This amazing and weird little short film is definitely not short of odd, surreal imagery. I bet it’s just the thing to jiggle loose a pesky bout of writer’s block with its constantly evolving images of the bizarre and out of place. And if not, then at least it can give you a good dose of the strange and disconcerting.
Every so often something interesting and unexpected comes down the pipeline. When you see it you think, “Well, I certainly would never have thought of that.” This is one of those things. Between its art style, the catchy music, and the strange almost magic realism of the whole thing, it certainly captured my attention.
You know when you have a book you love, I mean really love. You know all the creases on its cover, you can recite the thing cover to cover, you have a familiarity with the smell of the pages. Maybe you don’t and I’m just obsessed with books. But if you do, doesn’t it just break your heart to think of someone coming along and separating you from your beloved treasure? Well, fear no more because this wonderfully monstrous and creative knit book cover is here to frighten away anyone who has untoward thoughts for your book. You can check out the site and order your own book monster and have the piece of mind that comes from knowing your books are safe and sound.
I just finished Christopher Moore’s amazing book A Dirty Job and I got to thinking about the horror genre. One of the thoughts that ended up developing was how the book managed to both make me laugh and at times descend into horror territory. I won’t say that it’s a scary book. I can’t really think of any times where I was really feeling the glacial drift of ice slowly filling my veins. However, there were parts that could certainly be said to be uncomfortable. Still, the thing that got me was just how well the two seemingly opposed aspects fit together. This got me thinking about the 80’s again (though that isn’t all that hard to do.). What struck me was that many horror films in the 80’s managed to pull of being genuinely scary while being humorous. And I’m not talking about the camp-tastic Army of Darkness either. I’m talking about genuine frightfests like Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and to a lesser degree In the Mouth of Madness. These films, while certainly not comedies, brought forward material that managed to provide us with a giggle, even an uneasy one. But why mix such diametrically opposed tones into a single work? Could it be that maybe they are more alike than they seem and that they may even complement each other?
The obvious and I suppose you could say calculating reason to include humor in a horror story is to disarm your viewer or reader. Often horror is like an arms race. You bring out a scare. The next one has to be bigger, otherwise, the emotional impact will lessen and then stagnate then the reader or viewer will totally lose engagement. So the ante has to be constantly upped to keep the audience enthralled and frightened at what will come next. However, if you frighten the audience then disarm them, the next jolt will seem as powerful as the first since they won’t expect it. They will go from a low anxiety state immediately to a high anxiety state and the shift will be very jarring. This isn’t as easy as throwing in a joke or a clown in the middle of a scene though sometimes the characters can lampshade the events of the story and try to crack a wry remark. It’s risky but if done right it has the potential to give the audience a moment of levity before rubbing salt in the wounds again. So this tactic is used in conjunction with scares to keep the audience afraid. The risk of course is that the addition of humor in an otherwise straight-faced horror film can call attention to itself like a beacon and draw the audience out of the world of the story. But this is not the only reason horror and humor cooperate.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an absolutely terrifying film in my opinion. It’s a demented odyssey into realms of twisted human psychology. But it maintains a perverse sense of humor that is just as entertaining as the scares. So how and why? How do we not end up taken out of the film? The answer to that I think is that the humor and the horror grow organically from the situation. The humor is not forced into the situation but is a direct result of it. The main psychopaths are funny themselves. But they aren’t funny in the way that a genuine comic relief would be funny. Instead they are funny as a result of their absurdity. While they are undoubtedly insane and dangerous, their instability and exaggerated personalities allow for the very stuff that humor and horror are made of: exaggeration. And that is why I think that, when done well, humor and horror may actually be great partners.
