Dark Shadows

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So, it’s nearly here…

That vampire film with Johnny Depp that’s directed by Tim Burton. Dark Shadows.

Of course, it’s exactly the kind of film Burton should make: kitschy, quirky and involving Mr Depp. Can’t say I blame him. At least it’s a different angle on the current vampire trend which is currently taking itself a bit seriously. Depp himself said that he prefers old school vampires, and used to watch the show that the film has been based on.

Check the trailer here: 

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Fairytales & Monsters

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The dominance of the vampire figure in popular culture is deceptive. Whilst Twilight and The Vampire Diaries have been taking up column inches, other monsters have been slipping past the radar. At least here in the UK, anyhow. We all know True Blood and other shows like it have ‘other’ creatures: werewolves, faeries, and even zombies (in the UK version of Being Human at least). But a trend is emerging on the other side of the Atlantic: fairytales are coming back.

Granted, they’ve never really gone away, and there was quite a successful comics series, Fables, which depicts a world of fairytale characters in modern-day cities. Again, like I mentioned in a previous post (which you can read here) – rewriting old stories seems to be something that fascinates us. Rewriting history is one thing: firing a whole load of ‘what ifs’ into our perceptions of the past is fantastical on one level – it would change the world we lived in now. Altering fictional tales seems somehow different. Granted, many of these tales may seem outdated as values and cultures shift, and with the basic messages of the stories still being interesting, or useful in someway, the best way to make them appeal to a modern audience is to revamp it to include all the necessary cultural markers.

Anyway. In the Autumn season of 2011, 2 series premiered in the US, both of which centred around different myth and monsters: those in fairytales.

The first of these is ABC’s Once Upon A Time, which like Fables centres around a ‘modern-day’ take on fairytale characters being trapped together in one town.

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The lead character, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) is (unknowingly) the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming and it is up to her to save the people of Storybrooke, who are all fairytale characters, from a curse which has left them with no memory of their true identity. Although the series reworks the fairytale structures and characters, it’s not quite monstrous or fantastical enough for me…

Then there’s Grimm.

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One man, Nick, learns he is a descendant of the Grimm family, who chart and destroy creatures that humans can’t see. These creatures include wolfish creatures (known as Blutbaden) and a long list of others. All far more animalistic, and all interwoven into various echelons of society. These creatures can’t be seen by humans, only by the Grimms.  Nick is aided by a trusty wolf sidekick, Monroe, who just so happens to have turned ‘good’, and gives Nick inside knowledge about the monster community he’s trying to get to grips with. The episodes focus on various different fairytales – Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and others.

Both series demonstrate that there’s a thirst for mythical creatures that goes beyond the gory and all-too-human world of vampires and werewolves, which are now so prevalent that they’re in danger of becoming banal. Whilst both series fail to deliver the same kick as more detailed mythological creatures such as the vampire can bring to a show (at times, anyway), perhaps that’s not the intention. Fantasy is still a huge genre in both literature and film, and these recent interpretations show that the TV series are becoming a definitive medium for exploring our addiction to escapism. We can now get a weekly dose of fairytale creatures rather than the odd film. What’s interesting is that there is nothing sweet about it, just as there is nothing sweet about fairytales originally. It’s probably something to do with Disney and their sugar coating of stories such as these that strengthened the link between ‘fairytale’ and the phrase ‘happily-ever-after’.

These series are interesting, if you want something mythical or fantastical to watch, and are bored of the vampire/werewolf dynamic that’s currently in trend. But there isn’t really a ‘happily-ever-after’ and that’s probably the most pertinent message that comes across from our traditional stories of mythic creatures, princesses and monsters. There won’t always be a dreamy vampire to claim as your soulmate for all eternity, or your pick of dangerous, enigmatic men desperate to be with you. Instead, there’s a remake of stories that can be viewed from far more complex perspectives – socially, economically and politically. They reinforce that identity is only what we choose to show to others. So, who’s the real monster?

Blood & Guts

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The other day I saw a post on Geekologie about ‘Gory Garters’:

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At first I thought ‘Oooh’; perhaps because I know its not real, and because there’s a preset in my brain that sees the provocatively gory as interesting. But it’s not just me that thinks this. As I’ve mentioned before in my previous post, visceral monstrosity sells. Zombies tearing chunks out of humans, werewolves ripping humans to pieces, the gory scenes in True Blood where blood gushes freely…I’m seeing a pattern here.

There’s something inherently self-destructive yet power-hungry about our fascination with blood and guts. We love to watch these monsters tear us apart – it is truly fantasy at its most perverse. But…the element of power is there too. These monsters are descended from ordinary and mundane humans; by participating in the spectacle (watching the show where flesh becomes pretty ribbons…) we are toying with our own ideas about mortality, relishing the tangibility of our survival. Because whilst on screen, and in clubs, and every Halloween we may dress up in outsides splashed with blood and daubed with the gory touches of the monstrous, we are playing god. Creating an alternative universe where we are destructive, bloody, primitive  and immortal.

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But this isn’t how it always was, or so we think from the evidence presented to us – monster fiction relied on the implication of terror to define the monstrous rather than the way we do it now. It is also, notably, far more present in the books and films coming from across the Atlantic. At the right level, it highlights the fragile limits of the human body. Overdo it and it’s merely a hedonistic immersion into the territory of what has become banal. One of the main criticisms of the difference between the UK and the US version of Being Human was that the US version made everything too obvious, so much so that it was tedious.

Gore can be tedious.

Especially if it’s lost the power to shock – it’s no longer just the staple of the monstrous but a pre-requisite for slasher flicks.

It evidently still has the power to shock some people, otherwise it wouldn’t still be pulling in crowds, nor would the monsters that produce the most blood….

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for gore-filled monster films as much as the next person, but bringing back terror through implication might be worth while. But I guess it’s not as immediate, and with our attention spans all seemingly getting shorter, and our control over content getting larger, I don’t see it happening any time soon.