by Camela Thompson
I'm not sure why some of us are drawn to horror. As a naturally anxious person, you'd think I have enough worry and fear in my life. I even write in the thriller and horror genres. Why? Perhaps I need a distraction from the very real things in this world that are frightening. Illness, physical threat, and accidental dangers provide compelling reasons to never leave the house. I avoid the news when possible because I grow weary of the frustration I feel towards my fellow humans. Regardless of the reason I am drawn to horror, I have watched countless horror movies and some of them are more effective than others. The horror that plays most to my deep-seated fear deals with demonic possession*.
Horror movies play off our assumptions and fears. Slasher movies capitalize on our distrust of fellow humans and ignorant assumptions. Urban legends and even real events come to life in many of these (the example that jumps to mind is The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was loosely based on tragic events in Texarkana). There are many movies with sharks, snakes, spiders, and clowns--all common phobias. Ghost stories play on our fear of the unknown, and many are also purported to be based on true stories: The Conjuring, Annabelle, The Haunting in Connecticut, The Amnityville Horror, and even The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Why does the concept of demonic influence and possession terrify me? I find it frightening that a being could shove what makes us human individuals out of the way and wear us like meat puppets. The need to rule out all other explanations before accepting the supernatural gives an entity time to take root, building tension. The subtle changes in the individual are horrifying. The demon's intent to destroy the human it occupies along with as many souls as it can take with it along the way seems oddly plausible. The thing that tickles my reptile brain and gets that fight or flight reflex really going is the thought that dark influences are always waiting for a weakness that will let them in. I find that worthy of a shudder or eight.
I accept it would be much more rational to be afraid of spiders or scorpions or even fellow humans. That doesn't change the fact that possession scares the crap out of me, even if all of the movies fall in category A or B. Category A: Introduce priest/pastor with shaken faith, add teenaged victim inflicted by demonic possession, and procrastinate for forty-five minutes by searching for any other explanation for why the kid can rotate his/her head 360 degrees. Category B: Introduce a happy family to a new household, add an escalation of unexplained events, then introduce a matronly woman who specializes in hauntings. Either way, I'm squirming in my seat with my ears plugged and one eye shut.
Do you have any fears that make the difference between a horror movie scaring you and being laughable?
* If you have read All the Pretty Bones and Blood, Spirit & Bone you're probably wondering why I write about demons if I'm so scared of them. I write about a biological series of species that are known as demons because many of them feed on the chemicals produced in large quantities by humans when they experience terror, rage, envy, and (more fun) lust. There's a difference between those demons and the kind that can inhabit a human.
by Camela Thompson
I mentioned a while back that some friends and I have been live tweeting horror movies. We choose them primarily by title or poster art, definitely not by the ratings others give them. I've been known to love a two-star movie and hate a five-star, so taking a risk is okay even if it doesn't normally pay off. Remember, even the worst movies have writing lessons. Lately we've been wading in the depths of the horror-comedy. I either love these movies or hate them, and there's a fine line dividing the two.
Premise: Vampiric, water-dwelling monsters fall to Earth with the aim to suck the world dry. After discovering only near-pickled alcoholics are toxic to the monsters, the understaffed and overwhelmed cops on a tiny Irish island stage a drink-in at the pub to save the locals' lives.
What worked: The transition from serious horror flick to comedy occurred early enough to know that it was intentional. Solid CGI didn't hurt. The acting was well executed, the dialogue spot on, and the ridiculous antics were balanced out by a surprising amount of logic. For once it made sense for the humans to make idiotic decisions. They were wasted! Even an asinine shot with a full moon during a rainstorm was worth the contradiction because of the clear association with E.T.
What didn't work: There wasn't much that didn't work about the movie. Most of the frustrating character decisions were explainable. I will say both main Gardas came off as unlikable initially, but somehow it worked in the movie's favor.
Rating: 4.5 stars. Loved it.
Premise: A worthless, alcoholic cop with daddy issues is transformed into a werewolf and becomes better at his job.
