Horror 101: Body Horror vs. Splatter Horror

Alright, I’ve had something on my mind for a while and I think I finally want to get it off my chest. Going to take this opportunity to get up on my soapbox, grab my megaphone, and scream gibberish about horror narratives at unsuspecting passerbys.

Brace yourself, Daniel, I’m about to get super nerdy.

Body horror is not the same thing as gore.

Let me say it again, body horror is not the same thing as gore.

Now say it with me, body horror is not the same thing as gore.

If I had to pick my favorite subgenre of horror, it would be body horror and it drives me nuts when I tell people this and I get a response like:

“Gross, I hate gory movies.”

“Gore in horror movies is just lazy writing.”

“Ew, you’re nasty and you need jesus.”

I’m not going to deny the fact that I do like gory horror films and that I am nasty and indeed need jesus. There is something so satisfying about sipping a beer and watching buckets upon buckets of fake blood splatter across the TV screen.

But that’s not body horror. Those types of films are called splatter horror, which is a subgenre that demonstrates a fascination with the vulnerability of the human body through graphic gore and violence.

Body horror on the other hand is a subgenre of horror that intentionally showcases disturbing violations of the human body, like mutilation, mutation, disease, stranger behavior, or graphic violence. Unlike splatter, this subgenre is more focused on making the audience question what is means to be human and their own autonomy.

I think this is where the confusion between splatter and body horror comes from. Yes, body horror can use gore to achieve its goal, but it’s so much more than just gross special effects and fake blood.

A classic example of body horror is John Carpenter’s The Thing, a movie about an alien infiltrating a research outpost in Antarctica by killing off people and then taking that person’s place. The movie does show people dying and some gross mutations, but it’s never needlessly violent or gory. It’s the perfect example of body horror without having to disembowel anyone.

Another example of body horror that doesn’t use violence is The Faculty, one of my personal favorites. This movie is about an alien that takes over the teachers in a high school and it’s up to a group of students to save the world from in invasion. Again, this movie is scary and disturbing without utilizing over-the-top gore.

Body horror done well does not have to be gory or super gross. Body horror does not necessarily equal buckets of viscera and bad writing. Stop acting like I’m nasty because it’s my favorite subgenre. There are so many other factual reasons to call me nasty. Educate yourself.

-EMS

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Movie vs. Book: The Ritual

So, I am a little behind the times.

The Ritual, a movie about four college friends reuniting to hike through Sweden and coming across an ancient, bloodthirsty creature, came out in February of this year. I even watched it six months ago when it initially came out, but before I sat down and did a proper review I knew I wanted to read the novel. Well, this past month I finally bought a copy of The Ritual by Adam Neville, and now that I’ve read it, it’s finally time to share my thoughts.

Brace yourself. They’re not very positive.

The Film Adaptation

ritual movie posterWhen the film came out earlier this year, everyone started recommending it to me. Everyone who watched it said it was new and unique and amazing and that I just had to watch it. I would love it! Well, I’ve never been one to shy away from a horror film, so I cracked open a beer and queued it up.

If you’re not familiar with the film, I’ll give a brief synopsis. Four college friends reunite to go on a hike through the Swedish wilderness to honor their friend, Robert, who died a few months beforehand in a liquor store robbery. One of the friends, Luke, was in the store when it happened and did nothing so there’s some lingering resentment from the other three toward Luke. On the hike, they decide to take a shortcut and end up lost in a forest inhabited by an ancient god that is desperate for sacrifices and picks the men off one by one. Luke ends up stumbling across a small village of people in the forest who worship the entity, a bastard offspring of the Norse god, Loki, and manages to escape before they sacrifice him to the creature.

Even just writing that, the story sounds amazing. Lost in the forest with some creepy beast stealing your friends away and stringing them up in trees sounds like the recipe for an amazing horror story. Except, whoever the hell mixed up the ingredients for this movie put in way too much “men lost and complaining in the woods” and not enough “cool monster” and “creepy cult.”

The movie was incredibly unbalanced in my opinion. We spent way, way too much time following the four friends getting lost in the woods. It’s boring and overdone. I’ve already read that story, I’ve already watched that movie. Hell, I’ve fucking lived that story myself one time when I got too drunk on a camping trip.

