Blog

Author Talk

Horror Finally Getting Love at the Oscars 2018 – GET OUT!

horror-movies-tease_x9ip5q

‘Get Out’: How the Oscars Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Horror

Jordan Peele’s smash is the first true horror movie in years to receive a Best Picture nomination. And it’s about damn time.

After grossing $254.6 million at the global box office, landing on numerous estimable top ten lists, and emerging as a prime awards-season player, Jordan Peele’s Get Out continued its amazing run this past Tuesday when it nabbed Academy Award nominations in four categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya). That definitively confirmed its status as one of 2017’s most critically beloved films. However, it also made it something of a historical outlier, given that its one of the rare horror films to ever be recognized in those major categories—a situation stemming from the fact that, for most of the organization’s history, the Academy has exhibited a near-total disregard for that most diabolical (and durable) of genres.

First, let’s get something out of the way: Get Out is a horror film, period.

Yes, Peele’s directorial debut was nominated by the Golden Globes for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, and yes, it does contain some humor, especially courtesy of Lil Rel Howery as Rod, the TSA agent who helps his best friend, Kaluuya’s Chris, cope with the monstrous goings-on at the suburban family home of Chris’ white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). Nonetheless, hair-splitting be damned, in virtually every respect—from premise to narrative construction to climactic revelations—Peele’s hit operates deliberately, and confidently, within traditional horror-cinema parameters. It’s a movie designed to scare first, and make one think about its attendant, intertwined racial-socioeconomic issues second.

As such, Get Out’s four nods definitely buck tradition, because over the course of its 90 years, the Academy has seen fit to celebrate only a select few horror films in its top fields. To list all the genre classics that never made it as far as Peele’s would take days, but a brief rundown would include: FrankensteinDraculaThe HauntingNight of the Living DeadThe Texas Chainsaw MassacreHalloweenThe Shining and A Nightmare on Elm Street—all of which received exactly zero total nominations from the organization, even though they comfortable reside in horror’s pantheon. The omission of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 Stephen King adaptation is an exceptionally egregious one, not only because it’s so clearly the work of a master, but because it features—nearly four decades later—one of Jack Nicholson’s most indelible big-screen performances, as axe-wielding daddy dearest Jack Torrance. (To add insult to injury, Kubrick received a Worst Director Razzie nomination for the film.)

Considering the Academy’s long-standing demographic breakdown (generally speaking, members have been old white males), one might theorize that voters have traditionally been out of touch when it came to a strain of movies often aimed at younger audiences. Or, perhaps, it’s that horror—intent on unnerving through jolts, or excessive blood and guts—has been viewed as more superficial and/or juvenile than its compatriots. Certainly, boundary-pushing exploitation cinema, as well as legions of cruddy B-movie splatterfests, have helped forward a particular opinion of horror as lowbrow, sensationalistic, and thus more about cheap thrills which are, in some fundamental way, lesser than the elevated pleasures afforded by dramas, romances, war epics and period pieces.

I would contend that such stances misunderstand the potential (and power) of the genre, but whatever the case may be—or one thinks about such reasoning—the Academy, save for naming Frederick March as Best Actor for 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Rebecca Best Picture in 1940, spent many decades ignoring horror (see: Psycho). Then, in 1969, Ruth Gordon won Best Supporting actress for her turn in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. And more groundbreaking still, in 1974, the Academy bestowed a Best Picture nomination on William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, thereby conceding that the genre had achieved an undeniable level of commercial (and critical) appeal. Of course, it didn’t win that top prize, coming away with only a Best Adapted Screenplay triumph. But it was a serious step forward in terms of mainstream acknowledgment that, when done right, bumps in the night—or demonic pea soup vomit, in this instance—could have artistic value to discerning cinephiles.