What worked: References to werewolf mythology were sprinkled throughout this surprisingly intelligent movie. Gratuitous nudity struck early, and every trope was hit, but there were enough interesting bits to keep us entertained. I laughed really hard during a squirm inducing tryst because it highlighted major issues romance writers tend to skirt around. After seeing that scene, avoiding the transformed werewolf love scene altogether is definitely the way to go.
What didn't work: The acting was a little tedious at times, particularly between Jesse and Tina. I'm not sure if this is a problem with the acting or the written dialogue. Either way, it was strained. The makeup wasn't great. If you can't switch off the part of your brain that needs high quality CGI and are easily offended, don't even try to watch it. The first time I turned it on, I wasn't in a good mindset and was immediately frustrated by the crappy cop trope.
Rating: 3 stars.
Premise: Toxic waste is spilled near a beaver damn just as three hot girls and an adorable dog reach their vacation cabin.
What worked: The title alone hinted that this could be something so ridiculous it works. Think Sharknado. Think Tarantula. Think Big Ass Spiders. Only don't think those things because you'll only be disappointed by frustrating characters. The psycho zombie puppets were so bad they were hilarious, and the human transformation was funny enough to work.
What didn't work: The minute a dog came onto the scene, I knew I would be ticked off. They delivered. The three of us live tweeting were so frustrated by the characters that we were rooting for them to die. Everyone was generally despicable and self-serving.
Rating: 1 Star
Cockneys vs. Zombies
Premise: Two bumbling grandsons team up with their cousin, a genuine gangster with a steel plate in his head, and an incompetent thief for a bank heist in the name of saving their grandfather's nursing home. Too bad it's in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. How will they save grandpa?
What worked: This movie was so over the top it worked. The characters had backstories and the main characters were very likable. There was a lot going on, but it helped rather than hindered. This movie has one of the most epic Zombie chase scenes ever.
What didn't work: Some of the elements were so over the top they were a little distracting. Romance in the middle of a biological purge bothers me. The connection between a robber and a bank teller just didn't quite work for me.
Rating: 3.5 stars. If you liked The World's End or Shaun of the Dead, you'll like this movie.
What do you think of the horror comedy combination? Do you have examples that did or did not work for you?
by Camela Thompson
I was going to write about videogames, framing an argument for Diablo III as more than just a loot-crazed hack-and-slash fest, but something happened. A four-legged desperado took over our lives and now I'm sitting on my porch with Annie and my laptop literally waiting for the dust to settle. Diatomaceous earth to be more specific. The stuff clings to the top of the carpet in baby powder fine clumps, turning our house into a polka-dotted vision.
My grandparents helped raise my brothers and I, and they always had at least one dog. My grandfather had a tough childhood and clung to memories of pets as the bright spots in his life. His mom was a divorcee, a rarity in the deep South in the early 1900s, and they moved frequently, living with family members who would take them in. He doesn't talk about it too often, but I suspect the family dogs treated my grandfather more like family than the relatives letting an asthmatic, intelligent kid take up room and food at the table.
The first dog I can remember, Siegfried, was my grandfather's dog
I can never remember my grandparents without a dog. As soon as one passed away, Grandpa was up at the pound, looking for his next mutt. I introduced them to Bernese mountain dogs. Actually, I begged to have a show dog and paid for it with money I scrounged up painting whatever I could sell. After their first Bernese, they couldn't imagine getting another breed. That had to change recently, and it wasn't without epic resistance. Try telling a man who built his house with his own two hands and spent his days digging irrigation ditches between working three jobs that he can't have the dog he wants. How do you tell a man who has too much pride to use the walker he needs that he can no longer handle a dog? How do you tell a strong-headed patriarch he isn't making sound decisions? Until the last five years, he could physically handle a big dog. Things have changed quickly.
