Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Tarot of Terror - Danse Macabre

I recently finished Stephen King's book about horror in film, television and novels; Danse Macabre. it was a great read and filled with some interesting perspectives from a man who's changed the world of horror fiction (it's hard to deny his influence even if you don't enjoy his stories).

One of the points that King brings up in the book is that there are essentially four types of horror stories or combinations of those types. They are: the unknown thing, the vampire, the changeling and the ghost story. His examples of these stories (in novel form) are as follows - The unknown thing: Frankenstein, The Vampire: Dracula, The changeling: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the ghost story: The Turn of the Screw. He then goes on to show how many horror films, television series and novels fit into these types. Now the book is a bit dated - the version I have shows a copy write date of 1983.

So I went ahead and put some of my favorite horror stories into these types...
Pickman's Model - The unknown thing
The Blair Witch Project - The Unknown Thing/The Ghost story
Perfect Blue - The Changeling
Audition - The Changeling
Cabal - The Changeling/The unknown thing
Salem's Lot - The Vampire
Lost Highway - The Changeling

Three of my favorite TV series incorporated all of these stories into their mix: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-files, Boogiepop Phantom.

I began to wonder if horror stories could be so easily confined so easily to these types. Did Mr. King hit the nail on the head, or did he miss something? In a way its interesting to be able to categorize the stories, but at the same time it seems confining. One of the things I love about all types of fantasy fiction is the ability to unleash the imagination. Any type of categories seems to be constrictive. At the same time King has not let these ideas hold him back. His "Dark Tower" has plenty of great fantastic moments.

What do you think? Are there any horror stories that don't fit these categories? Do they constrict horror writers?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Disney’s Ultimate Fairytale Princess - The Little Mermaid

When it comes to animation there are few that can top Walt Disney in his skill to create an entertaining story, brilliant animation and music. Over the years the quality of Walt Disney's animation has waxed and waned. We've seen some cinematic triumphs and some stinky duds.

The story I wish to focus on is 1989's, "The Little Mermaid". It was the culmination of a type of story that Walt had been struggling with since his first animated feature: the princess tale. Obviously "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was his first crack at the story and while the movie is a classic and a marvel of animation, it looks a bit rough compared to his later works. Disney returned to the idea again with "Cinderella". What is interesting here is that the movie is really less of a showcase for the princess as it is a highlight for the supporting cast. The prince barely gets any screentime and there is little chemistry between them. This was improved with Disney's final attempt "Sleeping Beauty". Here the Princess Aurora seems to be a bit flat, but Prince Philip (the first prince with a decent name) is fleshed out pretty well and we get a great villain with Maleficent. The music and animation are wonderful, but the story seems a bit too familiar. Maybe it's because it's the third crack at it.

"The Little Mermaid" manages to give us a solid princess with Ariel, a good leading man with Prince Eric, and one of the best modern Disney Villains, Ursula. The animation is pretty detailed but lacks the polish of "Aladdin" or "The Lion King". But the movie has it's own look, one that works completely in it's own world. The songs and score are classic and fit well into the story. As it stands this is the best showing of a princess in a Disney movie and the best telling of the classic Princess tale. Sadly Walt wasn't around to see this version of the film. However it did usher in a new age of Disney animation and bring a lot of little girls back to the grandeur of the Princess story. It also showed everyone the potential to tell a great entertaining story in a medium that had been in decline in America.

Do you agree, or do you think Disney actually told the best version of the story later or before?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tainting our Youth - The Chronicles of Narnia

There has been a recent stink raised about the upcoming film version of "The Golden Compass". According to some Christian groups the film is a gateway to atheism. They fear that once watching the film, the christian youths will want to read the books. Then after reading these novels they will be tainted with the desire to denounce Jesus and God. It will be a one way trip to hell for these unfortunates.

This is silly. First off, this big ruckus is only going to make more people read the books and watch the movie (see how well this tactic worked for "The Divinci Code" and "The Passion of the Christ"). Secondly if a person's faith is strong (because to paraphrase a classic Christmas film "faith is believing when common sense tells you not to") these easily swayed youths will resist the siren song of "The Golden Compass" and it's sequels.

Here's a flip example for you. I was raised in a primarily Catholic household. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, but didn't really go to church, although my mother did send me to Sunday school on occasion. I knew who Jesus was and his basic message, but I wasn't well versed in the bible.

Then one day at school, our teacher read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to us. Now, the Chronicle of Narnia were written by a devote Christian, who was creating these stories as a new way to introduce Christian ideals and values to a younger audience. I first read these back in the early 80's so people weren't as PC as they are now, or I'm sure some of parents of students in our class would have complained. But no one did and we read the story in class.

I loved it. I thought it was a great story filled with magic, heroes, villains, talking animals, and warfare. I was so excited I wanted to read more and soon was devouring "Prince Caspian" and "The Silver Chair". Never once did I associate Aslan with Jesus. Never once did I see Christian values and ideals in these stories. I just liked the stories for the adventures they took me on.

Guess what? I did not grow up to be a practicing Christian.

Speaking for myself, I think my love of mythology put things in perspective for me. I saw "The Chronicles of Narnia" to be a good story, just like "Lord of the Rings" or "Clash of the Titans" or "Star Wars". In fact all these stories have similar themes and ideals. Later in life I discovered the work of Joseph Campbell and his analysis of storytelling and mythology and it really opened my eyes.

But back to the point here. "The Chronicles of Narnia" were not a gateway for me to Christianity. They were just good stories I enjoyed reading. My parents were there for any questions I had about the stories, or faith or god. They did their best to explain their views and always say "But that's just my opinion. There are others. Find out more." I really respect them for that.

I think its unfortunate that some people see books and ideas as an attack to their faith. Most of the time it's not. It may be a challenge, but if you are secure with your faith, you should welcome the challenge. Welcome the questions the work may bring. You should be comfortable enough to say, "I'm not afraid to have my children experience an opposing view point. It will only make their faith stronger."

What do you think? Should books with agendas be kept from children? Does this tactic do anything other than raise the profile of these books an films?