Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Humble Request For Assistance

Next week I will be at Westercon 63, a sci-fi convention in Pasadena talking to rooms full of people.

I'll be appearing on two panels next Friday and Saturday. I don't know whose idea it was to let me out of my cage, but I'm sure they'll regret it come Sunday.

I would like to sound intelligent. I could really use your help doing it.

Here's what the panels are:
Breaking taboos in horror fiction: By its nature, horror pushes the boundaries of what we're comfortable with. But how far is too far? Does shock trump story? At what point do the boundaries break, rather than merely bend?
Blurring the lines of genre: Urban fantasy is a catch all for everything from modern day high fantasy to a mix of horror and noir. What other crossovers are possible? Do some genres lend themselves to intersections more than others?
Neat, huh?

Now here's what I've been thinking about.

Much as it may seem that horror stories and films have no boundaries (Grace, anybody? Human Centipede? Deadgirl?) they actually exist because of them. Without taboos to challenge there would be nothing in them to make us uncomfortable, and uncomfortable is horror's stock in trade.

So the question is how far is too far? Above we've got demonic vampire babies, people surgically attached to each other ass to mouth, a zombie rape puppet in a basement vault repeatedly violated by teenage boys. Children, sex, death. Three things that really hammer on our buttons for good or ill.

I think it comes down to why the writer is trying to press those buttons. It's easy to dismiss films like these as nothing more than bloodbaths, torture porn, misogynistic hate fests. And if they're doing it for no other reason than to shock and sicken then I'd agree.

But if you look deeper in some of them (some, not all - I mean, come on. Human Centipede?) you can find meaning, sickening though it might be. Deadgirl is about a couple of teenage boys who find this zombie girl strapped to a table in a sealed vault in an old hospital and pretty quickly come to the conclusion that they've got their own sex slave.

This isn't porn. It's not designed to titillate. It's a metaphor for how teenage boys are acclimated to brutalizing women. It shows how easy it is for misogyny to become the norm.

And even if there isn't a deeper metaphor, disturbing and shocking images don't necessarily detract from the story. Clive Barker's Sex, Death And Starshine is great story and full of graphic undead fucking. Midnight Meat Train uses an almost erotic imagery to describe the corpses of men and women hung from hooks

But when it comes down to it, taboos and limits are subjective. It really comes down to what each one of us thinks and how we react.

But what about crossing genres? Tim Powers' On Stranger Tides mixes magic and Caribbean pirates long before Johnny Depp was even on 21 Jump Street. Joe Lansdale does a superb job... well, with anything. Steampunk, urban fantasy, paranormal romance.
What works? What doesn't? Personally, I think any genre can mix with any other. You just have to do it right. I'd love to see a vampire version of Permanent Midnight.

So, my questions to y'all:

What genre crossovers would you like to see? What kind work best?

How far is too far in horror? Hurting children? Graphic violence? Rape? Clowns? Scratching fingernails down a chalkboard? The word "moist"?

Tell me, O Readers Three, what do you think?


BarelyKnitTogether said...

I'm actually inclined to think that the unbreakable taboos might be political, religious. Maybe those toes need to be stepped on, to make people think a little more about societal ills and the things that really make us uncomfortable. I think we are all inured to sexual taboo, to gore and violence. These things don't challenge us or get our ire up the way social issues do. This could be way off base, of course. But I like the question a lot. I'm looking forward to seeing what others say.

Chuck said...

I'm paraphrasing, but George Carlin said something about nothing being truly taboo if you can make it funny. His example: rape jokes. Sure, rape's not funny. Not traditionally. But you can tell jokes about it. (I think his example was something about Donald Duck raping some other Disney character?)

I think you can get a similar thing with horror. Just as you can find a way to tell a joke out of anything, you can get a horror story out of anything, too.

You just have to do it right. Walk the line. Finesse is required.

Or something.

My brain is fucking mush right now.

Sidenote: you play L4D2, right?

On PC?

Because I'm totally buying that.

Like, right now, It's ten bucks or something over at Steam's insaaaaane sale.

Kent said...

I think sometimes movies and books both tend to forget that a great function of horror is to laugh in the face of what is frightening. Imagine a movie like Dead Alive/Brain Dead without the humor. It'd be Human Centipede (I found that movie to be utter crap, having no purpose other than to repulse, not even a shred of humor there).

Sometimes I also think that horror is better served as an element of a story, rather that the genre of a story, if that makes any sense. I think guys like Norm Partridge and Joe Lansdale excel at that. At this point, I'm much more interested in reading, say, a heist novel with horrific goings on than a straight up slasher or monster tale. Or zombies. No one, you ask me, needs yet another zombie apocalypse story run around evading the brain munchers get from point A to point B type story. Not that those aren't fun, because they are. But wouldn't i be more interesting to have a guy somehow infected with a virus or bitten by a zombie and that will leave him a zombie in short order, and he wants to settle the score before he sets to chomping brains to pas the time? Could be the set-up for a cool almost existential horrific revenge tale.

Or something.

I tend to babble.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

That's an interesting point, Barely. And I think that's something that horror actually can excel at when it speaks metaphorically. Like Romero's zombies as a stand-in for consumer culture.

And in some cases not so metaphorically. Like Frankenstein. Or Splice. Man Plays God And Terrible Things Happen. Depending on how it's done it either ends up a horror story or a disaster movie. I know it's not usually considered this, but I keep thinking of The Handmaid's Tale as a horror story. It's a pretty terrifying setup.

I remember that one, Chuck. Him telling a story of a 98 year old woman who gets raped and him asking the question why? "Hey, she wouldn't be wearin' those dentures if she wasn't askin' for it."

And yes, I think you can do that with horror as well. I remember an X-Files episode where the bad guy was a brain in a jar. And instead of being a rehash of The Brain From Planet Arous, it actually worked.

Part of it was the simple fact that it took itself seriously. If you can successfully do that you can get away with a lot.

And yes, I do play L4D2. GET IT. GET IT NOW. You get to kill clowns. And not just any clowns. ZOMBIE CLOWNS.

Kent, now that would be an interesting remake of DOA. You've got some great suspense elements there. Ticking clock, horrible consequences. The guy's already doomed. He can do whatever he wants.

I like it.

Kent said...

I like it, too. I should probably keep my trap closed on a work in progress, but, yeah, I babble at times.

Have you folks read Bentley Little's The Store? I'd say it's kin to Romero's Dawn Of The Dead, but taking on more of the Wal-Mart mentality. Little can be hot or miss, but that one, IMO, is a good one.