Tag Archives: evil

Women in Horror: Pat Flewwelling

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteFrom Canada, writer and editor Pat Flewwelling talks about horror, scary reality and maybe, just maybe why women write horror.

Writing Horror All Along

For some folk, horror is synonymous with supernatural evil and/or gore. I think that’s unfair. There are plenty of horror stories that are all creep and no gore, like the Haunting of Hill House, Turn of the Screw, and Beloved. And there are stories that have no supernatural evil and yet are still shiver-worthy, like the original Stepford Wives, We have Always Lived in the Castle, The Yellow Wallpaper, Rebecca, and Flowers in the Attic.

Pat asks, what is scary? Image: MoviePilot.com

So, for the purposes of this argument, let’s take the supernatural and the gore out of the equation, because to be fair, there are a select few well-paid authors who have diluted all fright out of things that go bump in the night.

Without eldritch beings, evisceration, and eyeballs dangling from their sockets, what horror have we got left? Scary evil human beings. Let’s pretend then, that we want to write an in-your-face-scary horror story, leaving out the supernatural—and the swearing!—while sanitizing the gore and the violence, shall we?

Perhaps we should tell a story about an anonymous serial killer. Those are always big box office sellers, right? Maybe we can make the killer that creepy lurker on your street corner, standing there with his mental checklist, hunting for That One hidden amongst The Many. We don’t know he’s there until it’s too late, and by then, he’s become a pernicious and inexorable threat.

Oh wait…that story has already been told. A lot. Like, a lot.

Or perhaps he’s not that snaggle-toothed rando lurking in the shadows. Maybe he’s known and trusted, maybe even has a “special bond” with your children. There’s no safety at home, because that’s where he lives; there’s no safety with your parents; there’s not even a safe refuge for you with your friends. He always seems to know where to find you.

But perhaps it’s all in your mind. You’re just being hysterical. You’re overreacting.

Ah, but you perceive a threat— everyone knows there’s a threat—but since he hasn’t actually done anything to you, the police can’t help you. You show them the emails, the text messages, but that doesn’t prove anything, does it? All the makings of a great psychological horror, if overdone. In non-fiction.

Scary, sure, but what about evil? Like, deep-down, weapons-grade evil? This is a horror story after all. Why not some psychotic doctors, or baby-stealers, or people who slash genitalia? That kind of evil doesn’t really exist in the world, right? I mean, if true evil existed in the world, we’d see things like rape of incapacitated patients, forced sterilization without consent, systemic child abduction, husband stitches, and FGM (female genital mutilation). Besides, it can’t be evil if it’s legal, right?

Yikes. I sound a little biased. Let’s redirect this conversation, shall we? Maybe we should flip the script and have a scary, evil woman.

Well, the old serial killer trope still comes to mind. Black widows are standard fare, too, but in some cases, that horror plotline can quickly become a comedy. Well, we could always pull in a standard stalker, or a not-so-standard stalker. It’s strange that all the “evil” female villains seem to engage in—and the really, really evil ones attack children, especially their own. The worst? When they attack children sexually. Not always, of course. Don’t get me started on articles about the psychological or financial abuse they commit on all genders and ages. Women are a nasty bunch of creatures all on their own. After all, who do you think supports FGM? Who do you think performs it?

I won’t even consider writing a story about violence done against or by transgendered women, so don’t ask me to go checking how often a story like that has been done before. Thanks anyhow.

Flewwelling BlightOfExiles

Find Pat’s Blight of Exiles through Tyche Books

Maybe women horror writers add that supernatural element in order to create a monster they can actually see, define, and conquer. A monster we’re allowed to attack, encouraged to destroy. In a story like that, we can become the Mama Bear you just don’t want to mess with. We don’t just beat up the demons and send them home again; we undermine them. We can get inside their heads, understand what makes them tick, and use that to our advantage. And oh, how we will destroy them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, sure; but hell hath no single-minded, red-raged resolve like a mother whose children you’ve threatened.

And maybe we write the gory details because we know what it’s like to suffer the indignities of our bodies uncontrollably mutating throughout our lifetimes—puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, menopause. Maybe it’s our reaction to having our bodies and our lives constantly, publicly, dissected and deconstructed, not just by the male gaze, but by our own sisters and mothers and friends.

