Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Published Halloween Season 2006:
On Friday the 13th, I attended my first zombie walk. If you’re not familiar with this growingly popular activity, it’s basically a case of life imitating art. Or life imitating death, if you prefer. A group of people get together, apply some ghastly greasepaint and ragged, often bloody zombie attire, then shamble through a populated area to a designated destination, often a cemetery or movie theatre.
The general idea is to stay in character, offering the vacant stare and clumsy shuffle that is so endearing to us lovers of the dead. Those who choose to offer themselves up as victims for the ravenous hordes usually indicate their status as would-be zombie chow by flashing a ‘V’ for victim sign, better known as a peace sign. They can then expect to be attacked and presumably dismembered. Designated victims are known to bring along some prosthetic body parts or entrails to add to the effect.
The reasons for participation are numerous. Some insist they are making a statement about how information overload is desensitizing us. Others do it as tribute to the movies of Romero, Fulci and company. It fills my twisted, black heart with pride as a member of the horror community that many of these shamble-fests double as food drives or fundraisers. Plus, it’s another excuse to dress up and have a good time. You have to see the mystified stares of innocent bystanders to appreciate the surreal nature of the event.
To add a little flavor, I brought along a brain made of jello, struck from one of those overpriced molds you can get at Halloween shops. I offered it up on the last leg of the walk, and was pleased to see it quickly devoured by the hungry hordes. However, a friendly ghoul informed me that participants are instructed not to accept anything from strangers, which, unfortunately makes good sense. Perhaps would-be servers of brains and body parts should contact the organizers of the events beforehand. Too bad this sort of kills the spontaneity, but better safe than sorry I suppose.
Organized by actor Dan Burello, this was the inaugural zombie walk for my city. Over two hundred walking dead are estimated to have participated, with some coming from several hundred miles. Some larger cities are said to have had in the neighborhood of seven hundred of the life-impaired turn out. One can imagine a future in which annual zombie walks rival the traditional Christmas parade, with macabre pageantry and coffin-shaped floats.
Be sure and support the dead when they come to your city.
...more at www.patrickcgreene.com
First Published February 2007:
Imagine you’re sitting in a small playhouse; three hundred or so seats. The curtain rises and the performance begins. But instead of spewing confounding Shakespearean soliloquies or clever Neil Simon repartee, the actors steer the drama in a decidedly morbid direction. A few minutes in, the action has escalated, taking even nastier turns. An actress, her screams slicing through the small theatre like a scalpel, struggles against the ropes that bind her to a chair, as a top-hatted fiend goes to work on her face with hooked fingers, bent toward her with his back turned to conceal her teary countenance from you, the paying customer and casual observer. The screams escalate, as those in the murmuring audience around you alternately recoil and crane forward to see what horrible atrocity is being perpetrated on the innocent maiden. The screaming morphs into a series of gut-wrenching gasps that could almost be interpreted as relief. The fiend turns with a sudden flourish, grinning maliciously as he stares directly into your eyes, triumphantly presenting the now-slumped maiden’s eyeball high in the air between the thumb and forefinger of his dramatically splayed hand.
Such a scene was a common occurrence in Le Theatre du Grand Guignol, Paris France , circa 1900. If you’ve seen the Theatre de Vampires scene in “Interview With A Vampire”, or God help you, “Bloodsucking Freaks”, you have an idea of the concepts at work in the Grand Guignol. The plays were unique in all the world to this particular venue, where theatre patrons looking for grim, exploitative thrills could get their French-ass freak on. It was this uniqueness and notoriety that made the theatre a tourist attraction, even a pilgrimage, for jaded travelers from the Americas , England , Germany and Scandinavia . The grim and gory dramas, written in the early days by playwrights Andre de Lorde and a pair of his students, were generally short in length, allowing for as many as five or six separate plays in a row, usually interspersed with spicy sex comedies to make for a complete evening.
The highlight of a given performance of course, would be the maimings and killings, which generally turned up in –or as- the climax. De Lorde, who is said to have consulted and even collaborated with his therapist, wrote in a simple one act structure, presenting a situation that would begin innocuously enough, before spiraling into tragedy, murder, or some combination thereof, until the inevitable dreaded and anticipated moment of frisson, the horrible demise of some poor schmo, wispy femme, or even a small child, conveyed via a low-tech, gory set piece. Effects, such as the above-described eye gouging, were achieved pretty much as you would expect, using floor scraps from the local butcher shop, though the blood was presumably some concoction, using whatever the hell passed for strawberry kool aid in those days.
