Category Archives: Essay: Subgenre

Essay dealing with various subgenres in Speculative films.

Keep It Simple: Thoughts on Remaking Friday the 13th

From here on, the film will be discussed up to and including the ending. Last chance. Here there be Dragons.
The Friday the 13th series is discussed in the following essay.

So I’m reading this article on about the late, unlamented remake/reboot/whatever of Friday the 13th that recently got the ax.  For the most part, I’m neutral.  I’m not the typical fan–I’m not big on “cool” kills, say–but I’m not against the series.  It is what it is, and if I’m to be honest the last few times I indulged I enjoyed myself.

Then I hit the following quote (emphasis mine):

As for Jason, his brief backstory is enough to warrant why he’s killing. He drowned, then his mother was killed, and now he’s killing anyone who steps into Camp Crystal Lake. His story is simple, and the new film should start from there.

Let me start by saying that I agree with the central idea behind the above.  You don’t need much backstory to do a proper Friday the 13th.  You don’t need much backstory to do any Slasher flick.  There’s no need for wondering who the killer is or bemoaning how bad a childhood the killer had, either.  The killer needs to be ruthless, the characters need to be sympathetic, and the plot shouldn’t have too many really stupid moments.  That’s it.  There’s a reason why it’s the go-to subgenre in the field.

Thing is, there’s nothing simple about Jason Voorhees.

He dies, his mother dies, now he’s killing.

There seems to be a step missing somewhere.

Like, say, how he came back from the dead as a fully formed adult!

I don’t think it ever gets adequately explained (ignoring a certain sequel, which seemed more like a reboot of the premise and not an honest continuation).  Initial he somehow was living in the woods at the same time his mother died.  Then as the series progresses, he becomes more and more an undead thing.  With no real logic behind it.

On the one hand, it doesn’t matter.  For the previously stated reasons.

On the other hand, it feels like a missed opportunity some how.  How did it happen?  Did whatever it was happen before?  Can it happen again?

I think one of the few things the last remake got right was by-passing this issue.  It’s still there–for some reason Mrs. Voorhees still thinks her son is dead–but it’s nowhere near as bad as in the original series.

Original series.  Yeah, like there’s really been a second one.

That’s beside the point.  What I think is, ideally, if you’re going to reboot the series, go all the way with it.  No Mrs. Voorhees having a little kill fest of her own.  Just Jason stalking the woods, killing those he comes across in his territory.

If you simply have to have any of the original backstory, make it a story one councilor tells another.  No flashback, no scenes saying yay or nay about whether it’s true or not.  Just words.

In other words, make the “simple” backstory of Jason even simpler.  He doesn’t need the excess baggage.  Especially if you’re never going to do the proper work to sell it.


Splatters on the Walls: Gore in Horror Movies

Over the years I’ve seen this notion repeated: that a Good Horror movie has to have gore.

I don’t believe this.

In fact, I believe gore have very little to do with Horror.

Don’t misunderstand me.  There is a place for the old ultra violence in the subgenre.  Some films, in fact, would not have the same impact without blood and guts.  Dawn of the Dead (1978) no doubt could have been filmed with a certain subtly and nuance, suggesting its bleak world rather than all but reveling in it.  It might have even held a great deal of power.  But it’s doubtful that it would hold the same power.  In showing straight out the nightmarish situation that the characters face, that situation is made all too real for the viewer.

However, compare it if you will with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).  Here is a movie that a viewer would naturally assume had blood and guts covering the screen.  And yet there is no gore.  If the IMDb is to be believed, director Tobe Hooper went out his way to tone the film down, shooting for a PG rating.  It got an R and is regarded  by some (this writer included) as one of the best Horror Films ever made.

Gore and violence, it would seem, are but a spice in Horror’s broth.  Like humor or, perhaps, even sex and nudity, it can add to the taster when the right amount and quality is added.  Flavor is determined by the viewer, whether it is too much, not enough, or just right.

Now if gore isn’t a necessary part of Horror, what is?  What makes a good Horror tale?

The goal of any Horror story, whether the movies or prose or what have you, is to disturb, to frighten, to terrify.  It is the promise of going too far, of experiencing something that you really don’t want to experience.  It is watching someone you care about on the verge of that oh so nasty experience, knowing it’s about to happen, and being unable to warn them.  Horror is traveling where you are not safe, where you might not come back the same shape or size.

The makers of Horror films need to either be able to take the viewers to these terrible places or at the very least be able to misguide the viewer enough to think he or she is there.  They need to be able to hide what is coming, to surprise.  They need to have characters the viewer has an interest in (thought not necessarily rooting for).

