Friday, March 22, 2013

Guest Post: Overcoming the Desensitization of Horror Fans

Jacob Mielke is the author of the horror play The Sacrifice. This is his first guest post for La Petite Blog. 
I don’t know if you guys know this, but writing horror plays is kinda hard. It’s not so surprising, really. Just look at the horror genre in the film industry today. When was the last time you saw something truly scary? I’m talking “Oh my goodness I must cover my eyes and plug my ears lest this madness force me to evacuate bowel and bladder right here while I sob like a soap opera star watching Titanic” scary.

The last time I watched something that scary, I was fourteen. I was locked in a dark room in a dark house while The Grudge played on a TV that I couldn’t turn off or even turn down (Don’t ask). 
Today, I can watch that and worse with no problem at all. I am a victim of something far scarier than any horror movie…desensitization (Cue recorded scream of B-Movie actress from the fifties).

We horror fans have a (usually) inevitable result of our love of horror; we cease to scare easily. This poses a particular problem for people who specialize in entertaining audiences with horror (Like me, damn it); how are we supposed to scare an audience that’s already seen it all, heard it all, bathed in the blood of it all?

It’s ultimately up to everyone to find their own way of making it work but I have my own techniques that I’m willing to share with the world since so few theaters make good horror theatre and I can’t afford to drive to New York every month to see shows by La Petite Morgue (wink wink).

Technique # 1: Create characters the audience connects with and likes, place them in high-tension, suspenseful situations, then mutilate the shit out of them. Kind of self-explanatory, really. If the audience doesn’t like the characters, then there’s no reason for them to care whether they live or die, and all the suspense is gone. As Alfred Hitchcock once said: “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” So, loss of suspense is kind of a show-killer.

Technique # 2:
Bloody blood all over the bloody place. Blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the characters, blood in the characters’ hair, blood in the stage manager’s coffee and sometimes even blood on the audience. Don’t get me wrong, gore effects do not make or break a show. If something isn’t scary, blood won’t make it scary but if something is scary, then blood can help make it even scarier. No offense to the theaters who can’t afford blood effects, but some of the suspense and illusion is lost when the character carving unholy symbols into his body is doing so via his mad miming skills.

Technique #3: Audience participation. This is a controversial tactic and sometimes requires the signing of a release form but there’s no way to get an audience clenched up faster than to break the fourth wall a little and include them in the hijinks. Example: I once saw a show with actors planted in the audience. They slumped in their seats as if dead and were covered in dried blood. This alone was enough to unsettle people and almost no one wanted to sit near them. They also looked wildly uncomfortable when the corpses stood up and made their way to the stage. Boom, the audience is held in suspense before the damn show even starts. That was a masterful use of suspense. If it had been thought up by me, I’d say it was perfect.

Horror audiences just don’t scare like they used to. I remember a time when one could stage Dracula and people would be genuinely frightened by it. These days, Dracula is usually presented as more of a drama than anything else.

This Dracula is scary, but not in the way he intends.
You have to really work to overcome that desensitization. Show them something they’re not used to. Bring them out of their comfort zones. Do they expect to be scared by going to see a play and then sitting quietly in the audience until it’s over? No, of course not. So, make sure that’s not all they’re doing.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Post: Good Girls Don't Write About Decapitations

Lisa Huberman is the author of the horror play Heart/Succor, which premiered at Fresh Blood in July 2012. Her monologue Easy Breezy Blood-Sucking was performed at Bloody Gore-geous Monologues in February 2013. -KP

The scariest movie I ever saw as a kid was The Little Mermaid.

That’s weird, right? For most people it’s something like It or Halloween or the wood-chipper scene from Fargo. Straight-up horror never really appealed to me-- I guess I’ve always liked being different. 

As a plucky redhead with ambitions of being a singer, it’s not hard to see why I identified with the fiery, headstrong Ariel. Just like Ariel felt out of place in her undersea world, I felt out of place in suburban Ohio. Plus she had an irrational attachment to her collection of useless shit—a legacy that I carry on to this day, much to my dad’s chagrin. 

