Tremors: Horrific Comedy Done Right

Kevin Bacon as a rural Nevadan handyman, facing off against subterranean worm-snake monsters alongside a surprisingly entertaining ensemble cast?  Yes please.  Tremors is nutty, ridiculous, and entirely more fun than you’d first think.

Despite being billed as a comedy-horror, in my mind the film is almost entirely comedy.  I’m sure some people will be scared by watching Tremors, but I can’t say that I know any of them.  There are a few good startling moments, and some particularly dreadful scenes in which people die horribly, but I never really felt the same tension or clenching fear that I would expect from a horror film.  It’s laughable to think of this movie as being the same category as something like Aliens; despite having ostensibly similar story arcs and genre expectations, they are not at all like each other.

Case in point: the very first shot sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with Kevin Bacon pissing off a cliff down into the valley below.  Tremors repeatedly leavens its tension with humor, and it nearly always does it with moments that ring true to the characters involved.  Better put, it didn’t feel like any lines were being delivered as jokes.  If something funny happens, it feels like it happens because the characters would do that thing rather than because someone decided that that was the right point for a punchline.  I had no idea that people living in a remote town in Nevada could be so unintentionally entertaining.

I should clarify.  Living in a remote town in rural Nevada is mind-numbingly boring, but the characters are a delight.  Burt and Heather Gummer, the town’s two survivalists, are some of my favorites.  They are so enthusiastically over-prepared and so happy to finally have a chance to be proven right that it very nearly hurts.  And the town’s children are similarly entertaining; it’s their clear boredom that really sells me on the town’s isolation, even though I wouldn’t give them high marks for their acting and even though they don’t play a large part in the film.  It’s fascinating to see what develops when terrible things start to happen in a town where everybody knows everybody, and nobody has all that much to do.

Give it a try.  For more of my thoughts, read on after the break.

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Game Analysis: Devil’s Tuning Fork

Zeeblee

Devil’s Tuning Fork is an interesting exploration in design which seeks to weigh in on the classic question, “What is it like to be a bat?” (don’t worry, this will remain a game review and not an exercise in philosophical discourse) The game places you in control of a child who has fallen into a mysterious coma who must now explore a strange dreamscape in order to awaken. In order to escape what is eventually identified as a sort of dungeon you must rescue other children and traverse multiple platforming exercises/puzzles. And you must do this while experiencing what it is like to be a bat (sorry, I swear I’ll stop referencing Nagel’s paper.)  The overall tone of the game tickles my love of horror and the surreal.  But as it is with most things which I love, it isn’t perfect.

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La Not-So-Petite Morte: Jennifer’s Body

Jennifer’s Body deserves more attention.  You should definitely watch Jennifer’s Body.  I give up: there’s almost no way that I can talk about this movie without sounding like a creeper.  Watching Jennifer’s Body is a refreshing experience, as the movie takes a jaunty and semi-upbeat stroll through the teenage monster movie genre.  Though the movies are quite different, I wasn’t that surprised to learn that Jennifer’s Body was made by the same crew that made Juno.  Rather than dealing with teenage pregnancy, this movie tells the story of two best friends, and the bloody end of their friendship; we’re given a front row seat to the narrator’s transformation from a sweet, self-assured, but largely unassuming young woman into someone driven to extremes by violence, danger, necessity, and isolation, certain of the importance of her actions despite knowing that no one will believe her.  Contrary to the claims of most critics (and even some audiences, since the movie was panned by Rottentomatoes and IMDb), I think the film is quite good.  Perhaps you’d care to find out why?

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Cabin in the Woods

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Abraham is told that he should really just watch the movie already

Cabin in the Woods is an excellent film, particularly if you’re looking for a bloody romp through the menacing trees with a plot twist that will leave you trying to screw your head back on straight.  You get plenty of warning, and the ending is staring you down from a mile away, looming like a blood-hungry Macy’s parade balloon as it swoops down on you and consumes all in its path.  But for all that you can see it coming once you put the pieces together, it’s so totally not what I’ve come to expect from a “kill-the-youngsters” horror movie that I was still gobsmacked when I actually realized what was happening.  And if you can handle the buckets of gore and unrepentantly dark story, the humor which rears its head time and again will keep you chuckling the whole way through.

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An Argument for Camera Tricks

You watch the heroes as they step up to the front door of the old and abandoned house, lit only by the faint glow of the streetlights down the block.  There’s a rustle, and the heroes look around them anxiously before one of them pushes open the door while the other stands watch.  A few leaves obscure your vision as the camera shifts, hiding in a bush.  The heroes both turn to look inside, and your view rushes forward, surging up the steps towards the heroes as they turn in shock and you…

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Horror and Predetermined Outcomes

In my article on how I run a game, I mentioned that there are specific genres in which I’ll sometimes accept predetermined outcomes.  I’ve most often experienced this in horror games, where both the players and the PCs know that there will be certain terrible things that happen, regardless of the actions taken by the PCs.  But why does this work?  How could any player enjoy knowing that their terrible doom approaches?

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Classification Necessary: Problems with Horror

Zeeblee

A week ago I was going to write an article to bounce off of Mattias’ horror game article about SCP Containment Breach.  A week ago I was going to use Hostel by Eli Roth as a sort of whipping boy/strawman example of what makes a bad horror movie.  But in my haze of sickness, working nights, and sleeping for multiple days straight I realized that my perspective on what “horror” is was flawed.  I searched for definitions to support my claim that Hostel was not a horror movie because it offered no scares and no suspense, but I was met with definitions that incorporated discomfort and sickened responses.  Being horrified is not just being scared, but also being disgusted.  In this way Hostel can still be called a horror film (but still not a good one).  But this broadness of definition offers up a problem, one that I ran into a lot when I used to work in a video rental store (yes, those still exist), and the problem is:  When someone asks you to recommend a horror movie, how do you respond?

As most people would do I always end up recommending my favorites, but I’ve noticed that my favorites never really include movies from the genre of horror that Hostel was aiming for.  I’m a big fan of suspenseful films like The Shining where the focus of the film is to make the characters feel uncomfortable as opposed to films like The Girl Next Door (Jack Ketchum’s version) where the goal is to make the audience feel uncomfortable.  Now, you may argue that the goal of The Shining was to make the audience feel uncomfortable, and you would be correct, but it does so by making the characters feel paranoid and unsafe, and the audience then empathizes with them also feels paranoid for the characters.  The Girl Next Door on the other hand makes the audience uncomfortable via the brutal treatment of the characters.  The audience isn’t paranoid about whether or not they will be safe, but is instead disgusted by just how unsafe they are, and rather than paranoia of the future the audience is more hopeful that the present situation will end.

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Design Elements in Horror: SCP Containment Breach

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I’ve never particularly been a fan of horror games; they don’t weird me out, they don’t make me feel gross, and they don’t frighten me. Amnesia, Slenderman, FEAR, they’ve all struck me as sort of disappointing. They have occasional moments of “OH SHIT SOMETHING JUST HAPPENED!” followed by a lot of feeling in control. But I played one game recently which left me with a unique sense of both horror and dread I’ve never felt playing a game before. That game was SCP Containment Breach.

Warning: this whole post contains minor spoilers of the first 15 minutes (and the basic concept) of the game.

Here are some videos of me playing SCP: Containment Breach

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