Tag Archives: horror fiction

31 Days of Spoooktacular: Portrait of a Slasher Movie

The slasher movie is, by far, one of the subgenres of horror that most sticks to a formula. And here is the formula:

Pre-Credits Kill+Character Introduction+Cat Scare*+Minor Character Killed Off+Pointless Drama/Comedic Scene+Secondary Character Killed+Hero(ine) and Killer Meet-Up+Hero(ine) Triumphs+One Last Scare=Slasher Movie

This is, for the most part, how every slasher movie plays out. You have the pre-credit sequence kill, which is either part of the back story or is set in modern day and sets off the chain of events. This is where you’ll see characters defiling graves or having sex when they should have been paying attention or telling stories around a campfire about the killer. If this is a sequel, this is where you’ll most likely see a character from the previous movie get killed off (see Friday the 13th Part 2 or Scream 3).

Then comes the cast introduction. During this point you’ll see a barrage of cliches come at you. Don’t worry! Most will be dead in 90 minutes. This is also the point where you’ll meet an ancillary character. Now, the ancillary character can fulfill numerous roles. They’re the Red Herring: “Who’s that?” “Oh that’s crazy Bob, he lives in the woods where we’ll be camping!” The Red Herring will show up lurking, here and there, through-out the movie and then will end up dead at the three-quarter mark.

There’s the Small Town Sheriff. He will say, in one form or another, “Those damn kids!” before the movie is over. Though he’s going to be an asshole throughout the entire movie, he’ll most likely show up toward the middle or end and seem like he’s going to do something to affect the outcome and give the audience false hope. He’s actually going to be murder fodder and everyone’s hopes are dashed.

There’s the Doomsayer. He (or she) is an old and crusty oldtimer who knows more than everyone else, but will be completely dismissed as being either old, crazy or both. The Doomsayer can also play the part of The Red Herring. It’s a toss-up to whether the Doomsayer will show up beyond the Introduction.

Then there’s the Cat Scare. The Cat Scare is when a character hears a noise, goes to investigate and finds a cat. It is almost ALWAYS a cat. And it’s always a cat that has somehow ended up in a cupboard. I have owned numerous cats, but they rarely ended up in cupboards.

Right after the cat scare, Minor Character death. The Doomsayer is a good choice for this, but sometimes it’s the gas station attendant or the lonely hitchhiker or any person who is not one of the fresh young teens.

Then you have the pointless drama and light-hearted comedy to trick you into thinking that that this movie is more than nubile young people being offed with chainsaws.

This is when the secondary characters start dying, one by one and, depending on how many characters there are, depends on how long this process will take.

After all the non-essential personnel are removed, the hero or, more frequently, the heroine meets up with the monster. If the monster is masked, this is where he’ll be de-masked. If the killer is actually the boyfriend, long lost-brother or the mother of a deformed little boy who drowned in the lake, this is where the shocking twist is revealed.

After the Killer is dispatched, the Hero(ine) and her/his Boyfriend/Girlfriend walk away from the body. Then the body moves, or the little boy comes out of the lake or the second killer steps out of the shadows or the Hero(ine) turns around with a crazy look in her eyes and you know SHE’S the killer now. This is the Final Scare. It can be either followed with a re-assuring shot of the Hero(ine) waking up or a freeze-frame of the Final Scare.

Bam. You don’t ever need to watch a slasher movie ever again. Because you just did. All of them.

-D-

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31 Days of Spoooktacular: The Learning Curve (Part 2)

A few months ago I talked about reading older horror authors in order to see what had come before and learning from it. Just reading modern work is like reading the stuff that came before, but diluted, with six degrees of separation. You’ll see a little bit of Matheson and Lovecraft in a Stephen King novel, but it’s not the same thing as reading Matheson or Lovecraft.

The next author I chose was Robert E. Howard. Now, for the few of you who recognize his name, probably know that he created Conan. But you might not know that he was best friends forever with Lovecraft and that they cribbed from each other’s works.

I was not as enthralled with Howard the horror author as I was with Howard the Conqueror. His horror loses some of its punch because of his heroes. He’ll write a scene of depraved horror that will give you chills, vicious, awful stuff that surprised me with its vivid graphic-ness. But, in the middle of this scene, he plunks the square jawed hero, unflappable even in front of the frightful, mind-bendingly terrible. When the hero is in control almost at all times, it robs the scene of its fear. To be fair, not all of his stories featured Conan Lite running around, but his heroes were generally of sterner stuff than the average man and would triumph over their foes more often than not.

To me, horror succeeds better if there’s the potential for loss, if you honestly believe that the main characters are in peril. Stephen King knows this. That’s why he’ll lovingly describe a character’s backstory for ten pages and then off them unceremoniously. You have to believe that failure is possible, that it really might be curtains for the protagonist.

In terms of detail and fear soaked scenes of blood-curdling drama, Robert E. Howard gets an A+. For stories that are truly frightening, a B? That seems harsh. The man made Conan! But, in the long run, I think I learned a lot more from Matheson than from Howard.

-D-

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Learning the History

If there’s one thing that I’m particularly weak on, it’s my horror history. I don’t read a lot of horror to start and I read even less of the older examples of the genre. Sure, I’ll pick up some pulps or read more Lovecraft than can fill the forgotten tomb city of R’lyeh, but for the most part I stick to mysteries and detective novels and anything written by Stephen King.

But I think it’s long past time for me to go back to the old classics and relearn the old ways. I started with Lovecraft, because he is a compelling author, if stylistically repetitive after awhile. The more I read him, the more I like him and the more unnerving his stories are.

And then I went to Bradbury, because  he writes some truly chilling, relentless horror under the guise of Sci-Fi. “The Long Rain” and “Mars is Heaven!” are two of his creepier stories. “The Long Rain,” in particular, makes me want to curl into a ball and just stop reading. It seems never to end, much like the Venusian rain.

And now I’ve moved onto Richard  Matheson. Matheson, unlike the other two, is a writer with whom I’m only vaguely familiar. I’ve read I am Legend and I’ve read one or two of his short stories before, though only a few I’d call horror. But I picked up an audiobook recently of his horror works and he is a writer of singular tenacity. His usual M.O. involves an individual and then the slow, tearing down of that individual; a thorough dissection of them, either through their own idiosyncrasies or through external events beyond their ability to withstand.

It’s painful to sit through some of the stories, because they grind slow, but exceedingly fine and on some levels, they’re capable of making me uncomfortable and uneasy.

And I’m learning from him, learning about things that I can take away and add to my own fiction. It’s those little pieces that I’m looking to take away, to add to my abilities and tools as a writer.

And I think I have an idea.

-D-

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