The Town that Dreaded Sundown

dvdanger2Is a serial- or spree-killer who wears a mask and kills ‘misbehaving’ teens a slasher? If not, then what of Ghostface and fifty other killers, right? But, the slashers we know and love, they usually have a signature weapon, don’t they? Michael’s got his knife, Jason’s got his machete, Leatherface rips that chainsaw to life every chance he gets. But there’s weapons of opportunity, too. Jason’s hardly above getting the job done with a speargun, and Freddy, while he actually wears his signature weapon, as often as not his victims die in ‘dreamy’ ways (barbells, television set, etc). Which is to say, this killer in the new The Town that Dreaded Sundown, he doesn’t limit himself just to that boring old knife. No, this guy, he even goes so far as to break Batman’s cardinal rule: guns. Which his why I’m asking about serial killers vs. slashers, trying to tease apart which is what: shooting lovers parked in their cars out in the woods is a bad story we know from headlines, right? And aren’t slashers a lot more made-up?

However, blurring this line, does that up the scare? Does it bring the slasher home to our world, a little?

Maybe, yeah.

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To back up for a moment, though, the original The Town that Dreaded Sundown hit in 1976. A couple of years after Black Christmas but a couple before Halloween codified things up such that the formula could be replicated all through the eighties. And it seriously had one of the all-time best slasher titles ever. Its main contemporary, I think, was Savage Weekend, right? Except Savage Weekend was more for the 42nd Street crowd, I would say. Not that the original The Town that Dreaded Sundown was necessarily aiming for the Oscars—like most horror, it was hoping to cash in at the drive-in—but it was a lot less . . . vile, I guess I would say. Less mean, less ‘exploitational,’ finally. I mean, you can tell that the original is really getting off on speeding around in all those forties cars, can’t you? And playing that funny music over all that ridiculous deputy’s Barney Fife antics? And just generally eating up screen-time with stuff not meant to scare. Like, it had three or four set pieces, and didn’t so much know what to do with the rest, really. Which was fine. And it had some good stuff going on:

  • a masked killer (a baghead, which we’d see again in Friday the 13th II, of course)
  • teens parked at lover’s lane
  • small-town ‘nostalgic’ Texas (which, in the absence of the ‘closed door’ most slashers insist upon, instead put that door at the county line, pretty much)

And, what it also had, that would hardly ever happen after this—it was 1976, remember, Randy’s rules weren’t laid down yet—was not just a task force, which is to say, not just adults who actually believed a killer was out there and were willing to organize against that killer, but a ‘Lone Wolf’ Texas Ranger somehow not named ‘McQuade.’ So, the story we see cuts back and forth from the teens to the adults, the ‘party’ to the cop shop . . . an awkward move, at best. There’s a reason it’s usually not done. There’s a reason Carpenter kept us with the babysitters, not the parents. There’s a reason Craven had the detective-father dismiss all these scary dreams.

There’s a reason the mayor doesn’t shut the beaches, right? If he does, then the monster never appears.

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So, what this sequel-remake adds to that mix, it’s A) a refocus on the final girl and her set, and B) the pastor from Footloose. But still present are all the necessary red herrings, all the kids at lover’s lane, small-town Texarkana, the task force, the Texas Ranger, the baghead, the set-piece kills (and some excellent kills they are).

But let’s back up a moment: sequel or remake? I honestly cannot begin to tell. I mean, that it’s a remake is supported by so many of the story beats remaining the same, right down to the names of characters and the very particular, ‘signature’ kills. But, in a how-meta-can-you-get kind of narrative nesting, it also references that 1976 movie, and identifies it as a cheap dramatization of the ‘real’ events from the forties. There’s even a moment where the Texas Ranger from this movie is watching the Texas Ranger who shares his name in the old movie. It’s a very Spaceballs move, and I’d be lying if I said I completely understood the tension. I guess it could just be that some producers wanted it to be a sequel while some wanted a remake, and the writers, ground between conflicting notes as usual, did their best to satisfy both.

I don’t know. If you figure it out, let me know? I haven’t read any of the promo or insider stuff, so this could already be answered somewhere. Just, I can’t imagine how, provided what’s on-screen.

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Oh, too: one thing this slasher does that only Freddy ever gets to do, pretty much? He speaks. From the first kill on, he’s a talker. Which of course immediately cues us in that this is one kind of slasher, not another—nothing supernatural, all human motivations (which are nearly always ‘revenge’ for the slasher).

Which is to say, there’s some cool and risky stuff going on here. I’m not completely sure it’s all effective—more on that momentarily—but I appreciate the attempt to inject new DNA into a genre a lot of people consider ‘tired.’ Without innovation and escalation (resulting from competition at the box office), the slasher could go stale, die. And we can’t have that.

