A video essay on the film Unfriended (2014) that tries to mimic the style of the movie as best as possible.
Glitches and the Unknown: An Exploration of the “Found Footage” Trope in Horror
My name is Cameron. Before you start reading this blog post, I want to take you through a thought exercise. Think to the last time you took a picture that may not have turned out the way you wanted it to. Why didn’t it turn out the way you wanted it to? Was the lighting off? Did the picture not take all the way? Did the picture maybe crop in a weird way? Within the realm of photography and art, a glitch can mean anything that causes a product to not turn out the way the artist intended. However glitches don’t work the same way. For the horror genre, and found footage specifically, glitches are primarily used as points of entry for aspects of the unknown realm to enter the known realm.
Before we can define glitches, we must define what constitutes as “the realm of the unknown” and “the realm of the known.” In order to first understand this, it can be helpful to establish a boundary of difference between the two. “The realm of the known” within horror is the realm that houses the fictional world on-screen. While this can be a bit of a hazy definition within horror, this definition can be reasonably diluted to mean the world where the action takes place on-screen. For example, within V/H/S/2’s short “A Ride in the Park,” all of the action that takes place takes place inside a forest with hiking trails and picnic tables. “The realm of the unknown” is the realm that houses anything that is not established as a fact within the fictional world. It is important to note that “the realm of the unknown” is not simply anything that shows up in the fictional world without explanation. Rather, “the realm of the unknown” is the realm of explanations that happen outside of the fictional world. For example, while the audience knows that being bitten by a zombie will turn someone into one in “A Ride in the Park,” the audience does not know what originally started the zombie plague. Thus, the origin of the zombie plague in “A Ride in the Park” belongs to the realm of the unknown. The boundary between “the realm of the known” and “the realm of the unknown” in found footage horror is literally the edge of the camera shot.
Once one understands what constitutes the boundary, it is much easier to define glitches. Glitches are essentially points of entry for things from “the realm of the unknown” to enter “the realm of the known.” If “the realm of the unknown” houses the explanations for things seen on-screen, glitches are where those things enter “the realm of the known.” It is important to note that this definition ignores most technical definitions of glitches in order to allow glitches to better accommodate the horror genre. Continuing with the example from “A Ride in the Park,” glitches in this short are zombie bites. Zombie bites spread the plague from one person to another, working as an explanation within “the realm of the known” for the horror present within the world of “A Ride in the Park.” There is an important distinction between “the realm of the unknown” and glitches, though both work as explanations. The “realm of the unknown” is an explanatory location, while glitches are an explanatory force. Both are provide explanations for different aspects of horror within the horror genre; however, glitches function as essentially a tear in the boundary between “the realm of the known” and “the realm of the unknown” that invites horror on-screen.
In order to better define glitches, it can be helpful to think about how glitches work within V/H/S/2. Glitches within V/H/S/2 work primarily as hauntings and as visual obstacles, best seen within “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” respectively. In “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” glitches are established as a literal tear in the boundary between the living and the dead. In this sense, “the realm of the unknown” contains both the realm of the dead and how they are able to return to the realm of the living. “The realm of the known” contains both the realm of the living and, technically, the technology that allows Herman and Clarissa to commune with the dead. “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” is technically the only short within V/H/S/2 to use glitches in the literal sense in this way; however, it is this simplicity that allows glitches to be so easily, cleanly defined. In “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” glitches are much more disorganized. Within this short, glitches are primarily used to obscure visuals of the aliens. While this obscuration does make it difficult to clearly see the aliens, it also draws attention to them, effectively allowing them to enter “the realm of the known” through what the audience can see of them through the glitches. “The realm of the unknown” contains the aliens, and “the realm of the known” contains their intent to kidnap the children, as seen when the glitches obscure both the children and the aliens. Within V/H/S/2, glitches both obscure information and provide hauntings; however, in both cases, glitches allow aspects of the unknown realm to enter “the realm of the known.”
The Haunted PS1 Aesthetic and Medium-Specific Noise
I’m making some plans for some all-new series of videos to start premiering in 2023. But since it’s been such a long gap, I wanted to make sure I posted at least one thing to YouTube in 2022, and Halloween gave me a nice external deadline.