Proud Grandpa showing off Bogey's Costco employee badge
Their last Bernese mountain dog, Bogey, was a handsome, good-natured guy with a bunch of serious structural issues. Wobblers is a terrible disease, and his neck kept him slow and docile. My ninety-year-old grandfather loved taking him to Costco and sit out front, talking with anyone who would pause long enough to say, "Hello." When Bogey died, Grandpa's social circle immediately shrank. He missed Bogey, but I think the bigger void was the ability to go socialize. We waited for the grandparents to realize on their own that one-hundred-thirty pounds of dog was too much. The thought of them getting a puppy scared us all. They would be stubborn and insist on taking it to Costco or for a walk (yes, Grandpa still drives). Without the physical ability to control an animal that size, there were too many dangerous scenarios to list them all.
We waited months, hoping the Bernese fervor would die down, but my grandfather taught himself how to use the Internet and started calling breeders. Lance and I also got a few phone calls about refinancing opportunities he had stumbled across and we had to have a serious security discussion. Mom had to bite the bullet and have some tough conversations of her own about how a puppy would be a terrible idea, but she couldn't bring herself to tell him the truth. A good breeder would not allow a ninety-year-old drive to their kennel and pick up a dog. The sad truth is that he can't safely handle a dog and the odds of the animal living longer are very high. When Mom corralled us all into driving to Puyallup to check out a mutt she had spotted on Petfinder, he was told this to his face by the adoption volunteers and we had a very quiet, sulking car ride back home.
His voice was hurt gravel. "They won't let me adopt a dog. They said it was an age thing."
Mom was allowed a dog, though, and since they all live together, they could share. It gained appeal after the sting wore down of learning that even though he had lived longer and seen more, he can't do some things anymore.
We talked to the adoption personnel and I emphasized the need for a calm, social animal, and they brought out one of the most pathetic creatures I've ever seen. He came out of his cage and flipped on his back on our feet. He had no leash skills, but wouldn't pull, dancing in circles at the end of the leash to avoid putting any pressure on the lead. Even with other dogs walking by, he was as light as a feather. He loved people, pressing into them and closing his eyes in bliss at any contact. Even Annie liked him. He was perfect.
"Spencer" was shipped up to Washington from a high kill shelter. The best guess was that he led life on the street as a stray. He has had zero training, didn't know what stairs were, and shied at the carpet the first time he saw it, so this is entirely possible. He also has an affinity for diving on anything that looks vaguely edible and has scabs all over his face and neck from getting attacked by other dogs. He is severely underweight. Say a harsh word and he cowers on the ground. Even after all of that, he is entirely affectionate, crawling onto any lap that will have him. He is a bit obnoxious because he isn't neutered, but he respects Annie's terse warnings and plays well with her. He loves kids.
My family was putting in a fence and this guy will take off if left to his own devices. He's used to life on the road and won't look back. How do you call back a dog who doesn't know his name and doesn't trust that he'll get his next meal? Add in that he still has all of his parts and loves the ladies, and you can see how crucial it is that he's always on leash or in a yard fit for keeping in convicts. They were going to leave him at the pound while this was done. I offered to take him, but only if I could call him Spartacus. It was the most inappropriate name I could think of for a scrawny mutt. They let me because I train dogs and we could get him on a schedule and start the housebreaking (they named him Benji - we'll see which sticks).
These are blurry because he's literally rolling on the couch
At first things were great. His zest for his new life was a joy to watch as he rolled on every single surface available to him. He crammed himself in throw pillows and managed to scoot along the entire length of the couch on his back. He rolled on our bed, paying special attention to our pillows. He had no manners, so his feet bounded on counters and table tops. The world titled the first time he went poop. Lance leaned over and I heard him swear. Lance rarely swears. Lance rarely mutters. I knew it was bad. Spartacus had worms.
Fast forward to us ripping every blanket, pillowcase, and cover off every piece of furniture he had rolled on. I spent hours wiping down surfaces with anti-bacterial wipes. His kennel was a cornucopia for tape worms and Annie had been her piggy-self, hoovering crumbs off the floor. Annie sleeps on our bed, or at least she did until we figured out her odds of also getting worms were 100%.