And, one thing this The Town that Dreaded Sundown schooled me on, a thing I should have already assumed, as we’ve all seen it so many times, is the fact that it’s not just the slasher who gets an origin story (as big reveal). No, the final girl can, and quite often does, have her own origin story. Which means their big battle, this movie we’re seeing, it really started long ago, like it’s fated to happen. Very cool, veining that sense of ‘providence’ in, I think. It makes the stories more grand, more The Cabin in the Woods important (i.e., ‘we need this ritual to keep the world running’).

1358502512_the_town_that_dreaded_sundown-ooLast, there something very odd about The Town that Dreaded Sundown, too. I can’t quite get my thumb on it like I want, but . . . early on, there’s some shuffle in the projector room, followed by the distinct possibility that this non-sequel not-a-remake remake-sequel-thing we’re watching, it’s itself a movie. Which is freaky—the kind of narrative gameplay I usually go for. But, here, I don’t know. Were it just happening up-front, then I’d have no problem with it all, would applaud it, even. But the way it seems to be working here is that we get these odd and unexpected camera angles, these strange compositions and juxtapositions, and  stuff done with lighting that makes the scenes look kind of fake. It’s like, each time we need to invest in this as real, ‘style’ rears its head to remind us that this is all a movie. Which, again, can be fun, but it kind of works against the dynamic by which horror scares you: you ‘think’ this is real, so you flinch. But, with all these reminders that it’s not real, it’s increasingly more difficult to invest such we can feel any dread.

It’s an odd choice, I’m saying. In an odd movie. One which I’m glad I finally VOD’d. The slasher is more and more an animal with motile skin, it seems. And even the bones under there, they’re rejointing into other places, such that the shadow this creature casts, its getting less and less recognizable. Which is fun, and necessary. Just, midway through all these contortions . . . that shadow on the wall can come off a bit ungainly.

However, The Town that Dreaded Sundown  . . . there’s something about it that makes me suspect that ungainliness is part of the intent, somehow. That I’m just not quite getting it.

Too, every slasher kind of makes or breaks itself on its closing image, yes? If that’s the case, then I submit that this The Town that Dreaded Sundown has no worries, as it closes in very cool, very self-aware fashion. Slashers are always a joke. Just, a joke with teeth. When it smiles, you can see them all. The Town that Dreaded Sundown, right at the end, it smiles, shows us a mouthful.

Oops

tried to add The Faster, Redder Road to the menus, and it somehow broke all the secondary menus. I deleted it, but the breakage persists. So, either I’ll reinstall this WordPress or re-install the theme or nab a new theme, I suppose. And hopefully soon. But right now I’m writing a novel. Sorry for any inconvenience. In the interim, you can can click on ‘Posts’ (or, about anywhere) on the top_nav menu, then use the Search box to find the book pages and whatever else. Way unideal, I know. Anyway, hopefully fixed soonish. And I so liked this theme (well, except for how it sizes absolute instead of relative, but maybe that’s a thing for mobile, I don’t know . . .).

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The Now Book

Not a ‘new’ book . . . yet. Just a book I’m writing right now. May never even finish it, who knows. As for when I started—tab, tab, tab—it looks like:

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And, not really keeping this as journal of this book or anything. I have done that once, with “Where the Camopede Roam,” but that was just a seventy-two hour commitment. This has already taken longer than that.

Why I’m doing this, it’s . . . you know how when you teach fiction writing, you’re up there in front of the chalkboard saying this or that like it’s gospel, such that, when you come home to write, you kind of hear yourself saying ‘always do this,’ ‘never do that,’ and you feel kind of compelled to maybe consider following those rules, or at least giving them a test-drive? In the same way, in interviews I get asked a lot about how I write. Meaning, now, writing, I kind of find myself watching myself in a way I haven’t before. And, yeah, XJ Kennedy tells us that the goose that laid the golden egg died looking up its own arse (“if you would lay well, don’t watch”), but so far this isn’t slowing me down any. Got eighty of what feel like keeper pages so far. And, not like I have choice in the matter anyway. I can’t stop watching myself.

So, here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

RESEARCH: Which I don’t always do. But, for Mongrels, say (which’ll hopefully be on a shelf someday), I was prepping to teach a werewolf course so I went a full month inhaling every single thing I could, werewolf-wise. Books, films, articles, whatever. And then my head finally got full enough with it all that I wrote Mongrels in sixteen days or whatever (was in a crunch / had to finish before the semester started; I’m under no such crunch now, am on sabbatical). So, about a month ago, I got a suspicion that I wanted to write a cop-novel. Well, no: I’ve had this slasher in mind for a while, but it only works in a police station. So I started thinking about it more. And I realized I don’t know cop shops as well as I should. Or crime stuff. And there’s always more to learn about the thriller. So I reread The Ruins. I read Sharp Objects. I read Tell No One. I read Officer Down. I read whatever of Brian Azzarello I could lay my hands on. I watched The Departed and Narc and Dark Blue and Rush and every other of those-type movies I could rent, stream, or had (seriously, like, three or four day). And when they got to swirling around in my head enough, I just sat down, let it all start spilling back out. To me, that’s what research is. I didn’t write anything down. I don’t need a checklist.

