Thursday, March 29, 2012

What Narcissism Teaches Us

     Clive Barker’s story, Human Remains, caught my attention in a few different ways, and I’m not exactly sure where to start. I think I’ll begin with what’s eating most at my mind. Recently, numerous Facebook friends reported reading, and concurring with, a article about how men are trained to hate women. I disagreed with a lot of what David Wong says in his article, but one segment stood out me as grossly unfair: in Wong’s final point, he mentions that men are only fascinated with the female body and believe women are, too. Wong uses the supportive example of male writers focusing on a female point of view--however, Barker disproves Wong’s theory.
     In his article, Wong brings up George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I’ll confess, I have not read the series, but I really needn’t have read the books to realize Wong as misjudged his quote and that many writers are unfairly criticized for their depiction on the opposite sex. Just because a male writer describes a female character’s breasts does not mean the character thinks only about breasts or that the writer believes women always think about breasts. Comparatively, just because a male writer describes a male erection does not mean the character only thinks about his penis or that the writer believes all men always think about their penises. Wong’s ideas are ridiculous and a bit fortifying of the stereotypes our society has worked to break free from over the years.
     More specifically, Wong quotes Martin writing, “When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest ...." Compare this to Barker’s line from Human Remains: “Keen for reunion, he slid out from his skin of sheet and duvet. His body turned to a column of gooseflesh as the cold air encased him, his sleep erection hid its head.” Most men don’t always think about their penises, but this detail helps the frigid cold of the story come to life for the reader, just as the nipple irritation of Martin’s quote spoke to me when I read it. As humans, we are all sexual beings, and from time to time, we (male or female) do think about our bodies. To try to pretend women never think about their breasts would be as ludicrous and sexist as thinking they only think about their breasts. Likewise, men only thinking with their penises is a stereotypical joke for a reason--it happens, but not all the time.
     I’ve read on other blogs that some readers have problems with the grotesque details in horror stories of urinating out of fear and soiling oneself out of pain. These details aren’t necessary. The story works without them. Not everyone thinks about how dead people defecate themselves. Some do, though. I do. The creators of South Park do. The little girl in the Showtime series Shameless does. The rationalization of the biological ramifications of expiration speaks levels for a character. Either the character is morbidly humorous or completely logical (possible something else, but those are the two character branches that spring to my mind). Similarly, having a character relate to a fascination with his or her sex should speak to that specific character. If the character isn’t one to ever consider his or her genitals, yet the character does, then that’s a fault with the writing--not men’s perception of women or vice versa. A character that admits to herself, if not others, that a wool sweater is killing her nipples will be a character much more outspoken than a character that just mentions she’s wearing a wool sweater. Also, a character that claims he has a “swamp down there” as he sticks his hand down his pants to scratch his festering case of jock itch will be a lot more cocky than a character who is too dignified to really consider the burning between his legs.
     Gavin’s character worked. He was as narcissistic of a character as I’ve ever read. He thought he was so beautiful that he humbly sacrificed himself to the creature that admired his looks and life so much. Barker’s homosexuality does not interfere with the almost asexual nature of this character, just as a male writer’s sexuality should not interfere with a female character’s sexuality. Barker sets a shinning example of how a character’s thoughts and concerns should relate to his or her own personality and desires. Gavin thinks about his penis because he’s fascinated with how his own body looks. Maybe if I read the rest of Martin’s work, I’ll find flaws with the characterization, but it’s unfair to criticize Martin’s writing because he is a male writer mentioning a female character thinking about her breasts. Every person and every character is different from everyone else, and as long as the rest of the character fits, Martin has not made any unrealistic assumptions of women or humankind in general.
     Okay, so with that rant out of the way, I’d also like to discuss the monster in Human Remains. Fundamentally, this living doll is a golem (forgive me if there’s folklore that predates the Jewish legend for I’m unaware of it). Barker takes a unique and creative spin on the golem. This creature not only protects but also feeds on its master--vampiric, really. To further the originality of this story, Barker has chosen a superficial character in a superficial career, prostitution. The master only cares about his body, and the golem cares only about the master’s body. Everything regards the same theme, so this story works well. I suppose the same story could have been done in Hollywood with supermodels, but the grunginess of a prostitution ring makes this tale so much more delightfully dirty.
     The story ends on an ironic tone as the monster becomes more human than the human because it learns how to mourn--how to feel. Ending included, I enjoyed the story thoroughly. I should also point out that I respected the informative scene where the golem describes itself. It claims that it is the only one of its kind that it’s aware of, that it’s done this numerous times before, that sometimes it’s challenged and defeated, that it never dies. This revealing was enough for me to feel satisfied with an explanation yet yearn for a just a bit more, which is a fantastic place to leave readers fixating over a story after reading it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Oh, The Things You'll See

