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.

What we can learn from the world’s shortest horror story

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Quick: Name the shortest horror story you’ve ever read.

Done? If you’re like many people, this probably came to mind:

‘The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…’

This tiny, Twitter-sized tale – Fredric Brown’s ‘Knock’ – is possibly the world’s most famous short horror story. Although it’s a condensed version of a longer (though not by much) story, the two-sentence version is a masterpiece of lean, efficient storytelling. So much is said, and implied – in just two sentences and seventeen words – that it becomes one of the best examples of ambiguity in fiction.

In my opinion, what makes ‘Knock’ so memorable (aside from its length) is that while it sets up an entire fictional world, it doesn’t tell us anything about it or who is outside the door. What happened to the planet? Why is there only one man left? Did everyone else die off? Did they evacuate and leave him behind? Likewise, who or what is knocking? An alien? A demon? An angel? A large duck? We don’t know, and like every great horror story, ‘Knock’ forces us to rely on our imagination to fill in the blanks, creating things more terrifying than anything Hollywood’s CGI maestros or an author’s prose can bring to life.

Not revealing the evil force menacing a character is a simple concept, but as countless horror tales have proven over the centuries, it can be chillingly effective.

The Takeaway

When writing a horror story (or a mystery/thriller) consider never revealing who, or what, is menacing a character or a group of characters. For extra points, leave this entity’s motivations ambiguous, such as if it’s malevolent or just neutral/curious.

Favorite moments: ‘You’re going to die. That’s what’s happening.’

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 Grey’

The Scene

Why it’s Great

It happens all the time: Someone gets injured. They’re bleeding out, they’re in shock, and their comrades, friends, and those they love are frantically telling them that they have to hang on, that help will be there soon, and that they’ll pull through.

How often do you see someone tell the injured person that they’re going to die?

When I first saw ‘The Grey’ back in 2011, this is the scene that stuck with me after I left the theater. Very rarely had I come across a story where a dying person was told, point-blank, that they’re going to die. But while Ottway’s honesty seems as cold as the frozen wastes of Alaska, the resulting scene is – surprisingly – quite touching. While he doesn’t mince words with Lewenden about what’s happening, Ottway does his best to make Lewenden’s last moments as comforting as possible.

Death has a way of revealing who someone really is when they’re faced with the unknown, and all their defenses are gone. There might be no better way to find out what a character is like than when they’re staring death in the face. in ‘The Grey’ we learn everything we need to know about Ottway in one scene: he’s a man who doesn’t hold back on telling the truth, no matter how hard or uncomfortable it is. Yet, he’s not a cruel, heartless person, and does his best to help others, no matter how grim things are, even if it’s only making someone’s death a little less fearful, a little terrifying as they slip away, turning what could have been a sad, heartless scene into one of the most touching moments of the film.

What we can learn from ‘The Thing’ (the 2011 prequel)

TheThing2011Cover

How do you create a follow-up to a classic film? Do you remake it? Do a sequel? A prequel? Or do you do the sensible thing and leave it alone, not daring to possibly negate or tarnish its reputation with a dud that fails to take off? If there’s money to be made at the box office, you can bet it’s not going to be the latter.

John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ is a horror classic, it’s simple, but effective story of isolation, paranoia, and one of the most terrifying (and disgusting) monsters from beyond the stars ensuring its cinematic immortality. Unfortunately, the 2011 prequel, ‘The Thing’ didn’t have the impact its predecessor did. Like many others, I was looking forward to seeing how almost thirty years of development and advances would affect the mechanical creatures on screen, only to be crushed at seeing all the practical effects be painted over with CGI ‘enhancements’. Eight years on, and the film has slipped into obscurity, seemingly fated to be seen only during series marathons, remembered as a noble but failed effort to live up to its predecessor.

However, while the film does have its share of problems, its clear that the filmmakers were great fans of the Carpenter original, and poured their hearts into creating a worthy side story to the ‘82 film. With that in mind, let’s see what we can learn from this chilly tale of Antarctic horror.