PREWORK: I’ve never been even a halfway believer in outlining your novel before you write it. Publishers have made me, dangled checks in front of me to make me, but given the choice, I’ll figure it out as I go along. However. This summer I worked with a producer on a treatment for like eight thousand drafts, each hardly similar to the last at all. It was grueling, but, at the end of it, I was really pleased with the product. I mean, it showed me that this way of doing things, the way screenwriters do it, it can work. Treatments are a good diagnostic tool. So I did it halfway for this novel. Kind of a bulletpoint list of what was going to happen, where each bulletpoint is a paragraph with snatches of dialogue and the seeds of lines, all that stuff you can’t help doing. But, and this is maybe an important ‘but,’ I got about twenty bulletpoints in and got too excited, so just started in writing. I haven’t caught up with the bulletpoints yet, either. Maybe when I do, then I’ll beat out the rest of the story? It’s in my head, of course, but there’s something different and good about getting it down on paper, too. And no, not even once, so far, have I consulted this ‘treatment’ thing. I know it’s there, though, a tab away, and if I ever hit a wall I can go there, find the light again.

TITLE: I don’t know what the final title of this thing will finally be, but I do know I can’t write a novel with NO title. Also, stupidly, I can’t seem to write a novel without spending like thirty minutes playing with fonts and sizes and whatever Pages will let me manipulate. I mean, if the title isn’t fancy, isn’t this ridiculous umbrella over everything that comes next? Then why am I even writing. I don’t even let myself start messing with this until I’m twenty or so pages in, though; I need to be sure the novel’s going to stick before I take time to fake a pretty font. For this one, now, here’s what I see when I sit down every day (I always try to leave the file paged up to the front):

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Also, yes, I did the obligatory, terrifying searches to make sure this one wasn’t already claimed. I feel confident it’s a line from a Springsteen song—okay, a corruption of a line the Boss did—but I’m going to have to stumble back onto that. Haven’t found it again yet. Also, talking frontmatter:

EPIGRAPH: I give these too much importance, I think. Still, whenever I’m writing a novel that DOESN’T have one yet, I find myself in this awkward ‘receptive’ state of being, where everything I hear has to get immediately vetted, to see if it both perfectly fits and preps the reader for my novel, and if it’s from some place or person I want associated with my novel. Something that sets the tone, like. So far I’ve got one (Theresa Schwegel’s Officer Down) that I’m liking, as it gets ‘officer down’ into the proceedings immediately:

We're all supposed to be on the same side. But we're not. Not really.

But of course, as with the title, we’ll see. I could luck onto something even more perfect. Right now I’m reading The House that Dripped Gore and one of the Surrogate volumes (comic book), I mean; every other line in those is beautiful and bulletproof and timeless.

MOVIES: Whenever I’m writing a novel—this is nothing I didn’t know before this book—I inhale movies. Right now, because it’s October, it’s all horror, and mostly slashers (of course). I watched two yesterday, I mean, plus the Tell No One adaptation. And wrote, I don’t know, ten, fifteen pages? Speaking of:

DAILY GRIND: I’d never realized this before, but the way I write a novel, it’s I get a chapter or two down then come back to it the next day and completely rewrite them. Then I move ahead, usually a chapter or two at a time. But the new chapter(s), they’re always these placeholders. They’re just the scaffolding. Just me getting down on the page what I know needs to happen in this scene. And I always leave feeling like a failure, as there’s no grace at the end, there’s no wit in the middle. But when I come back the next day, I see places where there could be grace, where the could be wit, and, fleshing that chapter out, deleting a good half of it and rebuilding it better, the chapter starts to work. So, any day I say I’ve written ten pages, that means I’ve deleted at least five.

MUSIC: For me, what fiction really is, it’s transmuting calories and playlists into words on a page. I prefer to write right after breakfast and right after lunch. And lately I eat these biker-gel energy pack things. The energy there (honey, caffeine) seems to be a bit more reliable than Sixlets and pecans. But I still go back to them some days as well. Anyway, with the music, I have the playlist for the novel, one I just made. In this case, it’s a playlist (starts with Pharrell, ends with Lita Ford, gets there via Don Williams) I made for this screenplay I wanted to write, Selfie, which I got all beat out and scened together. Except then, with it all figured out . . . I don’t know. I didn’t want to write it quite so badly. And, I mean, I wasn’t going to get paid for it either, and that makes a big, big difference. I don’t get paid for every novel I write either, of course. But, more often than not, I do. Novels are a more sure thing for me, anyway. That playlist I stole for this now novel, though, I find I only cue it up when writing new stuff. When burning through the previous day’s work, fixing it up, I have this fallback playlist just called “easy.” Like, elevator music kind of stuff; I built that playlist around Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” I mean, in the days after I heard it playing at a diner in Bandslam. It’s a ten hour, seventeen-minute playlist now, as I really dig that laid back mellow stuff. And it’s perfect for revising. But not for making new stuff. For making new stuff, I need volume and emotion and screaming. Kind of like a birth, I guess.

