Archive for Psychological

Fragment from THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT: Pure Fear

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2017 by smuckyproductions

For the past few weeks, I’ve been rewriting a deeply personal and tough novel called THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT. It’s a collection of journal entries, articles and interviews compiled by a young writer exploring childhood memories of a podunk mountain town, but he discovers a dark force and devastating truth that threatens to ruin him. Here’s a fragment from an early section, as he begins examining the memories before making the leap.

Fall of sophomore year, some friends and I left our little bubble to visit this abandoned mental hospital somewhere in the swamps of Jersey. It was a nasty old building, painted over with graffiti and gutted, aside from a wheelchair or two left to rust – memoirs of a hundred anonymous sufferers. We pitched in for a handle of very bad whiskey and sat in the dead leaves, drinking, trying to spot ghosts in the broken windows.

It got dark earlier than we expected. We stayed too long, let the sun go down without noticing. It was probably the whiskey that kept us slouching and murmuring. But without the sun we didn’t have much to say. We listened tentatively to the bugs cricking, the breeze knocking a few dry leaves together, metal creaking somewhere in the empty halls. In the dark, my nerves kicked up and built into fear, the most useless and loneliest kind. The building’s bulk was so dark and imposing against the sky’s final blue, leaning over us uninvited visitors who had nothing to offer but more trash. It might have been massive, but it would still be forgotten. I made myself a promise, hugging my knees against the cold, that I would crusade against this awful obscurity; I would not let myself succumb to this concrete skeleton’s fate. But the shadows of the asylum had an argument of its own: how could I, a much smaller thing, overcome something that even this behemoth couldn’t defeat? I wanted to scream at it to prove my point – I could speak, I could make noise, and it was just dust – but I decided not to disturb the ghosts. So we all stayed quiet until one of us announced that the last train would leave soon, and we shuffled down the path by the light of our phones, glancing over our shoulders every so often. We didn’t talk about it on the way home; never talked about it again.

I think that is the purest fear I’ve felt in a while, the electrifying and active kind that won’t let you sit still. I’m starting to feel it again.

 

 

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Films That Haunt Me: THE IRON ROSE

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2016 by smuckyproductions

For some years now I’ve been a fan of Eurohorror, but I always stayed away Jean Rollins – though I saw his name pop up around every corner – because of his reputation. Thankfully, having gone through most of the horror canon already, I had no other option but to try him out. And I am ashamed to have waited so long. At his best, Rollins is a Gothic master – and we have a fine example of this in THE IRON ROSE.

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The plot is so simple, it surprises me that it hasn’t been done a hundred times: a couple gets lost in a cemetery after having sex in one of the crypts. It could have been a Tales from the Crypt episode, or a good zombie movie – but Rollins takes a more interesting approach. Certainly, it starts out like a good ol’ B movie… until the psychological effects kick in.

The cinematography trapped my attention from the beginning. Rollins finds the most fascinating locations and the camera knows how to showcase them. Whether it be the beach, an abandoned train yard, or the cemetery itself, each image is enthralling. This is good, because most of the film crawls along at a snail’s pace. One of my favorite attributes of Eurohorror is its patience. This will be an instant turn-off for many viewers, but for those who can withstand it, the slowness becomes hypnotic. With a gorgeous (and seldom-used) score to back up his images, Rollins creates a delicious Gothic atmosphere.

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It is the atmosphere that allows for the psychological fear to come through. Unlike most films of its kind, “The Iron Rose” features fairly decent acting and dialogue, and no violence. Good thing, too, because the two characters carry almost the entire film. You might expect zombies or ghouls to come into play at some point – but Rollins opts for a more truly Gothic story. The only supernatural element is the graveyard itself, which goes on forever like a labyrinth. Everything else come from the characters.

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Once the plot kicked in and I realized there would be no traditional horrific elements, I was pleasantly surprised to still find myself afraid. It is the mental degeneration of these characters that is so unsettling. Rollins pulls this off without subtlety, but the effect is strong. His images emphasize the morbid trap that these people have fallen into. They are innocent for the most part, and yet they are dealt a disturbing punishment. It plays out like a realistic nightmare – who isn’t afraid of being lost in such an awful place? And the ending, while not as climactic as some might like, is genius to me – and haunts me still.

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While I am sure that most of Rollins’ work will not reach these heights for me, I am thrilled to have unlocked a new corridor of Gothic cinema for myself. The emphasis on image and mood, pertaining to psychological chills, is an art that I hope will not be lost. If patience is one of your virtues, indulge in this moody piece of the grotesque – you might get lost, too.

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:
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Review: THE WITCH

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

Yesterday saw the nationwide release of the most anticipated horror movie of 2016. After massive buzz from Sundance and a series of incredible trailers from A24, I was insanely excited to witness what was being called a soul-shaking experience. For once, the reviews were pretty spot on. THE WITCH is like nothing else that I’ve seen in recent years.

