Posts Tagged ‘psychological horror’

 

The Lighthouse is the latest film by Robert Eggers, the same director who brought us The Witch. I went in hoping for two things: to be scared and that it would be easier to understand what everyone was saying than in The Witch.

On both counts, I can say it was a success.

The Lighthouse follows Robert Pattinson as a young man who signs up to be an assistant lighthouse keeper at a remote island. There, he works under Willem Dafoe, an irascible lighthouse keeper who forbids his assistant from going up to the light at night for some reason. As time goes on though, both men, particularly Pattinson’s character, start seeing strange sights and creatures. Madness and isolation begin to set in the longer they stay together, leading to an irreversible outcome.

This is the first horror movie I’ve seen in theaters since Us where I’ve been truly terrified (I enjoyed Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but I wasn’t that terrified). There’s a very claustrophobic feel to the film, which is helped by the fact that there are only two characters with speaking roles, and the film is filmed in black and white. Shadows seem bigger than they are, and the occasional blaring of a horn has almost a psychological effect on the viewer. The use of dialogue, which is only at times is slightly difficult to understand, is never excessive, instead deepening the feelings of madness and our inability to trust the characters and what they say.

It’s a very Lovecraftian sort of film: while it doesn’t involve space gods or giant monsters from the depths, the ocean, as well as what’s in it, do have a negative effect on the characters. They’re dealing with madness, isolation, claustrophobia, forces they can’t understand, secrets, questions without answers, and each other. And there’s this sense, especially near the end of the film, where what’s behind the curtain will only appear to be what you’re seeking. In reality, it’s going to ruin you.

Also, speaking of the characters, Dafoe and Pattinson are great! You can hardly recognize them as actors, they just totally envelop themselves in these characters. Granted, Pattinson’s accent changes quite a bit (is he Irish? Brooklyn? I can’t tell). But you actually start wondering if these actors are going as crazy as their characters may or may not be.

I can’t really think of anything negative about the film without being nitpicky. It’s a great film, technically well done and psychologically unsettling. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Lighthouse a 4.7. It’s a vast improvement from The Witch, weird and disturbing, and I think it’ll be an instant Halloween classic. Dive in and check it out for yourself.

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A poster from a play from the Grand Guignol.

*Trigger warning: this post goes into a lot of dark and uncomfortable topics. If talk of gore, murder, sexual assault and similar subjects upset you, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

Have you ever seen any version of Sweeney Todd? Whether you saw a stage production or watched the movie, Sweeney Todd is somewhat of an outlier among famous Broadway musicals. It’s dark, bloody, and deals with subject matter other plays don’t, such as rape and cannibalism. It’s basically a slasher story with singing.

Now, if you’re like me (and I assume most of you are, if you’re reading this blog), you not only wish there were more plays like Sweeney Todd, but that some of these plays went further in terms of gore and terror. Well, recently I found out that there was a theater dedicated to plays just like that. And it ran for nearly seventy years.

The Grand Guignol Theater was a theater set up in an old Paris chapel in 1897. To summarize its history, the theater at first performed naturalistic plays centered around prostitutes, street thieves and alcoholics. A typical evening at the Grand Guignol would feature five or six short plays, alternating between cynical slice-of-life comedies, horror shows, and more traditional comedies. However, after a change of ownership, the theater began to focus more on horror.

And as time went on, the theater became famous for it. In fact, the Grand Guignol performed over twelve-hundred plays in the course of its existence, focusing on subjects such as insanity, strangulation, rape, leprosy, hypnosis, eye gouging, stabbing, rabies, and so much more. One actress, Paula Maxa, estimated she’d been “murdered” at least ten thousand times in sixty different ways, among other things. To enhance the terror, the theater staff developed a number of techniques to make the horror onstage seem as real as possible, and actors acted as if everything onstage was actually happening.

It wasn’t uncommon for audience members to puke or faint during performances.

This was all to the delight of Andre de Lorde, one of the Guignol’s writers, who judged his plays based on how many people fainted during a show. Along with psychologist and friend Alfred Binet, he wrote over a hundred plays, all particularly gruesome.

And audiences kept coming back. Like many modern horror fans, they were seeking a thrill. And the Grand Guignol provided. At its peak, celebrities and even royalty visited for shows.

So why did it close? Well, there are a number of theories. By the 1930s, the theater had shifted away from gory shockers to psychological dramas, and attendance began to dip. The rise of movies and TV shows, some of the former being quite gory or sensational themselves, may have also played a part. Theater management even believed revelations about the Holocaust may have played a role, saying “We could never equal Buchenwald.”

