Wednesday, July 29, 2015

An Open Letter to Bioware Regarding Explicit Content


Your games (specifically the Mass Effect and Dragon Age Trilogies) are among the finest action-RPGs on the market. In anticipation of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I feel compelled to write openly on behalf of a minority demographic your team may not be aware of: players who love the story and action elements of the game but don’t care for the explicit content. I’m asking on behalf of myself and others for you to add a feature in the settings of your future titles allowing players to set which explicit content they want displayed in the games—namely language, gore, and sexual content.

Please understand that I am not advocating censorship, but merely choice. I am a writer myself, and I know I don’t want anyone telling me what is or isn’t appropriate for my own work. Instead of trying to control the content you put in your games, I’m simply asking for the choice to customize my experience for maximum enjoyment. Videogames have the unique providence of being a medium built around individuals. I can already control gaming aspects like difficulty, subtitles, and graphic and auditory settings, so why not what explicit content I see and hear? Choice is a key aspect of Bioware games, it is one of the attributes that truly make your titles stand out, so why not extend that choice further into the real world, embracing players who want to play the games without the explicit aspects? Of course those of us who want to limit our own exposure to explicit content already have a choice: to not play. But I hope you’ll give us a third option: to play without the content we hope to avoid in media.

I have seen countless forum threads where gamers have asked if X game has an option to turn off explicit content, and the answer is almost always the same: no such option exists. The replies on these threads then usually go on to mock the gamer in question, attempting to emasculate the player (regardless of whether they are male or female), telling them they need to “grow a pair” etc. I don’t see any need for this kind of mentality in the gaming world. Bioware games champion the fact that different kinds of people, leaders, and problem-solvers all have a place, e.g. you can be a renegade, you can be a paragon, etc. I don’t think Bioware needs to limit its fan base to those who enjoy explicit content. My reasons for wanting to limit my own exposure to explicit content are personal. Strangers don’t have to understand my reasons for them to be valid.

I know I’m not the only one with concerns about what kind of content will be in ME:A. The first Mass Effect game had no strong language, very little gore, and very brief partial nudity, while the most recent Mass Effect game had strong language at times, gore in the form of heads exploding when sniped, and the most recent Dragon Age game had much more explicit nudity. It leads some of us to wonder what the future holds if in such a short period of time this much new explicit content is introduced.

Let me reiterate my stance that this is a personal choice. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong for any other person to view or enjoy this content, but that as for myself I know I want to avoid it, and that I can enjoy your future action-RPGs much more without it. I hope I am not opening myself and others up to derision by asking for this concession, but I hope you will seriously consider implementing three separate toggles in the settings of your future games to control language, gore, and sexuality. Some games have given these options in the past, but I challenge you to set an industry standard by doing this with your A-list, flagship titles. Show that you care about all of your fans, not just the majority, and other companies will follow.

Regardless of what you choose to do, please accept my gratitude for making some of the best games I’ve ever played.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

GWR is not dead! It's simply moving!

It may seem that this site has died recently, but that's not the case! I recently moved to a new state and started a new full-time creative writing schedule. I will be updating this blog in the future, but on a new and better domain that will link to everything else I'm working on. All the old reviews can still be read here, and if you comment on anything I'll still be notified. This is also true of my art blog:

My goal is to be up-and-running at the new place by the end of the year! Thanks for reading!

-MA 8. 26. 2014

In the meantime, check out my most popular posts:

Super Mega Comics Interview:

Ramsey Campbell Interview:

My take on Eraserhead:

Bashing Spider-man 3:

Three Minute Max Interview:

Bashing Transformers 2:

Monday, December 30, 2013

5th Monday Ugh: Catwoman (2004)

You may have noticed I haven't been keeping up with this blog on a weekly basis; it probably has something to do with some ineffible law of internet thermo-dynamics where everything self-published online prematurely degrades or something. Somebody could write a paper about it. However, that doesn't mean I've abandoned it! To prove this, here's a 5th Monday Ugh!!

