Can you learn to love horror?

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“STEM” by Austen Mengler

I have had a few people in my life ask me about my love for horror in arts. I am not going to write about people who share my interest but about those who have seen or read a few horror stories but did not like them (or even resented them). Some of them have this idea that there must be something wrong with me enjoying stories that they find repulsing and unpleasant. Then, out of curiosity or real interest, they ask me to recommend them a good horror movie (or a story) that would help them understand why I think horror is such a great genre. I feel like this is such a tricky question as I have to ask myself if someone who does not naturally incline towards art horror can learn to truly enjoy it. Sure, one can probably learn to appreciate some aspects of horror movies or literature, for example, well written characters or a storyline. But can they truly learn to appreciate and love the emotion that such images of horror provoke?

I find this to be less than believable. I think that one has to be simply born with it. It seems that people who ask for such recommendations expect to suddenly fall in love with the genre, they expect to become enlightened, or have some sort of epiphany about the essence of the genre.

This does not mean that in my opinion people who cannot appreciate the genre are readers or audiences of lesser value. I do not hold this opinion despite many people accusing the horror genre of being overridden with cliches and predictable plots and its audiences of being weirdos who cannot appreciate “true” art forms.

There are horror books/movies/paintings that are better executed than others but I do not believe that there is anything inherent to the genre that would make it less sophisticated than other genres. However, I do think that the emotion can be too much for some people to handle. In the end, the images and strategies of the horror genre aim to incite feelings of discomfort and disgust. A tolerance for such emotions, the ability of being comfortable with them and a motivation to seek them out so they can be experienced again and on different levels cannot be obtained by force.

-TheUncannyGirl

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AJ Briones’s The Smiling Man (2015)

You absolutely have to watch the film before you read anything about it. Not because it would spoil this short movie, but because you need to watch it as soon as possible. Yes, it is that good. As someone who sadly has not had an opportunity to visit any of the multiple (horror) film festivals, I am always thankful when artists/studios release their work online for all of us to watch and appreciate.

Today, The Smiling Man has changed my day for the better. Actually, I will not be able to let it go from my mind for a while. I know this because by now I have become familiar with the way my mind and body react to good horror; I can recognize the reaction and the emotions.

(SPOILERS IN THE PARAGRAPHS BELOW)

I have just seen this movie, so let’s think about this as a first response post. The audience follows the little girl as she is experiencing something most of us would never want to: her home was invaded and (probably) her mother murdered. One of the many clichés of the horror genre are characters who do not run away when strange things start happening,; their curiosity makes them proceed, and usually this is the way a lot of characters die. Audiences have been making fun of such characters, asking why these characters don’t run when it’s obvious such a strange thing would freak anyone out in real life. It seems easier to understand these characters if they are children, or in this case, a little girl. Children are naive, they trust strangers, and have not had the horrible experiences of an adult life; they have not read about people getting murdered and so on. But don’t adult characters become like children in horror movies? Fear paired with curiosity and wonder (“this is too strange to be true!”) might in some cases be a coping mechanism in the face of horrors to come.

One of the most difficult things for horror creators is the design of the monster. The monster has to be scary before and after it’s identity is revealed. A lot of movie monsters fail to be scary after they can be seen, somehow, the magic is lost. Not the Smiling man. His intense look that seems to be directed at the audience and the girl, but somehow never seems to find the camera, frantically moving around the focus point, gave me serious creeps.

Personally, when I am interpreting a movie, sometimes I am inclined to look at what is not shown and what is unknown about the film or the book. If you don’t like this type of analysis, you might not like the following part, but I think these questions are not so out of place. The inability to answer these questions with certainty adds to the feeling of horror. My questions are powered by the title of the film itself. Why the Smiling man? Right now, I can think of three possibilities:

1. He is a madman, perhaps a supernatural entity, who killed this woman without recognizing the murder as a despicable act. The whole thing is a performance: as a clown he murders and then entertains.

2. He has not killed the woman, someone else did, but he is there to cheer the girl up.

3. ? This might seem far fetched, but if he killed the woman, was it because she did not have a good relationship with the girl, and the Smiling man wanted to cheer the girl up?

(or maybe there is an interpretation that is a combination of some of these proposals?)

The probability of these scenarios goes from the most probable (1) to very speculative (3). However, the planting of the balloons is similar to a treasure hunt: finding little clues, which will lead you to the treasure. The balloons are different colors, and the little bags contain body parts, which we later realize represent the woman in the plastic bag. Thus, the Smiling man was not simply interrupted mid murder. He wanted the girl to experience fun. Was the girl sad in the first place, then? And why would seeing the dead woman’s body cheer her up? This is what lead me to the scenario number three.

