OTM #21: Scary Movie

Welcome back, everyone! Hope you’re having a great start to the new year. I certainly am – my roommates and I have been trying to watch a lot of new stuff during our downtime. I’m a fan of all sorts of genres, but I’m particularly partial to horror, so we’ve been watching a lot of scary stuff. I’m to a point where horror doesn’t really affect me anymore – I won’t get scared but I will be intrigued – yet for the first time in a long while, I was actually scared watching a horror film. We watched Parker Finn’s “Smile”, a movie that was well known on platforms like TikTok for making users cry in fear. I was always curious about it when it released, but never assumed I would be one of those fearful viewers. But oh my god, this film was insane. It follows a woman who is cursed by a malignant presence, taking the form of any random stranger who just stands there, smiling. I never realized a person simply standing and smiling could be so unnerving, yet once the film ended, I nervously laughed to my roommate – only to be met with a strained response of “Don’t smile at me right now!!” We had to turn all the lights on, turn on a silly cartoon and sit on the floor trying to distract ourselves long after the film ended. It felt like we were little kids at a sleepover. There’s a lot of joy there, despite the discomfort we felt. I missed that feeling of being scared.

OTM #20: Empty Halls

I’ve been taking lots of photographs of empty hallways lately. With the incoming cold of winter and late night study days, an empty hall is all I can think of. A sense of liminality, a familiarity of a class building but sharp feeling of emptiness accompanying it. I feel like I’m in a liminal state in life, in search of a proper career in college, in the final moments of a difficult semester. I’m in a long, empty hallway, lit coldly and seemingly never-ending. I could keep walking, or I could stand still. I’m really fascinated by this idea of liminality; there’s this horror concept online called The Backrooms that has taken people by storm lately. It’s similar to my paintings of empty hallways – the idea of the Backrooms is a never-ending, familiar yet unfamiliar space. It’s lit with a yellowish light, there are no windows, you become lost within an instant. It’s scary to so many, simply because it draws upon our notions of architectural familiarity. Something as simple as a hallway can become scary, unknown, and we can be forced to reflect on our humanity when seemingly nobody else is present. Maybe that’s why I’m so captivated by the empty halls. I feel like I’ve been needing to do a lot of self-reflection, and there’s a scary comfort in exploring spaces like this. Hope you are all navigating finals okay, and have a great week!

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.