Wes Craven’s 1994 New Nightmare was a movie ahead of its times. In that I mean, the way the story was told, the significance of something we make-believe into being real (knowing it is actually fictional) and having it given back to us as this make-believe thing made real by our own imagination. That was kind of the genius of Craven’s New Nightmare. Freddy wasn’t real, but we pretended he was, as we do with all characters we watch on the big screen, small screen, or even in print, and yes even the horrorish ones. New Nightmare played on that, trapping the imaginative character Freddy in the make-believe world until the “movies” ended and thus releasing the bonds that kept imagination captive. Suddenly Freddy is real because WE made him real. Very clever, if you sit for a spell and think about it. Unfortunately, much like Jason Goes to Hell, audiences, and fans of the Nightmare on Elm Street series were expecting…well…what they have been accustomed to and not this metaphysical metaphor of fantasy meets reality through a sort of cognitive mythological construct. Not all movies fall prey to being ahead of their time. Take 2011’s Cabin in the Woods as a perfect example of the right kind of out of the box thinking movie coming out at the right moment in our social environment, which is to say at the very least uncertain.
Cabin in the Woods
By: Jeremy Flagg
I was raised on 80’s slasher films. Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween filled my nights, and as an adolescent, they may have altered my childhood. However, these classic horror films provided ample education. I learned at an early age, you never separate from your friends, you never skinny dip, you never get drunk, and by all means, never lose your virginity in a sketchy locale. While a multitude of movies have attempted to recreate these classic tactics of terror, few have ever lived up to the original.
In walk Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard with Cabin in the Woods.
Horror movies have a recipe. With an ample suspension of disbelief, a movie builds tension, redirects our fear, and then in a moment of complacency, it scares. This recipe is repeated with variation for a little over an hour and somehow, at the end, our “final girl” perseveres by eliminating the big bad. We are put again into suspense as the credits end and claws emerge, or a hand rises from the grave, or a mask is picked up. There is a formula we’ve grown comfortable with, when it is tampered with, we get uneasy. However, Cabin in the Woods examines this formula, uses it, stomps on it, laughs at it, uses it again, and at the end, we’re left blinking in an entertained disbelief.
It starts with scientists talking about child safety cabinets and how only they and Japan remain viable options. What? Isn’t Cabin in the Woods a movie about a group of people going on a mini vacation to a vacant cabin in the middle of the, well, woods? Cue title scene and then onto the movie we expect. A fun flirty vibe, filled with sunshine, dreams and the need for relaxation. We have all the expected character tropes necessary to make a mediocre horror film; the jock, the overachiever, the stoner, the sexy girl and the kind of nice guy who we instantly forget is in the movie. Everything about this post screams “middle of the road.” Or does it?
True to form, we’re ten minutes into the film and the group of soon to be killed young adults have met the old man who gives foreboding advice. However, in every scene, we see a hint of something. A man following them reports to his superiors. The old man makes a phone call asking for approval. A flying eagle crashes into an unseen wall. A room in the cabin holds a one-way mirror. There is a horror movie laid on top of something, perhaps a conspiracy? We’re barely into the movie and we already know we’re being played with and it’s not being subtle. Are we seeing hints of a twist? It must be a twist because goodness knows every movie has to have an obnoxious twist at the end. That’s how horror is done.
As the screen zooms out, we realize the scientists are watching the five young adults. Wait, that’s not how horror goes? These goons are watching them, luring them into this horrific situation. Lowering inhibitions with chemicals and increasing their libido, we have no idea to what end, but we know they’re setting them up for disaster. It’s only made more comical as they take bets on how the group will die. We have no idea why this is happening, but we know that the scientists can only lead them to a dangerous situation. The group must begin the catalyst that will set them up for death.
Now let’s recap, cause from here on out something serious changes in this movie. We know it’s a horror movie. We know the scientists are setting the scene for this horror movie. We know death is coming, but we’re still not entirely sure why. As they are led to the basement where a variety of talismans and treasures are stored, we discover they will choose their fate. Zombie redneck tortured family. Meanwhile, a similar fate is befalling a group of Japanese school children, a scenario competing with our movie for victims.
