Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Monsters Do Not Equal Horror!

It must really suck being a vampire and knowing that some asshole thinks you need an image make-over so emotional teenage girls will buy your shit.  Some people won't leave a good monster alone. 

Many years ago, one of my closest friends was a biker from California named Mike.  Mike was a real biker.  He drove a custom chopper put together from a number of other bikes, none of them Harley-Davidson, and it had a real coffin tank on it that was so small he had to stop for gas every 35 miles.  He was pissed at the yuppies buying Harley-Davidsons and dressing up like bikers on the weekend.  Worse, it was how they were suddenly the darlings of the media. 

"They showed some asshole on tv yesterday," he ranted.  "It was a doctor and his old lady, who looked like a model.  The asshole said he was trying to improve the image of bikers.  Fuck him!  I love my image just fine!" 

I feel the same way about horror and monsters.  Creepy shit should not be watered down to make it nice for mass consumption.  And no, I'm not going to rant about Twilight.  Too many people have done that already. 

Instead, I'm going to simply say that there has been a movement in horror in the last decade to make monsters nice.  Maybe it started with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that's for television.  My guess is it started with a comic book someplace. 

This entire basis is a simple statement we have grown to use in society.  Evil is in the doing, not the being.  You can be a monster but if you do good things, then you are a good person.  Or a good monster. 

Evil is in the doing, not the being. 

I sort of agree with this, but I hate it at the same time.  It's the root of social change.  We began to look at humanity differently in the 1950's and that really took hold in the 60's.

Just because a person's skin color is different, it doesn't mean they aren't like us.  
Don't judge a person by the color of their skin.  
People are people.  We're all the same.

This is how we got Urban Fantasy.  Horror without the horror.  Urban Fantasy can quickly turn into literary near-beer and often has.  

Oh, sure!  He's a vampire that loves to feed on babies, but he's reformed now.  I mean, yeah, he did that for only a couple hundred years, but now he's my buddy and we solve crimes together.  Because, after all, if you were 300 years old you would totally be into solving the murder of a pretty girl you've never met.  

I've grown so tired of nice monsters.  Worse, worlds so full of monsters you have to wonder why everybody doesn't realize they are surrounded by them.  Seriously.  If your MC has friends that are ghouls, werewolves, vampires and witches, then why is it special?  Sounds like an alternate reality where things are simply more diverse than here.  But it also means nobody in your new world can be shocked, amazed or even surprised to find out their neighbor is part demon. 

And this is another thing that thoroughly pisses me off to no end--the mixing.  Now we have half-angels and half-demons.  Always a product of a rape, too.  Worse, the character is so poorly developed we never figure out how this genetic soup was achieved.  If  farmer somehow mixed a pig and a goat, people would freak.  But in most urban fantasy, people just take it as fact and move along with the shitty plot driven by cliche characters. 

Horror is losing the purity so many of us have grown to love. 

I was reminded of this while watching Showtime's new series Penny Dreadful.  It takes place in Victorian England.  So far, in the first two episodes, we have vampires, Jack the Ripper, Dr. Frankenstien and a few other tropes.  Despite my adoration for Eva Green (oh, how I love my French actresses!) this show has been shit on toast.  It's Hungarian goulash made from Hamburger Helper served on a bed of generic corn chips and topped with cheese from an aerosol can. 

Don't get me wrong, I'll watch it some more just to oogle Eva Green, because I'm totally into her.  But seriously?  Another Victorian-period thing with vampires and Jack the Ripper?  When is Dr. Jekyl coming over for his nightly absinthe with a werewolf as they play poker and gamble for the heart of their beautiful housekeeper/ninja warrior/scientist/witch love interest? 

At least Stephen King has avoided this.  So has Clive Barker, for the most part.  Sure, King keeps using the same evil bad thing over and over again.  The same, unidentifiable Thing that doesn't have a physical form and doesn't really come from anywhere but still manages to terrorize everybody. 

But I'm guilty of liking some of this Urban Fantasy stuff, myself.  Steve Niles wrote a short story called "The Y-Incision" and it appeared in an anthology produced by Dark Delicacies.  I read that short story, put it down, and shouted, "fuck yeah!"  Then, I read it again. 

I even typed it up so I could get a feel for the pacing and dialogue.  It was the short story that made me realize I needed to come back to writing.  It made me realize how much fun I had creating goofy shit for people. 

Steve Niles provided me with the flash of light I needed to get me back to writing.  Joe R. Lansdale restored my faith in new American fiction, but Niles illuminated the corners of my imagination again, and allowed me to believe.  

I fell in love with Cal McDonald and the work of Steve Niles on that day.  But that world is just full of evil crap that gets blended into a hodge-podge of Weird Soup.  And for some reason I've found Steve Niles to be the only writer who can pull it off. 

Which always brings me back to what I need to work on most--character.  Cal McDonald is the only character I have read that could pull off that world and not annoy me with the cheesiness of it all.  Niles created a character with depth. 

Often times, I find other writers simply throw in a trope and hope that ingredient will stand by itself.  I mean, we all know what a werewolf is like, right?  And a vampire?  We know their limits, so really most of the real work is already done for me.  That leaves me free to work on the romance. 

A college prof who hated me always said, "Character is destiny."  This is true and if your characters are good, you can survive shitty plots and tired tropes with cliche monsters who are as predictable as sunrise. 

And as soon as I post this, I'm off to edit a short story that was rejected in a personal reject by an editor who took the time to tell me the character needed more depth.  I'm thinking I'll just make him sparkle and send it back to her. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post Ted. The last bit made me laugh. Please make him sparkle, even if it's just a joke.