Horror Experiment and My Newest Challenge

So this is something of a follow-up from my previous Blog entry “My Curve” that you can find by just scrolling back.

I’ve been thinking about the horror genre lately, particularly with regards to film, but being the person I am I also relate it back to horror writing. Better minds than mine have looked at horror and defined it through scholarship, or creativity. But after particularly focusing on cinematic horror, I see that there are so many different kinds of stories and storytelling, as well as production value, that make up the genre.

Some of it is psychological, or bodily, or just gore. Other parts of it are philosophical, or tacky, or just plain strange. It’s like how the comics medium has schlock and fine art, and all the variants in-between. You can find this in any genre or medium, I’m sure, but perhaps it’s because of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and its bent on what I think in my mind as “weird movies” that I tend to view cinematic horror along these lenses. I mean, the Toronto After Dark particularly focuses on independent — or indie — films, both short and long-form, but I tend to see horror cinema in that spectrum between ridiculousness and campy-themed features, and sophisticated, and nuanced with some cathartic elements that could easily have their roots in ancient tragedy. Then again, some of the antics that happen in horror film can easily be found in old Dionysian slapstick become comedy as well, and there is a reason I feel why some comedians, like Jordan Peele, can make such great horror social commentaries. I always get the feel of observing, and playing with, glorious pulp with these “weird films.”

I’m not writing anything new here. But I think maybe it’s because of the pandemic and thinking about medicine and doctors, as well as my own critical skills, that an idea occurred to me.

It began when Joe Bob Briggs said that a film had been reviewing for The Last Drive-In would soon be out of circulation on Shudder. This happens a lot, where AMC — the company that owns Shudder — will have the rights to show the films for a while, and then they will be gone. I also know that Shudder in different countries can generally only show those films in the countries where the copyright exists. So as a result some of The Last Drive-In episodes aren’t available anymore. And Shudder isn’t always clear on when they will disappear like a ghost in the rain.

So I went to watch this particular film that would soon be gone from Shudder. And … This was interesting. It was an old film, but seemed older given the terrible production value. It had a lot of great ideas, but the way they were carried out, combined with the said production value, and a “too many cooks” of characters and ideas, it just got weird, and unfocused, and out of control. Sometimes art happens by accident. Sometimes, disasters do as well. I think that’s what horror does. It makes things messy and sometimes there is order in it, and other times it can just become senseless.

So it was after watching this film, complete with commentary, that I started to really think about what worked in it, what could work in it, and what didn’t. And then I did something that I learned to do as a Humanities Graduate student, and a creator myself. I began to think more about how it could work, and how to make it work. Think of it as something of a script-doctor inclination, except I would convert it into a story. Into glorified fanfiction.

And I began to think to myself, there are other films like these out there. I’m not talking about modern ones, or ones that have their own logic. I mean ones that could have their own logic and consistency, old and forgotten films, or smaller ones that could just been tweaked in some way. And, of course — and most importantly — I would not be doing it for money, or profit.

It’s an extensive idea, to do some Horror-Doctoring. And obviously, my tastes are my own, but I would need to make the revisions or “remakes” consistent with what they are, to go back to the theme of the entire film, and the tone, and make it more cohesive, snappier, and just entertaining. Disqualified from this possible experiment would be more well-known or mainstream works, and films that are focused and cogent. I can always write separate fanfiction for those, as I always have.

I am not knocking them, and I appreciate them for what they are — flaws and all — and I would definitely not mess with something like The Room, which isn’t horror, and is so in its own league of weird reality and insanity that it needs to stay there.

But I have a candidate — or specimen — lined up already. And it’s eerie how my ideas are working. I began thinking about it before, and then I was sending these thoughts to a friend whom I got to watch it before adding more notes to myself.

I might post it up. And depending on how well it is received, I might continue with those experiments. I might also not do it. My focus is more mutable these days, but it’d be cool to post a column or section on “Horror-Doctoring” on here, or make something and then create something entirely original from the previous specimen that I can use in other places.

Basically, I am getting inspirational fuel which is a start into returning to the process of creation where I need to be. To engage both my critical and synthetic brains. To continue my experiments with the mess to make something else entirely. I will keep you posted.

I’m Not Locked In Here With You: Todd Phillips’ Joker

So I wrote an article for Joker on Sequart a little while ago now, but while they eventually will post it, I have some other more personal thoughts on some of the themes in the film: mainly why I like it, and why I relate to it.

I tend to call this Joker, or this earlier phase of him, the Arthur Fleck Joker. He isn’t the same as the Mark Hamill, the Heath Ledger, the Jack Nicholson, or the foolish Cesar Romero depictions. He isn’t even the comics Joker, any of them. This is the phase, the dress rehearsal, before the agent of chaos that we are going to get. I’ve always been fascinated, you see, with watching something in the process of being created, or creating itself. I find the best kinds of art, or artists, are those that you can see are constantly working on themselves. Mark Twain has a quote about knowing the details behind the creation of a miracle, and how it can take away from the simple joys of just experiencing it, yet I am someone who likes to — to borrow a phrase from Neil Gaiman — see the work backstage, and how it adds to the performance that we are given.

This Joker is a moment of realization in progress, of living two different lies at least, and then finding out who he actually is. That is what I took away from this film. Let me be clear about a few things though: I do not romanticize the Joker that kills people for amusement, or is an abuser. The one in this film is very different from those other depictions, though there are some similarities with regards to his more destructive actions.

But I really, like I said, love the process. We see Arthur wearing the clown makeup when he is at his gig helping a shop sell its wares, but a man wearing a clown costume does not a Joker make. Even the nervous, involuntary laughter doesn’t make the Joker. Not even the killing of those abusive rich men out of self-preservation, or the one out of a sense of street justice makes for the Clown Prince of Crime. The flirtation with this image, the sensuality of it in the restroom with blood-splattered on his face, his wig and clown nose gone, and his ragged elemental features at that point are a start. But he’s still Arthur. He still wants to be loved. He still wants to be a comedian, and to stop hurting.

Even the white makeup he has on when he kills the person who betrayed him isn’t quite there yet, and this after he discovers what he is — where he came from, how he was betrayed far worse before — and preparing for what he is going to do. He wants revenge, but he also wants the pain to stop: for the joke that is his life to finally end. That is the tipping point.

