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Pissing in the Horror Pool

Posted on 2006.03.25 at 16:57
Justine Musk recently posted a very humorous excerpt from Nick Kaufmann's review of a slasher movie.

I not only loved Kaufmann's plot summary and coinage of the "Omnipotent Villain Syndrome"(DSM VI, anyone?), but his "by the numbers brutality" line. Reminded me of the title of one of my favorite Police songs, "Murder by Numbers." Now why hasn't anyone used that for the title of a novel? Sounds very Michael Connelly. Why have I been working so hard at writing horror? Silly me, I could be making movies. I don't need to know anything about the human condition. All I need a big-breasted woman with loud lungs, sharp pointy objects, and gallons of corn syrup dyed with red food coloring. Sigh.

This "renaissance" of slasher and "survival horror" movies in all their minimal permutations, threaten to be the pin that bursts the balloon, rupturing the resurgence of horror popularity. Those ancients among us will remember what happened to horror in the early nineties. The glut of slasher sameness was like pissing in the pool too many times, until even the diehard gorehounds would no longer take the plunge. I see the same thing happening in horror novels, where the haunted house cliche is just as overdone. The only author I've seen make it fresh and vital in a long time is Doug Clegg, who is a master at reinventing standard yarns and giving them new life. Same goes for the five hundred vampire novels published a year. Why has that sub-sub-genre never turned to ash? I'll admit, I've always wanted to write a vampire novel, but instead of jumping up and saying, "Hey, I could do that and make a quick buck," I shrink away in horror because the challenge of creating something truly original, with a clear, powerful vision is so daunting. Poppy Brite rose to the challenge, and love her or hate her, she brought something fresh and vital, baroque, brutal and obsessive to the mythology. Has anyone read Doug Clegg's "Priest of Blood?" It's an immense departure from the Vampire norm, a sword and sorcery epic that threads the vampire theme through the Crusades, and takes you into a phantasmagoric kingdom of the dead. It's like stepping into a Frank Frazetta painting, with heavy nods to the weird tales of Robert E. Howard. Absolutely brilliant. But what really makes it work? It has compassion for its characters, a richly textured story, and most important it has a philosophy.

Slasher is far too easy. You don't even need a scream-play. What really rubs my fur the wrong way, is the variation on the theme--the front-row-seat torture film, where an inane group of "have sex and die" teenagers or a cliche middle-America family with overbearing father and slutty daughter, end up tortured for the last third of the film. There is a slimy urban basement, tables full of gleaming saws, drills, carving knives, blow-torches, etc, and the entire film up until the victim gets strapped down and mutilated, is just a cellophane wrapper on a nasty, bloody cough drop. The first two acts are little different from the dialogue that sets up a porn movie. Often there's only two acts, inane setup and torture. Why bother with the setup at all?  It's all about the penetration and the (blood) money shots. Some of the more "clever" films try to put you in the POV of the sadist, inditing the audience as participants in the crime. But it's a silly ploy considering how few members of the audience could kill and pluck a chicken, much less gut and dress a deer, without running to the toilet and vomiting. Same goes for porn. How many porn fans could last two minutes with the double and triple penetrations, and how many men would really want their girlfriends wailing and shaking silicone sacks and blowing white bubbles in their faces? Nasty.

Why has Lovecraft endured for eighty years? Why do his visions of the outre and the abject leave us trembling in the dark? Why do Stephen King's "The Stand," "The Shining" and many other works of his go through countless reprints? For that matter, why did he win the National Book Award for lifetime achievement? How does Clive Barker get under our skins and stroke our minds, leaving us shuddering, aroused and gasping with wonder? Why do Cronenberg's movies so unsettle our sense of reality that we are forced to re-contextualize our own view of the world? Think back to those wonderful lines in Cronenberg's masterpiece, "Videodrome," where James Wood's character, Max, has lunch with the old porn mogul, Masha.  Here's how she explained the power of the truly transgressive:

Max: "Why do it for real? It's easier and safer to fake it."
Masha: "Because it has something that you don't have, Max. It has a philosophy, and that is what makes it dangerous."

Let this be the battle cry of those of us who love horror. Give Horror a philosophy. Keep Horror dangerous. (Substitute "Art" for "Horror"–the message is just as true in a broader context.) Transgression is more than masturbation. Horror, like sex, starts in the brain, not the crotch. Even in darkness, let us be illuminators of the human condition.


(Anonymous) at 2006-03-28 16:35 (UTC) (Link)

- MM
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