Within an Echo of the Soul: A Tribute to and Personal Reflection of Chris Cornell

The theatre went quiet, just before a spotlight shone down, as if God himself had chosen and he stood before us. Tall, lanky, full bearded, Chris Cornell stood on the stage, holding a guitar. The theatre erupted into a mass of cheers and applause. And as Cornell launched into an acoustic rendition of Scar on the Sky, the crowd went silent once more. His voice rang out, echoing through the hall and we were awestruck. We were witnessing a God at work. But I noticed something else that I never noticed about him before that, when I only ever saw him on late night television and YouTube…
Depression is, undoubtedly, the bond that links Chris Cornell and his fans.
It is almost eleven years ago at this writing that I first discovered the music of Chris Cornell and yet it feels an eternity. I can recall the precise moment I first became enamored with his music. I was twelve years old, and the first Daniel Craig James Bond 007 film Casino Royale (2006) had just released in theatres across the world.
The film opens with a particularly brutal fight followed by the introductory credits, over which the film’s main theme, You Know My Name, is played. That was my introduction to Cornell’s art. The film was outstanding and Craig gave a stellar, gut-wrenching performance as Bond, but I didn’t leave the theatre that day thinking about the film. It was the voice that had echoed throughout the theatre that captivated me most.
Something in Cornell’s voice struck me someplace deep. I knew I needed to hear more. The next song I discovered an acoustic rendition of Black Hole Sun. That was that.
Within a month, I explored most of Soundgarden’s catalogue and Audioslave was next up.
It wasn’t long before teenage me thought of myself as an expert on all things Cornell, and not a day has passed since that I haven’t listened to his music. Middle school, high school, familial deaths and depression, yet his music remained. It still does.
Fast-forward eleven years.
I was drifting off the night I opened my phone to check my Facebook one last time before sleep. The first item I saw in my news feed was from CNN.
Chris Cornell was dead at 52.
From there, I don’t even know where to begin.
Chris Cornell’s music meant more to me than any words can possibly describe. I discovered him at twelve and his voice was there for me in a way that nothing else was. I went through middle school, and high school and he was there for me. In my time of need, his voice was the one thing I could count on continuously. My grandmother and my grandfather were like parents to me, and as they passed, one by one, into the next world, Chris Cornell remained.
My Grandmother passed on when I was sixteen and my grandfather checked out when I was twenty-one. When my Grandmother crossed that divide, my Grandfather and I stayed up most of the night with Temple of the Dog flowing through the speakers of a phonograph somewhere in the darkened room.
When my Grandfather passed, I carried on the ritual. Alone.
For reasons that are obvious, Say Hello 2 Heaven is particularly close to my heart.
Now I find myself once more removing the Temple of the Dog record from its sleeve, and taking it for a spin. The night I heard of his passing, I got physically ill and honestly, I haven’t slept well since.
Someone once referred to his voice as an “echo of the soul” and while I do not know who said that, it is as close as anyone can come to describing him.
I only ever saw Chris Cornell perform once. It was the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania on April 10, 2011. Times were better then and my grandfather was still with us… But I also remember times when Chris Cornell’s music was the only thing that could get me through the day.

Sometimes it still is.

The only live performance I witnessed was beyond comprehension. 27 songs over two and half hours. No backups, no bands, just a man, a guitar and a voice. That memory will forever live with me, just as his music will continue to guide me through the dark times, inspire me to do my best and continue to be help me find the light.
Even as a writer, I have trouble finding the words to describe his presence in my life. His voice, that echo of the soul, the understanding of it all, and his dark, poetic lyricism have all been there through the years.
In short, his music is always playing when I write and is always omnipresent in the darkened corridors of my own memory palace.
With Cornell’s guiding voice, I wrote a novel last summer and recently, I have started another. This one, with great admiration, will be dedicated to him. After all, it should be, as it is a novel about and allegorical of depression. That great, untamable beast lurking the shadows, waiting to get the better of us.
Ultimately, this is why I believe we all connect with him and why I believe referring to his voice as the aforementioned echo of the soul is the most appropriate way to refer to him. Chris is an echo of all of our souls. And for those of us who suffer depression, the music is more relatable and accessible then to those who don’t have to deal with it. It spoke to us, became a part of us, as he understood in that unique way we all did. His voice and poetic words said the things our hearts were feeling. And when he died, a part of us died with him.
It is never not going to hurt hearing his voice from now on.
And in the end, all I can say is thank you Chris.
And Rest in Peace.
Cornell was all alone up there, standing in the darkness of the stage with only one light shining down from above. He was alone in a roomful of people. Like anyone who lives with the beast. Only for a moment, I felt his eyes caught mine. But for that one moment, I felt closer to him than anyone I ever knew before or since. The music that spoke of darkness and depression, of Black Days and Seasons gone by connected us, as it did with all of your fans…
No one sings like you anymore.

Drowning a Psychological Horror Drought: A Horror Writer’s Solution

“Do we talk about teacups and time, and the rules of disorder?” – Hannibal, to Will
*image of both the teacup as well as screenshot from Hannibal belong to Bryan Fuller, and NBC.

“Occasionally, on purpose, Dr. Lecter drops a teacup to shatter on the floor. He is satisfied when it does not gather itself together. For many months he has not seen Mischa in his dreams.
Someday perhaps a cup will come together.” – Thomas Harris, Hannibal

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Coming Full Circle

I began writing Psychological Horror Drought for one reason: to display the degradation of the beloved horror genre. The teacup shattered. I offered no easy solution and asked no easy questions. I first offered my criteria for a psychological horror story and from there we began a journey that took us to the depths of madness.
We visited Summerisle, Arkham Asylum and Silent Hill. We read graphic novels, played games and watched films. And all the while, the shadows danced around us, watching and waiting for us to move too close to the impenetrable blackness of the night.
We explored the issues of the horror genre, which was lingering in the background of every blog post, yet I offered no solutions. While this will not be my final entry on Psychological Horror Drought, the first seven posts have been inevitably building towards the finale of this particular series, which is concerned with solutions to the matter I have dubbed a “psychological horror drought”.

A Brief Composite of Issues

I will not attempt to summarize everything I have written up to this point, and so I will leave bullet points here and hyperlinks to my discussions for greater depth. The following bullet points are the primary conclusions from my fifth blog post; the issues within the horror genre:
  • Money Grab by large studios
  • Prevalence of Torture-Porn Horror films (Saw, Hostel, etc.)
  • General lack of intelligence
  • Gory Slashers/Cheap Thrills = Cash
With this in mind, I will attempt to sketch what the People, or members of the horror community can do to help restore the horror genre to the glory of days gone by, or at least help push the genre away from the trajectory it has been on. The following writing will cover two specific strategies that members of the horror community can employ for change. Several posts down the road will cover other facets of this series, including the business end of creating horror media, risk-taking and other lovely topics.