I would even say by the time he makes it to Murray’s show — to the man he used to look up as a father-figure before he publicly humiliated his non-neurotypical behaviour on television for laughs, and didn’t think anything of it — and when he decides to kill him instead of himself on national television, he’s still not Joker. But what started as practice in that restroom, and then choreograph when he danced down those flights of stairs, and then self-awareness by putting on a clown mask to hide in the discontent of Gotham’s lower class that made his actions against the rich into a memetic force, followed by one great bellow of selfish vengeance on a man and system that failed him … ends when he gets out of that car crash, and he uses the blood coming out of him to make a bloody smile on the costume whose lipstick had already faded. It was cheap and artificial. Now, the blood makes that twisted smile real.

Watchmen is bandied about a lot in terms of comics references. Hell, it even made it into the title of this Blog post. I don’t need it to sell Joker that’s already sold its own soul to the Devil of our collective imagination. But there is this idea in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work with the vigilante Rorschach. He starts out with a troubled past of childhood abuse as well, but that doesn’t make him Rorschach. It doesn’t make him Rorschach when Kitty Genovese is brutally raped and murdered publicly and her neighbours do nothing, and he vows to become a masked hero to stop other such incidents. He’s still just Walter Kovacs, an abused child taken to foster care, wearing the mask of Rorschach. Rorschach is still his alter-ego.

It isn’t until he hunts for a kidnapped baby, and finds out that the kidnapper fed the child to his dogs, and he burns the man alive that he isn’t Walter Kovacs anymore. He realizes he is Rorschach. And when he is hiding in plain sight as that Prophet of Doom in the background, Rorschach wears Walter Kovacs as his mask, just as the Joker wears Arthur Fleck’s face as a mask at the end of Todd Phillips’ film.

We can go into how in Star Wars Darth Sidious was the real self of the man who wore the mask of the politician Palpatine, or how Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne — though that last is highly debatable, though appropriate given that this article deals a great deal with his arch-nemesis. What I’m trying to illustrate is that none of these alter-egos becoming true identities happened overnight, or had always been their true selves. Parts of these personalities, these culmination of experiences, were there but there were other circumstances, and reactions to those events that precipitated the processes that made these happen.

That is how I understand a lot of what I’ve been going through this particular year. I don’t romanticize these characters. I think there are aspects of them, as archetypes, that are really fascinating and relatable, but they are not heroes. The Joker is not a good person, even if there are parts of him — of this one, and even his “burn everything bad to the ground” or “watch this flawed, disgusting world burn” attitude that my Id can sympathize with.

I guess the best way to describe it is that 2019 has been a different year for me. I’ve new people. I’ve had some new experiences, or explored them in a whole other way. I’ve been angry, and scared, and frustrated. I’ve delved into that fear. I’ve confronted it. I’ve pushed my comfort zone. I’ve worn my makeup and my masks. But I’ve realized that identities, especially those that we associate with things and events, are fluid. They change. And trauma in particular is a massive force behind some of those changes. There are ways to explore that power — trauma — in controlled environments with calculation and experimentation. Writing is one of those outlets, and the confines of the imagination. But sometimes it’s also trading stories and interactions with like-minded people. Sometimes it’s putting old selves behind you. Sometimes it’s realizing you are angry, and accepting it, and knowing that you are changing.

I think the most painful thing is trying to hold onto the person that you were, with all those experiences — good or bad — to stay in the past, because you will never be that person again. You will keep changing. That’s part of your nature. Some core tenets will remain the same, of course. But you will not have the same experiences again. We hold on out of fear, or resentment, or a genuine sense of overwhelming purposelessness. Where do we go from here? What do we do? And why is it I have this inclination to know where I can go, or what I can do, but not quite get there before … something? Right?

This year, I felt myself let go of a lot of attachments and realize some things are gone. And that they, most likely, needed to be gone. I still have to deal with more of these due to logistics, but I now understand that I don’t feel the same about them as I did. I don’t feel the way I used to, because very naturally I’m no longer that person. And that’s not a bad thing. I can still feel sad about it, even angry, but it doesn’t change anything beyond whatever it is I do next.

I’ve been busy, confronting those parts, dealing with the anxiety. I have fascinating friends and explorations. And I’m lucky. I felt my old self beginning to wane, to fade, but to also be subsumed by my new choices, and activities. It’s sad and you mourn it, but there is no other way to go on: even if you do need to remember to pace yourself. Imagine being Arthur Fleck, though, and realizing that your old self never really existed to begin with. Maybe it’s not that different, as nothing is permanent. It’s not a science, but I will argue with you that it can be art.

And that’s what I’m making. Even if I don’t write as much as I used to, or stay indoors as much in front of my computer, I am still expressing myself, and thus making art. I might have been wearing masks, but they are closer to being who I am now than where I was. And even despite that, masks aren’t false things. They are organic and we are all different people in different situations.

The New Year is coming up. I actually had myself made up as the Joker a while ago, and this great, rumbling laugh came from my chest. I’ve dressed as the Crow, but as people like to quote from that movie and perhaps even the comic from which it came “it can’t rain all the time.” The Crow isn’t supposed to smile, apparently. But I laugh. I love to laugh. But I also like to be between states, and know how the meat is made, or destroyed. I like to hide in plain sight, and plan things out. But sometimes, when I can get past the fear I just go with it accordingly.

I’ve actually liked 2019. It’s so far been a good, but challenging year. I will keep shedding more of the old as I go on, and it won’t be easy. But we all know that “laughter” has an extra letter in front of it sometimes. And it isn’t so much that I’m trapped here with my challenges.

It’s that they are trapped here with me. And, when I can, I intend to have my fun.Laughing Me

A Walkthrough

A spiritual sequel to Let’s Play.

A long time ago, now, I used to play Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I’d play it every day before school, during lunch time, or on one of my breaks, during the downtime waiting for food runs between the table-top role-playing games I’ve always had with my friends, and before bed when I really needed to sleep.

It wasn’t even the DX version, which might date me a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I did play it once and while when I got a GBC, but more often than not it’d be my old Gameboy with its chartreuse, grey-white casing, and faded grey yellow screen where I’d play the original. One of my friends might have told you about that already so I guess you’re not hearing anything particularly new.