In subsequent years, the Oscars occasionally conceded that great work was being done in the genre—1975’s Jaws got a Best Picture nom (but nothing for Steven Spielberg), and won for Sound, Film Editing, and Original Score; Jerry Goldsmith won Best Original Score for 1976’s The Omen; Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie received acting noms for 1976’s Carrie; Sigourney Weaver got a well-deserved Best Actress nod for 1986’s Aliens; and Kathy Bates won Best Actress for her turn as an author’s psychotic fan in 1990’s Misery. Frequently, it was the technical side that proved most fruitful for horror, as evidenced by wins for The Phantom of the Opera (1943), Alien (1979), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Aliens (1986), The Fly (1986), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).

When it comes to Best Picture, though, the lineup is woefully thin: Friedkin and Spielberg’s seminal efforts are joined only by Black Swan (2010), The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991)—with the latter remaining the most feted of all horror films, and one of only three movies ever to win Best Picture, Director (Jonathan Demme), Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Actress (Jodie Foster), and Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally). Yet even then, one could make a persuasive argument that Demme’s film is more of a cat-and-mouse crime thriller than a straightforward horror film. And Black Swan’s horror credentials are up for even greater debate, given that it might be more accurately classified as a psychological thriller.

Which is another way of saying that, when the Oscars do decide to indulge their scarier side, they regularly do so with reserve, eschewing hellish nightmares in favor of ones that traverse more suspenseful terrain—hence the reason that enthusiastically received recent efforts like It Follows (2015) and The Witch (2016), both of which boast outright supernatural elements, didn’t even register come awards time. In that context, Get Out’s achievement is all the more impressive. No doubt the Academy was most enamored with Peele’s incisive (and often amusing) dissection of contemporary American racism, especially as it pertains to those who proudly claim to be liberal. But that doesn’t change the fact that, come the gala’s March 2nd telecast, moviegoers will be able to root for a Best Picture contender that hinges on dissection—and brain transplants!—of a literal sort.

Lets hope it’s the beginning of more horrific things to come.

Originally posted on https://www.thedailybeast.com/

Continue reading “Horror Finally Getting Love at the Oscars 2018 – GET OUT!”

Advertisements
A Day In the Life of a Writer, Author Talk

10 QUESTIONS WITH THE TALENTED KAREN RUNGE

seeing-double-cover

Karen Runge is a name I’ve seen in the writing community many times, and was happy to learn that she has a novel published with the awesome  Grey Matter Press.  She now shares a publishing home with many cool horror writers, including one of my favorites, John F.D. Taff . I am always encouraged to see women writing horror. So, I wanted to pick Karen’s wonderfully imaginative, and disturbing brain, and find out  more about the woman the late Jack Ketchum confessed, “Karen, you scare me.”  Now, there’s a compliment.

 

 

LF: When did you write your first book?

KR: I completed my first novel-length work when I was about fifteen. Of course, it was totally terrible (!) and I’ve long since lost that manuscript. I took another stab at a novel when I was around 21, tried to get that one published, but it fell flat (it was also… pretty terrible…) and I threw it away. After that I started concentrating more on getting my name out through short stories. The first story I sold (shortly after the burning of my second book attempt) was ‘The Lighthouse’, published in the awesome Horror/Sci-Fi magazine ‘Something Wicked’, which sadly is now defunct. From there it was a steady climb up to getting my first full solo collection ‘Seven Sins’ published (Concord Free Press, 2016). My first (finally!!) full-length novel, ‘Seeing Double’, came out with Grey Matter Press last year. Took a while, but hey, I got there eventually. And no, I am nowhere near finished.

LF: As a woman, what draws you to the genre horror?

KR: I’m not sure it makes much sense to divide horror along gender lines, because horror—real horror, in the real world—is something that we all experience in some way or another in our lives. This is what makes it such a powerful art form—it doesn’t discriminate at all. I can only say that as a person, it always resonated with me as a genre that was telling the truth about the darker conditions of human nature, and their impacts on individuals as well as societies as a whole. As in, there’s no bullshit here, this is the stuff beneath every surface. That kind of exploration is important, I think, in a very fundamental way. I honestly can’t pinpoint anything female-specific that draws me to it. It’s just there.

LF: How do women react when you tell them you write horror?

