Friday, October 23, 2015

Top 5 Horror Movies From A Guy Who Doesn't Like Horror Movies

You heard right, I can't stand horror movies.
"Has anyone seen Torgo?"

Not entirely for the reason you might suspect, which is: "Heh...I knew that guy was a sissy." In which case, you might be right.

Maybe it all started from being traumatized at a young age watching some Anthony Perkins hosted, 70s era montage show about horror movies (I was 6, and completely unprepared). Maybe it had something to do with watching "Trilogy of Terror" on Halloween, and not being able to cope with it for months (little bastard freaked the hell out of me!).

Maybe it had something to do with growing up in Maine, and the ghosts that we live with are so much more realistic, yet slightly less terrifying than anything Hollywood could produce.

The monsters that existed just outside of the glow of the flashlight?

If you grew up in the part of Maine where it's slow to catch up with the rest of the world, you know that they're there.

They've always been there.

Maybe it has something to do with with growing up with an appreciation of a proper ghost story. Regardless if it was the "Man With the Hook" story that someone always brings with them to the campfire, or any given musing from Edgar Allen Poe that we had to read in school. Somewhere along the way, I learned that what happens in your head is much worse than what happens in reality.

Maybe it's because I've been watching 'reality' unfold on a nightly basis in the form of another school shooting, another family ripped apart by violence, and somehow some straight-to-video splatter-fest seems pale in comparison.

Maybe I'm old and jaded.
Maybe I'm Keyser Soze.
...Maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot...

"Did you just use my line, Screwhead?"

Halloween Horror Nights, Haunted Hayrides, Sideshow Haunted Houses, I have never been a willing participant in things that are designed to make me scream like a little girl while making me pee myself. At best, these things do what they're supposed to do and scare the bejeebus out of least for a while...then it tends to get boring. Predictable. Mundane.

Oh, look! It's another Leatherface knock-off with a defanged chainsaw looking to use my scrotum as a murse...yeah...that's what the last one said...and the one before that...

The scary doesn't seem so scary when it's the norm. Being surrounded by a bunch of clownish, chainsaw wielding Summer Stock actors maniacs might have an initial shock value when you walk into the park, but it gets a little old when you're trying to get a funnel cake. Come to think of it, I've seen plenty of occasions (especially around the end of the night) where the actors in these horror themed parks, have more or less clocked out before their shift ends.

"Rawr! I'm going to eat your braaaaaii..wait, is that funnel cake?"

This is harmless make believe, and sometimes, it gets old. I used to feel the same way back in the Golden Age of Blockbuster; looking at all the titles in their horror section quietly muttering to myself, "seen it, seen it, boring, seen it, miss it, miss it....oh, what the hell is this? Co-ed Zombie Cheerleaders vs. Alien Vampires from Mars?"

I fear that we may have reached an epoch as far as what we, as a society, think what the boogie man looks like. Real horror is your country being bombed on a regular basis because of religious reasons. Hollywood horror is all about making money. I'm not a fan of either.

Not to say anything bad about the Horror Movie industry in general. On the contrary, from a certain point of view, it's good business. To make an instant hit, you don't need that much money. All you need are a couple of friends, a camera, a place, a few maxed out credit cards, and pure will. And whether your little horror movie is universally panned, or embraced by fandoms, more than likely, the possibility of making a decent profit is pretty high. Although it is not a guaranteed formula (from a studio's perspective), it has worked quite well, especially for a few notable first time directors.

My problem with horror movies isn't box office draw, my problem is an oversaturation of a formula that has been pervading the genre for quite a while now. My problem is that I'm seeing these travesties presented through the lens of a storyteller. Since the dawn of the "Slasher Flick", the horror movie has been less about actual horror, and more about formulaic exploitation. How many "Saw" movies do we need? How many Nightmares on Elm Street are we going to have to go through before we wake up? My problem is that Hollywood is out of ideas. I mean, it goes without saying, but nothing says, "I got nuthin', but it doesn't matter because you're going to see this turkey, because it has blood, guts and boobs, and you're going to make me stinkin' rich anyway" more blatantly than a cheap slasher flick, or a remake of a slasher flick, or a reboot of a remake of a slasher flick...