Some retro players I know say that they like the 8-bit tunes: that it brings them nostalgia. You know the kind: the type that reminds you of being kids, not having to pay taxes, not working a dead-end job, not being on welfare or disability, always have energy — being so damned restless, vibrating with it — and going over to your best friend’s house after school. A lot of players like the original Zelda because of a similar feeling, you know? The Legend of Zelda was all cryptic and obscure on the NES, but it was really all about weird symbols, fighting monsters, and exploring. You never knew what you were going to find in that 8-bit world.

But to me, the music and pixels aren’t nostalgic. They don’t remind me of something that happened to me, of my childhood, or what I used to be. Playing those games reminds me of a place that doesn’t exist: that never did. When I played A Link to the Past, for example, it was new and exciting and tapped into a mythic place that even when you were directed to where you needed to go, there was still something new to discover in that colourful, dark world between worlds. And yeah, I’ve played Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask that both tried to be all third dimensional, and all the games that became part of a timeline. The Hyrule Historia is a beautiful clusterfuck that tried to take iterations of a legend and a myth, and impose a linear-chronology onto the experiences: or a least a heroic test of multiple choice.

And every time, when left to my own devices, I’d return to Link’s Awakening. But just like I don’t wear baseball caps nowadays, I don’t play that game anymore, at least not as often these days. I always said that one of the reasons why it’s my favourite Zelda game is that the game’s not about Princess Zelda at all … if any of them ever really have been. I’d relax into the familiar koan of Link gradually realizing that he is asleep in the dream of a greater, ancient being that dreamed an entire island into existence on the open sea. And I’d think to myself, way before the Historia ever came, that this was more the Adventure of Link than Zelda II, and its cool side-scrolling uneven linear weirdness, had ever been.

Way before I knew about artificial intelligence attaining consciousness, or awakening — far before dealing with Mother 2 and its Magicant that we barely missed out on in North America, I just felt that quest of Link encountering all the strange entities that made up his dreaming mind: his hopes, his humour, his play, his fears, and his pain. I mean, can you imagine being someone knowing that you will always have to save a princess? That she will never really be safe? That no matter what you do, you will have to go out there, or your kids, or spiritual successors will need to head out and fight the demons and the monstrosities that you can never fully quell? After a while, if you were that character — if that kind of character had a consciousness — the cycle would all seem so utterly meaningless.

But I think what made me really stop playing Link’s Awakening, was Marin.

Zelda isn’t the only girl you meet in the Zelda series. From Malon to Princess Ruto of the Zoras to Nabooru and her questionable gifts to helpful little boys … to Midna and her clever little games that lead to her true nature, all of them were interesting. And sometimes you had to save some of them, or fight alongside another, or do a quest for them. And whatever else, they always wanted something from Link.

Even now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s just life really, miniaturized and making you see just how things are. But Marin is … she was different. At the beginning of Awakening, Marin is the one that saves you. She nurses you back to health at her and her father Tarin’s hut. She sings songs in the Animal Village and it’s her song that helps you progress past the Walrus. And all you have to do, in exchange, is spend time with her. That’s it. You fool around with her in Mabe Village, falling down a well, playing the Trendy Game, and eventually talking on the side of the beach where she found you the first time … and you almost talk about real feelings.

Even when you do have to save her on Tal Tal Heights, she almost tells you something important: something that isn’t part of waking up the Wind Fish. By the time the game is almost over, she will teach you “The Ballad of the Wind Fish” and ask that you remember her when you leave the Island, as she will never forgive you if you forget her.

Of course, you always discover the truth: that Koholint Island was created from the dream of an ancient and powerful being known as the the Wind Fish, and that once the Nightmares keeping it asleep are defeated, it will awaken and the Island and everyone on it will cease to exist.

In the end, when I look back on the game now Marin, the girl who saved Link, and never asked anything from him aside from spending some time with her … also never existed. At least Midna exists somewhere in the Twilight Realm. In many ways for Link, it’s so much worse than someone you love being dead, than not being in the same reality anymore, than your Princess even being in another Castle.

I’m a lot older now, obviously, since the first time I played this game … since even the first couple of times I played it. I can refer, roughly, to a Japanese sentiment of mono no aware: an understanding of the beauty of sadness in the transitory nature of things. I can also go into some Classical Western thought and look at a woman representing the wisdom that a man gains when he ultimately loses her, especially by his own hand: as Link did when he beat all Eight Nightmares, and used the song that Marin taught him to awaken the Wind Fish.

Yeah. Even now, I’m still not comfortable with either thought: that Marin had to cease to exist, that she had never existed, so that Link could complete his own awakening as a whole person away from Zelda … before, you know, presumably returning to Hyrule and reaffirming the cycle all over again. Hell, Marin even looked like Zelda, when it comes right down to it.

That was my final koan, really, as we all finished high school. What did it mean when you met someone — when Link meets someone who helps him, who just wants to spend time with him in exchange and ends up never existing? Is gaining and losing someone like her the only way he could be free? And was he truly free? I used to dream about it, at times, even when I fell asleep in front of my laptop playing the “Sword Search” theme of Link’s Awakening: the song making me think of a Link who had gone old and grey, who’d retired from adventuring, who had put the Master Sword away for his successors, and dozed on his front porch remembering bygone days when he was a hero and he persevered, and had many quests. I wondered if sometimes, in his sleep, he thought about a seagull singing her song across the world. I wondered if, in his sleep, he ever murmured her name, after all that time.

I was a very angry kid back then. Like I said, the game was never nostalgic. For me, it always reminded me of the present. And when the present became the past after a while, and I got tired of playing and watching playthroughs past 5 am, I put the game away, and moved onto other things.

The thing about a game is that when it frustrates you, it generates the opposite of a Zen state. And it’s in that negativity, when you can’t solve that part, that sometimes you need to step away and do something else for a while. Maybe one day, after I’ve played some other games, I will return to this one, searching across an invisible shore, an ephemeral beach. And maybe then, I’ll finally find the answer.

Steven Universe: From My Crystal Heart

Spoiler Warning: There are series spoilers in the body of this article. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

As of this writing, I just finished watching the latest series of episodes of Steven Universe: in the Heart of the Crystal Gems arc. And, I think, this is an article for the fans.

