Archive for March, 2016

Through the Cracks (2): A Brief History of Psychological Horror

Posted in Dark Musings, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

After an age of remakes and jump-scare-laden ghost stories, the indie world has seen a resurgence of a classic genre: the psychological horror film. I personally find this genre to be the most rewarding, not only because of its inventiveness and surrealism, but also its ultimate truth. CHAOS THEORY fits firmly into this arena, and because of this, I’d like to explore the history – to further trace my own work’s origins.

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Psychological thriller/horror films involve the deterioration of the character’s reality, often as a result of some deep-seated fear or anxiety. The cinematic medium works fascinatingly for this type of plot – the audio-visual tricks can place an audience inside a character’s head, using fictional sight and sound to create a disturbingly realistic mindscape. While this genre has developed in literature for some years – the classic Gothic novels, Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” are prime examples – films only began fitting this mold in the 1960s. There are, however, a few early efforts at the genre, mainly Val Lewton’s infamous films such as “Cat People” and “I Walked with a Zombie.” In spite of their B-movie titles, Lewton’s work always used their macabre elements to express real anxiety.

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The 60s saw a surge of psychological horror and thrillers. Monsters became your next-door neighbor, a contrast to the atomic and alien nightmares of the 50s. This can, perhaps, be attributed to Alfred Hitchcock’s massive success with “Psycho” – a dread-filled vision of mundane madness with a killer twist. Many subsequent films, such as William Castle’s “Homicidal” or Hammer’s “Scream of Fear” (one of dozens produced by the company at that time), adopted those same elements.

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As the decade moved forward, a number of directors made their own unique stamp on the genre: Robert Aldritch with “Baby Jane” and “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte;” Robert Wise with “The Haunting,” an adaptation from psychological genius Shirley Jackson; and Roman Polanski with “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” These films not only made the mundane frightening, but also explored taboo fears – the deterioration of an aged mind, pathological anxiety, and the horrors of being a woman in a patriarchal society. At the decade’s close, Ingmar Bergman – the master of psychological drama – even added his own addition to the genre, 1968’s disturbing “Hour of the Wolf.” This film was admittedly personal for him, an exorcism of an artist’s demons.

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The 70s saw a shift to occult and gruesome horror, yet in many cases the psychological elements remain. “The Exorcist” is visceral, but even more so for its depiction of a mother’s darkest fears; “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” only seems violent because of the characters’ mental torment – there is hardly a drop of blood in it. When slasher films became popular in the 80s, psychological terror became scarce, but choice films still display its influence: namely Kubrick’s “The Shining” and John Carpenter’s paranoid take on “The Thing.” These classics still found their roots in the human mind, with monsters and blood acting as a manifestation of that dark territory.

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With slashers dying out, the 90s marked an exploration of psychological thrillers – decidedly less nebulous and surreal than their horror counterparts. Thrillers (in my view) are more mathematical, with a distinct set of clues and a path to the end. The psychological aspect comes into play when these clues affect the character’s mind. Notable examples include “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Jacob’s Ladder” and “The Sixth Sense” – both films that popularized the twist ending. The new millennium continued this trend, with a smattering of mind-bending stories that required a twist at the end. These include “Donnie Darko,” “Memento,” “Se7en” and “The Machinist.”

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When writing “Chaos Theory,” these recent films were at the front of my mind – but my process took me closer to the psychological horror of the 60s. I wanted to embody horror, and I didn’t want to subscribe to a clear twist ending. My film became far more surreal and unexplained as a result. It excites me, then, to see other films following these same guidelines – such as “The Babadook,” “The Witch,” and upcoming releases like “Trash Fire.” We are exploring the dark corners of the mind again.

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Join the CHAOS THEORY RELEASE EVENT to keep up on trailers, articles, and the film’s release on April 14th! Help support this return to psychological horror.

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Through the Cracks (1): Writing CHAOS THEORY

Posted in Original Writing, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

It has been nearly four years since I began writing a script without a title, which would become my first feature-length effort, and in 2014 would be shot as “Chaos Theory.” Several dead-ends, drastic rewrites and many cuts later, the process is still vivid for me.