Do Not Drink the Kool-Aid

The worst thing anyone can do is line the wallets of someone producing harmful materials. By buying into the current era of torture-porn horror flicks, we are encouraging the filmmakers’ depravity and lack of effort into the celluloid products they create. And so to preface this section about not buying into it I say this: do not drink the Kool-Aid.
Another low-budget masterpiece of the psychological horror genre, The Sacrament (2014), played those sentiments exactly, with the story being inspired by that of Reverend Jones of Jonestown infamy.
For this, I will not spend too much time discussing, other than to say, quite simply, that we can almost always tell when a new garbage horror flick is about to hit theatres.
It is said that a picture says a thousand words and so I can image that a film trailer speaks millions of them. Now, I know that a trailer is not the film and that sometimes a trailer does not do a film justice (just watch the trailer for Lost in Translation, you’ll see what I mean), yet despite this there are some classic signs of what the film is going to do within the trailer.
Just above is the trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), a film considered by many to be one of the greatest and scariest (psychological) horror films ever made. The trailer for this film is intense, terrifying, fast-paced and immediately grabs hold of the viewer, taking them on a two-minute thrill ride through hell. It’s a snapshot of the film that captures the essence of it without giving any of the plot away. There are hundreds of good ones, such as the trailer shown in previous posts for films such as Get Out (2017), The Wicker Man (1973)and Jacob’s Ladder (1990) that do the same thing, but after watching many of the trailers carefully, I have come to the conclusion that Alien does it best.
Alien’s trailer is precisely what a good horror film trailer should be.
Now let’s take a look at a not so good example.
I know, I’ve gotten entirely too much enjoyment out of ripping on the remake of The Wicker Man (2006) enough, but one more time won’t hurt too much. In this trailer, we are given, almost literally, the entire plot. What made the original trailer of the original film so effective is that it gave away very little of the actual plot of the film while evoking interest in the same way that the Alien trailer did.
In both Alien and The Wicker Man (1979) we feel the same intense feelings of paranoia, confusion, vicarious luridness and carnality. We are not quite sure what we have just witnessed and yet we are terrified and intrigued by it all at once.
Here is the original trailer for the 1973 version of The Wicker Man for comparison.
To summarize this point, if you are given a choice between great psychological horrors like The Houses October Built (2014), or Get Out (2017) versus that of Saw the Nineteenth or Insidious the Fourth, then please choose the former options.
A lack of money being funneled into a particular kind of film often pushes Hollywood to go in different directions. While Saw will likely be a mainstay of American cinema, as the series has earned hundreds of millions in box office revenue, later sequels of Hostel have been going direct to DVD while excellent psychological horror films such as Get Out (2017) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) are earning in the hundreds of millions now.
The tables have turned.
And keep both eyes wide open during the previews, as you never know what they’ll give away.

Be the Change You Want to See

This one seemed obvious, but I feel it necessary to state it all the same. Considering the fact that I am one voice among many who have noticed the issues of the horror genre and in particular the absence of solid psychological horror material, and have chosen not to stay quiet about it, I feel it of the utmost importance to further contribute to the solution. In order to avoid watching the horror genre drown in a pool of its own blood, things have to change.
Rather than just talk about issues within any given community, we must use our abilities to be the change we want to see.
This may seem off topic at first, I feel it important to use this particular video as a starting point for the larger argument.
Philip Wang is a filmmaker, writer, director and producer (i.e. a content creator) and a great one at that. While Wang was discussing the issues of the Asian community being whitewashed in Hollywood (another extremely important issue, but one best left for another day on Psychological Horror Drought), I feel that the essence of his argument is applicable to a variety of situations.
Philip Wang discusses the importance of diverse content creators in the medium, especially in regards to the Hollywood filmmaking machine. This is where the arguments begin to cross together. We, as people, need to make changes.
The need of support for filmmakers and content creators who do not get the support of major studios is at an all-time high. And as I stated earlier, with the tides turning more intelligent horror films on the rise, now is the time for action.

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Get Out is property of Jordan Peele and Universal Studios.
While this is not a race-based argument, it can be seen in newer films like Get Out (2017), that great psychological horror can originate from a variety of sources. The genre has primarily been dominated by white men as writers, producers and directors. Jordan Peele, initially of MadTV and Key & Peele fame, made a triumphant directorial debut with Get Out, and while only time will tell if he is here to stay, the success and originality of the film certainly made it feel that way.
The same can be said regarding 2014’s The Babadook. The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent, shows that women also have the aptitude to create quality psychological horror stories. The film, while not necessarily my favorite (keep an eye out for the upcoming analysis/review), does prove my point about diversity (as well as the indie approach) being healthy for the genre as a whole.
This point also falls in line with the further promotion of unknown directors taking risks.
To create an atmosphere in which the horror genre continues to produce quality psychological horror, content creators must continue to come from greater diversity. I can theorize and pontificate or write tomes regarding why the horror genre has been stuck in a rut for as long as it has been, but to return to a point made earlier, we must look at the current content creators in the business.
Who has written, produced and directed every horror movie you have seen over the last thirty years?

A Conclusion in Brief

I will now take what Stephen King would have referred to as “an annoying autobiographical pause” for a moment.
I have enjoyed horror movies, books and video games for as long as I can remember. It sounds terrible, but as early as five or six I remember staying up late to catch a late-night movie long after everyone else had gone to bed. Be it Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street, there was always something I shouldn’t have been watching on the TV past 10am.
Yet I did.
As I grew older, my interests became more refined and slashers became psychological horror (not to say I still don’t enjoy a movie out of Camp Crystal Lake every once in a while, but still). Jacob’s Ladder replaced Freddy Krueger and so on. But it wasn’t long before I started to notice the degradation of horror films, along with games, books and other media.
Over these years, I began to grow extremely tired with the lack of quality content and in the midst of looking for something new to read, I decided to begin writing what I wanted to read. I was always a writer, though I had not considered this before. Yet I set to work in late May of last year.
By summer’s end 2016, I had a novel.
I will not reveal many details as of yet, but I will say this, I became the change I wanted to see.
You should too…
And slowly, time reversed itself and the teacup, once in a million pieces on the floor, gathered itself back to together again.
“We can only learn so much and live.” – Thomas Harris, Hannibal

Coming Home: Aestheticism, Beauty and Symbolism in Silent Hill 2

“He who fights with monsters must take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Silent Hill. We both know that the sign may as well have read Welcome to Hell. But this is it. Our final journey together. The fog is still thick, but as we walk past the sign it evaporates, and reforms behind us. The first street is blocked and we are forced to detour… Up ahead, a man is coming out of the darkness of a decrepit public restroom. His name is James Sunderland, and- *

Why this place? Why now? An Introduction in Brief.

Silent Hill 2 takes a wealth of inspiration from the film Jacob’s Ladder, which we discussed last time around. And as a video game, we are literally taking this journey. We spend more time in this world, we live in it and as will find out later, we become a part of it.

But why now?

The last few installments of Psychological Horror Drought have taken a more academic turn, looking less at specific elements of psychological horror and more at outside issues of the genre, like remakes of horror or what defines bad horror.

Yet for as much as we have explored upon our journey thus far, we must look at one more elemental topic before concluding.

Psychological horror, as a whole, has a tendency to tell a story within a story, making nearly universal and one of the most important elements of the genre. Just as The Wicker Man was a tale of Christianity versus Paganism, the story of Silent Hill 2 is one of personal hell, regret, damnation and redemption.

“Someone to Punish…”: James Sunderland

James Sunderland is the main character on this particular trip through Silent Hill. As explained in the introduction’s video, James is in Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife, Mary.

The only problem is that Mary has been dead for three years.

As we discover later on, it was the town itself that called for James. Silent Hill, a town with a mysterious and fatal past, is inhabited by a vengeful spirit, one that seeks to punish the guilty by reflecting their subconscious fears, bringing their worst nightmares into physical form.

Indeed, just as Jacob Singer saw his demons, James Sunderland has his own monsters and much to pay for.

Monsters, Demons and Femme Fatales: James’s Journey

James sees many things in Silent Hill, so I will focus on three prominent beings.

The monster shown in the video above, is known as the Lying Figure.

The Lying Figure looks to be trapped within a straightjacket of its own skin, with arms writhing beneath, trying to break free.

The Lying Figure is often seen as a physical manifestation of James’s inability to act, forever trapped within his own inadequacy, unable to save his dying wife, only being able to wait and watch as the inevitable occurred.

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Pyramid Head, who is seen as the main monster that haunts James throughout the game, is representational of James’s guilt, appearing as both punisher of James for his sins and as executioner, constantly reminding James of his actions.

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Note the look of the monster known as Pyramid Head evokes the look of ancient medieval executioners donning a cowl for a beheading.

For the most part, the monsters that James encounters are straightforward and can be simply interpreted.

Enter Maria.

As James suggests in the video, Maria looks just like Mary, too much so to simply be a coincidence.

But what does it mean?