The low-poly aesthetic in horror has been one I’ve been interested in for awhile, all the way back since Back in 1995 was released in 2016. 2022 was the year I devoted to finally diving into a scene that’s become quite deep and diverse in recent years, to coincide with the horror class I taught in the spring quarter, and am teaching again right at this moment.
Script below the jump.Continue reading
Mother isn’t Mother anymore
Relic (2020) begins in a dark house. An old woman– her name is Edna, but I’ll call her Grandmother– stands naked in the living room, water running from the bath upstairs is spilling down. Grandmother seems unconcerned. She is distracted, looking at a thin, dark figure, unseen by the audience until its hand moves out of frame. The opening scene ends there. It’s disturbing. And it generates a huge question: who is the dark figure?
We transition to Mother and Daughter, they fill in the other two generations of Grandmother’s relatives. Mother and Daughter are driving to visit Grandmother. The police contact them because Grandmother hasn’t been seen for a few days. Grandmother is old. She is prone to forgetfulness, bouts of anger, signs that some audience members may recognize as dementia in their own aging relatives. Relic traverses the line between supernatural hyperbole and the reality of growing older.
And that might be an issue for the film.
I liked Relic but I only started to like it during its final 20 minutes. Throughout the film I was understanding the haunting of the three women to be literal. It’s a horror movie after all, and anything is fair game: ghosts, zombies, demons, you name it. And the viewer was told to expect that in a sense. As mentioned before, the shadowy black figure is established immediately in the opening scene. It seems like it should be an antagonistic force throughout the film. There are even numerous nightmare sequences in which the shadowy figure’s identity could be hinted at. Mother has a recurring nightmare about her great-grandfather whose old house makes up the foundation of Grandmother’s home. The great-grandfather is shown in a horrifying montage of decay and his figure is black and skeletal, it seems like a precursor to what the black figure developed into.
So with those scenes, the foundations of the old house within Grandmother’s now haunted house, the shadowy black figure, etc. It was hard not to take the haunting as a literal and specific occurrence. However, I found Relic to be a much more interesting film when it ditched the shadowy figure and addressed the audience head on with its commitment to the real horror: growing old.
After a dizzying and anxiety-inducing maze sequence toward the end of the film. Mother and Daughter successfully escape a deranged Grandmother who has turned completely against them and has been trying to harm them. Daughter wants to run. She beckons Mother to come and to leave Grandmother who, to her, is no longer Grandmother. But Mother can’t. She sees the decay and realizes her responsibility– wonderfully foreshadowed by an earlier quote “she changed your diapers, now you change hers.” A reversal of care from parent to child to child to parent. Daughter flees, seemingly unable to fathom this kindness and grace Mother is showing to Grandmother.
A disgusting yet tender moment follows. Mother carries Grandmother upstairs to her bedroom. Grandmother is covered with black flesh wounds that have been growing deeper throughout the film. Mother slowly begins to peel the skin away, revealing a black, tar-like skeletal body– just like the great-grandfather’s body of the nightmare sequences. After skinning Grandmother and laying her down on the bed, Mother cuddles her, in a fetal position. The Mother’s duty to her parent has been completed. Now, Grandmother can rest and be at peace. Daughter even returns. She sees the passiveness of Grandmother and realizes that she was no monster, she was just alone and afraid. Daughter joins the two on the bed and completes the generational cycle. As she stares at the back of Mother’s neck, she notices the beginnings of the black decay…
So what does this say? The ending of Relic left me with a really fantastic metaphor for the cycle of aging. The decaying process from the ending scene altered the literal grounding that might have been established by the decay Grandmother undergoes at the beginning. It might be taken as a specific curse, but as the decay spreads to Mother, the film seems to be saying that this is a process that happens to everyone. What is unique is the conditions by which it happens. For the great-grandfather, it seems that he was abandoned, left to rot by his family who could have cared for him but didn’t. Grandmother seemed to be heading towards that fate, but the appearance of Mother and the tenderness of the final scene indicate that Grandmother has completed her transformation somewhat gracefully. Now, looking toward the future, Daughter must maintain the relationship she has with Mother and make sure that she does not have a demented breakdown like Grandmother did. The decay seemed to be presented as an inevitability. What happens during that inevitability of aging is dependent on who is there for you in your older years and the support they can offer.