There are so many good places to start talking about how bad this movie is. I want to poke fun at the name of the director, "Pitof" (one word, like Madonna); I want to point out that this super-hero action movie is--in all actuality--about make up; I want to dig in deep to my inherent dislike of the overused, washed-up material we so often find in movies of this vein; instead--after giving it some careful thought--I think I'll start here: This movie isn't about Catwoman. 

Those of you who haven't seen it you may find this claim hard to believe, but it's true. Selina Kyle is the woman who has tortured the heart of America's favorite bat for the last 73 years. This movie is about a mild-mannered woman who works in advertizing named Patience Phillips. Yes, you heard me right. Patience. Phillips. Instead of a disturbed but talented young woman who chooses to take upon herself the attributes of the domesticated feline, she becomes--wait for it--supernaturally infused with the power of catness (not to be confused with Katniss) for reasons which even the movie seems embarrassed to explain. 

The best promo picture ever taken? You be the judge.

Mostly this movie is about ogling Halle Berry in a revealing (if rather bizarrely constructed) costume, which is--quite frankly--demeaning. There are a few laughable fight scenes, and a moment or two of the obligatory bad science used by the detective/love interest to track the enigmatic jewel thief, but mostly it's just her. Being there. Bending. Jumping. Looking crafty. Uncovering the makeup plot that couldn't hope to hold the attention of a seven-year-old girl.

I would say there are two things about this movie that I genuinely enjoy: 1) There are cats in it, and I like cats. 2) Patience's friend is a little overweight, but her character doesn't have anything to do with her weight. It's shocking how rare it is to find a mainstream film with a character like this, so I'll take it where I can find it. Despite the fact that many overweight women live lives that have very little to do with their size, the vast majority of film and television labors under the damaging delusion that half of the world's population is defined by their size.

All-in-all, this is a good bad movie. For those who enjoy bad movies, there is something for you here. To those who legitimately enjoy this film...well, I'm not sure how to address you without being insulting. Just know that I respect your right to have your own opinions. :)

-MA 12.30.13

Monday, December 2, 2013

Rat Farm - Meat Puppets (Album)

Not too long ago a friend of mine expressed the opinion that a band's first major album is always their best on the basis that it's the album the record companies are pushing the hardest. These albums have major producers and there's plenty of money to go around. I have also heard other opinions about this, such as that a good band has maybe four or five good albums in them and that's it. These views, along with many other similar ones, seem to be getting at the same idea: bands get worse over time. There seems to be a point where we feel inclined to say, "Look, haven't you guys done enough?" when bands keep at it.

To be honest, I've never understood this. It makes more sense to me that a band would actually get better over time, rather than worse. Time and again, I find this to be the case with bands that have real talent. Pearl Jam fits here, and so do Robyn and Manchester Orchestra. As they hone their craft they can be more nuanced. I feel it is exactly when the producers start looking the other way that a serious band can really shine. I'm not saying this is always the case; certainly there are one-hit wonders, one-album wonders, and those bands that just go stale, bands who keep making music because they want to keep making money. (As a quick side note, I also don't understand why that is so frowned upon. I mean, it is a job. Obviously, we'd prefer bands keep cranking out quality stuff, but if they can't--and people still want to buy what they are making--who are we to say they shouldn't be doing it?)

This preface, of course, is taking us the Meat Puppets 14th studio album, Rat Farm. This is the most recent offering from a band spanning three decades. Formed in the early 80's by the Kirkwood brothers (both of whom are still in the band, btw), the Meat Puppets have forged their own cryptic mark on the music world. They have a style which belongs to them and them alone. Sure they've borrowed pieces from a variety of sources, but they've put them together their way. A way no one else could have. 

This album may be their best. There. I said it. Despite the cultural impact of early albums like II and Up on the Sun, this album is a culmination of three decades of talent and experimentation. I understand that on that cultural level it doesn't hold a candle to these albums, but content-wise it blows them out of the water. The songs you find on Rat Farm are delicately crafted. They rock, in their way, but even more so than that, they roll. There isn't an ounce of trying-too-hard in sight. The confidence they have in their craft, however, oozes from each track. I wouldn't even say there is one throwaway song on here, and that's saying something.