Maria is sexualized where Mary was reserved. Maria is coy and playful when Mary was sick and dying.

Maria represents James’s guilt by showing his innermost desires, unfulfilled sexual needs/frustrations as well as his temptation to run away.

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It is fitting that incarceration is a major theme of the game and that their most important interactions take place on opposite sides of a cell.

James, the Broken Man: Guilt and Damnation

James loved Mary with all his heart. The presence of the monsters only go to show that James is tormented by his actions day-in and day-out. It has been three years since Mary’s death and yet James’s mind still produced monsters to torment him at every turn. We never truly learn much of James, despite the story taking us to deep places within his subconscious thought.  I cannot help but feel that our lack of understanding about James’s morale was intentional. Was he ever a truly good man, doing the right thing or his wife? Or was it selfishness that inevitably lead to his actions?

The player is left to make this decision for themselves.

As James said, Mary died with that damned disease, but he never said that she died of that damned disease. He was a man tired of being helpless and useless, tired of seeing his only love suffer day after day.

So, for the first time in a long time, he acted.

James chose to mercy kill his wife to end her suffering and arguably, his own as well.

James was resolved to do the right thing and yet the guilt never left him; he simply repressed it. For James’s denial, Silent Hill summoned him, and forced him to confront his own worst nightmares. To punish the guilty.

Pyramid Head appears, as stated, throughout the game, and when we see it, death is never too far behind. Nearly every time the character appears, we see it kill Maria.

Maria dies, over and over (murdered by Pyramid Head), so that James is forced to relive his own murder of Mary, over and over again.

After fighting off the two incarnations of Pyramid Head, they cease and desist, ending the fight by impaling themselves upon their own spears intentionally, dying with extending hands, offering James the way out.

James, eventually, comes to this realization and is able to fight off these nightmares, having now confronted his own demons and with one final confrontation with Maria in her true form, he is able to end his own dark tale.

James as the Player: James’s Representation of Us, the average person

James Sunderland is not the average video game character. Notice his gauntness, his looks, his complexion. He is no Nathan Drake or Lara Croft.

James is someone you might see walking down the street. The average person.

This is not to say that a gaunt, pasty white man is representational of the entire population, but it is safe to say that he looks somewhat normal, not a movie star, but someone you may know, certainly when being compared with the unnaturally perfect models of most video games.

This is due to the fact that James Sunderland is portrayed by Guy Cihi, who was not a professional voice actor, and yet provided the physical model, motion capture, voice and looks of James.

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James Sunderland (left) and Guy Cihi (right)… For all intents and purposes, Guy IS James.

According to the game developers, this was done intentionally, as experiencing this dark world with someone like James makes the world feel that much closer to home, less so when playing through a game with a character who is perfect in every way.

In this sense, James himself is, for all intents and purposes, an aesthetic feature of the game; which adds to the realism and psychological depth of this world.

The game has been criticized for its use of untrained voice actors (I will provide evidence here). With this in mind, many have viewed the voice acting to be atrocious, but if anything, I feel that this is simply one more element that adds to the game’s genius.

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Monica Horgan (left) as Maria (center)/Mary (right)…. Another stroke of genius on the developer’s behalf.

Quivering voices and screams appear to be of true and genuine terror (as a real person might react), adding only to the depth of tragedy as James experiences it, and the aesthetic nightmare world of Silent Hill.

To add to the depth and mystique of this place, we are confronted with the idea that not everything James experiences here is merely a fabrication of his own mind.

James encounters several others characters throughout the game, most of whom seem to experiencing their own version of the town and its demons. For example, James is the only one who can see Pyramid Head, his punisher, and yet other characters seem to see nothing at all.

In one infamous scene, James has a final encountering with a recurring character who remarks with some surprise that James can see “her version” of events, when he sees her enwreathed with flame.

“For me… It’s always like this”.

Up to this point, the voice acting sometimes seems disjointed, as if the two characters are not even on the same plane of reality, something which has been seen invariably as either an amateurish mistake or an act of genius.

Only in this moment of clarity do their voices appear to sync up and for once, they see each other as they truly are, a moment awash with beauty and aesthetics in a dreadful place.

A Summary of Aesthetics and the hidden beauty in Silent Hill 2

As we can see in the opening scene of the game, there is something darkly poetic about Silent Hill 2’s take on aesthetics within its own world. For a video game that is over fifteen years old, it is still rich, vibrant and uniquely personal to the game.

Much like our examination of Arkham Asylum, we are appalled by what we see here and yet we cannot take our eyes away. The town of Silent Hill is rich in detail and texture, making it as much a character as James or Maria or anyone else.

As discussed in our examination of the qualities of Psychological Horror, atmosphere is key and the concept of aestheticism was not lost on the developers here.

In these extended introduction videos, we can witness atmosphere at play, as James makes his way through the town, displaying both the grim realities and intrigue of this darkly twisted nightmare-world.

Thick with fog and despair, we begin to feel James’s isolation, and the sense of imprisonment so common to most works of psychological horror.

James is here, serving his time. And we are right there with him.

Silent Hill 2 and the Community

Silent Hill 2 is beheld as a classic of psychological horror within the horror community. Jonathan Barkan of Bloody-Disgusting wrote at length regarding Silent Hill 2 and his experiences with the game.

Yet he is not the only one, the community itself, with only thinly veiled criticism, is nearly unanimous of the game’s status and place among the great works of the horror genre. Even Razorfist, who you will recall from my post on the issues of the horror genre, spends a great deal of time discussing the importance of the game during his playthrough.

It must be obvious at this point that I cannot help but agree.

Here, the YouTuber Super Eyepatch Wolf (yes, I too was jealous over that awesome name) created a mini-documentary regarding the importance of Silent Hill 2 and why you should play it.

As stated, I can only agree with the community wholeheartedly on this one.

There is only one serious area of strife or contention about Silent Hill 2 and that has been the lack of quality current releases of the game. Silent Hill 2 has been released, in various forms, for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and the PC, as well as having a newer High Definition rerelease on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; this “HD Collection” bundles Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 on one disc.

For anyone interested in purchasing the game without having to go through massive amounts of hassle should simply purchase the HD Collection and enjoy it for what it is. The HD collection has come under criticism for not including the first and fourth games in the series, an understandable criticism as these were the only games in the series to be developed by Team Silent.

In an article by popular gamer-site Destructoid, the HD collection was lambasted for its lack of true High Definition content and for offering a version of Silent Hill 2 that simply did not feel truly remastered in any way, shape or form.

My opinion is that while the PC version (being the Director’s Cut) is the superior version, but this version has been out of print for many years and the only way to obtain the PC version would be to pay over a hundred dollars for it online or to illegally pirate the game (which I strongly discourage!). Most of the differences between the HD collection and the original versions of the game are purely cosmetic. According to eurogamer.net, the game itself runs far more smoothly on the PlayStation 2 version than the newer HD version of the game, which is entirely true and entirely counterproductive to what they were trying to do.

Eurogamer.net’s conclusion is that a general lack of effort has been put into most modern HD rereleases and this may very well be true, but there are some issues which have not been accounted for.

At around twenty minutes into this video, Guy Cihi himself discusses the issues of the game. Ultimately, what happened was that Konami used some very shady business tactics to take advantage of the actors (including Cihi) and avoid paying them. The legal battles are complex and are still ongoing.

The HD Collection gets a lot right, but legal battles over Silent Hill 2 have prevented Konami from rereleasing other versions of the game, such as the Director’s Cut version on wide release. The game is still a masterpiece, regardless of which form you play. Every version of the game still features the same mechanics, voices, stories and endings.

But what is the Ending? Player Choice and the Brilliance of Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill 2 is a game all about making decisions. Throughout the game, these are decisions you don’t even know that you’ve made. Team Silent, the game developers behind the first four Silent Hill games created methods of immersing a player more so than any games before them or since.

