Archive for the Rants Category

Why cheap isn’t so cheerful…

Posted in Rants on July 30, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

This blog is a little riff on what I blogged about yesterday. Mark West, writer and regular commenter here, remarked that a lot of horror, especially when it comes to the cinematic variety, is badly written and filmed. In other words, it appears that someone somewhere has got it into his/her head that all you need is a cheesy clichéd plot, throw in some monster or supernaturally-inspired violence, spray lashings of the red stuff around liberally (more than a single human body could ever hold, for one thing), maybe put in some reference to some dread tome or other, get the actors to speak some portentous drivel, put some heavy metal music in the background as a soundtrack and hey presto kids!! You have a horror film! Sit back and watch the hordes flock to the cinema!! You’ll become horror heroes and have them queueing around the block for your autograph at conventions…

Errr… no, actually, you’re not, and never will be, horror heroes. All you’ll have proved to the rest of the world is that you’re artless wannabes who have absolutely NO conception if what horror is. Okay, so I’ll agree that there are film-makers out there who CAN make visceral horror look like art, but generally speaking there’s this impression out there that horror-flims are cheap, nasty, and nothing but unreconstructed dross. And I believe it’s all the fault of those low budget ‘auteur’ directors who continually churn out repetitive film after film, all based on loose variations of the same plot, year after year after year. And then there are the suckers who buy into all that ‘it’s-so-bad-it’s good’ thing.

I hold my hand up – I am just as guilty of it  as I used to do exactly the same thing. About a decade a go, I had amassed a HUGE collection of videos, ninety-percent of which were horror. And out of that lot, about forty-percent (or maybe more), were just slightly above amateurish efforts. Back then, I laboured under the inpression that their very cheesiness was part of their charm, and was the very quality that saved them from being completely hopeless. Ten years later, now that I am actually involved in the horror scene, I see otherwise.

Those of us who choose to watch horror movies, read or write horror stories and books, or get involved at any level of the horror media, should be ashamed at some of the dross that gets pumped out. Those people not into the macabre and scary look at what we watch and read, see the lack of ‘artistic merit’ as they would term it, and consider us buffoons for even tolerating the standards of much of horror cinema and literature. We only reinforce their stereotypes of us. And, having seen as many dumb films as I have (and I think Mark would agree with me here), is it any wonder that people like the Booker Prize Chair, for instance, look down on our choice of reading and declare that it isn’t ‘literature’.

Yes, there are quality films and books out there (I certainly know about the latter, as I have read some absolute crackers recently), ones that elevate the form way above the morass of sewage out there. And I suppose that there will always be a market for the kinds of films that Uwe Boll churns out for instance. I just find it depressing when horror-fans bemoan the fact that the mainstream doesn’t take the genre seriously, when they go and watch some absolutely dreadful low-budget flick made in the Phillipines on a shoestring, that has absolutely no plot, and even fewer saving graces. The genre itself is to blame.

I am not advocating that all of us suddenly become high-minded litérateurs or auteurs ourselves, but simply that we think hard about what we watch or give our hard-earned money for. I am also not saying that we should should elevate ourselves into the rarified atmospheres that many writers and film-makers inhabit, but that we at least try to aim to get our genre taken seriously. It would nice to think that one day, horror and sci-fi books for instance won’t be relegated to the dark end of the bookstore.

I don’t have the answers, but it’s something that is beginning to bug me. I am not proposing a crusade of any kind – just, perhaps, that we start paying more attention to what our favourite genre throws up sometimes, and perhaps be more discerning when it comes to choosing what we watch or read. Maybe then, in some far future, Barker will be described in the same glowing terms as Hemingway – well you get what I mean.

Okay, rant over – thanks for reading!

Where have all the real vampires gone?

Posted in Rants on July 12, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

So far, I have kept out of the whole Twilight-bashing thing, mainly because others are doing a much better job of it than I could ever do, but a piece in today’s Guardian by Charlie Brooker has prompted me to join the fray. So please excuse me for stating the obvious here and very possibly preaching to the converted.