Take the title track for instance: "Rat Farm" presents a unique view of the addictions of the world. This song's message could be applied to consumerism, chemical addiction, or anything that reduces freedom with the promise of fun. The sound is so freewheeling and playful you could easily enjoy it without looking deeper, but looking deeper is kind of what this blog is about. Underneath the hooks and highly competent guitar-work, we find interesting melodies, harmonies, structures, chord-progressions, and lyrics that are fun and easy without losing meaning. We find, in short, something these same individuals were not capable of as young men.

If you haven't listened to the Meat Puppets since they took the stage with Nirvana in the mid-nineties, it's time you came back. If you don't know who they are, I think Rat Farm is a great place to start.

-MA 12.2.13

PS. I had the privilege of seeing Meat Puppets live in Salt Lake City recently, and the years have done little to dull their showmanship and on-stage musicianship. I recommend seeing them if the opportunity arises.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Cheap Detective - Simon (Movie)

Did I mention it's crammed with stars?

I feel compelled to begin this week's review with a transparent warning that this may, in all actuality, not be worthy of being called a "great movie." I say that not because I feel that way, but because friends and family have long assured me (mostly by falling asleep before even reaching the halfway mark) that it isn't any good. I however, love Niel Simon's bizarre spoof of old film noir classics like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.

I don't know what to tell you as far as what you should expect going into this film. At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical conessour of art that actually has no idea what he is talking about, I want to say that the charm of this movie is that it is at once understated and over-the-top. It wants to be a "straight" parody as well as a farce, and I feel like it succeeds on both counts. It is in many ways a scene-for-scene rip off of the classic films it mocks with endearment, but the tounge-in-cheek back-handed humor is what makes this movie. If words like "odd" and "wacky" do not describe any of your favorite films, you can stop reading now.

First we have the leading detective, played by Peter Falk (of Princess Bride and Colombo fame). I could describe his role as Humphry Bogart with a head injury. He play his part so Slim-Pickins-straight that you might mistake top-notch jokes like telling his cabby he can't tip because he's a war vet as non-nonsensical filler.

Then we have a parade of characters inspired by classic films. But you may find their identifying quirks don't fit the mold of what you would expect of the genre. Take, for example, Jasper Blubber, who is asked by Falk how he will recognize him when they meet. Jasper: "I'm a very large man. I'll be sitting in the first two seats as you come in." Or take the exchange Falk has with a mysterious woman who urgently needs his services. Woman: "Meet me in your office in fifteen minutes." Falk: "Well, what time is it now?" Woman: "I'd rather not tell you that...until I know I can trust you."

Falk pulls his revolver on his phone.
This is not a movie like many of the others I have reviewed. It's goofy and at times downright weird. But if that sounds like your kind of film, then may I recommend The Cheap Detective. Though heed my words, I may be among the very small percentage of the world's people who enjoyed it.

-MA 11.18.13

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ramsey Campbell Interview

I'll admit that I stole this image from the Liverpool Daily Post.

If you consider yourself a serious reader of fiction but don't know who British horror novelist Ramsey Campbell is, it's time you were introduced. I have written of Campbell before; below is an excerpt of that post:

Ramsey Campbell is widely considered to be one of the best (if not the best) horror writer currently active....[I've included] some quotes about the writer himself:

"Britain's most respected horror writer." -Oxford Companion

"Campbell writes the most terrifying horror tales of anyone now alive." -Twilight Zone Magazine 

"Campbell is literature in a field which has attracted too many comic-book intellects, cool in a field where too many writers--myself included--tend toward painting melodrama. Good horror writers are quite rare, and Campbell is better than just good." -Steven King 

"Ramsey Campbell is one of the modern masters of horror...He has a genius for infusing horror into the everyday, piling up small moments of dread and confusion and fear until they become insurmountable." -Tim Pratt, Locus

"The greatest living writer of horror fiction." -Vector

"Ramsey Campbell is the best of us all." - Poppy Z. Brite

"The best horror writer alive, period." - Thomas Tessier

"The most sophisticated and highly regarded of British horror writers." - Financial Times

