29/10/2014

The Orphanage- Use Sceptics to your Advantage

And here comes the big fix. A film that is so emotional, so intense, and so true to its roots. And it is far more than just a horror film- it is a film about motherhood, a film about childhood, about innocence, about the powers of our imaginations. This film is a masterpiece without a doubt.
It is the story of a mother, called Laura, who returns with her husband and son to her childhood home- an orphanage. As time goes by, her son starts to talk about some imagined friends, friends that Laura and her husband ignore as nonsense. But after her son, Simon, disappears, the real horror begins. Or is it just her imagination?
Short summaries like this one don't do the movie any justice. It is one of those movies that one just has to see for himself/herself. But I wanna talk about one of the things that make this movie so powerful, so full of horror and terror and suspense and dread. The movie has the sceptic character(s).
In this movie, we begin with all of the characters except for Simon as sceptics, but as the movie advances Laura also starts to believe. Yet, the others are sceptics. And those sceptics are important, as they give this movie to edges on movies without sceptics.
Firstly, sceptics leave our protagonist with no choice but to try and figure the truth by herself. She has no one else to ask for help, as after all nobody really believes her. The cops say that it is bullshit; her husband says that she starts to get mad, and the only ones who believe her are the paranormal experts, which doesn't make the situation any better.
But secondly, and far more importantly, is that this sceptic helps us to keep our suspension of disbelief. And why is that? Because through the sceptic(s) the director tells us that "yeah, it is quite strange, it does seem really farfetched". And when the director acknowledges that, it is far easier for us to believe in what we see, or at the very least to stop saying to ourselves- "Oh, this is just too strange to be real".
And when we're dealing with the supernatural, the combination of these two things is a huge edge that we can give to our games. Have in your Cthulhu game a cop who thinks that what the PCs are saying is crap. Have a friend of the PCs, in your World of Darkness games, dispute their theories. And suddenly, they will be inclined to work harder, because there's no one else to do the job, because if it is strange to the world inhabitants it is really strange and thus easier to believe, because of the disputer is close to the PCs the players will want to prove it to say to this friend of them: "A-ah, see? That is real!"

And that's it for today. How about you? What have you thought about this movie? And what did you learn from it?

28/10/2014

Salò- Horror through Beautiful Scenery

I want my time back. Like seriously I want my time back. This film is supposed to be a controversial art film, but I don't know. Maybe I'm just not ready for films like this, or maybe it is just a matter of me being close to this subject matter. OK, not this exact subject matter, but I think that you know what I mean.
Anyway, it is a movie about 4 sick fascist libertines, in the North Italian region, and the ways they torture 18 teenagers, 9 boys and 9 girls. It is suffice to say that it is not a movie for those with a light stomach. For 120 days, the fascists torture them in about every dreadful way imaginable and finished with a Waltz and no punishment. Pasolini wanted it to be a social commentary. For me it is a sick flick that shouldn't have been made.
But, being made, and held to such a high regard by some directors and film critics, and being a part of my October Horror Movie Challenge (number 24), I have to pick a lesson from it. And what can I say, it is quite hard to pick one because there aren't many things to pick from this movie. But I picked one anyway.
When the film opens, we quite early get some glimpses of Northern Italy. We see some beautiful houses, some nice skyline and rivers, and we even see some nice small and big trees. The scenery is just beautiful. Way too beautiful. Even the house where the teens will spend their next 120 suffering for no reason whatsoever, even this house is beautiful from the outside, and has some merits in the inside.
This is made by purpose, because through this beauty of the outside world, and its contrast to what lies and happens within, we get a feeling of an evil world that doesn't care for those teens at all. Even the huge amount of statues, all of them religious statues, is there to advance this world. "The world is sick", Pasolini tells us, "and even though such horrible things are happening in this house, no one in the world cares, the world just continues with its usual affairs".
When we GM horror games, especially cosmic and other fifth level horror games, this contrast can add so much to our games. Because the power of this level comes from the realization that the world is an evil, uncaring and cold place, using this contrast can help us so much. The beauty is just a façade, terrible things lie beneath, and the world doesn't care, it continues to be beautiful, it continues to do nothing to prevent it.

Have you watched this move? What have you thought about it? And what lessons did you take from it?