When doing a prequel, avoid making it a remake of a previous film

Writer Eric Heisserer had a daunting task when it came time to write ‘The Thing’: While a prequel was the most logical way to go (so as to avoid spoiling the original film’s ambiguous ending), the 2011 ‘Thing’ feels almost like a remake instead of a standalone story: it follows most of the same beats and ideas as the original movie, complete with figuring out that testing blood will reveal who’s a Thing and who isn’t (though the film cleverly subverts this by having the title creature destroy the testing equipment shortly after the realization is made). While there are substantial differences between the two films – such as heading inside the UFO – I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a modern-day version of the ‘82 film.

When doing our own prequels, consider mixing things up to avoid feeling like we’re watching a disguised copy of what’s come before: If you’re doing a slasher prequel, consider having only a few victims instead of many. Instead of having one villain, consider having two (found one creature in the ice? Perhaps there was a second one nearby that thawed out after the Norwegians recorded themselves excavating the first). The more you mix things up, the easier it is to avoid the feeling of ‘been there, seen that’.

When doing a prequel, ask if it’s a story that really needs to be told

As noted above, a prequel was logically the only way to add to the ‘Thing’ mythos that didn’t touch the previous film, but the cost of making a prequel is that there’s no longer any mystery of wondering what happened at the Norwegian base. As Youtube user LittleJimmy points out in his excellent analysis of the film, when we originally watch the 82 film, our imaginations race into overdrive wondering what happened when MacReady walks through the building’s burnt husk. Mine did when I first saw the film, wondering what on earth caused such carnage, death, and mystery, but the 2011 film removes that mystery, and what we get in return, as noted above, doesn’t feel all that different or substantial.

When writing a prequel to a story, ask yourself if it adds additional depth to the mythology of your series. Is it a story that manages to be standalone from the original? And, more importantly, would knowing what happens in your prequel enhance or take away from what happened in the original story? Would it add to mysteries, or take them away, leaving nothing to keep our curiosity engaged?

Consider revealing some new aspects about a monster (but not everything)

One thing the 2011 Thing does well is add more layers to the title creature by revealing that it cannot duplicate inorganic matter when assimilating someone, which makes for a reliable way to tell if someone is human or not, and even helps settle the ambiguous ending of the original film (if Childs still has an earring, then he’s definitely human… unless he’s a Thing that remembered to put an earring in).

The second reveal is a bit more subtle: in the original film, the Thing preferred stealth and staying out of sight unless it was attacked, while in the prequel, it’s much more aggressive and attacks others frequently. While this may seem like a contradiction, many Thing fans like myself theorize that the creature learns from its experiences in this film and is more quiet and subtle in the original after learning that running around and giving inhuman shrieks is not the best idea.

In our own stories, consider using a prequel to a monster story as a chance to add more depth and history to your monster. However, be cautious not to give away too much about the beast: the prequel smartly doesn’t tell us if the form found in the ice was the Thing’s original form, or just another creature it had assimilated. Nor does it tell us if it’s the pilot of the spacecraft, a passenger, or something else, leaving its origins and motives a mystery.

Consider having your victims be awake, aware, and helpless during a scene of body horror

While the original film is rightfully seen as a masterpiece of body horror, the prequel does surpass it one way: it shows how horrifying and painful being assimilated can be. The first death in the film is nasty because it looks like Henrik is being sucked on like a lollipop while still alive; Adam is worse because he’s being physically fused with a Thing and can’t do anything about it, but it’s Jonas who has the worst death in the series: a tiny but impossibly strong Thing latches onto his mouth and seemingly chews away at his own, eventually causing him to merge with it, culminating with a shot of the poor man silently begging Kate to kill him. Yikes.

In our own stories, there’s arguably no quicker way to make your reader’s blood curdle by giving characters a horrible, slow death where they’re overpowered by something stronger than themselves and physically violated, all while being helpless to stop it, and suffering horribly throughout the process. However, it might be a good idea to limit these deaths, as while they’re powerful, they’re also too emotionally taxing to bear one after another.