Essentially, when you play the game, the game itself begins to analyze decisions you make, such as how long it took you to confront a monster, or if you saw a monster, did you run the other way? How much time did you spend in your inventory, reading over the letter that Mary sent you? Which weapons did you use, charge headlong into battle, or did you avoid the monsters altogether?

With these decisions, the game utilizes its unique algorithm to psychoanalyze the choices you made without ever telling you, and alters itself based upon your playing style, optimizing itself for the player.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of playing a video game that plays you as much as you play it is a terrifying thought in and of itself.

From this, as many as six different endings can be achieved when the end of the game arrives, all of which have different consequences for James. One ending depicts Silent Hill as satisfied with James’s internal strife and redemption; Silent Hill allows him to leave.

Another ending implies that James commits suicide.

As in the game’s opening scene, the story is holding up a mirror here… Do you like what you see?

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End of the story: Final Thoughts and Final Post

(Leave – James’s Redemption Ending)

As I said, there are multiple endings, but these are my two favorites. These two endings are different, and yet they offer something in common that the others do not… Resolution.

In these two endings, James is free to leave Silent Hill. Being sufficiently punished, James will do one of two things. James can either find redemption and leave the town after a moment of retrospective catharsis, or he will drive off a bridge, plunging into the depths of the lake below; resolution is not a guarantee for every ending.

Another ending shows James finding Maria once more, taking her to his car and driving off down the road; the fog never clearing. The blanket of fog remaining over Silent Hill tells us that James never found his resolution, never learned his lesson and never left the town. Ultimately, an ending where James is left to wallow in his madness is far less satisfying than an ending where James is free to leave.

One way or the other, James’s story comes to an end, as must now do the same.

Silent Hill 2 is, as it was inspired by Jacob’s Ladder, an excellent addition to the canon of psychological horror and a journey that we can learn a great deal from.

(In Water – Suicide Ending)

“We’ll withdraw now… We can only learn so much and live”. – Thomas Harris, Hannibal

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Next week, after much elaboration on defining psychological horror, great examples and poor ones, I will relate my views on the solutions of the issues facing the horror genre in depth.

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There. As Thomas Harris suggests, we’ll withdraw now, safe as safe can be, but not unchanged, I would hope. We find ourselves luckier than most of the characters we have examined at this point. Sgt. Howie perished in the fires on Summerisle and Batman is wallowing in own insanity, yet we can walk, confidently out of the graveyard, somewhere just ahead of James, into the coming dawn of a new day. *

I hope you enjoyed the journey we’ve taken and consider joining me for the conclusion.

*A note on the italicized material: This blog follows a tight narrative on a variety of aspects of the Psychological Horror genre and the Horror Community. As a method of keeping with a narrative, I include brief bites of creative writing, a sort of short story that bleeds in to the next post, beginning with the ending of the first post on this site. Consider it our metaphorical journey through these dark works, to accompany the literal one.

** All mentions of previous posts will be hyperlinked, and all URLs will be properly embedded within the final draft/published version of this post

Playing a Deadly Game: Recreating and Remaking Horror

NOTE: Featured image from Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) stares off into uncertain fate, most likely contemplating the odds of the remake getting canned.

 “We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river… Whether it meant war, peace or prayer we could not tell”. – Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Into the depths of Hell, we went,

And out the other side we came.

Horror fans have been lucky to say the least when the discussion of remaking films rears its ugly head into existence. Yes, some of the great classics have been remakes (i.e. John Carpenter’s The Thing, among others). In short, most horror remakes have been serviceable and sometimes better than their predecessors.

In this post, we will examine why some horror remakes work, like Halloween (an exceptional case) and The Thing, and why some do not, such as The Wicker Man (yeah, seriously, we’re doing this again) and those that are destined to fail, like the upcoming Jacob’s Ladder remake.

I will preface this examination with a simple statement that we will explore as we move on: If a remake has something to add to the lore of a story, it can be defined as necessary or acceptable in the least, yet if a film cannot provide anything to the original canon, I believe it falls within the category of the unnecessary.

The Remake in Conception

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Pennywise, the Dancing Clown, as played by Bill Skarsgård (left) and Tim Curry (right)

For whatever reason, the idea of making one film based on a previous film has become more prevalent in recent years. While this is not an original thought and the horror-community will always be split on the idea, I feel it necessary to tackle this issue in relation to psychological horror.

Within the horror community, when remakes are announced, there is rarely ever so much unrest within one particular fanbase. Take, for example, the recent announcement of Stephen King’s IT.

The horror community was buzzing with both excitement and disdain. While the special effects of the modern era will only aid the fantasy-laden tale from the current Master of Macabre, the original film featured a beloved performance by none other than Tim Curry, as the demonic Pennywise, the Dancing Clown.

In Stephen King’s It we can see what there is to be added to the canon of the story. The original film barely even scratched the surface of the behemoth novel story, which clocks in at just over 1,100 pages, making it one of King’s longest works. In the 1990 version, we never really learn anything of the main antagonist, of IT’s history or even what IT actually is. The newer film version can certainly add to the original in many respects.

Until we can actually see the new It film, which is due out in September of this year, it will be difficult to make any further judgement. Despite this, there are many other examples we look to, as well as the two primary arguments for and against remaking horror films.

The Argument of Necessity vs. The ‘Classic’ Argument

Necessity, is a simple argument. Those who maintain a pro-remake position will typically use the conditions surrounding the making of the original to justify the remake itself, or the film just didn’t quite hit the mark. Since most horror films feature heavy usage of special effects, this argument warrants that with modern CGI, content creators can better render the effects required to create more believable monsters.

Such was the case of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), which was a remake of a 1951 film and was eventually remade itself in 2011.

I cannot help but agree with the YouTuber AlternatingLine in this case, which is to say that the 1982 version was the version we truly wanted, being the necessity, and the 2011 version was unnecessary, which brings us to the classic argument.

Upon watching the 2011 version, this sentiment becomes obvious. In AlternatingLine’s video we can see that numerous scenes in the remake are literally frame-by-frame, just using CGI effects in the place of practical effects, which is something that the 1982 version was known for.

Another note that can be made here is the simple fact that scenes in 2011 which created a link to the original film felt rushed and out of place. For example, the 2011 version ends where the 1982 version begins, therefore, based upon the production studio’s logic, makes the film a prequel and not a remake. My issue with this argument is fact that these connection scenes felt out of place and forced in the 2011 version. The 2011 version came under heavy criticism when publicized as a remake and only then was the film announced as a prequel, to tell us the tale of the original crew that is found dead over the course of the film.

^An iconic scene from John Carpenter’s The Thing, which proves his mastery as a director and this scene alone displays why another remake was unnecessary.

It is extremely difficult to define precisely when a film enters that ‘classic’ status, being when the film achieves a level of grandeur and sublimity which is supposed to make it untouchable and yet rarely does.

The Wicker Man, surely, of all films had surely earned its place among those hallowed classics, and yet by 2006 filmmakers had decided that it was time to put the film through the wood-chipper. I wrote a lengthy piece in my second blog post about The Wicker Man, and having recently revisited the topic, elect not to revisit the topic with too much dedication, as enough time has been dedicated to it thus far.

Within my original writing about The Wicker Man (1973), I discussed the feeling of atmosphere and genuine eeriness surrounding Summerisle, the music, depth of mythological lore and the incredible acting of Sir Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, among others.

The original 1973 film still works and is still terrifying to this day, whereas the remake is good for little more than laughs.

And just remember, the original gave us this^ and the remake gave us this:

You can decide for yourself.

Or, to return to John Carpenter for a moment, the case of Halloween. Halloween, which is the film that placed John Carpenter on the map back in 1978, was recently remade by Rob Zombie in 2006. Where the original was a horror masterpiece, the remake did a more than serviceable job of retelling the story of Michael Myers.

More importantly, the remake spends more time with the character of Michael, exploring his psychological state and therefore, not only humanizing a monster but delving into the realm of psychological horror.