Also, as a woman, I could not even remotely relate to the characters, Dom, Phil, Hutch, and Luke. All they seemed to focus on was being the most masculine and the conflict was completely based on miscommunication and toxic masculinity.

Boo. Boring and overdone.

ritualmonsterThe movie really got interested when the monster actually showed its face. I remember squealing when it came on screen, as if it were some cute kitten or baby bunny that had appeared. Amazing design. Loved the monster. Unfortunately, the monster was on screen for maybe a quarter of the movie. I was way more invested in it and the cult that worshiped it than I was in the four male characters and it barely got a part in the movie. I was thoroughly disappointed. A cool movie with so much potential that just didn’t follow through.

Reading the Novel

After I was disappointed by the movie, I found out it was based on a book!

Great, I thought to myself. The novel must spend more time focusing on the cult and the monster than the movie did. Movies more often than not cut out major scenes to keep the film short.  I need to buy it and read it so I can finally hear more about my sweet, baby monster.

The_Ritual_Adam_Nevill_cover

Nope, I was so very wrong .

The book was even more unbalanced than the movie was. In total, the book was a little over 400 pages and we only ever got small glimpses of the monster. Also, it wasn’t until around page 260 that the cult even came into the story.

Oh, and it wasn’t a cult. It was three metal-head teenagers with authority-issues looking to spill blood. Loki and Fenris, the two young men who made up the band Blood Frenzy, had heard stories about the beast living in the woods and came to worship it while at the same time desecrating ancient churches and other modern religious altars.

While that sounds interesting, Loki, Fenris, and their other friend, Surtr, were boring and one dimensional, basic metalhead stereotypes. They reminded me of the bad kids in an after school special about peer pressure and satanism.

I had issues with all three of these metalhead younglings, but my biggest issue with the book was with Surtr, one of only two women featured in the book.

Women in The Ritual

Let’s talk about Surtr.

In the novel, Surtr was, as far as I could tell, a groupie of Blood Frenzy and Loki’s psychotic girlfriend. Although her age was never stated, based on Luke’s pondering of whether these delinquents would even get tried as adults, I’d guess she was between 16 and 20 years old, which honestly makes the last third of the book creepy for an entirely different reason.

Surtr, whose number of speaking lines I can count on one hand, was described as a short, overweight woman with with black hair. Pretty vague, right? Well, thankfully, the author doesn’t stop there! We also get to hear all about how plump and pendulous her breasts are as she runs around the forest naked and how sebaceous and creamy her vagina smells while she pins Luke down.

That’s it, that’s all we get for physical characterization. And as for her personality, well all we know is that she’s incredibly violent, unstable, and wants to cut Luke’s toes off for no reason other than her sadistic streak. Surtr is basically a wild animal, thrown into the narrative for no good reason other than to provide an opportunity to use insults like “fat bitch” and “ugly cow.”

As a lover of horror and a grown ass woman, I have no issue with that type of language or misogyny. This isn’t kindergarten and I don’t expect authors to pull punches to spare my feelings, especially when they’re talking about a character in life or death situations. However, in The Ritual it was absolutely pointless because Surtr was absolutely pointless. The story started off very male-focused and I was fine with that, until the author brought in a female character and demonstrated how little he cared about her.

Surtr was my main issue with this section of the book, but after the author included a line describing the smell of her vagina, I started noticing other little things that just pissed me off. The old woman who lived in the house and was the descendent of the creature in the woods was one hundred percent a horror stereotype. Old women, living in the woods alone practicing ancient magic? Been there, done that.

However, that stereotype took on a whole new light when I read that description of Surtr. I remember thinking, “oh, he just doesn’t know how to write women at all. Awesome.”

And then, the old woman called the creature in the forest “moder,” which means mother.

So now even the monster is feminine, which means in the last twenty or so pages of the book, Luke is exclusively fighting against feminine entities. He’s fighting Surtr and the old woman and now the ancient mother of the forest.