Maybe some of us are so sick of being never-good-enough that we just want to chuck deuces and become the whole-hearted villain they make us out to be. No holds barred, no flinching, all biting, all punching back, taking (for a change) instead of offering it up. Shackle-breaking. Free. Light. Instead of placating our attackers, standing up and fighting back. Striking first, instead of enduring a lifetime of hypervigilance, waiting, watching, wondering. Stabbing at ideals. Slashing at double-standards and artificial boundaries and self-imposed limitations. Bloody-toothed violence, but with a purpose and an end goal: Leave me and mine alone.

Or maybe women have been writing horror all this time, but calling it something else, like “autobiographies,” “statistical analysis,” and “autopsies.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaybe we’ve been calling it “journalism” all along.

Pat Flewwelling writes dark fiction of all kinds, from short stories like “The Great Inevitable” in Expiration Date (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, ed. Nancy Kilpatrick) and “Cyphoid Mary” in Alice Unbound (Exile Editions, ed. Colleen Anderson), to full-length novels like Blight of Exiles, Plague of Ghouls, and Scourge of Bones (Tyche Books, 2015, 2016, 2017 respectively). Forthcoming works include “Nowhere Time” in Canadian Dreadful (Dark Dragon Press, ed. David Tocher), and the fourth novel in her Helix series: Sedition (Tyche Books, 2019). On the side, she also runs a travelling bookstore, is a co-editor at ID Press, and works full-time as a senior business analyst.

You can find some of Pat’s work, Expiration Date, Alice Unbound and the Helix trilogy on Amazon.

 

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What I’ve Learned About Bad Guys in Fantasy Movies

Lord of the Rings, orcs, evil, villains, bad guys, movies

Lord of the Rings had epic bad guys. These one are just minions but you get the idea. Evil ain’t pretty.

Hollywood is built on cliches, recognizable tropes that audiences can identify to guide them through a story and conflict. But it seems that Hollywood has been feeding so long off of this pap that even the most obvious plots are dumbed down in dialogue and in imagery. Audiences aren’t that stupid (I hope) and it’s good when we have a challenge. What if the bad guy looks like you or me? Well, sometimes we want the villains to be petty, small minded, ugly and obviously a dick. Then we can cheer all the harder.

I find that in a lot of these movies they develop the hero’s role and character into three dimensions, but the villain will often be a cardboard cutout and very two-dimensional. Some of these get so trite that I throw up my hands in frustration. It’s not just medieval fantasy movies that have this issue. Modern and SF movies have the same problem, with often too easy to hate monsters. Star Wars, which could fall into a fantasy in space in many ways, like Lord of the Rings had a much more epic and sweeping tale. The bad guys have some depth but still evil is ugly and corrupts and corrodes them so that even their very forms are distorted.

Palpatine, Star Wars, villains, movie bad guys, evil

Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars follows the classical bad guy stereotype.

I’m not saying it’s bad to use these tropes…sometime, but it’s good to see some variance on the stereotypes. Perhaps that’s what’s so interesting about The Game of Thrones; the bad guys are so very human and sometimes pretty. So, with no further ado, here’s a list of what I’ve learned about bad guys in the fantasy movies.

  • If the evil overlord wears a helmet, it will usually have a skull, horns,  glowering eye slits, or other death’s head funnery. It will obviously emulate evil.
  • The destined hero will be the only survivor when his village is massacred and he tortured by the bad guy. Somehow his value is much greater, even if there is a prophecy that says he’ll kill Mr. Bad.
  • A village of farmers, with nothing much of value will be overrun and completely destroyed, with the villains taking neither slaves nor food. So, what, they just get drunk and want to commit anarchy?
  • Evil voices will be low, gravelly and guttural. Just imagine how sinister it would be to have a high-pitched nasally whine coming at you while you’re tied in the torture chamber.
  • The villain’s color spectrum does not include blue, green, yellow, orange or purple. It would be pretty scary to see a villain in pink and orange.
  • Their evil is so potent that they will reduce the land to cinders and ash, even though the minions still need to be fed, but perhaps they feed on people.
  • If you can see their eyes, they’ll be black pits or glowy red.
  • Evil overlords will inevitably fail but not before they maim a lot of people and scourge the land.

    movies, bad guys, heroes, villains, evil overlords, Wolfhound, pets

    Wolfhound is a movie out of Europe and slightly better in the medieval fantasy style.

