Tag Archives: Halloween

CftC: A Nightmare on Facetime


South Park Season 16 has got to be one of my favorite seasons of the show. It has so many hilarious episodes, and one of my favorites (as well as my favorite Halloween-themed South Park episode overall) is “A Nightmare on Facetime.”
After all, what could be more horrifying than terrible video quality and a shaky Internet connection?

While it serves as a bittersweet, poignant reminder that a staple of my childhood isn’t around anymore, “A Nightmare on Facetime” is a masterpiece of parody and social commentary. In yet another impulsive, boneheaded move, Randy Marsh acquires an old Blockbuster movie rental store, amazed and flabbergasted by the low price he paid for it. 

What Randy fails to understand is that video online streaming has rendered such services obsolete. So obsolete, in fact, that the store itself is only visited by ghosts.

The episode spends a fair amount of time visually parodying The Shining, as Randy’s fierce denial of progress and the inevitable slowly drives him to family-killing insanity. This is both awesome and funny, but the B plot about Stan being forced to man the store on Halloween and trick-or-treating with his friends via iPad subtly mocks people’s obsession with technology long before Season 20’s “Member Berries” and “Skank Hunt.” 

It doesn’t deal with online personas, and it’s not an in-your-face theme like in “You have 0 Friends,” but rather, it provides a nice little counterpoint to the argument that technology makes everything better, which you might infer from all the praises sung about streaming. It makes some things easier, but it also encourages people to identify with their expensive gadgets, even deriving self-worth from owning them.
When Stan and company come across a couple thugs robbing a local convenience store (side note: I soon discovered that Kum & Go was a real thing…good God, what a poor naming choice!), they try to intervene before realizing that the men have guns. Kyle’s iPad accidentally gets left behind in the escape, and the episode then treats it as though Stan was caught, with everything that happens to the device projected onto him. 

When the battery finally dies, we get a dramatic death scene straight out of Hollywood.

There is just so much to love about this episode. Everyone who wanders by the Blockbuster treats it like a haunted house, fleeing in fear from the living man beckoning them inside. Randy refuses to accept that his new business will fail, and he goes out of his way to keep from admitting fault, much to his wife’s annoyance. Every haunting is seen as just a joke at his expense, and the insecurity and wounded pride make him double down on everything he does.

The “Gangnam Style” references date the episode more than anything else, but even they make me smile, as someone who slaps together a costume every year and tries to make it obscure or creative in some way. I really want to know who thought to combine Psy and Frankenstein’s monster.

Shallow and goofy as it seems, I also really love when the cops quote “Monster Mash” lyrics.

It’s just an all-around delightful episode. Parts of it are genuinely creepy, but I’d say the same of The SimpsonsThe Shining parody segment. Even as a comedy, when you make fun of something eerie, you’re bound to be eerie as well.

But unlike the aforementioned Simpsons parody, the references aren’t nearly as distracting to people who haven’t seen the original. It’s mostly because while it is the A plot, it doesn’t encompass the entire episode. They aren’t just putting the South Park characters into The Shining; they’re using elements of it to tell a different story, in that way that only South Park can. I could still see myself enjoying “A Nightmare on Facetime” even if I hadn’t seen The Shining, and in fact my fiancé hadn’t seen the movie before the episode. He still liked it a lot, and he appreciates it even more now that he has seen the iconic Stanley Kubrick adaptation.

If you have 22 minutes to kill this Halloween, there are fewer better ways to spend them.

 

7.5/10

*None of the pictures, video or audio clips in this post belong to me.

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CftC: My Top 10 Traumatizing Scenes from Kids Movies

Another year, another return to…

 

Instead of looking at one Halloween special at a time, I have chosen to do a Top 10 list for this first installment. Below, you will see the ten most memorable moments in kid and family movies that gave me endless nightmares as a youngster.

I tried to dive in as deeply as I could, talking about the scenes themselves but also about what makes them so scary. I find that the psychology driving effective horror scenarios can be pretty common for most people, and surprisingly basic and traceable. But that doesn’t make them shallow by any means. Some people say that the root of all good comedy is that someone has to be miserable. No matter how elaborate you make the joke, there always has to be a “butt” of it. The same can be true of horror, but there are more roots, or “butts,” to choose from.

 

10) The Donkey Scene (Pinocchio)

 

I’ve seen Pinocchio maybe 5 times in my life. It’s not a Disney movie I come back to often, and I have no idea how faithful it is to the source material, but when I watch it again, I’m always struck by how dark and mean-spirirted it is, even as fairytales go. It’s like if Don Bluth made films back in the 40’s.

This one scene is pretty screwed up. It’s basically body-horror for children, and while it might not be as grotesque as a David Cronenberg production, it’s almost as frightening.

What is body horror, you ask? In short, it’s the whole concept of unwanted, uncontrollable transformation, which stems from a fear of not being in control. The one physical thing that any human being can own completely is their own body, so the notion of it changing without your consent, and most likely in a very painful way, is terrifying. This fear is in a similar vein with that of petrification; both of which most people don’t think about or wouldn’t admit to being afraid of, but totally are.

What sells this particular scene are Lampwick’s panicked screams and thrashing, but the lighting and music are pretty intense as well. He’s a kid, albeit a smug little jerk, so there’s an element of protectiveness that can be involved. But more importantly, this perversion of nature is what will happen to Pinocchio, our main character, who is nearby watching but unable to help. It seems to be going slower – possibly because he’s not a real boy yet – but it’s assumed that it will happen like that.

 

It’s a scary moment on its own, but also for the danger it poses to the person we most care about in the movie.

