Thursday, February 11, 2016

Movie Review: The Hollow

Recently added to Netflix, The Hollow (2015) is a creature feature/town overrun movie starring Stephanie Hunt, Sarah Dugdale, and Alisha Newton.

I don't really do a lot of movies reviews, considering how many sites and blogs focus exclusively on such things, but this movie just kind of screamed to me to write one up.

The Hollow is pretty standard SyFy channel fare. Pretty low budget, kind of made to be cheesy.

Except it's not.

Now, in no way am I going to claim this is equal to any mainstream movie. Certainly not equivalent to a big-budget Horror film, or even to the low-budget theater flicks like the Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity.

But this isn't anywhere near the camp of things like Sharknado and the like. The Hollow harkens back to an age where SyFy tried to make legitimate Horror movies, even with low budgets and poor CGI.

SPOILERS start below the picture!

The basic premise is pretty familiar. Girls burned at the stake as witches curse the land with their dying wishes, and now every so several decades or so, on the anniversary of their deaths, a vengeful spirit rises up and slaughters everyone in reach.

Now, I'm not going to fault any story on how old and/or cliched it's plot is. Regardless of the plot, a lot of whether a story does well or does poorly is in the execution. The Hollow, actually, doesn't have a bad execution. I was curious what direction they were going to take in the plot up until the end, whether the girls all die, all survive, or even if they turned out to be related to the women burned as witches all those decades ago. 

Honestly, the main reason I wanted to write a review is to express that I think this could rather easily have been a very good Horror movie. The acting is very good, the monster fairly original, and the plot is pretty well executed despite being almost a cliche at this point.

I want to start with the title. The only thing that makes sense to me is that the title "The Hollow" refers to the fact that the monster burns people out from the inside. I pretty much have to infer that because there's nothing else about a hollow anywhere in the movie. I'm sure with a bit of thought, they could have come up with a better title.

As I said, the monster is pretty original, a golem of branches, vines, and roots, that is permanently burning at its core. It kills though a mix of stabbing people and burning them out from the inside. It's pretty well known that usually in good Horror movies, less is more. "The Hollow" pretty much ruins this by showing you the monster in full right at the beginning. If they had actually kept the majority of the monster off-screen until the final chase/battle it would have raised the suspense dramatically.

The movie also contains multiple sub-plots which could be cut as extra, or expanded upon. The character of the youngest sister especially could have been given more screen time to expand on the themes of her prophetic dreams, her guilt of surviving while watching her parents die, and her moment of change when she stops blaming herself for people dying around her and goes back to save her sister. There is also a subplot created by the monster "saving people for later". Technically, this is just a mechanism to explain why the youngest isn't automatically dead when she runs off, but this could easily have been expanded upon into an actual plot point with a little effort and imagination.

It also might have made it more than just a cliche story to have some of the other characters be more than just cannon fodder between the monster and the MC.

All that considered, "The Hollow" is just an okay movie, but it has just enough under the hood to make you wonder what might have been, in the hands of a better script-writer and director.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Third Type of Horror: The Terror

So, the last look at the three types of Horror brings us to The Terror.

The Terror is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest of the three types of Horror to describe.

(Click the links to see the first two if you haven't read them already.)

The gross-out was the stuff that makes your stomach churn and look away before you hurl your lunch across the ground.

The Horror was the monsters that devour us and evoke our primal fears of dangerous things. 

The Terror is the unknown. Now, that may seem like a bit of a cop-out, because that could mean so many different things. Like I said, though, this is the easiest and the hardest to describe at the same time.

Well, let's start with what The Terror isn't.

The Terror is not the Gross-out. It's not looking to hit your gag reflex and make you spew your lunch across the yard. You're not usually (USUALLY) going to find The Terror in descriptive scenes of copious spouts of blood, splattered viscera, and jellified bones and organs. You may find The Terror alongside such things, but that doesn't make them part of what makes The Terror work.

The Terror is also not The Horror. The Horror lives in the known. It's the giant monster that just wants to eat us. It's the psychopath that, in spite of all his nefarious motives, fetishes, and twisted goals, remains nothing more than human. It's the danger that we're aware of, and yet can't escape with ease or without a fight.

That just emphasizes, once again, that The Horror is based on the unknown. The things we can't understand or even be fully aware of. As Mr. King said, "It's when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there's nothing there..."

Of course, that means the wealth of the Paranormal can be found in the files of The Terror. After all, we can never really be sure what exists beyond the veil of death before we cross over ourselves, that alone puts it beyond our understanding, so anything from that side will almost instantly put us on edge. Even though some entities have become well known enough for us to understand what they do, poltergeists, for instance, and thus lessen their grip down to The Horror.

