I’m in the midst of preparing my Rush “Fly By Night” review for my music blog. It’s in pure stream-of-consciousness notes mode. That’s not a process I normally uphold, but within the first moments of Fly By Night, I knew that kind of attention would be required. So, I have two pages of notes on the album. They total to about 1200 words, which I’d probably reduce to 600-800 and then expand to 800-1000. I know what score I’d give the album, and I’m already pretty happy with my write-up process thus far.
However, I’m feeling very ambivalent about the process of reviews. And, in some small way, it’s because of Tony Scott.
You see, Twitter is a glorious place; your favorite directors, actors, games journalists, game developers, and like-minded fans all congregate to share themselves and anything they think is awesome. The idea that people throughout the media should congratulate each other more comes to life in 140-character bites.
And, through that process, I was somehow exposed to the writing of FilmCriticHulk. For those unfamiliar, think of him like a more compassionate Zodiac_MF. All-caps, little regard for grammar, but very insightful writing. And, through an article he wrote in response to Tony Scott’s suicide, I was exposed to his conversation with Quentin Tarantino and the “Never Hate A Movie” mantra.
Now, the “Never Hate A Movie” mantra is already something I abide by at some level. The worst movies, in my opinion, are those that are just competently made but are extremely, extremely boring. But films like Birdemic: Shock and Terror, songs like “Friday,” “Imma Be”, and “Phone Home,” games like AMY or Dead Rising 2, these are such interesting products that I struggle not to be captivated in their embrace. But, in the effort of pursuing things with worth, I tend to abandon them, struggling to spend more time with the better films and games.
However, the “Never Hate A Movie” article exposed me to the following quote:
“IT'S THE SAME THING HERE. REMOVING THE HATE CREATES A NEW AND BETTER CLIMATE. IT'S SHOWS US THAT BEING SO FOCUSED ON DESIGNATING MOVIES AS AWESOME OR SUX, PREVENTS US FROM HAVING THE BEST POSSIBLE CONVERSATIONS.
FOR INSTANCE, IT'S NOT A QUESTION OF IF THE DARK KNIGHT IS THE AWESOMEST MOVIE EVER OR IF IT'S OVERRATED, BUT THE MILLIONS OF OTHER THINGS THAT MAKE THE FILM INTERESTING. LIKE ITS TREATMENT OF JOKER AS THE ULTIMATE ANARCHIST, THE LOGIC OF WHICH TAKEN TO IT'S FURTHEST POSSIBLE POINT. LIKE HOW IT'S SECRETLY A GREAT "GAME OF CAT + MOUSE" MOVIE THAT WORKS AS A CHASE START TO FINISH. LIKE HOW IT MIGHT BE GREAT LEARNING TOOL FOR RE-INTRODUCING THAT ATYPICAL STORYTELLING INTO BLOCKBUSTERS. LIKE IT'S THE UNCONVENTIONAL TREATMENT POLITICS, BOTH IN TERMS OF PERSPECTIVE AND SPECIFIC TOPICAL REFERENCES. THE DARK KNIGHT HAS A MILLION GREAT CONVERSATIONS WE'RE NOT HAVING BECAUSE WE'RE TOO BUSY TALKING ABOUT ITS WORTH!
AND IT CAN BE ANY CONVERSATION YOU WANT. YOU CAN GO HIGHBROW, LIKE HOW THE SUPPOSEDLY "THEATRICAL" FILMS OF MIKE LEIGH MIGHT BE SOME OF THE MOST VERSED IN CINEMATIC CONVENTIONS. OR YOU COULD GO LOWBROW: TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN MIGHT BE A VAPID TURDBOX FULL OF SOME OF THE MOST EGREGIOUS NONSENSE EVER THROWN ON CELLULOID, BUT SOMETIMES IT'S KIND OF FUN TO STARE INTO THE UNABASHED ID OF MICHAEL BAY AND SEE WHAT'S ACTUALLY IN THAT CRAZY BRAIN OF HIS. THE VALUE OF WORTH WILL ALWAYS END IN A STALEMATE, BUT THE VALUE OF THESE CONVERSATIONS ARE LIMITLESS.”
And, well, uh, I’ve been thinking about it a lot this morning.
I know I enjoy these kinds of conversations; conversations about why something works or why something doesn’t, or what it means, or how it works rather than simply whether it does or doesn’t. And I know I’m willing to put the work into making them as detailed as possible. While perusing the net for conversations about Slender Man because, well, I’m a pretty huge fan of Slendervlogs and the terrifying Slender game, I came across a Giant Bomb user asking why he was scary.
And, then, this tumbled out of my fingers.
I don't get it, what about an internet meme is scary?
What about any horror creature is scary? They're used properly to threaten characters you care about; in the case of a game, that's usually just you. Most people aren't watching these and then being scared to sleep at night, they're just enjoying them and rooting for their favorite characters to succeed (which they rarely do.) They've also done a good job with pacing so far in MH and EMH; each individual entry does a decent job building up tension, while EMH has the body count to match it.
Basically, Slender's only been propagated by found-footage horror series, the same as Blair Witch Project (which I really ought to see) and Paranormal Activity. The Slender game pretty accurately presents the creature's high speed and stalking tendencies as featured in the different series, and it builds the music so that you know something "bad" is going to happen. Slender isn't an amazing game, but its one-and-done experience was enough to scare me in the daytime. And there's plenty of Slender materials that don't work very well at all, and so they haven't caught on.