Halloween (2007) was unnecessary, and yet it gave us something more than the original. It added to the canon of the series whilst simultaneously presenting fans with something to be proud of. This is, to say the least, something that the 2011 incarnation of The Thing did not do. As mentioned earlier, I theorize that it is a matter of adding to the lore. While some examples do exist, such as Halloween (2007) or NBC’s Hannibal (2013), they tend to be far and few between.

In regards to Hannibal, this is a particularly curious event. Hannibal was a television series of 39 episodes that told a story which already contained four books and five films, most of which were excellent; this canon included The Silence of the Lambs (1991), which won an Oscar.

A trailer for Hannibal’s second season, which scored a 100% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

There should have been nothing left to say, and yet showrunner Bryan Fuller came out of left field and gave us the greatest interpretation of the twisted saga of Dr. Hannibal Lecter to date as well as perhaps the greatest psychological horror television series of all time. But I digress.

The debate will go on, but my initial conclusion is that if a remake adds to the lore, it can work, if it does not, then it must fall on the unnecessary side of the spectrum.

The Curious Case of Jacob Singer

But, as I stated in the beginning, some are destined to fail.

Despite earlier sentiments on necessity vs classic, there are certain cases in which we can guarantee a remake will not work. The Wicker Man remake was destined to fail, as the original was rich in history, lore and story.

There was nothing to add to it.

Even in Halloween, we can see how Director Rob Zombie was able to delve into the psychological effects of abuse and neglect, and how the monster was, in essence, created. Zombie was able to brilliantly add to our story without tarnishing the reputation of the original Carpenter classic.

Now we turn to a film that I have previously described as being the “epitome of psychological horror”.

Enter Jacob’s Ladder.

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By Adrian Lyne and Carolco Pictures

As the trailer suggests, Jacob’s Ladder is an intensely dark film about a Vietnam veteran who is experiencing a personal hell. The main character, Jacob Singer, is having severe nightmares and hallucinations, in which he is seeing monsters and demons.

Now, without divulging into a tangent on the meaning of the film, as entire books have been written about the topic, I would rather prefer to focus on the why the remake will do nothing for the original.

In the original film, we are presented with an intentionally disjointed story that takes place on multiple timelines which confuses the viewer, so that the viewer shares confusion with Jacob himself.

Jacob sees these monsters. He knows he does. The problem is that no one else sees what he sees. As a Vietnam veteran, he was supposedly experimented on chemically during the in War. Yet we are provided with evidence that this never occurred. The film is full of these little contradictions, with the ultimate question becoming whether Jacob is even alive. Or dead and experiencing his own hellish afterlife.

^Even after this scene (chronologically), we are given evidence he is not entirely free.

We are never given a formal answer. And I do not believe we were supposed to. Jacob’s Ladder was a story of personal interpretation.

Everyone brings their own experiences in and everyone has their own opinion.

The feeling of dread and paranoia, of uncertainty and terror, based upon a recent review of the original film, still exists and is something that cannot be replaced.

Jacob’s Ladder, for all of its vague nightmares, and personal torment, is complete.

Also, consider another point, is it possible to recreate the element of atmosphere within the original Jacob’s Ladder? The YouTuber RagnarRox developed an in-depth analysis and interpretation of Jacob’s Ladder and if we are being fair, no one will be able to replicate this level of complexity.

Nor was it necessary.

Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Remakes and the Horror Community

The community, as always, becomes divided on the case of remaking horror films. While there are some who would denounce the very idea of remaking a film (for better or worse), there are others who embrace the idea with open arms.

John Squires of Bloody-Disgusting shared my thoughts on the idea of remaking horror films and used, ironically enough, Stephen King’s It as the centerpiece of his argument, and characterized his argument by saying, quite plainly that;

               “Sometimes, you have to be honest with your nostalgia.”

Ultimately, this was the conclusion I came to as well.

However, this is not to say that everyone automatically falls into the consensus of being fair with horror remakes. Hazel Cills, of The Dissolve, argues that many modern horror remakes miss a great deal of what made the originals great with aesthetics being at the center of her argument.

Cills wrote an excellent article, but I disagree on several accounts. First and foremost, Cills only considers the remakes that we already knew were going to be complete failures, such as Poltergeist or The Omen. With only a brief mention of other, more debatable remakes such as A Nightmare on Elm St. (2010), which in my opinion was a well-made film, and only a passing mention of the possibility that remakes can work, Cills should have considered her topic of conversation more deeply. Yet as I said, Cills also makes several strong points in her work; first of which is in regards to the use of CGI.

Cills argues that there is “temptation” in regards to the recreating the originals, where for the most part, practical effects were relied upon due to a lack of technology. Cills believes that the use of practical effects in classic horror films always gave the appearance of greater stage presence, as opposed to using a green screen and CGI effects; this is her most valuable point.

As aforementioned, John Carpenter (director of The Thing, 1982) utilized the use of practical effects for this reason and this reason alone. For this choice, the film has received a wealth of praise. With this point, I cannot help but agree. Practical effects tend to add a certain charm to horror films and even in a CGI-reliant world, we can still see examples of this today; Digging up the Marrow (2014), which you will remember from our examination of found footage films, created its monsters strictly with practical effects and moving on, moving from practical effects to CGI has a tendency to take away from the atmosphere of a psychological horror tale.

We must always ask one question when looking at a remake and that question should be answered unequivocally.

Was it necessary?

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Poster for John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

This one certainly was.

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*A note on the italicized material: This blog follows a tight narrative on a variety of aspects of the Psychological Horror genre and the Horror Community. As a method of keeping with a narrative, I include brief bites of creative writing, a sort of short story that bleeds in to the next post, beginning with the ending of the first post on this site. Consider it our metaphorical journey through these dark works, to accompany the literal one.
We found our own boat on the other side. A row boat, with enough room for two. We get in and I begin to row us along. The camera disappeared upon our initial plunge into the river, but that’s okay, a lantern, remarkably like the one we lost, is sitting in the boat. I row us into the coming dawn as fog fills the river, which has bled into a lake. There was a sign on the right bank, which may or may not have read Toluca Lake, but the fog is too thick here. We see a light through the fog. With you on the prow guiding us, I row to the light and we come ashore once more.
A road lies just ahead, up the embankment, with a sign post we can read more clearly.
Welcome to Silent Hill.
We shiver and accepting fate, walk into town.

An Account on Why Modern Horror Sucks: The Examination and Causation of a Psychological Horror Drought

NOTE: Featured image is from the Hostel (2006) trailer and property of Eli Roth, Lionsgate and Screen Gems.
Falling and falling. The cliff has disappeared behind us and fall, further and further away. There is only jungle below and a narrow body of water running through it. A river. After another moment, we plunge through the surface. The river is impossibly deep and impossibly dark. Sinking, we lock hands when- *

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“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out”. – Stephen King
I have spent a wealth of time thus far waxing poetic about several of the great psychological horror stories available to us (The Wicker Man, Arkham Asylum, The Houses October Built, and Digging Up the Marrow). I have provided both review and analysis of these stories, as well as criteria to forego them, in the sole hope placing these great works on a pedestal to define what makes good psychological horror.
Now it is time to visit the other end of the spectrum.
For too long the horror genre has been on a downward spiral, drowning in a pool of its own blood and gore. My primary goal for this blog post is to discuss what makes for bad horror, as well as including my opinion about why the horror genre has fallen into such depravity and the prevalence of bad horror. The horror community has noticed, as I have and will not idly go back to the way things were, but the question remains; how did we come to this?