 

9) The Hollow (Ichabod and Mr. Toad)



I might have mentioned this in my full review of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but this scene is hilarious and scary at the same time.

The build-up is great, when Ichabod is on edge and thinks he can hear the Headless Horseman coming after him. The scene is mostly quiet – silly of course, but tense nonetheless – and when you’re first watching, you never know when the ghost will actually show up. It could be during any one of the little scares Ichabod basically gives himself, as he inexplicably travels alone in the dead of night after a party, where he probably could have found several someones to walk most of the way home with him. Or he could have booked a room with the Van Tassels and called it a night.

 

Walking or generally being alone at night is a common fear, particularly for women, and it feels even worse when other people tease you for being paranoid. Katrina chuckles at Ichabod’s fear during the party, and the fact that the schoolmaster’s horse just moseys along, not paying attention or speeding up when Ichabod tells him to, would certainly add to my frustration, not knowing whether or not I’m going crazy or should seriously get the hell out of dodge.

Ichabod and his horse have a good laugh when he thinks his imagination got the better of him, and then suddenly, a third voice joins in with a chillingly demonic cackle.

Now begins a scary…hilarious….scare-larious chase scene. Seriously, it’s morbidly delightful.

 


 

8) Donald’s Mental Breakdown (Fun and Fancy Free or Mickey and the Beanstalk)

Did you ever want to see one of your beloved childhood icons go kill crazy?…No? Well, here you go anyway!

 

I’m not sure how much more I can say about this one. It’s screwed up. Donald Duck gets crazy eyes and decides to kill his farm’s only cow, because he’s sitting there starving in his own home. I know the guy needs some anger management therapy, but damn!

On a side note, in a world of walking, talking, anthropomorphized animals, why does the cow not talk or wear clothes? Why can it be sold, but not Mickey, Donald, or Goofy? Is it that some characters can be captured and domesticated for slave labor, but these guys are somehow untouchable?

I have no idea how this world would work!

 

7) The Reveal (The Witches)

 

“Stranger danger” is practically beaten into every child’s brain, because they’re exceedingly naïve and their parents are terrified. The makers of this Roald Dahl movie adaptation probably made a bet with themselves to see if they could reverse that, because many adults happily rented it and their children were then soundly traumatized.

I saw this movie at a friend’s sleepover, and I could not sleep for the rest of the night. The Willy Wonka Tunnel of Hell may have the element of surprise on its side, but it has nothing on an entire movie full of disturbing concepts and imagery, all of them posing threats to innocent kids, simply because they are kids. Imagine if Willy Wonka was an army of hideous, vicious old women who had a more active loathing of children, beyond just the bratty ones, and decided to kill/eat them as a result.

The scene where a grown woman pulls a snake from her purse and attempts to coax the main character out of his tree house is nightmarish enough, but then you have the scene where the witches go to their witch conference or whatever. They remove their disguises in a hideous fashion, talk about their plans for child murder, and then turn the boy into a mouse after he is caught spying on them.

 

So we have “stranger danger”, yet more body-horror, and a race to foil the plans of a powerful, secret group that few other people realize is a threat, with only the boy’s grandmother to help the kid along. The one adult he can rely on is only so useful, and the other adults are either dangerous or ignorant. That’s encouraging to know, right?

 

6) The Cauldron Born (The Black Cauldron)

 

Some people consider this film a cult classic, while others demonstrate why it did so poorly at the box office. It’s a very flawed, mixed bag, but I would put myself in the former group. The villain has an intimidating, cool design; the art style is dark, but also fairly whimsical; and personally, I thought Elmer Bernstein’s music fit this movie better than it did Ghostbusters.

There’s nightmare fuel aplenty, too.

 

In one scene, the Horned King becomes a necromancer, resurrecting a bunch of dead warriors from various places and eras. An eerie green fog begins rolling out of the cauldron, becoming almost like a soup in places as it fills the room, and one of the king’s henchmen stupidly jabs it with his spear. Suddenly, skeletons erupt in a jump scare, descending on the man. We don’t see what happens to him, but we can assume he’s dead, as the scene cuts to the remaining humans looking away in horror. Then the Horned King sends his undead minions out to “destroy all in (their) path,” and I think about how they would go to the ends of the earth, murdering helpless, unsuspecting villagers like a plague.

 

The scares in this scene is pretty shallow for me. It’s mostly about the imagery and the music, but for what it is, it’s damn effective. The zombie sun-genre of horror isn’t really my forte, but these evil undeads unnerve me every time.

 

5) Charlie Goes to Hell (All Dogs Go to Heaven)

 

The concept of eternal punishment is scary enough by itself. Human beings don’t like pain, and the idea that we’d suddenly have no control, no way to stop the unpleasantness happening to us, and be stuck that way forever is a hard pill to swallow. Even worse, what if we don’t know what we did to deserve it, or the act/acts themselves were miniscule? Arbitrary? Does God even have an appeals court?

Hell is a fear that is instilled in Christians (and other religious folks with Hell-esque parallels) from an early age, and it’s hard to shake off the vague, but ultimately disturbing imagery that comes to mind when that word is uttered. It can be uniquely terrifying to each person, but the basic conceit is the same, and so the fear holds some universality as well.

In this movie, the main character, a German Shepherd named Charlie, stole a second chance at life while he was in Doggy Heaven. As punishment for this, he will go to Hell. Directly to Hell. He can’t pass Go, and he certainly can’t collect $200.

 

While he feigns indifference initially, we can see that Charlie is fearful of the consequences of his actions, and no scene shows this more clearly than the Dream Sequence. There’s fire, brimstone, demons, and most poignant of all, a crushing sense of being unable to escape or stop what is happening to him.

