Hidden Gems: The Twilight Zone

Unfortunately it’s already the last week of October, which means that this is the last post of the horror-themed Hidden Gems series. I can’t believe how fast it flew by, especially being busy with midterms and existential dread about the state of the world. I’ve really enjoyed sharing some of my favorite works of horror art, I just can’t believe how much I didn’t get to cover; there’s pretty much an endless amount of art that I could talk about when it comes to horror. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t see a spooky post now and again, especially if the inspiration strikes or I watch a particularly good movie. For my last post of spooky season, I found it fitting to talk about a work of art that is extremely close to my heart, a show that inspired my lifelong interest in the supernatural, science fiction, and horror: The Twilight Zone.

Depending on your generation, you might already be extremely familiar with the show; it was groundbreaking when it aired it 1959, and has inspired countless knock-offs and remakes due to its incredible popularity. However, I’ve noticed that has been brushed under the rug recently; I find less and less people who have ever seen it, let alone enjoy it. Unfortunately, the show’s age has been a large deterrent to modern viewers. It is filmed in black and white, as expected for the time, and not all of the acting has aged well. Although it is certainly an old show, I would argue that it has an unmatched amount of charm, and that the intellectual ideas presented in each episode are incredibly fascinating and still relevant today.

The original Twilight Zone of 1959 lasted for 5 seasons and spanned over 150 episodes, making it an incredible catalog of science fiction. Each episode is a self-contained short story and usually features some sort of social commentary or moral. The range of the show is incredibly broad: examples of topics include aliens, time travel, beauty, living inanimate objects, and other unexplainable phenomena. The one thing shared between all episodes is the haunting and iconic introduction by Rod Serling, the show’s creator. Each introduction is unique, but they all convey the same thing: anything can happen in the Twilight Zone, a place where not everything is as it seems, but a place where any of us could end up without knowing. It’s an incredibly powerful introduction, and one of my favorite examples of how art and media can create such strong emotions in the viewer, which in this case happen to be fear and uncertainty. The black and white filming of the show is also extremely conducive to the aesthetic being portrayed in each episode. One might expect it to be a barrier from realism, but I find it to be incredibly immersive, since so much attention is drawn to the characters and the story, not so much the visuals and special effects. More often than not, the immersion is actually broken when they attempt to use ambitious special effects; on the flip side, they use clever practical effects to achieve surprisingly convincing results. Episodes like Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? are a perfect example of this duality: some unfortunate prosthetics are especially jarring, while some of the practical effects are clever and so well done that it almost beats anything that could be accomplished today. In general, all of these aspects of the show make it extremely charming and memorable. Even if not every episode is perfect, they all come from a place of creativity and attention to detail is evident in every one.

With that being said, I can’t recommend the show enough; some seasons are currently on Netflix, and it’s the perfect show to watch during the month of October. Although the show has a notable reputation, it certainly doesn’t receive the amount of appreciation it deserves, especially considering how groundbreaking it was and how much it influences horror and science fiction writers today. If you do decide to watch it, these are some of my favorite episodes, and ones that I would recommend watching first: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Time Enough at Last, The Monsters are Due On Maple Street, Eye of the Beholder, and To Serve Man.

Hidden Gems: There Existed an Addiction to Blood by Clipping

There Existed an Addiction to Blood by Clipping

Nothing sounds more contradictory than horror music; horror is usually associated with scary movies while music tends to be uplifting, inspirational, or just a lot of fun. That’s why I was so surprised when I first heard There Existed an Addiction to Blood by the experimental rap group Clipping. It’s a self-proclaimed “horrorcore” album with a modern twist, released on October 18th, 2019, just in time for Halloween. I didn’t know much about the group before I listened to the album, which added a lot to the mystery of the project, but I’ve learned a lot more about the group since then and it’s pretty incredible. The lead vocalist of Clipping is Daveed Diggs, who is best known as Marquis Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the hit musical Hamilton, for which he won a Grammy. I still can’t believe the artistic range and musical talent of Diggs, to win a Grammy for Hamilton and then go on to produce the incredible horror album There Existed an Addiction to Blood. The group also released the album Splendor & Misery, which was actually nominated for a Hugo award as an amazing work of science fiction. If it isn’t clear already, Clipping is an incredible group that produces groundbreaking music albums with thought-provoking and unique narratives. So in honor of the spooky season, I present to you the best horror album I’ve ever listened to and an absolute hidden gem: There Existed an Addiction to Blood.