I’ve written about Steven Universe, and the Crystal Gems elsewhere. It is a show very close to my heart. I wouldn’t have seen it coming, really. It is a children’s cartoon show with some very elemental illustration, brightly coloured animation, musical sequences, and humour. It is also a show with depth, character development, and world-building that slowly builds into some excellent storytelling. It talks about feelings. Some people might scoff, or laugh about feelings, but emotions are complex things, and Steven Universe doesn’t skim over that fact.

It is a show that starts off as a Magical Girls trope subverted into a story about ancient extraterrestrial mineral beings — sentient Gems that can take humanoid, feminine form — dealing with the aftermath of rebelling against an intergalactic conqueror empire with which they belonged, the horrors of war, the consequences of secrets and regrets, while also eating strange food, dealing with the zany humans of Beach City, misunderstanding human customs in ridiculous ways, and singing about their feelings: how happy they are, how sad they are, how angry they are, how afraid they are, and how it is all right to feel all those emotions: loss, pain, humour, and joy.

I have also stated elsewhere that it is a show about relationships. This is shown with how they deal with humans and their environment, but also how the Gems deal with each other: and how they Fuse. Fusion is something of a Go, Go Power Rangers mechanic where they combine together to form a whole new being to fight against monsters. But even as the show questions what monsters really are, what evil is, what good is, it also looks at the mentality of Fusion: of Fusion as an extended metaphor for intimate relationships.

Garnet, the leader of the Crystal Gems, is a Fusion and emblematic of the entire theme of the show: made all the more apparent by recent events in the series of just how inspirational she truly is. She is the Fusion of a prophetic Sapphire, and a short-tempered Ruby. And you watch as she works well, as she falls apart, as she recombines, as she is two people who after thousands of years is still getting to each other and the expression of love: the action, the living verb that is Garnet.

And the show makes no bones about it. What Garnet is, this almost permanent state of Fusion often taken once and a while, or between Gems of one kind for purposes of war or building, is not the norm. It is an exception. Not the love, of course. Love can manifest in different ways, among different beings.

And watching hem recently deal with another hurdle in their Fusion, in their reason to Fuse, in their relationship made me think about something.

Sometimes, you don’t always keep your Garnet. Sometimes you don’t always find your Sapphire and everything you think you know will happen, doesn’t … or you ignore the fact that you know what will happen, because you just don’t want to know. Sometimes you don’t find your Ruby, and that place of spontaneity and bravery amid the humility that keeps something so truly special.

I suppose that is a misnomer, however. I think what I mean is when sometimes you don’t find your Ruby or your Sapphire, when I say you don’t always keep your Garnet what I am really saying is that sometimes your Ruby and Sapphire doesn’t stay.

It can be different, of course. Sometimes you are Ruby and Sapphire, and Garnet. And sometimes you are a Garnet that has fun with an Amethyst, or a Garnet that lets a Pearl Fuse with her sometimes, or offers to show a ridiculous Peridot how to Fuse and places no pressure either which way.

But sometimes you do not stay Fused. Sometimes you have to separate. Sometimes it is just temporary as you talk outside the action that is Garnet. Sometimes you have to deal with other Gems, other people. Sometimes you have deal with the fact that you are other people too, or that there are other people that make up the totality of you. Sometimes you come back together, stronger than you were before.

Sometimes, you don’t.

Sometimes you are a Rose Quartz that doesn’t want to keep secrets, but doesn’t know how to do anything more and just as you stay with your Pearl, you find many others in your life before losing yourself to the experience, the dynamic, each time. Sometimes you are that Pearl waiting for your Rose Quartz to come back to you. Sometimes you are that Pearl pining for a Rose Quartz that will not — that cannot — come back.

Or you’re a cranky flustered Peridot that is used to the way things are, and you don’t see how lucky you are to meet other Rebels who can show you how life is, and that they will actually stay with you. Sometimes you are that Lapis Lazuli that’s been hurt and you flee the prospect of more pain while taking the barn, and the knick-knacks, while viewing the life that you left behind, that went on without you, that is going on without you on the Moon: missing it always.

You could also be that Bismuth whose Gem is inverted, and you try to do the right thing while always feeling a bit of loneliness while engrossing yourself in your work. Or, you’re that Jasper. You know the one: the one that feels like you have to prove yourself to everyone, and you wonder why you can’t hold a Fusion each time.

Or you’re a Diamond and you are hard and unyielding in your rules and strictures, but even the hardest heart can shatter under the right circumstances.

Perhaps the best thing to be, though and in retrospect, is an Amethyst. Sometimes you still don’t know what’s going on, but you don’t always care, and you just go with it until you realize that your one thousand year baggage is your own, and that you change yourself for only one person: you.

Mind you, being an Off Color — for all Gem society rejects it or hunts you down — can be fun too. You can all be freaks together, and who knows? Maybe you might become part of a great, old, chosen family of Fusion like a Fluorite, if you are brave enough, and if that is who you really are.

It’s easy, given that  Padparadscha Sapphire’ retrovision is 20/20, to look back and see the point where your foundation or body can vanish, or where you shatter, or whether or not you should have eaten all that garbage as Amethyst … or overeaten those Cookie Cat ice cream cookies that were so full of love that they made the Gem on your body, that makes up your very being, shine.

I don’t suppose there is a point to any of this. There never is. I’ve lost a lot of things over the years. Some I’d seen coming. Some I did not. Some I wish I hadn’t. You don’t always get to keep your Sapphire. You don’t always get to keep your Ruby. And Garnet, under most circumstances, never stays forever. That state of being, that insulated bubble and the barn with the weird art pieces and the animated Pumpkin entity pet can’t always be there in that current form.

Yeah. If you haven’t watched the show yet, that is a whole long, other story.

I don’t cry as much these days. But I do when I watch this show. It lets me. It’s appropriate when I do. Every time, especially now. I never thought it would have gotten into my life as much as it has. Under my skin. Into my heart. If only people were like the Gems, or even the people of Beach City where problems can always be solved through talking, and no one has to be that Jasper who sucks as Fusion forever.