...sorry, what was I talking about?

These days, it's less about "horror" and more about "exploitation". It doesn't seem so scary when it's the norm. And that's kind of dangerous.

My problem is that the genre is at risk of becoming stagnant. Is it me, or is every other horror movie some variation on "Found Footage", or zombies, or both? Kind of like how YA Fiction has almost become synonymous with pouty vampires.

Personally, my definition of Horror falls closer in line to how Alfred Hitchcock defines it, rather than the blood-soaked, prepackaged, uninspired slaughter fest that gets cranked out year after year.

What are we up to now, "Saw 19: Jigsaw files for Social Security"?

The scariest stuff happens when things are implied. Great filmmakers know this. You want to freak the hell out of an audience? Have the action happen off screen. Leave just a little to the imagination. Did we see Mr. Blonde cut that cop's ear off? Did we see the needle go into Mia Wallace's chest? No, we didn't see it, but it doesn't mean that audiences didn't cringe, or in some cases, faint.

There needs a little left to the imagination. There needs to be a little more substance. It can't all be jump scares and zombies. Not for me.

Just to clarify, I'm not down on the genre as a whole. There are some notable exceptions that try to elevate and move the genre forward. For a while, Italy seemed to be taking the horror movie to a higher art form. These days, that distinction seems to be claimed by the Far East.

I loved Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners" and Benecio Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth". Both are genuinely scary, and wildly, giddily imaginative. Not a chainsaw or a zombie to be found in either of them (I'm presuming that there won't be any in the just released Crimson Peak either). These movies are scary, but they are gorgeous. They activate the imagination, rather than bum me out and exhaust me.

These are my top picks. These are the best horror movies, presented by someone who kinda doesn't like horror movies.

5. Poltergeist

I don't know if there's a word for it yet, but there is a handful of movies I just have to watch if I'm just flipping through the channels on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Tobe Hooper's flare for the gruesome coupled with Spielberg's trademark ability to make a movie shot from the POV of a child so friggin' terrifying, makes this an enduring classic; a nice re-invention of the haunted house story.

4. The Shining

Speaking of classics, I'm not sure if Kubrick was the originator of the slow build, but he certainly was the master. He was a photographer before he became a film director. Maybe that would shed some light on his long, unflinching establishing shots. Stephen King based this book on a trip he took to Colorado. It's also a very personal story, because he also bases the story on recovering from alcoholism. Kubrick's version to interpretation. 

Do a Google search on "meaning of The Shining", you'll see what I mean.

Here is an example of horror where the monster isn't waiting beyond the shine of your is already inside all of us, and is waiting for that right moment to wake up.

That, plus Jack Nicholson is the manifestation of nightmares.

Also, Kubrick was pretty slick at setting the tone in the trailer...*shudder*

3. The Blair Witch Project

The concept of "Found Footage" has already been established well before this movie with Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust" in 1980. However, the style never caught on, except for a few low budget Indie's, and I presume that it was done so unironically. 

So much derision has been poured on this movie. It was almost universally panned. "The shakey camera almost made me puke," one reviewer would say. "I have no idea what's going on," said another. The horror in this movie was folded in layers of fear; fear of the dark, fear of the unknown... The horror was all in these three tenderfoots slowly getting lost, and slowly losing their minds. Simple, and still effective.

Every so often, a convention or a style gets broken or turned on its ear. Up until this point every movie, including Indies, had to be shot a certain way, or else it might be mistaken as a 60 minutes segment or something; all dolly shots and what have you. Here comes a movie that was made by a couple of unknowns for almost no money, has no Hollywood stars, no soundtrack, no script, and is completely stitched together with footage shot from several different cameras. The end result confused, confounded and angered many critics, because it wasn't what they were expecting. The end result was that it was the most profitable horror movie of all time. Sheer audacity.

Flash forward another 10 years, pretty much every horror movie WITH a huge budget, WITH Hollywood stars, WITH a soundtrack has finally adopted the style, and somehow it's cool now(?)

Anyway, I've always been a fan of this movie, both in its approach, and it's ability to successfully advertise almost entirely utilizing the internet. It might be considered the first viral hit.

