Posts Tagged ‘Originality’

I found this on Netflix, and after I saw it got good reviews online, I decided to check it out. And I think I got what I asked for with a series called Slasher.

Now, a little background. Slasher is a Canadian-American TV series partially inspired by American Horror Story (and believe me, it shows), as well as Agatha Christie novels and classic slasher movies. The production company’s plan with this show is to do it anthology style with a new story every year, possibly with a similar cast each season (see? The AHS influence shows). The first season’s story follows Sarah Bennett (Kate McGrath), as she and her husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren) move into the house where her parents were brutally murdered by a man dressed like a medieval executioner back in 1988. In traditional slasher fashion, someone copying the original killer’s MO starts killing people, and Sarah finds herself forced to work with the original killer (Patrick Garrow) to figure out who the new killer is.

So how does it stack up?

Well, the first season does have a bunch of problems. The biggest problem is that it’s really derivative. Like I said, you can see the inspiration from AHS. In fact, it feels like an AHS knockoff, and not exactly a stellar one. The killer is also very derivative, his whole MO a ripoff of the movie Se7en with every victim being killed because they committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins. And the killer’s design? It actually reminds me of the protagonist of my novel Snake. I’m actually wondering if that’s not a coincidence! There’s also a character that I’m told is similar to one iconic character from Twin Peaks, an incompetent police department out of just about every film ever, and a few other things I can’t mention without spoiling the story.

Did anyone ever tell you that you look like a character I created this one time?

Another problem is the protagonist, and the actress who plays her. Kate McGrath’s acting in this series is wooden and emotionless, to the point where I want to pull out my phone and find something a bit more animated. Not to mention McGrath’s Irish accent breaks through her attempts at whatever the Canadian equivalent of the General American accent is. As for her character, I find it hard to sympathize or connect with her. I get that her parents were brutally murdered, and that she’s got more than a few reasons to investigate these murders, but other than that there’s not much to her character besides her ability to make and act on connections the police can’t. She feels more like a construct or an idea of what the final girl in slasher stories can be than a real person.

So with all that, is there anything positive about Slasher? Actually, quite a bit.

For one thing, it’s interesting. Fault it for how derivative it is and for the wooden lead, but the show’s writers know how to set up an interesting story. Every character has secrets, and it’s fun to watch those secrets get opened up and divulged to the other characters and the audience. You’re also kept guessing on who the killer is until the final reveal, and there are a bunch of other twists that keep the story feeling fresh and exciting. And there are scenes that are both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. There was one scene in the seventh episode that particularly got to me, and the way it was done was just so artful and well-done. So despite it’s derivative nature, it’s good to see that they can keep an audience interested in the story. Especially an audience that goes through a lot of trash trying to find gold and therefore knows all the cliches.

And while the lead isn’t that great, some of the other characters are just a lot of fun. Dylan Bennett has an interesting character arc in relation to his job as a journalist, the events unfolding around him, and their effects on his marriage. And Christopher Jacot as gay real estate agent Robin is always a blast to have on screen. I think I fell a little in love with his character. Patick Garrow’s incarcerated killer Tom Winston is surprisingly likable and sympathetic. And Dean McDermott as Police Chief Iain Vaughn is also a nasty character I love to hate, and the twist his character takes in the show is thrilling, to say the least.

And this is just a small thing that I really liked, but there’s an interracial couple in this story that’s actually somewhat functional and doesn’t make race the focus of their drama. Whenever I see interracial relationships on American television, it’s always portrayed as something filled with drama, and the race thing comes up in a big way at least once. There’s none of that here. Even better, it’s a black man and a white woman. I’ve seen the reverse a couple of times on TV, but this might be the first time I’ve seen it in any medium. Props to the show for portraying diverse backgrounds and experiences and not making it a huge deal. That’s still something others are having trouble with, as the fact that I’m pointing it out makes evident.

So what’s my final verdict of Slasher? Well, I think a 3.0 out of 5 seems right. Yes, it’s not the best horror show out there, nor is it the best attempt to turn a slasher into a TV series (*cough* Scream was awesome, and I’m so excited for season 2 *cough*), but it keeps your attention and has more than a few things going for it. Assuming there’s a second season (no word at this time if there will be one), there’s a good chance that the people behind the show will learn from the problems of the first season and fix them for the next one.

Oh, and for those of you who’ve seen AHS: Hotel, you may notice more than a few similarities between this show and that season, enough to make you wonder if there was plagiarism involved. Turns out, both shows’ stories were conceived and filmed around the same time. It’s just that one aired after the other. It’s a weird coincidence, but a totally innocent one.

People from outside the horror genre think it’s pretty easy to scare people. Just add a monster/ghost/serial killer, people running in terror, and a creepy forest that is called “creepy” by the author, and it’s terrifying.

Bullshit. It’s actually really tough to make things scary. It takes more than a bunch of scary words, a dark forest, and a monster to make something scary. I should know, every time I get on the laptop to write I’m struggling to set atmosphere and arrange words and try to make something old new and terrifying again.