Don Bluth movies in general have this great way of capturing what it’s like to feel small, insignificant, and prey to the whims of the world around you…Probably because so many of the movies involve mice or other small creatures dealing with vicious predators, or the indifferent reactions of humans and nature. Bluth’s world either doesn’t care or is actively working against them, isolating and tormenting the characters but also providing great catharsis when they finally achieve their goals.

Charlie’s torment is necessary, showing his growth as a character and the loss of the innocence/ignorance that once shielded him from it, but that makes it no less terrifying.

 

4) The Bear (The Fox and the Hound)


Things that make this scene stick out:

  1. It’s jarring as all hell! It comes right out of nowhere; what you thought was going to be the climax of the story – Todd either escaping Copper and Amos or getting killed by them – is kicked out of this giant moving car to make room for a random bear attack.
  2. It looks like some weird, mutant cross between a Grizzly Bear and Black Bear. And what bear has freaky demon eyes like that?!
  3. Amos gets knocked down a hill, losing his gun in the process, and then he gets stuck in his own trap, which I’d imagine was pretty painful in and of itself. Despite how much I hate him during the rest of the movie, and despite knowing he provoked the attack by shooting the bear, I can believe his terror and helplessness. He’s old, and now suddenly rendered defenseless.
  4. Despite the lack of blood, the scene is full of violence. You can almost feel the impact of every bite and scratch, especially followed by all of those grunts and yelps. The Great Mouse Detective, which Disney put out a mere 5 years later, has a similar effect in its climactic showdown. Every blow and reaction shot seems heavily focused on.

 

As a kid, it was fairly easy for me to picture myself or someone I loved in place of whoever was being hurt or scared in any given movie. Animal attacks are particularly scary because you’re not facing something you can possibly persuade. All you have left is your speed (assuming you can move at all) and your wits (assuming you wouldn’t go stupid with panic and adrenaline).

 

KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!

 

3) A Wild Beast Appears! (Beauty and the Beast)

How many animal attacks make up this list now?

I’m not trying to go for a theme here. Honestly, there is just something viscerally upsetting about seeing terrified, defenseless people (particularly old folks, women, and children) being helpless in life-or-death situations.

 

In his first major appearance in the story, the Beast is a large, jagged black shape with white slits for eyes, towering over Maurice, who can only cower and beg for mercy. He stalks forward, enormous claws and fangs bared. He is unrelenting, unmerciful, and just plain scary-looking, all while the scary music swells and the audio engineers overlay his vocal track with loud, deep bestial snarls and roars. Every bit of him appears to be a monster; though unlike the monsters Maurice just escaped outside, this one could potentially be reasoned with. The Beast just refuses to hear him out.

 

Once again, the fear comes from imagining yourself or a loved one in place of Maurice. What would you do? Despite the Beast being a hand-drawn creation, you can watch him and feel the threat that he possesses. Everything about the scene screams “RUN AWAY NOW!” Lumiere and Cogsworth just cower and stand there, barely making an attempt to calm the Beast in his territorial fury. How comforting is that? One guy invited Maurice to come in and make himself at home, but then fails to defend him, and the other guy just constantly tries to cover his own ass at your expense.

Even later, when the Beast saves Belle from the wolves, he looks as monstrous and feral as the very things he’s fighting. This is another reason that I look down on the remake; their Beast is not even remotely scary or threatening, which removes his bite, so to speak. Nevermind that the CG effects are fake-looking as hell, which also distracts from the believability, but it then removes the sense of real change when the Beast finally starts coming around to Belle and acting more human. He wasn’t just a grump hermit in a fur suit; he was regressing in despair, to the point of mentally becoming an animal.

But I digress.

 

2) Any Hag Scene (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

Particularly the one in which she is “born.”

Queen Grimhilde’s regular character design is unsettling, what with her frozen face yet sporadically widening eyes. But once she transforms into the Hag, using a potion literally made out of the stuff of nightmares, the woman becomes completely terrifying.

It is said that the actress removed her false teeth to achieve her older voice, and the Hag’s cottony cackles couple well with her poorly-aged, clearly-evil, “oh-my-God-only-an-idiot-wouldn’t-realize-this” disguise. She talks out loud to herself constantly, plotting needless cruel tortures for Snow White, and she often looks directly into the camera, as if she knows you’re there and will probably be coming after you next.

Aside from her physical repulsiveness, I think some of the fear also comes from the Queen essentially hating this little girl for an unbelievably petty reason, and being willing to kill her so sadistically. “Kill Snow and bring back her heart in a box.” “Have the dwarves bury her alive because they don’t know she’s just sleeping.” It’s all so simplistic, but brutal. Her insecurity and jealousy makes her into a complete monster, and had she survived, who knows what this depraved madwoman would have done next?

She also has a secret alchemy/black-magicky lab in the castle dungeons, which she can apparently slip in and out of unnoticed. There’s nothing like seeing a clearly dangerous person in power, roaming the streets and doing whatever she wants with no supervision or legal repercussions.

…Whatever happened to the Huntsman, anyway? Is his head on a pike, festively adorning the castle walls? Did he get away scott-free while Queenie was busy with premeditated princess murder? We’ll never know for sure, but she did say, “You know the penalty if you fail,” which I figure involves an execution of some sort…The less I think about this, the better.

 

1) Wolf Attack (Beauty and the Beast)

An old man gets lost in the woods, loses his horse, and then has to run from ravenous wolves.

 

Belle gets attacked by wolves as well, but that scene is actually very different. It comes hot off the heels of another major conflict, the music transitions fluidly, and the background and lighting are consistently…well, for lack of a better word, brighter all around.

 

Blue tends to be a more calming color. Plus, you can see every element clearly.