Horror doesn’t have to be realistic, but it helps.

In the end, what movies like Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre have in common is that they do these things.  They take the characters (and the viewer) to some place horrific.  They have characters the viewer doesn’t want harmed.  And while the viewer exits both films unharmed in theory, there are moments that linger.  Moments that prove the viewer has returned no longer quite the same as he or she left…

Traditional Vampires: You’re Looking a Little Pale These Days, My Dear

Let’s talk about the standard Traditional Vampire movie plot. Forget movies, such as Blade or Underworld which are more Action Fantasy than anything else, or Interview With the Vampire or Twilight, which romanticized the undead. Let’s talk the basic, bog standard Traditional Vampire plot. The one that most Horror movies, from Dracula (1931) to Blacula to even Fright Night (1985) follow to one degree or another.

The standard plot goes a little something like this:

One day a stranger comes to town. Maybe a new neighbor moves into a vacant house.  Perhaps an estranged and barely remembered family member pays an unexpected visit. Or maybe it’s just a drifter, noticed for the moment and forgotten. The specifics don’t matter.

What matters is that soon after the stranger appears people start sickening, then dying. What matters is that the newcomer is responsible, knowingly or otherwise.

In time a young person (usually female) takes ill. For the purposes of this essay she will be called the Victim. She might be the first person taken, she might be just the most recent victim, again, it doesn’t matter. The important part is that nothing that her parents and doctors do to save her seems to work.

Then the stately gentleman (or gentlewoman) arrives, and everything change. He knows what’s wrong with the Victim: A Vampire comes to her at night (usually) and drains her of her vitality. He also knows exactly what to do to stop the threat. This is the Vampire Hunter.

And it’s specifically Hunter, not Slayer. While in the movies it’s usually the Vampire Hunter who puts paid to the undead horror, there is an equally good chance that the Victim’s Lover will be the one to take the final strike.

With the arrival of the Vampire Hunter comes a list of rules, covering what the Vampire can or can not do. For instance, a holy item such as a cross will drive it off, perhaps even causing it harm. Daylight weakens or kills it. A wood stake ends its life. Whatever the threat, it reinforces the danger involved facing while at the same time putting the protagonists on a better footing for perhaps defeating the threat.

Sometimes the Victim dies before the protagonists can stop the Vampire. A second Victim will then shortly be provided. Whatever happens to the first, both Victims will display signs of becoming Undead themselves. For it is a rare thing where the lethal kiss of the Vampire doesn’t create more in its wake.

In any case, whether the Victim is the original or another, the Vampire Hunter and whatever other protagonists there are about hunt for the Vampire. As can be expected, there will be a few false leads before at last the monster can hide no more. A confrontation ensues, though not always with the Vampire itself. Sometimes the Vampire has helpers to deal with before the end.

Whatever hoops the protagonist must jump through, in the end the outsider gets repulsed and normalcy resumes. The Victim is Victim no more and all is well.

Until the sequel, of course…

It doesn’t take an attentive reader to notice the generalities in the above synopsis. To coin a phrase, there is more than one way to stake a Vampire. However, this tends to be how events run during the course of the story.

One could make the case that this basic plot outline reflects the fear of the Foreigner, the Different, the guy who isn’t quite like you.  So many early Vampires came from Abroad, from Europe and other localities.  This fear of the Outsider persists to this day and it’s hard to shake it as an underlining reason for the story’s long popularity.  It might also be one of the reasons that more often than not we see in Speculative fiction the Vampire being portrayed in a more favorable light.

The other reasons no doubt appeal to the raw sexuality that Vampires often are given.  Who wouldn’t want a lover with the maturity of the ages, but the body of youth and health?

Thing is, though, if you look at the plot line again, you can see the actual roots of the Traditional Vampire story are with the plague, back in the days of yore when medicine wasn’t what it needed to be.  You have the source of the disease, spreading it through the community.  The healthy become sick.  Then the medical man identifies what’s wrong and “cures” society.  Simple, elegant, and still true even to this day.

All of this is just musings on plot and themes.  It isn’t intended as a standard for judging how successful any Vampire film is. No points will be deducted from straying from the field nor gained for hewing close to it.  The purpose for this essay is as a point of reference.

Which, knowing this site, will be used quite a bit…

Slasher Movies II

Rule of thumb around these parts is that if the reply is blog post length, it really should be a blog post.  In this case, Commenter Eric (aka my brother Eric) post a comment that I felt deserved to have a length reply.  Thus this sequel to my previous essay.