Did you like the movie? What did you think of the balloon colors? So far I can only see those colors being represented on the girl (pink top, blue jeans) and the Smiling man (black). Alternatively, black could refer to something bad, blood is read, but what about the blue? Maybe the red one represents the woman, blue one the girl, and the black one the Smiling man? The contents of the third bag included a head of a little doll, does this mean the girl will also end up being murdered? Is this a murder, murder, suicide scenario?

Lex Luthor and terrorism: Another look at Batman v Superman (with SPOILERS!)

MY RATING: 7.5/10batman-vs-superman-official-logo-HD
WARNING!!! THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!

It has been quite some time since I saw Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I went to see the movie prepared to be disappointed because I had seen the review titles and read a few comments here and there. Rotten Tomatoes’s rating was at 29 percent at the time before I sat down and watched the opening scene. I loved it. The next morning morning I still did not feel like Snyder’s movie failed to deliver. I started writing this review the day after I saw the movie but before publishing it I wanted to see it one more time. Circumstances have so far prevented me from doing so but because I want to share my thoughts about some aspects of this movie I am publishing the post now anyway.

***

The movie is not the best movie that I have seen in the past few years and some of the criticism is valid, for example, certain actions scenes are too hectic and longer than they should be. However, it is a great movie, which a lot of commentary on knowledge and the (mis)use of power.

A lot of other reviewers were not happy about the overall darkness of the movie and they compared it to Marvel’s Avengers and Deadpool. Compared to these critics, I am happy that Snyder did not try to amuse the audiences with too many jokes and instead chose the darker path. Not all superhero movies need or should be funny, relatable happy stories with hints of depression here and there.

I do not want to review all aspects of the movie here, at least not in this first article. Instead, I would like to focus on Lex Luthor.

I was not too much into Lex Luthor when I saw the trailers. I did not like his spoiled smart rich kid persona and his jokes did not land for me.  He is still a smart rich kid with a very unlikable personality after seeing the movie. However, he is more evil than the trailer lets you to believe. The moment you realize Lex can and will do more than just threaten people verbally is one of the strongest aspects of this movie. Lex Luthor blowing up the US Capitol is a turning point and it surprised me because it comes out of nowhere. Although it is clear that Lex will cause trouble, this act of terrorism is unexpected in its boldness and extremeness.

Lex Luthor shares characteristics with another DC villain, the Joker, at least on the surface: he plays games with other characters and he likes to joke and laugh like a maniac. One of the big Nolan-Joker-like moments is Lex setting a timer and giving Superman an ultimatum to kill Batman or Superman’s mother Martha dies. Everyone who saw Nolan’s Dark Knight will remember an almost identical scene when Joker gives people on two boats an hour to either kill the passengers of the other boat or both boats will explode when the hour passes. Joker wants to prove that citizens of Gotham will always kill in order to protect themselves because that is human nature. However, Lex wants to prove to himself that he has power over aliens although he is physically weaker or cannot fly. Lex’s superpower is his brain and the movie portrays his journey towards self discovery and self improvement. Thus Lex’s interest in metahumans is not merely scientific. They made him feel self conscious and weak and it is not only until he enters the mothership that he is able to successfully use his knowledge to fight them.

Lex Luthor  hints at this sense of powerlessness when he gives a speech at the Metropolis Central Library re-opening party:

Books are knowledge and knowledge is power, and I am… no. Um, no. What am I? What was I saying? The bittersweet pain among men is having knowledge with no power because… because that is *paradoxical* and, um… thank you for coming.

Lex is a genius but apparently he feels that after the arrival of metahumans this is suddenly not enough. Later, in a frankenstein tradition, he creates a monster by bringing Zod back to life using alien technology and his own blood. Does Lex Luthor bring something new within the frankenstein tradition of mad scientists on TV/in the cinemas? Lex Luthor is a subtype of mad scientist: he wants to use his knowledge to secure himself a power grip that would defeat metahumans. However, Lex Luthor is a mad scientist who is engaged in a war of terror in a movie that is intended for mass audiences all over the world. Lex Luthor is a white rich terrorist in a blockbuster movie and this is what makes him fascinating.

Did you like Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman?

 

“A Country Doctor”: a haunting animation by Kouji Yamamura

Casually browsing youtube and creating a playlist I stumbled upon an animation of Franz Kafka’s short story “A Country Doctor” (1919) by a japanese independent animator Kouji Yamamura (山村 浩二  Yamamyra Kouji).

The animation is almost word for word retelling of the original short story but the final product bears more features of horror than its literary predecessor. Yamamura grotesquely bends the dimensions of space and plays with composition. Blurred out characters remain the focus of audience’s attention even after they lose their sharp edges. The music that accompanies the video is ethereal and controls the escalation of emotions, in other words, the animation is in charge and I suggest you give in and enjoy the lack of control you might want to have over your emotional response. The fluidity of movement reminded me very much of that which can be seen in Onibaba (1964) directed by Kaneto Shindo. Although I refer to the movement as being fluid I could not shake off an impression that something more is about to happen but as of yet my mind is unable to see it. The anticipation and suspense are at its highest points and the short movie leaves me feeling a little unsatisfied as if something inside me that was supposed to be filled was left empty.