In Maurice’s scene, by contrast, the score starts out calm, but eerily discordant and all over the place. I couldn’t even find the track on the official soundtrack; it was released on a bonus CD sold separately, that’s how unnerving it is.

It also does what is called “Mickey Mousing”, a term that refers to how the music follows and embellishes the actions happening on screen, rather than just setting a general background tone. For example, at one point a shadowy wolf rushes by, and even if your eyes missed it, the music let you know that something bad had just happened.

 

Eyes and other animated facial features morph quickly from nervous to fearful (I have always found creepy or expressly afraid eyes chilling). Even Phillipe the horse knows that something bad is going to happen, and frustratingly, he realizes as quickly as the audience does. His rider, meanwhile, is stubborn and distracted, ignoring the obvious warning signs.

 

The lighting is predominantly composed of reds and yellows (colors that tend to excite and agitate, according to Psychology), and it’s limited because it comes from the inventor’s lantern. The light is soon put out, however, in an extremely quick and violent way, and then all is left in darkness as Maurice’s one immediate hope of escape, his horse, is driven away in terror.

Much like with The Fox and the Hound’s Bear, there is a lot of motion and violent energy in this scene. A chorus of wolf howls goes up, causing Phillipe to back his cart into a tree. A mass of angry black bats comes flocking out, scaring the horse into nearly running himself off of a cliff. Phillipe rears, knocking Maurice off and leaving him alone in the forest. Just as the old man picks himself up, he gets chased by a group of wolves and falls down a cliff. He then reaches a gate and manages to get inside, but a wolf bites his foot and almost drags his whole leg out into biting range. The pacing of it all rarely gives the audience a break, and depending on your imagination, it can be like experiencing the danger yourself, if secondhand.

 

Belle’s scene is still scary in its own way – it’s still a defenseless person possibly going to be mauled to death – but it’s not filmed the same way and it doesn’t really sneak up on first-time viewers. As soon as she starts riding into the woods, you already have an idea of what she’s going to face. The wolves themselves shown up more on screen, coming from predictable directions, and they are also a lot easier to see in their horrific entirety.

Maurice’s chase scene was shorter, but it was more uncertain and suspenseful.

 

What were your scariest movie moments from childhood? Please share in the comments below. If you’re wondering why something isn’t on this list, I most likely didn’t see it until I was older or it didn’t bother me all that much.

 

*None of the images, soundbites, or clips in this post belong to me.

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CftC: Frankenweenie, Axed by its Own Ending

october

 

Overall, I wouldn’t call myself a Tim Burton fan. He’s certainly creative when he wants to be, but his style is so obvious and done-to-death these days that you could scratch his name off of half of his projects and no one would have to wonder for even a minute who had creative control in them. I also have a starting bias against adaptations of previously existing films and musicals (unless a significant chunk of time has passed), and I come from the school of thought that says there should be some balance between the original creator’s intent and the adaptor’s interpretation of it.

Unfortunately, Burton struggles frequently with both.

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I like him best when he’s being somewhat original. When he feels the need to goth up an already-existing story, it often comes across as silly at best and eye-rollingly frustrating and insulting at worst.

So today, let’s look at a film of his that is simultaneously original and not at all, depending on how you look at it.

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Frankenweenie (not to be confused with his short film of the same name) is Frankenstein meets Pet Sematary for tots, but it’s all grim greyness on the surface and no real substantive horror underneath.

You might say, “Of course. It’s a kids’ movie.” And rather than rant incessantly for an hour and a half, I must ask, “Do you mean that it’s meant to be upbeat, simplistic, or that it should teach ‘morals’?”

In the former’s case….come on. It’s a black and white Tim Burton movie about a pet dying. That’s never going to be upbeat. And simplistic? Death? Yeah, right!

(And spoilers here: I’m going to skip straight to the ending. It follows the basic plot of Frankenstein, just with a dog.) If the whole point is teaching kids that death isn’t so bad, and that they should let go of their pets, then why does Sparky (Frankenweenie) come back alive at the end?

The whole point of the original book was “don’t play God.” In this version, a kid plays God, is rewarded for it (unlike in Pet Sematary), terrifies the town with his zombie pup until they bring about it second death, and then, despite an “it’s really dead for good this time” fake-out, it gets brought back yet again. Now, Victor Frankenstein and all of the other kids who want their pets brought back are validated, and they don’t ever have to come to terms with death, if they choose not to.

What sense does that make?  Any message that the film was trying to teach is instantly shot in the foot, all for the sake of some studio-mandated “happy ending”.

Compare this to Pet Sematary. If we look past the more horrific elements, we have a young child who, with the help of her father, comes to understand that the people and animals she cares about will all eventually die.

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Grieving is natural, but with a combination of time, distance, and good memories to cherish, wounds can heal (or at least become more bearable). Life will go on, and our time on this earth is all the more precious and meaningful because it will one day end.

In essence, life is growth. Life is change. Death is the cessation of both.

Now, taking into account the more horrific elements, both the film and the book provide us examples of “natural” death. The peace and dignity of death is then perverted because of the characters’ inability to let go – first, and more generally, by stagnation, and then by Louis Creed’s actions – resulting in both their literal and symbolic deaths.

Imagine that; a more “mature” movie has a more mature and healthy outlook on death.

The rest of Frankenweenie is the standard Tim Burton fare. The characters look and move like living corpses; their eyes practically bulge out of the sockets like a sad puppy in the process of being crushed.

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If that style appeals to you, that’s fine. For me personally, I liked it and it made more sense to me in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, the latter even more so due to its social commentary.

