Monthly Archives: August 2011

It’s Coming

Certain folks have been looking at the weather lately and are claiming that these are portents of God’s wrath. After all, hurricanes are a rare novelty on the East Coast and the only explanation can be that a deity who’s heavily invested in Congressional hijinks is really angry.

Nonetheless, they’re all watching for the wrong signs. Not me. While everyone else is looking at storms and earthquakes, I’m paying attention to the new crispness to the air. I’m noticing the red and orange and yellow tinge on the leaves of some of the trees. I can hear the grumbles of children who are soon going to be in school again. It’s coming and Fall is its herald.

And my anticipation is building, because I know what those signs mean. I know what’s around the corner. And you should be excited too, because it means this blog is about to go crazy.

Dylan Charles

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Filed under Halloween: Rock and Shock, 31 Days of Spooktacular, Spoooky Beer Reviews and More

The Rules of Horror

Horror movies exist primarily to do one thing: scare people. And, for the most part, horror movies fail in that one goal. They shock, they gross out, they startle, but they don’t truly scare. There’s nothing scary about Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. There’s nothing scary about torture porn like Hostel and the entire Saw series.

Modern horror filmmakers seem to have forgotten the fact that these movies are supposed to terrify us, not make us roll our eyes and gag. The formulaic and tired nature of slasher movies got so bad that Wes Craven wrote Scream to lambaste the tropes he helped to create. So it’s an irony that the Scream series has become a victim to the same rote formula like every other slasher series.

And the slew of viciously violent movies like Hostel and The Human Centipede are just more fuel for the fire that horror movies as a whole are culturally bereft of value and nothing more than cheap intellectual trash.

There was a point when horror movies were actually good, not just as scary movies but as films. Psycho, The Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera (the one with Mr. Chaney); these were well-made, well-written and actually scared the audiences at the time.

But after eighty years of scary movies, filmmakers seem to think that the only way to make a relevant scary movie is to get progressively more and more shocking, graphic and violent. And yet, there have been movies released in recent years that have scared the bejesus out of people with a minimum of blood and gore. Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project both used similar techniques which were effective in scaring audience members. And there have been other effective thrillers that have a similar reluctance to employ the wet stuff (The Vanishing is a prime example).

So, for all those aspiring filmmakers out there, here are a list of rules that I’ve compiled based on what genuinely scares me when I watch a movie. There are only four, so bear with me here.

1. Keep it Small Keep the cast small. Keep the location small. Keep all the strange happenings located to a house, a small town, a small patch of woods. This serves multiple purposes. If you only have a few characters, then the audience has more of a chance to become invested in the characters, and you want that. The more the audience is invested, the more they’ll care when you start killing the characters off one by one.

You also run less of a chance that the audience will become desensitized. Too much violence and they shut down and tune out. Anticipation of bad things can be as effective as the actual event. Tension is important for a good scary movie.

2. Isolation This is a rule commonly employed by horror movies, which is why so many movies are set around campsites or in that house by the lake or on some deserted stretch of highway. Cut your characters out from the herd and keep them away. Facing the abyss is scary, facing the abyss with no one to help them is terrifying.

Isolate them through geography (woods, island, desert). Isolate them with their own sanity (or lack thereof). Isolate them in the middle of a crowded city (stuck elevator, basement, sewers). Just get them alone so that no one can help them.

3. Minimize suspension of disbelief There are many, many ways to break the illusion. Audiences (generally) go into a movie to be entertained and they’re willing to suspend their disbelief to do it, but you have to help them out. It’s even more important in a horror movie, because scaring someone is about creating a mood and then sustaining it. To truly scare your audience, you can’t keep providing jump scares. You have to build dread. You have to make them fear every shadow and every movement in the corner of the character’s eye. It’s no good to provide an aura of foreboding if it’s immediately ruined by a boom mike in shot or cheesy special effects or an abrasive, obvious score.

Minimize special effects. If you don’t have the technology to pull of an effect, dial it down. Jaws was more effective when the shark was in the water. The alien in Alien and Aliens was most scary when it was in the shadows. Keep your monster in the shadows. And for the love of God, don’t use digital effects to replicate blood and gunshot wounds. Corn syrup and squibs work just fine.

Subtlety is the key here. A subtle soundtrack (or none at all), a monster who stays in the dark and a bare minimum of effects work.

4. Avoid the Tropes There are certain monsters and situations that are no longer scary. Vampires and werewolves stopped being truly scary ages years ago. They’re a fixture in pop-culture, not in the darkest recesses of your audience’s imagination. While I hesitate to say there’s no way to make them scary (Let the Right One In was creepy and unsettling as sin), it will be very hard to do since the audience will be prepared.