As a woman reading this, I was even less thrilled than I was in the beginning. Obviously, the author has some issues with women that he unknowingly unloaded into this novel. I felt alienated reading it and only finished it because the hidden misogyny only started popping up when I was almost done. When I’m less than 200 pages away from finishing a book, it takes a lot for me to not finish it.

That, and I really wanted to write this post criticizing it and the only way I could be seen as a credible critic was to finish it.

My final thoughts: 0/10, boring, misogynistic, was rooting for the monster to win.

My Favorite Spooks

So, Daniel, do you want to keep talking about horror movies? Yes? Perfect, because that’s the only thing I like to talk about. Hate to break it to you, but about 90 percent of my personality is made up of horror movie knowledge. The other ten percent is beer and anxiety.

Again, I am a simple creature.

Anyway, as you know these past few weeks have been very busy for me. I spent last week in Boston for work and then the weekend down in Portland so, being a terrible person with no time management skills, I completely missed my post in our other blog. So this week I had intended to write my post for this blog early, spending plenty of time researching and reviewing my opinions on the psychological importance of villains and scary stories.

Well, guess what! Surprise, surprise, I completely lost track of time and I am now writing this post Friday afternoon. For being a professional writer, I’m terrible at keeping a writing schedule.

So in the interest of keeping this post simple and NOT continuing a rant about horror movies that nobody actually wants to hear, I thought I would talk about my favorite horror monsters.

Now, before I continue, I think I need to define what I mean by horror monster. I feel like when most people hear the term “horror monster” they think of the classic movie villains like Freddy Krueger, Frankenstein’s monster, or Pinhead. When I use the term horror monster, what I mean are monsters that often appear in scary stories, things like vampires, werewolves, and zombies.

Basically, whenever I log into Netflix and look through my recommended list, any horror movie that has one of the following monsters in it automatically gets added to my watch list no matter how many stars it has. The following monsters are basically sure-fire ways to get me to watch a horror film:

Wendigos

First Introduction: Pet Sematary

Favorite Horror Movie Appearance: Ravenous

Wendigos are probably my favorite mythological creature. My first introduction was in Pet Sematary by Stephen King, but it was in the Hannibal TV series that I really started developing an odd obsession with this strange, majestic creatures.

The Krampus

First Introduction: Myths & Legends Podcast

Favorite Depiction: Krampus

Despite being a very season-specific monster, I absolutely love the Krampus. A demon that beats up on naughty children? I am a bitter, jaded adult and I love the concept. Sign me the fuck up.

Werewolves

First Introduction: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Favorite Depiction: American Werewolf in London

I’m not sure why, but when I was in middle school there was this bizarre divide amongst my friends. You either likes vampires or you like werewolves, you could not like both. I have no idea where this weird binary came from, but it was in that period of my life that I decided I liked werewolves. I loved the idea of turning into a wolf at the full moon and spent many hours reading up on them. Thankfully, extensive knowledge of werewolf mythos is a very useful thing to have, right?

Mermaids/Sirens

First Introduction: The Little Mermaid

Favorite Depiction: Siren

Wendigos might be my favorite mythological creature, but mermaids and sirens have probably been the creature I have loved the longest. My favorite movie as a kid was the Little Mermaid and ever since I’ve loved the ocean and everything it contains. Well, as an adult, I now understand how dangerous and spooky the ocean is and love it even more.

Alright, this post is somewhat done. I promise I’ll get back into the flow of writing very, very soon. Sorry for being the worst, Daniel.

-EMS

To Woobify or Not to Woobify

Alright, everyone ready for me to continue rambling about scary stories and evil characters? No? Well, too bad. My blog, I do what I want. Also, the only things I think about on a regular basis are beer, scary stories, and my ferrets so give me a break. I am a simple creature.

In my last post, I talked about how we sometimes have a hard time letting evil characters be evil. It seems like we think that liking an evil or morally questionable character means we’re evil or morally questionable. So, instead of trying to understand an evil character, we tend to kind of ignore the shitty things they’ve done and focus on their good qualities even if they’re few and far between.

Of course, it was Tumblr that finally gave this phenomenon a name and it is the goofiest thing you’ll probably ever here. The word Tumblr uses is “woobify.”