The movie adds a new element, horror movie as a spectator sport. However, the darker, and even more genius aspect is that we, the viewer are part of the movie. Much like the scientists watching their hidden cameras, we are rooting for the body count to begin. As danger looms on the horizon, we are hoping for a massacre. We want those partaking in dangerous activities such as drinking, drugs, or sex to fall victim to the classic horror deaths. And when the sex kitten is about to pull off her blouse, we want her to die. Then she resists and plays coy and we, along with a room full of watching spectators groan. Then science jumps in, releasing a pheromone mist.
Wait, does this potentially explain why in every horror movie stupid stuff happens? Were deranged scientists aiding Jason and those campers were all just victims of a mastermind game player? Did chemicals being pumped into the bedrooms of teenagers bring on Freddy as a hallucination? I’m left pondering if everything I’ve been told is a lie. But wait, I’ll worry about that later, because redneck zombies are about to start killing people. Did I just cheer? Maybe.
!!! Spoilers Below !!!
As redneck pain-loving zombies achieve their first kill (a girl about to get her groove on) we’re introduced to a new piece of the puzzle. Somehow, the scientists are culling the blood of the victims in some sort of ceremonial effort. Our next clue comes from the drug-addled hippy that is so used to altering his mind, the chemicals created by the scientists do little to affect him. Cue more classic death scenes, often times paired with comedic lines from the viewers in the bunker of scientists. When the victims refuse to split up, scientists manipulate the scene forcing the classic tropes to align to their 80’s horror counterpart.
Cabin in the Wood teaches us that a healthy addiction to Weed can save us in a horror movie.
The movie gets, even more, meta as the remaining two survivors find themselves in an elevator going down into the bunker hidden beneath the cabin. Locked in cages, we see a variety of classic horror monsters. Werewolves, giant bat things, even a unicorn are kept in cages, waiting to be called upon to slay the innocent. As the fool, our high-as-a-kite unlikely hero and the virgin unleash havoc on the underground bunker, releasing hordes of b-rate horror atrocities, we find ourselves cheering on the death yet again. We’re not quite right in the head.
As the final showdown begins, we’re not given a Final Girl showdown of immense proportions. Sigourney Weaver says that if the heroes live, they will destroy the world. The heroes, the ones we’ve been rooting for, either die, or we all die. I’m not sure if I’m annoyed or I commend them as they decide to live, thereby destroying the world. But, you know, it happens.
The snappy dialogue mixed with this meta look at horror creates something entirely new to the genre. We find ourselves cheering on the heroes, only to condemn them, and wanting more mayhem. We learn quickly that we, the viewers of this disaster, are really quite twisted. Most of all, we’re really excited that we got to watch a unicorn slaughter a man. At the start of the review, you had no idea a unicorn would be whom we cheered on. Cause you know, it’s a horror movie.
Jeremy Flagg is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us Final Girls during our Freight Fest series, he also is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes. For more information about Jeremy, visit www.remyflagg.com.
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April 13, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Anna Hutchison, black comedy, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, dark humor, Drew Goddard, experimental metafiction, film, Fran Kranz, Guest author, Horror, Jeremy Flagg, Jesse Williams, Joss Whedon, Kristen Connolly, meta, Metaphysical, monster, monster movies, movie review, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Richard Jenkins, Satire, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Lenk | 12 Comments
One of the wonderful things about writing dark fiction and horror is the many subgenres one can find themselves. So many avenues to explore. Pockets of strange ungodly things. Cosmic horrors and mutant creatures. Fantastic beasts of myth come alive. Haunted furniture and murderous toys. Not forgetting, of course, the most horrifying of all horror tropes and subgenres, the capacity of human indignity. Evil men and women bound to do insidious works. Where do writers come up with their ideas? Where do stories come from? These are two separate questions. Fundamentally, stories come from the same place they always have, that deepest part of ourselves that, though afraid, dares to look out into the unseen where shadows dance and blue razor teeth smile gleefully back at us. And though the core of every writer is the same, inspiration can come from an assortment of places and experiences. Today, we’ll be talking with Leza Cantoral, an up and coming writer that specializes in (but not limited to) the subgenre bizarro fiction. So, pull up a chair. Keep your tentacles to yourself. Take a seat. And give your attention to our guest.
Machine Mean: Let’s get some basic introductions out of the way, shall we? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into writing? What type of genre or sub-genre do you write in?
Leza Cantoral: I grew up in Mexico and my family moved to the Chicago suburbs when I was 12. I felt very alienated and began writing poetry to cope with depression. I think I got The Diary of Anne Frank for my birthday that year. I thought about her and what a lovely person and writer she was and what a shame it was that I could not read anything by her but her diary. I think that inspired me to chronicle my life through daily journaling. I also wrote a lot of poetry and a few screenplays.
