Sunday, October 31, 2004

So don't close your eyes, and don't try to hide

Okay. Let's not talk about the election today. I'm tired and nervous and anxious over it, but there'll be plenty of time to enjoy all those things on Tuesday. I love Halloween. Always have. As a kid, I always did something particularly geeky with it, too. At 7 I was an TNG early-style-uniformed redshirt. At 8 I built a costume with a stage blood-squirting squib in a visible wound, with a rubber knife half-buried in my back. (Sadly, no one actually got it, unless I turned to one side to show them the knife.) At 10 I dressed as the Phantom of the Opera. (With Lon Chaney-style mask, thankyouverymuch, not Andrew Lloyd Webber.) At 11 I was some sort of singing detective, if I recall correctly, though entirely unaware of the film of the same name. At 13 I borrowed my dad's broom, wore a faceless mask with the appropriate gear, and went out as the Phantom Curler. These are the loonball works of someone more dedicated than many to the concept. On the other hand, I've also always had a decidedly ambiguous relationship with its component parts of Halloween in the modern context - that is, the horror genre. I'm a huge coward when it comes to freaky-looking things popping up out of nowhere, which makes it somewhere between uncomfortable to outright agonizing to watch horror movies, or to participate in anything Halloweenish of the haunted house-walkthrough variety. Yet, I'm fascinated. I can hardy bear to keep my eyes open for exactly one-third of the ride (the attic through the graveyard) of any iteration of the Haunted Mansion at Disney parks, but I have an encyclopedic knowledge of all four versions and the differences between them. It's not what anything actually looks like, not actually the gross-out factor or the inherent calculation of fear of the concept; it's the element of surprise. Last year, I took a course in the Music department, entirely devoted to the casual appreciation of film scores. It required no prior musical knowledge, nor were many of the technical aspects taught at all; it was largely an exercise in description and analysis of personal perception. For the term paper, I thought it would be neat to compare the 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead - which I've always liked, not least for the surreal electronic score - with the then-just-released remake. One thing that really struck me with a direct comparison was how much more sedate zombie movies were twenty years ago. The camera angles, the timing, the lighting - none of it was executed in a way that was viscerally frightening, but contributed to creating a real sense of existential dread. The world as we know it is gone, only the dead and the straggling packs of survivors are left. The zombies were slow, and pale, and more or less whole. With the comparison of the remake to analyse counterpart scenes in the score, I couldn't stand to watch much of the film. It's all close-ups, and vicious, lightning-quick zombies; that's just too much for me. Dealing with shock is not my forte. The trend in horror movies, such as I've been able to casually analyze as well as extrapolate from these two, has been towards 'cheap trick' filmmaking. Restrict the POV, abuse stingers in the score to endlessly keep foreshadowing the next pop-up monster, and light scenes as poorly as possible. So where does this leave me? I enjoy the subject matter; I do have that repressed Goth streak in me. The market, however, has decided to create only for those who demand Action Horror, that brand of the genre that aims only for the gut reaction and ignores a more distanced, less involved approach. I think the world could use a few more good H.P. Lovecraft adaptations.

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