TV isn’t the only storytelling medium that’s setting science fiction in the present day; many of the genre’s creators are grappling with the notion that, as technology improves at a perpetual, even frightening, state of acceleration, projecting far into the future now seems unnecessary. As Neuromancer author William Gibson put it in a 2007 interview with Reuters, “I have to figure out what it means to try and write about the future at a time when we are all living in the shadow of at least a half a dozen wildly science-fiction scenarios.”
One of the great tragedies of Australia is that Halloween is barely a thing here at all. It’s a shame, because I am a huge horror fan and always have a blast in haunted houses, dressing up, or even just holing up at home and getting my spook on with some creepy movies. I’ll probably do the latter this year to rain in the holiday, and figured it was a pretty good opportunity to share some spooky films that I really love.
I wanted to leave off a bunch of my favourite horror films that I figured most genre fans would have seen, and instead have tried for a little cross-section of movies that might surprise you. I’ve also made an effort not to recommend more than one film from a country. Internationally, cinema has such a diverse and compelling range of voices, and I wanted to try and showcase a few in this post.
So yes, you won’t find any films like Psycho, The Babadook, Nightmare on Elm Street, Battle Royale or Rosemary’s Baby here, but hopefully you’ll find something great to watch all the same!
Kwaidan (1964). Japan.
Anthology films are pretty hot right now as far as horror films go, but rarely do they fold together with the level of cohesion and chill that comes with Kwaidan. I actually watched Kwaidan for the first time as a part of the Oscars Project (it got a nom for best foreign language film) and it’s easy to see why. Composed of four Japanese ghost stories, this film is chilling, intimate and a totally sublime cultural experience.
Carnival of Souls (1962). America.
Sure, the story of a church organist who survives a freak car accident only to find herself drawn to an abandoned carnival is about as b-movie as it gets, but Carnival of Souls is an eerie exploration of trauma, femininity and grief. The scares are genuinely chilling too, which is probably due to the fact that the film’s minuscule budget ($17,000!) meant that it relied much more on implication than actual show.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003). South Korea.
This is the newest movie on this list and probably the scariest (a lot of the other movies go for eeriness over straight up scares), but man, is it a special film. Visually sublime, the story of two sisters moving back from boarding school and in with their father and his new wife is haunting and haunted, containing ghosts both real and imagined, and has what are genuinely some of the most terrifying sequences I’ve seen on film.
Les Diaboliques (1955). France.
There’s something quintessentially French about this film. A crime of passion becomes something much more sinister when a wife and a mistress team up to murder the man in their life only to slowly lose their minds in the aftermath. It’s spooky, and bold, with some of the creepiest eye stuff I’ve seen in a long damn while.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1977). Australia.
Film is a visual language, and typically horror comes with a set of rules. Shadows, pauses, silence and mirrors are things to be feared. People are malicious, and make the wrong choices. Things go bump in the night. Picnic at Hanging Rock eschews all of these dialects. It’s brightly lit, it’s characters are mysterious, but usually good, the known rapidly, unexpectedly, becomes the unknown. Nothing is ever explained. It’s eerie more than outright scary, but it’s a movie that discomforts you more than you might expect.
Do you have any horror movie recs for Halloween? Let me know in the comments!
After a few months of wrangling a lot of different projects, I finally feel like I’m starting to break through the other side and get things done.
So much of writing can feel like you’re just cutting through a thicket, the destinations and reaches of it somewhere out of sight. It means that finishing a draft of something can often feel like you’re breaking through somehow, seeing slices of bright sky up ahead, even though you know you’ll be submerged in that thicket again sometime soon during redrafting.
Actually being able to tie a few of my ongoing projects up a bit has been really rewarding and reconfirmed that I can actually get to the end of something. It’s not that I haven’t before, just this year has been slow progress on a lot of things, even if has had a few firework successes.
It’s been good to get things tied up though, especially as I aim to tackle NaNoWriMo next month! But hey, more on that later.
Last month, a collection rocked New York Fashion Week in a couple of revolutionary ways. Firstly in that she was the first Indonesian designer to show a collection, and secondly it was the first collection shown that not only incorporated the hijab, but celebrated it. It helps to that it was such a chic collection, with a range of exciting looks and awesome prints and tones. I’ve included some of my favourites here (and a pic of Anniesa Hasibuan herself!), but you can check out more looks over at Hasibuan’s Instagram here.
One of the things that I struggled the most with as a new writer was in putting the body into motion. It’s so easy to think of characters and stories as stationary beasts, to have emotion and narrative come through in dialogue and exposition, but the reality is that the time people spend talking is varied, and often fails to convey the plethora of emotion people are actually feeling.
In this way, gesture, motion and expression are integral to our day-to-day lives and just as integral to the way a story is told. Typically these days when I’m writing, I try to keep four things in mine, namely a character’s look and expression in any given scene, and the motions and gesture their body might make.
Look & Expression
Sure, you’re hard pressed to find a book that doesn’t utilise a character’s physical description in some way, shape or form, but a good story can employ it to convey more than just the way someone looks. It can use it to tell a history, a personality, a thought or feeling.
J.K. Rowling is super good at this, but her description of Sirius Black in Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban is particularly great at using the physicality of a person to convey a lot. Take this excerpt for instance:
“A mass of filthy, matted hair hung to his elbows. If eyes hadn’t been shining out of the deep, dark sockets, he might have been a corpse. The waxy skin was stretched so tightly over the bones of his face, it looked like a skull. His yellow teeth were bared in a grin. It was Sirius Black.”