I did not really think of story writing as an actual point of focus until college when I met Garrett Cook. He was the strangest person I had ever met. We became friends when we took a Postmodernism class together. He slipped a story he wrote under my dorm door called ‘The Ashen Bride’ about a Cinderella with a Vagina Dentate and the story blew my mind. I worried that he was some kinda sexual deviant, but mostly, I was impressed with his style. Reading his stories made me want to write my own surreal and grotesquely twisted fairy tales.
At the time, I was mostly getting stoned and writing endless streams of consciousness, inspired by people like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. I think the Beat and the Bizarro kinda came together for me eventually. You can see it in stories like “Dope,” which is part angry drunken rant, part dream, and part really uncomfortable description of someone getting probed by aliens. Someone told me it reminded them of Harlan Ellison.
MM: What’s your favorite book and why?
LC: Alice in Wonderland, because it really captures the female psyche. I see myself reflected in it every time.
MM: What is your favorite Lovecraft short story? Why?
LC: “The Music of Erich Zann” because it makes me sad and excited and has a fabulous eerie atmosphere. Also, I find the metaphor apt for the artist. You do often go mad creating and it is hard to know where to draw the line between art and madness. It is a possession.
MM: This is a hard one…but, what is your favorite horror movie? And why?
LC: That is really hard. I’m gonna go with Phenomena, by Dario Argento, starring Jennifer Connelly. This movie is pretty low key on the horror, for an Argento film, though there are some incredible, sensual kills, as well as some grotesque imagery at the end that will never wash out of your mind once you see it. I love it because of the atmosphere and the cool psychic insect powers and the chimp. It is a very sweet movie and it is also wonderfully haunting.
MM: Leza, I have to admit, you are certainly one of the more interesting persons I’ve ever met through social media. You are very vocal and passionate about your art, which is very awesome and refreshing to see in up and coming authors. What kind of inspiration do you draw from? Do you have a mentor of sorts?
LC: I draw inspiration from many places. Mostly poetry and pop music. I love both Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey. I love them so much I am editing an anthology of stories inspired by them for CLASH Books.
I grew up in Mexico and learned French in high school. I think this affected how I write. Spanish and French have a certain rhythm, texture, and cadence. There is a softness, a rawness, and a voluptuousness to the Latin languages. The French Surrealist poets had a huge impact on me in college. I have been trying to write like them ever since.
I have had a few mentors. My first was Garrett Cook. I met him in college and I fell in love with his short stories. I learned by shadowing him and watching his process. I adopted some of his techniques such as handwriting first drafts. There is a magic to having the pen to paper. A computer will never have that raw immediacy for me.
I recently took a class by Juliet Escoria on LitReactor called “Taboo Topics.” It was an incredible experience and she was the perfect mentor. She gave us assignments that pushed our comfort zone boundaries and then gave incredible feedback to keep our writing simple and honest. Two of the pieces I wrote in her class made it into the collection.
My main mentor is Christoph Paul. He has been working with me for the past two years. He gives me honest feedback and is a master of story structure. The main thing that I have gotten from working with Christoph is his work ethic. He is one of those people that feels really guilty if he is not working on at least five things at the same time. I work harder because he raises the bar for what is normal. He is great at balancing praise with criticism. He never kisses my ass.
MM: From the sounds of things, you seem to be keeping busy, with book signings and various traveling and publishing articles with Luna Luna Magazine, I think my head would spin taking on so many projects! Do you have a writing method that helps you keep everything grounded? A schedule of sorts? Do you have a special place you like to do your writing?
LC: I have an office and that helps keep things organized, though I tend to do most of my writing in bed while listening to pop music or watching movies and TV.
My schedule is: post stuff on the CLASH Media website in the morning, do other business and publishing-related things, promote, edit, etc. Then after dinner, I focus on writing.
When I work on short stories it kinda derails my schedule, though. I will get totally obsessed and manic and go a little insane for like a week or so, watching or listening to music and movies on repeat that is putting me in the zone. My technique for short story writing is pretty much a self-induced trance. Once I am done it takes me a day or two to come back to reality and I usually feel dead inside until I do.
