Let Me Digress

Kathryn Hore - Writer

Tag: horror

Endings. (In which I enjoy arguing over bad horror flicks while drinking too much wine.)

I’ve thinking about endings. Story endings. 

See, a horror loving friend had a movie night the other night and, as one does, decided to stick on an “old” and “classic” movie. Did she pick something like, oh, James Whale’s Frankenstein? What about Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Perhaps The Shining or The Exorcist, those 70s classics? But no. She didn’t even go Hammer Horror from that period, which I would’ve loved. Look, I’m not picky. I’d consider the original Freddy Krueger Nightmare on Elm St a classic. 

But my friend is significantly younger than me, so what she picked was… The Mist. From 2007. Hmmm.

Anyway, after having some severe words with her about what constitutes a ‘classic’, or even ‘old’, and after said friend mocked me in return for being middle-aged and out of touch – all undoubtedly true – we all sat down with several bottles of wine (necessary for this film) to watch it. Then we all got into semi-drunken arguments about the ending. As a bunch of horror readers, writers and pop culture consumers are wont to do. 

Oh, and before I forget: spoilers ahead. I don’t know if it’s possible to spoil a move that’s a dozen years old, especially in a blog post titled “Endings”, but I did see someone put a spoiler warning on an online forum discussion of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo once, and that book’s well over 170 years old, so what do I know about modern spoiler culture?

Um… where was I headed, before I paused to roll my eyes at spoiler warnings?

That’s right. The Mist, circa 2007. If you don’t know the ending by now, here’s my rendition of it: after surviving the endless horrors that usually occur in a Stephen King tale, the protagonist and his plucky band of survivors (read: a nice older couple, a love interest, and his 8yo son, the protection of whom has hitherto been his entire character motivation), give up and he shoots them all dead. This is instead of letting the monsters get to them, or something. Even though they’ve risked far more multiple times than stepping outside of the car into the mist and seeing if they maybe can walk it. Anyway, thirty seconds after he literally kills his own child, the army rolls in and he finds they were all saved after all. Oh, the horror.

People hated this ending. 

I hated this ending. 

But my movie-night-hosting-friend *loved* this ending, and knows just how controversial that stance is, hence her desire to ply everyone with wine and stick this particular film on. She loves the ending because it’s grim and brutal and horror. She also loves a good argument. Her argument to those of us who hated the ending was we’re just not tough enough to cope with a downer ending and wanted some kind of happy fairytale finale. 

Let me tell you, in horror writing circles, thems fighting words. 

So I’m here to tell you why I hated the ending and it’s nothing to do with not being able to deal with grim, brutal, horror movie endings. It’s because that particular ending is entirely unearned in a storytelling sense. It makes no narrative sense. It is plonked on purely for shock value.

In a story, your ending has to be earned. That version of The Mist is a damn fine movie which I absolutely loved… right up until the end, which destroyed it. Because the ending was unearned and unrelated to the actual story. If the protagonist had been struggling throughout the film with a dark part of himself that didn’t want to protect or care for his kid, while still loving him, then having to shoot the child dead right when he’d finally embraced a protector’s role would have been a truly tragic, gut-wrenching end. 

That’s not what happened. There was no fatal flaw in the protagonist that he finally gave in to which provided our tragedy. It’s one thing for the external end goal to be survival, but they fail and all die. But story endings are wrapped up in the protagonist’s internal journey, their character arc, and this ending made zero sense to any character’s arc in the film.

Which is a shame, because otherwise it’s a note-perfect flick which shows that no matter what external monster horrors threaten on the outside, the worst horror will always come from inside human beings. 

Maybe that’s why I hated the ending so much. It destroys a film I otherwise loved. Anyway, I haven’t seen the more recent Netflix remake, nor have I read the original King novella it’s based on. I’m not likely to watch/read either after the scarring left by version 2007.

So here’s the lesson of the tale, folks… make your ending count for the characters, not merely for the external plotline. That’s where it’ll hit your readers with a real emotional punch. 

And for the love of the old gods, do not stick on this flick when having a semi-drunken movie night with a bunch of horror movie fans. Please.  

Gross

Being a self-confessed obsessive lover of horror movies and ghost stories and all things which go bump-rip-stab-scream in the night, I have something of a shame-faced confession to make:

I have a really, really weak stomach. 

Oh, stop laughing.  It’s dreadful.  I keeled over in a first aid course once.  Trusies.  It wasn’t even like anybody was even pretending with fake injuries or anything, the instructor was simply talking about some of the kinds of injuries a first aid person might have to deal with.  It was a conversation, for chrissakes.  ‘Cept there I am, trying very hard to maintain my dignity while my head pounds and my muscles shake and my vision spins and… well, next thing I know, I’m on the floor with a bunch of strangers trying to help me up.