The black and white color is a nice touch, though. It certainly feels like it’s paying homage properly. It even has Christopher Lee making a cameo as the voice of Dracula in a movie playing in the background of one of the scenes.

The characters are all decent for what they are, and I must admit, I love all of the references in their names. Fans of Beetlejuice will probably recognize Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder among the voice cast, although they are not playing stepmother and stepdaughter this time.

I’ll leave you guessing about who wrote the score.

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It’s a cute film overall, if pretty derivative. Unfortunately, there is a glaring issue with the execution, and all it took to unsettle me was a few minutes at the end of the movie. Whether Burton genuinely wanted that ending or was forced to change it, it takes a solid, meaningful scene – and indeed the entire point of stories like this – and cheapens it without any indication of intentional subversion. It might quiet your kids down after initially seeing Sparky die, sure, but it could also raise more questions than it answers.

But then again, your kids probably shouldn’t be learning about death only from T.V. and movies anyway.

 

4/10

*None of the pictures (except for the bumper card at the beginning) used in this article belong to me.

 

CftC: George Orwell’s 1984

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”

october

 

My near-favorite holiday season has come again. Now begins the epic prelude of movies, T.V. specials, haunted houses, corn mazes, and anything else that I can think up that won’t cost me an arm and a leg. You never know who might be using those for a Frankenstein’s monster these days.

Halloween is pretty unique on the modern calendar. It is inclusive to both the young and the young at heart, much like the winter holidays, but it has a dual, seemingly-conflicting nature. On the one hand, you have the kitschy, goofy, Addams Family/Munsters side of Halloween, sometimes too innocent for even Walt Disney’s unique brand of child-friendly darkness. Costumes can be literally anything, and make you feel like anything, which holds a ton of appeal for even the jumpiest boys and girls. On the other hand, you have the honest-to-goodness horror-loving side, positively dripping with fake blood from the blade of a rusty ax. Here come the folks (mostly adults) looking for real thrills; a heightened sense of danger and adrenaline, lasting mental scars and terrifying questions, but no physical harm done.

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I am one of the few, the proud, the unflinching, who enjoys both sides of the coin for exactly what they are. Much like chocolate and sushi, I don’t try to put them together, but rather, I devote time to each individually; a sort of ritual, you could say, that honors my past, present, and future Halloweens. I celebrate horror in its many forms, from the abstract, image-based creepiness of childhood days, to the chilling concepts and explorations of adult human depravity. I also like to look at the overlap; things like fear of the dark and the unknown that never truly leave our subconscious.

In that spirit, I want to talk about something else today. Something that is (technically) not Halloween related.

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1984 is a book that many people remember more in fragments than its entirety. It is one of those reading requirements in public schools, often assigned too early to be interesting or meaningful, and inspiring shuddering trepidation from those who recall the title. Personally, I enjoyed it more than other assigned books, but to be fair, enthusiasm for reading as a whole was rare among my classmates. And even then, my opinion of 1984 at the time (about grade 5 or 6) was that it was very on-the-nose, occasionally dragging, and the stereotypically dry British sense of humor often sailed right over my head.

Despite that, its legacy has lived on. The mere gist of it has inspired countless totalitarian, dystopian dramas, the most popular and recent of which are probably The Hunger Games and Divergent series. A new indie video game from Montreal called We Happy Few takes a similar setting and initial plot, but with the public’s complacency being drug-assisted. They are also encouraged to take part in the beating and apprehending of criminals in their midst, with the pill causing hallucinations, lowered inhibitions, and general critical and moral thinking.

 

My first impression was that the masks reminded me of The Purge, but there are more interesting twists involved, and the game has a distinctly Bioshock feel to it, which is usually a plus. It’s not a point-for-point retelling of George Orwell’s classic tale, but it clearly draws a ton of influence from it.

Terrifyingly, a few countries in our modern day can be likened to 1984. Leaders like King Jong-un and his predecessor abuse the system, walling their people off from the rest of the world and then punishing any opposition, peaceful or otherwise, against them.

Even in the United States, you can find  1984  brought up occasionally in conversations about government surveillance. How much freedom and privacy are citizens willing to forfeit for real, or even just perceived, protection?

 

“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

 

As I said, 1984 is not “laugh-out-loud” funny. It’s very dry and bleak and existential. Contrary to popular belief, satire does not have to be funny to be effective. Satire uses the tools of comedy (caricature, irony, ridicule, etc.) to make a point, most often about negative trends in human society as a whole. What seems needlessly over-the-top and even unbelievable at the time of writing can eerily reflect our world as the years pass. That which we thought would never happen, could never happen, somehow snuck up on us, and it always feels like it happened faster than it really does.

1984 is not what I would call “pee-your-pants” scary either, but it’s the kind of horror that we like to pretend can’t actually happen. Unlike, say, ghosts and demon possessions, I guess?

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The story can seem cartoonish (and it is), but it’s outstandingly poignant. To the main character, Winston, nothing is certain, not even the eponymous year.  He can’t be sure of his own memories because history is both constantly changing and how things have always been. Winston is monitored everywhere he goes, both audibly and visually, and despite his discontent and his desire for a simpler life, he lives in constant fear of being exposed, of even thinking in a way that contradicts the Party’s authority. People who do that often disappear; if not betrayed by their own actions, then by hidden spies among their friends, family, and neighbors.

Buildings are dilapidated and neglected, some from a war long past and barely remembered. Language is simplified so that it can discourage free thinkers, let alone the forthright dissenters. Children are indoctrinated like the Hitler Youths of old, allowed to run wild and dole out their own “justice” because their parents are afraid that they’ll report them. No one has agency unless the Party wills it, and even then, it’s to suit their own ends more than anyone else’s.