According to Urban Dictionary, the word “woobie” is used as a term of endearment for a thing that is sweet and comforting, like a stuffed bunny or baby blanket. Over the years, I’ve also seen many people online use it as a term of endearment for overly sweet or precious characters. From my experience, it’s kind of interchangeable with the phrase, “sweet, precious cinnamon roll” in that this character is so pure and good-hearted that it’s a little sickening.

However, despite wasting years of my life on this godforsaken plane of existence we call the world wide web, I am no expert in any of this gibberish. Forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted the word “woobie” and I will go weep in shame.

Anyway, based on the term woobie, Tumblr came up with the verb “to woobify,” which means to give morally ambiguous characters pure, precious, and almost immature characteristics. The character I’ve seen woobified a lot in recent months has been Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars movies. I am by no means a Star Wars fan, but I know enough about Kylo to know that he is a morally reprehensible man who represents the worst parts of toxic masculinity. Well, Tumblr users have fallen in love with him and instead of allowing themselves to love an evil man, they’re overemphasized his few sympathetic qualities, like his tragic relationship with his family and the dark side. They’ve taken an evil and complex character and turned him into a helpless child, a victim of circumstance and thus blameless in the shit he’s pulled as an adult. They’ve woobified him.

Not okay, not okay at all.

I don’t know a whole lot about Kylo Ren’s backstory so there may be some traumatic events that explain his behavior that I don’t know about. So, before I go on, I want to say that I am in no way trying to be dismissive to people who have experienced traumatic events in their lives that continue to affect their behavior. Everyone has a story, everyone has a struggle, and I strive to keep my mind and heart open to people just in case they need help.

However, a traumatic past is not a legitimate excuse for hurting people in the present. To quote a very wise detective by the name of Jake Peralta, “Cool motive. Still murder.” No matter what your excuse is, the thing you did is still shitty. 

By purposefully changing a character’s narrative to be more sympathetic, or woobifying them, you’re not only discrediting the entire plot, you’re also dehumanizing that character in a sense. Making that person a victim of circumstance, helpless and lacking free will. A person is not defined by their past, they’re defined by their actions and Kylo Ren, by definition, is evil.

And guess what, that’s okay!

As I said in my last post, connecting with a villain does not make you a villain, it makes you a complex human being with more than two emotions clinking around in your skull. Good stories are meant to challenge you, to help you grow and understand yourself and how you fit into the world.

And sorry to break it to you, but no human being is one hundred percent good or evil. We all have things in our life that we have to fight against, things that could very easily turn into our “villain origin story” if we let them. Villains are in stories to help us recognize the darker parts of ourselves and thus more effectively fight against them.

So, liking a villain doesn’t mean you’re evil and “woobifying” a villain isn’t good because it means we’re trying to deny your own evils. And we all know the least effective way to handle a problem is to deny it.

So, summary, don’t woobify. Denial is never a good strategy. 

-EMS

 

Let Villains be Villains

Last November, Charles Manson finally passed away. Right around the time he died, the internet was flooded with people saying “R.I.P. Manson” and “so sad to see him pass” and other completely tasteless, idiotic things.

As you can probably tell, I have no sympathy for this man. He was a monster who literally brainwashed children to kill for him.

Now, I have read Helter Skelter and watched as many documentaries as I could find on the Manson Family, their crimes, and the following legal battles. I do find the story of Charles Manson fascinating and I’m probably safe in saying that I know more about him than the average citizen.So, in retrospect I guess it wasn’t a huge surprise when an acquaintance asked me if I was sad to see Manson die.

Of course not I wasn’t sad to see him die, I told them.  

Well, I know you like serial killers, they responded.

Which was fair, so I couldn’t really be offended. However, that conversation got me thinking about a recurring problem I’ve seen amongst true crime and even some horror movie fans: the inability to separate fantasy and reality.