That last bit is one of the toughest things to do. Horror is a genre that’s full of cliches, and we enthusiasts and creators are both proud of it and trying to subvert or get around them while writing. Part of that is trying to make an old monster–a ghost, a serial killer, an evil house, etc.–seem different, seem new, seem like it hasn’t been done before. Remember my review of It Follows? That movie had taken an old concept in horror (sex equals death) and had found a brilliant way to reinvent it. To some degree, all authors of horror are trying to create that, a story that takes an old concept or monster and make it scary in a brand new way.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong. You have to look at all these other works dealing with the concept and wonder to yourself, what can I do that hasn’t been done? And sometimes the idea you’re running with has been done hundreds of times over already. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, aliens, serial killers, ghosts, etc. They’ve all been done and you’re trying to find some new angle, something that hasn’t been tried or done before with them. It’s made even more difficult when you consider that there are probably piles and piles and piles of other novels that you haven’t read and they might have done the same things you’re considering doing. With all that, looking for something old to make new and scary again is quite the challenge.

It’s even more difficult to make entirely new things scary. Every writer wants to do a Cell or a Night of the Living Dead or a Paranormal Activity, to make something scary for the first time. It’s even better than taking something old and making it scary again, because you’re making a mark, you’re doing something that all those afterwards will have to measure themselves by. It’s just about any novelist’s dream, but in genres like horror where you see a lot of the same stuff over and over again (and a lot of it is trash), it’s only a few degrees away from striving for the Holy Grail.

Yesterday I had an idea for a novel involving a small town in Texas and a secret surrounding flooded rivers. As far as I’m aware, the particular angle I’d be going with this novel has not been done before. I’d like to think it’ll make for some interesting fiction, make some people wish they could do something similar. Honestly, I don’t know. But I’m excited that I have something like Night of the Living Dead or Cell or Paranormal Activity, something that hasn’t been done before and others might have to measure up to someday. That’s how big a deal it is to me and to other authors in my position. And when I finally begin to write this story, I’ll do it so that not only will I strive not to disappoint my readers, but I won’t disappoint myself.

How do we come up with these ideas? There’s no set way. We just read a lot, write a lo. We go to the films and watch the TV shows, we look at what’s been done, what hasn’t and what could be done. Is it easy? Not in the least. This is a genre where the road is well worn most of the time, where many have trod before. We’re looking for new ways to trod and for a path hidden behind foliage that we can cut a path through with our pens like machetes. And we don’t stop looking, no matter what. That’s just how we are as writers of all things dark and creepy.

Ultimately, we are not doing what we do because it’s easy to do. We’re doing it because we love it and because we love it we want to make it good. To do that we have to try to make our stories fresh, new, unpredictable, something we haven’t seen done before. It’s a difficult job, but if we do it right, then we’re doing something right as horror writers.

Do you have tips for making something old seem new and scary again?

What’s something you’ve seen not done before? What stuck you about it that made it seem original?

saturation [n]: the act or result of supplying so much of something that no more is wanted.

–courtesy of Merriam Webster Online

Lately Hollywood is all about the franchises. Disney announced recently that they are making a Frozen 2, that they’ve set release dates for a Star Wars spin-off and Episode VIII, and for some reason they’re doing a live-action Dumbo remake. Sony recently announced that alongside the new female-led Ghostbusters reboot they’re making a male led one as well to even things out (because three male-led films vs. one female-led one is true equality), plus a production company to come up with all sorts of Ghostbusters-related stuff, and a Zoolander 2 is on its way as well.

Look, I’m looking forward to some of these sequels and prequels and remakes and reboots and spin-offs and franchises. Try and keep me away from the Poltergeist remake, the new Star Wars episode, and a few other upcoming films. However, I think that all this emphasis on creating major film series and franchises is actually working against Hollywood rather than helping it. I know that place is run by money primarily, with the idea of making memories and memorable films being a far second, and all these mega-franchises has everyone wanting to have their own moneymaker. But to pursue all that without investing in new material, to me anyway, is not smart business practice.

Not that there haven’t been original films this year. Seventh Son, Jupiter Ascending, and Chappie all are original films (one’s based on a novel, but whatever), so studios aren’t totally ignoring original ideas. However, the former two were panned and didn’t do well at the box office, while the latter…well, it did well at the box office, but the critics don’t seem to like it. I didn’t either. And that isn’t good, because it might make movie studios more wary about greenlighting new projects.

Does this seem a little excessive to you?

This means more superhero movies, more film series and franchise, more reboots and remakes and God only knows what else. And that’s likely to continue. The question is, how long will it continue? Marvel and DC have films scheduled through 2019 and 2020 respectively, but will we feel like watching them by that time? Will we feel like we’ve seen these films so many times that it takes something rare to make us enjoy the film, like it is for so many horror fans today? Are we going to reach saturation point soon? And when it does, what will the film industry do?

Luckily, there’s the indie scene, which is producing original and wonderful stories all the time (particularly horror: I Am A Ghost, The Babadook, and the upcoming It Follows, though I haven’t seen that last one yet). And the comedy genre keeps churning out with originals, probably because they know that pulling off sequels are difficult in that genre. There’s a growing number of biopics coming out each year (not exactly original, but not exactly overly done either), and most of the movies nominated for the Oscars each year are meant to be stand-alone films. Maybe we won’t reach saturation too soon.

But if we do, I think we might have enough filmmakers out there who aren’t so concerned with money and sequels, and want just to tell good stories. Heck, I might even join in then: I’ve got a few idea for screenplays, so I might write one too one of these days. We’ll see.

Do you like the way Hollywood is these days? Why or why not?

Do you think we’ll reach saturation point soon? What’ll happen when we do?