In a couple of lines, you get a sense of menace and unease, which is essential for the scene, but you also get a sense of a man who has been through a pretty horrifying few years, which is essential to the overarching story of the book and the series. At this point in the story, we know that Sirius has been in Azkaban, and we know that Azkaban is a horrible place, but the look of him in this scene conveys more about the state Azkaban leaves a man in than any grocery list of atrocities ever good. Sirius doesn’t need to talk about Azkaban, because this description does that heavy lifting for him.
Of course, look and expression can be used in other ways too.
“Her eyes were bright, big, clear, wet, and shining, the color of her cheeks was real, breaking close to the surface from the strong young pump of her heart. Her body hovered delicately on the last edge of childhood—she was almost eighteen, nearly complete, but the dew was still on her.”
This quote is from one of my favourite books of all time, Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a heartbreaking novel, and this description is almost a perfect indicator of why. He captures the innocence of the protagonist so, so perfectly in just a few lines, the look to her, the pure edges, and also gives us a point of departure from who this same character will be by the end of the novel (very, very due free). The excerpt also brings home an important point –
When you’re writing a character, don’t just think about eye and hair colour, weight and height. Those things are fine, but don’t necessarily mean anything in the grand scheme of your story. Would it have mattered if Harry’s hair had been brown instead of black? His eyes blue instead of green? What matters is the scar left on his head and the thinness of his body from a childhood being underfed.
When you’re writing your own characters think about the strangeness of the body, and why it looks the way it is. Are her legs wiry, muscly, fit from the nights she’s had to run from the bastards who’ve hurt her, is he wispy haired from age or is that wispiness the first sign of new hair after a long battle with illness? These are kind of cliche, but you get my point. The look of your characters, and the expressions they make should be indicative of history and personhood, not just character stats.
Movement & Gesture
So often when I’m teaching young or new writers, they forget to convey movement or the way a space interacts with characters. They treat setting and character as these two separate things when really they should be intrinsically tied.
Movement and space is essential to Meg McKinlay’s A Single Stone, where girls move through the crevice of a mountain to mine for minerals in a post-apocalyptic society. McKinlay’s writing is so evocative too, conveying the tension, the space, the look of these girls and the claustrophobia of their task in slim, powerful language. Take the opening lines for instance.
“First the fingertips and then the hand. Choose your angle wisely, girl; there’s no forgiveness in bone. Roate the shoulder, let the head and hips follow…there. The Mother’s words echoed in Jena’s mind as she eased into the crevice, flattening herself against the rock. When she was through, she paused, waiting for the next girl.”
It’s remarkable language that moves with Jena’s body, evoking the power in it and the tension that will dominate the narrative. Movement can also be a matter of setting characters apart. Take Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which utilises movement to not only showcase the differences between the narrator and another protagonist, Beth, but the ways in which Beth has changed and the way she hasn’t.
“She will not sit down after, when we all collapse on the mats, our sweaty limbs crisscrossing. She will not sit down, will not let the steel slip from between her shoulders. She has so much pride that, even if I’m weary of her, of her fighting ways, her gauntlet-tossing, I can’t say there isn’t something else that beams in me. An old ember licked to fresh fire again. Beth, the old Beth, before high school, before Ben Trammel, all the boys and self-sorrow, the divorce and the adderall and the suspensions.”
I love to think that the way a character moves through their landscape is a sign of both their relationship to a place and indicative, once again, of their history. It makes for a fully realised story, where nothing happens in isolation because the reality of life is that things don’t happen in isolation. Things are connected, and writing is one of the fun ways that we see and enjoy those connections.
What am I working on this week I made a great start with final act revisions of the BDLN this last week, but didn’t get quite as deep into them as I wanted to, namely because one of the drafts didn’t save properly and I had to go back on a bunch of rewrites which disheartened me more than I care to admit. Moving ahead this week, I’m giving myself some pretty strict daily targets this week and basically clearing my schedule to get on top of them. No excuses! Hopefully it means that by the time I do my next Sunday Circle this guy’ll be on rest duty.
What’s inspiring me this week?
Black Mirror is probably one of my favourite shows, and it’s third season debuted this week so I have basically been mainlining. It is so. good. The marriage of technology, near-future science fiction and intimate stories of humanity are basically perfect, and it layers so well and in such a rich and compelling way.
I’ve also been reading Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man, a true crime novel about the death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island in 2004. It’s a richly told book that is equal parts tragic, harrowing and rage-inducing. It’s such an important read, both for it’s careful study of Doomadgee’s death, but also for the cultural and racial history of Queensland that contextualises it.
What part of my project an I avoiding? Oh man, pretty much all of it. I lost half a chapter last week when my saved file messed up, and not even my backed up files had been fully updated. It’s put a stopper in my writing in a way that it really, really shouldn’t have. I’m trying to redraft that scene this afternoon to give myself no excuses for tomorrow, but it’s still pretty frustrating.
Anyway, what are you working on? Leave your answers in the comments below or link me to your blog!
Then, in her Jamaica Estates home, where the government said she’d forced scholarship students to clean and cook, she turned on the gas in the kitchen, slit her wrists, and, when the desired result didn’t come quickly enough, tossed a stereo cord over the ladder to the attic and hung herself. The notes, carefully written in Chinese, were found at the scene. One was to her only son: “I love you,” she wrote, and she apologized to him. Another, to the judge and jury, with a politeness she maintained till the end, thanked them for their time and attention. The third, the most elaborate, she addressed to her employer, for whom she reserved her fury. She’d been a fund-raiser at St. John’s for three decades, bringing in millions of dollars. And in the end, she felt the school had abandoned her. “She felt betrayed by them,” said one of her attorneys. In her note, she used a word to describe herself that was translated as scapegoat.
This article on university embezzlement, corruption and forced labour is fascinating and horrifying, and basically embodies the idea that truth is stranger than fiction. Read the article here.