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Only thing I skipped here that I can think of now is texting a friend about a novel of his that just came out, asking how many words it was (I read it digital, meaning I couldn’t like weigh it in my hands, and I never can guesstimate word-count through a device), just to gauge what this one I’m writing might be. My suspicion is it’ll take me about 80K to get it done right. Which, I mean, I’m a quarter there already, and I suspect I’m only to the third of my incomplete list of bullets. So I could be wrong, definitely. However, I have committed to go ahead and let this book breathe as it needs to. Most novels, I hit 40K and I start looking hard for the end, usually find it right around 55K (seriously, so many of my books are 55K exactly). But I’m also starting to wonder if I’ve been forcing that. If I’ve been looking too hard in the first draft for those dramatic throughlines you’re really only supposed to find in revision and tightening. So, this novel, it’ll be however big it is. Not worried. Not afraid of going over 100k, either. I’ve only done it a couple of times, but it’s no big deal.

Too, with this one, I completely planned to do what most of the mysteries and thrillers do: mulitple third-person stuff. Not quite Tolstoyian objectivity—God-vision is pretty thoroughly out-of-bounds for contemporary writers writing in somewhat realist mode—but ‘wide,’ you know? I wanted some slashercam, I mean, I wanted to look through the killer’s eyes. Except, much as I might dig Dan Brown, those slashercam chapters always feel like cheats. He’s saying everybody else’s name, why can’t he also say the name here, right? Right. I can’t allow myself to play that game anyway. Maybe just because I don’t play it well, I don’t know. So, so far? It’s all tight over the shoulder of my main detective, who’s kind of spooklily similar in make-up to my Nick Bruiseman for Not for Nothing. Could be I only know one type of dude, finally. At least in grown-up land.

And . . . it’s now twelve minutes before lunch. I only had thirty-five minutes before lunch when I started this, which wasn’t enough time to get involved with a chapter, quite. Not without missing food. And my box of Pineapple Chicken takes 4:22 to warm. My plan? Warm it, pour up some tea, watch the third act of Halloween 5 (first two acts were last night, way after midnight, which made Michael much more surprising, as he kept waking me), then sit back down here for about three hours, hammer down some words again. Then repeat for as many days or weeks or months as it takes. Hopefully at the end of it I’ll have something to show.

 

 

Ello

I’m there now. Or, I’m here:

https://ello.co/sgj

I like the smiley face a lot more than the birdhouse, and I like the distinct non-blueness of the whole thing so far. Feels a lot like a Tumblr, really, but I got on Tumblr like fourteen years too late. G+, though, I’m still one of the holdouts who doesn’t understand why that didn’t become the new way (okay, because Google was spookily tracking every move of my mouse and selling it upstream).

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Unbrokenfied Links

Took TWO HOURS yesterday to go through, clean up all the broken junk over in the navigation. And there was no small amount, either, sorry. Most were the result of other sites updating this or that, which changed the URL. Meaning, I only lost four or five stories, two or three interviews, and a couple of podcasts. So, all’s well.
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However, I would guess there’s still the occasional broken link in the posts. That kind of tending, I don’t think I’ve got the eyes nor the click-fingers for. So, if you find something in the archives needing attention, making me looking stupid, frustrating you because it’s SUPPOSED to work, maybe say it as a comment under this? I’ll get to it.

And, what you’ll also find the deeper you go into the the archives—for the moment, anyway—is that a lot of the images are absolute-sized, not relative. This is because I gave them captions. Which seemed good and great at the time, but now, with this new theme that’s got a narrower area to slap the posts up . . . not so great. Meaning, when I post NOW, I keep having to go into the html like it’s 1996, and relative-size all the img tags. Kind of sucks. I’ve tried to address it with a few plugins, but they don’t seem to be keeping up with the WordPress updates very well, so I’m out here on my own saying “90%, 90%, 90%.”

It’s not the worst thing, I don’t suppose. Next up: I need to somehow, magically call forth the ability to make another slider-thing for the front/intro/splash page here, that can include these two new fall books. Right now, I might as well try to solve a Rubik’s cube without taking it apart, for all the luck I’m having remembering how I did that. But maybe the solution will be more obvious than taking all the corner pieces out, changing the stickers, never getting anything back together again . . .

Oh, and I’ve also got to figure how to stuff Ello into the social media widget thing going on in my nav. Wouldn’t be a problem, except I need to make the image-rollovers match the tone/feel/temperature/etc of the four already up there. And I’m no image-manipulation wizard. Shuttling pixels around is far, far from what I was made for. But maybe it’ll be easier than I think.