...you want more?
I've been thinking a lot about the more popular Slender stuff lately, mostly because I think he's the first monster that's even remotely scared me since I saw Alien, and the different series have scared me on multiple occasions. As a result, I've been working on a Slender tabletop game for some of my friends to play, a sort of low-systems horror RPG to get people used to roleplaying. While working on it, there's a number of things that I've distilled that I think work about Slender as a monster. Obviously, he's a stalker and we haven't liked those since Michael Myers stole the screen in 78; there's more to him than that. For one, he always exists beyond the accepted or known; he's no "town boogeyman," he's a myth come to life. This is separate from The Wolfman, or Shelley's Frankenstein, in that he's a reflection of our ignorance rather than a constant paranoia. By the same token, Slenderman is anonymous, and as a result it is of course fitting that he springs from the internet, a den of anonymity. The suit he's continually pictured in causes distrust due to our distrust of corporatism, but this also creates a smart juxtaposition between his appearance and the trees he's regularly surrounded by, making him seem more alien. His traditional motive, to "take the children," has been altered many times now; MH seems to have him as a soul-devourer, EMH seems to pose him as something more complicated.
As for his actual powers, they're regularly shifting from series to series, perhaps expanding on the mysteriousness of the character. Different series seem to agree on his lightning speed or his ability to teleport, but the functionality of it remains unknown; all that matters is that he can probably be anywhere at anytime, including just about any room of your house. The "tentacles" are a primal fear, and they add to his unnatural appearance along with serving as potential weapons. There's a reason they're often not included, though, and it's because they simply make him more extraterrestrial than they make him mysterious and truly "alien." That said, these previous two powers (also the main ones) express an existence "beyond"; think less Pennywise the Dancing Clown and more IT, less Mind Flayers and more Elder Gods. Of course, this juxtaposes strangely with his suit, which is decidedly modern; it's entirely possible that he is some sort of new cosmic being, and EMH has delved into this concept the farthest.
The big three also have two other combining traits that add to his effectiveness; the fact that he causes physical sickness (usually expressed by intense coughing fits, though all three series have moved beyond that to include other more serious symptoms) and the fact that he brings along with him something more dangerous (insanity, human stalkers, and, in the case of EMH, other monsters.) Our society is currently terrified of death and, by association, illness; most of us don't keep ourselves in very good shape, and the lasting legacy of Slender's primary audience has been typing too much on our computers. Meanwhile, each series has a "masked man equivalent," an anonymous and cryptic human of questionable allegiance who absolutely nobody should trust. These are presumed to be previous Slender victims and/or part of his cadre of Big Bads, meaning either Slender will mindslave you or he'll bring along somebody who'll probably just kill you.
As for the series themselves, the feedback loop and constant immersion system of YouTube series has a lot going for it. Episodes are rarely announced until the day before they're released (if not just hours before release,) meaning it requires pretty regular check-ins to stay up to date on your own. They operate more like weekly serial adventures than most horror series have been able to accomplish. Obviously, film, literature, and games would take more time to pump out. Television has the problem of filling a same-sized block every week, not to mention commercial breaks. A web series is quite a bit more free-form, there's no set distribution system, and the found-footage genre requires less editing than most television series would. Found-footage has also served as another effective system, as it can explain bad acting and short scenes as amateur filmmaking and boring people. Meanwhile, visual and audio distortion, regulars whenever Slender is near/on-screen, are just plain creepy; we expect our tech to work, and when it doesn't, we currently get some really messed-up results. Even Paranormal Activity's getting in on the action, taking on some screen tearing reminiscent of MH in its newest trailer.
...that's all I've got for now.
Hopefully, that helps explain it a little bit; I'm actually just happy to have written it down somewhere.
Now, that didn’t take me a twenty minute writing session; that post took me an hour to write, including a mild bit of research to decide on an episode of Marble Hornets, and not including an hour and a half or so of sporadic notetaking where most of those ideas came from in the first place.
I loved writing it.
But that takes a lot of work, and I’m not certain anyone would really enjoy reading it. I’m willing to do that with music, with movies, with games, but only if people legitimately seem interested in reading it. It’d be a great opportunity to write about a handful of my absolute favorites (and least favorites; I would love to take a field day with Lil’ Wayne’s “Phone Home”.) I’ve been aching over a write-up on The Beach Boys lost recordings recovered for The Smile Sessions, as I think that’s probably the most fascinating piece of music since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
So, I guess, that’s why I ask you. Would you be interested in reading more in-depth analyses, or are reviews working for you? I’ll probably incorporate some of these ideas into my future reviews if I continue to write them, and I probably wouldn’t stop writing reviews completely if I made the switch, but there’d be a lot more emphasis on this kind of writing if I was seriously going to make a change. And, occasionally, more in-depth writing is more appropriate than a review; in the case of Slender or The Smile Sessions, those are the only approaches I could imagine taking.
Please post in the contacts or message me if you have any thoughts on the matter; I’ve posted a near-identical version of this blog on my two other blogs, and if I don’t get heavy responses from any of those locations, I’ll probably post a survey on Facebook, and lord knows that’s far, far less interesting than the information I’ll get from all of you.