Posts Tagged ‘horror tropes’

Remember Five Nights at Freddy’s? Well, if you don’t, Five Night’s at Freddy’s, or FNAF for short, is a video game franchise that was pretty popular in the mid-2010’s. The games revolve around surviving the night, usually at a haunted Chuck E. Cheese knockoff, while fending off killer animatronics. The unique and simple gameplay, combined with the dense lore revealed in the games, made it pretty popular for a while. There have even been in-universe novels (all of which I reviewed) and a movie has been in development hell since 2015.

And in the meantime, a couple of other films have been released that use the same concept but are just different enough to avoid IP problems. Thus, we get Willy’s Wonderland, which fills the gap for animatronic carnage horror films FNAF leaves quite well.

Starring (and produced by) Nicholas Cage, the film follows Cage as a mysterious drifter who gets stuck in the tiny town of Hayesville after a car accident. To pay for repairs, he accepts an overnight cleaning job at Willy’s Wonderland, an abandoned family entertainment center complete with giant, creepy electronics and a bloody history. What he’s not told is that the animatronics are alive and murderous. Thus begins a standoff between the eight deadly robots and the drifter. One that will be more explosive than anyone expects.

I’ll say this, these new slasher horror-comedies can be quite surprising. And if films like Happy Death Day, Freaky, and Willy’s Wonderland are the beginning of a new trend in horror, I hope it doesn’t get old too fast.

This film is a bonkers fun time! I think my favorite part is Cage’s unnamed character, who’s kind of a riff on Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. He’s always got this sour look on his face, and his silence, addiction to energy soda, and routine make him nigh inscrutable. I also enjoyed the animatronics, which were visually interesting, moved well and were in the right area of the uncanny valley to be both funny and creepy. Add in some stellar action scenes and a good balance between the humor and horror elements and you have a really fun time.

I do have some complaints, however. For one thing, some of the slasher tropes felt kind of shoehorned in because they were expected. You would think this long after the slasher boom, even fictional teens would know not to do some of that dumb shit in a situation right out of a horror film. Speaking of which, several of the teen characters are not at all interesting or sympathetic. Honestly, one or two came off as detestable. Which might have been the point, given which tropes they engaged in, but I really could have done without that aspect of the film.

All in all, though, Willy’s Wonderland is a fun, bloody good time that will leave you amused and wanting more. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it an even 4. A sequel or prequel is supposedly in the works, and I would love that. You could have a whole trilogy around Cage’s character getting into horror movie shenanigans. It would be hilarious and you could come up with so many inventive ways for him to get into scrapes with monsters or bad guys.

And in the meantime, if you want some FNAF movie goodness and can’t wait for that film to be made,* go check out Willy’s Wonderland.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope the next post isn’t a review (though I guarantee nothing). Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares!

*Assuming it gets made. Supposedly a script was approved and filming was supposed to begin this spring, but nothing happened and we haven’t had any updates in a while. Between that and the franchise having passed peak popularity, I feel like even if the film gets made, it’s going to face the same issues Slender Man’s film did. Namely that it was too late and there wasn’t enough interest, to say nothing of the quality (see my scathing review here).

Kid you not, July was a tough month. Yes, there were plenty of acceptances and publications that happened, but there was also a lot of shit that hit the fan in my personal life. I’m really hoping August is a much better month for me. Luckily, there’s something already improving the state of things: an article I wrote was published!

You may remember back in May that I announced I had a couple of acceptances, including an article in the Fall 2021 issue of House of Stitched magazine. Well, I’m pleased to announce that the House of Stitched magazine Fall 2021 issue is now available, and it contains, among many great stories from a variety of talented horror authors, my article “The Horror of the Broken Child.”

What is “the broken child,” you may be wondering? Well, I would tell you, but I would rather you read it in the magazine. I will tell you that it is a character trope I’ve noticed quite a bit in horror stories but nobody is talking about. So, I decided to talk about it in the form of an essay. And House of Stitched magazine liked it enough to publish it. I’m very hopeful that the article will be well-received and maybe spark some further conversation and debate on the trope I’ve identified.

Hell, I’m even hoping some people disagree with my assessment. I think more scholarship on horror writing is a good thing, and if people disagree with me and want to write about it, then good. As long as it brings more understanding about the horror genre and leads to new stories and ideas, all the better.

Just be nice if you disagree with me or you disagree with those who disagree with me. There’s no reason to get nasty over certain things, is there?

Anyway, I hope you’ll check out House of Stitched magazine. Besides my article, there are short stories and articles from numerous other authors, including Brian Keene and Maxwell Ian Gold, the latter of whom is a friend of mine and quite the talent. Not only that, but supporting the magazine will allow for more issues to be made in the future, which will allow more writers to publish their work in the magazine. I can’t think of a better reason to buy a copy, can you?