Privileged audience members could reportedly enjoy the show from the comfort of private, screened compartments called baignoires, where, much like drive-in patrons of twenty or so years ago, they could indulge in other carnal activities, if you catch my drift. These activities probably took place between shows, or more aptly during the sex farces, as the widespread affliction of ‘bored-with-it-all’ syndrome, so popular in today’s culture, had yet to catch on in that era.
Grand Guignol performances were the original torture horror, legendary for causing fainting, vomiting, even hysteria among its patrons, who then likely made immediate plans to attend the next show. When the GG troupe brought a touring version of their show to England , two productions were shut down under authority of British authorities. Such extreme censorship lives on in the UK in the form of their film rating system, which makes the MPAA look like a pretty agreeable bunch.
The movement was the logical extension of the naturalist trend, a deliberate effort to collide popular culture with harsh reality. Though many Grand Guignol plays were too far-fetched to be considered ‘reality’, they did expose a dark place in the collective psyche of humanity that the ruling class might not have liked considering.
With this opening, De Lorde and company found a pretty wide open range of grisly and forbidden topics and scenarios to explore, such as necrophilia, child murder, leprosy and rape. A typical evening’s slate of productions might include displays of victims being drawn and quartered, eviscerated, burned to death, stabbed in the eye with scissors, eaten by wild animals, and hanged.
But the Grand Guignol wasn’t just about gore and shock. Consider the bloodless “At The Telephone”, (http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/atteleph.htm) one of a handful of translated scripts from the original era.
The Grand Guignol had an impressive run, considering the disdain directed at it by snooty critics and politicians. In 1962, long after its originators had passed on, the theatre closed, owing to the popularity of motion pictures, as well as the generally more jaded outlook of the general public, who had by this time grown accustomed to a nightly dose of atrocity on the television news.
But like a good horror villain, The Grand Guignol would not stay dead. In recent years, revivals of the movement have taken root in playhouses across the country. The Tragedies Theatre Company from Portland Oregon has made Grand Guignol style presentations a regular part of its yearly schedule, taking place appropriately enough, in October. No shortage of interest here, as over 700 lovers of extreme theatre turned out for 2006’s nine performances of two original plays from Le Theatre du Grand Guignol’s bloody halcyon days, “Final Kiss”, and “Laboratory Of Hallucinations”.
They had their work cut out for them. “Today’s audiences are very desensitized to horror and blood. We had to create a real mood to actually scare the audience,” said Brian Linss, Managing Artistic director of TheTragedies.
Nonetheless- “There were screams, laughs and of course groans. One audience member had to leave during “Final Kiss” because it was too intense.”
When was the last time a film had that effect on anyone? Maybe the original “Exorcist”, back in the day.
“Final Kiss” centers around a man seeking cold revenge on a lover who scarred him with acid who sets about evening the odds –and then some.
Linss and company are generous in supplying some lucky audience members with a souvenir of sorts.
“We used several blood effects that utilized a pressure tank, ensuring that the first three rows left with something to remember us by. At other times, more subtle sleight-of-hand trickery led to some truly macabre moments. We tried to utilize the same stage craft of the original Guignol theatre,” Linss reports.
And like the original Grand Guignol itself, the venue used by The Tragedies is a former church from the 1900s, only recently converted to a theatre . Upwards of $10,000 is spent to keep the tradition alive. If you’re lucky enough to be in the Portland area come Halloween time, The Tragedies would be more than happy to give you a holiday memory to rival the best Jaycees spookhouse.
Tourists and residents of San Francisco can also get their Grand Guignol cherry popped at The Hypnodrome, 575 10th Street .
Special Thanks to Brian Linss of The Tragedies for his invaluable help in composing this article.
...more at www.patrickcgreene.com
From a June 2007 Post:
As reported here last week, a piece in The New York Times has declared the horror genre dead, leaving us all with no choice but to divert our love and money toward some other genre or pursuit. We won’t have any further inspiration to murder toddlers. And if we’re going to commit heinous acts in the name of Our Lord Satan, we’ll have to do so without the well-planned blueprints of Hollywood screenwriters.