“The divine is no less paradoxical than the vicious,” said Eric in The Crow and there is a lot of truth to that. Both humor and horror develop when the universe drinks too many whiskey sours and ends up flopping on its ass. Both take what is expected, what our lives have so far told us is possible and to be expected, and subverts it to the point where we can either react with mirth or terror. For example, the dead coming back to life can be played for laughs since the idea is so absurd as to be unthinkable or we can play it as horrifying since it takes something that shouldn’t happen then slaps you right in the face with it. It all depends on what aspect the creator wants to emphasize. But by recognizing that both horror and humor are both a result of roughly the same process, the creator opens up new avenues to explore the idea. How far can you push until the horrible becomes laughable or the humorous horrendous? What does that say about the subject or our reactions to it? How can it just switch emotional textures? We also have to consider that both laughter and horror can be used as defense mechanisms. Sometimes something can be so horrible that the only way to respond to it is with laughter. Like when people suddenly laugh at a funeral. The more accepted or predictable response to something frightening are the typical physiological reactions we usually associate with fright. But both are ways of reacting to uncomfortable stimuli therefore, playing with both reactions can be very powerful for the audience especially since it can potentially lead to cognitive dissonance where they are no longer sure what they should be feeling. This ties nicely into the feeling of being trapped in a dream or rather a nightmare. Without any rules or land marks, the audience is totally at the mercy of the story. This takes the horror and elevates it to the level of a subconscious assault where the audience may be uncomfortable and not even know why. And the unknown is always scarier than anything any author or director can com up with. Thus, using humor in horror is a way of snaking into the audience using a method they may not be aware of and thus have no defense against. As an audience, we no longer can say what is safe and what is dangerous. Is there any safe place at all? Can anything in this insane world of the story be trusted? The humor here only heightens our apprehensions so that the world of the story becomes one massive dangerous labyrinth.
To wrap up before I go on for too long again, humor and horror, seemingly of the good twin evil twin dichotomy may not be so at odds as they seem. Both play with what we expect and subvert our expectations. Because of this, both can be deployed in the service of creating more tension and unease in the audience. When done well, the audience is stripped of a sense of knowing what will or what ought to play out. This thus a fantastic way of keeping the audience of balance and constantly wondering where you’ll take them.
A very happy New Year to everyone! May the ancient Mayan gods not land on your house!
One of the great things about living in this technological age is that we have access to pretty much anything at any time. Go on Amazon or Google and type some random keywords and you’ll come across many different products or articles and webpages. It truly is quite incredible. In fact, there is a game in which you try to think of two words to search in Google that will only get one result. I’ve been successful once but then again, I don’t spend my days doing that. No sir, I’m a productive member of society. But never mind that. Literature is similar in that there are too many genres and subgenres to count and there are always more coming along. What I’m interested here is talking about an incredible new genre I’ve discovered recently and that I’m quite excited about. For those of you with children or still developing clones, you may want to have them leave the room because we’re talking about. BIZARRO FICTION!
So what is bizarro fiction? There are a few sites you can look at that will answer that. To get some answers right from the source, I’d suggest reading a great interview with Rose O’keefe who is head of Eraserhead Publishing, one of the main publishers of this evolving genre. Another description of it and its many conventions can be found at the always insightful tvtropes. But here is what I have picked up about the genre so far and why I think it’s an exciting genre to keep an eye on.
A story that deals with giant monster penises, impregnating Satan’s daughter, or a living suit of cockroaches can’t possibly be considered good fiction, right? It’s just puerile, crass humor, right? Well, how about if instead I described three books as a look at how one’s insecurities can lead to terrible consequences, how love and and feelings of responsibility can bridge the gap between families, cultures, or creatures of different planes of existence, and finally how important companionship is and how it can be found in the oddest of places? They sound a bit better though both descriptions pertain to the same books. Yeah. The books are The Rampaging Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere, I Knocked-Up Satan’s Daughter, and Angel Dust Apocalypse. It is partially this disconnect between theme and execution that attracts me so much to this genre.
Many in the genre have described bizarro fiction as first and foremost being a genre dedicated to entertaining the reader. With stories like those, I can see that writing philosophy in action. It is also described as being the written equivalent of the cult movie section of the video store. Again, no argument there. Another prominent aspect of this genre is how its style or MO are very punk-like. One can’t read one of these books and not think of the avant-garde nature of punk and its energetic refutation of everything established. This alacrity is wonderfully refreshing as is its willingness to dive into the ultra-violence of a Saturday morning cartoon or the crazy sex antics of a- come to think of it I can’t even begin to equate the sex antics of anything of this world. Nevertheless, everything is on display for entertainment and if you get offended, it’s probably more of a personal malfunction than mean-spiritedness on the part of the writer. After all, if the story didn’t push some, or all of the limits, then it wouldn’t be a bizarro story! Enter at your own risk and buyer beware.
I’ll be sure to keep posting about this genre and maybe get some reviews up in the future of books in this genre.