I could go on, and believe me, I'm tempted to. But I think you get the idea. Of his multitude of books, there are thousands upon thousands of positive reviews. Most of them go beyond the average, "So scary I had to leave the lights on!" or "Skin-crawling terror!" (whatever that means.) You get the sense in reading these reviews that there is something not being expressed. Absolute phrases like "greatest" and "most" are rarely used in the world of review, for they can sound extreme or ignorant.  And yet here we have dozens--if not hundreds--of individuals proclaiming "he is the scariest", "he is the most sophisticated", and of course "he is the best." Of all the reviews I have read of Campbell, the one has come closest to my personal feelings, and it seems, to those who have tried to express their awe for Campbell's work is this:

"It doesn't seem enough to say that Ramsey Campbell is a master of the horror genre." - Publishers Weekly

What is it about Campbell's work that makes it so great? He takes his time to set the stage; he tells you all about the world the story takes place in usually long before things get truly weird. He transforms everyday objects and scenarios into items and encounters dripping with implicate menace. The protagonists are real; in fact, they are just like you. For you, too, would be slow to see the danger around you in the same situations these characters are in. You, too, would not want to believe that such horrors were even possible. Campbell is about as far away from buckets-of-blood-shock-o horror as you can get. The books are not spectacles or "thrillers" in the typical sense. They are private moments of sinister confusion. They are deliberately slow. They manipulate you more than you would like to allow. Once, I read a line in a book of his which was innocuous at first, but when I understood the double meaning several lines later....I was terrified by what had almost happened. In that moment, it was not a story or a book, it was the very real possibility of a gruesome death, or worse. I was surprised (to say the least) to find two or three tears has leaked out of my eyes. Not tears of sadness or joy; tears of fear. His implications alone are terrifying...

Hopefully that gets you excited about the uncommon honor we have today here at Great Work Review; I had the pleasure of interviewing the man himself. This is an exclusive interview for GWR. Below is the entirety of that interview. I am truly grateful to Mr. Campbell for taking the time to do this with me. I'm sure you will find his insight into art and horror more than interesting.    

      When did you first get interested in writing? When did you realize you could make a career out of it? Was there ever a time when you seriously considered doing something else, if so, what?

I still have my first attempt at a novel – Black Fingers from Space by John R. Campbell (aged 7½), and illustrated by him too. The interested, not to say unwary, reader can find in my collection Ramsey Campbell, Probably all the chapters I wrote. Before I was twelve I was already writing my first completed book, Ghostly Tales. The stories in it were patched together like Frankenstein’s monster from fragments of fiction I’d read. Lovecraft gave me a focus when I was fourteen – something specific to aim to equal, not to say imitate – and August Derleth provided the encouragement and more importantly the editorial advice. By eighteen I had a book out, but it wasn’t for another nine years that I actually thought of writing as a career. Foolhardiness helped, and my wife helped more – if she hadn’t been teaching fulltime we wouldn’t have been able to afford my leap into the unknown. It wasn’t for another five years that I actually started to make a living. Before going fulltime I should explain I had a day job – four years in the civil service followed by another seven in the public libraries in Liverpool.

      This question might be difficult to answer in some ways, but I’m quite interested in your take on this. You have garnered very high praise from hundreds of reviewers and (perhaps more significantly) from your peers in the field of fiction writing. Many people have gone so far as to call you, “the best living,” “the scariest writer,” “Britain’s greatest horror novelist,” and, “the best of all time.” What is it about your work or style that people respond to?

Well, you should really ask them. But I’ve had quite a lot of readers say that once they’ve read a fair amount of my stuff they find themselves seeing aspects of the world in its terms or, I would hope, recognising what I’ve drawn attention to. What I hope is that my tales make us (the author included) look again at things we’ve taken for granted.

       I think a lot of North American readers (myself included) are familiar with your work thanks to the recommendations given by high-profile writers such as Stephen King and Peter Straub. Would you agree with that? I’m interested in your opinion of King’s work, as well as Straub’s.

I’m very fond of both. Peter’s a great elegant stylist who has created his own literary form, an insidiously uneasy mating of the supernatural and the crime story. Steve impresses me more and more as a great moral writer, an enviably fluent storyteller, a real taker of risks (who else would dare call his books by titles such as Misery and Desperation?), an innovator who hasn’t yet received due credit for it that I’ve seen, and crucial to the development of the modern horror novel. I could enthuse at more length about both, believe me – well, I have in introductions to their books (imminently Pet Sematary).

