Category Archives: Television/Animation

Gore as an Emotional Device

This is going to be FILLED with spoilers.

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The late Oberyn Martell represented righteous anger, rebellion and justice in a story marked by oppression and fear.

Although I consider myself a big fan of horror movies, I can’t stomach the senseless use of gory images. I don’t find blood-spattering funny, and I don’t enjoy watching death scenes that are meant to feel vindictive or cathartic. In filmmaking, using gore as a narrative device is a dangerous choice. Depending on the context, a gory scene (especially a death scene) can appeal to either the best or the worst nature in an audience. When it fails, a movie can end up in anonymous oblivion, joining the ranks of forgettable gore-porn and torture-porn films. When it succeeds, though…those are the scenes that stay with you. I’m always impressed with (and harrowed by) the choice to not only kill off a like-able character, but to absolutely mangle them in their last moments. What motivates scenes like this?

Let’s start with Oberyn Martell.

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I watched this episode with my roommates, and we all reacted EXACTLY the way Oberyn’s wife (lover?) did.

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Concepts of the Underworld Across Religion and Art

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“Leaving Adamantinarx” – Wayne Barlowe

Ancient Egyptians feared a realm in the afterlife called Duat. In the Torah, it is sometimes referred to as sheol, the space beneath the earth that swallowed civilizations whole. Greek mythological tales describe a living underworld of dead souls, pulsating with five rivers as its veins, ruled by Hades and his many-headed hound Cerberus. The Serer religious traditions of several African countries describe Jaaniw, the final resting place of the human soul. Unfortunate souls who cannot find Jaaniw are perpetually lost to the ether, though they do not, as in the case of most other religions, burn or suffer.

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8
“But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, Whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; And for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever, in their anguish, they would […] taste the doom of burning.” Quran 22:19

The concept of a righteous, punishment-based afterlife is certainly not unique to Western religions, though the method of escaping the gates of Hell has become more specific and streamlined in the wake of evangelical Christianity. While earlier Christian belief describes access to heaven as based on the deeds of a woman during her lifetime, modern Christianity attributes the salvation of the eternal soul to a relationship with Christ the Redeemer. Similarly, eternal punishment in Islam is enacted on members of other religions, or as the Quran calls them, “those who disbelieve.”

So Christians say hell is for non-Christians, and Muslims believe it’s solely the fate of non-Muslims. Regardless of how we supposedly get there, what is hell, and what has hell been, in cultural imagination since its inception?

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Hell as a multi-tiered labyrinth, its levels separated by the type and severity of the eternal prisoners’ transgressions, was introduced in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. In this epic poem, the nine realms of hell loosely follow the Catholic seven deadly sins, offering specific discipline for sinners of all kinds. The quote supposedly written on the gates of hell in The Divine Comedy has followed us through contemporary art and fiction, and specific segments have even reached a certain level of cliche.

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The Gates of Hell, sculpted by Rodin

“Through me you go to the grief wracked city; Through me you go to everlasting pain; Through me you go a pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator: I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made was made, only eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope — Ye Who Enter Here

In Christian tradition, hell is not only a resting place and torture chamber for the souls of non-believers, but it also serves as a living realm for Satan (the fallen angel) and his own horde of angels (sometimes referred to as demons, or Legion). Classical and contemporary paintings have attempted to illustrate this horde of creatures with interesting results.

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Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” depicts hell as a comedy club, something I’m not opposed to.

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Wayne Barlowe depicts a hierarchy of demons in his paintings, suggesting they share a monstrous culture.

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Zdzisław Beksiński depicts hell as a place of torturous silence, and stresses the horror of absence over chaos.

Disney’s animated feature Fantasia depicts an underworld ruled by a single titan in its sequence, Night on Bald Mountain. It goes without saying, perhaps, that this animation scared the daylights out of me when I was a child.

 

New and Exciting Work in Horror in 2014

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This past week I saw both Deliver Us From Evil and Snowpiercer in theaters, and the obvious differences between the films had me thinking about horror’s genre parameters. Of course, Deliver Us From Evil is just another panel-written, formulaic movie churned out by studios who have whittled American “horror” films down to a handful of repetitive images. You’ve got your slightly-flawed but ultimately noble white male hero, your creepy kid’s room full of demonic toys (there’s literally a scene with a jack in the box, and I was the only one laughing in disgust), and your drawn-out exorcism scene. I almost expected the demon to say “we are legion,” but instead he said some other comically-vague demonic-sounding name.

So what’s so exciting about Snowpiercer as an evolutionary step for horror? Well, for starters, it’s not technically billed as horror. Instead, it’s sold to cinephiles as Bong Joon-Ho’s first English language thriller, and it’s sold to mainstream US audiences as an experimental dystopian action thriller. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? Why can’t we just call Snowpiercer what it is? It’s beautiful and emotionally resonant, yes, but it’s also definitively and staggeringly horrific. I’d argue that “thriller” has become a stand-in genre tag for horror films that are actually good.

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Monster Design: Fine Artists, Cartoonists and Illustrators

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One of my earliest memories is rifling through my collection of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” a now infamous series of books for kids. I owned the original printings with illustrations by Stephen Gammell. For a full look at the disappointing re-printing, using illustrations by the dude whose art was used in the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books, click here.

ZhrkTYvGammell’s original drawings were an exercise in suspense as much as they were depictions of unique monsters. The question of form is present in almost every one – what is this thing? Is it dangerous? As a child, I had no idea, but I enjoyed the sensation of staring at something and trying to figure it out. That’s an effect only a still shot, or illustration, of a monster can do.

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