MM: According to the all-knowing and all-powerful Amazon, your last publication was Baum Ass Stories: Twistered Tales of Oz, which was a collection of short stories and poems based in a sort of twisted version of Oz. Can you tell us a little bit about this book and what compelled you to dabble in this particular sub-genre? Is it a sub-genre you fell into or came by naturally?
LC: I was asked by Zeb Carter to write a story for it. I grew up reading and loving the Oz books. I had a dystopian Nazi Disney world that had been brewing for a while in my head and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start exploring it. My main character is a cross between Eva Braun and Princess Langwidere. She is really fucked up and insane. This story mostly arose out of my fascination with Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler’s relationship. It just seems very twisted and sadomasochistic. She was very much in love with him and it seems like he kinda took her for granted. In my own twisted way, I kinda gave Eva the ending I felt she deserved.
MM: Okay…let’s talk about your new book that just released, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest. The cover looks stunning, BTW. Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of stories readers can expect from this collection? What genre or sub-genre would you label it as?
LC: The stories in this collection span many genres. Bizarro, surrealism, splatterpunk, speculative, strange fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, literary horror, body horror, experimental metafiction, slipstream, stream of consciousness. Some of the stories read like surreal prose poems, some are straight up horror stories, and some are twisted fairy tales, like Planet Mermaid (The Little Mermaid), Beast (Beauty and the Beast), Eva of Oz (Ozma of Oz).
I would say that the stories in this collection are all pretty dark. My characters all want things: validation, satisfaction, release, escape, love. The general tone is tragic. I use colorful language to deal with sad themes. The happy endings are bittersweet if they happen at all.
MM: In the description, it sounds like readers are in store for a unique experience. One reviewer said that Cartoons in the Suicide Forest is “mesmerizing, sexual and grotesque, often at the same time.” They also gave the book a five-star rating. Did this reviewer hit the nail on the head more or less for what you were going for?
LC: I love directors like Dario Argento, Alejandro Jodorowski, and David Lynch. I try to create an eerie and dissociative experience for the reader; something that will take them outside of themselves.
When I write stories that are of a sexual nature it is because sex sometimes is the only way to describe a certain psychic state. I often explore the feeling of being violated against one’s will, or of being outside one’s body as other people are using it. This is metaphorical of loss of self. Holding on to my sense of self is actually something I struggle with. It might surprise people, or not. Writing is the only way that I can honestly express myself. Selfies are lies. You see my face but you don’t know what I am really thinking or feeling. If you want to know my heart, read my stories.
MM: The book cover looks freaking sweet. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Who designed it? Did you get any say in the creative process?
LC: The cover is by Matthew Revert, who is a genius. I gave him the titular story to draw inspiration from and I cried when I saw what he came up with. That cover truly captures the soul of this collection.
MM: Before we go, can you drop a little hint on future projects you may have cooking?
LC: My next project is a Fantasy adventure called “The Ice Cream Girl Gospels.” I have begun outlining the book and drawing a map of Ice Cream Land. The story will be sweet and strange. It is inspired by Candyland, drugs, and pop music videos. After that, I have a novel called “Tragedy Town.” It’s a dark romantic comedy about the danger and beauty of falling in love. Think if Charlie Kaufman directed an episode of The Twilight Zone. I also have two poems appearing in the upcoming Civil Coping Mechanisms anthology A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault and a slipstream story about Jackie Kennedy, called “Saint Jackie” that will be appearing in the Bizarro Pulp Press anthology More Bizarro Than Bizarro.
You can get YOUR copy of Leza’s latest book Cartoons in the Suicide Forest for $3.99!!!
Leza Cantoral was born in Mexico and moved to the Chicago suburbs when she was 12. She runs CLASH Books and is the editor of Print Projects for Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in New Hampshire with the love of her life and their two cats. ‘Cartoons in the Suicide Forest’ is her first short story collection. She is currently working on a YA Bizarro novella called ‘The Ice Cream Girl Gospels’ You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter @lezacantoral
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January 10, 2017 | Categories: Book Review, Horror, Reviews | Tags: Alejandro Jodorowski, Alice in Wonderland, Anne Frank, authors, bizarre, Bizarro, body horror, books, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, Dario Argento, dark, dark fiction, David Lynch, experimental metafiction, Fantasy, fiction, Guest, Interview, Leza Cantoral, literary horror, literate, mustreads, read, sci fi, slipstream, speculative, splatterpunk, strange, strange fiction, stream of consciousness, surrealism, Sylvia Plath, writing, wrtiers | Leave a comment