My favorite track from the album is Nothing Is Safe, which was also the first single I heard from the album, and I can’t overstate the impact it had on me. It was like nothing I had ever heard, and I don’t say that often. The song starts off with a single dissonant piano key, reverberating in dense air, with a steady, hypnotic rhythm. It instantly brings to mind images of being alone in the dark, or walking down the dark hallways of an abandoned castle, with a bone-chilling fear of the unknown. Then this heavy, bouncing synth comes in, perfectly complementing the repetitive piano key and providing the perfect foundation for the rest of the song. Next up is Diggs: he comes in with an understated, menacing, and haunting vocal performance. The story starts with a sense of calm, but it doesn’t take long to realize that something is off: everything is too quiet and the suspense is tangible. Things become more frantic as the story develops, and the instrumental conveys it perfectly. The dynamics of the song are flawlessly executed, reflecting the intensity of the story and culminating in a heart-pounding chorus that is absolutely unforgettable. From start to finish this song is a masterpiece and it completely blew my mind the first time I heard it. I can’t recommend it enough; pay special attention to the lyrics and how cohesive the song is, and appreciate just how unique of an experience it is.

Some of my other favorite tracks from the album are Run For Your Life and The Show, which both read like short horror stories in the style of Edgar Allen Poe. They’re incredibly story driven with terrifying narratives written in the second person, placing the listener in life-threatening and horrifying situations. Run For Your Life is incredibly imaginative, both in the narrative in the instrumental: you’re running for your life from a killer, hiding in an alley, and cars drive by playing the instrumental, which pans from ear to ear. It sounds like a gimmick but it’s incredibly well executed and realistic, making the story immersive and a thousand times more terrifying. The Show is an extremely graphic and well written song about being tortured by a sadistic killer. It sounds awful and it is, which is perfect for the Halloween season. It’s also extremely catchy: the chorus is surprisingly addictive, although I wouldn’t recommend singing it in public. Overall, I mostly appreciate how immersive and convincing the entire album is. Clipping isn’t afraid to commit to intense storytelling, even when it crosses conventional boundaries and is legitimately terrifying. The group is truly groundbreaking in a lot of ways and it’s easy to see why. There Existed an Addiction to Blood is an outstanding example of their talent, and my favorite horror album to date. If you’re interested in Clipping as much as I am, you’ll be happy to hear that they’ll be releasing a sequel to There Existed an Addiction to Blood titled Visions of Bodies Being Burned on October 23rd, just in time for Halloween. I definitely recommend checking out both projects; there is a lot to unpack in Clipping’s albums and I hardly got started in this post. Feel free to start a discussion in the comments as well, I would love to discuss the album more!

Hidden Gems: Doom (2016)

It’s officially October and the beginning of spooky season! Whether it’s pumpkin patches, apple cider, warm sweaters, Halloween, or the general atmosphere of spookiness, October has it all. In celebration of my favorite month I’ll be posting strictly spooky hidden gems, ranging from classic horror literature to blood-curling albums and everything in-between. The first entry in this series is the video game Doom from 2016, one of the many games released over the years in the Doom series. Although Doom is recognized in popular culture and has heavily influenced the development of video games, it has been overlooked by a majority of people: most people have never played a game in the series, seen gameplay, or know the plot. Doom 2016 is the best example of everything that the series does right and is already a classic in the gaming community.

I feel like I’ve always known about Doom: that it was taboo, violent, and graphic. I had always been told to stay away from games like that, but as I got older and more into video games, I couldn’t help but be drawn towards the legendary status of the Doom series. I had heard especially profuse praise for the latest entry in the series at the time, Doom 2016; that it was intense, addictive, extremely fun, and incredibly immersive. Needless to say, I felt like it was a game I had to play, and I’m so glad that I did. Doom 2016 has perfected the concept of an addictive, arcade style game that also cares about its art and aesthetic. It’s extremely approachable, regardless of skill level, and immediately fun. Anybody can pick up a controller, start playing, and suddenly realize that they just spent 3 hours slaying demons in order to save the world from a demon invasion, and then keep playing for another 3 hours, it’s that addictive. It’s no accident either; the entire style of the game is a perfect mix between intense fighting, cartoonish enemies, and a good sense of humor. It never takes itself too seriously, which I think is the perfect way to approach a game that features demons and monsters. One of the key reasons that the series has been popular for so long is because it’s the only series that has been able to fill the niche of a fun horror game, and Doom 2016 is the best example of that quality. So although Doom 2016 hasn’t been played by a large majority of people, it is absolutely loved by those who have played it. As one of those people, I can say without a doubt that Doom 2016 a hidden gem.