I am all for writers and film-makers exploring and reinventing characters in order to make them fresh and bring the punters in. But with Twilight, the latest attempt at repackaging a horror staple, the essential elemental aspect of the vampire, in particular, has been completely stripped out, so rendering him emasculated, desexualised and, most pityingly of all, defanged. These are the very qualities that have made Stoker’s creation so enduring, even 113 years after his novel was first published. Okay, so I get that the books and films are aimed at a teen market, and to a certain extent they do need to be watered down slightly, but even when I was a child I watched some of the darker iterations of the Count and just loved the horrific thrill. I also bought (and made) the Aurora Dracula model kit of the monster (anyone remember those? I think I must have collected and assembled the whole series…), such was the hold he had on me.

With Twilight, what we get is the shoe-gazing, angst-ridden, blood-subsitute-sucking emo whiny teen – made infinitely worse by the fact of their immortality, so they’ll ALWAYS  be the shoe-gazing, angst-ridden, blood-subsitute-sucking emo whiny teen. Bram Stoker, if he were alive today, wouldn’t even recognise his own creation.  They’re vampires in name only, not in deed. And whilst I am loath to dismiss anything out of hand simply because everybody else is, this time time I feel that the steady romanticisation of the vampire begun by Anne Rice has reached a new low. Where is the truly malign epitome of pure evil that the vampire represented gone? Where is the predator with his contempt for all mankind, whose only care in unlife was to satisfy his needs and lusts?

It seems that, for the time being at least, he’s gone on holiday and left a woefully and inadequately prepared trainee to mind the shop.  A trainee, moreover, who will piss and shit his pants when his master comes back and finds out what he’s done in his absence.  A horror-lite creation that appeals to all those who would love to like horror films but can’t bring themselves to watch them. While blood and gore are not essential to horror films, and indeed are often better if implication and suggestion are used instead of mere viscerality, it’s the very nastiness and malignity of the vampire that provides the thrills, NOT the fact that he sucks people’s blood.

That was what locked into people’s psyches when Stoker published Dracula in 1897. Yes, I realise that sensibilities have changed enormously over the ensuing period and that the ever-evolving media reflects those changes, but even so, given the relentless pace of technology and social change, one would have thought that the vampire would have been even more isolated from the world and grown even more contemptuous of the little ants surrounding him. Instead, what we have is a sparkly, fairy-dust creature who probably needs to see a therapist because he doesn’t want to kill humans. He has, in, fact, been turned into a ‘good’ vampire.

And, in all honesty, it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. While Stephenie Meyer’s creation is obviously raking in a lot of money, both for her and the film-makers, it’s also pissed off a lot of others because of the liberties she’s taken with the whole mythology of the creature and his raison d’etre. It’s like she’s taken the poor thing to the vet’s and had its balls chopped off. No wonder it’s become a pitiful, whiny animal.

What I want to see is a return to, in the cinema at least and in the ‘popular’ literature, is that hellish, snarling, dismissive creature of the night that attracted me to watch the films when I was younger and sent delicious thrills up and down my spine. I’ve watched the first Twilight film and, even given that I don’t fit the demographic it’s aimed at, I was horrified at what those responsible for it had done. Like I said above, there’s nothing wrong with creating reimaginings of what’s gone before – but I think the trick is to come up with something new whilst retaining the essential elements that have made it into such a powerful icon.

I hope that one day we will see the return of the beast, the one who really thinks that humans are nothing more than food and toys to be played with. I would like to see the predatory vampire, the one who makes the women swoon by his sheer sexual magnetism, Not the one who doesn’t want to bite the neck of the victim because it might hurt the pretty lady.

And no, before anyone thinks this, I am not jealous of the fact that Ms Meyer is famous and now rich and I’m not… I would rather be penniless and create something of value than be wealthy or be the progenitor of aomething so spineless… perhaps THAT’S my particular brand of stupidity… =)

So, that’s my minor rant about Twilight – normal service will be resumed tomorrow…. sorry for the interruption… =D