Favorite Moments: ‘The Shining Recut’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

‘The Shining Recut’

Why it’s Great

Ah, Halloween. The most wonderful time of year for people who love the supernatrual, the spooky, and the macabre. This is the holiday when Jason, Freddy, Leatherface, and all the other malevolent legends of pop culture get to enjoy the limelight, and when our favorite horror films are popped into the DVD player or streamed online. It’s a celebration of all things terrifying… but instead of posting a video showcasing that terror, let’s go with something a bit different… turning one of those horror films into a feel-good family film!

‘The Shining Recut’ is arguably the video that launched the ‘recut trailer’ genre, and is still one of the best. The humor of seeing a dark, creepy film turned into a feel-good funfest cannot be overestimated, especially knowing the context of all the scenes used in the clip, and imagining just what ‘The Shining’ would be like in this alternate version, where Jack, Wendy, and Danny come together as a loving family who overcome all their hardships in life… instead of, you know, freezing to death in the show and enduring permanent psychological trauma.

I think one of the great pleasures of Halloween is taking icons and beings who scare us and making them harmless and fun, if only for a day, and one of the best ways to counter that fear is to turn it into something funny. Where we would otherwise run and hide from a maniac with an axe, or a chainsaw, or an alien who wants to eat us, we render them harmless through the power of comedy. And maybe that’s what Halloween is really about: Gaining mastery over the powers of the night… well, that, and filling our arteries with sugar.

Happy Halloween!

 

What we can learn from the scariest short story I’ve ever read

MasterpieceCover

Is there such a thing as the perfect horror story? One so tight, so focused, and so scary that it cannot be improved upon? Probably… but I haven’t found it. ‘Masterpiece’, comes close, though.

There are several versions of this story online, but this is the first one I read a few years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since, becoming one of my favorite horror stories; it’s short, concise, to the point, and haunts you long after its over with. But more than any other monster story, or tale where a ghoul or alien chases people around, ‘Masterpiece’ sticks with me not from the blood or gore, but from the way it so effectively uses sadism and the fear of inevitable pain. So in honor of Halloween, let’s see what we can learn from this short and chilling tale:

Consider starting your story in media res

What’s in media res, you ask? It’s when you start the story not at the beginning, but at the halfway point or later, before cutting back to the beginning, which is almost guaranteed to get your audience’s attention and curiosity immediately. ‘Masterpiece’ does so by starting with our unnamed narrator alone in his bedroom at night, staring at the dead bodies of his parents, leaving us to wonder how on earth he got there. Yikes.

Consider having something awful happen to your loved ones in a horror story

We often like to imagine ourselves in stories, taking the place of the protagonist as they go on adventures, save the day, etc. But when it comes to horror movies, that imagination can backfire. While we learn nothing about the narrator’s parents, that’s not necessary to feel the horror of them being murdered and defiled. It’s all to easy to imagine our own parents going through such horrific treatment, and while that would be enough to make some people close the page and walk away, it does serve as an effective way to suck readers deeper into the story. And it doesn’t have to be parents, either: it could be a beloved aunt, grandparent, or pet.

Consider having your antagonist be an intelligent, non-human being who psychologically torments its prey

It’s a bit cliché, but having your non-human monster be intelligent is a surefire way to ratchet up the creepy factory in a horror story. By going with something that can think, plan, and outwit the protagonist/s, or worse, torments its prey with tricks and mental torture, you make your protagonist’s predicament all the more dangerous and gripping, as cruelty can be more frightening than the raw power of a simple-minded beast. The monster in ‘Masterpiece’ is memorable not because it kills the protagonist’s parents, but because it toys with the narrator and letting them know they’re screwed no matter what they do, and presumably taking great pleasure in such a fact.

Consider having your protagonist be truly helpless in a horror story

It’s common for heroes to be initially helpless against a monster in a horror story, but as they learn more about their opponent, they’re able to fight back, either by getting a weapon, creating one, or exploiting a weakness of the beast. The narrator in ‘Masterpiece’ has no such hope. He/she is in a bedroom with a monster under their bed, and the moment they try to get out or run, they’re dead. That feeling of helplessness, of not being able to fight back or inflict any harm on a tormentor, is one of the most visceral and effective feelings in horror, and arguably the bedrock of the entire genre.

Consider ending your horror story with the promise of pain

Of all the ways to end a horror story, there’s perhaps none more chilling than letting the reader/protagonists know that the only thing they have to look forward to is pain and suffering. ‘Masterpiece’ ends not with the monster ripping the narrator apart, but the simple act of telling him/her that it knows that they’re awake. With the monster less than three feet away, it’s easy to imagine it smiling and waiting for the helpless narrator to just try and run, and that they have no chance of escaping. The narrator is going to die, no matter what.

