Post by The Folks @ TanneryWhistle.com on Sept 30, 2003 10:44:24 GMT -5
A remember a series of lectures in an old drama class at WCU in which the instructor talked a good bit about Greek drama and the fact that although most of the great plays dealt with murder, torture and mutilation, the Greeks never resorted to simulations on stage. Rather, the terrible events occurred off stage and someone came on stage to describe it. The idea was that the unseen horror was far superior to the actual event. The challenge was in the writing. Oedipus blinds himself off stage and the act is graphically described on stage. When that marvelous lady, Medea, sends a wedding gown to her husband's new tennybopper lover, a terrified messanger (an old nurse) comes back and after retching a while describes how the young woman burned to death along with her father. (the burnt flesh broke in lumps from the bone, says the old nurse and she describes how the father and daughter became "glued together" and tore at each other's flesh. Medea smiles. "You have told good news well. I will reward you."
The same thing works for monsters, too. If you never see them, they are somehow more terrifying. No special effects has the ingenuity of the human mind. Instead of showing the horror, the great films show the the faces of people who see it. A long time ago, I did a play about the Cherokee serpent, the Uktena and since I couldn't depict a snake bigger than an ancient oak, towering above the trees, I had to use music, reaction and the madness of a fellow who saw it. I think I only scratched he surface.
I totally agree there. When you can see the monster it isn't really all that scary. I think Alien was so succesful because of all the darkness and suspense, and the occasional glimpses of the monster. Blair Witch works that principle, but obviously not entirely succesfully.
This may be changing the subject, but not entirely - I am magnetically drawn to haunted house stories. A lot of those you never actually see a monster or even much in the way of gory events, but you have a presence that is vague and threatening. I think that model of the haunted house must be somehow archetypal. Of course, they say that houses in dreams represent the consciousness. I don't doubt it . I used to be plagued by dreams of vast, labyrinthean houses, with sealed off places, infrequented rooms with bad ju-ju, and all that. I think that's the kind of thing that The Haunting, The Shining, and others like that have tapped into. Even primitive peoples, pre-dating Victorian housing, had their haunted places... Neal
Post by The Folks @ TanneryWhistle.com on Oct 1, 2003 23:34:38 GMT -5
Lewis Green, an Appalachian writer given to strange but provocative rants, once did a nice essay on what we are talking about. He said that the American ghost story has trouble with credibility because this country lacks a venerable tradition of haunted houses. He said that Europe has all of those old castles and historic buildings where the ancient dead lurk about. In America, we simply haven't been around long enough to have credible haunted houses and even the ones that might qualify will probably be razed for a MacDonalds or Wal-Mart. Well, I think that Lewis has a point, BUT we are getting there. I probably need to go back and see stuff like "The Haunting of Hill House." To tell you the truth, I didn't think that "The Other" worked...but it almost did. I mean the Nicole Kidder movie, not the one based on the Tom Tryon novel. Which brings up another point. "Harvest Home" worked, didn't it? Of course it has been cloned so many times, it is hard to get a reaction to the original story.
I am cursed/blessed with dreams about sinister houses, too. They are usually the one I live in, but it has morphed into something else with dank rooms and something big and evil lurking in the attic. A recurring theme is a raging storm that slowly destroys the house with me in it...water pouring through the roof, rooms collapsing. In these dreams, my grandparents are alive and we are all making a desperate attempt to save the house.
I've never really bought into "Amityville Horror" series. I do like horror movies that have "something buried" in the basement and the movie that had the TV channel that was linked with demon country had its moments. Blood coming out of the faucets and swarms of stinging flies are creepy, but not as creepy as a cold hand in the dark or a closed door with something revolting on the other side.
Maybe houses are just essential plot devices...a box to put the action in or a way of creating order. The little girl in "The Exorcist" is in an appropriate house, but is the house necessary? Would it have worked as well if she had been in the confessional or her 5th grade class? Gary
Post by Ol' John Brown on Nov 22, 2003 5:46:49 GMT -5
You bring up a great point.
Houses are often great plot devices. Essential? Well, maybe and maybe not but damn effective.
Why? Well, I am often wrong but I will try a theory out here.
'The Home' is looked upon, for lack of a better term, as part of one's 'safe space.' We live in our homes (duh, I know that I am saying the obvious, just bear with me) we sleep in our homes, often with the lights off -- yes, often in our homes we are even okay with 'the dark.'
BUT, we all know that darkness is a bit foreboding; and as children we may have even found the darkness in our own homes a bit scary.
So, by using a home as a plot device, both the 'safe space' is invaded and some childhood fears are played upon.
It's a double whammey! Thus, damn effective.
Back to what you can't see . . . those who as children who were afraid of the dark in their own bedroom, of course (I hope) have never really SEEN anything; it was the thoughts of what they might see any minute that caused them to either hide under the covers or run to the parents' bedroom (rudely awakening or interupting them . . . well, let's not go there, being a parent must really suck sometimes) for safety.
So, houses as plot devices can really work. If the character can't find refuge under the covers or even with Mom and Dad, or if they are 'too grown' up for either . . . what the hell is left? Whatever-it-is has invaded YOUR HOME, your safe place, the covers are of no help, Mom and Dad aren't either or you are old enough that you live 'away from them' or even worse, you are the Mom or the Dad and it is your offspring that is terrified or possesed, what to do? Where is your safe place?
This may be a key to a good horror flick!
Another key may be whether what ever is happening in the film is remotely believable or not. Special effects are great and fun; but, they often cross the point of belief. Again, this can be fun and exciting, but once the point of reasonable belief is crossed, it may have a lot of trouble in giving the viewer a true scare.
Next key or 'anti-key' - (yes, I just made that term up) blood and guts. Sure, blood and guts can be believable enough in a way but most of us know that it is dye, syrup and such. It worked okay for a while before we got used to it (or desensitized) to the point that it no longer shocks us.
This brings us to another key to a good horror flick: SHOCK! Unfortunately, it is getting harder to shock us. It can still be done but it's no longer very easy to do.
So what next for a good horror flick?
Back to Gary's point about what you can't see.
This will always be a good point for a scare.
Mystery, what we can only imagine imagining, what we can't imagine but may have to try to anyway . . . or worse, have to face.
Let's put 'em together now . . .
Helplessly facing something that one can find no refuge against (not even their own home, parents or bed covers!) that is beleivable yet not seen or imaginable -- it's unknown, knows not the conventional bounds of darkness or light and can do to you and others you are not sure what AND it can possess you, your mind, your children their minds, and others . . . this brings me back t what may be the most impotant keys to a good scare:
Helplessness and what you can't see (or have never seen) but can believe.
Well, that's one of my theories . . . What do you all think?