       Is there a writer currently working who you feel doesn’t have the credit he or she deserves? Who and why?

There are quite a few candidates, but let me choose just one – the British novelist Steve Mosby. He’s categorised as a crime writer but can equally be regarded as a horror novelist – an uncommonly disturbing one. His work is characterised by narrative play that never detracts from the suspense or the moral rigour of the tale. I’d say the perfect start to reading him is Black Flowers, which even has a touch of the uncanny in the tainted landscape where some of the events take place. But all of his books are very well worth knowing – The 50/50 Killer is the one he suggests as a starter, and that’s splendid too.

       I know you started out writing Lovecraftian stories (please correct me if I’m wrong about that), but now you certainly have a style which is all your own. Was that something that you consciously developed, or something that more-or-less cultivated itself over time?

It was pretty well instinctive but also the product of influence. Even in that first book of mine (The Inhabitant of the Lake, certainly Lovecraftian) I was already moving away from modelling my style on his (which, let’s remind ourselves, are very various, much more so than his detractors acknowledge) in tales such as “The Render of the Veils” and the ones that followed. But I was now reading widely outside the field. Graham Greene enthralled me and became an influence, but the real revelation was Nabokov – Lolita when I’d just turned seventeen and then every other book of his I could find. His work opened me up to the huge possibilities of language, and even “The Stone on the Island” shows how liberated I felt. I managed to get what I wanted to do right in “The Cellars”, and then got it wrong in a couple of years’ worth of first drafts, which I eventually rewrote and collected in Demons by Daylight (they also included “Cold Print” and “The Scar”). The rest – well, I hope I’m still developing.

       As I mentioned earlier, I also want to be a novelist and—like you—I am drawn to the horrific, the strange, the frightening. My wife, as well as various friends of mine, have asked me why I’m specifically interested in horror. You’ve been a major figure in the industry for decades; are there certain traits you’ve noticed among writers of horror fiction? Any insight into what it might be that attracts some individuals to it, but not others? 

It’s a cliché, but we seem to be quite amiable folk on the whole. Bob Bloch used to mention our grins, and he was a lot of fun himself. I’d say we’re attracted because it engages our imagination – why else write it? And it doesn’t engage those who aren’t attracted, any more than writing in other fields engages me (which is not in any way to belittle those genres).

       They say that behind every great man there is a great woman. I’m not sure if this is universally true, but you have acknowledged your wife Jenny in the beginning of many (if not all) of your books, thanking her for her work as “first” editor and the many other contributions she makes to your work. How much do you think her insight, knowledge, and influence shows up in your novels? How integral would you say she is to your writing process?

She’s absolutely crucial, and not just for the reasons you cite – as I mentioned, she kept us for five years when I set out as a fulltime writer. Quite a lot of my work is based on her experience – any stuff about teaching is likely to be owed to her decades in the job, and the Fancy family in The One Safe Place were all too typical of the kinds of clans she encountered. She acts as continuity editor sometimes, and sometimes suggests what might come next or soon. But just by being with me and reading my stuff she’s enormously supportive – I know too many writers whose partners never want to read what they write and who wish they would.

       There is a long-standing stigma in certain literary circles against “genre” fiction (such as horror, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.). When and why do you think this stigma developed, and why do you think some people see these genres as inherently separate from “serious” literature?

The field is often associated with its most disreputable elements. Too many horror writers seem to have little more ambition than to try and be more disgusting than one another. I once described such writing as Janet and John primers of mutilation. Me, I think the best horror fiction is a branch of literature, and I believe it has just as much scope. One quote sums up the attitude the field too often encounters. Years ago the husband of a lady who was interviewing me said “If he’s so good, how come he writes horror?” This said, I don’t think it’s the whole story – there’s always been a reasonable amount of appreciative criticism in the mainstream media and in studies of the field. But folk who don’t know the field may understandably have difficulty in sorting out the good stuff, especially if it’s all marketed as a single homogenous entity. As to when it developed – well, we might want to lay some of the blame on Christine Campbell Thompson, who said of her Not at Night series “From the first, I set my face against literature.” She hardly needed to say so, with the exception of a few of her choices (Lovecraft, for instance).