Bad Horror, Poor Writers, and Blood Baths: The Slow Death of a Genre

Every genre across every medium, collectively, has had moments of greatness followed by lulls. It is in one of these momentary lulls that the horror genre has been stuck since (roughly) the early 1990’s.
Nearly thirty years.
Over the course of these decades, only a handful of films, video games and so on are actually worth remembering. After 1990’s Jacob’s Ladder, the epitome of all experimental or psychological horror films, it must have seemed that the only way to go was down.
Slasher films such as Scream (1996), gory films that can only be accurately described as torture porn like Saw and Hostel, plus a variety of remakes (including 2006’s The Wicker Man, which should be avoided like the Plague) have since flooded the market, with only a few glimmering diamonds in the rough, some recent found footage entries among them.
I wish it would suffice to say that the inverse of my criteria for psychological horror would define what makes a bad horror film, but that simply is not enough. It is in my opinion that the primary way to define a bad horror film lies only with the absence of intelligence and purpose.
Look at some of the films that have been listed above and you need not look further to see the issues today. The Wicker Man is perhaps the best example, as the original 1973 film would rank among the ten best psychological horror films of all time and the 2006 travesty ranks among the ten worst, perhaps taking that crown.
An exchange from the original between Edward Woodward as Sgt. Howie and Sir Christopher Lee, as you may recall from my review.
In brief, where the original is deliberate, intelligent and philosophical, rich in pagan history and mythology, the newer version features poorly written dialogue as well as Nicolas Cage punching out Ellyn Burstyn while dressed up in a bear costume.
I’m just going to let that sink in for a moment.
While we are letting that thought simmer, we must also consider the concept of pseudo-intelligence and the role it plays in modern catastrophes. The 2006 version of the Wicker Man features a variety of scenes that were obviously meant to be symbolic… of something, though we are never given any sort of base for the images.
For example, consider the final scene in the original Wicker Man. Before the epic finale, Sgt. Howie spends a sequence inside the library on Summerisle (a nod to director Robin Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer performing their own research for the film), researching pagan rituals in his attempt to save the girl, Rowan. Here we find Howie discovering the symbolic meaning of a variety mythological characters who make “appearances” in the parade during finale of the film.
Symbolically, we are given meaning and what we see becomes clear and meaningful. In the remake, as I will explain in a moment, this is not quite the case.
In many modern horror flicks, something is happening, but we never know exactly what is happening. Films such as the Wicker Man remake will have characters say things that sound intelligent or that show us images that appear to be symbolic and yet the images often result to be shaggy-dogs, just as the intelligent phrases are often nothing more than a random smattering of words with no context.
A little girl burning a man alive, a pregnant woman smothered in honey and bees. Something is happening, or at least is supposed to look like something is happening. This is where we return to the thesis of this post. A lack of clear-thought or intelligent writing leads to celluloid travesties.
Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer, as mentioned above, did their research. Neil LaBute (writer and director of 2006’s best film), did not.
And to think that Cinefantastique referred to the original as “the Citizen Kane of horror movies”.

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NOTE: (Above) Cover of Cinefantastique featuring Sir Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle

I know that The Wicker Man is a limited example, but the same principles can be applied to a wide variety of horror movies, especially those that have fallen within the time frame set just before.
But just as soaking something in gore doesn’t make it horror, the lack of intelligence in horror films is not the only issue with the genre. Now it is time to discuss the real issue with the horror genre.

A Theory of Grand Proportions and Bloody Implications

Horror films are being dumbed down for profit.
I know what you’re thinking and those two words, I can prove, do not apply here. A conspiracy theory, this is not, but rather a simple look at the effects capitalism has on art.
Screen Rant was one of the first blogs to break details on the development of the film adaption of Silent Hill 2 and while I will not say much about Silent Hill 2, I will say this: Silent Hill 2 is one of the most intelligent and greatest examples of psychological horror available to us. Silent Hill 2, the video game, will be covered in a blog post on Psychological Horror Drought at a later date, but it suffices to say that filmmakers with the rights to the game fully intend to do to it what the makers of The Wicker Man remake did to the original.
Don Carmody, an executive producer on the film adaptations of Silent Hill has stated that;
“I think we need to make it a little more accessible to the movie-going public…Silent Hill is not a blockbuster game like Resident Evil or the other games out there…You have to appeal not only to the gamers, you have to appeal to a wider audience. So we have to get some story in there that helps explain a bit more…Of course, [the story] is going to happen years later and the main character – without giving too much away – is much older and representative to the movie-going public which is in that age group.”
So… The epic story of psychological horror and terror, of personal hell and redemption, of macabre and beauty needs… more story? The comments, which were first brought to my attention by Razorfist ** of The Rageaholic, are more disturbing than anything you can expect to see on film.
Carmody’s statement is terrifying for the reason that it clearly implies his intentions to continue dumbing down his source materials for no other reason than making intelligent stories more profitable. To make intelligent stories more profitable is to make them more accessible, thereby removing the subtler nuances and replacing such nuances with all the subtlety of a brick going through a glass window.
As aforementioned, in the 1990’s, films like Scream found themselves marketable once more and others, such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, continued to rake in the cash. When I Know What You Did Last Summer earned just over 125 million dollars in the box office, the trend began. When Saw did nearly the same six years later, the trend became cemented.
Arguably, this is due to the fact that a resurgence in trashy horror films that should have been relegated to b-movie hell, or on the shelves with other X-rated garbage, had never before had the wide release that films like Saw were getting, therefore, providing it with grounds like the Caligula-effect, but again, this is speculation.
It was at this point that horror films began to remarket themselves, not as legitimate works of cinematic art, but as gore-fests, selling nothing but torture to the audience right from the trailers.
^By the way, this gem earned over 80 million in box office during its initial run. **
The effects that this initial love affair with brutal torture films has cost horror fans dearly. While films such as Jacob’s Ladder are still far and few between, the eighth Saw film is planned for release in October of this year… 2017. However, it is safe to say that there is still a light somewhere at the end of this long and dismal tunnel as well as a special place in Hell for the minds behind the Saw franchise.
As my previous post on Found Footage films suggests, there has been a rising within the horror community as of late. Idiotic horror is wholeheartedly being rejected.
As stated, this post was not intended to be about Silent Hill 2 and so we will not discuss that here so much as use it as the vehicle to begin the discussion. A film like Get Out, which was discussed in my last blog post alongside its distant found footage kinsman, has one thing that has long been missing from the horror genre… Intelligence.
^ An excellent psychological horror film, in the cannon of Jacob’s Ladder that has earned nearly 160 million dollars…in early 2017.
This says a great deal, as the box office draw for films like Saw, even with the eighth film in the series looming just ahead, have been in decline for some time, and more intelligent films, such as Get Out, have been on the rise.
Despite this, many critics and voices within the horror community still show some love for the gore and bloodbaths of the past few decades. Brad Miska, a writer for Bloody-Disgusting whom I’ve written about before, seems to be eagerly anticipating the new Saw film… The same man who approached a more intelligent film like The Houses October Built with disdain and prejudice. And unfortunately, the consensus seems to grow the further you look. A Fangoria review (from a writer you should recognize from my Found Footage Review) literally referred to Saw as being part of the “torture porn era”, only to immediately and excitedly discuss the prospects of its glorious return as well as the ingenious films that arose from this era. This is where the follies of the “voices” in the horror community come to prominence.
To provide credence to the torture-porn horror is to add to the degradation of the horror genre as a whole. From my perspective, it seems that horror has been relegated in a way that other films have not, and is the reason horror films do not commonly win Oscars. A stigma certainly seems to exist around the horror genre and the stigma is, very quickly, becoming self-propagating.
I know I am not a lone voice in my opinion, which has been staunchly against horror films that offer nothing but blood and gore, but it seems that the movie goers are the ones who are speaking up now and that is what matters most.
Great horror is making a comeback and as for the crappy horror of yesterday, quite frankly-
We’ve had enough.

 

A Gateway to the Community

Screen Rant, an independent site dedicated to film and TV news, which sometimes dabbles in Horror.
The Rageaholic, an excellent Youtuber on films, television, video games, comics and political commentary was the one who initially brought Mr. Carmody’s “enlightening” comments to my attention. Be warned, The Rageaholic, better known as Razorfist, has a no holds barred style of commentary and cares not for political correctness, nor offending anyone.
Fangoria, the original horror magazine and news source for the horror community. I disagreed with their opinion this time around, but they always provide lengthy articles of substance and content for their readers.