Wolfhound, a movie out of Europe, was more interesting than most though it followed some of the tropes. The hero has a pet bat for a sidekick. That was different. Still, he is the only survivor of his village, a lone wolf, and not particularly trusted or liked at first. But he is noble in his valor and as the tale progresses he gets his revenge and more. Not badly done but look for the usual bad guy stereotypes.

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Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

movies, entertainment, horror, Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard

The Cabin in the Woods, a horror pastiche that maybe tops all such stories.

I had the opportunity the other night to see Drew Goddard‘s and Joss Whedon’s latest, The Cabin in the Woods. Whedon has a cult following as a screenwriter, from such TV shows as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel series, as well as Firefly. While I never warmed to Firefly (though I liked the film Serenity well enough) I was re-introduced to TV watching with Buffy. I hadn’t watched TV in years, except for a show here or there. Mostly I thought it was banal at best and idiotic most of the time, catering to the lowest common denominator with tired and cliché dialogue. Married with Children epitomized the wretchedness of TV for me and I just stayed away.

The process of helping a client (who became a friend) lay out her novel involved watching an episode of Buffy afterwards. I was stunned. Here were characters that changed, dialogue that was unpredictable and a plot that was dark and delectable. I was hooked. Whedon’s fame was justifiable for original writing and well-fleshed characters. And while Buffy could have been staked and slain itself before that final denouement, half-baked season came along, even that didn’t detract from the fact it was one of the best storylines on TV I had ever seen. I have since met HBO and found other stories that show the bravado of today’s scriptwriting when writers are allowed to blossom.

cabin in the woods, horror, film, movies, Whedon, Goddard

Kristen Connolly fights back the zombies out to kill them.

Goddard has his own cult following for his writing of the Alias and Lost TV series. Likewise, Alias became far too convoluted with plots and intrigues within intrigues, and Lost got wackier to what I thought was an ending that didn’t really work. Still, they were compelling stories with complex characters both likable and detestable at times. Lost‘s way of going forward with the present story while revealing more and more past history of the characters gave it interesting layers.

With The Cabin in the Woods all I knew was that Joss Whedon wrote it and that it was based on those tried and true horror genre films; you know the ones. The creepy basements, the unknown in the wild, the strange occurrences, the glimpses out of the corner of the eye. In fact, I thought it was going to be a play off of that pseudo reality styled film, The Blair Witch Project, where you never see the horror. If you don’t want spoilers before you see this film, you might want to stop now, because horrors you see aplenty. I called this the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink film.

I think this is the ending Joss always wanted for Buffy or Angel but didn’t quite get. You couldn’t squish another monster into this film. Indeed, they all burst forth, for the weekend in the woods is not what these people bargained for but it’s even more bizarre than anyone could have feared, because there is a whole network of technicians and masterminds at work helping orchestrate these college students’ downfalls. But of course, it doesn’t go smoothly for anyone; you could say it doesn’t go well for the monsters either.

cabin in the woods, horror, movies, film, Whedon, Goddard, scary

Fran Kranz, Chris Helmsworth (of Thor fame) and Anna Hutchison enter the treasure trove beneath the cabin’s floors, the beginning of all their problems.

The main characters are manipulated right from the beginning, with interspersed images of these guys in a bunker watching them and initiating protocols so that you’re saying WTF? A slow reveal gives more and more information, until the last tidbit is unveiled. Overall, this isn’t built up with the total dark suspense music that leads to a shocking reveal of the bad guy. Every time it looks kind of intense, something alleviates the buildup. So when the creepy looking backwoods fella at the decrepit gas station (with lots of furs and dead skinned things) calls the guys in the bunker, he delivers an Armageddon brimstone and fire soliloquy. The bunker guys listen intently until creepy guy says, “Do you have me on speaker phone?” He continues with the prophecies of doom once assured it’s turned off while the other guys break down in hysterics.

Basically every horror movie cliché is turned on its ass or twisted into something new. Almost. With the plethora of creepy critters to choose from Whedon and Goddard’s immediate antagonists are…zombies. Yep. But maybe that’s the point. This movie, if nothing else, is a pastiche of and an homage to horror movies and every bizarro monster ever imagined that sucks, occupies, eats and terrorizes humans. A true horror story is one where the protagonist fights and tries to prevail against the odds and evil, but ultimately is overcome. This movie fills it to the max without hope of redemption, survival or a sequel. Throughout the film a dark vein of humor is threaded, sometimes lighter, but in the end, when everything ends you still have to laugh.