27/10/2014

Society- Please don't Break the Contract between us

There are two types of bad movies- those that are bad from the beginning, and thus you can laugh at them, and those that start good and then turn really crappy. This movie belongs to the second, much disappointing group.
In short, this is the story of a young man who thinks that he doesn't belong to his family. Slowly but surely he starts to find the truth, while it seems that the whole world is against him. At the end, when the truth is finally revealed, Yuzna tries to pass some social commentary. While the message gets to us, the execution is a bit… way too much over-the-top, and that's without mentioning the "fart-jokes" of the end. Too bad, it opened way too good to be campy, it is just a disappointment.
But, like always, there's something to learn from this movie. There's something that the movie does right, or otherwise I wouldn't have been this disappointed. And what the movie did right was to question my understanding of the situation- am I really seeing that something isn't right, or is it just the protagonist's imagination.
Throughout most of the film, Billy visits a psychiatrist. This gives us the possibility to ask ourselves: who really is the madman in this movie? Is Billy the madman, or is he the only sane person in the world. He himself questions what he sees, and time after time Yuzna disputes his protagonist's theories.
And it is so powerful. Because not only are we afraid for Billy, who might be sane and thus in real danger, we also fear that he really is mad and thus he might hurt all the other people in his disturbed world, people who only tried to help him. What Yuzna does at the end, though, is to throw all of these possibilities and fears out of the window, picking a lazy (even though much more social-stingy) solution. For an example made right, I'll have to point you to the great Buffy episode Normal Again (season 6 episode 17). But yeah, Society…
What can we learn from this failure? First of all, that sometimes we can't give both social commentary and a satisfying ending. And as we first of all game and only later try to say something, the game is more important (unless stated so from the beginning).
Bu secondly and far more importantly, if we have built something good, please don't let it fall. Because disappointment is a breaching of the contract between us people, players and GM(s). And this contract is far more important than shoving a message into our ears and brains.

With that out of the way, I wanna hear you. What have you thought about this movie? And what have you learned from it?

26/10/2014

Dead Ringers- The Importance of Identification

And here comes Cronenberg to the rescue. Dead Ringers is one of those movies that I waited to see for some years, now. And it did not disappoint. I left it amazed and emotionally disturbed, which means that he succeeded with achieving his goal. Unsurprisingly, it is considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces, ranking among the greatest Canadian films ever made.
It is, to say the least, the story of two twin gynecologists, who are far closer than they look (and it's quite hard, being played by the same actor) yet so different from each other. T is the story of their collapse, of them losing all that they've worked for. It is a story about brotherly love. And it is one of those films that one has just to see for himself/herself.
And because of being such a great cinematic masterpiece, it was extremely hard for me to pick a lesson from this movie. Not because there weren't many (or even any), but because there are way too many things one can learn from this movie. But hopefully I picked the right one*.
In the last couple of scenes in the movie, we see Beverly kills his brother Elliot. A few seconds later, we cut to Beverly waking up and he calls and cries. He doesn't look on his brother, he doesn't really see him in this stage. He is vulnerable, he is crying and sobbing, he is human. And even though we remember what he did, that he killed his brother with gynecological tools for mutant women, we can't not feel for him in this scene, we cannot not like him.
And that's a great lesson for the Personal horror GM- always ensure that the players will be able to feel for, to like, to identify the characters, the PCs. As long as they feel for their characters, they will be able to feel the personal horror, because they'll feel that they do it, or at the very least that they can do it given the same circumstances. But without this ability to identify with the characters? They'll just be in shock, they won't feel the true personal horror.
And that's the whole truth, actually. The feeling for and the identification with the characters is the thing that enables the personal horror genre, and if one needs to spend more time before going all horror, or to show vulnerability after a terrible murder, so be it. The identification will give you the reward; the identification will give you the horror.
How 'bout you? Have you watched this movie? What have you learned from it? And what have you thought about it afterwards?




* I did want to talk about how to treat your subject matter, but AveryMcdaldno did it so much better.

25/10/2014

Hellraiser- How Not to Use Gore

Ok… yeah… emm… I'm trying to think but words fail me. So I'll just say it plainly: "Hellraiser was shit." How shiity was it? Well, Ebert said it best, when paraphrasing King's remark about Clive Barker: "…but I have seen the future of implausible plotting, and his name is Clive Barker." True, Ebert did make a few mistakes recounting the plot, but it doesn't really matter, it doesn't make the plot any better, and the pace is bad no matter how you look at it.
It is a movie about a man who made a deal with a Rubik cube or something, and due to this pact he dies. Then his ex-lover kills people so he'll get his flesh back. Also- some ugly demons who were supposed to look interesting or something, especially the something part. One of them looks campy, with his sunglasses, but that's as close as it gets there.
Truth is, most of the lessons to learn from this movie have already been covered, only here we learn them as things not to do, as common pitfalls or whatever. But there is something that we can learn from this movie that I haven't covered: Appealing to the disgust factor.
 You see, this movie is just disgusting. There's no better way to phrase that, or even to describe it. It ain't scary, ain't anything else. It was a disgusting movie, plain and simple. And one couldn't even say that it was being disgusting with a purpose. It was disgusting for the sake of being disgusting. It had a man that eats insects. Why? God knows. We later see him return and we learn that it was supposed to be some kind of foreshadowing or something, but it was a lazy kind of foreshadowing. It was the kind of foreshadowing that leaves you with a sour taste. And this one was the one with a "purpose".
Stephen King once wrote that if he can't terrify he horrifies, and that if he can't horrify he goes to the revulsion side of the spectrum*. I say something else: If you can't terrify and you can't horrify, please don't do horror, it might be better to all of us.
And I think that I'll leave this movie here, alone and (hopefully) forgotten. Maybe one day I'll find the way to get my time back, or just thee opportunity to ask Barker (or King) what crossed his mind when making this movie (or complimenting Barker).
How about you? Have you watched this movie? What have you taken from it? And what have you learned?