But I think, as long as Steven Universe exists … as long as shows like it exist and the people that create them continue to possess this form of empathy — a strength of compassion and emotional depth — even if I never Fuse again, even if I feel disembodied, or broken, or flawed, or shattered, or “not made right” like an Off Color … even if I have to be alone like a moping Peridot, or a sad Lapis Lazuli just knowing something like it exists out there, like a Garnet who is almost always Fused and actually marries after over five thousand years honestly?

I can live with that. Despair, perhaps I am stronger than you, like an Amethyst on some Cookie Cat.

Or, you know: this lucky, awesome guy who has grown so much.

Treat or Trap: Toby Fox’s Undertale

In honour of Halloween, tonight’s quick and dirty Mythic Bios article will be a video game review appropriate to the season at hand.

It is a fine game to play on an autumn afternoon or Halloween night. Imagine taking Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and combining it with Abby Howard’s The Last Halloween, apparently some Earthbound and some subversive turn-based RPG mechanics and what you might get is Toby Fox’s Undertale. And this description doesn’t do the game any justice.

Undertale

In Undertale, you play as a child who has climbed up Mount Ebott and found themselves in the Underground: the site of which the race of monsters was banished ages ago in an ancient war with humankind. Now, there are two ways you can play this game. However before I go on, I want to reiterate something. A long time ago, I mentioned that a friend of mine truly appreciates “games with consequences.”

So imagine the phrase “games with consequences” existing in a Dictionary somewhere. If you can do that, think of the picture right beside the entry. That picture would be Undertale.

The first way you can play this game is to utilize one of its unique mechanics. This Path is called the Pacifist Run. That’s right. You can play through the game by killing absolutely no one. But what fun is that, you might ask? Well, imagine a child’s world. Think of a child coming across an Underground world of monsters: each one with their own hopes, dreams, and fears. Consider how scared children can be, but also how curious they often become, and then think about how they might handle a situation with a strange and eccentric being compared to how an adult might — or might not — do so.

Ironically, in a lot of ways the Pacifist route is a lot harder than its … opposite. But if you play it right: if you get to know the monsters and realize they are not different from you — and if you pay very close attention to details — you will be well rewarded.

And then you have the other … route. The alternative isn’t that hard to figure out if you are a long-time gamer. Basically, when you encounter monsters you consider them enemies and you essentially kill them all. You kill them and take their EXP. You level up. You will also learn a lot about this world, but your lessons — for all the ease of killing and staying to the tried, tested, and true mentality of being a gamer — will ultimately be harder ones.

It might be all the difference between an epic fantasy adventure … and a personal horror game.

I’m not going to go into much more detail beyond any of this, I’m afraid. To be honest, I’m just not feeling it. Toby Fox and his team create an excellent archetypal world of almost cartoonish beings, but with a lot of heart and serious subject matter amid some silliness verging into the profound. Also … they play with the form of the medium and genres that they are working with: a lot.

I really appreciate the story and the surface level simpleness of the game belying its true complexities. It is a game filled, literally, with heart but also secrets, and mysteries: some of which have still not even been solved to this very day. The music and graphics hearken back to the 8-bit nostalgia prevalent in much of the independent game scene.

But if I had one major quibble with Undertale, it’s ironically with the core of what it is: that actions have consequences. I will tell you right now: as with real life, if you are not at all careful your actions will leave a permanent mark on your gaming experience. And no amount of Saving or Restarting will ever change this. In fact, you can count on Saving or Restarting to have consequences of their own.

It is amazing to see a game that is so moralistic to the point of being both forgiving at times, and completely unforgiving: while also not being particularly all that preachy. Sometimes, it will give you just a few opportunities to see something wonderful but if you’re slow or you don’t pay attention, you will miss it. Yet what’s worse is that you will not get the entire story through one playthrough. It’s just not possible. You will miss details if you only have one playthrough. But the Catch 22 of another playthrough is, well that …

Consequences will be on you.

I’m just going to say this: this game is a self-aware completionist’s bane. Perhaps the best way to explain this without spoilers is to talk about two other games. Gaming Pixie created her own RPG: She Who Fights Monsters. At the very end, depending on your choices — even those made in the blink of an eye — and how much you pay attention to details, you will have only a few chances to get a particular ending. Your actions will colour what you get.

At the same time, there is also the lesson inherent in Gaming Pixie’s Shadow of a Soul. Sometimes, the only way to play a game is to not play that particular game at all. Either way, I hope that you will play Toby Fox’s Undertale and that no matter what you do you will stay determined.

Who Wants To Be Luigi

There is always someone who can relate to Luigi.

Let me be clear on the matter. It’s not because they were necessarily the younger sibling stuck with being Player Two on their Famicom or Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s not because they’ve felt second best throughout most of the entirety of their lives, or feel like they are only talked about in relation to a “better person:” to the point of their last name being the first name of said before.

I’m not talking about Luigi in the original games or even the newer adventures that have been released in recent years: particularly in The Year of Luigi.

No, I think that most of the people who can relate to Luigi have played Super Mario Brothers 2.

Yes, I know. Super Mario Brothers 2 is problematic. I mean, in addition to it only being a single-player game for the multiple choice of characters at your disposal, it is also goes in and out of being Doki Doki Panic: the intended Mario sequel, made into its own game, and whose bones made the game we all know and love from the late 1980s.

And in this game we have another problematic character. For the first time we see that Luigi is different from Mario! He is not just Mario with a green hat and shirt under blue overalls. He is taller and thinner. And he even jumps higher than his brother.

For the jumping alone, Luigi should be superior to Mario. The problem in the problematic here, however, is one simple fact: much like my green-feathered budgie, Luigi sometimes has troubles when he attempts to land.

It’s true. He jumps magnificently in the air only for his feet to spin under him in a slapstick cartoonish fashion. This is especially annoying when you try to aim for a platform: which might as well be made of ice due to the fact that Luigi is too busy spasmodically moving up and descending.

I know I’ve been frustrated many times in attempting to control Luigi’s jumps: just for him to scuttle or slide off a platform or a brick. It can be downright infuriating.

But imagine what it’s like to be Luigi. Mario doesn’t jump as high as you, but he is a more dependable jumper and lander (for the most part).  He is consistent. He gets the job done. People generally like him a lot more. And it all seems so effortless. It’s as though its all innate: all natural to him.