The idea was born from a combination of H.P. Lovecraft and the news. I had been reading Lovecraft obsessively during the summer of 2012, falling in love with his dread-filled execution and massive, rarely-glimpsed monsters. There was a movie somewhere in those stories. But the idea was half-formed and bland – until something catastrophic happened.

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Being a Denver native, the Aurora movie theater tragedy was immediate and frightening for me. But the news coverage was even more disturbing. We were seeing this act of violence sensationalized, fictionalized, and made almost exciting. But the grief of those around me was so much more real than that. It felt chaotic, unearthly, to witness all of this, at an age when I still couldn’t really comprehend it. Lovecraft’s monsters, however, seemed akin to the nightmarish aura around these events and the news. Those two elements combined and thus my idea was born.

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The then-untitled “Chaos” began with a male protagonist who becomes obsessed with his neighbor’s suicide – then named Edgar, rather than a friend. His teacher, not his psychologist, unveils the ideas of Chaos and its apocalyptic implications. The frame resembled a bastard child of “Donnie Darko” and “Black Swan.” Many of the scenes are similar, though the bulk of the action took place in a school, and the ending was much more literal. It was far from ready for the screen.

My freshman year at NYU brought about the needed changes for the script. Many of my professors, mainly Pete Chatmon and John Warren, were kind enough to read it and offer invaluable advice. What if, instead of his neighbor, it’s his friend who dies? And what exactly are you trying to say? These questions and many others streamlined the ideas into something closer to the final version. The story was getting stronger.

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But, in its current form, it needed a larger budget to complete. Filming in a school is expensive, and there were several visual effects involved. I did my best to raise the necessary funds, but I was eager to tell this story – the media was getting more disturbing and random acts of violence seemed to occur every day. Thus, a rewrite for budget was called for. The school became a playground, the visual effects became practical images, and the story came to the forefront.

 

Around the same time, I was also searching for a lead actor to take on the role of Aaron. My friend and high school classmate Kat Solko was set to play Sophie. But a stale search and a change of perspective made it obvious: the protagonist can be a woman, and Kat is more than up to the challenge. All that I needed to do was change the pronouns. And with that, “Chaos Theory” had reached the finish line.

That, boils and ghouls, is the spoiler-free timeline of my writing process. Stay tuned for the next chapter – the wonderful madness of pre-production.

Second Trailer for CHAOS THEORY Released!

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2016 by smuckyproductions

With the official premiere of CHAOS THEORY less than a month away, the second trailer has been released!

Watch trailer 2 here:

SUBMIT TO THE CHAOS and share this video!

Join our Facebook event for more videos, posts, and updates about the film. Much more to come before it premieres on APRIL 14th!

 

CHAOS THEORY – First Official Trailer

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Happy Tuesday, my favorite creeps! It’s an exciting day for Smucky’s Grave. The first trailer for our feature film, CHAOS THEORY, has just been released.

Watch the video here:

Once you’ve watched, share and spread the fear! When the video gets to 200 views, we will release the second trailer.

All of this leads up to the film’s premiere on April 14th!

SUBMIT TO THE CHAOS and join us on:
FACEBOOK
TWITTER
INSTAGRAM

Announcement: CHAOS THEORY Release!

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Happy Friday! In lieu of a Minute Morbidities episode, we have an even more exciting video: the official CHAOS THEORY film announcement!

Smucky Productions’ first feature film will be released on APRIL 14th via YouTube. It’s a psychological horror story about a young woman who battles paranoia and violent premonitions as she fights to uncover the truth about her friend’s apparent suicide.

The first trailer comes out on MARCH 8TH – save the date.

And SUBMIT TO THE CHAOS.

For more information on the film, join us on:
FACEBOOK
TWITTER
INSTAGRAM

Poem: NOSEBLEED

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Based on a true story, folks.