2. Jacob's Ladder

I...I can't even...

*takes deep breath*
*regains composure*

There is a very short list of movies I will never watch again after the first time. Mostly because the majority of them were unapologetically bad. A couple of them, including this one, I will never watch again because the subject matter, as well as the style in which it was shot, kind of hit a little too close to home in the old brain pan. I won't get into detail as to how, should I put this...???

Okay..."Leaving Las Vegas" was a pretty accurate portrayal of what it's like to slowly kill yourself, right? Well, "Jacob's Ladder" is a pretty accurate portrayal of what a bad flashback is like... of hands, who knows what I'm talking about?
Let's just leave it at that.

1. The Babadook

Yes, a relatively new one on this list. Even though I'm not a true blue fan of horror, I saw the trailer for this, and I was quite intrigued with it.

The movie did not disappoint.

Not a zombie or a vampire, or a frame of found footage to be seen any where near this thing. Yet, it still made my skin crawl, yet I still walked away from it pondering and asking questions...

Yet, I found it hard to go to sleep that night...

Believe the hype. This movie will find a way to crawl under your skin and stay there. Good stuff.

Are you like me? Are you picky when it comes to scary movies? Let me know what your list is in the comments below.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Changes, Updates, Declarations and the Future of The Writers' Bloc

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons by Liza
Yep, it's all about the change around here.

Leaves are falling, school is well under way, another year crawling to an end. 

It's the time of year where I turn my face towards the sun, reflect on where I am, take a deep breath of crisp, autumn air and think, "How the fuck did I get here? No seriously, where am I?"

Late last year, I made an almost exact replica of this blog on WordPress. Were you to ask me at the time why I made two blogs with the same name, I would have answered with full bravado, and just a tinge of desperation that I wanted to see which platform would have been better in terms of views. To say nothing that it's probably not the wisest decision in the world to do so. The initiative to self-start was so strong that I kind of blinded me to other things, such as unwittingly confusing followers and diminishing the impact of whatever I write by posting it twice. These are the lessons learned after the fact.

I wasn't thinking clearly. Then again, it's hard think clearly at all when I had another child on the way, I just got laid off, and given my age, facing the possibility of starting over again for the umpteenth time, shrank like Wilson vanishing into the horizon in Cast Away (what? I like that movie) as each day passed. Put another way, I have been in full panic mode for a while now.
"You miss me?"

Anyway, not unlike Tom Hanks giving up on his little buddy as he watches him helplessly fade away...

...sorry, need a moment...

There eventually came a point in a moment of solitude where I had to pull myself together, take a deep breath, and take an inventory of what I have. Starting with these twin blogs.

In the past couple of years, I have started 5 blogs. These days, it's down to 4; one of them is the carbon copy of this one, another one has long since been removed because it shall I put this... boring as hell, a blog for my t-shirt business that has seen it's share of hits and misses (see all those designs on the right hand side? Those are all for sale. Just sayin'), a YouTube channel and an accompanying blog. I have established myself in several social media outlets. I am poised to effectively market myself and what I have to offer.

However, given that I don't have anything tangible to sell, save for the t-shirts and stickers, what I'm offering is a tougher sale to close. Essentially, I have a bunch of shiny venues with not a lot going on. Kind of like a shopping mall where the number of "For Lease" signs are slowly taking over the number of actual stores.

"Well, what have you got?"
"I have t-shirts, and a strong desire to be Word Monkey-for hire."
"I see. So, are you an expert in your particular field?"
"I don't even have a field."
"Well that's...tragic... I'll take 2 shirts, please."

It took me a little while, but I'm closer to figuring it out...

For the record: Yes, I know about SEO. I'm far from being a guru on the subject, but I'm confident that I know more about it than some people. Yes, I understand that great and engaging content + keywords + actionable guidance = more traffic. My intentions, my main goal is to be a successful blogger so that it may facilitate in the process of landing future freelancing gigs (Yeesh, could I sound more like I'm padding a resumé? Let me try this again: ME WRITE GOOD! ME NEED JOB MAKE INCOME! NEED FOOD THIS MONTH!) .