I am going to respond to this piecemeal style.  However, the interested can read Eric’s full comment here.  I warn concerned readers that there are mild spoilers for the movie Urban Legend (1998) both in his comment and in this essay.

With all that nattering done, shall we begin?

The Absence of Female Slasher Examples

Eric writes:

Alright… This is an excellent overview of the sub-genre. That said, you missed a couple things here.

First of all, you specify that the killer is almost always male – which is true – but you provide no example where the contrary is true. I would point to (***SPOILER ALERT***) Urban Legend, since it’s an excellent relatively modern example (the sequels are purely for the masochistic horror movie fan, but the original is almost as much fun for genre fans as Scream).

One of the problems with giving examples is that in doing so I’m spoiling a semi-legitimate portion of the suspense.  Granted your average slasher movie isn’t very subtle about who its killer is.  Were this discussing the movie itself, I’d have fewer qualms doing so.  As I intended the essay to be a generic covering of the sub-genre, I avoided doing so, despite knowing several.

I suppose I could make a case for Thirteen Women (1932) being an example of the female killer but honestly the more I look at that film, the more I wonder if it belongs here.  I saw it in the Wikipedia article and latched on to it because of the sorority aspect, having just watched The House on Sorority Row (1983).

But even if I was going to do so, Urban Legend wouldn’t be the one I picked.  I don’t care for the movie in the least.  In fact, when and if I review it for this site, expect a lengthy rant on the subject.  Saying it pushes the Rage Button in my head wouldn’t be stretching things in the slightest.

The Absence of Psycho

Eric writes:

Second, I find it abominable whenever people discuss the Slasher genre without mentioning Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). How can you talk about proto-slashers like The Bat without mentioning the consummate Slasher movie of all time? Psycho fills the social contract implicit in the Slasher Movie, does it with more style than any other movie ever made, and yet it gets left out of literally every Slasher discussion ever.

Why? Because, unlike other slasher movies, Psycho is ART. It’s one of the pinnacles of film making. Like Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), it’s so good that it can’t be in the slasher genre. While Black Christmas and Halloween are brilliant, they’re in the genre, but Psycho and Frenzy are left out. This isn’t because of the lack of the supernatural (The House on Sorority Row and Scream are both definitely slasher films, but neither exhibits any supernatural vibe) – it’s because both films are too good.

This makes me crazy, because it implies that Slasher films cannot exceed a certain level of quality. That’s crap. Slasher films can be awesome.

It probably was a mistake not to mention Psycho, considering how influential it is.  How many Horror flicks riff off it in one fashion or another?  Can you say countless, to this day?

And I agree with most of what you’ve said.  While you focus on Slasher Movies specifically, Horror gets consigned to the dark basement of films more often than not.  Horror Flicks can be an art, and, by extension, so to with Slasher movies.

However, were I to have mentioned Psycho, it would have been in passing, like with M (1931).  Because, like M, Psycho isn’t a Slasher Movie.  To use the parlance of this site, it’s a Stalking Killer movie.

Slasher Movies

The Wikipedia definition of a Slasher movie begins as follows:

Slasher film is a sub-genre of the horror film genre typically involving a psychopathic killer stalking, and killing a sequence of victims in a graphically violent manner, often with a cutting tool such as a chainsaw or scythe.

The entry continues with Vera Dika’s excellent overview of the sub-genre.  While one could just provide a link and be excused of washing one’s hands of the subject, a slightly more personalized accounting of Slasher films waits below.

Overview of Slasher Film Sub-Genre

Traces of what would be come what we consider a Slasher Movie have been a part of the Horror Genre for a long, long time.  A small group of people, trapped or otherwise, facing a killer intent on slaying them one by one for reasons or reasons unknown.  Most, if not all, deal with the thrill of the killer hunting prey, as it were, and not on the mad man himself (or herself).  A film like M (1931), say, would not be considered a Slasher Movie, as it focuses much more on the chase of the killer than the killer’s own pursuits.

Examples of these proto-Slasher movies might include the following:

  • The Bat (1926) – A masked killer hunt down a group of men and women
  • Dr. X (1932)A disfigured mad man sates his desires upon an unsuspecting populace.
  • Thirteen Women (1932) – a group of sorority sisters meet death arraigned by a killer they have wronged.

While one can see various elements and situations that have carried on to the modern Slasher movie, it isn’t until the splatter films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and the Italian Giallo movies of such film makers as Mario Bava (who’s Sei donne per l’assassino/Blood and Black Lace (1964) is very much a Slasher movie) and Dario Argento, that the sub-genre congealed as a whole.