There is more subtle, manipulative fear-mongering at work, but I won’t spoil the ending for people who haven’t read the book or seen a film adaptation. I will say that, as the reader follows Winston, they too will not be sure how deep the rabbit hole of control and corruption goes.

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Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

 

When you really think about it, how well did George Orwell represent the past? How much of the future did he predict? As a young adult, I can only so accurately discuss the former; for as much as I try to understand them now, I did not personally experience World War II, or the Cold War. But regarding the latter, look at the scale of political polarization today; how biased leaders and media sources feed the emotions and egos of the people. Look at Edward Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking classified government surveillance documents in the interest of transparency with the public. Look at the TSA and the effect that they’ve had since September 11th, and how that date in particular has fed the fear and hatred of millions.

The list of comparisons goes on and on, and while some subjects may be interpreted or inferred, others are directly applicable. And that’s not just depressing; it has the potential to become “pee-your-pants” scary.

When tragedies pass and the pain dulls, how much have we honestly learned? Are we doomed to repeat mistakes, or in trying so hard to avoid those, we make even worse ones? Is it alright to lean towards one extreme, knowing that in time, the pendulum might just swing back the other way?

 

“The best books…are those that tell you what you already know.”

 

Whatever your personal beliefs are, 1984 should frighten you because it represents the danger of any one group holding too much power, and not enough checks and balances. It represents the desensitization to violence and inhumane treatment; in the first few chapters, the citizens of Oceania clapped and cheered, watching films of enemy refugees mercilessly blown to smithereens.

It represents a caution against idolizing homogeneity and uniformity, because diversity and healthy conflict help us grow, thrive, and meet the future head-on. Instead, altruism is stripped away, and the Outer Party members of Oceania isolate and turn on each other. The Proles, though numerous and freer than most, are poor, uninformed, and scorned by the upper classes. They are kept fat, dumb, happy, and most importantly, useful, by the mindless entertainment manufactured by Party machines, and occasionally, the Thought Police infiltrate their numbers to weed out any individuals that they deem troublemakers.

The overwhelming sentiment for everyone is: don’t fear or mistrust the Party, even though they breed fear and mistrust themselves. Don’t concern yourself with anything that we haven’t told you to.

 

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

 

And the worst part is that it may be too late to change anything. Winston is alone and constantly in danger, but what did the previous generation do? Was instant gratification or the path of least resistance more important than guarding their rights?

I shudder to think, but can things get worse, even in a place that is already so awful?

Probably.

Dr. Seuss’s the Onceler once said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.” One thing that scares me is the idea that so many people don’t care, or don’t think, and they like it that way. They dual-wield ignorance as both a shield and a badge of honor, and what they want is more important than even listening to the concerns of others.

Even as a kid, I wondered: how many people were in the Inner Party? How do they come to and agree on  mutually-beneficial propaganda and policies?  Will they eventually turn on each other?

Halloween is at least partially about actual horror, and lasting horror touches on taboos, the fears that make us most ashamed, disgusted, and panicky. Plenty of adults still fear the dark and its unknown enemies because things can still emerge from it; home invaders, just to name one. And what about spiders, snakes, bats, and high interest loan payments?

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But the desires of the ego – saving face, feel justified, being in control every minute of every day, no compromises – often divide and corrode us when overindulged. To Winston, the Party came out of nowhere, but only because he was too young to remember, and the evidence of its rise was erased. We are not sure about the past, but in the present, it thrives on unchecked selfishness and nepotism. Power is not a means, but the end itself, and it silences dissent by any means necessary.

You might call that ludicrous and extreme, but there must be a reason why dystopian stories have grown in popularity over the years. By all means, let’s keep them relegated to the stuff of nightmares. You never know when even the tiniest precedents we set might blossom into something more problematic.

Or, in another word, ungood.

 

9/10

*Pictures and other media used in this review do not belong to me.

 

CftC: Kakurenbo

Today, we’re going to get a little more obscure with…

october

 

Today, some kids put on creepy masks and go play hide-and-seek in a haunted town.

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Okay, it’s a bit more complicated than that…but not much…

Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek is a 2004 cel-shaded Japanese animated short film by Shuhei Morita, who later went on to give us Possessions and Tokyo Ghoul. The story primarily focuses on a boy named Hikora, as he searches for his missing sister in what looks like Tokyo Silent Hill.

You see, a bunch of kids played “Otokoyo” (Man Hunt) in an abandoned, industrial town and then never came back, so a bunch of other kids, creepily intrigued by the rumor, don fox masks and go into the town themselves…I guess to solve the mystery?

Because obviously that’s going to turn out so well.

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So blah blah blah loss and perversion of childhood innocence blah blah blah industrialization and overconsumption is bad blah blah blah I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees.

There is a lot to like and a lot to find average in this short.

First, the good:

  • The designs of the demons are awesome.

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  • The setting and designs make for some good, creepy visuals.

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  • The music and sound effects are off-putting. One song in particular sounds like it should be performed over some dark, ancient, druidic ritual.

And now, the bad:

  • The “twist ending” is fairly predictable, just as the symbolism is obvious. I feel like the director took his cues from The Matrix and every Japanese horror trope ever.
  • The English dub is awful. It’s not necessarily the fault of the voice actors, but the heavily-expositive dialogue and forced creepiness (cryptic girl giggling, for example) was a lot more passable in the Japanese version. Plus, at least one of the actors sounds too old for his character.
  • There are pretty much no characters to speak of, and you probably won’t remember most of their names either. Sadly, that is the pitfall of making a short vs. a full movie, so I can’t hold it too much against Morita. In my head, I personally remember the kids as (in order of the title picture all the way at the top, from the left) Mute Twin Red Herrings, Dan Green, Whiney, Samara, Lackey, Tubby, and IJGK (Inexplicable Japanese Ginger Kid, aka Kyle Broflovski).

