I need one, because I’m certainly not. I am so painfully not a photographer that it’s laughable to think anything creative could possible finds it’s way through my lens. It’s not that photography doesn’t interest me, it certainly does. I’m just not a very sentimental person, so I don’t ever take pictures, nor do I keep them around my house. I appreciate photography as a creative outlet, but I already have several creative outlets that I prefer. On top of all that, I’m a secular Buddhist.
This means I try not to hold on to or live in the past (see: main uses of photography for the laymen), and I try to be present during experiences and enjoy them without thinking about the past or future (won’t find me holding a camera up while I’m at a concert). To give an example, when I went to see Penn & Teller in New York, my girlfriend had to practically beg me to take a picture with them. Penn Jillette is one of my favorite people on the planet, I love him and respect him, and I was going to shake his hand and walk away without a photo. That’s the level of ineptitude I’m at with the whole photography thing.
Spooksy is a fat bearded old man, who wears a black hood, and thinks he’s the host of a horror T.V. show. He can often be heard on a quiet night, off in the distance, narrating something or another. Spooksy always talks about how horrible the war was, and how much he accomplished before it broke out, but as far as anyone can tell, spooksy has never even been in the military, let alone an area afflicted with conflict. Spooksy also constantly complains about how he lost his right hand in the war, and makes references to phantom pains, and loss of independence due to the injury. However, when spooksy forgets about his supposed injury, he can often be seen using his right hand to full affect.
Spooksy has a high raspy voice, and can be a bit on the eccentric side when speaking. Think of a combination between David Lee Roth and John Waters. While Spooksy’s commentary is often light and playful, sometimes he can go a bit off the handle, forgetting where he is, possibly harming himself, or any other number of unsettling things.
I used the story Grim Reaper from this week’s offerings
I like this because it doesn’t quite fit into those curves. First, I have to decide who the main character is. I think William Shatner is. He starts above average because he has an apartment in the city, he is successful, and he has a plan to gain some wealth and fortune. His plan gets a bit unsettled when he meets the new husband, but it certainly hasn’t dipped below average yet. I would say it goes back up when his plan starts to succeed, and he manages to kill his Aunt and her husband. Then, starts to decline when he begins seeing visions. At the end, his story curve plummets as the picture fulfills its dark legacy.
If you look at the story as a whole (maybe that’s how Vonnegut meant it, but it seemed to me it was more character dependent). I would say everything starts above average, then goes down below as people die, then comes back up slightly when the murderer gets what’s coming to him. I would argue that it never returns above average, since a bunch of people died. I think this arch more closely resembles one of Vonnegut’s, though it doesn’t finish as strong. In conclusion, I would say his arch can be loosely applied to horror. It certainly doesn’t encompass everything. But he does touch on the generic aspects of films that are mass produced for profits by major sources. Also, a bit on the stagnation of innovation in storytelling as a whole.
I’ve actually read this story before, and I really like it. On the surface, it’s more eerie than scary, until you peal back the layers a bit. It tricks you into a false sense of comfort because at first the townspeople are so casual. You think it’s just a normal benign story because they act like it’s just another day, like they’re going to any other town hall meeting. Then, they all come together and commit this act of great evil, even the children, with unflinching devotion. You really can’t even picture that being the ending when you first start into it.
Shirley Jackson does a great job of slowly building that tension without giving away too much. It’s a lot like a rollercoaster. Everyone is laughing and joking as they’re sitting down, then they gradually become more nervous as the inevitable drop approaches. The jokes stop, the silence builds, you start to reconsider getting on in the first place, but it’s too late to get off now…
Where this story gets really scary for me is when I think of parallels between this and real life. You can see examples of people today having that unflinching devotion to insane ideas, and even people willing to kill for them. The fact that people can be so utterly manipulated into thinking they’re doing good work by murdering someone is terrifying.
It really makes me appreciate how far science and culture have evolved to push things like this out onto the fringe, instead of this stuff still being a part of our everyday lives. Think of the Salem With trials, as few as 300 years ago we were doing things very similar to this. We can be horrifying in our own ignorance.
The Grim Reaper
The thing I liked most about this story is that you couldn’t really be sure it was an evil force until the very end. I thought it was going to tie back into the Aunt being the killer, and was pleasantly surprised it didn’t. Using today’s horror formula it probably would have. I wish there would have been a little more backstory into the picture though, some reason why it was cursed or evil. But it did make me ask the questions of whether or not her Nephew would have come to kill her had she not purchased it, which is very interesting.