Consider having your protagonist discover an antagonist’s last minute disguise and triumph over it

In horror stories, it’s common to have protagonists think they’ve triumphed over the monster or killer, only to realize at the very last second that they’ve actually failed, and that the evil force of the story has won. 2011’s ‘Thing’ comes very close to such an ending, but Kate, proving that she has an unparalleled knack for catching tiny details, realizes that ‘Sam’ is actually a Thing, and kills it, saving herself from being attacked and assimilated by it in the middle of nowhere.

In our own stories, a fourth-act reversal can feel like a tease or a cop-out (or, if your story is long, leave the audience saying, ‘Oh come on! It’s not over yet?!’), but if it’s a reversal where the villain wins, it can leave your audience feeling crushed, and knowing that everything the heroes went through was for nothing. 2011’s ‘Thing’ smartly subverts that trend and lets the audience realize both how close an antagonist was to succeeding at its goals, and that Kate is far more resourceful and observant than we thought before. Best of all, a reversal where the hero triumphs makes for a refreshing and satisfying ending.

Consider leaving your character’s fate up in the air

The original ‘Thing’’s legendary ending leaves the viewer wondering if Childs is a Thing, or human. While the prequel doesn’t have the ambiguity of wondering if the Thing is truly defeated or just badly hurt, it does leave the viewer wondering if Kate is going to survive. Considering that we last see her staring out the window of her snowcat, miles from help in the middle of the Antarctic night, her odds aren’t good as the film fades to black and the credits roll.

In our own stories, there are advantages of leaving a character’s fate open-ended. The biggest is leaving the audience free to decide for themselves what happens next, instead of a clear-cut downer or uplifting ending. I like to imagine that Kate decided to at least try to get to the Russian station, if only to warn them about what was found in the ice (which would explain why there’s no sign of her snowcat when MacReady and Copper find the UFO in the original).

Either way, leaving thing up in the air and letting your audience imagine what happens next is a great way to keep them engaged with the power of mystery and the unknown.

Consider ending your prequel with a direct tie-in to the original

One of the biggest pleasures of any prequel is the opportunity to do an ending that ties in with the opening moments from an original, classic story. ‘The Thing’ ends with Lars and the last surviving Norwegian get into a helicopter to chase the husky-Thing that arrives at outpost 31, seamlessly leading into the opening of the 1982 film, complete with Ennio Morricone’s classic theme playing in the background for the first time in the movie.

In our own stories, the biggest advantage to doing an ending that directly ties in to an original story is that your audience’s nostalgia for the original story will skyrocket to 11: They know what’s coming next, and being able to see the events that lead into those moments are a thrill.

The Takeaway

When doing a prequel to a story, avoid making it a disguised copy of what came before, and consider if it’s a story that will add to your mythology, or take away from the mystery and wonder of the original. If that story is worth telling, add new layers and information to the characters or world of the original, and if its a horror story you’re writing, try grossing and terrifying your readers by having a victim suffer a fate worse than death by having the be awake, aware, and helpless to do anything about it. And when your antagonist tries a last-minute escape or execution of his/her/its plan, have the protagonist realize what’s going on and stop them, and then having that protagonist face an uncertain future while your prequel then ratchets up the nostalgia value by directly tying into the beginning of your original story at the very end.

Favorite moments: ‘Who’s that pokemon?’

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

Why it’s great

This ancient video (well, ancient by internet standards) was a big hit back in 2007; I remember first seeing it in college and laughing out loud. While it doesn’t have that same effect over a decade later, it’s still really funny. But like Korn’s corn powers, there’s nothing out of the ordinary: Someone who’s very passionate about Pokemon incorrectly guesses which creature is on screen and throws a fit. What makes it funny, though, is the contrast of content: We have something cheerful and upbeat that mixes with vulgarity and anger, which can be good for a laugh if you don’t mind profanity, AKA, the Sugar Apocalypse.

What can we take from this? Contrasts of super cheerful and super vulgar can be great fun, but in moderate doses: too much profanity and vulgarity, and the charm can fade. Too little and it won’t have as much effect. And if that vulgarity descends into carnage and bloodshed… well, you might have gone a little too far. But then, why not have the cute side decide to fight back, and while still being cute? You can have a rainbow-colored bloodbath, which can be equally hilarious.