And you don’t want the audience to be prepared. You want them to be unsettled. You want them to be on the edge, uncertain about what’s going to happen next. You do not want them to know that silver and crosses can keep the monsters at bay.

Avoid the scary haunted mansion. Avoid the invincible slasher who can only be brought down by the plucky, perky and chaste teenage girl. Avoid the those same tired ways. We all fear the unknown. That is the one thing everyone shares in common: a fear of the lurking unknown that lives in the darkness.

Surprise us. Challenge us. Demand from us our attention. Keep us always guessing. Make us dread the next frame, for the simple reason that we don’t know what’s coming.

That is how to scare the audience. That’s the way to make a truly good horror movie.

Dylan Charles

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Filed under Horror: Movies, Books, Stories and More

Shakespeare on Common

Emily and I went to see Shakespeare on the Commons last week. Every year, folks can see the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company perform on the Commons free of charge. This year, they performed one of Shakespeare’s comedies, “All’s Well That Ends Well”. I didn’t know the first thing about it before we went, but, after a quick Google search, it turns out no-one else is either.

There were the usual shenanigans; people in disguise, puns and innuendo in huge dollops. The performers were great and it was a show I would have happily paid for. After a while, I realized I was laughing at jokes that were hundreds of years old and that there’s something incredible about that.

Getting people to laugh is one of the more difficult things a writer can do. Trying to hit those notes for a broad audience is tricky and it’s always hard to translate humor into different mediums. And humor doesn’t even travel across decades that well. Styles change, subject matter changes, what’s appropriate changes; dozens of different things that can affect how a joke lands.

And yet, here’s a guy who wrote jokes four hundred years ago and people can still get them and still laugh at them. To me, that’s far more impressive than his dramas and tragedies still working on a visceral level. It’s easy to make people cry; a murder, a lost love, a couple of deaths sprinkled into the ending. But it takes a hell of a lot more to get them to laugh and to keep them laughing for a couple of centuries.

Dylan Charles

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Filed under Pop Culturing: Movies, Books, Comic Books and Other Arts

The Newest Book

Since it’s been a while, let’s talk about the book. No, not that book. The newest one. The one that hasn’t been written yet.

I’m…extremely tentative about this one. I want this one to be perfect.  I want the table of contents to work properly. I want the formatting to sparkle. I don’t want there to be a single typo or blemish. This next book feels…important. And, if I know anything about me, I shy away from all things important.

Important decisions are to be put off to the last minute. Important events must be ignored until the day they happen, at which point one must sprint through them as briskly as humanly possible. Important emotions must be stuffed into a little box, covered with cement and then buried six feet under ground.

So I’m a little daunted by this book, is what I’m saying. I have five of the six stories that I need, because (as previously mentioned) six is a good number. And the other five stories are in need of some serious work. Well, two need serious work, two need massive overhauls and the fifth is fine. And the sixth I just started writing last night.

So it’ll be a while before the book comes out, assuming that I can get over being daunted and overwhelmed by the sheer importance of this project. This book means something to me, more than the last. The stories in my first book are part of before. I think they’re good horror and I think you should buy the book and read them, if that’s your thing.

But the stories in the next book haven’t ever been seen before. They’re new, both to me and you. They’re something I’ve never done before. They’re part of a continuous universe, a whole world that I’ve been creating over the last six months and still creating. As I type this, I’m expanding the world a little more, going beyond the boundaries I set in the first five stories.

So, I hope you enjoy it when it comes out, because these might be the best stories I’ve ever written.

So far.

Dylan Charles

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Filed under Day-to-Day: What's Going On, Events, Releases and New Things

Suspension of DisBelief

Lately, I’ve become more and more obsessed with the idea of bringing my stories into the real world. By that, I mean to blend reality and fiction. I want to smudge the boundaries between my fiction and the world we live in.

I have one or two ideas on how to do this. I want to have blog entries and photographs and graffiti on subway tunnel walls. I want the protagonist to leave an actual mark on the world. I want the reader to have trouble discerning what’s fact and what’s fiction. I want to shake people up, just the tiniest bit, so they’ll re-align what they think may be possible.

There are two plans, neither one of which I’ve set into motion. The first is smaller, a test project, to see if it’s a viable idea. It’ll only be online (for the most part). The second project will be much larger and span across multiple forms of media.

But first the little project. I need to get some things prepared before I can start it. I may link back to it from here. But I dunno about that. That would, after all, ruin the illusion.

Dylan Charles

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Filed under Writing: Novels, Stories, Blogs and Comics