This is a recognizable cycle: the studios, emboldened by the strong September and October showings of their most recent genre fare, will then place their next year’s horror crop in an earlier slot, hoping to reap the big paydays that much earlier, and start drawing interest, and thus show a stronger finish for the year, blah blah blah. So the latest sequel turns up in August, instead of September, and though it shows a weaker return than its predecessor, it still makes a dent. The suits (those damned suits…) in their infinite wisdom, consult their yes-men and plan an earlier release for the next installment to feed off the momentum of the last one.
Next thing you know, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE PREQUEL TO THE SEQUEL TO THE REMAKE, dropped into theaters in May, is bulldozed by the unstoppable PR machines driving the summer superhero and pirate blockbusters, instead of the less obtrusive films a horror flick might compete with during the Halloween lead-up season.
That’s right, kids. The modern studio system is that jacked up. Seems like a simple formula: release your scary movies closer to Halloween, and you catch more people in the mood for a good scare. Put them out in the middle of bikini season, and you do battle with the biggest stars in the world, cast in the most expensively produced –and hyped- blockbusters since… last year.
Call it the revolving door effect. There’s no college course that trains one to be a studio exec. Those guys basically fall into their jobs, and fall out just as quickly, replaced by someone determined to make as much money as possible before they too get the boot. This incompetence trickles down to you, the consumer, who must then fight the hordes of teen girls riding the Johnny Depp wave to get to the only screening that day of 28 WEEKS LATER, which by then is relegated to the auditorium with the shitty speakers and ripped seats.
From there, the numbers-crunchers who work for the entertainment section of the nation’s news rags spot a falling trend and before you can say “direct-to-video”, they’ve declared the death of a genre and moved on to the spinning of some meaningless tidbit about the Heiress Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken.
Then Halloween arrives, bringing with it the studio’s horror output, for which they now have lowered expectations, and thus are unwilling to pay for suitable advertising campaigns. One of these forgotten orphans does boffo box office anyway, re-igniting studio interest, and beginning the cycle once again.
The cool thing about this “horror is dead” business is that it just may discourage some of the hacks and weasels with no interest in originality or making quality cinema who jack into our genre for the quick buck. They move onto teen sex comedies, or maybe porn, and the true artists/fearmongers like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie keep the dark fires burning.
Speaking of Zombie, his HALLOWEEN remix is scheduled for August, pushed back from an Autumn date. While many may feel that this franchise has been a euthanasia candidate for some time, it would be a crying shame if this entry –bound to be the best since possibly the first- got buried simply because of poor planning. Can you imagine if IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE hit the multiplexes in say, April? I don’t know about you, but I would blow it off till the DVD dropped.
Dead? Maybe, maybe not. But a true horror fan knows that death is only the beginning.
...more at www.patrickcgreene.com
Having just wrapped up the first draft of ASGW (A Shotgun Wedding ~ Feature Film), I find myself reflecting on what horror fans and casual movie goers alike, if pressed, will likely tell you -that a horror film provides a certain rush -and even edification- in short supply elsewhere. Great horror takes us to the edge of The Black Abyss-death-and makes us take a good hard look. Then it yanks us away, relieved and grateful to be alive.
But not every filmmaker shares this perspective. I knew a would-be auteur once who liked to refer to horror films as the “ghetto” of filmmaking, as if it was the lowest rung of the cinema experience, for both its creators and its consumers.
Obnoxious as such an assertion is, it’s not uncommon. Fangoria magazine once had a regular feature called “It’s Not a Horror Movie”, set aside for pretentious producers and directors who were trepidatious about having their film get lost in the endless tide of low-budget, quickly produced fear fare capitalizing on the tail end of whatever was the latest terror trend.
A legitimate concern, certainly. But my counterpoint is that the cream always rises to the top; if you have something to offer beyond quickie exploitation and you work toward manifesting it, then you will please both yourself and the fans-and what could be better?
A few years back, I became involved with a project that was initially presented to me as a horror film. After working on a few drafts, and hearing how this would rise above the lowly efforts of talentless hacks like Clive Barker, George Romero, etc. -then having it re-packaged as a “supernatural thriller” (the word “horror” was to be avoided), I realized this project was in grave danger of collapsing under the weight of its own pretentiousness. A few shady dealings later, I opted out completely-and am I glad I did. That project, fortunately for my career, and for you the consumer, died an ignoble death, mourned by no one.
The lesson here is: let a script/film be what it is, don’t “church it up” -this only alienates an audience that I know to be passionate, intelligent and discerning; i.e., the horror fan.