The purchase link is below. I hope you enjoy reading the magazine and that you find my article illuminating. Thanks again to Lisa and the team at Stitched Smile Publications for publishing my article. Now, if you need me, I’ll be spreading the word over social media and then taking care of various other things in my life. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares!

Also, “next time” will be tomorrow morning. Something big is coming, and if you’ve been paying attention, you likely know what it is. Looking forward to seeing you there!

House of Stitched magazine: Blurb.com , Amazon

I’ll admit, when I bought my ticket to see this movie in the theaters (yes, I went to a theater), I didn’t have high expectations. It had a good trailer, but plenty of bad films have good trailers. But I wanted to see some new horror, and who knows? It could surprise me.

Surprised, I was.

Come Play follows Oliver, a young, non-verbal autistic boy who is stalked by someone named Larry, who wants to be his friend. However, Larry isn’t human. He’s an entity, one that lives in the world of the digital and the Wi-Fi and interacts with our world through electronics. And he wants Oliver to be his friend, whether Oliver wants it or not.

First off, I thought Oliver ‘s actor did a great job playing an autistic character. As you know, I’m on the spectrum, and I recognized myself as a child and as an adult in Oliver. Stimming to stay calm, going to therapy, dealing with people who don’t understand what you’re going well. And I’ve been through the experience of kids pretending to be nice to me only to show a nastier side. Believe me, the struggle was (and in some ways, still is) real.

As for the film itself, it wasn’t half-bad. Jacob Chase, the writer and director, did a very good job of putting together a unique monster story. There were several moments where the atmosphere was tense and I was kind of afraid. And the jumpscares, while in another film would have been over the top, fit very well here. And I definitely didn’t see the final twist coming until it showed up.

The use of the villain Larry was also done very well. He’s not based on any sort of ancient mythology or anything, so points for originality. And yeah, the monster using a children’s book has been done by better films (*cough* The Babadook *cough*), but it’s given a different spin here, and the fact that Larry can only manifest through our ever-present devices and electronics added a certain element of danger you don’t normally see in these sorts of horror films. We also don’t see Larry that much, and when we do, he’s usually in shadow so we can’t make out all the details. Makes the fact that he’s basic CGI easier to handle.

Of course, the film does have its issues. While Larry was used well in the movie, I never felt entirely afraid of him. Also, the film relies on a lot of tropes we could get from a below-average Blumhouse movie, so it gets a little tropey and predictable at times. Especially the second half.

On the whole though, Come Play is good. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. All in all, I’m glad I went out to see it. And if you need a bit of new horror as well, maybe you will be too.

That’s probably it for October, my Followers of Fear. I hope you had as great a Halloween season as I did, despite the pandemic and all that went with it. Let’s hope November is good as well.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares and WATCH OUT FOR THAT TENTACLE!!!

Slender Man has been one of the most talked-about fictional figures to be created in the past ten years. It seems that it was inevitable that a major film adaptation of the character would come out, though nine years after the character’s introduction and two or three years after his peak in popularity seems later than I’d expect. But since the film’s trailer came out, there’s been a lot of discussion on the film, not just whether it would be any good or if it was too late for a Slender Man film, but also if there should even be a film based on the character. I won’t touch on that last subject (that’s something for a post for another day), but I can answer the first two.

Starting with if the film is any good, I’m going to say I have the same feelings towards Slender Man as I did to The Forest: a concept with great potential, but an execution with poor payoff.

Based on the famous Internet boogeyman, Slender Man follows four teen girls who find an online video that’s supposed to summon the titular entity. Soon after, they start getting sick and having nightmares. When one disappears, the remaining three realize that something is afoot, that they are being watched and stalked by an entity alluded to in folklore and on the Internet by a variety of names. And it won’t leave them alone.

The problems with this movie are numerous. For one thing, this movie is excessively trope-filled. And while we horror nuts love our tropes, we like them done with a little style, or a bit of love, or even some subversion. And we never like the film to be so trope-filled that it’s hitting us over the head with them. None of that love is here, and thus the tropes ring hollow. In addition, the film fails to build an atmosphere. Watching the film, I didn’t feel creeped out or terrified as I might have with another film. I just felt neutral the whole time, even when they are trying to scare me with disturbing footage (again, in another film this might have been terrifying). When you have a horror film filled with hollow tropes and no atmosphere, that doesn’t bode well for said horror film.