Don’t Look (Behind You) Now

It-Follows-poster1With slashers, I’ve always been in John Carpenter’s camp: these people aren’t getting punished for having sex, they’re getting killed while naked simply because that’s when they’re the most vulnerable, the least likely to be looking around the room.

However, like Jim Rockford says, If fifty people tell you you’re drunk, then maybe it’s time to lie down, right? Meaning, when the slasher was busy getting codified back in the seventies (Black Christmas, Jaws, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, on up, to, say, Tourist Trap and Friday the 13th and Just Before Dawn and The Burning), this killed-for-having-sex dynamic wasn’t so much in play. But it soon would be. Just because everybody was saying it. And, really, I don’t know if  the critics started pushing that first—Clover & Co.—or if all the films trying to cash in on Halloween etc made it real. Or if that was just the talk around the popcorn machine, and soon it was real enough that Scream and Cherry Falls could even play with it some, invert it, hang it out to dry, throw it against the wall to see what sticks.

However it happened, it quickly got to the point where killed-for-having-sex, that was considered de rigueur, pretty much, or a delimiting factor, anyway—see Behind the Mask: Leslie Vernon, say. If you don’t have some of that going on in your slasher, then how can you even call it a slasher?

It’s not ideal, and it goes a long way towards re-inscribing America’s preoccupation with villainizing sex and thus custom-making a set of people with their urges all tied up with guilt, that expresses in way unhealthy ways . . . but, as far as slashers at the box office go (I’m likely not qualified to talk about society as a whole), killed-for-having-sex, that’s a core characteristic here in 2014. It’s just assumed.

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, very much in keeping with Eric England’s recent Contracted, knows this. What if instead of getting chainsawed in half while under the sheets, you instead caught a different, creepier (or, as in Contracted, grosser) version of a ‘chainsaw?’

Once there’s a trailer, I won’t have to say this, but I trust that I’m not spoiling it, either, as this is the description already posted on IMDb:

For 19-year-old Jay, fall should be about school, boys and weekends out at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. Faced with this burden, Jay and her teenage friends must find a way to escape the horrors that seem to be only a few steps behind.

That’s a pretty solid write-up: Jay has sex, and pays for it with a very persistent, very implacable haunting, one kind of in league with the infected in Bentley Little’s The Walking, except these sometimes-invisible juggernauts (they always walk the shortest path right to you), they shop at the same outlet mall Samara does, I think.

And it completely works. It Follows is very effective horror. And, just like Final Destination taught us, the slasher in your slasher doesn’t necessarily need a trademark face or mask or outfit or weapon. Granted, the studios might grumble, as merchandising opportunities are somewhat limited with It Follows, but within the movie, within the story, this anonymity, it significantly ups the dread. And that’s where real longevity comes from.

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And, yes, I’m fully aware that nearly every time the slasher turns out to be a ghost, then the story loses that slasher dynamic, and becomes a “We’ve got to do research and find out why this ghost is killing us, and that research will give us the tools to beat it, finally”-kind of thing, which is always disappointing, even in the steady hands of a del Toro. Only time I’ve seen it work in a slasher, I think? Prepare your boos: Texas Chainsaw 3D. There Leatherface isn’t a ghost—a shell of a person, yes, the ruined husk of a human—but still, that dangerous dynamic almost surfaces, to undercut the scare: he’s a victim, he was made, he doesn’t have any choice but to be doing this. The Francis Dollarhyde syndrome, yes.

It Follows doesn’t submit to this. Sometimes when you encounter a hungry bear in the woods, you just run, and run, and run some more, right? You don’t have to go back to the woods of yore to figure out why this bear has a taste for flesh. It’s enough that it does.

The walkers in It Follows, they definitely do. And, I should say ‘walker,’ singular, but once you’ve seen it, you might go plural as well.

And, to keep this from being a ghost story—to insist on its essential slasheriness, here’s some of the other characteristics we’ve come to know and love, that are present in It Follows:

  • all teens
  • a distinct final girl
  • no helpful authority figures
  • “let’s go out to the cabin, cool?”
  • that killed-for-having-sex thing
  • false victory
  • set-piece deaths
  • limited locations
  • high gore quotient (that opening scene is beautiful, and it puts me in mind of Mungo Lake, which never hurts)
  • about an hour and a half run-time
  • low-budget (this so often allows the vision to remain pure, not killed-with-notes)
  • mostly unknown actors (so we don’t know who to invest in)

And, the camera-work here, man. You know how Argento will drag a crane-shot agonizingly slowly up a set of stairs, then go to this window, then that? David Robert Mitchell has to be a fan of that. And he knows how horror works. As far as the camera eye goes, this is the best horror I’ve seen since You’re Next, easy.

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Also, to come back to the golden age of slashers, he remembers that one driving principle: keep it simple, dude. Horror, with its need to persistently escalate, is so easy to let get complicated. It’s what you feel you have to do, the trade-in you make in order to continually pull the rug out from under your audience’s feet.