       In both Incarnate and in The Face That Must Die, you take the reader into the minds of highly disturbed people. In both works you seem to have gone to great lengths to show their point of view in a way the reader can almost identify with. For example, Horridge’s actions in Face make sense to him, and—in reading the book—we can understand why. Talk a bit about that process, and what you find interesting about such an effect.

I think it’s because I lived with it for most of the first half of my life. My mother was a paranoid schizophrenic (undiagnosed, so far as I know). From a very early age – certainly no more than three years old – I had to distinguish what was real from her perception of it. Long before my teens I was aware of how she would justify and rationalise her delusions to herself, and I was pretty young by the time I gave up trying to persuade her that (for instance) a nightly BBC radio soap opera (The Archers) wasn’t full of coded messages addressed to her – some by well-wishers, others by her enemies under assumed names. I got used to this quite quickly – it was my childhood, after all, and it didn’t really occur to me to compare it to others. But I have to confess that Horridge, prejudices and all, was largely based on her, and my upbringing may well explain why I’ve continued to be fascinated by how such minds work.

       I’ve noticed you like to use themes in some of your books, which you mirror in the language and word-choice. Examples of this would be the themes of wheat and dogs in Ancient Images, cold and symmetry in Midnight Sun, or water and the unknown in Creatures of the Pool. What do you like about this? What do you feel it adds to your work?

I hope it won’t sound too horribly pretentious if I say I sometimes feel my stuff puts me in mind of music. I’m not talking about quality, just form. I can’t really write a tale until I have some sense of a central theme, and then, as you’ve spotted, I tend to organise the material around it and use images to articulate it. Particularly in the short stories and also some of the novels – The Grin of the Dark, for instance – I think the episodes form a series of variations on the theme. Sometimes they’re traditional in form – true of most of my ghost stories, I think – and sometimes, as in “The Hands”, the variations can be less immediately recognisable as such.

My favorite book of yours is Midnight Sun, which touched me and terrified me in turns. I’ve even gone so far as to call it my favorite novel overall, and it’s one I’d love to tackle on this blog in the future. Can you talk a bit about the process of working on that novel? Do you yourself see it as special or noteworthy against your other books?

It was probably the hardest novel to write of any of them – so far, at any rate. In particular the first draft of the opening section felt like trying to push the burden of the thing uphill day after day. I actually stopped at the end of that section and reread it to convince myself that it was even worth going on with the book. I think my ambition for the book may have been too conscious – to write a novel that depended not at all on physical violence, even the threat of it, and went instead for awe. I’d say it was an honourable failure and wish it were much better. Still, I continue to make my feeble leaps towards awe – The Kind Folk is the latest one, I suppose.

       Which of your books do you consider the best and why?

It’s usually one of the newer ones, and then I begin to see its myriad flaws. Right now I’m quite fond of The Grin of the Dark as perhaps my most sustained comedy of paranoia, and also as a book that says something about the way the internet (in many ways a great boon) releases the monsters within us.

       I read once that you said The Parasite was the worst book you had written, which amused me since it was one of the first of yours I read, and I quite enjoyed it. Do you still have that opinion? In the books you think are the worst, what is it about them you feel you failed at conveying or creating?

The Parasite – I think it simply struggles too hard to be as frightening as possible, to impose an experience on the reader rather than simply allowing me to convey how the material feels to me. Early in writing Incarnate I made the decision to stop striving to be scary and to force the material, and since then I mostly haven’t – if I catch myself at it I do my best to stop.

       At the beginning of Midnight Sun, you included a quote from David Aylward’s The Revenge of the Past: the Cultural Meaning of Supernatural Literature, reading: “Writers [of supernatural fiction], who used to strive for awe and achieve fear, now strive for fear and achieve only disgust.” Upon finishing the book I reflected on that and saw it more as a guideline for reading the book than as a thematic connection. Aylward is almost certainly (at least in part) referring to Lovecraft in his creation of “awe.” What do you think it is about this kind of awe that frightens people? What has been the effect on the industry in moving away from awe?