On top of that, the characters are pretty flat. It’s almost like they have variations of the one generic teen girl personality. I know you only have so much time to build personalities in a film that focuses on scaring the shit out of you, but you could literally shift these girls into each other’s roles, and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

And finally, there are plot threads that are left hanging. They just present some threads, and never wrap them up. I left the theater with a lot of questions: what happened to that one girl we last saw looking out a window? Is the character Wren a preacher’s kid? Shouldn’t that matter more to her character? What happened to that one dude? We kind of just forgot about him.

Such potential for this character. And they wasted it with his first official film outing.

So yeah, Slender Man doesn’t have that much going for it. Does it have any good points? Well, the actors are decent. They’re not given much to work with, but what they do with it is pretty good. There are a few effective jump scares. And for all its faults, the film seems to have some respect for the Slender Man character and mythology. They really tried to incorporate as much as they could of the mythology into the film, and it shows.

But other than that, this film is poorly written and overly-reliant on tropes, with uninteresting characters and a lot of plot threads that just don’t get resolved. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Slender Man a 1. If you want a horror film based off a popular folklore character, there has to be better than this.* In the meantime, I would skip this one. And hope the next time a film about a creepypasta character is made, it’s done a lot better than this.

And as for whether it was too late for a Slender Man movie, I don’t think so. There’s always an opportunity to make an old story or idea new and relevant again (look at last year’s It, for example). I just feel that Slender Man was too reliant on the character’s past popularity and thus didn’t put that much work into making a good movie. If they had, this could’ve been something awesome, rather than a pointless piece of commercial fluff trying to make a buck off of something popular. Like The Angry Birds Movie.**

*Hell, there’s a better Slender Man film out there! You see, this is the first official Slender Man film, with the permission and blessing of the copyright holders over the character (yeah, he’s not as public domain as I thought he was). There was one a few years ago made without permission, a found footage film also called Slender Man that I honestly enjoyed more than this. It wasn’t the most amazing thing, but it was a good deal better than this piece of crap. Too bad it wasn’t official, because I prefer it over this one.

**Or the Friday the 13th remake. Okay, that’s not commercial fluff, that’s just another crap film that takes a great horror character and does everything wrong with him. And until something better is produced to remove the stain, I’LL NEVER STOP HATING ON IT!!!

Veronica dropped onto Netflix back at the tail end of February. A Spanish film directed by Paco Plaza, best known for the critically acclaimed REC films, it quickly gained a reputation as “the scariest film on Netflix.” I try not to pay attention to that sort of hype, but any film that was getting that sort of recognition is likely going to make it onto my watchlist. Last night I watched it, and I would’ve reviewed it right then and there, but it was late, so I went to bed. And then today I had a busy morning and early afternoon. So I hope you don’t mind that I’m getting this post out so late.

Based on actual events,* the film follows Veronica, a Spanish schoolgirl living in Madrid in 1991. Since her father’s untimely passing, her mother has been working long hours at a restaurant/bar, leaving Veronica to care for her younger siblings. One day, Veronica and a couple of classmates bring out a Ouija board so that Veronica can contact her father’s spirit. Instead she contacts a dark entity that seems intent on not only haunting/killing Veronica, but her younger siblings as well.

While I won’t say this is the scariest film on Netflix (Lord knows I haven’t seen enough of their selection to say that), it is a damn good scary movie.

While the film is filled with the normal tropes of many possession movies–things moving on their own, scary invisible or shadowy entities, people acting totally creepy uner the influence of the evil spirit–they’re done so well that you forget that you’ve seen these tropes before. The actors all do a very decent job, especially newcomer Sandra Escacena as Veronica, who really makes you believe she’s this character and sympathize with her troubles. I also seriously loved Sister Death, a blind, elderly nun who helps Veronica realize what she has to do to fight the spirit after her (because of course there’s going to be a nun who gives advice). For an old blind woman, she’s a bit of a badass, and was never dull when she was on screen.

But on top of that, the film doesn’t go overboard with the fact that it’s a period film. Most properties taking place in popular recent decades do everything in their power to remind you that they take place in that decade. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing and is sometimes part of the charm (see Stranger Things or Ready Player One), it’s kind of refreshing to see a film that’s more focused on its story than on its culturally-popular decade.

There are a couple of things that take away from the film. For one thing, there are trippier moments in the film, like a scene where Veronica is running across the print of a page from an occult magazine on the way to her mother’s restaurant, that feel rather unnecessary and add nothing to the film. On top of that, for being the titular character, Veronica isn’t the most developed character. Yeah, she’s a responsible teenager taking care of her younger siblings and misses her father, but those are just character tropes. They don’t make Veronica herself memorable like Carrie on prom night was memorable, or how Annabelle the doll is memorable without being anything more than a creepy, possessed doll. In the end, I’m going to remember the film more than I remember the actual character the film is named after.