Looking back to the film there’s lot that’s cringe-worthy. Take awkward 90s-era racism with the red-lipped “blackfish” in the “Under the Sea” sequence. Then there’s the regressive gender politics. Unlike the sensible, level-headed Belle and the cool, acerbic Jasmine of later Disney films, who keep their romantic counterparts at bay with their wits, Ariel is kind of the worst romantic role model ever. Girlfriend is so boy-crazy she puts herself and her entire marine kingdom in jeopardy for the self-centered pursuit of a dude with whom she has literally never had a conversation.

Ariel refuses to take "He's just not that into fish," for an answer.
But while the film is not perfect, for me it’s also extremely primal. Despite the rousing, reggae numbers, the Kingdom of Triton is an extremely dangerous one. Not only does King Triton face constant threats to the peace from below the sea in Ursula the sea witch (whose death scene I’ve commented on previously), but also from the human world above. When arguing with Ariel about whether she should be allowed to go to above the surface, Triton cries something to the affect of, “Do you think I want my daughter snared in some fisherman’s hook?” 

Their whole conflict is meant to be metaphorical— in Ariel, we’re supposed to see the typical teenage girl struggling with her father about questions of prejudice and parental control. But for some reason, at six or seven, this image gripped me. And while the film itself never put Ariel in any real danger, Sebastian spends an entire song fleeing the knife of a French chef, and misses being devoured by Prince Eric’s manservant by a heartbeat. The idea that in another version of the story, Ariel— who I had come to know, love and-- could be captured by a fisherman and gutted and devoured like just another fish fascinated terrified, and disturbed me. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Guest Post: The 10 Best Slashers in a Post-Scream World

Tyler Grimes is the author of the horror plays Meat (read at Fresh Blood September 2012) and 5D. This is his first Guest Post for La Petite Blog - hopefully, his first of many. -KP

On December 20, 1996 (when I was a lad of 6 summers) murder occurred in the horror cinema. With the release of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s fast-talking, blood-spilling, eye-winking, Jamie-Kennedy-featuring Scream came the unofficial death of the “slasher film.” 

Craven, fresh off story credits in a long stint of increasingly absurd and inaccessible Nightmare on Elm Street sequels found Williamson’s script, which meticulously deconstructed the very genre Craven had made a name for himself in, and it was a match made in the underworld.  It followed high school student and local celebrity Sidney Prescott, as a costumed killer dubbed “Ghostface” begins to butcher his way through the Woodsboro High School yearbook, eventually setting his sights on Sidney. After famously killing off the film’s biggest star in the opening scene, Craven and Williamson let audiences know they were in for something they had never experienced before.

Only we weren’t. The true success of Scream is that we see nothing we haven’t seen before while seeing everything we’ve never seen before. The film works a lot like a puppet show. You can focus on the marionettes or you can follow the strings and focus on the person manipulating the puppets.  Borrowing from a formula first played around with in 1991’s There’s Nothing Out There, Williamson’s script poked fun at the tropes that had dominated the slasher genre since it first came into being with Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. We have an innocent leading lady (Neve Campbell), an aloof boyfriend (Skeet Ulrich), a cutthroat reporter (the incredible Courtney Cox), bumbling detective (played brilliantly by David Arquette), an iconic killer, a great whodunit mystery, and other stereotypes that dominated the genre since it became mass-produced in the 70’s. 

What separates Scream from the rest of the bunch is the character Randy (Jamie Kennedy), a know-it-all movie geek that epitomized 90’s culture. Randy is a big reason this movie works, because as the movie progresses he’s pointing out what would happen "if this were a horror film". This is also borrowed from There’s Nothing Out There, only done much better here. (Plus, Matthew Lillard in the last 20 minutes of the movie is sensational. Find me a more reckless performance that lands that well this side of a Nic Cage movie and I’ll give you $5!) Randy, and the film’s ability to be self aware, occasionally brings Scream into laugh territory, and to call the movie a horror comedy is not entirely too far off. Scream is steeped in Williamson’s genuine love for slasher films but like the Wizard of Oz, when the curtain is up and the man revealed, it’s hard to ever go back to the way things were. Such was the case with the slasher genre following Scream.

Randy explains the until-then-unwritten rules of horror cinema.
How do you make a scary movie when audiences now know all the secrets (Scream pulled in $173 million at the box office)? It was difficult and no slasher film will ever truly stand on its own in the post-Scream era, but this blog post will attempt to highlight 10 of my favorite slasher films to come out of the Hollywood machine since 1996.