Relic sort of misleads you to thinking there is more to the haunting until it tells you, by the end, that this was no haunting after all. It is simply a terrifying reality.
Rule of Rose and the Tidiness of Unreality
Whoops! I made sure to give myself enough time to finish this video by Halloween … but then I neglected to post the announcement here! Happy belated Halloween, everyone.
I really relished the opportunity to talk about Rule of Rose, one of my favorite odd little games that I’ve never written about in any fashion before. Unfortunately copies of the game have become real collector’s items over the years, and it’s sad to praise a piece of media that so few will have access to. But hey, I also write about experimental film, so I know the feeling.
Script below the jump.Continue reading
Siren: Tension, Frustration and Visibility
Group project summary, by leader John Churay
Siren is a survival horror/stealth game developed by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Studio. The game takes a third-person over the shoulder point of view. Movement in the game uses tank controls, so left and right on the movement stick rotate the character instead of moving them. Unlike more traditional third-person viewpoints, the camera does not move around your avatar. Moving the right stick can change the camera’s orientation, but it is stuck squarely behind your character. The game consists of levels that often revolve around moving from one spot on a map to another. Along the way, you pick up items, defeat enemies known as “Shibito,” and escort AI companions. To pick up items, you must open a menu using triangle and select to pick up that item.
(Image credit: exceeding09 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7zmvKPlC8g)
You use this process to interact with almost all objects in the game, including unlocking doors and entering specific key locations. In the reboot Siren: Blood Curse, this process is streamlined to pressing the X button. However, using the flashlight in the remake requires using a menu, which is not the case in the original. In each level, you can access a map of the area. In the remake only, this is decorated with your position and the locations you need to visit to accomplish tasks. There are multiple characters who you will play as throughout the game; however, there is no choice on who you play in any given level.
Videogames and Genre Storytelling Week 2 Video Lecture: Special Topics in Horror and Character Alignment
Please find some time to view this 22-minute video lecture between now and our Zoom conference call, which will convene at the normal time. You can expect our Zoom conference call to be shorter and more discussion-based as a result.
Let’s Study Horror Games: Belated Memorial Day Weekend Catch-up
So, this is embarrassing. I actually did conclude the initial 10-episode run of Let’s Study Horror Games by the end of April. But I forgot to cross-post the video here once I uploaded it to YouTube. And then I made an 11th episode, and realized I still hadn’t announced the 10th one. And then weeks went by, and I fretted about, wondering how I should announce both videos on the blog. All of this is much more worry than it’s worth, so I finally just decided to announce them both in this post.
Episode 10 is an extension of some themes I delved into in this old blog post. (I had originally wanted to include Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem in that post, but it takes a lot of persistence to get the “save game deletion” sanity effect in that game, and there’s no way to reliably capture it unless you’ve committed yourself to capturing the entire game.) It marks the end of my formal plan for this series: any subsequent videos I release in it will take a more odds-n-ends approach, with no more multi-episode argumentative arcs.
Episode 11 inaugurates the more odds-n-ends phase. It focuses on sound, including musical scores, and includes within it a video version of this short lesson plan segment.
No transcript this time around, as it would be too unwieldy.
Let’s Study Horror Games, ep 9
Moving right along! This episode adapts some material from this post, but also includes plenty of new material, as well. Script below the jump.
Let’s Study Horror Games, ep 8
I have returned, bearing new content. This episode isn’t based on any prior material—I had been meaning to write on Until Dawn here for ages, and just ended up making a video for this series instead of writing a blog post on it.
Work and other publications slowed down my progress on this series (remember back when I though I’d wrap it up in February—and that was my pessimistic assessment?). But I worked on ep 9 concurrently with this one, so it should be up in just a few days. I’m hoping to conclude the initial 10-episode run of this series by the end of April.
Script below the jump!