What’s so good about this type of ending is that it’s a perfect example of the mind being more effective than anything the author can create. There doesn’t need to be any bloodshed, shots of mutilated flesh, or limbs being cut off because our imaginations are so much more effective. If you end a story with a scene of a person being dragged into a dungeon and seeing a tray holding an ice cream scoop just the right size for a human eyeball… well, you can guess what happens next.

Sometimes, not showing what’s going to happen, and leaving the details to the imagination, are far more effective than showing it.

The Takeaway

For a really effective horror story, have an intelligent, sentient monster do something horrifying happen to a helpless protagonist’s loved ones and then trap them in a situation where they can’t escape or fight. But to take the story to the next level (and freak out your audience), have the monster psychologically torture the protagonist.

Wow. That was intense. Here’s a video of someone being a goofball cop in 1940’s Los Angeles

Favorite Moments: The most sensible thing anyone has ever done in a horror movie

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Movie

‘Event Horizon’ (1997)

The Scene

Why it’s Great

How often do we watch horror films and watch characters make decisions that lead to death, suffering and misery?

“Wow, dead bodies! Let’s keep going into this dark, spooky house and see what killed these people!”

“Oh my gosh, everyone’s been torn apart in this secret laboratory full of genetically modified animals! We’d better explore and find out what happened!”

“Oh cool, a gateway to an incredibly dangerous dimension full of horrors that will rip our souls apart! Let’s go through! For science!

My guess is pretty often, which makes it a treat whenever we see characters who, upon seeing death, horror, and downright hellish situations, say, ‘Nope’, turn around, and get out of the area as fast as humanly possible, and ‘Event Horizion’ is one of the rare films that does it. Even better, it’s the leader who’s doing it, and who then delivers the following line:

Weir: You can’t just leave her!

Miller: I have no intention of leaving her, Dr. Weir. I plan to take the Lewis and Clark to a safe distance and then launch TAC missiles at her until I am satisfied the Event Horizon has been vaporized. Fuck this ship!

Of course, that plan doesn’t work out, but it’s still a treat to see an authority figure acting reasonably in a horror film. And if Miller had succeeded, we would have gotten a much happier ending:

What we can learn from: ‘Every 90’s Commercial Ever’

Halloween’s only a week away, and the internet is in full swing with all sorts of Halloween-themed posts, sites, and spooky sights to celebrate the season. But you know what? Let’s take a break from Halloween horrors and take a fun-filled trip back to the 90’s!

Umm… yeah.

Aside from the totally radical 90’s attitude (oh, those bright colors! The VHS scratch marks! The guitar music!), this charmingly gruesome commercial features a few treats for writers digging into it:

When doing a period piece, consider embracing cliches and stereotypes

What do you think of when you imagine the past several decades? Rock and roll music, drive-ins, and cheesy sci-fi B movies of the 50’s? The garishly bright colors, disco, outrageous hairdos, and shag carpeting of the 70’s? Or how about totally radical hipsters getting around on skateboards and surfboards while playing Nintendo 64 and watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies in the 90’s? While there was always more going on in those eras, embracing these stereotypes can work to our advantage when doing stories that don’t rely on historical accuracy: You can play around with these elements and exaggerate them, playing up the nostalgia factor for all its worth, bringing a smile to members of your audience who grew up in that era (and there’s nothing wrong with a little fun-spirited nostalgia every now and then).

If you’re doing a horror piece, consider starting off with ridiculously happy material before bringing the horror

What makes ‘Every 90’s Commercial Ever’ so memorable is that there’s no foreshadowing of its sudden swerve into horror territory. We’re sucked into this charming, goofy commercial of cliched 90’s kids heading out to the park to play football with a big name star (because that’s what every kid in the 90’s did) after drinking some totally awesome Capri-Sun Liquid Slam, only to be suddenly assaulted by a horrid, ‘Thing’ like abomination that proceeds to melt a kid’s face off.

Yikes!

In our own works, a sudden, unexpected swerve is guaranteed to get the audience’s attention because they’re not prepared for it. Such a swerve can work in blending different genres (horror to comedy, sci-fi to western, etc.) but going from comedy to horror may be one of the most effective because the audience will want to see how these happy characters deal with horrors that want to kill them in blood-chilling ways. Another great example of this is the opening to ‘Ghost Ship’ which, while not comedic, was still goofy with it’s family-friendly facade.

Consider having the comic relief/role model character be surprisingly effective at fighting

If there’s one thing more unexpected than seeing three children morph into an eldritch abomination, it’s seeing a professional football player yank a flamethrower out of nowhere and incinerate the beast while screaming for it to die.