Whatever the case, the Grand Guignol closed in 1962. Today it’s a theater space for a deaf acting troupe.

But while the theater closed, its legacy still exists. Many small theaters and troupes around the world have been formed to preserve the Guignol’s legacy and produce their own Guignol-style plays. The Guignol’s also made its way into popular culture, and has been referenced in music, movies, books and more.

Still, wouldn’t it be amazing if the Grand Guignol was truly revjved? If one of the groups inspired by it managed to achieve the same popularity and staying power as the original theater?

Perhaps someday it will come back. And then perhaps Mr. Sweeney Todd won’t be so lonely anymore.

Well, I got my wish. I worked on a story that was much, much shorter than The Autopsy Kid and Mrs. Autopsy. This one is called The Black Foals (though previously I was thinking of going with The Foals orĀ The Horses), and if the name doesn’t give it away, this story is about horses. If I tried to be any more specific than that, it’ll give away too much. Suffice to say, it was nice to return to something a bit on the unnatural side after writing a long novella steeped in human-based horror. And whoo-boy, was this story different from others I’ve written in the past.

Okay, I may say that about most of my stories, but a) shouldn’t all writers in my genre set to make each story different, lest we grow repetitive and not very scary? And b) this really was a different one. For one thing, I didn’t jump into the horror right away. Instead, I slowly built up the horror, which is something I don’t usually do. For another, I definitely leaned more into the psychological aspect of the story, reserving the gore and true horror for the last scene. Whether or not I did a good job with the build-up and the psychological horror is up for debate.

In any case, this story’s at forty-five pages and 10,089 words long, so it’s the length of a novelette. I may try to make it shorter in subsequent drafts, or I may lengthen it. I’ll have to see what a beta reader or two thinks it’s best.

But I think it’s a good start. A decent attempt at a psychological horror, and a decent attempt to make a story that’ll do for horses what Jaws did for sharks. Perhaps I might get it published somewhere, there are a few magazines and anthologies that accept stories of that length. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, I may take a break from writing anything new until I hear back from Castrum Press about Rose. They said I should be hearing from them soon, so now’s a good time to just take a break from any new stories. Or old ones, too: editing takes time, you know.

Of course, you’ll still see me around. I’ve got another post on the horizon, so you should keep an eye out for that.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

As many of you are already aware, I’m a big fan of ballet, and a lot of characters who are dancers or are familiar with dance are peppered throughout my story ideas. With so many story ideas involving ballet and my latest story finished up, I thought it was high-time to write one. This has been my project since Tuesday, and today I finished “Pas de Deux,” my first story to feature ballet and dancers as a major component.

“Pas de Deux” is about two young dancers who decide to test a legend at their dance academy. The legend says that if anyone dances a pas de deux, or dance for two, in a certain studio, they’ll both die. When they dance together and also reveal their feelings for one another, things in their lives take a turn for the darker.

This was a fun and interesting story for me to work on. Besides writing it in five days, which is something unusual for me, but because for a while I wasn’t sure what genre it was. At times it walked a tightrope between dark fantasy and psychological horror, and it could’ve gone one way or the other based on creative and word choices. In the end, I ended up going with psychological horror, as I felt that would make the story better and more memorable.

Using dance in a story as a major component was also something else. I’ll probably devote a post just to this topic alone, but there’s a trick to writing dance movements in a prose story that I had to discover through lots of research of said movements and then writing them into the story. Interspersing both technical terms and descriptions of the terms along with the protagonist’s own beliefs and observations about ballet was both a challenge and a little educational. If ballet shows up in another story (and knowing me, it will), I can use this experience for any dance sequences I want to write into the story.

But for now, I’ll let this story be for awhile. At sixteen pages and 4,622 words, I think it could get published in most publications, assuming that the dance-heavy and flowery opening and the quick second half doesn’t turn some publishers off. Hopefully with the right beta readers, I can get some good feedback for the story and make whatever edits I need to make.

In the meantime, I have plenty of other stories I want to write, so I’ll think about which one I’d like to write next, and maybe put out that post about writing dance sequences in prose fiction. So until next time, my Followers of Fear, goodnight and pleasant nightmares. I’m off to watch a scary movie.