It Follows is painfully, elegantly simple: girl has sex, catches an STD that manifests as people plodding behind her, trying to kill her, and she now has to get away from them in whatever way she can. Along the way she doubts her sanity, sure—is this just a projection of guilt?—but she finally gets to the same place Nancy does in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the same place all final girls finally get to: it’s time to turn the tables. It’s time to set some traps. It’s time to get brutal. You don’t survive just by running. Running’s only prolonging the inevitable. At some point, you turn and fight.

Where It Follows slightly, and maybe necessarily, diverges from the typical slasher development, it’s in the bodycount. David Robert Mitchell isn’t putting up Terminator numbers, here. Rather—and this is why I say ‘necessary’—he’s maybe acknowledging that each life in a horror movie, it actually counts (something I never cued into myself until The Killing). And so he’s thrifty with them. And, the effect of this? It ups the tension, it ratchets up the suspense.

It’s a trick I think I like.

Another way It Follows might be diverging from the typical slasher, it’s in what Joe Bob Briggs used to call the ‘breast count,’ back in the barely post-drive-in days, the just-after-42nd-street period. There’s no real nudity in It Follows. Unlike Cabin in the Woods—and Whedon and Goddard were both pretty uncomfortable with that nudity, by all accounts—unlike You’re Next, which just gets the nudity out of the way in the opening ‘sacrifice.’

Still, each of those films, you felt they were doing their nudity in a kind of compulsory manner. Like, the slasher audience expects it, we’ve ‘got’ to do it.

Things are changing, though. For the better.

Back in the golden age of the slasher? You watch them, and you kind of feel sorry for all these girls, fresh off the bus, being told to take their shirts off. It’s exploitation, and everybody knows it, and everybody just plays along, because it’s a convention of the genre. Or, because it’s going to pull in a few more box-office dollars, possibly, or at least up the odds of this getting picked up for late-night cable, for that demographic of the audience that can’t get into R-rated movies yet.

Still, the real danger of all that happening back-when, it was that it warped the core dynamic of the slasher. Not so much towards killed-for-having-sex, but in the ‘women become disposable once they’ve taken their shirts off’-way. Which I’m not endorsing. I do love the slasher above all other genres, but that doesn’t mean everything it does is automatically right, either. That is what I identify as finally more operant than killed-for-having sex, though: in so many of the golden age slashers, all the suspense associated with a female character, it evaporates once she takes her shirt off. Yes? I mean, there’s slashers that don’t conform, of course—Tobe Hooper’s Fun House, doesn’t it start with the final girl in the shower, and a very lingering camera?—but by and large, most of them consider their female characters worthless once the nudity’s over. Which isn’t a healthy dynamic to just accept, as we use those same eyes in the real world, I’m pretty sure.

It Follows—much like Scream, and Nightmare on Elm Street (both Craven . . .)—doesn’t accept that. And not just because its cast is underage, possibly (I didn’t look them up). The only nudity we see in it, it’s of the distinctly uncomfortable variety, very similar to the much-postered nudity Romero gave us 68. It’s skin we don’t want to see, please. I’m thinking Zelda in that back room, yes. And, you can tell David Robert Mitchell is sticking to this because, come on, in a movie where sex functions like the passed-on VHS tape in The Ring, there’s an opportunity for nudity every other scene, pretty much. But he always has his characters keep their bras on. As in soap operas, they always pull the covers over them before getting started.

I hope to see more of this. And, with this, I hope to start seeing more slashers as well, please. They’re coming back, think? Yes? Yes.

So, to sum up: David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is both the freshest concept to come down the horror pike in a while, and it’s horror that really and legitimately gets to you. It’s horror you—and this is so important, as Psycho taught us—it’s horror you take with you.

You’re going to have certain doubts after It Follows. Certain suspicions.

Only the best horror ever does that.

[ I'll try to remember to put the trailer here when the trailer's real ]

 

Coming Home

For the weekend, anyway. And, I’m thinking this is my third time in the Midland Reporter-Telegram? I showed up once when I was about twelve, though I cannot begin to suspect what for. Oh, no: maybe it was for Old Settlers Days in Stanton. And maybe it was the news, not the paper. I was cutting cowchips with my knife, to win the big (throwing) contest. Which, I did, but not that year. Anyway, MRT is also the first place I was ever published. I was about twelve then as well. My little brother, over cereal before school, realized he was supposed to have written a myth for homework. Like, explaining where this or that came from. So I did it for him right quick, and he won some contest with it, and then it got published in the newspaper, under his name. But it’s my story. Or, ours, I guess. Anyway, here’s the most recent write-up, some thirty years after the other times (click the imgs for full-size/readablem or click here for the on-line version):