In our own works, having role models/comic relief characters suddenly man up and take on monsters can be a great source of comedy (if it turns out they have no fighting skills at all and die almost instantly) and/or awesomeness. In real life, we love seeing a random stranger embracing their inner hero and saving the day when everyone is panicking, and the same runs true for fiction, especially if they’re larger than life characters like professional sports players who have never fought in their life.

Turning the comedic/role model characters into warriors also has the advantage of making them into the underdog: someone who’s phenomenally skilled at one thing, and then being thrust into a role they have no skill or talent in (You’ll also get comedy bonus points if they yank out a powerful weapon out of nowhere).

Consider throwing in product placement that makes everyone unrealistically happy, no matter the situation

How would you feel if you saw your friends be devoured/melted by an existential horror from beyond the stars? Shell-shocked, most likely, with a hearty dose of PTSD. In real life, such a catastrophe would take years of therapy to get over, but in commercial land, all you need to cheer someone up is give them some branded junk food.

Considering how short they are, commercials need to show you why using their product is a good thing, so it’s expected that eating junk snack food will make anyone in commercial land feel great. But why not try using that for comedic effect in in your own works? If you’re doing a comedy, have your characters recover from any experience, no matter how traumatic, by eating any manner of junk food: Someone lost a friend to rampaging dinosaurs? No problem! Your home planet just got blown up and everyone you know and love is dead? A few stuffed pizza pockets will take care of that! Died and ended up Hell for all eternity? Not to worry! A few microwavable tacos will have you dancing and singing your cares away!

Consider bringing the monster back at the last second, even if its been killed

Yes, it’s cliched, but bringing back a monster at the last second for one last jump scare is always effective, provided its appearance is pulled off well. Here, it comes in the form of another unexpected swerve, as the audience is expecting more jokes related to pizza pigskins, making the kid-monster’s appearance all the more unexpected.

Consider (very carefully) killing off a kid in your horror story

Aside from the sudden appearance of the Capri-sun Liquid Slam monster, what’s the one element of this commercial that sticks with you after you’ve seen it? I’d guess it’s that one of the innocent kids playing football ends up dead after having his face melted off. It’s arguably the one element that makes this video so memorable; if he had survived, or everyone had lived, the video wouldn’t have had the same impact.

While horror movies can get pretty bloody, there’s an unwritten rule that kids don’t die; breaking that rule tells your audience that you’re not fooling around, and can make for shocking moments that stick with the audience long after the story is over. Still, be cautious when killing children, especially in a comedy. It’s a very fine line between shocking and sickening.

The Takeaway

When doing a period piece, don’t be afraid to use stereotypes and cliches for comedic effect, and try using a comedic opening before starting your horror story so as to draw your audience in. When the carnage begins, considering killing off a child to show you mean business, while having your comic relief character be revealed to be a surprisingly good fighter, and then have everyone be cure of their depressions and trauma by enjoying blatant product placement before the monster unexpectedly returns.

BONUS

Just for fun, here’s some of the commercials being parodied here. I still remember seeing these, too!

Favorite Moments: Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, best friends forever!

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video

‘Horror Friends Forever’

The Scene

Why it’s Great

Ask most people what would happen if two famous horror icons met, and most would probably say that they’d fight. This isn’t surprising, as watching two famous characters from different franchises fight each other is always going to be a treat. A quick Youtube search of Michel Myers and Jason Voorhees comes up with dozens, if not hundreds of videos of the two fighting it out in both live action, video games, and animation.

But while there’s an undeniable satisfaction in seeing two famous characters duking it out, we rarely get to see the opposite: Having them become best friends and going on adventures together. Robot Chicken’s video has them doing exactly that, and it’s a hoot.

What I like about this video – aside from the subversion of these two famous characters becoming friends instead of killing each other – is how it pokes fun of the standard ‘two people form a happy relationship and have lots of fun’ montage we see in films and TV shows: We get to see two bloodthirsty sociopaths happily cutting down people left and right to bright colors, relentlessly cheerful music, and even making best friend bracelets. It’s a classic example of contrasts: dark subject matter and bright and cheerful ambience. That, and it’s just fun to see these two having so much fun together, doing what they love.

What we can learn from ‘Halloween 60’

With Michael Myers’ return to the big screen only three days away, it seemed fitting to take a look at… well, a ‘Halloween’ film that hasn’t happened yet, and probably never will (though with Hollywood’s history with sequels, it’s not out of the question).

