Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bump in the Night

Things that go bump in the night! 

I'm back from a month hiatus to take on the Season of The Witch (2011), not the motion picture starring Nicholas Cage.  I was one that enjoyed it, but the critics and viewers were mixed in their reaction. A much larger issue is at hand, as the bewitching hour draws closer to us.  What is it about horror movies that give us tingles up our spine?  Good and bad scary movies have an effect, with some more subtle than others.  Whether we love them or hide from them, during the Halloween season, they surround us from movie trailers to costumes to fake spider webs.  The reality is - the images and storylines don't have to be that "real" to frighten us.  Think about all those "Jason" and Freddy" movies - and what about "The Candy Man" or today's generation's reincarnation of the ancient "Slender Man" - we suspend disbelief to believe in the dark side.  Even in the virtual world, the Wicked Witch of Second Life might get you, my pretties. 

The plots seem trite. The victims are paralyzed with fear, and we think we would do something differently;  we would run faster (and not trip on that tree branch) but then we think, would we, could we?  Horror movies tap into our wildest fears, even worse than any nightmares conceived within our mind - alas, it comes from the human mind, that writer who knows those little twists and turns to get us on edge.   The ghastly figure peering into our window, the doll under our bed that comes to life when we sleep, or even the creature that looms within the depths of the lake - all bring to mind familiar movie scenes.   If one believes in good, then surely there is evil.  If one believes in evil, then there must be some goodness in the world.   One or two characters escape from this horrid wrath, only to be faced with those demons again and again in sequels.

We laugh about some of these movies, and how silly they are, but we watch them - and jump at the appropriate times.  Our primal fears are aroused by sound and light, and some instinctual sense rooted deeply into our being.   Do you ever think - could I ever do such dastardly deeds, if pushed beyond my limits?  What are those human limits?  Do you ever know?   In comic books and films, there are supernatural transformations into superheroes  - and then there are those humans that become supernaturally evil and powerful, driven by revenge and psychosis.  Maybe there was something evil in them from conception.  Freud spoke of our id, the darkness closeted deep within our mind.  Is it that part of us that enjoys these movies?

Earlier this year, Time Out London published a list of the top 100 horror films, and the top ten are worthy of reflection this Halloween -  The Exorcist (1973), The Shining (1980), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Psycho (1960), Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), Rosemary's Baby (1968), Halloween (1978), Suspiria (1976), and Dawn of the Dead (1978).

Check out the whole list here:

"Bad people don't come with warning labels." 

I heard that line today, as I wrote this column, watching a Lifetime movie!  That is a network full of movies that by its design asks us to put our critical sensors on hold!  LOL.  I have come to learn many men watch this network too, as well as its target audience of women of many ages.  Only those brave men admit to it!

What is it about horror movies that captivate our attention and scare us out of our mind.  EXACTLY.  A horror movie is a step into madness, a point were human weakness and strengths are exploited.  It is the pounding of the heart in Edgar Allen Poe's Tell Tale Heart.  [Here's a The Sims 2 adaption - a pantomime]  It is our humanity that allows us to fall prey to the supernatural.  It is more than the eerie music, whispers in the dark, the blood and writhing, flickering lights and shadows, or even the infamous Wilhelm scream.  In the world of horror, we can trust no one - not our lovers, children, or parents.  We are alone - and not alone.  We are sane - and perhaps insane.  We cannot even trust ourselves.  Vampires did not make the top 10, but Dawn of the Dead did.  Perhaps it is because what scares us most is ourselves, those of our own species. Vampires live eternally, and zombies are mindless, drooling creatures.  We hold life precious, fully rich with emotions and intelligence.  Those emotions include fear, and the absence of fear is to be a zombie. A vampire fears its second death.

Now let’s look at some horror machinima from the past few years.  The range of skills and content are quite diverse.   

Above, World of Warcraft's This is Halloween - a musical ditty that you will recognize.

Above, A Sims 2 Horror Movie
The windows scenes are worth the view.  Why did they leave the door open?

How about a couple of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations?  We start of course with the work of the wonderfully talented Lainy Voom, in particular her version of Dagon.  It is an artistically crafted voyage into the mind.  Or what about the award-winning series The Shadow of Innsmouth and its prequels screened at the Machinima Expo over multiple years.

And then one of my students, Patrick, this past summer experimented with a bit with horror, first using Minecraft to produce a music video (Skillet's Monster) and then Second Life to create a sci-fi mini thriller.   Realize that these were his first machinima projects.

Minecraft – Skillet's Monster
Second Life - Horror on the Bridge

Note the cameo by my co-instructor Lowe Runo in "Horror on the Bridge."  Lowe himself produced a machinima years ago called Bedtime, playing off our childhood fears. We all have at least one scary story in us - what is your story?   

We find reasons why to celebrate Halloween all year-round.   This November 30th, Black Friday, the biggest shopping day after Thanksgiving, The Collection will be debut in movie theaters.   And its logo is..."the real Black Friday."   

What can we learn from horror movies?  - techniques of foreshadowing, building suspense, tapping into fears, unique characterization, and how to take us on the emotional roller coaster ride of our lifetime.  That does not necessarily mean lots of action in the physical sense.  It means an exploration into the primeval nature that connects us all.   As we face our greatest fears, there is hope that the human race can rise above them all, to start again - until Part  II.

Be sure to attend Machinima Expo inside Second Life - November 16-18th, and visit the Web site at

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 Thanks to Belinda Barnes-Fitzroy for posing in some of the photos.   By the way, here's a playlist of my students' projects from the summer, with most of them dabbling for the first time in machinima -  

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The Professional Machinima Artist Guild and Lowe Runo Productions graciously host Magnum:  The Machinima Review.