10 of the Best Horror Films Ever

As a horror fan, I’m always on the lookout for a decent flick that will scare the poop out of me.  Since I’ve seen so many on my quest, unfortunately I’ve become extremely jaded.  Most horror films can be divided thus:  85% of them are awful, 10% okay and only 5% awesome.

Leaving out truly scary mainstream films like Jaws and The Silence of the Lambs, I’d like to share some horror flicks I thought were particularly good, whether they scared me or not, and some that actually did.  Most of these are older films, since later ones don’t seem to quite know how to grab a viewer and shake him like a baby into a terrified, mewling mass.

The following are particularly good movies in the horror genre:

#10

Let the Right One In (Swedish, 2008) d. Tomas Alfredson

12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is lonely and bullied relentlessly at school.  When he meets fellow outsider Eli (Lina Leandersson), he finds strength in their friendship.  Too bad Eli is a vampire.

Set in a frigid Stockholm suburb in the 1980s, this adaptation of the bestselling novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist isn’t about bloodsuckers; it’s about two misfit children seeking solace from their despair.  Definitely the best twist on a vampire in years, there’s nary a sparkle to be found, just blood, snow and fire.

#9

An American Werewolf in London (1981) d. John Landis

By turns funny and horrifying, this film was notable for the groundbreaking werewolf transformation engineered by makeup effects master Rick Baker.  Two American tourists (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) end up on the wrong deserted moor.  Although it ends rather abruptly, it’s still the best werewolf movie I’ve ever seen.  With Jenny Agutter.

#8

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) d. Tobe Hooper

The trouble starts when Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her asshole wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain, who was brilliant) and their friends pick up a crazy hitchhiker.  It’s a good film because the concept is so creepy, and it takes the time to let you get to know the characters a little.  Hooper skillfully builds tension with unflinching shots of Sally’s ordeal.  By the climax, we really want her to escape.

#7

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) d. John McNaughton

Based on the case of true-life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, this movie is so realistic it’s extremely hard to watch.   I don’t think it was meant to be strictly a horror film but it’s often classed as one because of the subject matter.  It’s the most realistic portrayal of a serial killer I’ve ever seen.  Stars Michael Rooker as Henry, with Tom Towles as Otis.

#6

The Shining (1980) d. Stanley Kubrick

“RedRUM!  RedRUM!”

Some people consider this one of the scariest movies ever.  Jack Nicholson stars as the barely-dry alcoholic hired to take care of a haunted Colorado hotel over the winter.  Based on a novel by Stephen King, the film is deeply flawed, particularly in its characterization of Wendy (Shelley Duvall) as kind of a twit.  It does have great bits from the novel and the buildup to Jack’s encounter in Room 237 sends shivers up the viewer’s spine.  Also stars the great Scatman Crothers as Dick Halloran.

King got the idea for this after staying in the famously-haunted Stanley Hotel at Estes Park on a trip with his wife Tabitha (also a brilliant writer, by the way).

The top five are movies that actually scared me:

#5

The Descent (2005) d. Neil Marshall

Not scary because of cave-dwelling creatures.  This film terrifies because of the pure claustrophobia of squeezing through a tiny hole in the dark with tons of rock atop you, not knowing who you can trust or where you are, or if you’ll ever make it out alive.

#4

Psycho (1960) d. Alfred Hitchcock

Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), mild-mannered motel proprietor with a mother fixation, meets lovely fugitive Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, mother of 80s scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis) and bloody hijinks ensue.  Based on the excellent novel by the legendary Robert Bloch, who in turn based Norman loosely on Ed Gein, a notorious murderer and body-snatcher.  Gein was the inspiration for Norman, Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and aspects of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.

Psycho spawned several sequels, only one of which was decent.  In Psycho II (1983), Tony Perkins reprised his role as Norman Bates.  The film also starred Meg Tilly, Vera Miles and Robert Loggia and boasted a very nice score by Jerry Goldsmith.

#3

The Thing (1982) d. John Carpenter

One of the few remakes I actually like.  The original Howard Hawks production is pretty good, but this one, drenched in the slime that was so popular in 80s horror flicks, ramps it up awesomely.  The blood test scene builds so much tension you may need a sedative afterward.  Stars Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David and Richard Dysart.  If all remakes were as good as this one, I would spend more time at the theater.

#2

The Exorcist III (1990) d. William Peter Blatty

Trust me on this one.  I only have one thing to say: head scissors.  Blatty directs the third sequel to the film of his best-selling novel, The Exorcist. We’ll just pretend the second one never happened, won’t we?

This film is based on his book Legion and stars George C. Scott as Lieutenant Kinderman, the world-weary detective from the first novel.  Jason Miller, Brad Dourif (Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings), Viveca Lindfors and Ed Flanders round out the talented cast.  I saw this at a drive-in theater with a motley crew of friends in California, including one very cynical man named Sandy.  By the end of the film, we had our feet off the floor and were huddled on the car seats clutching each other like little girls.

Wherever you are, Sandy, I wish you well and hope you’re not still having nightmares.

#1

The Haunting (1963) d. Robert Wise

Forget the stupid remake.  This movie has it all.  The eerie sets, skilled actors (Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn – Amber’s dad) and mind-bending special effects bring Shirley Jackson’s novel to brilliant life.  You never actually see what’s haunting Hill House, but to hear it pounding on the wall in the dead of night is completely terrifying.

What are your favorite scary flicks?  Why did they terrify you?  Share their spookiness with us in the comments!

Vocabulary – D-D-Do you love me?

The laptop is on hiatus, so I’m writing this at lunchtime on my work computer.  My power supply quit and I have had to wait until payday (tomorrow) for a new one.  I’m in pure hell.

D is for despot, dormancy, deliciousness (root beer, Papa Murphy’s pizza, cheese of any kind except blue, and chocolate), Daleks (if you’re a Doctor Who fan), and dependent, which is what I am on my laptop.  Gah!

Let us begin.

Daguerreotype – an early photographic process using chemical reactions on a silver or copper plate.  Often confused with tintypes.  If you write historical fiction, you should know the difference.

 

From the linked website – daguerreotype in open case.

Denouement – falling action after the climax of a literary work or film.  This is the part that wraps things up.  After the criminal is unmasked and taken into custody, Scooby and the gang head to the malt shop to rehash the case over a chocolate coke float.

“But why did he dress as a woman, Fred?”

“Well, Daphne, I guess he had some sort of fetish, ha ha.”

“Jinkies, Fred,” Velma said, polishing her glasses, “it’s obvious he hoped to fool us into thinking his Aunt Clothilda wasn’t really dead so he could change her will and inherit her fortune.”

Dhole – Also known as the Asiatic wild dog, dholes live in eastern and Southeast Asia, including the Himalayas, parts of India and Siberia. They live and hunt in packs and look something like a red-headed coyote.  Lots of neat pictures and information here.

Dilettante – person who shows an interest in art, science or another body of knowledge, but only a superficial one.  A dabbler.  Margaret wrote poetry, the lovelorn, shallow observations a young student might pen upon completing a required course.  She liked to do this beside her lace-clad window in the early evening, the sash raised to admit birdsong and a glass of sherry nearby.

She hoped Mr. Eckert would ride by and see her there, and perhaps be moved to stop. Silly Mr. Eckert.  He told her once she was a dilettante. “When you’re serious about something, Miss Margaret, drop me a line,” he said.  He was so staid!

DJ – short for disc jockey, sometimes spelled as deejay. Originally the guy who played records over the radio, accompanied by patter and announcements.  The term has been credited to commentator Walter Winchell.  The letters DJ now stand in for the words.

Dorp – a village.  A village of derps, perhaps?

Draconian – unusually rigorous or cruel, as in laws, rules or punishments.  From Draco (650 BC), a 7th-century lawmaker who established a harsh code of law enforced by courts.

“Don’t you think cutting off Cordelia’s head for insulting a demon is a bit draconian?” Buffy said, brushing vamp dust off her stake.

“Where did you learn such a big word?” Giles mused.

Dugong – an herbivorous mammal related to the manatee, of the order Sirenia.

 

Momma and baby dugong. Aww.

Dwarf – a person of small stature caused by varying medical conditions.  Dwarfs prefer to be called little people.  Primordial dwarfism results in extremely tiny, though proportionate, people with a characteristic look to their facial features.  Lucia Zarate (1864-1890) was the first person identified with primordial dwarfism.  Like many unusual people in her time, she traveled with a circus sideshow.

With a few environmental modifications, little people can live normal lives, provided they don’t have serious medical problems. I would love to see a book with a little person protagonist.  There may be one or two; I don’t know.  If you know of one, please share in the comments.

Dystopia (dystopian) – In fiction, a dystopia is a nightmare world, the opposite of an ideal society or setting, characterized by authoritarian governments, substandard living conditions and a population that preys on each other instead of cooperating. They don’t have to be science fiction but often are.

George Orwell’s 1984 is the most famous dystopian novel.  Others include John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.    I have read all the books listed and highly recommend them.

That’s all for now, folks.  Go read something!

Vocabulary: C is for Cookie, and other Assorted Things

Today, let’s visit the letter C.  Consonants are a bitch to think up lists for because in English, rarely can you put two together to begin a word.  So once again I have two for you, except for cs and ct.  If some are in other languages, we’ll both learn some new words.  I’m learning as we go also.

Onward!

Canard – a false or baseless rumor.  French for duck; may stem from a very old saying “to half-sell a duck,” or to cheat someone.1

Catafalque – the platform a dead dignitary rests on when his or her body lies in state.

Celebrity – a person of renown, a famous person.  What few writers will ever be; these days, seems dependent on having a spray tan, a purse dog and a very low IQ.

Centaur – a mythical being with the head, arms and torso of a human and the hindquarters of a horse.  In Harry Potter, they live in the forest surrounding Hogwarts Castle and are fierce, proud creatures.

Challah – (KHAL-uh) A Jewish egg bread eaten on Sabbath and holidays.  Traditionally braided.  I’ve personally never tried it because I sadly don’t know any Jewish people, but it looks delicious, doesn’t it?

Mmm, mmm!

Chifforobe – combination piece of furniture that looks like a small armoire stuck to a chest of drawers.  The word is mostly used in southern regions.  In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Mayella Ewell claims she asked Tom Robinson, her accused attacker, to come into the yard to bust up an old chifforobe for firewood.

Cilice – (SIL-is) originally, a haircloth garment worn by monks to produce repentant discomfort.  Now means any garment/device used for that purpose.  In Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Silas wears a metal cilice around his leg that draws blood.  Modern metal cilices typically do not.  This is an example of artistic dramatic license.

Citrine – a greenish-yellow color.

Cliché – an overused phrase or word, such as flat as a pancake, pure as the driven snow, etc.  Writers should avoid these.  They make writing look amateurish and stale.

Cloaca – (klo-A-kuh) originally Latin for sewer.  The place where poo, pee and eggs come out of a chicken.  Don’t think about this before breakfast.

Copyeditor – the person who looks at manuscripts or ad copy for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.   All writers should be able to do at least a basic copy edit on their own work before submitting it to anyone!

Coelacanth – a lobe-finned fish with bluish scales. A deep-water dweller, thought to be extinct until a South African ship accidentally brought a live one up in a shark gill net in 1938.

Looks like he’s smiling.  You would be too if you’d made it through several million years of evolution.

Crepuscular – I bet you thought this had something to do with pus, didn’t you?  No, it means pertaining to, active at, or resembling twilight.   I guess that makes Edward Cullen crepuscular.

Crookshanks – Hermione’s cat in the Harry Potter books;  an ugly, orange, squashed-faced tom she regards with real affection.  He is half Kneazle, giving him unusual intelligence and an uncanny ability to ferret out untrustworthy people.

Part One of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out in theaters November 19th!

Okay, Potternerdgasm over.  Back to the list!

CSI –crime scene investigation.  The TV drama CSI has been responsible for something real-life detectives and prosecutors term “the CSI effect,” meaning juries have come to expect miraculous revelations from crime scene techniques, which will point an unyielding finger at perpetrators.  In real life, this seldom happens.

Cthulu – one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods, or Old Ones, ancient, sorta evil alien beings worshipped as deities.  Commonly known for looking as though his head was replaced by a squid, like Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Meme attempted.

Cudgel – an old-fashioned word for a heavy stick used as a weapon.  As in fairy tales: The robber set upon the miller with a cudgel and relieved him of his bag of treasure.

Cupola – (KYOO-pu-luh) that little dome-like thing on top of buildings that sometimes looks like a tiny gazebo.  Can be square.  Seen commonly on top of barns, domes, houses and towers.

Cupola mounted on a roof.

Image by ralph_man / Flickr.com

Cyanosis - a blue discoloration caused by lack of oxygen in the blood, as with blockage or cessation of breathing, or exposure to cold air or water.  Usually visible on a person’s lips.  Corpse-y detail mystery writers should remember.

Cyberpunk – science fiction genre characterized by high-tech, dystopian elements such as cybernetics, dope, urban decay and direct interactions with computers and human brains.  Very postmodern and film noir-ish.

I’m not familiar with this genre, but I’ve been dabbling in sci-fi recently.  If you have any recommendations of books or films you think I or other readers might enjoy, please share in the comments.  If I got it wrong, please tell me.  Thanks!

Czardas – Hungarian: czardas (CHAHR-dahsh) an intricate folk dance, the national dance of Hungary!  Look here for one performed at a Hungarian dance academy.

Czarism – a government like the one under the Russian czars, despotic.

1.  Citation: Modern Language Association (MLA): “canard.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 24 Oct. 2010. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/canard>.

Should fan fiction be legal?

If a writer posts her own UNPUBs online, there isn’t usually an issue.  But what if she creates a new story using someone else’s established characters?

Fan fiction delves into an area where creativity and copyright clash.  Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, Batman, it’s all out there.  People are writing new adventures for their favorite characters and posting them for other fans to share.  And they’ve been retelling tales with new twists for centuries.

I have nothing against fan fiction, although it’s not my chosen form of expression.  It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of artists, in their imitative phase, produced derivative works and never showed them to anyone.  I did only one myself.  Yes, I shared it with a few select individuals.  No, it’s not online and you’ll never see it there.

Personally, it wouldn’t get my nose out of joint if people wrote stories about one of my published characters (if I had any, that is!), as long as they weren’t selling them.  I don’t really want people making money off my creations unless I license them to do so, as in merchandising, etc.  I may be open to that.

The issue gets sticky when fair use considerations rear their heads.  Chillingeffects.org, maintained by Stanford Center for Internet & Society, says “The fair use doctrine says that otherwise copyrighted works may be used for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

Fan fiction doesn’t fall under this description.  Why?

(Disclaimer:  I am not a lawyer.  For in-depth questions on copyright infringement, please consult a specialized attorney.)

When someone writes fanfic, as it’s commonly referred to, she creates what may be a derivative work using someone else’s established characters.  Under the original copyright, only the holder may have the exclusive right to use or reproduce them in new works.  If anyone else does it, that’s a violation.

Can you steal an idea?  Not really.  Ideas can’t be copyrighted.  They have to be developed in fixed media.  For those who wonder, that does include a computerized manuscript.  It’s not necessary to register your work unless you need to sue someone who stole it.  The very act of fixing it in a tangible form establishes copyright.

Look at all the works on bookstore shelves right now similar to Twilight. A vampire has a relationship with a human?  Buffy did it already.  Did Stephanie Meyer steal from Buffy? No, she took a trope (a common device) and created an original story around it.  So did all the writers who jumped on the Twilight bandwagon.

To make it clearer, let’s try an example.  Mary Sue and Bobby Joe are in a critique group tossing ideas around.  Mary Sue writes a story based on Bobby Joe’s musings about a vampire in love with a werewolf.  Bobby Joe can’t claim this plotline as his own creation because it’s generic.  He can’t stop her from writing her story or even publishing it.

If Bobby Joe publishes a book about the relationship between Fiona the vampire and Colin the werewolf and creates very specific characters, he then has a copyright on those characters.  Mary Sue can’t use them.  She can’t write about Fiona and Colin in a new adventure without violating Bobby Joe’s rights.  She can’t use elements unique to that work and those characters.

However, if Mary Sue were to write a parody of Bobby Joe’s book, similar to the Vampires Suck spoof of the Twilight film, that could constitute fair use and might be allowed.  A critical literary analysis of the Fiona and Colin saga as romantic horror fiction, even with quotes, could also fall under fair use.

What if Mary Sue’s adaptation isn’t published, either online or in print?  It’s still a violation.  I don’t know if Bobby Joe could sue based on this, or if he’d even want to.  If Mary Sue wrote the fanfic for her own pleasure or for no profit, even if someone else reads it, where is the harm?

Individual authors have their own positions about fanfic.  JK Rowling has said she is flattered by it, as long as it remains non-commercial and not obscene.  Conversely, Anne Rice states “I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.”

There are upsides to fanfic.  It’s certainly a means of tribute to a film, book or television series.  Fan fiction can help a writer practice craft elements like story structure, plotting, and editing without her taking the time to world-build.  Using established characters, she can practice stretching them while still staying true to their personalities.

My fanfic was a great way to get back into the novel form after a long period of mostly academic writing.  And I actually came up with a story I was able to adapt to my own characters.  As a writing exercise it’s useful, although I highly doubt I’ll ever go there again.

Fan fiction writers run other risks with their material.  DC Comics has this statement on their message board policy page:

By posting any fan fiction or proposed story ideas or plots on DC’s Message Boards, you waive any claims for credit or consideration of any kind as a result of DC’s publication or use of any similar matter in any manner or medium.

I am not a lawyer, but that reads as if they are saying “If you post something we like using our original creations, we can take your adaptation idea or even your script/written work and use it without recompense to you.” With this disclaimer, they could hire in-house writers to write your fanfic idea and you get nothing.

Fan fiction can be dangerous territory.  If you get busted for it, penalties are harsh and expensive.  And of course, your reputation could be damaged irreparably.  Perhaps someday authors and fans will reach an acceptable compromise with this issue.  Until then, it seems that fanfic writers will remain closeted and clouded in suspicion.

If you have any thoughts about writing fan fiction, from an author or reader standpoint, please share in the comments.  No personal attacks, please; let’s keep any debate polite and respectful.

Vocabulary – B Good

Forgive me if I’m out of it today.  I stayed up waaaaay too late last night talking online and watching a movie on Netflix last night.  I love the Internet.

Today’s letter is B.  It’s the second letter of the alphabet and an important one.  Without it, we wouldn’t have beds, bottles of beer, barnacles, Beavis and Butthead or be able to yell “Booyah!”

Because the list is so short, I’ve included two words for each consonant / vowel combination.

Bacchanalia – wild revelry of Greek and Roman times, celebrating the god Bacchus (also known as Dionysus.  He was the little fat guy with the wine in the Fantasia centaur cartoon).  The word has come to mean any drunken hoopla with lots of food, sex, and rock-and-roll.

Balletomane – someone who is nuts over the ballet.  I have two of them in my family.

Beignets – a square doughnut sprinkled with powdered sugar, famous in New Orleans.  See the word link for a recipe.  If you try it, please bring a batch to my house for café-au-lait.

Bedaggle – to soil by dragging along the wet ground.  As in:  “Yarr, matey!  Don’t bedaggle me best jacket whilst yer doin’ laundry or I’ll keelhaul ye!”

Bhelpuri – an Indian snack made of puffed rice, potatoes, vegetables, chutney and sauce.  It’s so beloved by an online friend that he chose it as his screen name.

Bhut (Sanskrit) or bhoot – a ghost, the restless spirit of a deceased person.

Biretta – that funny square hat Catholic clergy sometimes wears.  See a picture of a priest rocking one here.

Bilious – of or pertaining to bile.  In medieval times, ill-tempered, thought to be the result of an excess of the bilious humor.  Used as an adjective to describe a crabby, unpleasant person.

Blarney – a town in County Cork, Ireland, home of Blarney Castle and the famous Stone of Eloquence, also known as the Blarney Stone.  It is said whoever kisses the stone will receive the gift of gab, referred to as blarney.  TripAdvisor has rated it the world’s most unhygienic attraction, due to the estimated 400,000 sets of lips pressing against it every year.

Blowback – in forensics, refers to a vacuum effect created upon the discharge of a firearm, which can pull bits of material into the barrel.  Blood or tissue from a close contact gunshot wound would be a good clue for your fictional detective to find in a murder weapon.

BMX (bicycle motocross) – an extreme sport consisting of grown people riding teeny stunt bikes over difficult terrain and attempting to not kill themselves.  Could be a great setting for an adventure / action story.

BM – we all know what this acronym stands for.  Eat your prunes.  As Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) says in Stephen King’s The Shining, “You got to be regular if you want to be happy!”

Bohemian – a starving artist / poet / writer / sculptor.   To be a true Bohemian, one must be steeped in poverty and involved in some form of artistic pursuit, thus leading an alternative lifestyle.  In fashion, refers to a form of hippie chic influenced by counterculture dress of the 1960s.

Borzoi – a large, beautiful dog also known as a Russian wolfhound.

Bracket – [Like this] in American English.  In British English, (like this).  Or {like these}!  Used to set text apart.  Also useful for making little pictures, like this:

^^()^^ a bat;

{-_-} a baby;

{[]-[]-[]-[]} an open concertina;

{[][][][]} a closed concertina.

Brobdingnagian – an adjective meaning of colossal size, originating from Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels.  Lemuel Gulliver comes upon the land of Brobdingnag and discovers it is inhabited by giants.  Don’t ask me how to pronounce it.  If you know, please tell us in the comments.

Bucolic –  rustic, a country lifestyle usually.  Pertaining to the raising of cattle or a rural existence.

Buford Pusser – legendary Tennessee lawman who was the inspiration for the Walking Tall films.  This sheriff kicked ass and took names!  His home, located in Adamsville, TN, is now a museum.  Real people, especially those who have led unconventional or exciting lives, provide writers with inspiration all the time.

Bwahaha! – common Internet expression of villainous amusement in forums and chatrooms.  I should do an Internet expressions list one of these days.

Bwana (Swahili) – a form of respectful address, often from a servant or underling to his boss or master.

Byline – the line under the title that says who wrote a piece.  Like this:  “Catching Sea Monsters at the River Mouth, by Estuary Fisher.”

‘Bye – short for “Goodbye,” and what I will say now that we are done.  See you next time!

Vocabulary: Let’s Begin with A

I apologize for my long stretch in between posts.  Certain Someone has gotten me hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Talk about internal and external conflict in a story arc!  I can’t stop watching, even when I should be doing something more constructive.

During the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I did a vocabulary post using E for that day’s letter.  Lots of people commented on it and I had fun writing it.  I’d like to do some more for you.

It’s very important for writers to have a good working vocabulary.   Read lots of books and magazines, take those little tests in Reader’s Digest, and keep a good dictionary handy so you will know how to use your new acquisitions.  You don’t have to use big words.  Mark Twain said once, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

Your letter today is A!

Aardvark – a nocturnal animal that looks like a cross between a pig and a bunny and whose name is fun to say.  Go on, try it.

Abnormal – what people think you are when you spend all your time writing.

Acquire – to get, to procure, as in “Monty acquired a new cell phone with the money Esquire paid him for his article.”

Addition – a new room built onto a writer’s house in which she will sit and stare at the wall for hours at a time.

Aeschylus – ancient Greek playwright who gave much to stagecraft.

Aftward – toward the stern of the ship.  A nautical term ye should know, me pirate mateys!

Aglet – the little plastic thing on the end of your shoelace.  See, you learned a new word today.

Ah – What you say when you finally get up from your computer and stretch, which you should do regularly.

Aircraft – a flying conveyance that will take you on vacation, if you can ever afford one.

Ajuga – a genus of ground-covering plant that usually has blue flowers.  Your literary sleuth could find an important clue dropped in it by the perpetrator.

Akin – having the same properties as something else, as in “The main character in Ardelia’s novel is akin to Genghis Khan in his military prowess.”

Allegory – symbolic concepts in a story, which infuse it with double meaning.  In C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the lion Aslan is an allegorical Christ figure who is sacrificed and resurrected.

American Dream – what you will probably never have if you want to make a living as a writer.  Marry a lawyer or something!

Anthropomorphism – bestowing human qualities on animals or inanimate objects.  “The house is sad because it’s messy.”  “Fluffy loves her new kitty sweater!”  The hell she does.

Aorta – the largest blood vessel in the body; when it pops, you don’t hang around very long.  Take care of it by eating healthy, not smoking and getting your exercise, ya lazy bum!

Apathy – when you don’t feel like writing and all you want to do is lie on the couch and not even play video games and you’re thirsty but you can’t seem to get up and the cat just jumped up on you in a very tender place and you don’t even care.

Aquiver – what you will be when your dream agent calls and says “I love your book and I want to represent you!”

Arsenic – poisonous heavy metal used as a killing agent in old mystery novels.

Asplode – what happens to your head when someone else publishes a book like yours first.

Atl-atl – a spear-throwing device invented by primitive humans.  Shows up in Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series, devised by the character Jondalar.  Weaving historical details into a book makes it come alive, but be careful not to make them the focus of the story.

Audience – the group of people viewing the talk show you have been booked on to promote your novel, and who will be the first to see you trip on a cable and go sprawling.

Avulse – to excise, separate.  “Cecelia avulsed all the shopping scenes from her book.”

Aw – something people who love you say when you get rejected again.

Axe – give this weapon to your murderer and I guarantee he’ll be memorable.

Aye – something pirates say when agreeing with you.  You want them to agree.  Trust me.

Az – abbreviation for Arizona, a state in the desert southwest I should visit soon.  Might be nice when it gets cold.

This post has been brought to you by the letter A, the number nineteen-eleventy-ought-twelve and the color purpleen.  Toodles!

Review: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

Warning: You might want to skip this post if you’re squeamish.

If you learn nothing else from this movie, let it be this:  teach your daughters how to change a tire.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) has been widely billed as the sickest horror flick ever.  I watched it on DVD last night and to some extent, I have to agree that the idea is indeed pretty darn wacky.  Director Tom Six has spoken at length about his concept; I won’t reproduce it but you can read more here.

Since I did write a post about horror, you may surmise that I’m a fan of the bloodthirsty genre.  I do prefer a good horror novel to a lousy film and there are a great deal of those about.  This one is different.  Even in a glut of torturous gore fests, this movie stands out.  Not because it’s awful, although certain trite elements disappointed me.

The movie opens with a plethora of horror tropes:  a sinister situation as prologue (Mercedes-driving, evil-looking guy kidnapping a trucker who is trying to take a dump), two girls lost in the woods, and the obligatory dark and stormy night.

The ladies, Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) and Lindsey (Ashley C. Williams) wander around spewing their names at each other so we know who they are, not that it will matter later.  “I think we’re lost, Jenny!”  “Yes, that’s obvious, Lindsey!”  “I’m going back to the car, Jenny!”  “No, we have to get help, Lindsey!”  “The cell phone doesn’t work, Jenny!” et al.  This is virtually all we get to know of these girls, other than they are in Germany and planning to meet a cute guy at a club soirée.

Eventually they make their way to the nearest house, which happens to belong to—ta daah!—the evil-looking guy who clocked the trucker.   He is Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a renowned surgeon who made his fortune separating conjoined twins.  Heiter’s private project involves joining multiple beings at the, um, orifices, so they form one creature, a bizarre centipede.

Yes, you heard me.

He drugs the girls and they wake in a sterile, clinical basement hospital room, in time to see him murder the trucker who isn’t quite right for the ‘pede.  Once he obtains another subject, a Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura), he coldly explains his procedure to the terrified captives.  He will cut the tendons in their knees so they can’t stand up or extend their legs, thus restricting them to all-fours movement, and then join them ass-to-mouth.  The reaction is predictable.

Laser’s performance is elegantly restrained for such a demented character.  The doctor’s contempt for all humans other than himself is plain, but he doesn’t bellow it or leap around laughing maniacally.  Brief glimpses of anger and stress and his methodical precision produce disquiet in the viewer.  Can this really work?

Six consulted a surgeon for the idea of the centipede, and yes, it can work.  The movie is supposedly 100% medically accurate.  Cue someone trying this in three…two…one….

The clinical atmosphere of Heiter’s basement lab/surgery is scary because it’s so precise and medical.  If it were a filthy dungeon it would be too clichéd.  The music is mostly long sustained tones, more like ambient sounds, lending a sense of hopelessness and terror.

Once the deed is done, bandages swath the creature, hiding the worst of the damage. IMBD trivia states “Some scenes of the movie are so controversial, some people walked out during test screenings.” I admit, I’ve seen so many horror films and documentaries on crime, medical subjects and forensics that it didn’t bother me much.  Most people watching this film are in it for the gross factor.

I felt only the disgust that one would feel for anyone in this situation, but because I didn’t get to know the people, it was nothing more than a lip curl and a tiny bit of pity at first.  If only the girls had learned a bit of car maintenance, perhaps they would have made it to their party.

So it comes as a surprise that as we watch, we actually begin to care about the centipede.  The girls are reduced to wordless sobbing and snuffling, since obviously they can’t talk.  The Japanese man can only speak his native language.  Thanks to copious subtitles, we know the insults he hurls at his captor.   He grows on us.  We begin to like him but his fate is not what we would have hoped.

I couldn’t help thinking how physically tough this film must have been for the actors.  The 68-year-old Laser carries several of his castmates around, the centipede crawls on all fours for the last half of the film and the captives’ emotional breakdowns become exhausting just to watch.

I think hearing too much about this film before I watched it diluted some of the shock value for me.  It didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, except at the very end, and then it was merely tragic.

Overall the film was better than I expected, not as good as I’d hoped.  I wanted something a bit more exciting, but I wasn’t disappointed.   Six has two sequels planned and wants to make each centipede more elaborate than before.  The campy grotesquerie I sought in this movie will undoubtedly show up in the sequel.  I anticipate a repeat of the story in a different setting.  Six can’t add anything really original, however.  He would have been better served to build up to an impressive centipede in a trilogy rather than try to top this with more grue.

See The Human Centipede (First Sequence) if you think you can handle it.  It’s definitely a unique little film.