All in all, it’s not a waste of 25 minutes. It’s a bit creative and different, especially to those who are new to Japanese horror. Other than the English dub, I don’t hate anything about it, but it’s definitely a bit too by-the-numbers as far as “creative horror stories” go.

I’ll happily watch it over any given Hollywood remake.

6/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners, mostly Shuhei Morita and YamatoWorks. None of the images belong to me.

CftC: Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island

This week on…

october

 

Something based on a spooky, all-year-round show!

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I was never a big fan of the original Scooby-Doo series. I watched it from time to time, but usually when nothing else was on. It seems like it would be right up my alley, what with all the ghosts and creeps and spooks and stuff, but I just didn’t find the characters that interesting or compelling.

I do appreciate a good mystery though; of all the long-running anime I’ve watched, one of my favorites is Detective Conan, or Case Closed as it is known state-side. That show is just as formulaic, but it was actually episodic and had character development, not to mention some personal, believable danger for the lead and his friends every once in a while.

Surprisingly, this movie, when it came out in 1998, fixed most of my issues with the series. And what it didn’t fix, it finally managed to grow on me.

The animation is of really good quality; it’s fluid, expressive, and manages to look pretty creepy, even to this day. The original show made everything look too flat to be really scary, and the characters’ expressions were stilted and muted.

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The tone is darker than before, particularly because Spoiler Alert: there are some real monsters for once. Also, a bunch of people die offscreen in a really gruesome way, and the zombies on the titular Zombie Island were all brutally sucked dry in order to come into being. End Spoiler.

 

Yeah, surprisingly, I was never super into the whole “every monster is fake” theme to the show. It’s clever how the villains make their tricks work, sure, and I was able to get more into it in What’s New, Scooby-Doo? Probably because the animation quality was better in that show.

Or maybe it’s not the concept, but the characters I couldn’t get behind. They were all bores in the original series.

Maybe it’s because it’s a mystery show with absolutely no murders…No, I don’t know how a kid show would pull that off. Get off my back.

I’m not entirely sure which is the one reason to rule them all, but I like me some real monsters, thank you very much.

Anyways, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island‘s characters are way more interesting. Daphne sort of acts as an avatar for me; she’s bored with all the scams and just wants to see real monsters and ghosts. Also, unlike the Daphne who was always kidnapped and needing to be rescued in the original show, this Daphne proves herself semi-competent in tense situations. At one point, she flips two people like a fighting master, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

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At least, she’s just as competent as the dudes, which makes for a nice change. And it’s not stupid, pointless, and contrived like in the horrible live action abomination movie.

Velma is her standard self, although she seems particularly suspicious in this movie. Fred seems like a well-meaning doofus and skeptic, and the shipping community will be happy to know that he and Daphne do have some chemistry, even though they spend a lot of their screen time together bickering.

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Scooby and Shaggy are pretty much their usual selves, although Scooby did get on my nerves a bit. There is a running joke throughout the movie where he doesn’t seem to realize he’s a dog (someone will angrily point him out and he will say, “Dog? Where?”), I guess because he’s so anthropomorphic and talks. That’s funny unless it comes after him seeing cats, because whether they antagonize him or not, he gives chase, usually destroying property in the process.

Even if you’re a dog person or think cats are evil or whatever, Scooby should be self-aware enough that he at least doesn’t destroy property or cause problems for his owners. It’d be funner and more excusable if being overtaken by dog instincts was a part of his personality, but I’ve never seen sufficient evidence of that. Granted, I’m not really a fan…

Nitpick nitpick nitpick.

The movie even has a dramatic twist, beyond the obvious one, which you may or may not see coming. In the show, the twist was really easy: “It’s the (insert character we met in the beginning and forgot about)!”

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The music is pretty decent, and continues in the tradition of bringing in pop singers (Third Eye Blind sings the opening theme) while also giving some airplay to Skycycle, a little known rock band, for the rest of the songs. “It’s Terror Time Again” is particularly great for any Halloween-themed album or mixed playlist.

There is some definite reuse of audio sampling, which the original show did as well; the most egregious perhaps being a yelp of Shaggy’s, which is used at least three times throughout the movie. I’ll let it slide because it’s funny in a “wow, that’s lazy” sort of way, but come on, guys! Surely you can do better than old-school Hannah-Barbara, who at least had the budget of a ham sandwich as their excuse!

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Overall, the movie is good. It’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky. I wouldn’t recommend it for young kids, though, particularly if they’re scared of zombies. Scooby-Doo fans may be split on it, but it has better stakes than many of the Scooby-Doo movies that have come out since.

7/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners, mostly Hannah-Barbara. None of the images or sounds belong to me.

CftC: Over the Garden Wall

Ladies and gents, it’s time once again for…

october

 

Since I was on a roll with this topic for a while, let us once again explore themes of depression in media aimed at kids and young adults!

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…Okay, Over the Garden Wall isn’t necessarily about depression; the show is interpretable, and this is just one of the many way it can be interpreted.

If you’ve never heard of this miniseries before, haven’t watched any cartoons in the last 5< years, or in cases like mine, don’t have cable television, watch these show intros for me real quick:

 

 

 

I’m not posting these to pass judgment on these shows (although the first two are pretty heinous. Say what you want about Pokemon, but at least it’s theme was catchy and memorable), but look at the intro to Over the Garden Wall and tell me if you see a contrast:

 

Wasn’t that different? Surreal, sure (the creator of the miniseries was also a creative director on Adventure Time), but not what you typically see your kids watching?