The Shining: Horror Perfected

One of my all time favorite movies is The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. I can’t recall the first time I watched it, although I know I was still young enough that I had to cover my eyes for the more intense scenes. Regardless, it left an impact on me even at that age; there was something unique and indescribable about it, it was like nothing I had ever seen before, and that’s saying something since I had already watched a lot of horror movies by that time. Over time it has haunted me more and more, as I keep watching it and analyzing it, trying to understand it while appreciating it in new ways. Gradually I’ve started to understand what makes it so special, and why it has become one of my all time favorite movies: its ability to create an atmosphere, the incredibly convincing acting, the haunting soundtrack, the tension and uncertainty created through subtle devices, and of course the plot itself, which is scary in its simplicity.

The opening scene is the perfect example of how Stanley Kubrick creates the unsettling atmosphere of The Shining, from the brass symphony playing heavy, ominous tones, to the swooping shots of wilderness and the long winding road up to the setting of the story, the Overlook Hotel. The visual and audio aspects of the opening work in tandem to create this insane tension, and the actual story hasn’t even begun. Kubrick utilizes music and sounds to emphasize disturbing scenes throughout the movie, and it is interesting when you pay attention to it. The infamous scene of the boy Danny riding his big wheel through the empty halls, as the wheels go from carpet to wood, from silence to a jarring rattling and that keeps you on the edge of the seat. In similar scenes the music will build up, like an insane symphony inside the hotel and the mind of Jack, the main antagonist, and then suddenly cut out with a piercing screech, as something terrifying occurs. I think it is important to note however that these are not jump-scares as you might see in recent horror movies; they are planned out, and don’t lead to chaos, but instead disturbing silence. As important as the sound is in the atmosphere of the film, silence is just important. I find it fascinating how well The Shining pulls this off, better than most horror movies ever have.

Image result for the shining

The other thing that makes he Shining so unique is the simple story, a descent into madness, but portrayed so well by Jack Nicholson that it is unexpectedly disturbing. Recently I saw the sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, which focuses on Danny as an adult, and in it he returns to the Overlook Hotel where he encounters the ghost of his dad, Jack. This Jack was not played by Jack Nicholson however, and it was so weird to see how different the two actors were. Jack Nicholson dripped with insanity, where this guy seemed so staged and reserved. It made me appreciate just how great Jack Nicholson was in the original role: he committed to the role in such a rare way that made it so convincing, and his mannerisms and tone throughout the movie are so iconic and haunting that you can’t even tell if he is acting.

I could go on for hours talking about all of the small details that make The Shining great, from the symbolism and imagery to the aesthetic of the film and the cinematography, but ‘ll save that for another time. For now, I highly recommend that you go and watch it immediately if you haven’t seen it already. Even if you have, watch it again and pay attention to how Kubrick uses music and sound design to create the unsettling atmosphere of the Overlook, and notice how Jack Nicholson embodies the insanity of Jack Torrance. It is an incredible work of art that stands as one of the highest points in the horror and thriller film genres, and it should be appreciated as such.

Facing Your Doppelgänger

Having just been Halloween and being a huge fan of the spooky season, horror movies, and generally scary thoughts, I found myself thinking a lot about doppelgängers. In case you’ve never heard of the term before, it simply means an apparition or double of a living person; literally an exact physical copy of a person. The concept of a doppelgänger can be found in various mythologies and cultures, usually with an insidious connotation of one who takes over the original person’s life. Of course I find this fascinating, for a variety of reasons which I’ll touch on, but most importantly I thought it would be interesting to present three different stories that feature doppelgängers, from television shows and movies, and draw some conclusion about what you should do if you ever find yourself face to face with your own doppelgänger.