NOSEBLEED

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The first drip drops across my lips
As I stare at the sun, blinded
To the metal taste – perhaps
I can swallow it and forget; but what starts
As a pinprick becomes a stream, rivulets
Of my body flung bright as gems
On the grass, and I run
Corking the flood
With a weak finger until –

Over the sink I release it
A shower of red spatters on ivory
Run howling from a rift in my skin
And I watch in awe
As it tumbles and shatters
Almost forget to plug the hole,
Soiling virgin tissue, soon overwhelmed
By the force of this rebellion –

Who knew it was so eager?
The tissues pile, war dressings dead
But the march does not slow
Splick splick in the basin, filling
Profane shapes as I drain
And imagine the fate –

What happens if it doesn’t stop
No congealing or swelling
But only mutiny – these beasts
I’m not meant to see, escaping
Jump ship!
And my vision blurs, breath hazards
In the face of the scourge –
Perhaps on me there will be no mercy

Bandages swarm, sink a paean
To gore and still growing
I wonder what my parents will think
Coming home to a dry-husk son
Clinging to the drain, betrayed
By his own blood

Trembling and powerless
To undo this carnage, alone
In the bathroom where I will die
Unable to utter a last word, and no one
To hear it regardless
Just a shell of a boy who cries
What makes me so horrible
That my own blood needs
To escape me –

But the clot comes out
From my head’s recess, ripe as a fresh
Umbilical cord unwinding
From mother’s cavity – following
The burst of old blood grown tired
The patters in the sink
Slow

And halt.

Wash out the basin,
A killer’s final act, erase
The evidence of my body’s traitors
And laugh at how easily
The blood wipes off.

Forbidden Tomes: THE ACCURSED

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Happy March, ghouls – we’re beginning to get a taste of spring in the air. It’s a time of reawakening, good weather, and fertility. Unless you’re in a Joyce Carol Oates book. In one of her only outwardly supernatural works, Oates weaves a disturbing portrait of historical Princeton as it falls under the power of demons. Things get weird in the sepulchral spring of THE ACCURSED.

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It’s 1905 and we’re in Princeton. While some actual figures appear in the background, like Woodrow Wilson and Upton Sinclair (who were at Princeton then), the main story depicts the Slade family as the daughter – set to be married – is targeted by a vampiric demon. When the demon takes young Slade as his unwilling wife, the surrounding characters (accurate and fictional alike) fall into madness, betrayal, and violence. It really sucks when demons walk into history; they tend to ruin things.

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Having read a few other works by Oates, I expected this one to be like those – psychological, grim, and very disturbing. While it is all of those things, this novel sports a wonderful, crooked sense of humor as well. Like Shirley Jackson’s work, there is social satire to spare here, stemming from these real people’s responses to demonic activity. And though it may be funny, it also tends to get nasty. Oates has created a synthesis of the macabre, the grotesque, the political, and the tragic. It’s pure literary fun to watch Mark Twain, Jack London and Sinclair interact in a world where demons roam.

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Being a part of Oates’s Gothic series (which includes “Bellefleur” and “The Mysteries of Winterthurn”), this novel is written in high language and spares no detail. It moves slowly, which for some is a turn-off. But for those who are willing to wait for the Gothic nightmares to begin, the payoff is all the better for what is established before. The imagery and manifestations are suitably bizarre – possessed babies, toad-demons in a bog-castle, snakes ejecting from men’s throats – and, even better, visually represent the neuroses of the characters. Oates is brutal with the psychological dissection of her creations, and this is no exception.

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In spite of its slow pace and its ultimate focus on satire over horror, “The Accursed” is a wicked ghost story – more so because the supernatural elements explore the human characters. The period setting and springtime aura give the uncanny occurrences an air of elegance, almost loveliness. Oates’s universe is pleasant… until it’s not. The madness and horror that seep (or explode) through the historical trappings is of the highest order. It’s a hellish tale, poking through the fallacy of human belief and their sureness in themselves, finding corpses instead.

For an old-fashioned but gruesome epic of phantoms and broken minds, Oates has given us a gift. She is a craftsman of the highest order, as long as one has the patience. So take the vow and enter this work of nightmares – but know that those vows are binding.