I had never seen The Thing before. I messed up and rented the new film and watched it before I watched my borrowed copy of the original. Apparently, the new one isn’t just a remake; it’s a prequel. Oh well, I know that now, but I wonder if that affected some of my viewing experience (i.e. Nauls’ earring and the mystery of whether he was human or alien).
For some reason, I have avoided these movies. I’m not sure why--maybe, I had the wrong impression of them. They seemed more like sci-fi, alien-with-tentacles movies, and although I suppose they were, the alien had demonic attributes. In fact, the creature that merges in the prequel and becomes the conjoined burned corpse in the original resembles twine guards that become cenobites in Hellraiser Bloodline. The alien in The Thing was extraterrestrial, but it did not necessarily behave in an animalistic or even general alien manner. This pleasantly surprised me, finding an alien that seemed to be branching off mutilated limbs and skinless skulls just for the sheer thrill of terrifying its victims.
The setting in The Thing is important, an isolated scientific command post in Antarctica. The isolation and cold create a sense of anxiety, helplessness in viewers. I immediately think of and compare this to Silent Hill, Storm of the Century, Phantoms, and The Shining. However, I liked those settings more. They seem more gothic--abandoned human structures shrouded in darkness (or in the Stanley Kubrick’s version, shrouded in an abundance of light). The command post in The Thing seems too remote and unfamiliar to me, so I don’t get the chills as much. In these other stories, venturing into an abandoned small town or a resort gives me something I’m familiar with but takes me out of my comfort zone. These examples are like being in a school after dark. During the day, students understand that setting, but at night, it’s unfamiliar and leaves itself open to numerous possibilities. On the subject of schools, Lady in White is one of my favorite examples of atmosphere--a dark, empty school on Halloween. This film takes place in the 60’s, but the details are right, the decorations feel authentic, and the air is filled with tension and stale dust. Even though it’s not surprising and the effects are cheesy when a ghost comes out to play, I still get chills every time the protagonist gets locked in the coat room of his classroom because I can imagine myself in that situation and feel the anticipation of what I might witness.
Both versions of The Thing offer a similar scene--everyone playing and drinking in a rec room--and I suppose that was enough to familiarize me with the whole location. And despite the settings I didn’t care for as much, the movie was done so well that I didn’t mind; I enjoyed investigating the abandoned Norwegian outpost (even though I’d seen the prequel), and discovering the mini spaceship under the storage room outside. However, this setting just doesn’t lend itself as well to horror as abandoned public areas. For another example, I think of the Resident Evil series. In most of the games, you start in a residential/public area (a mansion, a city, a police station, etc), but after some time, you progress to a scientific research facility. I suppose this relates to the story and the plot, but sometimes I wish things could just stay in the original settings because I like them more. Maybe that’s part of why I like Silent Hill more than Resident Evil, as you progress, you progress into even creepier, yet still familiar, areas (private homes, amusement parks, boardwalks). Regardless, I’m sorry I’ve waited so long to see The Thing. I think this probably would have inspired me had I seen it when I was younger.
Since I’ve mentioned video games, apparently there’s a The Thing video game sequel to the movie--has anyone tried it? Also, a new Silent Hill is out and another one is due out within the month. Downpour is getting mixed reviews, but I’ve never met a Silent Hill I didn’t love. As for the one that’s still due out, it’s for PS Vita, and although I love Silent Hill, I cannot justify handing over the bucks for a new system just for one game.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"...I am quite dead."

