For the Love of Horror & History

Jordan Dane

On Monday, my lovely TKZ blogmate Clare Langley-Hawthorne had a post called “Losing the Past” where she discussed the state of the historical. I must admit I’ve been intimidated from trying to write an historical. The research seemed daunting, not to mention the world building and dialogue challenges, but I’ve always loved classic literature set in a historical time period made into movies, like Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, David Copperfield, and Jane Eyre. There is something very compelling about taking a peek into the past to see the cultures, classes, location settings, and period clothing. Whether in a book or on screen, it’s a beautiful escape to a different time and place. Historicals aren’t dying out, they’ve become the new black if they’re reimagined into something fresh.

Lately I’ve become enthralled by TV period pieces, especially if the writing and storytelling are solid and the visuals and world building are memorable. Shows that have pulled me in are: Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, BBC’s Ripper Street, and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. I watch other shows for different elements towards my writing, but these shows have influenced me into crossing the line of my comfort zone. I firmly believe, for me, that I must seek out projects to push my perceived limits. I think I learn more about myself when I do it. The only limit to any writer is the limit of their own imagination.

So when I was recently asked to contribute to a time travel anthology (with an amazing group of authors), I accepted with great enthusiasm (even though it scared me). I accepted the challenge because of my love for these three shows and my desire to push my writer limits. I wanted to share these feature film quality shows with you to see if they stir your imaginings as writers for inventive plots, attention to detail on world building and research, and the fearlessness of the creative mind to combine ideas that may not connect easily.

Icabod with skullSLEEPY HOLLOW – The motto at Sleepy Hollow these days is “Embrace the Ridiculous.” Show creators and the talented writers have thrown together very unlikely elements to create what’s been called WTF TV. On paper, the pitch for the show would’ve sounded absurd – Washington Irving adaptations of Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle, mixed with Revelations in the Bible and the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse and historical conspiracies from the Revolutionary War. Icabod Crane is reimagined as a Revolutionary War hero and Revelations “witness” who arises from his secret grave at the same time as the Headless Horseman (aka Death) starts a killing rampage in the quiet town of Sleepy Hollow. The battle of good versus evil has found a home. Crazy, yet it works. The added touch of humor to this “man out of time” story makes Icabod a very endearing character. There’s tongue in cheek humor and the show is notably very ethnically blended. Sleepy Hollow is making history in more ways than its flashbacks.

Ripper SettingRIPPER STREET is set in Victorian London right after Jack the Ripper left his mark. Fear runs high that the monster will return. The shows are tightly written, very emotional, and there is great sensitivity to social issues of the time that reflect on those same issues today. Another thing I love about Ripper Street is the portrayal of early forensics and crime scene analysis. Many scenes are laughable (ie surgical operations done in the open without sterilization or proper care for infection) yet accurate for the time period. Costumes are stunning and the street settings are vivid with great care for detail.

Penny Dreadful BooksPENNY DREADFUL – The show title of Penny Dreadful comes from history, the name given to paper pamphlets filled with terrifying stories. Such stories (also known as Penny Blood, Penny Awful, & Penny Horrible) plus stage performances of the genre were the rage in London during the Victorian time period. They were printed on cheap pulp paper and aimed at working class adolescents. Fear abounded and made fertile ground for when Jack the Ripper wreaked havoc on the streets.

Cast 1Penny Dreadful is an homage to literary horror and classic monsters of the time: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, etc. What I love about Penny Dreadful is the intense world building in every scene. The details of lush sets and gorgeous costuming and the use of practical literary monsters (not animated computer generate imagery). The horror is visceral.

Dr VicHere is Dr Victor Frankenstein slaving over his “creature” in secret. The scene where Victor lays eyes on his living creature (and the creature sees his creator for the first time) is an unforgettable moment where the viewer holds a breath to watch the touching intimacy. Everything about this show speaks to me of good writing, solid storytelling, and memorable characters in classic conflict. Visually stunning. It’s a feast for the eyes, mind, and heart.

For Discussion: What shows stir your writer imaginings? Have they ever influenced you to write a genre you’ve never tried before?

The Best of the Worst–Villainy Week continues

By Joe Moore

As villains week continues in the Kill Zone, it’s time to discuss some of our favorite villains and what motivated them to be so villainy. Before we get to my list of favorites, let’s start with a review of some well-known rogues and scallywags. Of the books and movies we’ve all read or seen, which villains remain in our memory as truly great? Some obvious names come to mind:

norman-bates Dr. Hannibal Lecter. If he says he’d like to have you for dinner, have some reservations.

Norman Bates. He and his mother will shower you with attention.

Dexter Morgan. You don’t want him working on your case.

Darth Vader. Anyone that sounds like James Earl Jones with asthma can’t be all bad.

Count Dracula. What a pain in the neck.

dracula1Freddy Krueger. Maybe he’s just fashion challenged.

Lex Luthor. It takes guts to match wits with the “S” man.

These are some of the more memorable villains, but there are many others that may not immediately pop into your mind. Yet when you think about it, they are every bit as worthy of mention. They all have one thing in common–they scared us.

Here’s my honorable mention list along with their motivations:

Wicked Witch of the West. She was frightening enough, but her flying monkeys did me in. Like other great villains, she was out for revenge.

hal HAL-9000. “Open the pod-bay door, Hal.” Dave had enough to worry about. Add a computer with a mind of its own in outer space and you’ve got a really bad situation. Of course, HAL was just trying to protect himself. Self-preservation is a great motivator.

The Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Here’s a classic case of jealously. There can be only one “fairest of them all”.

jaws The Alien (Alien) and the Shark (Jaws). These two are pretty much the same character in different environments. What’s scary about them both is that they’re just doing what comes natural, but they’re doing it to survive in their world. In reality, the humans were the invaders.

Martians (War of the Worlds). Here’s another case of self-preservation. Their planet has gone down the toilet and they need a new neighborhood to homestead. First item on the invasion agenda: kill all the earthlings. BTW, other than the flaming passenger train scene, I thought the remake of this movie was not very scary. But when I saw the original version as a child, it had me cowering under my theater seat, especially during the basement scene.

Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow. Here’s a good example of anti-heroes. Yes we knew that B&C were bad. Yes, they robbed banks. Yes, they shot people. Yes, Clyde had E.D. But they were so lovable, you just had to sit back and watch them self-destruct. Sort of like a car wreck you pass on the highway.

myers Jason Vorhees (Friday the 13th) and Michael Myers (Halloween). These two guys are also one and the same, just different masks. Both are out for revenge, although Michael’s hard drive has definitely crashed. I think they’re memorable because, unlike most villains, there’s no reasoning with either one of them. It’s like talking to a block of ice only with less response.

The Blair Witch. I know, most people thought this movie with its shaky-cam and cheesy documentary style was really lame. But if you got beyond the hype, it was built on the tried-and-true “haunted house” scenario that had some very scary undertones. Again, a case of self-preservation. And how many villains can you remember that frightened their victims to death without ever making an appearance?

frankenstein The Frankenstein Monster. The ultimate anti-hero villain. The creature was created out of different human body parts justifying his extreme mood swings. Brilliant.

We can’t have a good story without conflict between the hero and the villain. Whether the villain is a person, place or thing, it must be compelling, three-dimensional, and driven by a motivational factor of which we can all relate. And in some dark recess of our mind, the villain must reach down, grab our fear, and expose it like a raw nerve. Otherwise, we might as well be watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Final thought from the master villain, Dr. Lecter, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Did I miss any of your favorite villains?