And as I said, this film is filled with a lot of familiar tropes. And while I’m fine with that, I know there are a lot of other horror fans who won’t care for that, no matter how well done they are.

But all in all, Veronica is a definitely a new gem in the horror film genre. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 4.5. Head to Netflix, turn it on, and get ready for an experience you won’t be able to look away from.

*No seriously, something did happen. Apparently in 1992 a bunch of Spanish schoolgirls did use a Ouija board, only to have the ceremony interrupted. One of the girls later died because of a mysterious illness, which some have suggested might’ve been due to demonic possession. So while we’re not exactly sure what happened, there’s enough there that this film has more of a claim to the “based on actual events” tagline than Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever did.

Go to any slasher movie. I guarantee someone will do something stupid. And I also guarantee there’s a reason behind why they did it.

So yesterday I was doing some edits on Rose* and one of the points in the beta reader notes stood out to me. In that particular point, my friend/colleague/beta reader Joleene Naylor pointed out that it was taking the titular character Rose a lot longer to figure something out about the scene that Joleene had figured out much earlier. My immediate first thought was, “Well, it’s horror. Everyone’s a bit slower in horror.” And that thought really stuck with me. Yeah, the characters in horror aren’t always the brightest bulbs in the closet, are they? People in slasher films take too long to realize there’s a killer hunting them around a lake notorious for murders and disappearances, the family stays in their haunted house and might even pretend things are normal even if it’s obvious there’s demonic possession at work, dumb teenagers run upstairs when they should run out the door. They either realize something well after the audience has realized something, or they make really dumb decisions. And it’s such a well-known trope, it gets parodied quite a bit in our media, like in this Geico commercial.

This got me thinking: is this intentional on the part of horror writers? If so, why?

Well, I thought about this throughout the day (couldn’t write this before because I had to go to bed and then to work), and I think that what’s happening is intentional. However, I don’t think the intention is to make the characters stupid idiots.

First, let’s consider something: we’re the audience, and the characters are characters. In our daily lives we’re not keyed up, checking to see if horror-movie circumstances everywhere we go (and if we are, we’re usually recommended to see a doctor about that). It’s only when we sit down for a horror story that we start looking for signs of horror, because that’s what our brains are trained to do. Similarly, unless they’re enjoying a horror story or think they’re in one, characters won’t typically see all the signs of something evil around them unless that evil chooses to make itself known.

There’s also the fact that authors have to tell a story, and often the stories they tell have to be of a certain length. For example, I classify a novel as sixty-thousand words or more, so I have to figure out how to keep a novel going for that long. One of the ways to do that is to make the characters figure things out much slower than the audience, either by only giving them clues slowly or later in the story, or by actually making it so they can’t connect the dots until it’s convenient for the story. And considering that part of the appeal of horror, the thrill of the mystery and the unknown as well as our reactions to it once exposed, this is a sound strategy.

Okay, so making characters slow on the uptake is part imitating people in the real world, part storytelling tool. But what about stupid decisions?

Well, that’s actually pretty easy to answer: they’re under stress. When a character is being chased by a killer or trying to get away from a ghost, they’re under unimaginable pressures. So unless they’ve been trained to think under pressure, like in the Army, they’re not going to make a rational decision. They’re going to make split-second decisions that they hope will ensure their survival, and because it’s a horror story, they’ll likely make the wrong decision. Unless the author says otherwise, of course.

And even if they’re not in a stressful, life-or-death situation, the need for survival can cause us to do very stupid things sometimes, as well as our characters. Polly Chalmers, one of the protagonists of Stephen King’s Needful Things, keeps a charm around her neck, despite suspecting that there’s something alive in it and it’s twisting her personality somehow, because the thing is easing the debilitating pain of her arthritis. In other words, fulfilling a need to help her live.

Sometimes a character acts a certain way either because they’re imitating real people, or the author needs them to be that way.

So it’s not that characters in horror stories are dumb or slow. They’re victims of imitating people in the real world as well as the author’s discretion in storytelling. And we the audience, free of those issues, are able to pick up on things they can’t or won’t for a little while longer.

Of course, we will continue to call characters stupid and wonder how they could not do the smart thing. That just comes with the territory. But perhaps the next time we sit down for a scary movie, we’ll also consider what the characters are going through, as well as what the storytellers behind them decided was best for the characters and their story.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Hope this gave you plenty to think about. I had fun just thinking of it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*Speaking of which, the editing on Rose is going very well. Yesterday I got through four chapters, bringing me halfway through the fourth draft. At the rate I’m going, I could be done before the end of the month. And after that, hopefully it’s a short wait till I find a publisher. God-willing, anyway.