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It’s a plot that, in other hands, could have been cheap and silly – a Puritan family is plagued by a baby-stealing, boy-seducing, and mind-warping witch. But under Robert Eggers’s direction, already infamous for its extreme attention to detail, that storyline becomes the stuff of nightmares.

Let’s state the obvious: the production design and authenticity of the world is incredible. The cinematography is stark and sparing. This allows the film to take on a realistic texture that is rarely seen in horror. But the realism doesn’t stop at the surface. Eggers pays even more attention to the minds of his characters, drawing out their thoughts and emotions so viscerally, so realistically, that the audience can’t help but empathize. You won’t want to feel what they feel, though. That’s the genius of the film – you have no choice.

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With this film, we finally get to see what it would have looked like if Bergman directed a Hammer movie. (“Hour of the Wolf” is a different type of horror.) By combining the psychological breakdown of the characters alongside some wickedly visceral images, Eggers crafts a comprehensive assault on the audience’s brain. This recipe is reserved for only the best genre offerings – most focus solely on the mind or the monster. Eggers brings us both, and each is ingenious on its own, but together they create something brutal and traumatizing.

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The witch herself is frightening, but what she does to the minds of her victims is even more so. Mainly because it feels so real – it’s what you would do, too. By the end it seems like we’re spying on someone’s private tragedy, a thing we should not see, but cannot look away from. Eggers is merciless with his story. And that makes it all the better. His vision is also refreshingly free of influences – so many of today’s horror films mimic the style of another decade – and takes on a transgressively Gothic tone, a truly demented fairy tale.

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It must also be said that much of the film’s power comes from the music – a perverse soundtrack of howling strings, clacking wood and hideous chanting. The marriage of these sounds with the film’s visuals is overwhelmingly horrific.

This film also excites me because of its unexpected wide release. Not only that, but it’s exceeding expectations at the box office. People are flocking to see this film. If this trend continues, perhaps it will open the doors for more horror in this vein. We’re witnessing the possible birth of a wide-spread genre renaissance. In the meantime, it’s enough to enjoy this brilliant nightmare on its own. Go live deliciously and experience its darkness.

Films That Haunt Me: HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2015 by smuckyproductions

A little break from the snow and ice – let’s travel down to Louisiana, for Robert Aldrich’s follow-up to the Grand Guignol classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” After the success of that film, Aldrich teamed up with Bette Davis again – this tim excluding Joan Crawford, who dropped out for ‘health reasons’ – to create this classic Southern Gothic nightmare called HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE.

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This film starts, like “Baby Jane,” with a bang: the first thing we see (in shockingly graphic detail for the 60’s) is a man getting decapitated. It’s the climax of a love affair between the man and the young daughter of a plantation giant. But who committed the crime? Forty years later, the daughter has grown into an old woman (Bette Davis), trapped in her decaying plantation mansion by the guilt of what she did or did not do. It is far from over, though – when Charlotte’s long-estranged cousin comes to visit, Charlotte begins to deteriorate into hallucinations, hinting at a sinister plot going on in the shadows.

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It isn’t as original of a plot as “Baby Jane,” but it is made unique by the manner of its telling. This film drips with dark atmosphere that is special to the South – sprawling swamps, drifting moss, and thick shadows. The images that populate this setting are equally bizarre. As Charlotte falls into madness, we see what she does – phantasmal shadows crossing the windows; ghostly balls with faceless dancers; and the spectre of her lover, headless, reaching for her. Is any of it real? The film doesn’t give up its secrets easily. And that’s the fun of it. This type of psychological horror yields the most fascinating imagery and tone, because it is allowed to access the subconscious and all its mysteries.

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For the most part, this film plays like a moody thriller – but there are definite moments of pure horror. The shadow-crossed house and Bette Davis’s wafting, nightgown-clad Charlotte provide the perfect platform on which to launch some legitimate scares. Like “Baby Jane” as well, the film is adept at putting the viewer inside a character’s mind, so every fictional experience becomes utterly visceral. It’s a creeping, dread-filled piece of surreal cinema.

And, at the same time, it manages to speak heartbreakingly to a life lived in the past, drowned in guilt. Bette Davis plays her character so tenderly  – chewing scenery, of course, but with palpable sincerity. There is a beating heart to this chiller, even if that heart gushes blood. Charlotte is a woman whose ideals were shattered by violence – to see where that leads her is truly disturbing. The characters around her, too, all seem to have ulterior motives – speaking to secrets kept and deception maintained in the name of greed. The people in this film are drawn boldly and convincingly, yielding most of the terror from their own actions.

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It may not be the masterpiece that “Baby Jane” is, but this film stands on its own, for its revolutionary surrealism and its mastery of Gothic tone. A story of guilt and the capacity of human evil, it is sure to warp your mind – and in spite of its sunny Southern climes, it will chill you like the winter wind.