Yet you, Luigi, know you can jump high –higher than anyone else in the game — but you have to work at it. You have to think it out, and you become self-conscious of that process. Maybe you have more energy to expend than Mario. Perhaps you are so afraid of potential danger that you have to channel that frenetic energy somehow, or you’re excited, or that is just how you move under scrutiny. Or maybe you wish you could glide more like Princess Peach.

Maybe you like to imagine that you can fly.

And it only gets worse when someone is frustrated with you or draws attention to you when you attempt to jump under orders. Some might find it right on hilarious. And few people, if they only see you in one video game — in Super Mario Brothers 2 — will ever truly appreciate your jump. All they will see is how you struggle, and fail, and fall.

Luigi

That is why I think some people like Luigi better: not because he’s perfect, or even good. But because they are Luigi: and they don’t get the luxury of a curtained stage with a Player Select Screen.

This is Halloween

This will be the first of two posts that you will see today.

I spent a lot of weeks before and during Halloween differently. When I was a child I would be inundated with television specials, movies, school events, and trick-or-treating. As an adolescent, I spent some time with my group of friends. In my early adulthood I spent a lot of it by myself trying to remember how happy I used to be and imagining all the other people who were having fun that I did not. I spent the rest of my young adulthood, alternatively, with friends and sometimes on my own.

I almost went to a Halloween party last year but I didn’t. I was too depressed and I did what I often do in that state: sleep and work.

This past while I’ve been doing something different for Halloween. Instead of wandering around outside at night in the dark aimlessly, or watching television, or hanging out with friends and lovers I have been busy.

I have been busy.

Last week or so, I covered six films in the 2014 Toronto After Dark for GEEKPR0N. I even covered an extra day, a Wednesday, so I could watch one film that was recommended to me. Those of you that read this Blog or my work at GEEKPR0N already know about this. I wrote reviews on The Drownsman, Wolves, Late Phases, Wyrmwood, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, and Why Horror?

And it was difficult. There were many times I thought I could just watch the films, then go straight home, and write something out that night. But even though I got wiped out, it was totally worth it. The irony is that once, long ago, I was told that I should write reviews for movies — or movies like these — and I didn’t think I was qualified to do so. It’s only in relatively recent times that I’ve realized that the only way to be qualified to do anything is to make yourself so, and start to believe it.

I got some other things published in honour of Halloween as well. Not only did I write a nice short article on the end of Kris Straub’s Broodhollow Book Two, but I got to examine and see just how a creepypasta created by Eric Heisserer the subreddit no/sleep truly lures readers into fear and trepidation. If you have read my articles on creepypastas, you know something of what you might be in for when you read this particular piece of mine.

But I think there is one achievement in particular that I can really be proud of mentioning. Do you recall, that week or so ago before I went off the Mythic Bios grid again, that I was doing another interview: this one live and in-person? Well, with the help and guidance of GEEKPR0N and Toronto After Dark organization … the following actually occurred.

David Hayter Fav and Retweet

Not only did David Hayter, the screen writer of the first two X-Men films and Watchmen as well as the voice of Solid Snake favourite and retweet my review of his movie Wolves I also got to interview him before Werewolf Night at the Toronto After Dark.

You can find my interview with David Hayter right here.

So that has been my time leading up to Halloween so far. The rest of what I intend to do, however, is as follows. Later this evening I am going to the Silver Snail Halloween Party: the same one I didn’t end up attending last year. I don’t have a costume idea as of yet and I’m having some difficulty finding make-up after my last misadventure but I’m going and to anyone living in Toronto or nearby, I hope that you will join me. It’s organized by GEEKPR0N, in part, and it makes some pretty awesome parties and I don’t intend to miss this one this time around.

The next day I’m going to the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery to pay a visit to Drawing For Deb: In Support of Epilepsy Toronto. There will be signings and a 12-Hour Comics Marathon: Special Edition there to raise money to combat epilepsy which claimed the life of Debra Jane Shelly: a well-known friend of the comics community and someone that I only began to know when I first started coming to the Lounge. She was an awesome person and there will be some good people there. I’ve realized long ago that I am just not an artist with pictures, so I will be attending to pay my respects and I may not be there the entire day.

And then the next day I will be going to Horror-Rama: an all-horror convention where I want to explore and particularly meet Jovanka Vuckovic: the brilliant upcoming director of the Jacqueline Ess film adaptation.

Then somewhere, somehow I will catch up with my Doctor Who recaps and next week get back to my fiction writing and probably sleep for a few centuries as I am bloody exhausted.

So this is both what I have been doing, and what I am going to do. It’s funny. When I was reviewing Why Horror? I started thinking about just how it is effective. When I was a child I read many abridged versions of horror stories, listened to and read written down folktales and urban myths. And I would spend time in the now-defunct Hollywood Movies store reading the backs of horror film VHS tapes. I would attempt to avoid watching them, scared of being caught in the web of their details and becoming committed, but so very fascinated with what I might find.

Not much has changed. I think the reason that horror is so fascinating is the fact that when you look at all the gore, the grisliness, and the uncanny you see what you are not and you also get to see a bit of what you are. You are ultimately safe and in sensible surroundings, or so you think, and it gives you a rush of life — of vitality — in the autumn.

That’s why some people have sex after watching horror. That’s why some people have an urge to create stories and study mythologies after watching horror. That’s why people gather around their friends and celebrate their grisly façades: the orange light in the darkness. That’s ultimately why I’m rambling right now.

I’ve spent my life fascinated by, and avoiding life. But it lures you in. It is the ultimate horror but it is also a spectacle, and best experienced in good company. I hope that, today in sharing all of this with you, that I got to be the latter.

Happy Halloween, my friends.

Change

I spent much of my youth somewhere else.

It’s not too much of a surprise really: especially when you consider what I was and what I would ultimately become.

You would find me reading one of the Oz books during a special session of class. Or reading a book from The Belgariad in the car on the way to a funeral. You’d better believe that I was reading comics when I was dragged to synagogue and philosophy texts were my in-depth friends in my adolescence. I’m not going to even go into the many games, arts and crafts, and stories I wrote to distract myself from being bossed around and general tedium when I was sent off to summer day camp. And I would watch and rewatch old Muppet and Disney cartoon movies on my VCR whenever I was home from school.