I’ve heard everyone from Stephen King to members of Facebook groups I belong to raving about this book. Heck, some of the latter were raving about it months before the book came out (how they were able to do that well before the book came out, I have no idea). I remember listening to the audio book of Tremblay’s previous book A Head Full of Ghosts a few years ago and liking it, though I didn’t find it scary (see my review for my full thoughts), so I thought this was worth a try. And I’ll agree with His Royal Scariness, this is definitely Tremblay at his best.

The Cabin at the End of the World centers on Wen, a young girl and her two dads, Andrew and Eric, who are taking a vacation off the grid in the deepest parts of New Hampshire. At the start of the novel, a man named Leonard appears before Wen and attempts to befriend her. He is soon followed by three others who claim that Wen and her family are the key to saving the world. But to do it, a price must be paid. Thus begins a tense story of belief, insanity, and violence as Wen and her dads are held captive in their own cabin and given an impossible choice.

Like I said, this is a tense book, and an intense one to boot. Like A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay focuses mainly on the psychological state of the characters rather than outright answering whether what we’re reading about is actually supernatural or the delusions of troubled individuals (and like the former novel, there’s an argument to be made for either one). The result is that you’re kept guessing as to which it is while getting a very personal look into these characters as they deal with the stress of the situation. It’s powerful, and makes you really connect to the characters and want to keep reading to find out how the story ends for them.

I also liked how unpredictable Cabin was. There were a couple of instances in the story that really threw me for a loop. Heck, following one of them, I kept reading for several pages sure I’d misunderstood what I’d read or that Tremblay was pulling my leg, heightening the emotional impact when this twist finally sunk in.

Add in that the novel was a great example of showing diversity in fiction without being patronizing or just showing diversity for diversity’s sake (Wen is from China and her dads are a gay married couple), and that an actual medical issue is portrayed with accuracy, rather than in 99% of other stories, and you’ve got yourself a decent novel.

I don’t have anything that I feel like saying detracted from the book. Maybe I wasn’t scared as others might be, but then again, I’ve built up a tolerance to being scared. I still found it extremely tense and emotionally powerful, and I enjoyed it for that. And that’s good enough for me.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Cabin at the End of the World a 4.5 out of 5. Gripping with suspense and characters you truly feel for, you’ll have a very hard time putting it down while you read. Take a look and see why it’s one of the most talked about stories this summer (I’m hoping Rose will be one for this coming fall or winter). Believe me, you won’t regret it.

A good number of you probably remember that late last year, I did a series of posts where I reevaluated scary movies I’d previously seen and disliked called the Rewatch Series. The first of those movies was the psychological horror anime movie Perfect Blue, released in 1997. I found that my previous dislike for the film had been based on my not understanding it, and that with a few more years and a better understanding, I found it to be a really good movie.

I’d also known for a long time that the movie was based on a novel, but it wasn’t translated into English and therefore I had no hope of reading it. That is, until I found out a few months ago that Seven Seas Entertainment had licensed and translated the novel for the English-language market. Naturally, I got excited and tried to get my hands on it. And after about four months, I finally did get a copy and sit down to read it.

Boy, that’s different than the movie in more ways than one. But of course, this won’t be a book-vs.-movie comparison (at least not entirely). It’s a review, so let’s get to reviewing.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis follows two very different people: Mima Kirigoe, a Japanese pop idol who is trying to leave behind her image as an “innocent” starlet and take on a more mature image; and the other is someone simply identified as “the man,” a man who is obsessed with Mima and her “innocent” image and resolves to keep her innocent by any means necessary. When their paths intersect, their lives will be changed forever.

So right away, I should point out that the movie took a lot of liberties with the original story. Whereas the movie was a deeply psychological story about a young woman struggling with her identity, how people saw her, and how she saw herself after a career change, the novel itself is a very basic stalker story, like what you might find in an episode of Criminal Minds.* The story is mainly told from the viewpoints of Mima, who in this version is okay and even yearns for the changes to her image so she can progress in her idol career, and “the man,” whose sanity erodes the further Mima seems to get away from her innocent image and whose plans get more drastic. There are times when the story is told from the POV of other characters, but they’re always related in some way to the lives of Mima and “the man.”

What I do like about the novel is that “the man,” who in the movie is called “Mr. Me-Mania,” is given more complexity and we see more things from his perspective, why Mima’s innocence is so important for him and some of his ideas about the world. Not only that, but in the movie Mr. Me-Mania is, while intimidating, mostly a passive character, not taking any sort of action beyond stalking until late in the film. But from the beginning of the novel, “the man” is completely active and menacing, committing a horrific crime within the first few pages of the novel. It’s very effective for setting our perceptions of “the man,” and sets things up for the more disturbing actions he takes later in the story.