Films That Haunt Me (Halloween Edition): DEAD OF NIGHT

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Happy 2nd of October! Continuing on the theme of the month, I present the first of our Halloween-themed Films That Haunt Me.

When we think of classic horror from the 30’s and 40’s, we tend to recall the Universal monsters or Val Lewton’s psychological thrillers. My personal favorite from that era is a far cry from any of these offerings. Ahead of its time, brilliantly written, and ultimately, surprisingly terrifying, today we discuss DEAD OF NIGHT.

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This is perhaps one of the earliest anthology films, and it’s clear how it set the standard for the ones to come. It is structured around a house full of people, gathered for an undisclosed purpose, telling stories of their encounters with the supernatural – all to soothe the fears of a man who repeatedly dreams that he murders someone. Each story mounts in deadliness and terror, until the line between fiction and reality is blurred, then obliterated.

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It’s tragic that this film isn’t more readily available. Once you’ve seen it, you recognize how heavily it’s influenced everything else in the genre – from the Twilight Zone to Creepshow to any psychological-surreal horror out there. And it was made decades before most of its tropes were made standard. There’s creepy dreams, undead plot twists, one hell of an evil dummy, and a tremendously unsettling ending. I had a vague idea of what the film was when I sat down to watch it, and I did not expect it to frighten me so much. Subsequent viewings have not lessened that effect.

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What makes this film truly remarkable for me is the circumstance under which it was created. A British studio struggling to survive after World War II decides to make a horror film, a genre seen as sinful trash back in that day. What they end up creating is something so ambiguous and psychological, predating that subgenre of horror by perhaps twenty years, and changing the genre forever. That is something remarkable to me.

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As for the relation to October, this film captures the traditional spirit beautifully – an old dark house, telling scary stories, doubting the line between real and unreal, et cetera. The individual tales are ingenious, but the arching story is what really evokes the creepy atmosphere. This film holds up amazingly well, considering its age, and is perfect for a quiet night when the wind is moaning. Watch out – it might start circling your dreams, too.

Forbidden Tomes: HANGSAMAN by SHIRLEY JACKSON

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2015 by smuckyproductions

As we enter into the full swing of the school year, we encounter once again the dramas and anxieties of classes and fellow students. There are legions of comedies and dramedies that deal with these themes. But, I find, very few horror stories; and as the ever-brilliant Shirley Jackson proves, that genre may be the best suited to conveying them truthfully. She demonstrates this to stunning effect in her second novel, HANGSAMAN.

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Everyone knows Shirley Jackson for her slow-building nightmare “The Lottery” and her maddeningly terrifying ghost tale “The Haunting of Hill House.” But her tragically short literary career was full of quieter gems as well. In her sophomore effort, she enters the mind of a socially awkward (or worse?) young woman who has just started college. She desperately wants to create her own identity and grow into herself… but that’s hard to do when everyone around you is backstabbing each other, and you start going insane.

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Part coming-of-age drama, part social satire, and a whole lot of psychological nightmare, this novel is a powerhouse of emotion. Anyone who is familiar with “The Lottery” knows that Jackson is the master of slow-build, suffocating tension. She is brilliant at keeping the reader in the dark, spinning cryptic thoughts within her characters that hint at something dreadful and placing them in situations that are eerily confusing. This novel demonstrated that in full force. Natalie, the main character, navigates a world in which people – including herself – are dangling by a thread over the abyss of insanity. There is the constant threat of danger, but never an outburst of violence. We, along with everyone else, are holding our breath, waiting for it to come.

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Natalie’s world is populated with deliciously off-kilter characters – a handsome teacher who marries his student, and the wife, who drinks away her anxieties; a gossipy classmate who spies on girls whom she wants to slander; a mysterious, unnamed friend who leads Natalie into a nebulous and dangerous existence; et cetera. Many of these characters, uncanny as they are, also give humor to the book. Jackson is a genius when it comes to gallows humor. You laugh, but only to prevent yourself from screaming.

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But what makes me adore this book, and Jackson’s others as well, goes beyond the grotesque characters and growing tension – it’s the penetrating, ruthless, but accurate insight into the human condition. These characters, in their madness, reveal a disturbingly recognizable side of the reader: a side that is riddled with irrational terrors and hatred of themselves and others. We’d rather not look at this side of ourselves, but Jackson allows us to do so without destroying ourselves completely. I always discover something about my thoughts when I read her books. The xenophobia and paranoia that infect her characters are things that I have felt, and to recognize them in something else makes it easier to rid myself of them.

Shirley Jackson is a glorious writer, and “Hangsaman” demonstrates the best of her abilities in comedy, horror, and human insight. It is a book to consume when you’re alone, shut away from the world. And the monsters lurking inside the pages look so terribly much like you.