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The river spat us out. We swim ashore and catch our breath collectively. The Jungle is looming above and there is no way back. Looking behind us, the cliff has disappeared completely, replaced only by more Jungle. The dawn may be coming, but the Jungle, is dark, as ever. Dark as the night. We accept that we have to do this. Our journey is almost at end. We enter when, just above, you notice a- *
*A note on the italicized material: This blog follows a tight narrative on a variety of aspects of the Psychological Horror genre and the Horror Community. As a method of keeping with a narrative, I include brief bites of creative writing, a sort of short story that bleeds in to the next post, beginning with the ending of the first post on this site. Consider it our metaphorical journey through these dark works, to accompany the literal one.
**Some links in this post contain graphic content which may not be suitable for all.

A Breath of Life: New Perspectives and Found Footage’s Effects on Psychological Horror

Featured image by Image Entertainment and RLJ Entertainment
*A note on the italicized material: This blog follows a tight narrative on a variety of aspects of the Psychological Horror genre and the Horror Community. As a method of keeping with a narrative, I include brief bites of creative writing, a sort of short story that bleeds in to the next post, beginning with the ending of the first post on this site. Consider it our metaphorical journey through these dark works, to accompany the literal one.
We run. It’s all we can do to avoid damnation at the behest of the beast that follows. The tangle of forest is particular heavy here and light is waning. The camera is shaking, catching glimpses of whatever is on our heels. We have to stop eventually, but you notice light just ahead, and run for it, when-
I feel it necessary to forewarn readers of this blog that this post will not be a standard review, so much as a look at how one subgenre of horror, the found footage genre, has unintentionally revitalized another subgenre, that being psychological horror.
It is obvious that this will not be a comprehensive look at the topic, as tomes have been written about less. Instead, I seek to simply explain the basis of found footage’s effect on psychological horror and psychological horror found new life through it. To achieve this, we will look at two of the best examples or recent psychological horror/found footage films, being Digging Up the Marrow (2014) and The Houses October Built (2014).

Memoirs of the Damned: Defining Found Footage Films

Art advances with technology. The same sentiment could be used in regards to the average person’s ability to create a higher quality of art as modern technology finds its way into the hands of the proletariat masses.
Filmmaking has obviously followed suit.
Using the aforementioned variables, we can utilize an equation that involves the advancement of the handheld camera, independent filmmakers and low budgets, which equals an enduring staple of the horror genre.
Found footage films are, in essence, movies that have been filmed with a handheld camera with the idea that actors in the film, are not actually actors, but are just people (usually making a documentary) who find themselves in a horrific situation.
Even after finding themselves in these horrific situations, they continue filming. I would argue that this is because it is their final bastion of humanity in dire situations; a thirst for knowledge. Unfortunately for those characters, the reason for the title “found footage”, is due to the fact that the footage taken from the handheld cameras has usually been “found” and put together by someone else, with the implication being that the “documentary crew” has perished during the filming.

Putting things in Perspective: The Psychology of Found Footage

In found footage films, we are forced into the first-person perspective, literally experiencing what the characters are experiencing, from their point of view.
In my first post regarding the role of abnormal psychology and atmosphere in psychological horror, I discussed the importance of setting a tone and exploring the deeper levels of human conscience. A found footage film exceeds in this by way of forcing the viewer to share the terror of the characters.
We walk in their shoes.

Safe Scares and Haunted Houses: The Houses October Built

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By Image Entertainment and RLJ Entertainment

To restate a thesis put forth in my original blog post, we as human beings, enjoy being afraid. To some extent, this may or may not be due to the activation of the amygdala, the part of the brain that deals with fear, or it may be something else.
Either way, we like it. This idea, which is still a matter of debate within academic circles as well as within the horror community, is the main topic of the 2014 film The Houses October Built.
Essentially, the film follows a small group of friends who decide to make a documentary about the scariest haunted houses in the United States. Over the course of their Halloween-laden exploits, they realize they are being followed by a group of individuals who run an underground circuit of haunted houses that involve extreme scares (i.e. Haunted Houses that can result in death).
By taking a staple of every Halloween (haunted houses) and placing several average individuals in extreme situations, the writers have taken us and placed us in those situations. We can relate to the escapades of this group of twenty-somethings and going to a haunted house. We can relate to going out for a night on the town.

Filmmakers and Actors discuss the Found Footage genre and how we connect with the story
They are us. The story, in this sense, becomes borderline “uncanny valley” and we forced to experience true terror as the lines between the fiction on the screen and the reality of our lives become momentarily blurred.

Hiding in the Dark: Digging Up the Marrow

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Artwork by Alex Pardee

Another major element I discussed in my first post was the idea of hiding the other. An instant classic of the genre, Digging Up the Marrow follows the concept almost exclusively and digs deeper into the “uncanny valley” theme involved with atmosphere.
In the opening of the film, we are introduced to Adam Green, playing himself, beginning a documentary about a supposed underground society of deformed people and “monsters”. Being a prolific figure within the horror community, he feels that this would be an interesting topic to document and begins his investigation.
We are entrenched, fairly quickly, in a story that we are never quite sure is totally fiction, as all of the characters who appear in the film are real figures within the horror community, playing themselves, including horror legends Kane Hodder and Mick Garris. The lines here are blurred heavily throughout, which is aided by veteran character actor Ray Wise, who appears as the disturbed retired police detective who introduces Green to the supposed existence of this underground society.

Digging Up the Marrow plays on the idea that we fear the unknown (i.e. The Other). Green remains skeptical throughout, but we are never quite sure. There is a feeling of ominous dread hanging heavily over the film.
As I said, we never know where the monsters might be. In the caves, outside your window, on your doorstep. What was that sound?

Documenting the Macabre: A final thought on Psychological Horror and Camcorders

Many have denounced the found footage genre. If you search found footage on Google and I can almost guarantee you will be within a stone’s throw of some third-rate writer lambasting the genre as nothing more than an overused trope within the horror genre. We will look at this in a moment.
Hacks will be hacks.
I chose to look at the genre from a more analytical point of view. The two films that I placed under the scalpel in this post are only two of many great found footage films and only of the horror genre. J.J. Abrams found huge success and global acclaim with 2008’s Cloverfield; a kaiju film akin to Godzilla.
However, the subgenre has revitalized psychological horror, which seems to be making a strong (and well-received) comeback. Recently, with the success of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017), though not a found footage film, can certainly be traced back to the recent revival of the psychological horror genre.
While it remains difficult to pinpoint the precise moment this started to occur, it was most likely sometime just after 2007. From my standpoint, I would make the argument that Cloverfield revitalized found footage, which in turn revitalized the found footage horror/psychological horror genre. Films like Rec. (2007) and V/H/S (2012) paid homage to the Blair Witch Project (1999) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and the cycle continues.