That is the show in a nut shell. It has its bizarre moments (usually as a reference or homage. Betty Boop and other Fleischer Brothers’ cartoons in at least one episode, for example) that make it feel very much like Alice in Wonderland, but everything has a purpose when you uncover the greater story.

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Over the Garden Wall is a dark-fantasy adventure-comedy ten years in the making (originally envisioned in 2004 and pitched to the network in 2006); it is also the first ever miniseries that Cartoon Network has put out. It debuted last year in November, and followed two lost children, Wirt and Greg, wandering in a seemingly endless forest known as The Unknown in search of home. They are assisted by Beatrice, a grumpy but well-meaning bluebird, and the somber and cryptic Woodsman, who warns them of the Beast, the dark, shadowy being who haunts the woods and claims any soul who wanders lost and purposeless.

Anything more would be a spoiler, but some are necessary to get into what I’m talking about. So beware. Spoilers Below.

First, let me say what I love about this miniseries.

The music is gorgeous and old-timey (I particularly love whatever Jack Jones sings). The art really shines, particularly when it depicts the fall scenery, and even though I wasn’t crazy about the character designs at first, they have really grown on me. Really, the whole show might be an acquired taste for some people, with the aforementioned styles of animation and music. The voice cast is chock-full of celebrities (Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd, to name two), and they all do an excellent job, even if part of me wants to be distracted.

The story is delightfully dark and creepy, but also has plenty of light-heartedness and comedy mixed in. No longer being a child myself, I can’t really accurately say how kids will relate to it. Seeing it as an adult, I am both horrified and in love with the story, so it’s definitely something parents will want to watch first and decide if their children can handle it.

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The Beast is awesome. Creepy, but awesome. I award extra points for his design, which, while kept mostly in shadow, is reminiscent of a wendigo. He is one of the most serious and sinister villains in all of Cartoon Network history, and he sings opera. How many kid shows have opera?!

…Scratch that. How many kids know what opera even is?

But I digress. Let’s get into the depression interpretation.

Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice come across different characters in The Unknown, some of which are friendlier and funnier than others. There is a town called Pottsfield that is filled with “living” skeletons, a school “teaching animals to count and spell,” an inn patronized by craftsmen and other professionals, wealthy tea merchants, and several others.

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In the fourth episode, it is said that, “once your will begins to spoil, (the Beast)’ll turn you to a tree of oil.” The Beast uses the oil from the ground up trees to keep his lantern lit, and in the eighth episode, one of the characters begins to grow branches and leaves as he withdraws both socially and physically from those around him.

The Beast is the terror of The Unknown. He is referred to as “The Death of Hope” and “The Voice of the Night,” and proclaims to be the owner of the woods:

“There is only me, there is only my way; there is only the forest, and there is only surrender.”

The character who begins slowly turning into a tree in episode eight begins his descent after the betrayal of a friend, and the constant feelings he has been fighting that tell him he will never get to leave the forest. In the tenth and final episode, another character, despite expressing that he will never give up, eventually succumbs to the cold loneliness and impossible tasks set upon him by the Beast and he too begins to turn into a tree.

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I also draw my interpretation from the other characters met along the journey. The skeletons of Pottsfield are already dead, so they are at peace and have no great cause to fear the Beast. The school teacher and the animals are devoted to learning and making the school a success.

The episode at the inn probably tells us the most about the Beast,  and we can also take note of how fervent and pushy the patrons are, both talking about their own jobs and questioning the main characters about who they are and what they do. Their trades and passions keep them from falling victim to the Beast, and they are keenly aware of this, warning travelers like Wirt and Greg, who don’t readily avow any traits of their own. Every time Wirt is ascribed with a new identity by someone at the inn, he denies it, but is typically ignored by the crowd.

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You could read this particular episode a few different ways, but however you look at it, the need to have a motivating force (ultimately, the patrons decide that Wirt is a pilgrim) is definitely crucial to survival in The Unknown, whether one is lost or not. The Beast himself only physically fights one character, but that is towards the end of the series, so the possibility of direct physical harm was not necessarily implied. And when his lantern is threatened out of his reach, he seems almost powerless to stop it. Most often, he appear as a seductive Faustian demon, bargaining to protect his lantern and gain more souls to feed it.

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The Beast could be representative of depression itself; frightening, unclear, not necessarily physically hurting you, but giving you feelings of fear, hopelessness, and loss of direction and motivation. He pulls you apart from friends and loved ones, causing you to withdraw inward and feel trapped and lonely. Both characters who fall victim to the Beast lose their purpose, or at least the drive towards it, are rendered wooden and immobile, hollow if not for the black, sludge-like oil that can be harvested from them.

The Unknown, just by its title alone, is pretty on the nose, but by itself, it does not cause depression. It and its inhabitants only provide obstacles for the main characters to overcome, helping depression along when the challenges prove too difficult or frustrating.

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Someone on the creative team must have had or known someone with anxiety or depression. Whatever the miniseries could ultimately be saying about the subject (that it, and not the person possessed by it, is initially feared, but overcome in the end), it gets it.

Of course, there are also themes of death, growth, and loss of innocence as well. As I said, there are many ways you could interpret it. I just find it interesting how mature subjects are not just taught to children, but made relatable to them.

The ending is happy for just about everyone, and the subject, tone, and setting of the story makes it a perfect, relatively short Halloween binge-watch, for multiple reasons.

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It’s much deeper than it may appear, and I really hope more people will see it. If you’re not interested…well, you’re still welcome to help yourself to some good old potatoes and molasses.

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9/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners, most notably Patrick McHale and Cartoon Network. None of the above belong to me.