But the fact is, from grade School all the way through the end of high school I must have created and read most of my life away. I miss the immersion that staved off the banal mundane world and its gritty, disappointing, adult reality from my life.

It got harder to keep the world away once I got into university. My magical rotes, such as they were, began to falter and fail. Once, when I had to do so many things I hated or tolerated I always had that space to retreat into: that alternate place where I could focus on more intellectual and imaginary matters.

I had so much time. When I was younger, time was limitless and most of it was spent wanting to be somewhere else when I didn’t want to do something else. But then time began to speed up. Sometimes it would slow down again and become stagnant with the dead-end nature of reality.

Reality again. It was creeping in. It’d been doing that towards the end of high school and I always knew it was there: just waiting for me. And it scared me. It was more complex and wondrous than the terrors of daytime Fox talk-shows. It was politics, and plurality, and many experiences, and human horror, and girls.

I’m glad I met the girls.

I think that explains a lot about the person that I am now: for however long that lasts.

It’s strange. These past few years time feels like it slowed down, or went by in the blink of an eye. Sometimes I wonder if that span even existed. You see, time did slow down but in that stagnant place of perceived adult failure. The thing is: I had gotten out into the world, if you want to call academia part of the world as it is.

I couldn’t handle the rest of it. And the refuge of books, films, comics, and cartoons were only temporary retreats in front of a cold, grey reality. And I know that age-old danger: of knowing it could be worse, that it can and for some it really is that.

I got tired.

But something has been happening. Time is moving fast again. These past two years, some of it spent by myself, I still knew that my time was not infinite. But it is getting faster again, if that makes sense. Things are happening. Things have been happening.

My reality marble of purely writing all the time is harder to keep around me against that perception of reality of which I’ve not done much in the way of justice. Things are happening.

Things are changing.

It scares me. It scares me to know that after some years of being sedentary I’m going to be moving around again. I’ve gotten too used to my sense of exile. I know how dramatic that sounds in this somewhat disjointed post. I didn’t even know what I was going to write this time around considering all of my circumstances but I think, when it is all said and done, that this a good thing.

It is the only thing. I’m changing and I can’t always keep up with those changes and their multitude of event horizons. But I can try. And I know and I have to believe that there are people who will be there alongside me, who will still be patient with me, as this continues to happen.

Soon I’m going to be out of my bubble. And you know, it’s time.

My rotes may not work as well as they did, but perhaps now is not the time to dwell in other spaces.

Now is the time to act: in this space.

Matthew and the Daleks

What Scares You Will Be Its Soul: My Dead Girlfriend and Project: Dark-Seed

This post contains horror, disturbing images and, worst of all, *spoilers.* Reader’s discretion is advised. 

When Dream created the Corinthian a long time ago in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, his original aim was to construct a sentient dream that represented humanity’s fear of its own darkness. In the end, of course, he became more like a simple serial killer than anything as grand as a being that could make dreamers face the worst parts of themselves.

Corinthian Uncreated

The Corinthian’s initial failure as a dark mirror in which humanity could see the other part of its soul is a fitting metaphor when you hear discussions about the horror genre: particularly how gore and spectacle can take precedence over slow, creeping, uncanny elements out of the corner of your eye and the fear of the unknown or the forgotten.

And then you have creepypastas.

Kris Straub is already doing a web series called Scared Yet in which he looks at and dissects creepypastas: examining how they work, and how they don’t. He said once, in his now defunct Ichor Falls Blog, that many creepypastas fall into a formula or a series of tropes. You know: Jeff the Killer that is the result of bullying and acid being thrown on his face becoming ala the Joker analogue, a whole series of cursed video games bought from a creepy old man who may or may not vanish after a purchase, every story about Disney symbolizing institutionalized and secretive evil, and all the rest of it.

Many beginning writers can do this: they find stories that appeal to that part of them and they imitate them. Even so, many of these pastas have somehow become viral memes as they tap — sometimes even in a shallow manner — into that sense of universal horror and dread in humanity.

But then there are others …

There. Are. Others.

I have talked about Candle Cove before: created by the aforementioned Kris Straub. But a few days ago this little gem manifested itself:

My dead girlfriend keeps messaging me on Facebook. I’ve got the screenshots. I don’t know what to do. It is a story that was created on a subreddit called r/nosleep: where people seemingly write stories that commenters respond to as if they are real accounts. You can find a more polished version of it right here. But in many ways the original is much more diabolical and I will explain why.

First of all, like Candle Cove, it uses its medium to effect. But while Candle Cove emulates a Message Board, complete with user typos and all that loveliness, My Dead Girlfriend is already on a subreddit: a forum that functions as a series of comments stacked up on each other in a grey background with faded white fonts.

But goes further than that. My Dead Girlfriend also has links to what seem to be screen captures of Facebook Private and Public Chats. It utilizes Tags in empty spaces. And then there is the writing style to consider. While Kris Straub utilizes typos in Candle Cove, natesw or Nathan — which I suspect are personas — writes this from the first-person in something of a epistolary format: a series of journals or reports of the phenomenon occurring. Moreover, the writing from natesw’s persona on r/nosleep is clear, with no typos whatever, and possesses proper sentence structure, spelling, and grammar.

Yet the Facebook Chats he has “screen-captured” have the typos and fragmented sentences. And the dialogue between him and his dead girlfriend gets juxtaposed and played with like a twisted form of poetry. These two modes, the first-person of the subreddit text and the third-person and visual aids of the Facebook images complement each other. Unfortunately, if you go by the subreddit the ending could be lost: if it is indeed the ending.

Read the second, cleaner tickld version though: and look at the very last image that it shows you.

Creepy, no?

Remember, you have to find Candle Cove. My Dead Girlfriend finds you.

Ghost Writer

It’s still finding us. When Candle Cove was first sent to me, it had been around for a few years. Right now, though, My Dead Girlfriend is still spreading.

And the story had me before that image too. My friend and I were talking about this into the wee hours of Sunday and she told me that it had her at “FRE-EZING.” This was the only original word that “Emily” was able to construct, or revealed. You see, we never know whether Nathan’s torment is the result of a sick hacker, Nathan’s own subconscious mind projecting the grief of his trauma into messages from Emily, or … the fragments of Emily’s traumatized essence not completely realizing that she is dead and going to the place and person that she knows more than herself: perhaps even trying to make up for the reluctant displays of affection that she showed Nathan in life before she died on her way to their apartment.