Is this because Whedon and Goddard were worried about it being too bleak or that they really are paying tribute to the genre of horror? To me, it seems the latter. The movie was worthy, with some very fun characters and unexpected outcomes. It had enough twists that there is literally no dull moment, and in this case overcoming evil isn’t such a good thing. I’d give it an 8 skulls out of 10 on the monster movie meter.

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The Problem With Supervillains

Earlier I talked about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Superhero Fashion, and touched on the bad guys as well. But I think they need their equal time. Just as I listed the general aspects of the costumed hero, it applies to the villain, but there are a few more points.

  1. They have perfect or godly physiques. Even if slim, or buxom, superheros are muscular and perfect. (There are exceptions like

    Galactus, Marvel Comics (and the Silver Surfer)

    the Blob.) Villains on average might look more weaselly, be of thin or obese proportions, or not as attractive as the good guys. A sinister slant to the eyebrow and angular lines define the alien or evil.

  2. They have powers or abilities beyond the normal human.
  3. They are superbly fit and agile, as well as being able to withstand physical abuse that would disfigure, cripple or kill most other people (they never lose teeth for instance).
  4. They’re arrogant or megalomaniacs. After all, if you’re running around stealing and destroying things wearing wild colors and skintight clothing you obviously like the attention, even if it will get you caught.
  5. They rarely get paid so they steal in fantastic ways. If they have money, then they’re power mad or crazy. If they’re from another planet they may have alien concepts and like to eat worlds, as with Galactus of Fantastic Four fame.
  6. If they’re not crazy, they’re stupid or have a compulsion to be caught. After all, would you flaunt your crime wave by donning really bright tights to rob a bank? Wouldn’t stealth be better? Maybe the guys that get the powers are like the bank robbers who rob with their names on their motorcycle helmets.

Marvel's Dr. Doom

Villains might have once been good guys in the superhero world. There are often ambiguous moral lines that they cross back and forth. Those characters are less likely to look evil or bad. The X-Men’s Havok has played both sides. His costume and demeanor do not indicate bad or evil. Dr. Doom is disfigured from an experiment and he’s mad, brilliant and rich so he’s a bit like a primitive Darth Vader. The villain might be misguided by an evil leader and therefore can be swayed.

The female villains, no matter how crazy, are usually still dressed sexy. They tend to straddle those

Mystique from Marvel's X-Men

moral lines a lot more. Poison Ivy is mad but protects plants. Catwoman only steals from the rich, Harley Quinn is humorous but mad, sort of like a softer version of the Joker who is scary looking while she is cute. Mystique who is probably more right out evil than some of the others is still made to look sexy. Her dark skin and skull at the hairline are symbols of her darkness. But no matter how nasty her sneer, she is still dressed in ways that indicate eroticism, the breasts outlined through the costume, the hips bared to the waist. Godlike in her evilness.

There isn’t a female villain who is ugly that I can think of. Of course, I’m not up to date on every comic but if there is an ugly female villain she is most likely a minor character. I do recall one thin female in Mystique’s gang who was elderly, Destiny. But from time to time she is neither super thin nor old. Villains and heroes tend to morph a lot.

DC's Catwoman (from the movie) Men would love her to steal from them.

Sometimes a villain might wear something armored as does Dr. Doom or as the hero Iron Man does. When that villain is a woman the armor is decorative as opposed to functional and often exposes the stomach and/or midriff, a really soft spot on the human body. Obviously the supervillains only sometimes dress for function. Catwoman’s catsuit is suited for scuttling about and it’s black so she blends into the night. But she often wears heels and most women know how hard it is to run, jump or do other martial arts in heels, but then they are superhuman. On the whole, the reason the supervillains lose more than the heroes is because they must be stupider and crazier, which tends to affect judgment and of course heroes have justice on their side.

Still I’d love to see some common sense in costuming that’s pretty hard to duplicate and in most cases, in real life, would probably look really goofy. I suppose using sex to stun one’s victims into a stupor of immovability is one way to win but I think one might just go farther on stealth.

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