Oh, do I enjoy this twisted ways of emotion manipulation.

You can read the original story by Franz Kafka here: http://www.kafka-online.info/a-country-doctor.html

You can see more of Yamamura’s work  here on youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fbk85Q36IAkDABhvlGCTA

 

First Impressions Saturday: Classic Tales of the Macabre

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During my third day in Graz I discovered a bookstore with a section of books in English. My intentions were not dishonest, I really did not intend to buy anything, I merely wanted to know where I could buy in Graz a book in English if I get the craving. Oh was I wrong. Buchhandlung Moser is located next to Jakominiplatz in the centre of the city. In the next two days I purchased Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene (2006 edition) and The Greatest Show on Earth (2010 edition), The Grand Design (2011 edition) by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and Classic Tales of the Macabre (2011).

I am familiar with most authors in the book and recognized some of the short stories, however, I had not read a single one of them.

Yesterday night I had a chance to read two of them: the famous “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Damned Thing” by W.W. Jacobs. The stories can be found in various editions and although I enjoyed them, especially “The Yellow Wallpaper” this is not the reason why I decided to include this volume in The First Impression Saturdays. It is the physical beauty of this edition that I think should be of interest to any macabre and horror fiction enthusiast.

The front cover presents a painting by Arnold Böcklin, The Self Portrait (1872) and the back cover features an engraving by Cornelius Huyberts of one of Frederick Ruysch’s anatomical dioramas. 20160409_090915

The protective cover protects a red hardcover with the name of the collection spelled out in gold on the side of the book (and featuring the classic bookmark!):

As if this was not already enough, the edges are gold and have a distinctive glare:

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Collector’s Library has published other collections which all have the golden lettering and edges and have roughly the same design: http://www.collectors-library.com/

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The collection also contains an introduction by David Stuart Davies, an author of both fiction and non fiction books, and a short biography of all writers included in the volume.

Classic Tales of the Macabre is a good introduction to the tales of the macabre for readers who are unfamiliar with the genre. The experienced readers who might already possess some of these stories  in other collections, will be impressed by the design and its details.

COLDER: Toss the Bones (2015) and soothing madman (no spoilers review)

Today I visited my favorite shop in town: Comics City (Olomouc, Czech Republic). I needed to take my mind off some matters and decided buying a few comics (and a Harley Quinn keychain) would help with that. Buying make up was my retail therapy for past 12 years, but things changed since the beginning of 2016. I am not complaining. I have rediscovered my passion for reading and it has made me feel more like myself again. But now to the point…
12523874_10208567832184109_8345527500993126821_nRight now, my purchase strategy is as following: I go straight to the “cheap comics” and “new” sections. I check all comics they have there and when I see something I like but I am unfamiliar with I go online and search for reviews. This is why I bought Colder: Toss the Bones (2015) and Outcast (2014–). I liked the cover of VWars (2014), the reviews seemed OK and because I am into vampires I decided to buy it. It cost me cca 1,50Euro so why the hell not. I also bought Mars Attacks: Greatest hits (?) because I liked the movie and absolutely adore the design of the aliens. Again, 1,50Euro.

I already read all of them, each one being issue 1, and I absolutely fell in love with Colder: Toss the Bones by Paul Tobin. First, I was already sold when I saw the cover page and art by Juan Ferreyra. I have to admit that it reminded me of the Joker in Death of the Family but this lunatic on the cover of Colder: Toss the Bones was charming on his own and I was curious, very curious, to know his story. Toss the Bones is a follow up story of the original Colder (2012) series and Colder: The Bad Seed (2014). So far, I have only read Toss the Bones, and as I am writing this blog post I know I will be going back to the beginning and read the first two series EDIT: I have read them all now, and COLDER series is one of the best things I have ever read (I am high on COLDER and I will write more articles with in-depth reviews and analysis). No, I absolutely do not mind the reversed order.

Colder: Toss the Bones has 5 issues and reads well. I have to admit, I only bought the first issue and read the rest of them online. There are two reasons for that. First, they did not have other issues in the store. Second, I would not be able to afford it if I also wanted to buy multiple different comics. That is why I usually buy first issues only and finish the rest at home, on my computer. However, if I like a comic, I will eventually get all issues. I just cannot get them all at once.
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The antagonist of the story is called Nimble Jack and he is a gourmand with a particular taste. Eating humans is not exactly what makes him happy; it is a particular characteristic that humans possess that he cannot resist and must feed upon.