KR: That depends on the woman! My poor mother, bless her, is completely baffled!! I often get the cutesy, aghast reaction from strangers, “Oh no! I could never read one of your books!” which always strikes me as borderline silly. Is there a rule somewhere that women aren’t supposed to be open to this? Women, who (again, in the real world) are subject to some truly hair-raising acts of violence, in some cases even as the norm…? And then of course the badass babes think it’s fantastic. It’s nice when people choose to be curious about it at least, and that’s a reaction I’m always grateful for when talking to non-horror fans of either gender.

LF: I so agree!

LF: I’m going to ask this question because I’ve been asked this a few times and I’d love to hear your response. Why not write Romance?

KR: For me, personally, Romance has never interested me. I find it more than a little false, like a cardboard cut-out of what human relationships really entail. I read a few Romance novels as a teenager (under pressure from school-friends who wanted me to “Put Stephen King down, for god’s sake!”) and I rolled my eyes through all of those books. I don’t want to bash the genre—it’s there, it gives people a lot of joy, it wouldn’t exist without reason. But it strikes me (both personally and as an artist) as more fairytale-escapism than an actual exploration of anything. I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh—there’s nothing wrong with escapism. But for me, as a reader and a writer, I would much rather look at realities than candy-coated dreams. If we want to talk the complexities of lust and love, though, well… you can find those to greater or lesser degrees in pretty much every genre, portrayed under much more sincere terms than what is directly labelled as ‘Romance’.

LF: I couldn’t have said it better.

LF: Please tell us a little about your book, SEEING DOUBLE. Great cover by the way.

KR: Thank you! The cover art was done by Dean Samed, a really awesome visual artist. I was thrilled with it when I first got the cover reveal. It fits the novel just so perfectly. The story on the surface is about a depraved love triangle, who disconnect from any form of true empathy in order to satisfy their own desires. Beneath that, it’s an exploration of sadism and abuse and the long-term impacts these things can have on the soul, especially when combined with malicious influences. It was my attempt at capturing the Disturbo sub-genre of horror, and the thing came out to so freaking twisted I can only think of it as a fair shot!

LF: Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

KR: I write piles of dark poetry (as a personal exercise, not for publication), and in that process I often find myself uncovering things I’d like to explore further through fiction. I’m also mad about music, and sound and lyrics do a lot to inspire me. Once I’ve started a story, and the plot starts fleshing out, there are always going to be themes or details that I straight-up don’t know enough about, and am going to have to research in order to write with any kind credibility. For example, for my short story ‘Exile’ (in the Double Barrel Horror series from Pint Bottle Press) I spent a good few hours researching… lawnmowers. Lucky me. All the research I’ve done over the years for various stories has already made me a little mine of totally random and (mostly) useless information. But if you’re going to talk about something then you do need to get it right, which makes those long hours worth it, even if it only appears in the finished product as one or two sentences.

LF: What does your family think of your writing?

KR: They don’t really know too much about it, to be honest. My father takes some interest, but the rest are just happy to see me doing what I love… since I guess for the most part they don’t really understand it! My older brother loves horror too though, and our shared interest has done a lot to encourage me over the years. ‘Seeing Double’ is actually dedicated to him. But he’s more a film fan than a book guy, so he’s not entirely sure what I’m up to in my own art either. And that’s okay too.

LF: Does writing energize or exhaust you?

KR: For the most part, in the aftermath, it makes me feel absolutely fantastic: super connected to myself and the world around me. A good day’s writing can put me on a high for days. Though to a degree it depends on what I’m writing, really. The heavier subject matter can be difficult to wield, juggling a ‘normal’ every day life when in the back of my mind I’m having to sift through some seriously unsettling stuff. ‘Seeing Double’, for example, was an emotional nightmare to write… but once I’d gone into it I knew I had to push through to the end. More to that point: You don’t always get to pick your stories; sometimes they choose you. But whatever journey it puts me on I love what I do, and I absolutely cannot imagine myself as anything other than a writer.

