FOUR-LETTER WORD BEGINNING WITH `F'
Mark McLaughlin's fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in more than 800 magazines, anthologies, newspapers, and websites, including Horror Garage, Doorways, Hungur, Cemetery Dance, Space & Time, The Black Gate, Galaxy, Writer's Digest, FilmFax, Dark Arts, Midnight Premieres, and two volumes each of The Best of the Rest, The Best of HorrorFind, and The Year's Best Horror Stories. Collections of his fiction include Pickman's Motel, Slime After Slime, Motivational Shrieker, At the Foothills of Frenzy (with Shane Ryan Staley and Brian Knight), and All Things Dark and Hideous (with Michael McCarty). Also, he is the co-author, with Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson, of the poetry collection The Gossamer Eye, which won a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Poetry. His most recent poetry collection, Phantasmapedia, was a finalist for the Stoker Award.
In September 2008, Delirium Books/Corrosion Press released Monster Behind the Wheel, a novel Mark wrote with collaborator Michael McCarty. In that same month, Skull Vines Press released Attack of the Two-Headed Poetry Monster, also co-written with Michael McCarty.
These and other books can be ordered at www.horror-mall.com. Be sure to visit Mark online at www.myspace.com/monsterbook and
Are You Good at Being Bad,
or Bad at Being Good?
Welcome once again to my online fear-farm of phobias, where ol' country squire Mark is raising a bumper crop of terror in the back forty behind the Horror Garage. As usual, my fine hired hands of horror, we will be discussing FEAR (the four-letter word beginning with 'F' mentioned in the name of this column) and how it is addressed and presented in the cinema of the macabre.
In most movies, but especially those of the horror variety, you will find characters who are quite good at being bad. Or are they just bad at being good? There's a difference, you know. A character who is good at being bad is knowingly perpetrating evil deeds for the sake of evil. A character who is bad at being good, on the other hand, is doing bad deeds but still thinks he or she is being good, doing good, and generally making the world a better place.
How about you? Are you good at being bad, or bad at being good? Let's look at some cinematic examples, which may help you to figure out what's cooking in the cranial kitchen of your subconscious.
Let's consider Adolf Hitler. He tortured and killed legions of people -- but had he actually made a decision to carry out an evil agenda? No. In his feverish, twisted little mind, he probably thought he was doing good, and that his actions would make the world a better place. Well, call me old-fashioned, but most people aren't about to nominate a guy with Adolf's track record for sainthood.
In the 1963 black-and-white el-cheapo epic The Madmen of Mandoras, a group of Nazi fanatics save Hitler's head after World War II and bring it to life, so they can continue his plans to take over the world. Like Hitler, the fanatics in the movie think they are doing a world a great service. These guys aren't saying, "Hey, we're all evil Nazis, so let's destroy the lives of countless innocent people!" -- their collective mindframe is more along the lines of, "Hurray, we're conscientious Nazis who are going to make the world a better place through extreme but still justifiable measures!"
Some fanatics were also behind that movie -- crazed filmmakers with a mania for saving money. A couple years later, they added a few choppy little scenes with two new but disposable secret-agent characters, named their misbegotten creation They Saved Hitler痴 Brain, and released it for television.
Let's fast-forward to 2005, when Earth was invaded by Mars and H.G. Wells was invaded by Tom Cruise in the big-budget blockbuster, War of the Worlds. Sure, the rampaging Martians were killing off Earth's population -- but did that mean they were evil?
No! Like Hitler, they were just incredibly bad at being good. They simply thought they were colonizing a new planet. And as for all those funny bipeds running around ... well, they weren't too concerned about those things. You see, before the Martians arrived on Earth, they scanned the planet's surface for carbon-based organisms. Unfortunately, the first thing they saw was Tom Cruise bouncing up and down on Oprah's studio furniture, and that settled matters once and for all: the Earth was clearly devoid of intelligent life.
Now let's look at some folks who were good at being bad....
Anybody who has seen Malcolm McDowell's portrayal of the evil Roman emperor Caligula in the movie of the same name would have to realize that old Cal just loved to be bad, and did so at every available opportunity. Whether he was sleeping with his sister, killing assorted friends and relatives, fisting a groom or raping a bride minutes after the wedding ceremony, it was clear that the Big C had a passion for depravity that made the Marquis de Sade look like a tabby kitten dressed as a baby bunny wearing a clown-nose.
In Mel Brooks' Spaceballs (1987) we are presented with the thoroughly evil character, Dark Helmet. He's a spoof of Darth Vader from Star Wars, so naturally, he's extremely evil. BUT, being a spoof character, he's also extremely stupid. The question is, does the stupidity soften his evil edge? Or ... did it make him even more evil? We expect intellectually challenged creatures to be childlike, innocent, and basically, lovable in their ignorance. Therefore, a wicked idiot is a disturbing phenomenon that bears watching. After all, that's a varmint so evil AND stupid, there's no telling what he may do next!
Now you are no doubt going to ask me: Mark, can a HOUSE be evil? Can real estate reek with sin? Can a domicile decide on devastation and doom?
No? You weren't going to ask me all that...?
Well, why not? They're legitimate questions! They end in question marks, don't they?
In Burnt Offerings (1976), a living house kills off most of its occupants and uses their energy to pretty itself up. That description doesn't sound very scary, but trust me, this movie is a real creep-fest -- I often mention it as an example of a truly effective horror movie. And it stars the lovely Karen Black, who has made quite an entertaining career out of playing women who waver between wholesome and horrendous.
Because the house is also haunted by a sinister chauffeur and a predatory presence in the attic, I would have to say that yes, the house is evil. Or, maybe it just likes pork. The three characters who die in the name of redecorating are played by Oliver Reed, Bette Davis and chubby-cheeked pre-teen Lee Montgomery, and all three are grade-A hams.
So have you decided? Are you good at being bad, or bad at being good? Hopefully you're pretty good most of the time, with just enough bad in you to have some fun. But please, try not to start any World Wars!