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2, Issue 10
February 1, 2000
Saturn's in Retrograde
we cannot believe that what is happening is real...pinch yourself
and you may find out that it is" - Texas Chainsaw Massacre
of the major obsessions of horror cinema is its placement of individuals
within the collapsing roar of a landscape gone mad. The once familiar
world is rendered alien and unknowable, a dark universe rearing
its head late in the day to cast everything into a twilight chaos.
Characters are left running through the ruins of what they originally
perceived as an ordered existence. Horror cinema destabilizes
the boundaries between what can and cannot happen and, as a result,
the world is pushed out of joint.
who survive can never be the same.
is a savagely swift one. The finest horror films move with a kind
of red velocity, a terrible and bloody speed at which space is
rapidly complicated. This environmental unraveling, however, tends
to fall into two basic categories: expressionistic and realistic.
Expressionist horror cinema, beginning in Germany with works like
Robert Weine's Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Paul
Wagner's The Golem (1920) and continuing on into the early
sound period in such films as Dreyer's Vampyre (1932),
created landscapes based on the principle that the exterior world
was a reflection of the tortured interior of the individuals populating
horror cinema, however, builds its terrible momentum from an eruption
of nightmares into the daylight.
context, realist refers to the treatment of the landscape as something
existing independent of the individuals who dwell within it, an
objective space which is infected by the darkness rather than
being directly shaped by it. Films as wildly different as Seven,
Night of the Living Dead and Let's Scare Jessica to
Death are brought together by their depiction of the universe's
sudden decision to pull back the curtain, turning itself upside
down and inside out, only to embrace the individuals caught up
in its revolution with a glacial indifference. There is an implicit
statement being made that the darkness has always been present,
waiting in the angles and hidden folds. Psycho took the
first significant steps towards giving a nasty bite to this realist
bent. George Romero's late sixties zombie plague reached even
further than Hitchcock's tale of a lonely, psychotic boy in trying
to pierce the "real" with the nightmarish. Both Psycho
and Night of the Living Dead could be seen as the first
steps in a new evolution of horror cinema, a terrible realism
which would result in the creation of a film so ahead of its time,
so profound in its implications, that it still stands as a cinematic
Texas Chainsaw Massacre may be one of the most beautiful realist
horror works ever made. Tobe Hooper's film is an apocalyptic masterpiece,
a dark fairy tale about the ultimate impossibility of understanding
the universe. Chainsaw's greatest effect is found in its
depiction of the most terrible violations taking place in the
most seemingly ordinary of worlds.
direction emphasizes both odd angles and distorted perspectives
as well as unusually smooth camera movement for such a low budget
feature. Frantic cuts and sudden zooms struggle alongside graceful
tracking movement and still long shots as if he's trying to find
a way to portray the interlocking levels of this dying, schizophrenic
beginning of the film, one of the characters, reading out of a
tattered astrology book, tells the others that Saturn is in retrograde
and must therefore be considered an evil influence on the workings
of the universe. It is a sign, like the watch hanging from a tree
driven through by a nail the viewer glimpses minutes before the
killing starts, a symbol of the unseen, unknowable forces that
constantly threaten to overwhelm us all. The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre, by situating a disturbingly tactile evil within
the mundane space of a summer day, made horror films dangerously
step came with the wave of Italian cannibal movies in the 1970s
that focused on realistically trying to portray atrocity, the
art of these films being one of camouflage. Perhaps
the best example of this obsession with objectively
presenting nightmare is Ruggero Deodatos Cannibal Holocaust
(1979), a work that wonderfully summed up the genres bizarre
self-awareness by centering the story around an academics
journey into the Amazon to find the remains of a Western film
crew that was devoured by cannibals. In many ways, Cannibal
Holocaust is the direct precursor to another far more recent
horror work that tries to completely hide its structure within
a blur of fuzzy, washed out chaos, The Blair Witch Project.
Myrick and Eduardo Sanchezs film (a piece that has taken
on a resonance that these two slightly foolish guys probably couldnt
have planned) is a ground breaking horror work because, as Michael
Atkinson writes, its a radical act, withholding information
and contriving to be without control over its own visual narrative.
What we are witnessing while watching Blair Witch is footage
from the front lines of the breakdown of the rational universe.