LF: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

KR: By the end of a serious day’s writing, I’ll have a very satisfying word count (we won’t talk about how much I’ll chop in edits the next day), and… a completely spotless apartment. I don’t know what goes on here, really. Writing will be going really well, I’ll hit a point, and the next thing I know I’m standing at the sink washing dishes. Or sweeping the balcony. Or doing laundry. I don’t even decide to do it necessarily… it’s like I’m aware that I need a break, but need to still in some way stay active. But all this is totally subconscious, at least for the first few minutes. It can be kinda scary. Hey, at least my home is squeaky clean!

LF: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

KR: Usually if I’m not writing, or if I’m struggling with whatever I’m currently working on, I’ll dust off my paintbrushes and get going on a visual project. Usually I’ll be listening to horror fiction podcasts like Pseudopod or The Drabblecast while I paint or draw… so it’s like ‘reading’ while working. It’s a way to switch off to a degree, while still feeding the beast. That’s honestly a very happy place for me, and I don’t give myself hell when I’m not writing. So long as I’m doing something creative, I feel like I can maybe still pass as human. Mwahaha.

karen runge
Karen Runge

 

Dark Discourse

Women Not Shying Away From Horror

original article by Fahima Haque from NY Times

horror2-articleLarge
The filmmaker Jackie Kong directing the 1987 film “Blood Diner.”

We all know the cliché: The teenage girl suffers through a horror movie, while cowering behind her boyfriend. The equally frightened girl onscreen takes a sinister phone call from the slasher who is terrorizing an otherwise bucolic town.

But what about the women who live for horror movies, or wait in line for midnight creature features?

Fans of horror movies are not all white men, and the makeup of the filmmakers working in the genre is starting to reflect that. People of color, especially women of color, are making themselves heard in the industry. Jordan Peele’s sublime “Get Out” is one of the highest-grossing films this year. Critics raved about the Iranian-American director Ana Lila Amirpour’s beautiful vampire western “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” Karyn Kusama’s “The Invitation” was a tense, uncomfortable delight. Julia Ducournau’s “Raw” was so gory that viewers vomited in theaters. But meaningful change does not happen overnight. There are decades of assumptions about who should be making, and watching, horror films.

jackie Kong
Filmmaker Jackie Kong. Credit -Hedy Hutcheson

I recently spoke with three filmmakers who are women of color: Jackie Kong, the Chinese-American director of the 1987 cult classic “Blood Diner”; Mattie Do, 36, a Vietnamese-Laotian-American filmmaker who directed “Dearest Sister” and was the first woman to direct a feature film made in Laos; Maria Wilson, 28, the daughter of a white Honduran mother and a black father who directed her debut fantasy short “Venefica” on a budget of $1,000. Their comments have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

FH: What is it like for you in the industry?

JK: I don’t see anyone knocking on my door, I still have to bang on the door hard for them [film studios] to pay attention to my ideas. I am absolutely sure of that. This is real life. People ask me: “Have things changed?” I say, not really. You’re still not trusted; you’re still not hired. You can be this icon, this cult figure, but they have to be enlightened already, otherwise you’re fighting an uphill battle.

MD: I was born in the States, a child of refugees, and I’ve experienced a lot of identity crises. Some people say I’m too American, too Vietnamese or not Lao enough. At this point, I don’t give a rat’s ass about what anyone else thinks about my identity. I guess I’m a really belligerent person. It only makes my storytelling stronger. In the arts, you have to have the tenacity to do it. As the only woman who’s only made a feature film in this country, that has been a roller coaster. Either you can make a film if you’re extremely wealthy, or if a nongovernmental organization backs it. People scoffed, “Oh you’re not a filmmaker, you’ve never even been to university!” I had come to a point that dwelling on that wasn’t adding to my work. So I put my nose to the grindstone to make more content, almost proving I don’t care.

Maria Wilson
Scene from Maria Wilson’s “Venefica.”

