Can a Villain Be a Villain?

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Or, can a monster be a monster?

This is a hard one for me because I write vampires, all of whom would describe themselves as monstrous in many ways, but not monsters.

Of course the sympathetic vampire started with . . . Carmilla! She beat Dracula by 25 years!

What prompted this post wasn’t vampires with whom you can sit down and earnestly talk before they drain you dry. It was goddamned Jeepers Creepers.

I hate this movie so much that I watched it and the sequel last night, and I figured out why Jeepers Creepers works and Jeepers Creepers 2 doesn’t. The sequel brought us too close to the monster.

Okay, let’s define the movie monster we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with the bizarre, horrifying, disgusting, demonic, soul-devouring THING that’s never been a person. This isn’t the type of monster you can even try to reason with because once it notices you, you’re dead.

Monsters got wimpy for a while there; maybe that’s why zombies are so popular. Zombies are way worse than the demon from Jeepers Creepers. They aren’t even interesting.

And that right there is why Jeepers Creepers 2 fails. It brings us too close to the monster. The closer we get to the monster, the less it scares us.

The monstrous vampire in my first book has a backstory that readers learn as the series progresses, but essentially, this vampire was a human monster and was chosen to become a vampire for that reason. But you’re not going to get chummy with it. You’re not going to spend much time with it, for the same reason we shouldn’t have spent so much time with the monster in Jeepers Creepers 2: Both are simply evil things.

Times are bad and we’re trying to make chummy with century-old villains, like the villains in fairy tales. There’s no understanding of why DAMMIT THAT PERSON IS JUST BAD. There are too many excuses.

Vampires can be amplified versions of ourselves, our desires, our evils. Or, they can just be monsters.

If your villain is a vile creature, let it run free. Monsters require no reason nor rhyme. Just don’t allow it to spend to much time onstage, because the more we see of it, the more we question it, and questioning the monster saps its power.

Zombie Night

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*contains spoilers*

I’m not a zombie fan as such, but I do like a good zombie movie. Those are hard to find despite the fact that there are so very many. Most, like Dawn of the Dead, start out fairly well and descend into gore and nonsense. Zombie Night has an uneven beginning and I almost changed the channel because there were so many characters making ridiculously poor decisions, but I watched the whole movie, mainly because Anthony Michael Hall’s character was strong and well-written, and I ended up liking the movie.

Dumb decisions: locking Birdie’s blind, confused mother in the basement and locking Irina in a room “for safety.” The girl falling into the open grave gets a “meh” from me. It felt like a way to kill off a character, but it did make sense because she was running through a graveyard full of zombies.

Anthony Michael Hall’s character emerges the hero in the bright light of morning. Having the zombies go dormant in daylight was a plot device I haven’t seen yet in a zombie movie. I liked the fact that Birdie was bitten and didn’t turn, but that was left open-ended as well as what would happen to all the inert zombies when the sun set. If you like zombie movies, you’ll like this one. If you’re not a big zombie fan but you like horror, you may still like Zombie Night. Try to imagine The Purge with zombies. Check it out if you get a chance.

The Woods

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(2006, starring Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, and Bruce Campbell)

Are you a fan of the original Evil Dead? Then you’ll probably like The Woods. Bruce Campbell stars in both movies, and both movies are set in demon-haunted woods and involve lots of screaming and multiple deaths.

The Woods is not nearly as gory as The Evil Dead, but it is a good old-fashioned style horror movie with a wonderful creepy atmosphere. It’s set at an all-girls boarding school in the late 1960s. I got a Grudge 2 vibe from the sinister headmistress (Clarkson) and the mean girl who starts out stereotypical but isn’t what she seems. And the calmly bizarre behavior of the adults reminded me a little of the original Wicker Man.

The movie really looks as if it was filmed in the 60s. The hairstyles, makeup, and clothing are authentic, and the lack of computers and smart phones is refreshing. The Woods isn’t a teen flick or a slasher movie. It has a real story and good acting. If you pay attention, it may become a surprise favorite.

The Marsh

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(2006, starring Gabrielle Anwar, Louis Ferreira, and Forest Whitaker)

The Marsh combines the well-worn “blocked writer rents immense creepy old house in the country for peace and quiet but the house is haunted” trope with some modern twists and film-making tricks that save it from being too predictable. The Marsh is only 90 minutes long, so the story doesn’t drag. Look away to check your Twitter timeline and you’ll miss something creepy. The producers relied heavily on the type of ghost effects we’ve come to expect in horror movies since the American remakes of Ju-on and Ring set new standards for scary. In fact, several scenes seem almost to have been lifted from The Ring, particularly the scene where Claire goes to Philip Manville’s farm to ask him what happened to his son.

The writer in The Marsh is a young woman, and she’s not an alcoholic novelist like male authors in similar movies usually are. She writes and illustrates children’s books. She also has terrifying partial memories that seem to come alive when she moves into the old house. The child ghost in the house looks like the main character in her book. She has two potential love interests. Typical to the formula, one becomes a suspect in the mystery she’s trying to solve. One is the editor of the local paper, the other is a cynical paranormal investigator, and the town is apparently entirely populated by eccentric locals. At times the story is almost too precious, but the rare female author character and the two men interested in her and/or the goings on at the house and the small town’s history keep the film interesting.

You’ll see shades of The Haunting in Connecticut and Stir of Echoes in The Marsh. It’s worth a first look (with the lights out, of course) for the jump-scares, and a second, closer viewing to fully understand the story.