I don’t know if it’s frightening so much as elevating to a level where terror becomes almost a numinous experience. I think of “The Willows” and “The White People” but also the last movement of Janáčeks Sinfonietta and also the Agnus Dei from his Glagolitic Mass (where the orchestral response always sounds to me like an answer from something utterly and perhaps terribly alien, or else the voice of the void). I don’t altogether agree with Aylward – surely writers such as Thomas Ligotti and Mark Samuels still reach for awe. But I think it’s the highest ambition of the form, and I’d be happy to see more writers attempting visionary horror. Meanwhile the horror tale is doing much in terms of social comment and psychological enquiry, though.

       I’m not going to delve too much into your work as a film reviewer, but there is something you said along these lines once about the cinema that I think deserves some time here. You mentioned that out of all the horror movies made these days only the darker films of David Lynch really frighten you anymore. Do you think this is an inherent failing of films, or is this a problem with the direction the industry has taken? What are some examples of horror movies which, in your opinion, failed in their goal to be scary?

I think the failing may be mine, not that of the films. In any case, horror doesn’t have to be scary – all it needs to do, like all good art, is to make us look again at things we’ve taken for granted. Disturbing us is worthwhile too. So, for instance, of late I’ve admired such different films as Kill List, The Children and Valhalla Rising, all of which seem to me to achieve both. I won’t single out films that don’t – suffice it to say that a lack of imagination and inventiveness is liable to leave me unengaged. I don’t necessarily ask for originality, just a sense that the material has been authentically imagined – hence I liked The Sixth Sense, for example. And I don’t demand scariness – just as one instance, I don’t find Tod Browning’s Dracula frightening, but now I’ve seen it on Blu-ray I’ve rather fallen in love with the film (which had previously seemed too distant to reach me, too muffled by the ageing of the available copies).

       You’ve also said that a major problem with many horror writers today is that they have not read any horror fiction older than themselves (citing M. R. James as an example of what should be read, if I remember correctly). Why do you feel it is important to have a knowledge of past writers when attempting to write?

I think you should be thoroughly familiar with the great tradition of any field or form you’re working in. Learn from the greats and build on what they achieved. Lovecraft epitomises how that can be done, as does Fritz Leiber – two of many essential writers to get to know.

       What do you feel is important for fiction writers (in general) to do or know? What about horror writers specifically?

Tell as much of the truth as you can. And that applies just as much to horror writers as to any other kind. Write only what engages your imagination – anything else is hackwork. Find your ideal routine and stick to it if you possibly can – mine involves starting work about six in the morning every day (yes, every one).

       Any other closing thoughts you’d like to add?

Right now I’m wrangling with the title for my novel in progress – Bad Thoughts or Think Yourself Lucky? I’ve had quite a productive year, it seems – one novella out (The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, which seeks to return to my Lovecraftian roots in a way that isn’t wholly unworthy of his inspiration and to reclaim some of his original vision for his mythos from all the additions and distortions that lesser writers such as me have introduced since) and one to come, The Pretence. And if I can continue this shameless self-promotion*, I just brought out a new collection – Holes for Faces – in which, though not by design, all the tales are about youth or age and quite often both.

       And finally, what scares you?

Gullibility. The vulnerability of children. The increasing reluctance of people to intervene when they see or suspect wrongdoing. The espousal of beliefs that deny the right to question. The growth of fundamentalism, which means more and worse of the previous trait. The willingness of the mass (which may well mean all of us) to find scapegoats. The growth of the notion that literacy and other standards are less important than they used to be. I hope I needn’t explain why any of that is frightening when all of it is everywhere you look.


For those interested, I've compiled a list of the recommendations Campbell made during the interview here: If you found this interview enlightening, share it with someone. If you've never read a Campbell novel, now is the perfect time to begin.