MW: On set as a woman, you get this sense that you have to buckle down on emotions, and that way, people take you seriously. You don’t want to be highly emotional. The exclusion comes across so subtly. In between takes, men on set discuss films, and you’re not part of the discussion. Nothing is outright or blatant, and women have to prove themselves, whereas men are given the chance automatically.

Gender, in my own experience, is harder. The P.C. culture around race is so sensitive that even if someone is thinking something, in America it’s so hard to engage about race, whereas passably offensive things to a woman happen all the time. On set, I would say it’s more that I’m a woman, and in discussion with the world, I’m a brown person. It comes down to representation. We see diversity onscreen, and as bad as that diversity is, it doesn’t equate to the diversity as to who’s signing the checks. There’s no diversity in the lenses in which the story is being told.

Ultimately though, this is a liberal, progressive community. The world of horror and genre films is a very warm community; if you love horror, we love you. If the work resonates with them, they 110 percent want to help.

FH: How do you pay it forward when it comes to diversity?

JK: I explore that in front of the camera and behind the camera. My behind-the-camera staff was at least half women; my whole production staff were women; my dolly grip was a woman and my right-hand supervisor was a woman. I never saw that women couldn’t do the job. My set and cast looked like the U.N. I’m trying to now champion female directors of horror as a series. Kind of like how “Masters of Horror” was done with men.

Mattie Do
Filmmaker Mattie Do with Mango. Credit -Matthew Warren

MD: I care a lot about this. In my movie, the sisters look very different. In Laos, we have this ideal of light-skinned beauty. The blind girl in my film has very dark skin and has climbed a mountain of effort, and is now very famous. I wanted to show different kinds of people onscreen. The makeup of Laos is varied, including lots of ethnic indigenous people. I was the first person to make a story about women in the country. Women are usually the one that cries on cue, the one that waits to get rescued, or the one that waits to get proposed to. Women are the main characters in my movie, and people love it.

FH: Why do you think women of color like horror?

dearest
A scene from “Dearest Sister,” by filmmaker Mattie Do.CreditMatthew Warren

JK: Horror captures people’s fears in a way that might be symbolic; it represents some of the fears you have psychologically, and it lets you react to it. Everyone wants to pretend everything is business as usual, but horror lets you scream about it. The vicarious thrill of being scared feels cathartic. That’s why young women today get it and like it.

MW: So many women of color who have had traumatic experiences gravitate toward horror movies and geek out over comic books; it’s kind of a no-brainer to me.

Horror is very therapeutic. When I’m dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety, it helps you get away for a few hours and it’s a great way to be humbled. You realize your troubles could be a lot worse.

FH: What movie resonated with you as a kid, and made you want to make movies?

JK: I usually gravitate toward filmmakers more than movies, but the horror movie that’s viewed more as a documentary — “Freaks” by Tod Browning — left a strong impression. It used to run in the art house circuit, and is about the circus. It was haunting; it was a slice of Americana that you didn’t see. Real freaks.

Filmmaker maria wilson
Filmmaker Maria Wilson. Credit-Hannah Whitney

MD: One of the films that affected me the most was “The Killing Fields.” My Dad said: “I want to give you a lesson in life. While this is about Cambodia, I want you to see what a lot of us in Southeast Asia had to escape, the kind of life we left to rebuild a new one for you.” It tore me apart, and I can’t even watch it now without sobbing. It was a harrowing, amazing film. I think it scarred me completely, even into adulthood. To capture that kind of desperation and emotion that [the film’s producer,] David Puttnam had, I don’t know if I can ever achieve that. You feel all the pain and suffering these characters are experiencing.

MW: “Jurassic Park.” It’s horror when you start dissecting it that way. Bloody dinosaurs rip apart human beings and rip them around? Kids trapped in a car? It’s funny how it was classified as action. It packages so much in an enjoyable, terrifying film: the exploration of morality, mankind’s greed and our relationship with the natural world and technology. As a kid, seeing Laura Dern kicking ass, she showed me beauty and brains, and that as a woman you can do it all. It’s never left me.

SaveSave