The problem that has been staring me in the face and fogging up my glasses for years, is that the application of the SEO formula only works if you have something real to sell or services to offer. If I'm not selling, offering, promoting, or teaching, then I'm just another schmuck yammering to himself online. This is the cold, hard truth that I had to figure out on my own is that I have a t-shirt business with a handful of forgettable designs, and a few blogs that are about nothing in particular. I have been focusing more on the end product, rather than the process of getting there.

...If you need me, I'll be the crazy, unwashed dude at the end of the bar dressed in a cheesy t-shirt mumbling something about conversion optimization...

Things had to change.

I had these things in motion, these blogs. These unsharpened tools of SEO. I'll be the first to admit that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing in order to make myself more marketable however clumsily, but these things I am using needed to become more...well... useful. Things needed to get streamlined.

So, after thinking about it, I decided to keep this blog as my personal blog; A rickety old soap box that I stand on when I feel the need to reflect, bemuse, commentate, commiserate, and bitch. Also, throw in the occasional Top 5 List to... you know... keep the masses happy?

My YouTube channel and corresponding blog will more than likely be an extension of that.

The t-shirt business will be getting a better website, preferably one with a user-friendly storefront.

Which leaves my sister WordPress site...

I came to the conclusion that one of these needed to be taken behind the barn Old Yeller style.

Sorry...need another moment... damn allergies...

At least for a while. I couldn't keep the two of them. It's like owning two Starbucks on opposite sides of the street, and turning one of them into a Stuckey's because I felt the need to diversify. One of these had to go. But why get rid of one when I might be able to better utilize it in the future? So, it all came down to this: Keep this blog personal for those occasions where I need to rant. Change the name of my WordPress blog, and reserve that one as a place to write and sell my fiction. Also, as the big, swrily, fuck off obnoxious signature to my own personal declaration, I'm setting a personal goal to finally buy a domain this year.

Brilliant, eh?
It's only taken me...what...a few years to figure this out?

A sense of urgency to do this has taken over the better part of my attention these days because, as some of you already know, it's that time of year again...

It's time. 

I've been on the sidelines for years now. Which is okay by me, because, again, I had nothing to offer. I had other things on my plate. This year though, I got the ball rolling on something, and I'd like to see where it goes. I mean, for real this time, not just write a few posts and abandon it. This year, I intend to finish what I start.

This year, I am joining NaNoWriMo. My goal is to reach the lofty, damn-near-impossible-goal-for-a-noob 50,000 word level (we'll see how that goes), finally stop talking about it, and actually try to get published.

I go into this feet first and fresh faced like my first day of school. Although the rules are self explanatory, I can't help but feel that might be cheating. As of this post, I already have a head start on my manuscript of about 2000 words. The rules state that I can either start with a blank slate, or prepare in advance with tons of notes and research material. The rules say nothing about starting with a second draft of the first few pages of an you go. I can't help that it feels like cheating. But on the other hand, with the added challenge of writing a novel while being a stay-at-home dad, I'll take any Mulligan I can get.

Honestly, I'm excited. Before I signed up, I had very little knowledge about the NaNoWriMo community, other than what I could glean from authors and other blogs I follow. But after spending a few moments of getting acclimated to the site, I can't help but get the warm and fuzzies recognizing that I might be in good company. Hopefully. 

So, this is my official Declaration to commit to NaNoWriMo. I will be sharing snips, previews and maybe the occasional chapter over at WordPress, any thoughts, musings and inspiration regarding my current project will be ending up here.

I'm off to gather more research material like the squirrels that are currently tearing up my yard.

If you have a moment, or if you're interested, please subscribe to my WordPress site to keep up to date with the progress of my current project.

Hugs and Kisses...

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Steal This Post! Personal Thoughts on Originality, And Hero Worship.

I learned to play the piano at a young age.

Not that I was a prodigy or showed any sort aptitude for composition whatsoever. I wasn't born with chops. What I did have, was an ability to find a tone and mimic it, which is normal development for children. Most parents drill words into their children's brain through repetition. Mine played music. I remember sitting in the middle of the living room while my mother would tidy up with the noisiest canister vacuum on the planet. While it ran at decibels that are comparable to an average, modern day shop-vac, or leaf blower, or jet liner takeoff, it did run at a specific note. Which I would hum. Loudly. Which confused my mother at times. You know that moment when you tune an instrument, and the sonic wavelengths from the tune-e and the tuner match perfectly? Kind of like that.