I believe The Terror also applies to things in this world that we can't understand, as well. Aliens fall under The Terror, because we have no way of knowing what they're capable of with their technology, and we can have no real understanding of what they want or why they do what they do. Even though they exist in the same world, on the same physical level, they are beyond us so far, and in so many way, that they are all but incomprehensible to us.

Now, I want to finish out by saying while none of these are really inclusive of each other (barring phobias and personal fears which may elevate or demote a subject through the levels), none of them are really exclusive in the boundaries of a good story.

An alien abduction for example (The Terror) may include graphic scenes of medical experimentation (The Gross-Out). And, in a really good Horror story, you will likely find all three types woven together to varying degrees. A story based on a subject which rests soundly in The Horror, may have scenes which evoke the Gross-Out, while other scenes stretch beyond The Horror and into The Terror, before coming back down again.

So, rather than these being sub-genre's of Horror, I think we should view these as tools. While you can certainly write an entire book under one of these flags, I think it creates better work if you can incorporate two or even all three levels, much like a good description will hit on multiple senses.

Lastly, I just want to point out a story which, I think, successfully hits on all three types of Horror. As this began with a quote from Stephen King, it will end with him as I wave my hand over this work Children of the Corn. The story hits upon the Gross-Out (The brutal murder of the wife), the Horror (The murderous children), and The Terror (He Who Walks Behind the Rows). Definitely worth the time if you haven't read it already.

Anyway, that does it for this little mini-series. Feel free to comment or contact me if you have anything else to add or want to berate me. This is all my opinion after all.

~ Shaun

Monday, February 1, 2016

SPOILERS! And why they don't bother me that much.

So, for those of you who don't know, I've taken to doing some self-advertising by streaming. I try to focus on games that have a powerful Horror, Sci-fi, or Fantasy element, such as The Evil Within, Alien: Isolation, and Outlast. Lately though, I've been spending a LOT of time running around in Fallout 4.

If you're unfamiliar with the game, it's an RPG based in a post-apocalypse where the entire world got nuked. There's monsters, mutants, robots, and giant cockroaches galore. It's also amazingly deep if you don't focus intently on the story missions. If I honestly had to guess, I've easily got between 100 - 150 hours into this game, just doing re-spawning missions and building up settlements. 

Anyway, while I was streaming last week, I had a random asshat pop in, ask how far along in the game I was, and then he proceeded to blow most of the big ending twists. He was banned in short order for such a transgression. 

Honestly, I don't usually mind spoilers. But these were some pretty major plot points, and the way he asked about where I was in the game made it pretty clear he was just looking to be an ass about it. 

But the bigger point I want to discuss here is WHY I don't mind spoilers. 

Part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of times, spoilers are accidental. People just get so excited about a book, a movie, or a game, and they just want to talk about it. They forget not everyone has seen it, and this is only exacerbated by people like me that don't usually mind, or people who don't really care and let them ramble on. 

Those kinds of spoilers can be forgiven, and particularly as a creator, it's exciting to see. That's exactly the response we want people to have when they read our books, watch our movies, or play our games. 

The other reason I don't usually mind spoilers, is that a plot twist such is usually given away as a spoiler, is nothing without the surrounding story. If there's not enough tension, not enough compassion felt for the characters, not enough build-up, then it doesn't matter how great your plot twist is. I appreciate the build-up to the plot twist as much as, if not more than, the plot twist itself, and that is why even when I know what the twist is, if the story is compelling enough, I'll keep going. I may not have that "OMG! WTF?" reaction, as much as a simple smile and nod, but that's okay. 

And even the people in charge of a story might accidentally spoil it if they're not paying enough attention. You can't just assume everyone knows the answer, even if most people do. For example, the cover of the home release of the original Planet of the Apes. Yeah. That's the plot twist. Right there on the cover, the big secret reveal. Nice job there 20th Century Fox. Hell, just look the movie up online. Most of the basic descriptions now tell you the movie is actually ** *** ******.                                                                                                                                             So, there you have it. Spoilers are just hard to avoid, even when you don't have some guy being an ass. Even when something gets spoiled though, you shouldn't let it be the end of your enjoyment of a story. Stories can be appreciated without that total shock value. Just look at how many people have re-watched Star Wars over and over and over again, in spite of knowing that one line. 

Still, if you can help it, don't be an ass, and keep your spoilers to yourself. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Second Type of Horror: The Horror

So, last week, I went over the Gross-out. Today we'll be discussing the Horror. If you want to know what quote started this, go back and take a look. It's a fair sized quote, so I don't want to take up a lot of space with it three weeks in a row.

This is the point where things start to get a little confusing. First off, I want to make it clear that in any given story, none of these things are exclusive. You can have the Gross-out, the Horror, and the Terror all in the same story, sometimes even in the same scene.

The Horror is different from the other two because it's trying to play on our fears and elevate them to higher levels than normal. For instance, many people are afraid of snakes and lizards. The thought of something scaly just unnerves them. So, what does it do to people who are already afraid of reptiles when they see something like this?

Whereas the Gross-out is going for something to make your stomach turn, the Horror is trying to activate your fears. That's one reason people gravitate towards certain writers and not others. The monster horror grips them in ways the crime thriller doesn't. Or vice-versa if the person is more afraid of who their neighbors might be than of snakes, or spiders. 

This definitely isn't just about creepy crawlies though. It can be any fear. The fear of being alone, the fear of drowning, even the fear of being in a crowd. The Horror is about finding what scares you and shoving it right up into your face.

That makes the Horror very different from the Gross-out. It's not going for the gut-punch that makes you queasy or makes you turn away in disgust. This is going for actual fear.

I think this is the level that most people actually enjoy. It's the fear that's embodied by movies such as Pacific Rim and Godzilla, where there's the "fun" fear of being crushed by a giant monster, or even of some unstoppable predator that's trying to eat us, a fear that used to be very based on reality but that has dwindled over the years.

It's the fear of natural disasters such as tsunami's and earthquakes. The movies that are Horror movies if you actually stop to think about it, (seriously, imagine the sheer numbers of dead people in Pacific Rim), but that Hollywood usually labels as Action or Thrillers.

Aliens has a lot of the same things as Alien had. The claustrophobic setting, the monsters, and yet, while this is undoubtedly a Horror movie, it gets listed as an Action movie first. If anything the sequel is even more of a Horror movie, because it shows all our preparations are for naught.

Still, it's more fun to think we can fight the Horror, than to just sit back and be terrified of it, even if we fail miserably.

And that's why I think this kind of horror is generally the most popular.

But that's just my opinion, I could be completely off base. What do you think?

~ Shaun

Monday, January 18, 2016

The First Type of Horror: The Gross-out

Yeah, don't expect many pictures in today's post.

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it's when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it's when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It's when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there's nothing there...” - Stephen King

I figured it worth the time to take a look at some of these a bit more in-depth. I'll tell you right now, that was a mistake for this part. Blech.

The gross-out is exactly what you would think. All the most disgusting, revolting things that make your stomach turn over. When a head explodes, a fountain of blood gushes out of a random orifice, someone throws up, that's all going for the gross-out. It's not trying to catch your breath, or send shivers down your spine. It's going for that gut reaction that makes the bile rise up in your throat a little bit.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. It's even the basis for genre's such as Splatterpunk and Torture porn. So there's certainly a market for it, and there are people that appreciate it.

The SAW series is pretty good for an example of the gross-out. While the story itself stands up pretty well, and has an incredible amount of tension, it doesn't look away when the string snaps and people's heads are ripped open.

Of course, with whole genre's based around the gross-out, you also end up with things like COWS (read at your own risk). stories which seem to be written or told just to see how fast or how many times they can make you lose your lunch.

Of course, the gross-out isn't just a genre. It's a tool. It pops up in a lot of great horror. Stephen King himself uses it scattered through his books.

Jack Ketchum's Off Season is rather famous for being "raw, and disturbing", but it's only in the last third of the book, with it's descriptions of cannibalism and perversion that it gets to that point. The rest of the book remains a regular horror thrill ride of a group of friends fending off a savage attack by the cannibal clan.

Even my own work, Class 5, has scenes which go for the gusto of gross rather than the tried and true method of leaving most of the details to the reader's imagination. The scene of a young boy partially devoured, for example.

So what is the difference between a gross-out and just your average violence? It's more than just not turning away at the pivotal moment. It's about taking the moment and reveling in it. Going into more detail than story or description needs. It's when the author gives up on Terror or even Fear and just goes for triggering revulsion.

For example. When the alien grabs your hapless victim by the head, the reader needs to know that it crushed the human's skull like a styro-foam cup, rather than caress the man's hair. The reader doesn't really need to know that its thumb pushed in through one of the eye sockets, mashing the orb like a grape before the rest of its fingers pressed in, shattering the skull like glass, shards of bone sticking out between the fingers as blood and brain fluid ran down the remains of the man's face.

But it is nice to give them that detail once in a while. Just for fun.