Posts Tagged ‘Kill Creek’

You know, sometimes you come across movies in the weirdest ways. Sometimes they’re just on while flipping channels, or someone makes a reference to it and you want to know the interest. I heard about Down a Dark Hall because I heard AnnaSophia Robb (aka the kid from Because of Winn-Dixie) was in it. I remember she used to slay in anything I saw her in (especially The Reaping, another horror film she was in), and the fact that this was a horror film got me interested. I asked my local library to order it, they said yes, and I picked it up this weekend, not sure what I was going to get but looking forward to finding out.

This turned out to be a decent example of modern Gothic horror.

Based on the Gothic YA novel by Lois Duncan, Down a Dark Hall follows Kit, a troubled teenager whose mother sends her to an elite academy with the hopes of straightening her out. There with only four other similarly-troubled girls, Kit finds that the school’s very unique and focused program starts to have results. Weird results. Results that devolve into obsession, addiction, neurosis and trauma. On top of that, Kit has been seeing things in the hallways and in the dark. Faces, people, movement. All this collides to lead Kit to a terrifying realization about the school, and what its staff is doing to the students.

For starters, the actors in this film all do a very good job in their roles. AnnaSophia Robb as Kit slays again, inhabiting this very angry girl who slowly finds herself actually liking the school and then distrusting it as things get weird like a second skin or as if she’s done this a hundred times before. The same goes for Victoria Moroles as Veronica, who hides her own tragedies in a badass attitude. And Uma Thurman does a great job as the aristocratic and charismatic Madame Duret.

The film’s story is also very compelling. It checks all four of the boxes I mention in my article on Gothic fiction, all in a very pretty set, and you definitely find yourself caught up in the mystery of the story. Some of the most disturbing moments of the film are when you see these girls falling under the spell of the school, becoming obsessed with math or music or painting or whatever and how badly it affects them. And the special effects aren’t half bad either, more subtle than garish or distracting.

However, the film isn’t without its issues. I never felt very scared, and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere or sense of threat. Outside of the moments of obsession, that is. In addition, a few things in the film felt a little extraneous. There was a certain bald-headed and scarred ghost that really didn’t serve any purpose beyond a few extra scares, and the romantic tension between Kit and her music teacher was inserted, but nothing was really done with it. Seriously, the question of how to portray those relationships in fiction aside, either use it or cut it out and just show them as close student and teacher!

Finally, I also thought that the ending was wrapped up in too sweet a bow and maybe a few minutes too long. In some ways, it felt a little too hopeful compared to the rest of the film, which jars the viewer and takes away from the experience.

Still, Down a Dark Hall was a good Gothic horror film. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. It’s no Kill Creek (which I highly recommend by the way, check out my review as to why), but if you turn off the lights in your living room and put this on the Blu-Ray player, you probably won’t regret it. Check it out and see for yourself.

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Hill House is a great example of Gothic fiction and a Gothic location.

You’ve probably heard someone describe a work of fiction as being “a very Gothic work,” or describing a place they visited as “having a Gothic feel” (which now that I think about it, could be said of The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast). But what actually is “Gothic horror” or “Gothic fiction?” And why does it still appeal to us after more than two-hundred and fifty years?

Surprisingly, Gothic fiction has very little to do with Gothic architecture or with Goth fashion and music (for more on that relationship, check out this brief YouTube video). And while most of the genre do take place in haunted houses, not all haunted house stories are Gothic, or vice versa. As this very helpful Tor.com article points out, “Some genres build the house. Others come along and decorate it. Gothic horror is a very decorative genre.”

So what is Gothic fiction? Well, to be honest, it’s a genre that arose out of another genre that was a response to a popular movement. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment movement emphasized discarding superstition in favor of science and reason. Some artists didn’t care for this philosophy and turned to Romanticism, which emphasized emotion and the self, as well as a veneration of the past, nature, and in some cases the supernatural. Gothic arose out of Romanticism, with artists and authors combining elements of the latter with horror, death and the supernatural, starting with The Castle of Otranto in 1764 by Horace Walpole, and followed by the works of Poe, Mary Shelley, Byron, and many others.

To put it simply, Gothic fiction could be considered the love-child of 18th and 19th century Romance stories and horror stories.

But that’s how Gothic fiction came to be. How do we identify it? Well, the horror novel Kill Creek by Scott Thomas (which I highly recommend), itself a Gothic novel, gives a great run-down of some of the common elements of the genre (I hope Mr. Thomas doesn’t mind me using them):

  • Emanation from a single location. The source of the evil is often a single location, usually a house. A great example of this is The Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It is the book’s main location, and it is the source of the evil in the story.
  • A sense of forbidden history. There’s a dark history associated with the location or something related to it. Again, a great example is The Overlook, which has been the setting for murders, suicides, and all sorts of horrid deaths and events, all of which have been swept under the rug for the sake of the hotel’s reputation, and later gets drudged up by Jack (and the hotel).
  • An atmosphere of decay or ruin. Things are rotting or falling apart, or seems to be anyway. It’s in the very air, almost. And it doesn’t have to be physical; it can be mental too. Just look at Jack’s mental state as The Shining progresses, if you need an example.
  • Corruption of the innocent. This one speaks for itself. The evil wants to destroy good and innocence and replace it with evil. Dracula, a great example of Gothic fiction, has the titular character turning good and innocent people into bloodsucking vampires. This is corruption of the innocent in its best example, and why vampire fiction is often grouped with Gothic fiction (did you expect another Shining reference?).