Now, before I start talking about my theories behind this behavior and whatnot, I would like to acknowledge that some of these assholes are just that, assholes. I’m pretty sure most of us went through that “I’m so complex and no one understands me” phase when we were determined to shock our parents into thinking we were edgy. Thankfully, most of us grew out of that, but just based on the number of tweets I saw mourning Manson or the many Tumblr accounts I’ve seen that post artsy photos of the Columbine killers, I know some of us didn’t. These people are just looking to cause drama and, instead of dying their hair blue and piercing their face, decided to spit on the memories of these criminals’ victims.

I have thankfully matured enough to realize how tasteless that is and opted to pierce my lip and buzz my head instead. This way I’m only hurting myself while I show the world how edgy and cool I am. I might crochet throw blankets and sing show tunes to my ferrets, but I’m a bad bitch and my hair proves that.

Anyway, I should also admit that the people out there mourning Manson and fawning over the Columbine shoots are extreme cases. I don’t really need to prove that these people are being assholes. However, this trend of blurring the line between fantasy and reality also shows up in more subtle ways and it’s having a weird effect on the horror and true crime genres.

You ready for me to dive into some pseudo-psychological bullshit, Daniel? Brace yourself.

I think we as a culture have a difficult time understanding how to handle the concept of evil. We see things as black or white, good or evil, and therefore when we come across something that’s “evil” that we enjoy it’s hard for us to handle. We can’t be a good person and enjoy “evil” things, and so that evil thing must not be that evil.

A good, recent example of this was the reboot of Stephen King’s “It” in which the very attractive Bill Skaarsgard played the killer clown, Pennywise. I know you’re not on Tumblr, Daniel, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say Tumblr was ridiculous in the weeks following that movie’s release. The amount of extremely sexual Pennywise fanart and fanfiction that appeared on my Tumblr dash was unreal.

I won’t deny the fact I played into the mania a bit myself and made my fair share of “Float me, daddy” jokes. But that’s exactly what my comments were, jokes. I know that Pennywise is evil and that, given the chance, I would also shove a metal fence post through his face before I would ever hop into bed with him. Some Tumblr users on the other hand seemed to be crossing that line from harmless joking into actually wanting to sleep with this murderous, Lovecraftian monstrosity. A tad concerning in my opinion.

What I think happened is that, after seeing the movie, these people decided they liked Pennywise. Well, Pennywise is evil, which means they must be evil, but they’re not evil so instead Pennywise must not be that evil. So, in order to justify their love for this killer clown, these people just opted to pretend he wasn’t that bad. I’d bet that the same kind of logic is used to justify loving serial killers and criminals.

However, the world isn’t black and white. Liking a character/person/thing that is evil does not make you evil. It makes you human. It only becomes evil when you decide ignore the despicable things that character/person/thing did in order to justify your fascination with them. I can enjoy the story of the Manson Family, read Stephen King novels, and watch gorey horror movies and enjoy them while still understanding that these people are evil, that what they’re doing would never, ever be acceptable.

Basically, this entire argument boils down to the idea that you can like a villain and not necessarily be a villain. Let your bad guys be bad guys.

I feel like this is getting a bit rambly. I think I’ll cut it here and maybe pick this up in my next SDoS post. I have lots of thoughts about scary stories I want to share. Might just be time to bite the bullet and go back for my master’s in scary stories.

-EMS

Five Nights at Freddy’s Kept Me from Writing

So Daniel, do you want to know what I did instead of writing last night? What I did instead of writing over lunch today at work? What I’ve been doing this evening? Well, I won’t say I completely wasted my time, I did get a lot of work done today in the office and I cleaned the ferret cage, but a majority of my time was watching Five Nights at Freddy’s theory videos on Youtube.

You heard me right. Instead of working on a blog we’ve literally been running for more than two years, I obsessed over a fucking video game franchise that probably should have died four years ago after the second game came out. I literally watched all of Markiplier’s playthroughs of the games, including all of his “hard mode” playthroughs and the extra videos which just replayed his best jump scare reactions. Then I watched every single video on Game Theory about the game, fascinated by how the six games and two books came together into one cohesive and horrific timeline.

I’m almost ashamed to admit I’ve also been watching Markiplier play through all of the FNAF knock offs, including Five Nights at the Chum Bucket, a fucking Spongebob reboot of this god forsaken game. I went from zero to fully addicted in the span of like three days and I haven’t even played the games. But don’t worry, I’ve got the books on hold at the library because I cannot help myself.

