Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Featured Author in the Madhouse: Nora Thompson

Reading Nora Thompson’s collection Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain was quite the adventure for me because I constantly felt like I was trapped in her version of a nightmare.  Plus, there were spiders. Lots of spiders. And anyone who knows me, will tell you that I could watch The Exorcist at 3 a.m. and not be scared, but if there was a Daddy Long Leg on the screen while it was playing… I would be so out of there.

Now when Nora first contacted me, she described the collection as a dark children’s piece that adults seemed to be taking a liking too—and after reading it, I couldn’t agree with her more. Thematically, it wasn’t overtly graphic but at the same time, it touched on concepts that were going to affect everyone differently based on the maturity level of the reader.  For instance, take the piece “Visitation Day.” For a kid reading the story, they’re most likely going to laugh at the crazy person in a straight jacket who seems to have it all together. But for anyone that knows anything about psychological or mental illness, or perhaps has worked/lived/cared for someone with one, the piece hits a little deeper and might drudge up some emotional issues.

Stylistically, I have to admit that I admire Thompson’s style. I like writing that breaks barriers, and doesn’t follow the rules, and I especially appreciate it in poetry. A great piece to reference would be her poem “Mouth Breather” because she organizes her words, phrases, and syntax strictly around the characterization of her narrator. Thompson throws out the rules of capitalization, proper grammar, and every day language as she invents her own: “they told me i a mouth breather. i dunno. i guess it true. they say that a problem” (22).  Here we not only get the interior conflict of our character, but we also get to see into him/her a bit more, and get a greater feel for what he/she is like based on the way he/she talks.

However, my favorite piece in the collection was without a doubt “Headache.” I loved the way that she portrayed the character’s inner turmoil and pain, by saying that something else was in his head, and that it had to come out.  Then, to follow that up with images of bloody fingers, and a light shining through a hole in his scalp… Ah. Music to my creepy little ears, because nothing spells out a good story like having your main character tunnel a hole into the side of his head to get rid of the pounding.

Overall, I really enjoyed the collection, and I wish that I would have had stuff like this to read when I was younger because it fuses the worlds of literature and art together in such a macabre fashion where it’s suitable for kids, but still really creepy and entertaining for adults. Nora’s a fantastic artist, and her drawings and sketches remind me of something Tim Burton would come up with in a whacked out horror version of Wonderland. But if her artwork doesn’t grab you, then just start reading, and I promise you…you’ll be hooked.

Artist/Author Bio:
Nora Thompson is an illustrator, fine artist and graphic designer. Sometimes what she has to say needs words, so in those times she becomes a writer. She likes to write stories about characters who don’t normally get to be the protagonist. Or stories with a twist in the end. She writes in incomplete sentences and never used to. And sometimes those sentences start with conjunctions and end in prepositions. She ditched the rules when she started drawing The Rots and discovered flash fiction cured a short attention span. She had a normal childhood, really.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Featured Movie in the Madhouse: SAMHAIN: Night Feast

SAMHAIN: Night Feast is a short piece produced by Daggervision Films that incorporates a Grindhouseapproach to cinematography with the gritty film roll, sporadic flickering, and the popular notion of ‘the missing reel.’ For those that are unfamiliar with the classic Tarantino approach, he used a technique in which he made the film look intentionally damaged, thus giving it the aged look of many classic 70s horror films. He also took advantage of ‘the missing reel’ in a few of the scenes in Grindhouse to add a sense of ambiguity and confusion to the plot; this technique stands out from others, and it is what Tarantino fans look for and expect when they see his movies. SAMHAIN: Night Feast utilizes this approach well and I think the ambiance that it set for the plot was very effective.

The story opens up with a couple handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, and discussing how they are going to run out soon. While we catch bits and pieces of the fight, the camera pans out to two of the children, sitting down and eating candy next to a body.  The actions speeds up when Demonica, the housewife, sees one of the children in a bloody pumpkin mask through the window and starts to scream.  Johnny, the protagonist, dismisses it as a bunch of kids just having fun on Halloween, and leaves the house to go stock up on more candy.

It was at this point that several thoughts started to run through my mind. One, that the plot line was going to play with similar character arcs as in TRICK R TREAT, with the ever lovable SAM, who wore a pumpkin mask and punished people that didn’t follow Halloween principles. Second, I considered that something was in the candy since the children were eating it next to a dead body. This would be really cool because not only would it play with the notion that we’re all supposed to check out candy before eating it, but it would also imply that Johnny and Demonica were supplying the virus to the community without even knowing it.

SIDE NOTE: I’m a big fan of dissecting the uncanny in films/art/and literature, and the big to-do that caught my eye here was the fact that there was an obscene amount of cats in the film. In fact, every time the camera would come back to a scene in the house, it was as if they multiplied and repetition and multiplication is HUGE in the uncanny (see FREUD). So high five to that, Daggervision.

When Johnny leaves to go to the store, the pranks increase in intensity. The kids are banging on the door and rattling the windows, and Demonica is left huddled in a corner, crying into the phone. Truth be told, I loved this scene because it reminded me of the beginning of SCREAM when Drew Barrymore is on the phone right before she gets attacked.  But, before we get to see anything, the camera shot switches over to Johnny in the car, and that just so happens to be the last time that viewers see Demonica, leaving the question of her survival up in the air.

But don’t lose faith. There is a reason for everything, and according to Grindhouse ethics, the missing reel is quintessential.

While Johnny is driving, his friend Barry approaches the car in sheer panic, raving about zombies. Johnny’s natural response is that Barry is drunk, and he offers to take him home, but Barry continues to ramble on. It’s not until they actually see the zombies approaching the car that reality sets in. And I have to say, Dagger’s reaction to the scene is hysterical: “It’s about fucking time! We got some real fucking zombies!” – said with a HUGE smile on his face.

Then the camera pans out and we see Johnny and Barry going through the trunk of the car looking for weapons. Frustrated, Barry only finds gardening tools, and this adds a nice satirical edge to the scene when Johnny says something along the lines of, hey, I like to garden and I wasn’t ready for the apocalypse. The film ends after a short fight scene where Barry gets overcome and eaten alive. The camera pans out and bleeds into the white bubble that is stereotypical to classic horror.

So yes, the ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but I think that’s the point. When Tarantino utilized ‘the missing reel’ concept, he did so to create ambiguity and let the viewers minds wander and conceive different possibilities; this is a great tactic for viewer interaction, and while I would have liked to see how things ended, because I’m a blood and guts type of girl, I can understand and appreciate the open ended  ending.

Horror fans, check out SAMHAIN: Night Feast and let me know what you think! Does the ending work for you, or are you dying to know what happened to Demonica and the horde of cats? Leave your comments and let’s get a discussion going! And on a side note, I look forward to watching and reviewing Caustic Zombies, another production by Daggervision Films, this March!