‘Halloween 60’, a parody trailer by Fuzz on the Lens, imagines an 81 year old Michael Myers breaking out of prison – again – in 2038 and heading out to kill Laurie. Although it’s a parody trailer, there’s still quite a few goodies and tidbits for writers to learn from, so let’s take a look at at what that lovable goofball Myers is up to twenty years from now.

Consider showing what happens when homicidal killers grow old

If there’s one thing we rarely see in horror films, it’s homicidal senior citizens. Plotting, scheming, elderly masterminds? Yes. Evil dictators and politicians? Totally believable. Axe/knife/chainsaw wielding murderers? Not so much. Considering how our bodies inevitably decay with old age, the idea of an 80 year old going after teenagers is laughable, since it’s easy to imagine those teenagers just kicking away his walking stick and having him break a hip when hitting the ground.

However, there are always exceptions to every rule: For every crippled old man in a wheelchair, we have a Jack LaLanne, Sylvester Stallone, or any number of older people who don’t let age stop them from being fit, and in an era where more and more people than ever work to keep themselves healthy in old age, the idea of an axe murder collecting social security checks isn’t as far-fetched as it used to be. Choosing an older person as a killer offers some unique traits you can’t get with a 20 or 30 year old: an older killer will be more entrenched in their evil ways (and less likely to be redeemed),  be deeply set in the local community to avoid drawing suspicion to themselves, and even have numerous sidekicks who can help him/her carry out their vile work. Even having them be physically weaker can make battles more interesting, as they’ll have to be more clever than the protagonists to compensate for reduced strength, relying on wits and fooling their prey rather than endless stamina.

Consider showing what happens when homicidal killers grow old… and play it for laughs

With all that said, it’s still hilarious to see an 80 year old heading out to kill youngsters. Despite his formidable determination, poor Michael:

*Uses a cane to hobble around

*Drops his dentures to frighten people

*Takes viagra

*Gets crippling back pain after being bumped by children

*Can’t keep a grip on his knife

*Uses oxygen

*Has a heart attack and uses LifeAlert to call for help.

Even Laurie – determined to end Michael once and for all – has to get around with a walker. In short, the trailer relishes in the fish-out-of-water comedy trope of taking near-mythical characters and having them suddenly deal with everyday problems… in this case, old age. Just imagine Darth Vader having to fight Jedi Knights as a 90 year old in a wheelchair, or Leatherface trying to chase down and carve up teenagers when he doesn’t even have the strength to lift a chainsaw over his head, yet still trying with all their might to make it happen. This can also have the bonus of making them laughably ineffectual villains, leaving us feel sorry for them for them, even as we laugh.

The Takeaway

Consider having your evil mass-murder be a senior citizen instead of a fit, young person; while a bit far-fetched, it can offer the chance to write a more interesting character who has more interesting ways of killing people beyond hacking and slashing, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to poke fun at the inherently silly concept of an old and weak killer trying his best to kill people.

Favorite Moments: ‘Your earring’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Movie

‘The Thing’ (2011 prequel)

The Scene

Why it’s Great

While most people would agree that ‘The Thing’ doesn’t reach the level of it’s legendary predecessor (a bar that would be all but impossible to reach), the movie does have one scene that, in my opinion, matches the original in terms of emotional whiplash : the end where Kate realizes that her final companion, Carter, is actually a Thing.

What’s great about this scene is that there are many things going on that aren’t apparent until it’s watched a second time. Among them are:

*Kate realizing that Carter doesn’t have his earring, showing how observant and quick-thinking she is.

*The horror of realizing that if Kate had gotten into the snowcat with ‘Carter’, she would have suffered a horrific end.

*Seeing ‘Carter’ attempting to get the snowcat going, showing that the Thing is attempting to learn how to drive a vehicle… which leads to the amusing image of it thinking, ‘Crap, crap, crap, how do I drive this thing?!’

*This is the only time, in either film, where a Thing continues to talk normally after being exposed. Sure, it’s trying to stop Kate from turning it into a crispy corpse, but it’s fascinating to imagine being able to actually talk with one and find out exactly what it wants… from a distance and with a flamethrower, of course.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this scene is that it subverts the all-too-common ‘The bad guy wins at the very last second’ trope that’s present in so many horror movies. Here, ‘The Thing’ manages to avert what would have been a very downer ending, and leave us instead with a bittersweet ending: We know that Lars and everyone at Outpost 31 are doomed, and there’s a strong chance that Kate will just freeze to death, alone in the Antarctic snow, taking with her any chance of informing the outside world of the horrors she and the others found. But there’s also a chance that Kate may live, and even inform the world about what happened, leading to an expedition to bomb the hell out of the area and stop the Thing for good.