If you’ve been a reader of my posts for awhile you’ll recognize this first one: The Double, a film based off the original novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In the film, the main character played by Jesse Eisenberg is a simple man living in a mundane and grimy world, with a mediocre job and little aspirations beyond falling in love with a certain girl. However, suddenly a new employee is hired at his work, and it is dramatically revealed that it is his doppelgänger. Much to his surprise, nobody else notices that the new employee is identical, but the reason reveals itself to the audience from the beginning: this new version of the protagonist is more charming, personable, and cunning than the original. Gradually the doppelgänger starts to take over the original’s life, being promoted over him and winning over the girl almost instantly. The film ends with the original outsmarting the doppelgänger by relying on the unique fact that both of them are connected in feeling pain. I won’t spoil it beyond that, especially since it is a brilliant ending. However the original novel ends with the original going mad, being sent to an asylum, and the doppelgänger completely replacing him. The takeaway from this doppelgänger story: never let your doppelgänger dominate. Either get as far away as possible, or hope that you have some characteristic that gives you an advantage over them.

The next great doppelgänger movie is Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the original protagonist. This movie is much more subtle in the beginning; the original is another plain and uninteresting guy, but as he’s watching a movie he sees an actor that looks just like him, his doppelgänger! He essentially tracks him down and the situation devolves from there. One thing I love about this film is how vague it is in identifying the doppelgänger; technically it never states which one is the original, if an original even exists! However, similar to The Double, the actor doppelgänger is much smarter and more charming, although they both have crucial flaws. In the end they switch lives, much for the benefit of the original and to the detriment of the doppelgänger. A lot of fascinating moral questions are raised, particularly about identity and the ethics of living a life that isn’t yours. The main thing to learn from this unusual story is to be cautious of the life of your doppelgänger; you never know what kind of life they are living. Also, don’t get involved in their romantic relationships, even if it seems like a great idea I can assure you that it is not.

Finally, the climax of this doppelgänger trifecta is a Netflix original show that I watched last week called Living With Yourself, starring Paul Rudd. It’s a short, jarring series that is a little bit shallower than the two previous stories, but offers something unique instead. It focuses on the protagonist Miles who has hit a rough patch in life, both at work and in his marriage. He takes the advice of a coworker and visits an elite spa, where he pays $50,000 to become a better, happier person. Long story short, he wakes up in a grave, eventually realizes that they cloned him and meant to kill him, and meets his clone who is once again an improved version of himself. However, this is where the story starts to differ: although the clone outperforms Miles at work, his wife prefers the original Miles, even after acknowledging his flaws and shortcomings. There is certainly a lot of conflict between the two as they take turns living the same life, which leads up to a dramatic climax where the audience is led to believe that only one of them will live. This is my favorite part; it raises so many questions about human worth and life, specifically about which Miles deserves to live and why, and that is such a hard question to solve with how the show portrays them both. In the end, they end up deciding to all live together as one family, which I personally found a little disappointing, but I appreciate how it diverges from the other two stories. The moral here: play to your strengths and be authentic, it helps to differentiate yourself from your doppelgänger so people treat you as different people. Keep in mind as well that hypothetically you could all coexist peacefully as well.

Overall, I hope you can appreciate these stories as much as I do; the concept of a doppelgänger leads down so many different roads, each one raising its own philosophical and moral questions, all of which I love. I definitely recommend you check all of these out as well, I would love to hear some different thoughts and opinions about how to survive a doppelgänger. Besides that, I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts and ideas. What do these stories tell us about ourselves and our own identities and personalities? Perhaps the doppelgänger simply represents the other side of our psyche, one which we would rather not acknowledge? How does understanding a doppelgänger help us to deal with our own inner conflicts? What is the best way to survive these mental doppelgängers? And finally, notice how all three stories feature doppelgängers with unique origins: supernatural, vague, and cloning. How does the origin of a doppelgänger affect the conflict between them and the original?

Basil + Gideon #3: Spooky Season is Over??

Happy belated Halloween!

I wanted to try my hand at drawing something spooky since I’ve never done anything along the lines of a horror comic before. To do a bit of writerly reflection on the horror genre: to me it seems horror is an exaggerated management of rate of revelation. Horror tends to carefully balance the knowledge afforded to the audience to draw them into the climactic scare at which point the audience understands what they should be scared of and, hopefully, the story is all the scarier for it. What’s worse: the unknown horrors or the horrible truth?

Basil + Gideon is an ongoing narrative comic, if this is your first time reading check out the first installment here!