Basically, the story is left open-ended. And there is the challenge in the recipe right there. You have to basically know that balance between detail and that open-endedness. If you have too much detail, people will question the specifics and your creepypasta will deflate into skepticism. On the other hand, if you are too grandiose and you try to encompass everything your structure will either never grow or will fall apart at the seams.

I think one element to know what medium you want to use and how you want to structure it. At the same time, you need to know what story you want to tell. Images, photoshopped or otherwise, help too. Another advantage that My Dead Girlfriend has is the fact that it has many commenters either playing along (being the poster’s friends or general fans of the subreddit) or are so taken by the Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds Effect that they are genuinely giving the poster natesw advice. But this story also manages to tap into the general and the specific. The characters and personas have names. There are dates. The accident that took Emily is revealed in slow and painful detail. The uncanny is tapped.

And that is the difference right there: that last ingredient. You can study the remnants of a miracle, but you can’t really reconstruct its soul from what is left. Or, in my case and in the case of other writers, you can’t create an original soul of a new story by purely examining leftovers alone.

I can tell you how these stories work, but it’s like deconstructing a joke. It’s just not funny after. It’s just not horrifying. And anything that I make from this, as it has been a long-term goal of mine to create a viral horror meme after my girlfriend had showed me Candle Cove, would just be a shallow or empty form.

I have many ideas for a creepypasta. It was the very aim of my Project: Dark-Seed. But after that conversation with my friend last night, I realized something. I realized just why the Corinthian was such a failure to Dream.

Dream even admitted that the fault was his own. Dream created the Corinthian to embody humanity’s fear of its own darkness, but despite the fact that Dream is an embodiment of the sentient impulse of imagination and dreaming, he isn’t human. Until his imprisonment in Preludes and Nocturnes, and slowly before with his human friend Hob he never tried to get close enough to humans to actually understand their perspective.

Dream could observe human darkness, but he didn’t really know how they experienced it. He couldn’t relate to his audience. The Corinthian, who was intended to be a classic horror tale became a gory spectacle because he only engaged humans on that superficial level. Unlike Dream’s other stories, other dreams and nightmares, the Corinthian wasn’t made from a pre-existing concept or a sentient being made into something more. He was Dream’s attempt at original creation and imitation of life and he failed.

He was an empty shell that tried to fill himself with gore and eyeballs and attention. As Dream’s creepypasta to humanity, the Corinthian falls short. That is the same reason why some creepypastas and horrors stories fail because the creator doesn’t try to relate to their audience. In terms of comedy, the joke doesn’t amuse them.

The story doesn’t scare them.

But what would have happened if the Corinthian scared Dream? What would have happened if Dream thought about what scared him and made the Corinthian in that image? What happens when a horror writer creates a monster that scares them, that makes them feel goose flesh at the mere thought of it: of that thing at the corner of their consciousness that they logically know can’t happen or exist, but deep down knows?

Who knows. Perhaps Dream’s re-creation of the Corinthian after his own imprisonment and exile changed the model. Perhaps he just needed a catalyst to tap him into that deep black pool of universal horror and white noise, take a piece of it, and fashion from its substance a soul to fill the emptiness.

Static

Perhaps a creator only needs to find something to be scared of in order to create a nightmare that can be shared with the world.

Now if that isn’t the beginning of a story of one’s descent into creative damnation, I don’t know what is. The powers help me. I think I have been writing too much in hell. But the moral of this story is that some people like their pastas filled with gore or emptiness.

I like my pastas to be filled with darkness: from the heart.

Corinthian

Human-Hide Bound: Poets in Hell

My apologies for the false advertising behind the title, but it did grab your attention and lies are just one commodity that are trafficked in hell: where sometimes truths are far greater weapons and torments.

It’s been a long time since I’ve released two posts in one day, but to paraphrase the words of a co-writer you work at least twice as hard when you write for hell. So, really, why shouldn’t that philosophy apply to promoting POETS IN HELL?

So let me start this off by reminding you that POETS IN HELL, with my short story WHEN YOU GAZE INTO AN ABYSS, is available on Kindle. However, not only is it also available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook but it has finally been released in trade paperback.

And, to further entice you, we have the following. First, I now have the privilege of showing you a wrap around book cover:

Poets in Hell Full Cover

And, there is more. Secondly, my aforementioned fellow writer, Joe Bonadonna has written a review of POETS IN HELL for the Black Gate Magazine. In addition to an Afterward written by our leader and Heroes in Hell creator Janet Morris outlining practically every challenge we faced in getting this book to see the light of infernity, you will find a blurb about every story written by every writer involved in POETS.

It’s a big deal to me. When I was younger and back when the Black Gate accepted epic fantasy stories, I very much wanted to write something for them. And so, in a round-about way, I finally did: or at least I got my name and work mentioned in good company for an article written on their site. If only twenty-something year old Matthew could see this now, he’d … probably be shocked at how I write now and where, but I think he would really like it. The fact is, I agree with Joe: it takes a great deal of effort to write for a place as infinite as hell. It challenges you every step of the way, but its white-hot rewards are worth it: along with all the laughs, pathos, and screaming that you earn along the way.

Speaking of being vocal … our fellow writer Zombie Zak and his crack team of Hellions decided to begin a little … project. I’d like to present, to you, some recorded excerpts from POETS IN HELL.

First up, we have a hint of Yelles Hughes’ RED TAIL’S CORNER:

Followed by a little bit of Joe Bonadonna‘s own WE THE FURIOUS:

There will be more excerpts coming, including one of my own. Some of you will even get to hear my actual voice for the first time. I hope I don’t sound too terrible … in a bad way. 😉

In the meantime please fan out the flames of hell and aid us in spreading the word of POETS.

And as I said before, my story in Poets is called: “When You Gaze into an Abyss”: starring Lilith, the first wife of Adam and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Here are the places where you can find our book:

By Book
By Nook
By Kindle

Finally, please have a look see at our publishers’ site: Perseid Press. They make some awesome books.