Midland Reporter-Telegram 2014

Midland Reporter-Telegram 2014

We Could Be Heroes

Meat Loaf and Freddy Mercury

vonnegut2
waylon
SpringsteenDylan
Craig Spector, Joe Lansdale, RC Matheson, David Schow, Ray Garton, Rick McCammon, and Jon Skipp

joan-didion-next-to-her-stingray-by-julian-wasser-640

bob seger-early-b
stephen king

Elvis and Ali

heart

halloween carpenter

TVZ

philip_k_dick_ridley_scott

michael-jordan

mötley-crüe

nightmare3

Moore Kirby

Steven-Spielberg-George-Lucas-600x789

pynchon1

Wer

WER-Banner

For a long time I’ve been in a Kirk/Picard situation with myself, regarding Ginger Snaps and The Howling: which do I like best? And, I know, what about An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers, Bad Moon. They’re all good and vital, and contributed important stuff, but for me, it’s always come down to Ginger Snaps or The Howling. And I usually settle on The Howling, as it’s got a much stronger ending (much longer franchise tail as well).

But now, man. No, not ‘man.’ Wer.

wolfman-hand-transformation-fingersThis may be the werewolf movie we’ve all been waiting on. And, what’s odd about it? Ever since 1941, the transformation sequence has been key. Landis and Baker took that and drove it home better than anybody, and Hemlock Grove‘s still doing it, to excellent effect. But in Wer, there’s only two real transformations, and neither of them required any dayslong choreography of latex and air-bladders, and the cgi rendering didn’t take a whole wall of processing power. Wer, it’s kind of standing the movie werewolf on its head. As the title might suggest, its stripping all the extra off ‘werewolf,’ just giving us the real monster inside that word all along.*

As for why the transformation sequence is so slight—not at all dissatisfying, just not the set-piece it’s always been—it’s not budget, necessarily, it’s that we don’t need to visually chart the ‘shift’ from man to wolf this time. From man to amalgamation of man and wolf, as if a wolf has been laid over the chassis of a man. As if the ‘dangerous’ or best parts of each have come together in some chocolate and peanut-butter perfect storm of an ultimate predator.

Too, I should mention, that’s exactly what I like from my werewolves: not the shoulderpad wolves of Dog Soldiers nor the cat-wolves of Underworld (don’t get me wrong, Lucien’s my sun-and-stars), but something more approaching Streiber’s canis lupus sapiens. Really, this is the silhouette I think a werewolf should cut:

Beer-Man-Werewolf-ale-has-too-much-bite-812791FB-x-large

Which is more or less Professor Lupin’s final form, yes? His intermediary one, anyway. Stretched out thin like a greyhound, hair-as-accessory rather than main characteristic, an actual canine muzzle, and on all fours except when the need arises to prairie-dog up over the cubicle walls. A wolf that can persistence hunt, I mean, not just ambush.

And this isn’t to say Wer‘s werewolf isn’t as excellent as excellent gets. When it runs, it drops to all fours, and could probably hurdle a cheetah when that cheetah was really cooking.

Before we get to that werewolf, though, remember how The Wolfman remake does that authentication shuffle—it does it twice, really: on the train (in the dir. cut, I think), Max Van Sydow, in handing off the silver-headed wolf cane we all know and love, drops “Gevaudan,” thereby tipping his hat to all the werewolf aficionados in the crowd that, yes, this movie’s had its homework done, the Beast of Gevaudan is something that matters. But the other way The Wolfman authenticates itself, it’s by having this Lawrence Talbot diagnosed with clinical lycanthropy, which is what always ‘explains away’ the werewolf, as all us die-hards in the crowd know, and kind of despise (this is where The Werewolf of Paris ended once upon a time, yes?). But The Wolfman then earns our undying loyalty when it very publicly disproves that diagnosis, to the consternation and bloody-necked deaths of a lot of gentlemen of the day.

Wer is doing something very similar, here. Except this time we’re the crowd of onlookers, diagnosing this tall, hairy dude with, probably, surely, an advanced case of clinical lycanthropy. We all know he’s the killer, but we suspect he’s just a killer dude, like Peter Stumpf (Stubb, Stump, etc) way back when: somebody who quit shaving and started eating people, starting at the neck.

Then, just like those Victorian gentlemen in The Wolfman‘s 1891, we get disabused of that notion. Pretty wonderfully, too. When this werewolf gets wound up and bitey, it doesn’t matter who’s in the room or what they’re packing, he’s going to chew right through them.

howling3_shot3lEspecially cool? The nod to Howling III. That’s the marsupial one, yes. Where they use flashing lights to trigger a transformation. The doctors in Wer should have been passing that VHS around before stepping down into this medical theater.

Anyway, Ginger Snaps: what made it work was largely that it was a werewolf story embedded within a high school story. The werewolf story  undergirded and exaggerated the issues the Fitzgerald sisters were already facing. Wer‘s got a similar angle: this is a werewolf story operating behind the scrim of a legal thriller, a courtroom drama that’s just ramping up to some “You can’t handle the truth”-apotheosis.