It is Seriously Embarrassing.  Yes, with capitals.  A couple of girl friends once decided, for some idiotic reason, that when out to lunch in a swanky expensive city café its a great moment to compare cooking injury stories.  You know, the kind involving great big cooking knives and really hot stove tops.  There we are, surrounded by the young and trendy set of black-clad Melbournians who all look very swish, except me, who was increasingly appearing paler shade of zombie green. 

Now you might be thinking, oh, that’s not all that bad.  It’s hardly a lethal allergy to an otherwise yummy foodstuffs or a crippling phobia of, oh I don’t know, sunshine or something, keeping one entirely housebound.  What’s she complaining about?  But you try growing up a proud teenage tom-boy chick prepared to take on the world and everyone in it, only to have to hide the dark secret that you can turn into a stereotypical nineteenth century damsel in distress with barely any warning. 

It’s the ‘f’ word I can’t stand:  faint.  Argh.  I’m an independent, modern, fully twenty first century gal.  It does not do me any favours to be suddenly overtaken by involuntary fits of swooning at entirely inopportune moments, let me tell you.

How did this happen? How did I get like this?

I asked my mother, but she only said I was always like it.  As a little girl I couldn’t care less about broken bones, but would burst into hysterics if I grazed a knee.  It was the blood, you see; I would freak out at the blood.  But I can happily gaze at reality tv showing open chest surgery with loads and loads of blood without a worry.  The insides of people aren’t the problem.  It’s the actual cutting, the wounding, the twisting and breaking and, yes, the pain of it all that just sticks in my head and WON’T GO AWAY.

These images stay in my head.  For ever.  So cut something or burn something or break the skin in any way and be stupid enough to tell me about it, and I Freak Out.

And no, that is not an invitation.  Don’t even think it, smartarse.

Anyway, I was well into my thirties before I ever admitted to this publicly.  It was Takeshi Miike who finally made me confess.  Never heard of him?  He’s an insanely excellent Japanese film maker who makes very brilliant, and occasionally unwatchable, films.

Now, I grew up watching horror movies and it was a matter of pride that I could, and would, watch every celluloid inch of them without the slightest flinch.  Sure, Eli Roth and his torture porn mates hadn’t even started making films back then and I was more likely to be cheering at the comical excess of Evil Dead 2 than coming across anything real enough to make anyone squirm.  So even though I’ve got this little… uh… issue… with more bloody scenes of wounding, I never had a problem with even the most disreputable of horror flicks. 

Until I tried to watch Miike’s Audition

(Odishon is the original Japanese title, but there’s meant to be an accent thingy above the ‘O’ and I can’t figure out how to do that on my English language keyboard, so lets just stick to the English translation this time, okay?)

So, hands up who’s seen it, then?  Keep your hands up if you managed to watch the entirety of the climactic scene towards the end, you know the one… yes *that* scene…  without looking away, or perhaps vomiting, even once?  Heh, didn’t think so.  See the notorious scene – it’s a torture scene and it’s a long one, if you aren’t actually aware of it – is excruciating to watch for even the hardest of stomaches.

Imagine what it did to mine.

Never before have I had to watch a movie through my fingers.  I actually ended up fast forwarding through the last half of the scene.  For the first time in my life, I had to admit I just couldn’t watch it.  It was either that or faint and I don’t do the fainting thing willingly, let me assure you. But hey, I figured I’m over thirty now, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore.  And so I fast-forwarded the bugger.

Which brings me to the point of this long ramble… yes, there is one (I warned you once already,smartarse, one more time and you’ll be sent to visit the principal, got me?)…  I was reading about another flick the other day, one I haven’t seen yet and probably won’t now.  You may have heard of it, apparently it caused a bit of a splash at Cannes.  Von Trier’s film Antichrist, which seems to have a bit of a notorious “scene” of its own.

Now the article I was reading gave plenty of warning.  It even said “and those of a gentle disposition should look away now.” 

Gentle disposition, grrrrrrr.  But I know myself too well, so I looked away, despite being decidedly unhappy at the company it put me in.  I really did refuse to look.  But…

But…

Oh, what else did they think would happen, if they warn someone like me not to look? 

It was bad.  I now have my own imagination’s version of that scene in my head for ever more, linking up in that great hyper-linked network that is my subconscious with other such horrendous scenes of real horror I’ve read about.  And my imagination is worse than anything Von Trier probably put together.

Anyway.  I want to know why the likes of me is prone to swooning (notice I don’t use the ‘f’ word.)  I want to know what makes that happen, why, when, how.  I’ve fought against this tendency all my life, I refused to acknowledge it until I was in my thirties, I have absolutely no control over it, no matter how hard I try.

Surely there has to be someone out there in the cyber-ether virtual world who has an answer for me?  Huh?

Okay, that’s it for today.  Go away and play, boys and girls.  But don’t forget to think hard.  Your homework has been set and you all know what happens if you don’t return it to Lady Kath on time, now…

’till next

Kath

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