Speaking of which, there are some really disturbing scenes in the novel, especially as you go later in, that utilize body horror. Now, normally I’m not that big a fan of body horror (I associate it too much with torture porn, which I’m not the biggest fan of), but here it’s done very well, especially when “the man” starts practicing for his plan to “save” Mima. This is followed by a very scary climax, which utilizes tension, body horror, and good old-fashioned chase to effectively keep the reader drawn in and wanting to find out what happens next.

While not the same as the film, the novel is still good on its own merits.

However, the novel isn’t perfect. As I said, the story is a very basic stalker tale. The novel doesn’t go as deeply as it could into who Mima is as a person, and I would’ve liked to go deeper into that, as well as into other aspects of the story (but then again, Takeuchi did say in an afterword that he was simply writing a story around the conflict between an idol’s desire to grow and a fan’s desire to hold onto the image he fell in love with. On that alone, he certainly succeeded). That, and I felt that the novel ended a little too abruptly, without really showing the aftermath of the story’s main events.

Still, t is a decent, if very simple, story of psychotic cat and mouse. And while I like the movie better, I have to say I’m glad I picked up the original novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis a 3.8. A gripping story of obsession with plenty of tension and well-written body horror. Take a look and let the story get under your skin (whether you want it to or not).

*In case you’re curious about the author’s feelings about the changes made to the story for the movie version, there’s an afterword at the end of the book written just after the film came out where he seems not only okay with the changes, but also was enthusiastic about the movie itself. Always nice when an author is okay with the changes made from book to film.

I’m halfway through this series I’ve been doing of rewatching and reevaluting horror films I previously disliked to see if I missed something. And for those of you who are keeping score, I found I now love Perfect Blue, hate The Strangers more than I did the first time, don’t really have a different opinion on The Witch, and feel underwhelmed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And I’ve just finished watching my fifth entry, Oculus. What did I think? Let’s find out.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT: Oculus follows Kaylie and Tim Russell, a pair of siblings who witnessed their parents murdered by the spirit in a mirror as children. They return to their childhood home ten years after those events with the mirror in tow, Kaylie determined to prove that the mirror is haunted, Tim believing he hallucinated everything he experienced as a child. Weaving between past and present, Kaylie and Tim unearth dark memories, old wounds, and eventually, must decide if they are facing they’re own insanity, or an old and intelligent evil.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: Simple: the ending. I really liked these siblings, and without going into spoilers (though I could be forgiven for them, this film has been out for four years), I didn’t like how the ending treated them. Plain and simple, it just poisoned the film for me.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: An online critic I follow on YouTube did a video a while back of the Top 11 New Halloween Classics, and Oculus got #7. That alone was enough to get me interested in a rewatch. And when I did this series, Oculus was definitely on the list.

Thoughts: How did I hate this movie? It was awesome!

Now, I won’t go into full review mode, but this movie is almost entirely flawless. The concept alone is pretty ingenious, but it’s done in a way that puts you right in there with the characters. You’re seeing their memories as they remember them, at the moment they’re remembering them. And you’re experiencing what they’re experiencing the moment they’re experiencing it. It leaves you not only wondering what is real and what isn’t, but also makes you feel the paranoia and terror of the characters, who by the way are played amazingly by their actors. Especially Karen Gilliam as Kaylie Russell (we love you, Amy Pond!).

I also like how the film isn’t afraid to use a bit of body horror. There were definitely moments where I had to look away because I was so freaked out by what I was seeing, and these moments are never excessive in terms of gore or number of uses.

Add in some great camera work, ambiguity, and CGI that really deposits itself within the uncanny valley, and you got yourself a creepy horror film.

And as for that ending, it’s been four years, and I’ve done some just like it in that time. It’s honestly a good way to close out a horror story, especially if you care about these characters. It makes the ending that much more gut-wrenching. To sum it up, I now approve of the ending.

Judgment: This is definitely a masterpiece in horror filmmaking. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Oculus a well-deserved 5. Check it out, and see the horror through the looking-glass.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. The next one in this series should be entertaining, at least. And if it’s not, at least the sequels are supposed to be betterthan the original. I’m talking Evil Dead.

Until next time, Happy Holidays and pleasant nightmares one and all.