His playful and innocent personality paired with all characteristics of a lunatic make him a very likable madman character if you are into those (I am). He also does not play favorites nor makes exceptions. I also found I could not exactly predict his next move. All I knew was that it would be funny in a twisted but enjoyable way. However, I am not sure if I would want him as a roommate (this is a reference to the story).

If you like madmen characters who are charming and deadly then you definitely need to read the series. The protagonist, Declan, is also very well written. I understood his motivation and felt happy when he was happy and felt sad when he knew he might lose everything in order to defeat Nimble Jack, who moves from one realm to another.

The solution and conclusion was well done and thought out and left me feeling satisfied. I could actually read more! Next Colder story please! I want to spend more time in the world with Nimble Jack, a gourmand performer. At times, it felt like the perfect one man horror show. I do not want to give away too much, but I applaud the creator of Nimble Jack for coming up with so many different ways to kill a person and make the reader laugh with Nimble Jack. The humor is genius. The comic is not about killing only, though. It is about our sanity and I dare to say it will make you rethink your own tastebuds. What makes your hunger go away?

The art should also persuade you to read this comic if somehow the story itself would not be enough. I mean, look at this:

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All and all, Colder: Toss the Bones receives 5/5, 100 out of 100 and all points all houses from Harry Potter would ever receive. I love these characters who are set in a universe which compliments their uniqueness.

Pablo Absento’s Shi: A Chilling Take on Japanese Horror

THIS IS A TWO PART REVIEW. FIRST PART DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY SPOILERS, THE SECOND PART IS MOVIE ANALYSIS AND DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS. BOTH PARTS ARE SEPARATED SO YOU CAN AVOID SPOILERS IF YOU WANT TO.

NO SPOILERS REVIEW:


Shi (2015) (
Japanese, death)  is a short horror movie directed by Pablo Absento. It lasts almost 7 minutes and will leave you wanting to see more.

The beginning of the movie shows a father getting fired from his job for a reason unknown to both himself and the viewers.  He explains to his employers how he cannot lose his job because he needs money to pay school bills for his daughter and hospital bills for his son.
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The movie is set in Japan but it is not a copycat japanese horror movie. Aesthetically, the monster does not look like a typical japanese horror movie monster and gives a western vibe. In my opinion, this works very well, it is refreshing and a welcomed mix of Western and Japanese horror cultures.

Although there is a detailed shot of the monster’s face it still manages to stay scary and threatening. It moves fast and its mission is to catch you but not before it plays a game of cat and mouse game with you.

The ending leaves a lot of place for more than one interpretation which is something I like a lot in horror movies. I hope the short will eventually become a full length feature.

WATCH IT HERE & READ THE INTERVIEW ON THE FANGORIA WEBSITE.

WARNING! FOLLOWING MOVIE ANALYSIS CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!!

Two things caught my attention the most. First, the monster is fast enough to catch the father but instead it plays a game with him. The father stops for a while to catch a breath and to see if the monster is still following him. The monster flashes in front of the camera but the father does not seem to notice. Thus the monster could already attack him here but it didn’t.

Instead, we see the father managing to reach his apartment. Here, he bangs on the door and begs his wife and then his son Sam to let him in. Finally, he finds his keys and tries to open the door. Finally, the viewers can see Sam in front of the window, the monster as it moves quickly from right to left, screaming can be heard and then what is probably a sound of closing doors.

The main question after the first viewing was what death in the title refers to. Is it the monster? Or is it something else? The movie is called Shi which in Japanese means both “death” and “four”. The title is written in hiragana, the japanese alphabet, and not in kanji which supports the double meaning of its title. More importantly, there are four members of the family: the father, the wife Yoko and their two children. The death can thus refer to the monster itself, or it can refer to the deaths of the characters in the story.

In the beginning I said that there were two things that caught my attention. I already covered the first one. The second is the question regarding little Sam but it actually opens up a bigger question of the meaning of this movie.

When the father sees the monster for the first time, he sees it dragging a human body which appears to be his own. It it possible to argue that he has already died. However, this might only be a dream or a premonition. One way or another, there is a connection between him and death.

As was mentioned, Sam is seen being at home. However, in the beginning of the movie the father hints that he might actually be in the hospital. The sentence remains unfinished but serves as an evidence to support this interpretation:

“I need money for Mona’s school and Sam’s hospital bills. My child is in the… .”

Death of children and parents is a common theme of many Japanese horror movies (One Missed Call, The Grudge, The Ring, Dark Water …). So, little Sam might be the second dead character besides his father. Yoko, his wife does not come to open the doors and the location of his daughter also remains unknown.

The movie is shown primarily from the point of view of the father and is full of emotions that take over when death threatens to take away the happiness. The main emotions are anxiety and fear which are present from the beginning until the very end. The last sound of the movie is the sound of closing doors which leaves you with a question: who is going to be next?

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What is your interpretation? Did you like the movie? 🙂 Let me know in the comments.

My rating: 4,5/5