Again, it's not because I wasn't that musically inclined. At first, I just thought it was kind of neat that I could sound like a vacuum cleaner, because I was toddler, and I was easily amused.

It was at that moment where it was noticed by the folks that I have this ability, and was quickly shown sheet music and my grandmother's upright piano, and given a brief lesson on finding notes on the keyboard, and how it correlated with the black dots on a page. My childhood was mostly taken up with learning the notes on the bass and treble clef, time signatures, and making sure that my left hand keeps moving.

In high school, I moved to brass instruments, and flirted with the bass guitar for a while. Childhood piano lessons took a back seat to other activities like sports, marching band, finding a part time job, girls. The interests of a teenaged me had me going in different directions, but I would never stray too far from a keyboard. Which is to say, I've gone through my "chopsticks" phase, and was quickly bored with trying to come up with something new. It wasn't that I fell out of favor with it and refused to touch one ever again, it was more like I reached a plateau, and was satisfied where I was with it. Had I the head for composition and structure, the piano and I would be bosom buddies to this day. I'd be neck-deep in librettos for Off-Broadway productions. I'd have a successful "Jingle" factory where I would teach the world to sing in perfect harmony (perfect're singing it now, aren't you? Don't deny it.) I would have collaborated with the greats. Gone Platinum. Dominated the Billboard charts. Hear Casey Kasem say my name on a weekly basis. Sadly, none of that ever happened. Unfortunately, my teenage self could never see that far, and only concerned himself with playing what was in front of him. He was more concerned with getting it right, rather than try and experiment, and play with the knowledge he accumulated.

Still though, like most habits that are ingrained into children, the need to play, or write, or sing, or express something was always there. When it came to music, I had this thing, this habit, this need to mimic something I heard; A small nugget of my toddler years that never left. It wasn't for any competition, like any sort of one-upsmanship because I had this need to be known as "That Guy Who Could Play ______" (okay... maybe it had a little to do with competition), I heard a melody, it flipped a switch in my head or something, and I had to see if I could play it. Play it, not interpret it. I understood that music was a language, and since it's important to communicate, I thought it important to at least know what I was talking about. I was a competent fake, and for a while, it was good.

To be sure, my musical knowledge wasn't completely about reading notes on a page. I did in fact branch out once and write my own song in high school (and again in college...different story). It was well received when I performed it at a school assembly, thereby forever cementing my legacy as the Nerdy Weirdo Who No One Expected Anything But Uncomfortable Weirdness From, But Surprised Everyone With A Song In The Third Act That Was So Touching That We Forgot How Nerdy He Was. You know, that old chestnut. It was a stock character used by John Hughes, I think. He used it in his movie, "Somethingsomething Teenage Embarrassment Something." Remember that one? It had Whatshisname McHasbeen in it? It had to have been from a movie, because (full disclosure) The song I wrote was based on something I heard in passing from some After-School Special soundtrack. I heard it once, caught my ear, cranked out something resembling a composition in a half an hour, and ran with it.

I hate myself sometimes...

Do they even make After-School Specials any more?

I just dated myself, didn't I?

Gahd, I'm old.

I wrote a piece of music. It wasn't groundbreaking, or unique. Its chord structure was familiar enough that it was appealing to listen to. Was it "Original"? Hardly. What is "Original" anyway? Is there such a thing anymore?

It doesn't matter if you're a novelist, journalist, musician, actor, chef, if you create, your top priority is to be "Original". Don't copy. Don't Plagiarize. Pick up the mantle that has been dropped by the ones who came before you, and take it somewhere else. Produce something that no one has witnessed before, which is understandable and fair.