I liked the way they made the Aunt a mystery writer, because it threw me off. It made me think the whole painting story was her invention, and she was using it to get back at her husband. I should’ve known when she called the shat man a boy scout though, that he would end up being the killer. That was a great bit of foreshadowing, making fun of him for being too straight edged. We all know people don’t work like that, everyone has quirks. That was a very strong hint that there was more to him.
I also liked how she likened the situation to her books, and mockingly talked about her nephew saying “you’ve got to believe me.” He kind of unknowingly gave her the opportunity to catch him by saying that. She knew he was full of it, she just didn’t expound on it enough to catch him.
This would be a good story to build into a movie. I would add in some backstory about the Aunt having strange tendencies, carrying out odd rituals and things. Then I would have linked that to her somehow attaching her soul to the picture, so she could always be a part of the house she helped create. Her ghost would have come back as the murderer through the power of the painting to get her revenge.
I would have had the girl try to destroy the picture by burning the house down, and in the rubble, the only thing left standing would the pristine picture. My version would end with the picture being sold to someone else so that the cycle could continue. Also, as I mentioned before, more background into the history of the picture (maybe the artist sold his soul to be able to paint his masterwork, maybe he seduces people into feeding the picture their souls because he feels foolish that he did).
What makes these stories scary?
I don’t find the evil doll stories particularly scary. Maybe because it’s hard to be afraid of something so small and innocuous. I also never had dolls growing up, so I never had any experiences like lying in bed and having them stare at me, or having their eyes follow me across the room, so maybe I’m missing the visceral side of the phobia.
For example, in “Amelia” the monster was almost comical. A tiny angry spastic thing that seemed like it could easily be taken on if not for the irrational fear of its perceived ability to harm you. The only part I found scary in that bit was the end when the smoke possessed the girl, and she became the demon. That to me was scary because you can’t fight or stop smoke, and you don’t even know what’s happening until it is too late.
The twilight zone story was my favorite, even though the way the doll killed the husband was kind of cheesy, because that doll held real psychological power over the husband. I think the story would have been scarier if the doll had just leveraged this and tortured the husband into committing suicide after his family left. I can be scared of psychological torment from a small package, but laying inconveniently on the stairs and “murdering” him doesn’t really do it for me.
What makes them effective?
I think they can be effectively scary to some because dolls are something a lot of people actually have in their home. I can imagine if I had children and they had a doll sitting out while I was watching these becoming a little uneasy, and maybe keeping my eye on it.
I can also see it in a strange way as a personification of death. The doll is a small lifeless version of us, so in a lot of ways it resembles a corpse. The fact that when it animates and comes after us but still has that unchanging emotionless gaze is extremely creepy. What doesn’t work?
I’ve already touched on this a bit, but I’ll beat that dead horse, because that seems pretty macabre. It’s difficult to take the threat seriously. The size alone makes it seem innocuous, and it doesn’t look outwardly threatening in most cases. Not to mention the items themselves are often trivialized as children’s toys, which in my mind, makes them seem like the safest things in the world. I mean, we’ve designed them specifically to give to children, they come with an inherent degree of trust. But I can see how betraying that trust and murdering everyone can add a bit to the unease and fear of the stories. What is your favorite phobia?
My favorite phobia is papaphobia – or fear of the pope. It just seems so silly that it’s endearing. It makes me smile to image the nicest man in the world (the pope) chasing some scared dude down the street yelling “let me bless you my son!”
How did web storytelling enable the slender man?
Slender man is a great villain because he was the product of a collaborative nightmare. When you write a story, it’s based on what you think is scary in your limited time and experience. When you build a story over the internet with others, man hours can be poured in at no great cost to one individual, and the horrible aspects of the story can be critiqued and refined constantly by a great number of opinions. It’s a process that creates great depth of story that can’t really be replicated by other means.
Take “Secure. Contain. Protect.” For example, it has 1,000’s of user generated entries of paranormal items collected under the guise of a secretive government agency trying to protect the public from them. Anyone can submit an SCP article (which would be an awesome daily assignment by the way), and the best ones get added to the wiki. The stories play off of each other and create a vast and sprawling universe for fans to play in and interact with through submissions. It has also spawned some YouTube shows, here are a few links (I highly recommend the first one, so creepy…):
Do you see it as a new means of storytelling, or traditional storytelling in a new medium?