     Although werewolves are some of my favorite monsters, the movie version of The Wolfman has never been a favorite of mine. Even the remake seemed to be a let down. I think the Oedipal connotations didn’t work for me. The movie always seemed more about sending a message of sons dethroning fathers rather than presenting horror; the story was put second to the message, and the message wasn’t that clever. This novelization, however, seemed to steer away from that message, present more demonizing aspects of the werewolf curse, and focus on the insanity of the father. I enjoyed this novel, and it gave me more respect for the movie. Plus, I had forgotten how much I love the line “Look into my eyes, Lawrence, you’ll see that I am quite dead.”
     I suppose werewolves can represent the bestial Id within a person, but The Wolfman runs that idea further and delves into Freud’s theories. Lawrence and his father apparently fight for the mother’s love, and Sir John’s Id murders her. Then, Gwen enters the picture (whom I always related to a secondary mother figure), and the Oedipal problems arise again. This time Sir John’s Id kills his son. Everything spins out of control until the end when Lawrence and Sir John fight for supremacy. Although werewolves lend themselves to this story, I always felt the underlying messages cheapened the greatness of the tale.
     In this novel, as opposed to the films, Sir John’s insanity is brought out, or at least I didn’t notice it so much until this reading. Sir John never meant to kill his wife, and that drove him mad. In the films, I always felt he, at least halfway, killed her deliberately. The same with Lawrence’s brother. In this book, thoughts, actions, and details were drawn out more, so I got more of an impression that Sir John had lost his sanity, and reason to live and let his inner beast have control, compared to the movie where I felt he was fighting to be an alpha wolf.
     The religious descriptions given in this book worked well. Although I never felt that in the movie the werewolf curse was anything more than a disease spread by bite, the book made me think that although it may have been like a disease, the curse was demonic in nature. This made the werewolf even scarier. For an overdramatic comparison--there’s being chased by a rabid dog (maybe realistic and scary in its own way) and then there’s being chased by Cerberus (a bit unrealistic but mysterious and more terrifying). A werewolf bred from a biological issue is not as scary as one bred from ungodly energy, at least not to me. The movies do not use such religious undertones. Instead, they rely completely on the superstitions of the gypsies, and those superstitions even seem to be heresy compared to the actuality of the werewolf disease--they don’t really provide any insight or help in dealing with the problem. Making the wolfman demonic makes this story more terrifying.
     This story is a classic. The wolfman is a monster legend, and I love him. Even though I loved bits and pieces of the movies, those versions of this story never really satisfied me. Reading this book has reminded me why I like the wolfman and the potential monsters have. I look forward to rewatching the remake to see if I notice any more differences or if I have remembered the story incorrectly.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hey, Alien, You've Got Something on Your Back

Alien is classic. It holds high ranks in popular culture, science fiction, and horror cannons. Although at times I wish the creature looked a little less human and wish the tongue-mouth was a bit more pragmatic, this monster is a star example of how monsters should be focused on in movies and books. Even though this movie was made over thirty years ago (causing effects to be a bit dated) the scarce attention drawn to the alien keeps the creature looking realistic and terrifying even today. Viewers are given a few split-second full shots of the alien and a few more quick close ups, but the camera is never focused on the monster long enough for viewers to find flaws. When shots are given of the monster, viewers are then too focused on the creature’s actions to spend any time dissecting for faults. 
I’ve heard the creature was partially influenced by insects, and I can see that. Besides the cocooning, eggs, and parasitical spiders, the movements and actions of the mature monster remind me of dealing with an insect. In the case of wasps and exceptionally large spiders, I always feel excessive anxiety because they are so unpredictable. The alien was similar. Take the end for an example--it’s on the escape vessel with Ripley, and it’s lying on its side, sticking its tongue in and out. At first, I thought that didn’t make any logical sense, but then I realized that crazy insects act the same way: running into walls over and over, crawling in circles, sitting still for hours. The alien successfully evoked the same anxiety as an insects, an anxiety that most monsters have not brought out in me because they incorporate too much human intelligence into the creature.
I need to mention H.R.Giger, his art, and the similarities between Alien and Rawhead Rex. At first, it’s difficult to see a connection; however, after looking at Giger’s uncensored art, the fact becomes obvious that he incorporates a lot of genitally into his creations. Regarding the alien, I’d like to point out the phallic shape of the head and the long hard rods extending from the back. These notions had me analyzing the film during this viewing more than I ever have before. 
Two scenes really stuck out to me: when the alien’s tail begins to fondle Lambert’s leg and when the robot dies. In regards to the first scene, check out this deleted scene. I think the positioning of the alien’s tail really says it all when comparing the alien to Rawhead.
The other scene, when the android dies, has always bothered me, but I’ve never grasped why. I knew it was something with the blood. For some reason, I related it to curdled milk and found it disgusting to see the gunk covering the robot’s face and the liquid spewing from out of its mouth. During this viewing, I could not help but think of something else, something that has stemmed from a Japanese term (ぶっかけはおいしいだよ)--definitely holds some similarities with Rawhead’s actions in the church and his baptizing of the priest.
I don’t know if Ridly Scott necessarily intended the sexual connotations throughout this movie, but after this viewing, I think it’s hard to deny their existence. Regardless of accepting or criticizing these connotations, the movie and the monster hold up even thirty years after the making. This film is a shinning example of what horror creators are out there to do.
On a final note, I look forward to Prometheus. I’ve read that even though it’s not a direct sequel, it will touch on the origins of the “Space Jockey,” which is something that has crossed my mind on more than a few occasions. Thirty years after the original, Ridley Scott returns, and I’m excited!