Is this a symptom of my obsessive compulsive order? Now that I actually recognize what OCD is, having meticulously destroyed my skin while coping with anxiety, I rarely use the term OCD in a joking way, like using it to justify my need to have the TV volume on a multiple of five. But this habit of mine, this burning hot and heavy on an obsession for a few weeks and then dropping it quickly, feels like a compulsion. Maybe it is?

Anyway, this is not meant to be a sad post about mental illness. Let’s get back on track.

In retrospect, I should have known this would happen. If I had read the synopsis of FNAF before I just happened to click on Markiplier’s video, I would have pegged it as my future obsession.

Initially I had ignored it, writing the game off as a Hot Topic-esque trend for preteen edgelords, but now that I’ve experienced it, it is so up my alley.

Cute, seemingly harmless things that are actually very dangerous and deadly? A mysterious serial killer luring kids to their deaths using party costumes? Horrible deaths involving machines accidentally crushing their victims and mangling their corpses? Lots of hidden details and Easter eggs that add up to a more complex, horrific story? It’s like it was written for me! I am a self described pastel edgelord. I love skulls and shit, but I can rock the fuck out of a pastel skirt.

Also, it’s basically a B-flick horror movie come to life, filled with cheesy jump scares and purposefully over-the-top effects. If I could go back to 2014 Emily and tell her about this game, I’m sure she would jump on the bandwagon immediately, fuck how popular the game is.

Now, who wants to put bets on how long this obsession lasts? Definitely going to play the games and read the books, how long do you think that will take?

-EMS

P.S. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of poetry. I’ve always been something of an amateur poet myself and I’ve decided I want to put together a poetry collection of my own. Over the next few months, I might use my SDoS posts to test run some of my poetry. Hope that’s okay! 

I’m also telling you about this now because I need someone to hold me accountable. I can’t spend my time watching FNAF videos all the time. Sometimes I need to write.

I Fell Down a Hole

I have always considered myself an organized and responsible person. In college I never missed an assignment or flunked a test. After graduation, I worked diligently until I found a job and had a steady income. Nowadays, I rarely miss work deadlines, show up at least five minutes early to everything, and never run out of clean underwear.

I have also always believed that life is all about balance. No one can be organized and regimented all the time, me included. I am very responsible when it comes to work, exercise, and other household chores, but I am definitely not organized when it comes to my hobbies.

When it comes to my main hobbies, like reading, writing, crocheting, and horror movies, there is absolutely no gray zone. I swing between being completely obsessed with a book or project for days at a time and having zero interest in even thinking about it.

I recently came up with a name for my habit. I call it falling down a hole. giphy
A few weeks ago I was sitting with my coworkers outside, enjoying the sunshine and talking about books. We were talking about our favorite genres and, of course, I brought up my obsession with scary stories.

My coworkers, Stephen and Meredith, said that they had read some Stephen King, but can’t read a whole lot of his work. For every book of his they read, they have to read something light-hearted to “recover.”

In my entire life, I’ve never had to do that. When I finish a scary story, I don’t try to find some way to escape from my terror, I revel in it. I finish a scary story and then immediately search out the next scary story I can find. I can’t get enough. I need more, more, more. A few years ago I read my first novel by Jack Ketchum. It was gruesome and terrifying and stomach-turning and I immediately wanted more.

Can’t stop, won’t stop. That’s basically my policy when it comes to my hobbies.
Well, it is until the switch in my brain is suddenly flipped off and I lose all interest. And when I say a switch if flipping, I’m being very serious. It’s not a gradual thing. I put something down and then just don’t pick it up for months and months.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll finish a book if I start it and if I’m crocheting something for a friend I’ll always finish it. But if it’s something I’m just goofing around with then there’s a good chance I’ll put it on a shelf and just forget about it. I have so many partially finished novels and crochet projects just laying around.

You’d think for being the most organized person in my office I’d be more organized when it comes to my own hobbies, but nope! Apparently all of the energy I use to stay on track I use at work.

Fuck everything else in my life I guess.

-EMS