From the perspective of this writer, while other films have had a notable influence upon the sub-genre, what defined it as we see it today are the following films:

The Slasher Film Plot

A bog standard Slasher movie takes place in a remote location. A small town ( Halloween, The Prowler), a camp ground (Friday the 13th), and the like. This limits or removes the police from the equation.

All the killings in the film link back to a Horrible Event in the past, one that’s tied either to the setting or the victims themselves. With very few exceptions, this event is a death, whether by murder or (more commonly) by accident. The killer is almost always linked to the event in some way, though is seldom the instigator.  The killer is also almost always male (and thus refered to as such throughout this essay.).

As stated above, the killer is a psychopath, though as a rule he hides it very well. Depending on the film, he will sometimes be a supernatural agency, though the specifics of what type of supernatural agency (beyond daemonic killer) will be left vague. More often than not his face will be hidden, thus allowing another actor to play the part in a sequel.

Daikaijû Eiga: Big Monsters, Small Cities

2016-big monsters-noteIf you’re going to use specialized terms when discussing something, it’s a good idea if your reader is on the same page as you. This is doubly true when you put your own spin on said terms. As Welltun Cares Reviews has such discussions, from time to time it a necessity to have a place to point to so that readers can get the information they might need. It not only cuts down on the words in the reviews but also reduces the wear and tear on the keyboard.

And, needless to say, I’m very lazy and prefer explaining things once.

This particular essay covers a certain type of Science Fiction story, that of the Daikaijû. It is divided into two parts. The first list the General Terminology used when discussing this subject.  The second serves as a sort of Case Studies, covering a handful of films to see if they match the terms as this site sees them.

Loads of fun for everyone!

General Terminology

To start with: Daikaijû Eiga. What does that mean?

Daikaijû is a Japanese word.  Dai means “big” and kaijû means “Strange Beast”.  Thus Daikaijû means “Big Strange Beast” or “Giant Monster”.  When combined with Eiga, you have the term “Giant Monster Movie”.

In the real world, Daikaijû Eiga covers Japanese monster movies such as Gamera, Mothra, and, of course, Godzilla. Here at Welltun Cares Review, I’ve refined the term to a specific type of Giant Monster movie based on a movie’s characteristics rather than the location being made.

To my mind, your basic Daikaijû has two to three common features.

  1. The monster can not be killed off by conventional weapons. Artillery fire, bombs, they are all useless before the beast.
  2. As regular weapons don’t work, only a specific route will stop the monster. This means can be of Super Science in origin (a Death Ray, say), supernatural (a certain prayer or rite ending the threat), appeasement (the monster gets what it wants and leaves) or having the stuffing beat out of them by another Daikaijû.
  3. Some (but not all) of these monsters will have a weapon of some kind that is either not typical of the animal kingdom (fire breath being the most common) exaggerated version of a real ability (such as spraying webs)

As noted, the last feature is not critical to the sub-genre.  However, the first two are essential. If the movie ends with the monster killed by unaided gun fire or missiles, then the monster in question is not Daikaijû.

Simple as that.

For the purposes of this site, any Giant Monster who fits at the very least the first two features of being Daikaijû will be considered Daikaijû, whether the film comes from Japan or not.  The same holds true the other way: If they can be stopped by conventional weapons, they are just Giant Monsters no matter where the film hails from.

Again, this is for classification and identification at this site.  Other sites may insist otherwise.

One final notation: Daikaijû Eiga proper (i.e. Japanese Giant Monster Movies) can (and often is) divided into three periods.  They are the Showa era (from 1954 (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) to 1980 (Gamera: Super Monster)), the Heisei era (from 1984 (Godzilla 1985) to 1999 (Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys)) and the Shinsei or Millienia Era (from (Godzilla 2000) to the present day). As I feel I’m pushing my luck already with my own fancy dancy usage of another people’s language, I tend to stick with the common usage.

Case Studies

Daikaiju Eiga proper (i.e. Japanese Giant Monster Movies) can (and often is) divided into three periods.  They are as follows:

On the next page I look at a handful of films and judge, by the standards set above, which I will cover as Daikaijû and which I won’t. By necessity, there will be spoilers for the various films. In order to keep the concerned Spoiler Free, here is a list of the films discussed, in alphabetical (but not presentation) order:

The Blob (1958), The Giant Claw, Godzilla (1954), Godzilla (1998), Gorgo, King Kong (1933), King Kong v. Godzilla, Rodan, and Space Amoeba.