News is that now Blair Witch is going to get the video
game treatment from the gang at Terminal Reality, and although
the idea of a game based on the film leaves me feeling very wary,
after watching the brilliant cinematics for the companys
most recent game Nocturne I am sure that if anyone can
pull it off, Terminal Reality can.
am the bloody top of the food chain - Nocturne
of Nocturne is one of the finest video game pieces that
I have watched during my time at loonygames, ranking up there,
in my estimation, with Fallout
2 and Wipeout
III as an example of the heights of artistic achievement
that this fledgling medium can attain. Nocturne takes the
tradition of realist horror and sculpts it quite eloquently to
video game dimensions.
scene opens, two policemen search through a field of tall grass,
the cut of their uniforms indicating that we are watching newsreel
footage taken years ago, perhaps in the 1920s or 30s.
Suddenly a struggle breaks out, and the camera is shoved away...cut
to a womans body lying covered by spider web laced dirt
and patches of forest shadow. It seems that the strange earth
is giving up her hoarded dead as we see a frantically cataloged
series of blood impatterned bodies lying scattered across a curiously
empty landscape. And night is falling.
three basic movements to the opening, and this first
part, the argument if you will, is a stunningly atmospheric
introduction. By utilizing video and what looks like 16mm film,
the piece projects a creepy documentary feel that radiates a frightening
desperation. Like Texas Chainsaws farmhouse and the
video dream sequences of the abandoned church witnessing the rebirth
of an ancient evil in John Carpenters Prince of Darkness,
what is so disturbing is that these overgrown fields and reedy streams
are so recognizable yet that the moment you recognize them they
are rendered suddenly untranslatable. Even the use of
the police adds to this unsettling feeling, the assumption being
that they can maintain order. When that trust is violated, particularly
by less than normal means, there is a deep sense of having lost
any hope of being saved by an authority that, whether we like it
or not, most people look to in the end for some kind of final reassurance
(this might account for some of X-Files popularity and certainly
speaks to Dan OBannons comic yet frightening Return
of the Living Dead where we get to see just how graphically
the cavalry can be overwhelmed).
of Nocturne, however, seem quite up to the task. The second
movement finds us introduced to the agents of Spookhouse, the government
agency dedicated to battling the darkness. The characters and their
designs recalled two comic series, Mike Mignolas truly excellent
Hellboy and Steven Seagle and Matt Wagners Sandman Mystery
Theatre, the latter reflected quite heavily in the Stranger, the
be-goggled, fedora wearing, grim faced star of these proceedings.
Now, I am not suggesting that the gang behind Nocturne even
knows about these books, much less drew inspiration from them, but
they draw from the same dark 1930s pool of murderous forces
and occult agendas, a style that has a real pulp beauty about it.
Backlit and surrounded by smoke or hit straight on by beams of light,
staring into the face of doom, they are the secret hope. The third
and final movement of the piece lets us finally see what they war
Zombies and vampires
run amuck. Intercut between shots of the Spookhouse operatives preparing
for combat, we see the dead arising, a man being chased through
the woods, a vampiric girl smirk at us over her shoulder, a bloody
corpse sprawled out before her, zombies staggering in the dark and
frantic eyes darting back and forth. One of the nicest touches is
the use of spots of concentrated light mimicking flash light beams
to pick out the rotten, tattered figures and bared fangs, as if
we are sharing the moment of horrible discovery. Again, we see this
wonderful breakdown of normal experience, a falling out between
what should and should never be able to happen.
But it is happening.
The screen being cut down to video dimensions, Nocturne has
a sweat inducing air of claustrophobia, the world crumbling inward.
Rapid cutting, for once finding a good reason to be so frantic as
opposed to just looking cool, both bleeds everything
together and, ironically, also isolates each individual shot as
a unique horror filled moment, a trap of seconds. This is a bleached
and faded world cast into sudden relief by a streak of vibrant red.
But what really stands out in Nocturne is the music. A cross
between James Horners Aliens soundtrack and Stravinskys
Rite of Spring, the score is superbly effective in underlying
the fractured, disorienting visual tone of the opening. Not having
a grasp of musical terminology to the extent that I believe the
score deserves, and feeling a bit insecure about trying to fake
my way through it, let me just say that the music is refreshingly
classical in its outlook and is exceedingly well written, a perfect
fit that demonstrates that these Nocturne fellows really care about
And what a fine piece
of work it is; Nocturnes prelude is an example of how
to bring the perfect balance of artistic merit and entertainment
to this emerging video game genre. Both electrifyingly new and aware
of the past, the piece is a gorgeous little slice of realist horror.
It may not be the three-hour epic that I pined for in the last column,
but in its own way the opening of Nocturne is indeed a masterpiece.
Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames.
He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee
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