becoming surrounded by brutality – politics, religion, economy, social justice, civil justice, art, culture, everything is being infected with brutality. It’s hard not to turn on the television and see politicians speaking towards one another in ways we won’t let our children speak. We can watch as ‘the bad guys’ are blown up remotely during wars. We can look at social media and see how nasty we are to one another and anyone that doesn’t feel, look, sound, or do anything else like we do. We wash our faces in blood in the morning and gargle it before we go to bed.

Enough is enough.

To every teller, a tale, and to every story, an audience.

But there needs to be care taken, in this world we live in now, to not give in to our sometimes cynical ideals. Yes, brutality has its place in art, and it has its power, but if that is the only trick in your bag then you’ll find your bag empty much sooner than you may have anticipated. I love a good gross-out, and appreciate the power of the downbeat, but I also know that without hope, without self-discipline, and without taking an audience into account you’ll end up singing only for yourself, writing only for yourself, and making films only for yourself, and that’s a very lonely audience indeed.

  • Chris Arrr

http://www.meepsheep.com