Found Footage and The Community at Large

Criticism throughout the community, however, has remained quite heavy. Even horror-blog juggernaut Bloody-Disgusting, while giving found footage films a chance, cannot help but enter the theater with a certain level of bias towards the films, which included The Houses October Built.
It was Brad Miska of Bloody-Disgusting who wrote:
“Let’s nip this in the bud right now: people are tired of found footage. The subgenre is watered down, and it’s been abused…maybe even raped. Shooting in this style is a cheap way to make a movie that fits nicely into the low budget horror model.”
Though in the next sentence following this, Miska claims to be on the side of Found Footage, I cannot help but feel that my initial belief is upheld in that cynical undertones are apparent.
And it’s not just the horror community that holds that same cynical underbite with their words, and some go even further. The Huffington Post of all news-organizations published a lengthy article literally titled “An End to Found Footage Films- Please!”. Third-rater Marshall Fine began his lambaste-laden article with this epitaph of damnation:
“I’m declaring a moratorium on the “found footage” mock documentary.
And, while we’re at it, how about the same thing for movies shot to look like they’re hand-held documentaries, even when they’re just fiction films?”
You’re declaring? Ah yes, now that I have the judgement of the enlightened, I can move on to better things, like riding a penny farthing while listening to NPR or reading Barthes by the candle light and drinking red wine….
Trust me folks, if you want an opinion on horror, look elsewhere, and judging by this man’s bibliography, you’d have a better shot at finding some sanity (and less narcissism) in the mind of Alex Jones.
Recall the motif here: hacks will be hacks.
Thankfully, Fangoria, the last bastion and originator of horror news magazines published an excellent article on the Found Footage genre. Fangoria shares my own opinion, that Found Footage was the swift kick-in-the-ass that the Horror genre required. And unlike Mr. NPR, they wrote, at length, not from the heart but from empirical status:
“As of this writing, the light on found footage is beginning to fade, with many of the subgenre offerings becoming limited to franchise or direct-to-VOD films. Yet as with the slasher film before it, history repeats itself far too often in the film business, and one can assume we haven’t seen the last of it. And if found footage comes back with a vengeance in the future, you may want to consider approaching it with curiosity rather than condemnation, as it just may bring inspiration to a genre that desperately needs it once more.”
However, there is still one point of view more that was greater still.
Due the premises of popular found footage films, many of them have been stereotyped. Doug Walker, better known as the Nostalgia Critic, brilliantly comments on the issues of the genre and critical response. As always Mr. Walker appears as the voice of reason, pleading that it works when it works, as with any other genre, be it romance or horror.
I can only hope that the trend of intelligent horror remains on the rise, but with the eminent arrival and pushback of pseudo-intelligent horror films, such as the unfortunate remake of Jacob’s Ladder (1990), a film that is arguably the epitome of psychological horror, which seems intent to become the bane of the horror genre. The remake is supposed to hit theaters this year.
Yes, I too am nervous.
But this topic will be covered in-depth two posts down the road. As for next week, I take on the issues of the horror genre today, as well as why they exist in such heavy numbers.
All we can do, much like the characters of a found footage film, is navigate the circumstances life has given us and hope the best.

A Gateway to the Community:

Bloody-Disgusting, the premiere blog for all things horror
Fangoria, the original and most widely respected magazine for the horror community since 1979!
Nostalgia Critic, a brilliant film reviewer, comedian and entertainer who has covered everything from The Wicker Man to Frozen, as well as many issues within the film industry
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You grip the camera in your hand, tighter and tighter. The forest has become jungle-like, thicker and harder to navigate, but the light is just ahead, the light of a coming dawn. Our hearts pounding, we break through brush only to find we’ve once again jumped off a precipice, as when we left the room so long ago. We plunge down, falling and falling-

Always Room Here: Abnormal Psychology and Psychological Horror

Featured image by Dave McKean

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Cover Art by Dave McKean

“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

*A note on the italicized material: This blog follows a tight narrative on a variety of aspects of the Psychological Horror genre and the Horror Community. As a method of keeping with a narrative, I include brief bites of creative writing, a sort of short story that bleeds in to the next post, beginning with the ending of the first post on this site. Consider it our metaphorical journey through these dark works, to accompany the literal one.
 
And we see ourselves. The laughter of insanity rings in our ears, quite loudly, echoing over miles, yet all around us.
Unidentifiable. Inescapable.
It begins to drive you to a place you have never been before. To the brink of your own sanity and just when you thought it was over-
You need to confront your own past.
Psychological horror is about so much more than simply exploring the more intelligent themes that the horror genre has to offer. It forces us to reflect on our own lives, decisions (both good and poor), and, perhaps most importantly, our selves.
We must look deep into our own hearts, to our innermost fears and hope beyond hope that what we find there does not drive us to insanity. Some, arguably, must walk a tightrope in between such places.
Enter Batman.

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Batman enters the Asylum at The Joker’s bidding… Art by Dave McKean
In the graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, we are introduced to the intertwined stories, shown in juxtaposition, of Batman, the ultimate antihero, and Amadeus Arkham, founder of the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.  
Amadeus’s side shows us how he came to create the Asylum and how he would eventually become one of the Asylum’s most infamous permanent residents. Batman’s story, shows us how his greatest nemesis, The Joker, has taken the Asylum by force, killing some of the doctors and with only one goal in mind…
To show Batman the depth of his own insanity.
The Joker believes Batman to be insane already, and argues that if he can survive the night inside the Asylum, run by the likes of Two-Face, the Black Mask, The Scarecrow and The Joker himself, whilst also keeping the mask of his own wits, then The Joker would give control of the Asylum back to the surviving staff.

Looking Further and Further…

Why, you ask, does this story elevate the Psychological Horror genre? Simple. It asks us hard questions and seeks only hard truths. Regardless of the medium, Psychological Horror will force characters to look at their true fears.
Not arachnophobia, not a fear of heights or water. True, real horror. Horror and Terror.
Batman walks through the Asylum, surviving the tests of his worst enemies, constantly confronting madness and his own worst nightmares at every turn; the death of his parents being chief among them.
Bruce Wayne (Batman), as a child, witnessed the brutal murder of his parents and constantly finds himself questioning his own actions and judgements. Would his parents accept him with open arms? Or simply look the other way in utter disgust and rejection?
Batman, supposedly, in cloak and cowl, is not bothered by such trivial matters, but the man beneath is another story.

Duality in Psychological Horror

This level of duality, being Bruce Wayne versus Batman, is a constant theme of Psychological Horror, and is outlined on numerous levels within this story. The stories of Amadeus Arkham and Batman walking the same paths in many panels being juxtaposed is another example. A final example of Duality within the story is that of Two-Face.
Two-Face is a villain of Batman, who suffers an extreme split-personality disorder. One personality is Harvey Dent, the heroic former District Attorney of Gotham City, the other being the villainous Two-Face, a heinous criminal who makes all of his decisions based on the flip of a coin.

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Two-Face/Harvey Dent preparing to pass judgement on Batman’s life…. By Dave McKean

Our story ends with a coin toss, one that allows Batman to walk out of this personal hell and give control of the Asylum back to the rightful controllers. As he leaves, The Joker informs that if he ever gets tired of the droll rationality of the outside world, that he will always have a place at Arkham.

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Batman in conversation with The Joker…. Art by Dave McKean

Batman, after all, is a split-personality.

Creating a Lasting Masterwork:  Fitting Arkham into the Annals of Psychological Horror

Arkham has all of the classic qualities of psychological horror. The words are dark and poetic. Each page is filled, border-to-border, with artwork that is both haunting and beautiful; disjointed and terrifying. It disturbs us to look upon it and yet we cannot take our eyes away.
But what is it that makes it a defining work within the psychological horror subgenre?
A staple of psychological horror, as outlined in my qualities of a psychological horror article, is the use of Abnormal Psychology, which can be defined as the examining psychological traits that are not normally discussed academically, such as criminal or extreme personality traits, the exploration of dreams and exploring the deeper levels of subconscious thought.
Essentially, it goes far beyond pop-psych, and into much darker realms and deeper dimensions of reality.
A poor psychological horror story would scratch the surface of these themes, a good psychological horror story lives there.
And, to reflect on the opening statements of this article once more, a good psychological horror story will make us question not only what we thought we knew, but our own selves. As Batman travels deeper into the heart of darkness, we find ourselves reflecting on our own fears, desires and nightmares. We are forced to do this, just as Batman is.
It is uncomfortable, disturbing and ultimately cathartic.
Such is the purpose of psychological horror.
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So, I lied, but just once. We were able to walk away this time, but not unchanged. Batman did not perish in the flames, as our dearly departed Sgt. Howie did, but was Batman so lucky? Are we? Darkness takes us again and this time, we find ourselves walking through the woods. The moon is absent from roll call, but that’s alright. You find a camera in your hands that once held a lantern and turn it on. Looking through the lens, you find light and a new perspective on journey. Something moves just ahead of us, and startled, we-