Dracula is another great example of Gothic literature, even if it’s not confined to a single location.

But those features aren’t universal among Gothic stories. They’re common features, but not there in every one (Dracula doesn’t just kill in one single place, after all). So what else makes a Gothic story? Well, there’s something I’ve noticed about Gothic stories: along with the atmosphere of decay, there’s also a veneration towards the darkness and to beauty. Remember, Gothic fiction rose from Romanticism, which venerates nature, emotion and beauty. So while we’re feeling an atmosphere of terror, there’s also this sense that the author has a respect and love of the darker elements along with the Romantic ones.

Of course, this is just scratching the surface of what constitutes Gothic, and I could go on for days on the subject if you let me. The best summary I can do for this post is to say that Gothic fiction are horror stories with a particular group of tropes, a veneration of darkness and horror, and Romantic appreciation for aesthetic and the fantastic world. And even that feels incomplete.

So what appeals to us about Gothic fiction, and has allowed it to survive and evolve whereas other niche genres like Westerns went out of style in less than sixty years? Well, there’s no easy answer there either. The Tor article says that the rules and expectations of the genre can be learned and make it appealing to readers. I’ve heard some people say good Gothic horror has an atmosphere unlike other genres, and that keeps them coming back. My opinion is that, in addition to those theories, Gothic can evolve because its main tropes are relevant no matter what age we’re in, especially the houses. But on a deeper level than that, most Gothic literature takes the childhood idea of home, a big place we feel safe in, and turns it inside out into a giant house of fear that is still somewhat beautiful and appealing. That is a strange inversion that can be attractive to readers, and may explain why we keep writing and reading Gothic stories over two-hundred and fifty years after Walpole started the genre.

However you define Gothic fiction or whatever its appeal is, there’s no doubt that it is a popular and influential genre that we’ve all experienced at lest once in our lives and remember. And perhaps by understanding it better, we can keep Gothic horror going for many more years to come. And I certainly wouldn’t mind that.

What elements of Gothic fiction did I miss here? What about it appeals to you?

What Gothic stories would you recommend for anyone interested in the genre?

I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how Hollywood is coming to see big horror films are, and that they are looking into making more. It’s even been compared to the explosion of superhero films that came about after the Dark Knight trilogy and Iron Man showed how popular and profitable superhero films could be. Since I am a horror fan in addition to a horror writer, I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

First off, this explosion in horror is not exactly out of the blue. Studios have been making horror films since the early days of film, and they keep making them every year. There’s obviously always been an interest and a profit to be made in horror. It’s just lately we’ve had a slew of horror films that have shown studios and audiences that horror can be extremely profitable, mainstream, and even deeply thematic. We actually first started seeing this trend years ago with films like the Paranormal Activity series, which kicked off a huge fad of found-footage horror films, and with Blumhouse Productions, which proved you can make horror films cheaply and still have critical and box office success. This is especially so with their Conjuring film series, which in itself is a cinematic universe.

But late 2016 and 2017 brought on a slew of horror films that really brought these points home. Split, with its surprise ending technically making it a superhero film, and Get Out, with its commentary on race on par with some Oscar-nominated films, brought horror into the mainstream in new ways. Later in 2017, Annabelle: Creation and It proved massively successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and in 2018, films like A Quiet Place are raking in the dough and proving how powerful horror can be in creating terrifying atmospheres and emotional narratives.

And this is just scratching the surface: Stephen King stories are being optioned at record rates (where’s my adaptation of The Library Policeman?); some of Netflix’s biggest recent original films have been horror movies; and studios are developing more horror movies than ever before. It: Chapter Two starts filming this summer, and a new Halloween film is getting released this year. So while I may say yes, horror is kind of the new superhero film, it’s not because they suddenly became profitable. The potential has always been there, it just took some very specific successes with deeper cultural resonance to really bring that potential to the attention of studio heads.

Remember, don’t do what The Mummy did. Not if you want your horror movie to actually be successful, let alone spawn a franchise.

So yes, the horror genre may be the new superhero film, with every studio wanting its own successful films, film series, or film universe. But to steal a superhero film quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So while I have no pretensions that studio heads or directors or writers or whatever will see this post, let alone take its message to heart, I thought I’d offer some advice advice on getting into this horror boom. After all, as a horror fan and a creator, I want the horror boom to continue. The more good horror out there, the better. So here are some of my ideas for ways to make sure the boom doesn’t fizzle out:

  • Focus on telling a good scary story. This seems obvious, but some companies get so caught up in having a successful film or franchise, they forget to make a good horror film. Remember last year’s The Mummy? That film was convoluted, packed to the brim, and not at all scary. Not a good start for a film that was supposed to be the launching point for an entire cinematic horror universe. Which was the problem: Universal was so concerned with getting their franchise off the ground, they forgot what let Iron Man get the MCU off the ground: a good film in and of itself. If Iron Man had not led to the MCU, it still would’ve been an excellent superhero film. The Mummy should’ve been made that way, but unfortunately, it wasn’t, and now the Dark Universe is sunk.
    So remember kids, focus on a good story first, franchise a distant second. At least said franchise is up and running, of course.
  • Take chances on new/indie directors and stories. A lot of great horror films have come from the indie scene and/or from new/emerging directors. It Follows and Babadook were both very successful horror films from directors with less than three films under their belts, and the former was from the indie scene. Get Out was from Jordan Peele, who had never done a horror film before in his life.
    And all these stories are original plots. In an age where every other movie is a sequel, remake, or some variation on a familiar story or trend, adding something new to the horror canon has the ability to draw in a diverse audience, rather than just the smaller audience of devoted fans and some possible new ones.
    So take a few risks. It could lead to some big returns.
  • Adapt more than just Stephen King. Yeah, I’m happy for the many Stephen King adaptations being made (Library Policeman movie, please?). But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Even his Royal Scariness: I got sick of him back in high school because I read too much King and had to take a break for a few years. I still make sure to space out my dives into his stories nowadays. And if that could happen to me with his books, imagine what it could do to audiences with too many of his movies.
    The point is, there are a number of horror writers out there whose works should be adapted. Scott Thomas’s Kill Creek is one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year; Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls would make a great Blumhouse movie; Junji Ito has plenty of stories that could make great films; and as I noted in a previous post, HP Lovecraft is in the public domain and would make for great cinema. It’s something to consider.
    And before you ask, “What about your works, Rami?” I would be flattered if someone showed interest in adapting one of my stories. However, I don’t think that’s a possibility at this stage of my career, so I’m not going to get my hopes up. Still, I’d be flattered.

Horror is finally being given the attention it deserves from Hollywood, and I couldn’t be happier for it. However, it’s going to take a lot of work, and a lot of good stories, for horror to continue to thrive. I hope that filmmakers old and new are up to the task.

I discovered this novel, which came out on Halloween last year, on Audible as an audio book while looking for my next listen/read. It sounded interesting, and nothing else I was finding in the catalog was really grabbing my attention, so I decided to listen to it. I’m really happy I made the decision to do so: this is probably one of the best scary stories and one of the best novels I’ve come across in a while.

Kill Creek follows four famous horror novelists: Sam McGarver, a writer with a past who’s struggling to start his fifth book; TC Moore, an abrasive novelist who likes to explore the blurring of pain and pleasure in her stories; Daniel Slaughter, a religious man who writes Christian horror fiction aimed at teens; and Sebastian Cole, a veteran horror writer who’s considered the King of Modern Horror. They’re invited to Kill Creek, a house in the middle of rural Kansas that’s considered one of the most haunted houses in America, for a Halloween publicity event. This results in the awakening of a powerful entity, one with plans for the authors. Plans that will not only jeopardize their sanity, but their very lives.

I loved this story. For one thing, the book’s language. Thomas doesn’t spend time floating around with flowery language or writing confusing passages. Every word is there because it’s meant to be, which keeps the reader (or listener) invested in the story. I never once felt lost, wondering what the heck just happened or thinking that this or that word or paragraph was unnecessary. And that also helps create the unsettling atmosphere: when they’re at the house, you feel like you’re there with the characters, and you’re feeling every uneasy feeling they’re feeling. For horror fanatics, that’s a great feeling.

I also like how the story is unpredictable. Plenty of times I was sure that I knew where the story was going to go, only to be proven wrong a chapter later. And I’m the guy who prides himself on being able to predict where movies are going to go couldn’t predict each twist or the change of direction the story goes, so that says something about how well-written and unique this story is. The story itself is even a cool and clever twist on the haunted house trope!

But my favorite part was the main characters. They all felt like real people, and we’re given enough time with each of them to reveal their hidden depths. My favorite character of the bunch was TC Moore. My God, was she entertaining! I always looked forward to the narration switching to her perspective, when she would swear like a sailor and just eviscerate anyone who rubbed her the wrong way (which was everyone). I doubt I’d get along with her if she was a real person, but as a character, you just have to love her (kind of like Sheldon Cooper, but even harder to get along with).

And by the way, I count the house as a character. And it is a freaky character, let’s leave it at that.

On the whole, I only had two real problem with the story: one was there’s a minor character who appeared in the story for maybe two or three pages. Honestly, you could’ve kept them entirely off-stage, mentioned only in flashbacks or in exposition, and I would’ve been fine. They really didn’t add anything when they were in the story. The second is that there’s a scene in the first half of the book that I felt was kind of gratuitous and unnecessary. It could have been left out and the novel would’ve been fine.

Other than that, I absolutely loved the story, and I’m glad I took a chance on it.

Kill Creek by Scott Thomas is a wonderful example of modern Gothic horror. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.5. A great debut novel from an author I hope to read more from in the future. Check it out and get lost in the madness.

And if you get it in audio book, you’re in for a treat. Bernard Setaro Clark is a great narrator who gives each character their own particular sound and whose voice goes great with the book’s language.