But, suppose for a moment that we as a society, at this moment in time, have witnessed, well, everything? We've heard it all before, seen it all before, tasted it all before. We are all constantly searching for something new, while at the same time, not willing to give up on the familiar. There are those of us who find comfort in the old by unearthing a memory from our past, dusting it off, giving it a new coat of paint and presenting it as new. Which it technically isn't: it's an old idea made new again through the eyes of someone else. Is that original? Do we care? Is there really nothing left under the sun? Even as I write this post, I am well aware of the irony that the topic of questioning originality is itself a subject that has been pondered and postulated to death.

Go ahead and Google, "Is anything original anymore?" I'll wait...

While I'm on the subject, why do we love cover tunes...I mean...those of us who know what a cover tune is?
Oldest Daughter: (humming along to music in a commercial) I like this song!
Me: Yes, that's an old Beatles tune.
Oldest Daughter: Who are The Beatles?
This Meme Is Not Original
You have your favorite band. They play your favorite songs. You might even have a record (what's a record? Quiet, you!) of theirs that you play religiously. You see them in concert, they do their thing and all of a sudden, they play an unexpected yet familiar cover of another popular tune, and the crowd goes crazy. Why? We expect originality. We expect to hear the songs they wrote. Why do we get excited when they perform something they didn't write? Are they plagiarizing? Are we encouraging it? I performed a tune that I composed that was based on a few bars of someone else's music. Am I plagiarizing? Am I original? Do we persecute our favorite artists for performing a cover tune? Are they copying for one-upsmanship or monetary gain, or are they paying homage to their heroes?

I would prefer to think the latter.

There is outright thievery, and just to be clear, I am not one to condone such actions. There is also going through the proper channels in order to use copyrighted material. There is also Fair Use. All of which are decent subjects for different times.

Covering a tune is fine. Taking the tune, erasing the songwriter's name and adding your own is obviously poor form.

This applies to all types of writing.


Who was your hero when you were a kid? Spider-Man? Martina Navratilova? Kurt Cobain? Ralph Nader? Who was it? Why were they your heroes? There was obviously some quality about them that made you look up to them in the first place. They saved the day. They stood up for the little guy, They turned the world in its ear. They stood by an ideal. What did we say when we were children whenever we looked up to our heroes?

"I'm gonna be just like her,"

And we would go and do that thing that our heroes would do: Study, practice, jump off the roof of the garage using towels as capes, try to get bit by a mutated spider. Whatever it took, we would try so hard to be like them. Until that day finally comes where we see that we are never going to be that person. That's fact dictating that to you like some boarding school crone. However, the truth is that there is nothing in the world that stops you from being like that person. I mean, not in like wearing your roommate's clothes, styling your hair like hers, and then killing her boyfriend type of thing. It's more like taking your hero's values and incorporating them into your own life. To review: Less Stabby, More Thinky.

I'm no different.When it comes to music, I want to play guitar like David Gilmour, and wail like Bono. When it comes to writing, I want to write like Vonnegut, Bradbury, Palahniuk. I want to write dialog like Sorkin. I want to expand the boundaries of imagination like Gaiman, and Robbins. I want to write like these guys, but that day of realization came for me a long time ago. I could never be like them. Even if I could, it would be crass, rude, self-indulgent and wrong. I would achieve the exact opposite of why I started something to begin with. I will never be my heroes, and I'm okay with that. However, that doesn't preclude me from emulating them. It doesn't stop me from being like my heroes.

If there's one thing I've learned from playing cover tunes, is that it's not enough just to play note for note. You have to put your own spin on it. You have to take it further than where you found it.You have to make it your own. And by that, I mean expressing what this song means to you, which in turn will give a different interpretation. Which will in turn, make it your own. And making it your own, you've unconsciously broken your relationship to your hero. And in doing so, you have found your own style. If you are very lucky, you can become someone else's hero.

I'd like to think the same way of thinking is involved in how I write. I'd like to think I'm paying homage to my literary heroes, and not copying and pasting. It is, after all, influence; the by-product of being a hero. I'd like to think that with every story or blog post I write, there is at least a shade of Vonnegut, a hint of Bogosian, a healthy dose of Robbins; allusions to familiar melodies that I remember in passing, and making it my own. I want to write like them. It doesn't mean I want to copy them. There is a difference.

My heroes have brought me to this point.

It's up to me to carry it further.

That's the way the song goes...