* I can't say that I like King's terminology, but it is a topic for another post, for another day.

24/10/2014

Day of the Dead- Have Yourself a Little Bub

I don't think that it will come with any surprise, that I found Day of the Dead amazing.  Truth be told, it is not on the same level of his earlier two zombie flicks, but it is not surprising. The first two films were (and still are) groundbreaking, satirical, amazing, among the best the horror genre ever came to be. Those films weren't just great in their own genre, but among the entire world of cinema. Day of the Dead doesn't have a chance against this, but truth is- it doesn't make it any less good. It is still a treasure trove of the genre, and it still has a lot to teach us.
In short, in this iteration of the series, we follow a group of humans, some of them civilians and some of them soldiers, and we see how humanity collapses due to a lack of real communication. Like with most of Romero's films, though, the zombies are there in the background and not much more, and this sets them apart, shows why they received such high remarks, why they are still being imitated throughout the entire world.
But we're not here for a lesson about the movie industry, and as such is the case I wanna move towards the GMing side of the things. Because, like I said a few days ago, most older horror movies which still hold their charm have something to teach us, positively, or otherwise they wouldn't be as scary as they are. And with this film, we have a great lesson to take.
Somewhat towards the middle of the film, we are first presented with Bub. Those who have watched the film know by now to where I'm going with this, but still… Bub is a thinking zombie. It has a brain, some feelings, a sense of an earlier life; it even enjoys listening to music. And Bub raises the level of the film by so many ranks.
And Bub is an amazing takeaway, because we don't expect to see, to meet, to encounter a thinking zombie. We don't expect to feel something for one of the monsters. And yet, we do. So many blogs and GMing books will talk about giving the goons and mooks a face, maybe even many faces. Most of them don't ask you to give the mindless monsters a face. They're just cannon fodder. But when you will give those mindless monsters a face, and a brain, you get so much more. Because when Bub salutes the "evil" soldier, after shooting him to death, one can't stay calm, uncaring, unfeeling. One only has the ability to look in amazement, to feel. And that's the power of Bub. So have yourself a Bub also.

How about you? Have you watched this movie? What did you take from it? And what have you thought about it?

23/10/2014

Re-Animator - Adding Just a Tiny Bit of Humor

I don't like Stuart Gordon's adaptations of Lovecraft. Here, I said it. They are just so bad, so… they're just bad. This time, he does his best, giving us a trashy film done professionally. But that's about all I can say for this bizarre movie, too much for most of us' appetites.
In the movie, Herbert West is transformed into the early eighties, with that time's weird sense of fashion and strange ideals. I might have exaggerated a bit there, but the movie doesn't take itself too seriously either. Herbert messes with the dead, granting them "life" with a strange serum. Then we got much nudity, gore and something that is supposed to be some characters to identify with.
But I guess that I have to say something in its favor, or at least I need to find something to learn from it. After all, if I found something to learn from the terrible Braindead, I must find something to learn from this re-animated dead flick. And what can I say? It got a weird sense of humor.
Humor, from quite an early stage, was associated with the horror genre. When the movie is built around tension-and-release moments, doing the "release" part right is mandatory. And one of the greatest release-mechanisms ever? Why of course, it is the infamous humor.
And that's the lesson to learn from this movie- use humor, but use it well. The reason that the head-on-a-stick is so funny is that it comes just after so much seriousness and villainy, and suspense and so much more. After being serious for far too long for this movie's level, it just comes with a childish joke, breaking the ice, the statues, and our ability to take this movie seriously.
So, I don't know if I succeeded with explaining what I meant. Truth is, this movie's sense of humor is so hard to explain also. But yeah, use humor, it might be what you're looking for your "tension-and-release" cycle.

How about you? Have you found this movie any good? And what have you learned from it?