I think it’s similar to more traditional storytelling from days past, when people would sit around a fire and tell stories. The people listening would add things, and the person telling it would tweak things every time they told it to make it better, scarier, etc. I think internet storytelling is a resurgence of this, just on a much larger scale.
But, the internet also offers new storytelling elements. Such as time stamped dated blog posts, Photoshop, YouTube, forums, etc. In that way, the internet has taken traditional storytelling and added several richer layers of context. How do you see “digital” as being different in storytelling?
Using the internet to tell a story is similar to a found footage horror movie. It grounds and humanizes the story and characters in a way that makes it more relatable and realistic, and thus more scary. It’s like the Mark Danielewski book “House of Leaves”, in which a guy steals a box of notes out of a dead old man’s apartment and starts piecing together the story of a house with paranormal properties. The pages of the book are made to look like cocktail napkins, notebook entries, or whatever else the old man’s notes were scrawled on. It creates engrossment into what the main character is finding out. I see the digital element of storytelling doing the same thing by adding diverse elements that add texture and context that more traditional means can’t offer.
“It’s just a vial” he told himself, as he stared at the tray full of small cylindrical glass containers. “You’ve been doing this same thing every day for years!” he exclaimed. “Today is no different” he said his final act of self-cajolement before reaching into the container and lifting the vial filled three quarters full with an unassuming clear liquid. It could have easily been mistaken for water, had he not known in intricate detail that was not, in fact, water.
Percy had been working at the same job for four years. Every day he came in and followed the same routine. Every day except today. “Who cares about some sealant tape over a zipper? It’s just a redundancy anyway, this suit is so well made I could probably poor this stuff all over me and be fine.” Percy slowly and carefully started towards the other side of the room, vial in hand.
He couldn’t figure out how he could have forgotten to tape up his zipper this morning. Every morning for four years, he had come in, put on his yellow suit, applied the blue sealant strip to the zipper that ran down the front of the suit, and walked through the decontamination area into the disposal room. But there was no time for self-pity now, he was in here, and he’d be damned if he was going to waste a whole half an hour going back through decon just to put a piece of tape on.
He was so close, just a few more feet and he was home free. He would set the vial down into the sterilizer, shut the door, and press the start button. That was it. No huge fuss, no need to put all those extra steps into his process, besides, he had never dropped a vial before.
He hadn’t noticed how badly his hands had begun to shake until he was about halfway between the container and the sterilizer. His hands were so sweaty, was he getting nervous? “Maybe you let this get a little too far into your head, Percy. You’ve done this a million times. You. Are. Fine.” By the time he had finished talking he realized that he had been standing in front the machine for more than a few seconds, just staring at the vial.
The work was almost done, he was almost safe. He opened the top of the machine wide, not much left to do at all now. His hand rose up to place the vial into the slot, its final resting place. He was so focused on the slot that he barely realized when the vial hit the side of the machine and cracked.
One thing I’ve always found particularly scary are video games. Just like film, there are many sub-genres, but my favorite has to be survival horror. In survival horror, your character is hopelessly outmatched by some evil force, and only by running, hiding, and setting traps can you survive. A great example of this genre is a game called Clock Tower, in which you play a 12 year old girl fleeing from a giant demon through an abandoned city. I think these are the scariest because of the mismatch in power between the character you are playing and the thing trying to get you. The helplessness of the situation causes me to get anxious and puts me into a frantic mindset.
Another more recent example that I think is a bit more immersive is Outlast. In outlast, you play as a reported who receives an anonymous E-mail that a corporation is conducting illegal experiments on the mentally infirm at an abandoned mental hospital in the hills. your character goes to investigate and quickly becomes trapped in the hospital with the genetically altered mentally ill inhabitants, who have taken over. You have no weapons or skills to speak of, just a camera. Most of the power is out in the building, so the only way to see is the night vision on the camera, which you have limited batteries for. You spend most of the game running and hiding while trying to conserve what little camera battery you have so you can see in the dark long enough to navigate the hospital to an exit.
I’ve added a video of a popular YouTube gamer named Markiplier doing what’s called a “let’s play” (basically commenting on the game as he plays). I’ve chosen to start the video during a particularly scary part near the beginning, but if you want the full effect of atmosphere and ramp up, I suggest you start the video from the very beginning.