Traffic in Seattle sucks. The morning we saw live worms, I drove a couple hours to get him into the only vet who could squeeze him in on such short notice. He had already been wormed, but not for THESE worms. Special mega worms. Great! We were instructed to brush his backside after each trip outside (she even pointed out the vile things clinging to him as we spoke). Essentially, our entire house was contaminated and we have the reason why he's so emaciated.
Under the hair is skin and bones
Spartacus is housebroken if kept on his schedule. He does well in his crate during his meals and ours to prevent him from diving near any food prep surface or table. He's bathed, wormed, and we're working to get weight on him. He's getting home cooked meals that are balanced (I recommend Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet - we cook our dogs' food). We tried getting him switched to canned food to make it easier on my family, but he won't touch the stuff and is already emaciated, so he's on high end stuff for now. Lance jokes that he's like the redneck who hit the lottery and refuses to look back. We've vacuumed everything and put down diatomaceous earth wherever the dog has been (carpet, couch, dog bedding). Annie gets to sleep in her kennel for a while until we can test her and get her wormed.
Spartacus is at home with Mom and the grandparents, but he'll visit me during work days. I check in frequently and worry about him escaping because my grandparents can't move quickly anymore. They're prone to falling and both have had bad spills recently, which is especially scary with them on blood thinners. It took us time to realize they would fall with or without a dog and it was important to have an animal in the house. We've rigged exercise pens around the doors to prevent Spartacus from getting out and they are lining the wider gaps in the fence with chicken wire. He's still looking for a way out, but his wonderful temperament has everyone warming up to him.
Grandpa has always prided himself on doing every project himself. I remember hanging off his flexed bicep as a young girl, the product of his hours spent digging ditches. The drastic decline in his physical ability has led to depression. We think he likes the dog, but the past few days he's been questioning whether or not they should have one. We had to help put in the fence, something he wanted to do by himself but was too dangerous given his instability. This has been a difficult couple weeks. Hopefully things will brighten up with a dog who is more than happy to crawl in their laps.
by Camela Thompson
The wolf is a beautiful, intelligent creature, and the source of much fear and anxiety ever since humans took up farming. That is a long history of contention! The impulse to fear them is quite natural--they stand taller than just about any dog and those eyes carry a light in them that demands respect. Rabies, a disease that could drive the animals to viciously attack and leave behind a terrifying fatal sickness, added a fervor to the fear. No wonder the wolf began as a villain. But did it? The conversation that took place on our podcast, Shadows on the Sound, inspired me to do a little more research.
Going back further than fairy tales (Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, etc.), there are several instances of gods shifting into animal form. Many early religions regarded the wolf as the mightiest of all animals. From Gaul to Breton to Romania to Greece, cultures gave their gods the ability to take the form of the wolf or used wolves as the symbol for their god. Even Apollo had an affiliation with wolves. Germanic paganism gave a slightly less flattering portrayal of wolves (Fenrir slayed Odin), but they held their ferocity in esteem and wore their pelts to denote their totem animal in battle
Wolves became demonized when commercial farming became a primary source of income throughout the world. Efforts to exterminate the wolf as vermin grew into an organized effort in the Middle Ages in Europe. The wolf population went from half a million living peacefully with the Native American population to 300 grey wolves by 1960 (red wolves were extinct except for the small population living in captivity-go here for more info). A similar job was done in Europe, they were driven to extinction in Japan, maned wolves (not technically wolves, but still persecuted) are endangered in South America, and Tibetan wolves are still hunted. Attacks by rabid animals fueled the hysteria and attitudes have only shifted in the last forty years towards rehabilitation and protection.
Japan had the kitsune (a fox, not wolf), the French had the Loup-Garou (which travelled over to Louisiana and emerged as the Rougarou), and the Navajo yee naaldlooshi. Nearly every culture has lore that involves transformation from man to beast. More modern depictions have traditionally fallen into the Thriller genre. The most common construct involves a man being bitten by another werewolf only to turn into a wolf himself on the full moon. The myth often differs from vampirism in that the infected person is left alive and human for the better part of each month. The werewolf is a rare creature. It gets to retain its humanity for the majority of the time, which also means he/she has to live with whatever havoc they wreak on a full moon for the rest of their very long lives. Vaguely romantic, but still entirely terrifying.
Over the last several years, werewolves have been cropping up in romance. It's an interesting transformation, and one I feel is linked to the increased awareness about the damage we have inflicted against a creature that largely leaves people alone (livestock is another matter). The incorporation makes sense on more basic levels. Men and women with more animalistic tendencies are viewed as more hot-blooded in the bedroom. In a culture that seeks alpha male behavior, the werewolf is the jackpot. Danger and sex and are often intertwined, and even more so when a werewolf is involved. The lack of inhibitions don't hurt either.
Maybe we're going back to our original regard for an animal that embodied strength, cunning, and loyalty.
What do you think of the surge in were-animals in romance? While they still have a place in thrillers, can you also picture them as heroes?
by Camela Thompson
I'm not a horror expert. I didn't go to school for cinematography or screen play writing. When I watch horror movies, I base my assessment first and foremost on how I feel while watching the movie. No matter how masterful the dialogue or beautiful the cinematography, if my gut says no thanks, I can't gush about it. Even if it's critically acclaimed and people I respect rave about it. I've listened to The Last Knock podcast on the topic, and I highly recommend the episode, but I still can't jump into The Babadook fan club. I appreciated their points and agreed with many of them. I'm still baffled by the 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
**Spoiler Alert** I would recommend watching the movie and judging for yourself before going forward. I have several spoilers in the following content.
A single mother with a difficult son struggles with making ends meet and the shadow cast by her deceased husband. Things go from horrible to worse when a strange book is opened and read, unleashing a monster in their home.
What Worked for Me
The cinematography is beautiful and the dialogue fantastic. The characters are limited in number but strong in showing. The mother was someone I could sympathize with, and I loved the elderly neighbor. The movie kept me guessing until the end. I wasn't sure whether I was looking at a rift on The Others or a haunting or something new. The raw and unflattering picture it offered of motherhood was refreshing. The pace was well done and the music was great. These are all great things. It should be enough, right?
What Didn't Work for Me
Let me start this out with the admission that I have the maternal instincts of a log. I thought the neighbor's squalling infant was an injured cat and searched for said cat for two weeks. My husband still thinks this is hysterical.
The kid was one of the most frightening creatures I've seen in a while, and I don't mean this in a he was scary kind of way. I mean annoying to the point of pressing pillows to my ears to drown out the sound of his screech. He was loud, demanding, and mentally unstable. Screaming tantrums. Constructing weapons and pushing children out of tree houses a la The Good Son. He was a great actor, but I spent half of the movie wondering how the two hadn't headlined as a tragic case in the paper, which spurred on my belief that we were looking at a remake of The Others. The extent to which I did not like first-half-of-movie-child made me uncomfortable because I was imagining terrible scenarios. When the mother yelled, "Why can't you just be normal?" My thoughts were: "Oh My God, right???" and "Well, the little bastard needs therapy anyways. Why not? You tell him!"
The switch in the child when the mother lost her sh*t would have been effective if there had been a transformation when the Babadook first entered the picture. I thought it was cool the kid defied our expectations and rose to the challenge, but I couldn't believe it. Early movie kid didn't have redeeming qualities to make me suspect he would be capable of a transition that involved real feelings. Murder, sure. Rising above his mother's fall and spurring her love to drive out the creature? No way.
The final straw was the taming of the Babadook. Who knew he would make a creepy but beloved addition to the household? I see the metaphor for grief. It was obvious. But why do you have to feed it worms?
And there's the family dog. I get it. It's a very effective illustration of just how far the "infected" person has devolved, but I'm tired of it. Every. Single. Time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars.
Maybe I'll watch it again and glean some insight I missed in the first go around. I didn't like how the movie made me feel (imagining bad things happening to a kid is disturbing), but I can't dock a movie for creating a strong emotional response. The ending was the biggest disappointment, feelings aside.
I do appreciate that it's created and directed by a woman, which is a rare feat in the horror industry. We need more of that, but it doesn't mean I'm judging this any differently than the next film.
I left The Babadook frustrated. If you liked it, I'm happy for you. What was it that I missed?
by Camela Thompson
Thursday--May 28th--marked my very first book reading at a book store. What made it even cooler? It was the book store where I wrote the majority of Blood, Spirit, and Bone. I was excited and terrified. It was a great experience (thank you, Third Place Books and Michael G. Munz!). There were a lot of great questions posed during the Q&A session at the end of the reading, but one question stuck out in my mind. "How long did it take you to write your book?" When I answered that the first draft took me a month and a half, peoples' eyes bugged out. Specifically, my author friends' eyes bugged out. This leads me to believe that in the short amount of time I had to address the question, I didn't give a fair picture of that experience.
When I said it took a month and a half, it was true. What didn't come across was that it was hell. So many things were sacrificed, including some sanity, in order to make the deadline. And you know what? That's okay. I chose to push myself, and I knew there would be consequences. I'm not writing this post to be a big baby whiner. I'm writing this because I see other authors discouraged by production rate, and it's important to know the good AND the ugly.
In order to reach the fifty-two thousand words I needed to finish my book in November, I worked at my day job from 6 AM to 3 PM Monday through Friday. Add on another hour for commute. I had ten hours of the day dedicated to work, minus the occasional minute here and there jotting a note in a notebook when I had an idea for a scene. Add another two hours for taking care of the dogs, cleaning the kitchen, and dinner. In order to get up at 4:30 AM, I went to bed at 8PM. That left 1.5 hours to write. If cleaning couldn't get done in the two hours after I got home, it didn't get done. Certain rooms got priority on the list (bathroom and kitchen).
The weekends were for marketing the book I had released in October and writing. Saturdays were spent at home writing. Sundays I spent at least two hours at Third Place Books writing with my writing group. I didn't have the energy to socialize. At home, this was my usual view:
This picture makes my heart hurt a little. We lost Champ on December 2nd, but I spent a ton of time next to him in November. Any breaks were spent rubbing his belly and talking to him. It was a big upside to the mad dash toward a first draft.
My husband was amazing. He picked up a lot of slack on the chores, did the grocery shopping, took on dinner a couple nights a week, and was up for eating out more. Oh. And I ignored him. Often. We do the same day job and he would want to talk shop. I didn't have the energy for it. Thank God for football. It made me feel much less guilty about at least one day during the weekend and a couple days during the week.
Writing is a very emotional thing for me, fraught with angst. Consistently, the third and two-third points come with a belief that I am not a writer and the book is garbage. A condensed timeline forced me to put the angst aside and keep marching on. The cost? I think the low point was when I stood in the kitchen looking at stacks of dirty dishes. Cue ugly toddler crying because I had to make dinner and just couldn't handle it. This happened a few times. If I didn't do certain chores, they didn't get done. Sometimes I was okay with that. Sometimes I was too fragile to deal with much of anything. I drank more, ate more junk food, and consumed coffee - all bad ways of chemically balancing out the stress. It has taken me a lot of time to cut out everything but the coffee and get back to exercising.
Two books in a year brought me to my knees. I know of authors who crank out more. I don't know how. Was it worth it?
I learned that I need more help if I go back to work full time and want to keep up the same pace. If I'm working and we have dual incomes, some of that money is going to hiring someone to help with marketing and a house cleaner. We've also talked about me going back part-time or doing contract work--the latter appeals to me quite a bit. What I know for certain is that doing things the same way and expecting different results would be foolish.
I don't intend to paint a bleak picture, but I want it to be honest. I have accomplished things in the past two years I never imagined would be possible. I wouldn't take it back, but the experience has forced me to realize change is necessary to keep marching forward at the same pace.
Do you work full time and write? How do you juggle both?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.