Except, of course, things go wrong. If things didn’t go wrong like this in stories, really, we’d stop telling stories. Stop listening to them, anyway.

So, the first half of the film is like footsteps, slowly approaching the werewolf door, peeking up to look in through the small window. Then we get some cool kill scenes, a transformation, and that door’s all the way broken down. The chase is officially started. Across the countryside, in barns, in caves, in caravans, in marshes, the werewolf doesn’t care. All the werewolf wants to do, it’s kill and—this is important—feed.

Far too often our movie werewolves, they just bite and run, right? Like, they hate the world, or throats and shoulders, anyway, and are going to do as much damage as they can before getting gunned down in the street.

Scarier, if you ask me, are those werewolves that are actually preying on us. That want the meat off our thighs. Not just because they don’t always kill us before starting in—though that’s not exactly ideal—but because, if the werewolf’s feeding then that makes it an actual biological animal, instead of some supernatural ‘cursed’ temporary creation. And animals are much easier to believe in, thus, much scarier. Killing one will hardly even matter, right? There’s a breeding population out there somewhere.

url-2And, talking ‘preying.’ Anybody remember that UPN series Prey from the late nineties? More than anything, Wer reminds me of that: an embedded species, with capabilities far exceeding our own. What’s cool about Wer is that the (extreme) license it takes with porphyria is used to pretty much ‘explain’ werewolves through the ages. And it makes complete and rational sense. And it even takes into account the moon, as all werewolves stories have to address sooner or later (however, silver isn’t an issue. you think it’s going to be, but then it’s not).

What’s really, really satisfying about Wer, though, it’s how it manages to both have closure at the end, but in a way that nearly sketches out the rough space where the sequel should be. Very impressed with the writing. And with the directing. And the photography. And the acting. And the effects. And this werewolf. Man, this is bad. Closest analogue I can think of is that tall bearded dude from Cold Prey. Except this werewolf would kill him in a heartbeat.

What’s really, really dissatisfying about Wer? That it didn’t get the wide-release. But it’s coming to DVD in September, I think it is. And it’s so buyable right now, digitally. Get there, werewolf fans. It’s the first new thing we’ve seen in these fields since about 2000. Wer is bringing the werewolf into our world. And it’s a bloody, loud birth. As it should be. My only prayer is that this movie has siblings, and children. We already know the grandparents. What we’re ready for, it’s the next litter.

 


* however, if we follow through with this, “Godzilla” becomes “God,” “mummies” end up being just “mum,” etc.

** (this footnote has no launch-point above) also, the Jim Harrison of “The Games of Night”—not Wolf—would dig this movie, I think. Can somebody tell him? He’s not in my rolodex.

Society Isn’t Doomed

mix Buzzfeed‘s “23 Things that Prove Society is Doomed” with Salon‘s “War & Peace on the Subway: How Your iPhone is Saving Literature,” then angle it through my publicists’ rose-colored glasses, and you end up with something a lot  like:

1. Sitting together and reading still counts as socializing:

ba_sgj1a
↳ Via quoteinvestigator.com, once upon a time.

2. It’s considered polite not to read over your date’s shoulder:

ba_sgj2a
↳ Used to be via empoweredteensandparents.com.

3. Fill the steps between class and the bus stop with a book:

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↳ I wonder if these kids know they’re in the original of this image from betabeat.com?

4. Books, for all the many time-outs and half-times of the sporting events you attend:

bz_sgj4
↳ Somebody here forgot their book . . . (Originally via umhoops.com).

 5. “There’s such a glare in here, we’re all having to hold our phones at odd angles to see the pages of these books”:

bz_Sgj5
↳ Used to be from picsofaznstakingpicsoffood.tumblr.com, but the internet broke because the URL was too long.

10. Sometimes chivalry is a race. She’s trying to gift him the book before he can buy it himself:

bz_sgj10
↳ Originally via 98kool.com, which has to be either a radio station or a cigarette.

11. Sure, Thomas Cole is good, but if you want zombies, you’re going to have crack a book open:

bz_sgj11b

 12. When you don’t know what to say, maybe a book can help:

bz_sgj12
↳ Used to be via saketvora.com. And no, I’m not getting paid for the product placement. Though I am now thirsty.

16. They’re reading so fast it’s making their faces blur:

bz_sgj16a
↳ Originally via singaporeseen.stomp.com.sg. Unless Samara’s holding that camera . . .

18. He’s putting a bookmark in his audio novel:

bz_sgj18
↳ Via businessinsider.com once upon a time. A site I’ve never, never been to.

19. It’s not considered ‘time-out’ if you’ve got a book. With a book, you can still escape to anywhere:

bz_sgj19
↳ Original via runt-of-the-web.com.

 

 

 stephen graham jones