-MA 10.14.2013

*Shameless self-promotion, huh? You can find some of my own fiction work here:

Monday, September 30, 2013

5th Monday Ugh: The Wicker Man

Might I interest you in some bees?
In 1967, David Pinner published a horror novel called "Ritual." Six years later, Robin Hardy directed a very highly regarded (and very R-rated) horror classic based on that book he called "The Wicker Man." Over three decades later, Neil LaBute and Nicholas Cage thought maybe they could do it better. The result? A film I must admit I'm a bit obsessed with: the 2006 remake. Now, hear me out, I'm not saying it's a good film; in fact, everybody pretty much agrees it's one of the worst horror films ever made. When I say I'm "obsessed," I mean I am obsessed with its badness. I've seen this movie a lot of times (and I do mean a lot); I've even watched the director's commentary! So here's my two cents on what makes it bad, and what it is about that badness that makes it sort of irresistible.

Like the best bad movies, this film means well; LaBute is artistically-minded, if nothing else. The problem is he makes the wrong choice at pretty much every turn. There is some degree of talent involved here, but it is misused and poorly focused. You can feel the intention behind the screen, but what actually reaches us is impossible to take serious, confusing, and at times downright non-nonsensical. Why does this film take place in a reality so alien to our own? Why do the characters have such trouble just completing their sentences?? The humans here do not act like humans, so it's impossible to care about what's happening. They stutter around their thoughts and actions as if removed from humanity. They laugh and fight and smile and scream, but we don't have a real sense of them doing so in a logical progression based on what's happening. You've never seen people laugh about saying there's a shark in a bag until you've seen "The Wicker Man."

I don't know Nicholas Cage personally, and maybe he's a totally cool guy, but what I see when I watch this movie is someone who is extremely eccentric, maybe even a little disturbed, and it doesn't feel like acting. In the director's commentary, LaBute explains that drastic revisions were made during the actual filming because Cage would say, and I'm paraphrasing here, "No. This isn't how I would do it if I were really Edward. I would do such and such. I would do this instead." You can see the logic, right? As an actor, he's envisioning himself in the situation and saying it would be more realistic if he handled it differently. This might hold water if Cage were like you or me, but what we actually see is an inept policeman doing very little police work and a lot of erratic, bizarre, often somewhat hateful things. We see Cage lose his temper over and over. He punches people. He screams. He seems tense and frustrated, but we never really get the feeling that it's about anything. He simply has these feelings and does these things. Watching the film, you might find yourself thinking, "Hm. I don't think I would have thought to handle that situation in such a manner." Also, how can someone act so uninterested in what they are doing and yet so angry at the same time? Truly, he is a master.

Many times, I watched the film with the help of
the Rifftrax commentary. I even got Kevin Murphy
to sign my copy of the movie!! "Not the bees!"
My absolute favorite thing about the movie is how the opening scene has absolutely nothing to do with the plot as a whole. Clearly, SOMETHING supernatural is happening; Cage watches an 18-wheeler slam into a parked car, killing the two passengers (a woman and her daughter), and their bodies are never found. That's kind of interesting, right? Who were they? How do they relate to Cage being summoned to Summersisle to look for his missing daughter? Well, despite constant flashbacks reminding us of this traumatic incident, we get to the end of the film, to the plot twist about why Cage was coerced to coming to the island in the first place, and we find...nothing. The backbone of the film, the "ritual," the Wicker Man itself, has nothing--may I repeat this? NOTHING--to do with the mother-daughter tragedy from the opening scene. As a director, what could possibly be the appeal of doing this? Because it's weird? Maybe LaBute hopes to draw us in with the incident, and then let us forget about it, but how can we when he shows it to us no fewer than five times throughout the entire movie?

At every corner of the film there's something that might have worked, that maybe could get the juices flowing, the mind turning, but we always come up empty-handed. LaBute sets the stage over and over, he hints at a greater mystery, he makes promises, but in the end it all turns out to be a ruse. No, I don't mean a ruse to fool Edward, I mean a ruse to fool us. At best, this film is an insult to its viewers; at worst it is an unfulfilled, high-budget dream.


Some bonus Wicker Man fun!

Comedy trailer:
Who burned Nick's toast?:
Conan's Nicholas Cage Terror Alert System:
The Rifftrax commentary: