Creepy Corridors: Why We Love Them In Horror

One of the first films I saw that really brought attention to the dread of walking down hallways by yourself was in The Shining. Little Danny Torrence would pedal along on his toy bike and you would get accustomed to the drumming of the wheels as it moved from wood to carpet to wood again. At first in the film it seems like a cute way for the kid to pass the time. But then as the film progresses, and Danny starts to experience the supernatural activity of the Overlook, that’s when each turn in the hallway makes your heartrate speed up.

Danny Torrence from The Shining

This weekend while doing research on a cruise ship, my family would help to point out particularly disturbing corridors. That is of course one of the benefits of telling your fellow travelers that you are doing research for a horror book. “Oh, Lena, you’ve got to get a picture of that one!” I would hear as they point down a cramped two flights of stairs shoved into a corner of a hallway. Or “Okay, this place just feels like a horror movie,” when we went to find a restroom in a large concrete stairwell complete with exposed ceiling pipes and wiring. I loved it of course, and snapped pictures like crazy. It got me wondering though, what is it about these places that really puts us on edge? Why do we instantly think that these places are ideal for horror scenes?

The first obvious answer is that there’s limited sight. Stairwells are particularly bad about this, and you could easily have someone several floors up following or watching you if the middle of the stairwell is open. In The Shining, little Danny Torrence turns each corner, not sure what he’s going to encounter each time. The tension increases throughout the film even though it’s literally just a kid on his bike.

The second answer is how cramped they are. That tiny stairwell down to the next floor that almost looks like it was forgotten? There isn’t much space to move there, and if you got partway down the steps and saw someone wielding a chainsaw running toward you, there would be little time to get out of the way. When you’re on a ship as well, there’s a very real sense when you’re out on the ocean of how isolated you are. The only way to leave the ship in a hurry is with the lifeboats on board, which is both exciting and frightening.

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See? Very cramped stairwell

Finally, the longer the hallway, the fewer places to run. The first time I went on a cruise I was daunted by how long the halls were for rooms. Staring down the hallway and seeing the length of space you would have to walk just to get to the main section of the ship was surprising. I’d seen ship cabins in videos before, but rarely those long halls. You get a real sense that there’s very little space to run there. There’s either forwards or backwards because every door you pass is locked. Again not only are you isolated, but you’re also very visible.

“Cruise Ship Hallway” by Satanizmihomedog on DeviantArt

Writers and film directors have recognized the innate fear that these spaces carry and have been exploiting them for decades. That stairwell with the exposed pipes and wires that we found could have easily been a filming location for the Nostromo ship from Alien. On the ship it was built for utility, but in the world of writing, it’s a perfect place for an ambush. These hallways don’t have to apply to ships either. I’ve seen plenty of buildings with halls so narrow that turning that right corner could have you running into someone if you’re not careful. Danny Torrence found that out the hard way.

What kind of hallways or stairwells have you found particularly creepy? Do you have any pictures? I would love to see them!

Black Panther: The Game-Changer

When I watched Black Panther the other day, like other audience-goers, I was blown away. Everything about the movie was incredible, from the plot to the characters, from the acting to the music. It was an incredible experience. I think the main reason there are so many people going back to watch it again and again though is more than it being a beautiful movie, it’s because it’s a clear game-changer.

Hollywood has a tendency to find one aspect of a film and cling to it as its reason for success, or its reason for failure. “An all-female comedy fails? It must be because nobody wants to see an all-female comedy.” I worry that Black Panther will be treated the same way. “Oh, a majority black cast in a superhero movie got this much love? That must be the key to producing another just like it!” This mindset could lead to a series of copycat films, all trying to be the next Black Panther, entirely missing out on what made this film so groundbreaking.

What makes Black Panther incredible is the respect that it shows. It gives a nod to both African cultures and traditions and to the dysphoria that many African-Americans feel about their country. There has never before been a film that has not only acknowledged the pain of having your culture stripped away from you, but also admitted to the anger and resentment that causes. Black Panther handles both with grace and elegance all under the guise of a superhero film. It found a way to express that pain while still being consumable by audience members aged 13 and above.

That kind of clever balancing act is tough to beat. And while I’m hoping that this film will herald a new series of all-black casts with major funding and box office pull, I worry that taking away only that lesson will lead to this being a phase instead of a new era in films. As a movie goer who would love to see more unique ideas and even more diversity in Hollywood, I still can’t help but be worried. I’ve seen subcultures be used as trends in films before and I would hate to see the power and dignity of Black Panther be wasted by Hollywood executives eager for a quick buck.

 

The Promise of the Pantheon

Have you guys seen the Gods of Egypt trailer? If so, then you’re probably just as confused about how it reflects ancient Egyptian mythology as I am. If not, then here you go:

Now my first reaction was at how white the actors were for this film. This is ancient Egypt, right? In fact, an article on that topic was the first hit when I did a Google search for the film just now. My second reaction was, wait, are those supposed to be Egyptian gods? And that shield is breaking in slow-motion, right?

The only main woman I saw wasn’t even willing to do anything herself. She just wanted to convince the male protagonist to do it instead. Coming from a land where you had awesome ladies like Cleopatra, Nefertiti, and the goddess Isis, I kind of expected a more interesting female character, even if she isn’t the main protagonist. Yes, I haven’t seen the film yet of course, but so far it’s ticking a lot of boxes for me that make me want to avoid it.

I expected more from a film that was supposed to focus on the Gods of Egypt, or at least ancient Egypt. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the awesome stories covered over at HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast such as Under the Pyramids starring Houdini and The Mummy’s Foot. Sure they’re both kind of ridiculous stories in a way, but they still have at least some respect for the original culture and lore.

One of the best comparisons I’ve read for this film came from a CinemaBlend article:

Basically what we have here is the recent Clash of the Titans remake with the serial numbers filed off and the geography changed to Egypt in order to change the names of the characters.

Bingo. That’s what this movie feels like, and that makes me sad. The ancient Egyptian pantheon has so many interesting stories and unique characters that there are endless entertaining tales that could be spun regarding them. Just reading over Isis’s Wikipedia page gives plenty of interesting ideas, like how she creates a golden phallus for her dead husband. That’s true dedication there.

So my sister and I came up with a challenge. I told her that if she wants to see more interesting stories with the Egyptian gods in them, then we need to write them ourselves. So that’s what we’re going to do.

We have until the end of the year to each write a short story (doesn’t have to be anything long) that includes one of the many gods. Personally I’m leaning toward Thoth, and it’ll likely include something horrific, because why not? He’s always been one of my favorites. Did you know they used to mummify ibises in his honor? They found a ton of these guys (estimated at 1.5 million) in one of the catacombs.

Anybody else wish there were more interesting ancient Egyptian stories around?

Why I Love The Hobbit

I’m a professional woman with a full-time job.

Tonight I’m going to see the midnight showing of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.

Some people think these two statements don’t go together. For some reason folks have a hard time believing that an adult with a full plate of responsibilities would be interested in taking time off to go to a midnight showing of a movie, not to mention a fantasy film. Aren’t there more important things you could do with your time? Couldn’t you just wait to see it at another time?

These aren’t questions that are always stated, but I can still see them in the curious glances and the odd looks I get. People tend to be shocked when they find out that I’m such a big Lord of the Rings fan, at least until I start talking about it. This seems as good a time as any to explain why I have such an obsession with this franchise, and more specifically, the Desolation of Smaug film.

SmaugHow I met The Hobbit

I have to credit my discovery of The Hobbit from watching the Rankin/Bass version. I absolutely loved the songs, the animation, and all the little character quirks. It was a movie that I grew up with and one that I still rank up there on my favorites list along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Last Unicorn, and Flight of Dragons. It was a fun film as a child and as I got older I realized how rare and wonderful it was.

I’m pretty sure I read the book sometime before I got assigned to read it in High School, but I can’t say when that was exactly. I can say that it was one of my favorite reading assignments. It was a topic I could definitely write about.

Riddles in the Dark

My mother was an elementary teacher. Often I found myself in her classroom helping her clean up or wasting time while she finished getting her classroom and paperwork ready for the next day. I’m pretty sure this was common for teacher’s kids. You just get really used to being at school.

I was reading the Hobbit for maybe the second time, and I was going through a phase where I was asking all my sisters the riddles that Gollum asks Bilbo. It was fun to watch them try to figure it out, much as I had when I first picked up the book. It was only natural to follow this fun with writing a riddle on the board for my mother’s class the next day.

They were a group of fourth graders and all of them were curious and confused at the same time. They spent a few minutes at the beginning of class each day while the kids puzzled over what the answer could be. I’m certain my mom helped them out, she did have a class to run after all, but she thought it went over so well that I should put up another the next day. It didn’t take us long to run out of riddles, and we couldn’t find any good ones really online, so we did the next best thing. We started pulling out quotes from the book and put them up instead.

It only lasted a few weeks, but the kids in the classroom loved it. It’s cool that they got to try to unravel some interesting word puzzles. Most of them had likely not read The Hobbit, so they were really at more of a disadvantage than I was as the reader. After all, I could just glance at the next few lines to see the answer. Some of the riddles were tough too. I like to think that a few of those kids looked at words a bit differently after that.

The Tainted Woods of Mirkwood

When I was a kid, I would go exploring through the woods in our subdivision all the time. My sisters and I spent a good chunk of our childhood in the woods exploring, building forts from sticks, and just getting into trouble. The idea that a disease could come across an entire forest, causing a species of enormous, dark creatures to turn it into their new home intrigued me. The fact that they took the form of giant insects was just downright frightening.

That isn’t the only adventure Bilbo has in Mirkwood though. He also has to deal with the wood elves, King Thranduil’s people, who are terribly mischievous. These scenes are reminiscent of fairy lore in how Bilbo is never sure how much of what he’s seeing is real or not. When you do finally meet the people, they aren’t at all how the typical elves are portrayed. Their elven guards don’t always do what they should and the frequent parties cause many to indulge perhaps too much in wine. They are in many ways counter to the typical view of elves. They are more hunters than magic wielders like the otherworldly elves of Rivendell or Lothelorien. They rely on stealth, speed, and guerrilla tactics; which honestly made me like them all the more. After all, those were the same tactics I might use.

King Thranduil is an especially interesting character. There are some in-depth character analyses of him if you’re interested. He is really just as much a villain as Smaug, but he walks that line quite carefully. He has a multitude of reasons for why he does the things he does, definitely moreso than Smaug does, but that certainly doesn’t make his actions less cruel. He’s what I would call a “lovable bad guy”, or any bad guy who doesn’t quite fit the mold. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter is the first character that comes to mind, but there are dozens more.

The Cleverness of Dragons

It’s difficult for me to explain the impact Smaug had on me, being so little when I first watched the Rankin/Bass film. He was unlike most of the villains you saw at the time, and didn’t seem cruel simply for the sake of being so. He was arrogant and greedy, yes, but he was also undeniably clever. If he was allowed to keep what he had stolen, he would have been a rather quiet neighbor. There is a great build-up of Smaug in the novel as this powerful foe, and maybe a few mentions of his keen wit, but it wasn’t revered to the same level as his fire, his ferocity, and his strength. Indeed Smaug shows how dangerous he is not by murdering thousands, not by destroying buildings, and not by burning people alive; he does it through speech. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t done these terrible things, and they are mentioned, but really you don’t see Smaug in his true fury until he speaks to Bilbo.

You realize quickly that it is good that Bilbo is so very familiar with riddles because Smaug is the ultimate riddle. He is described as a one-man army, yet a common thread in the book is that looks and first impressions can be deceiving. He is a foe who has to be cracked with quick words and a sharp mind, not with anything so basic as a sword. He was perhaps the first intelligent, well-spoken, clever enemy that I ever saw, and I absolutely loved him for it.

There Are Flaws

To be fair, The Hobbit itself is not a perfect book. Tolkien wrote it for children, and so it leans more on the comical side compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I was younger, I adored it specifically because it was so very accessible. I couldn’t get through the Rings because it required a different level of concentration, and The Hobbit made for an excellent fantasy gateway drug you could say. Tolkien considered several times writing a more adult version of it, but I believe friends like C.S. Lewis talked him out of it. A second book on the same story, even if it was in a different style, would be overdone and simply felt repetitive, though today many wish he had written it.

Battles happen in The Hobbit, but you don’t really get to see them. You get to see the skirmishes that Bilbo takes part in, but since it is geared for children and Tolkien had seen war, it is completely understandable why he didn’t want to include it in the book. However its absence is keenly felt. It almost feels like a let-down that you aren’t inside the battles like you are in Rings. You know the battles happened, you see the damage and the fall-out, but since you aren’t a part of it, you can feel the censoring. Even kids can pick up on a missing part of the story.

Even still, The Hobbit is one of my favorite books, perhaps the favorite. I still love it even for all its flaws and weirdness. Even with it’s strange gaps and multitude of characters. As a writer I’ve learned that there is no such thing as a perfect book. It’s going to have problems. A book is a child of carefully molded love, and since people come with their own flaws, so do their creations.

So when someone asks me why I’m going to a midnight showing of Desolation of Smaug tonight, I’m going to explain how much the book has meant to me. I’m going to tell them how much I love how the creepy forests of Mirkwood, the caustic King Thranduil, and the silver-tongued Smaug. Or maybe I’ll just save myself the trouble and point to this post.

Waiting patiently for TDKR… sure, right

So I’ve been on a big Batman kick lately. I’ve been really looking forward to the next film, and looking for whatever I can find to hold me over until the movies comes out this time next month. It’s the final part of the three-part series, and I have big hopes for it. Bane will be amazing, I’m sure, and even if one of my favorite villains doesn’t make an appearance, I’m sure Bane will keep things interesting. He’s good about that after all.

I was thinking about going back and reading through Knightfall again just to refresh my memory of Bane and his various henchmen, but I think I’ll wait until after the movie. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high after all. Instead here is some amazing Joker dub-step that my sister found earlier today. The voice overs are great, and this should be epic driving music for the week!

As far as writing goes, I’m plugging along with some fun action scenes, but getting back into them can be tough. Think I’ll stop here and pick up the scene tomorrow over lunch. I tend to be able to concentrate better that way. Earlier today I was totally in the mode and looked up to see my lunch hour had ended. Then tonight I just can’t get into the groove again. It should come back to me tomorrow though, at least it better!

Word metrics, or see how close I am to completing Camp NaNo!? Less thank 7k! I’ve knocked out over 50k in the past four weeks, so I surely can eek out a few more thousand words, right?

Project: Secrets of Leekston

Summary: Leekston is an unassumingly quiet southern town, but it hides many secrets. An unusual government entity studies the supernatural activity in the area, but for what purpose? A crazy scientist runs a research lab of particular patients, and his daughter may pay the price for the people he’s maimed. Six years after the incident at the Kayak Hills subdivision, sixteen year-old Suzie Daper once again must protect her family, this time from a bloodthirsty werewolf pack bent on destroying anyone standing in the way of their vengeance.

Current total words: 92,591
New words written: 1,558

Total Words for 2012: 105,592