W. P. Johnson

Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

On Being Jason.

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm

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As a participating member of Litreactor’s writer’s workshop, I occasionally come across work that prompts me to go beyond simple criticism. I’ve often prided myself to give, what I believe, is objective feedback on a story written by a peer. But once in awhile… its really tempting to just trash it.

Though this isn’t really about trashing someone’s story. It’s more about what I learned from picking it apart. In it, there was a character referred to simply as The Man. The Man is in charge of the world. He is evil, depraved, and enjoys the pain and suffering of others. The plot meanders through his various routines and responsibilities and introduces another character that is treated poorly until said character is killed and at the end of the story, this same character’s son enacts revenge on The Man, thus becoming the new “The Man”.

Yet there was never any explanation of who or what The Man was exactly. No clear definition of how he came to power, how he kept his power, why people were afraid of him. Things simply were. In responding to this story, as is the nature of a workshop, I wrote how problematic it was that there were so little details regarding The Man’s motivation as well as the reason people obeyed him. The writer responded with something along the lines of, “Why does Jason kill teenagers? How is he able to be in two places at once? The answer is, who cares!?”

It got me thinking about that, this idea of what you choose to show and not show. In particular it made me think of monsters, but I think it applies to all fiction. There’s value in what we don’t know when it comes to story. It carries a lot of weight. If the story is bad, this lack of knowledge will prove insufficient. If the story is good, people will usually ignore a few holes. And if the knowledge is there in excess but the story is piss poor, such as any CSI whatever show you can think of, people will go along for that too (and yeah, I know the show is sort of bullshit, but they at least try to break it down for you).

But what if, like John Gardner’s Grendel, someone came along and made a film from the perspective of Jason Voorhees, giving us a completely different point of view? Would we know him as someone mentally deranged? Would there be sympathy? Would it start out normal and then quickly devolve into insanity a la American Psycho, the novel/film this blog has punned its namesake from?

Or maybe it’s not a place we’re supposed to go. After all, in horror, which is my genre of choice and something I think and write about often, evil is something that works better unknown than it does out in the open. If a reader is put in Dracula’s shoes, he doesn’t really get a sense of how frightening the monster is, does he? Instead he’s thinking, “Dracula is wearing Nikes? Weird…”

Or perhaps its simply too distasteful to examine what we would consider evil in such a full context, giving sympathy to him. I mean, Hannibal Rising sounds good on paper, but did it really succeed in its effort to humanize Hannibal the Cannibal? Should writers give context to a monster’s actions at the risk of sounding like a justification?

And the answer is: I have no fucking clue. What I do know is that its worth trying. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. With the short story I had critiqued, it did not. Funny thing is though, if it had taken place from the point of view from one of The Man’s underlings? I probably would’ve swallowed that pill, hook line and sinker. After all, its easier to relate to a victim and experience fear than it is to relish in the sadistic behavior of a psychopath.

Anyway, right now you can check out my short story “The Last Round” at http://www.solarcide.com. They should be posting part three up soon, which will be the end of the story. Also, you can buy “The Stench”, featured on kzine’s second issue, available on amazon.com for only a few dollars. If you do buy it, for God’s sake, leave a fucking review and help a brother out. Right now I’ve got three stories I’m waiting to hear back on (“White Light, White Heat”, “A Worm Named Lorna”, and “A Song For John”), and I’m nearly half way through my second batch of stories (“Cut In Half”, “Black Egg”, and something else). So hopefully I will have some good news for you all in the coming months.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

-Bill

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Who’s That Dressed In Black?

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2012 at 9:25 pm

The Woman In BlackRecently over the weekend I saw The Woman in Black, the newest offering of Hammer Films since their “revival”.  It’s difficult to call it a brilliant film or say that it was, if I can speak so snobbishly of the genre, “great”. There are a short list of horror films that I consider works of art: The Shining, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc. There’s also a pretty long list of horror movies that I absolutely love but I know that, deep down, they’re not all that great: Brainscan, WishMaster, and any of the schlock that is Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. And yeah, some say that they were good in their inception, but to be honest, I don’t think I ever respected them as films in the way I do Jaws (if that can be considered horror), or Psycho. Halloween comes to mind as a film that almost does both- its a film I love, a film that’s fun, but also a film that’s close to being art as far as the genre goes.

Nightmare on Elm Street comes really close, but there’s just something about Freddy that detracts from the overall intelligence of the film. Its hard for a  work of art to have a antagonist that’s always cracking jokes while he’s killing teenagers.

Which brings me to the point of what horror fans all have in common, and that is this- we love ANYTHING that has to do with horror. Whether it be high art, a gory slasher film, or a poorly made monster movie. Case in point: Plan 9 From Outer Space, Troll 2, Frankenhooker. These are movies that are so clearly awful, so unrelentingly bad, they somehow transcend their awfulness into a greatness that only horror fans can appreciate. I don’t think there’s any other genre that can do that as well and as prolifically as horror does.

But back to The Woman in Black. To put it simply, while I loved the film and it had a lot of good scares (all the more fun shared in a packed theater)- it was merely good as a film. I don’t think it was brilliant, or a work of art. The Ring comes closer to pulling off the kind of fear and terror that The Woman in Black wanted to do, which is to say while both were scary, there’s something about The Ring that lingered. Maybe it was just how much stronger the story was in The Ring, or the acting. Daniel Radcliffe was certainly strong in his role as a nervous washed up lawyer, however his nervousness was so pervasive and constant that we never got to see any other side of him. The entire tone of the film was so unrelentingly creepy and spooky that it became somewhat exhausting. A good half hour spent in the haunted house left me feeling completely spent. And we weren’t even done dealing with this goddamn ghost!

Still… they got the tone down so well, it made for a hell of a scary ride. Maybe it didn’t stay with me for days, but it certainly lingered at night. As I tried to sleep, I couldn’t help but look in the corner of the room, finding shadows playing tricks on me.

On that same night my girlfriend woke up at some point, shouting “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.” She had had a nightmare about looking up a dark flight of stairs and a boy was walking down those stairs with the skin of his face in his hands while his skinned face bled down his chin. It was hard to find sleep the rest of the night.

And then days later, in texting with her, she had joked that she was going to sneak in to my bedroom and stand in the corner of the room, wearing all black. And that when I finally noticed her, she was going to run at me, screaming bloody murder.

That too, led to another bad night of sleep.

Still, I can’t help but smile at how afraid I was. I think its a sickness only other horror fans would appreciate.

Here’s to being scary.

-Bill