So now that I’ve tackled the subject of comedy in the Philippines, it’s time for me to tackle my favorite genre: Horror.
In case you haven’t noticed, my works of fiction here on GRP The Santo Nino of Innocencia, Noon-Time Horror Show and Deep are all works of horror. This is because fear is a very potent emotion to work with. As a matter of fact, it is quite probably the strongest of all human emotions as it is what has allowed us to survive as a species to the present day. My boss (a professional counselor and psychologist) and I agree that fear can also be a very destructive emotion but, when combined with good storytelling (which is mostly harmless), it can be a good tool for educating or at least warning people about certain dangers in society.
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Indeed, in many of our conversations, we discussed that many superstitions in the modern age are probably just cautionary tales that have been blown out of proportion. Perhaps there was a time when certain superstitions were simply meant to prevent people from hurting themselves and others. For instance, walking under a ladder can be dangerous if there’s someone on the ladder and you somehow imbalance it or cutting your nails at night or in the dark can probably get you mutilated.
All in all though the Pinoy horror genre isn’t all that bad. I’ve seen some gems here and there, some in books, comics, TV shows, a few films both independent and mainstream and, even in some movies that aren’t counted as “horror” nonetheless had tropes that belonged to the horror genre and were used well overall. Unfortunately, these are few and far between and the best works I’ve seen so far have all but rarely been put into the big screen.
Instead, as it is with the “reverse Midas-touch” that seems to be inherent in majority of the works of Pinoys, even our works of horror are horrifyingly horrible. However note that this time, I’m not just going to bash the genre and its elements. Following the advice of some of our commenters, I’ve decided to throw in some advice and suggestions that will hopefully make some of our horror films and shows at least slightly more bearable and will even highlight a few horror elements in our local media that I found positive or at least have some potential for being positive.
Okay ladies and gentlemen, show’s about to start. Make sure your doors and windows are locked because there’s no telling what’s out there while you read this. Oh and don’t mind that scratching you hear outside on your roof or just beyond the periphery of your window. It’s probably just the wind or your imagination going wild…
One of my biggest disappointments with modern Pinoy horror is handled is the use, or rather, misuse of lore. I know that some of our filmmakers are just trying to take a more “modern” approach to our brand of horror and may choose to include some concepts from other countries or even science fiction ones. Unfortunately, what comes out is all too often unconvincing or sometimes even outright hilarious.
Before I continue, let me make something clear. “Lore” isn’t the “plot” of your horror story but rather the background of your story. As an example, take Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dracula’s plot is about a vampire in London menacing a young couple. Meanwhile, it’s lore is about vampires. It’s lore describes the nature of vampires, their strengths, weaknesses and how mundane humans (our heroes, for one) can defeat them.
Okay, let me tell you that having an “idiot plot” is okay as there won’t be any conflict in a good horror story if the characters aren’t being stupid. I mean, would the monster/killer/ghost have any victims if everyone was smart enough not to go into a dark place alone? Also, having ridiculous monsters isn’t bad either, especially if you’re going for a supernatural angle in the story. I mean heck, American Horror Legend Stephen King once wrote a story about a killer washing-machine of all things.
But all of this comes down to two very important things: The appropriateness of the lore’s elements and, most importantly, The Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Okay, let me explain by providing you with an example of what I’m talking about:
In the 8th installment of the Shake, Rattle and Roll film, the third and last segment caught my attention. It was entitled LRT which tells the tale of commuters on the last train after another hard workday. The cast was pretty nice as it had Eugene Domingo cast in the role of an overly religious woman with a tragic past and a nervous tick. Her character was a nice touch as it somewhat shakes the faith of the heroes. The monster, on the other hand, was quite a disappointment in that it was a clear ripoff of Those We Do Not Speak Of in the M. Night Shyamalan film The Village but could’ve shone out on its own with its inhuman appearance and bestial nature. It really could’ve worked, I tell you, even if it seemed like a cheap knock off.
But then, at the end, a conversation between two policemen reveal that the monster is in fact the mutant son of the police chief. That was when I said “WTF”, threw up my hands in frustration and lost all interest in the film.
- It was just too unbelievable. The monster was clearly superhuman and was almost supernatural. One reason why it appealed to me was because it reminded me of the Creepypasta monster The Rake. But then, they had to go and reveal that it was just a human with a heart disease who was somehow mutated through experimental drugs.
- It wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. Tying in with the above, one simply can’t be sure whether it’s a supernatural or sci-fi horror story. While there’s the argument that it could be both, I still have to say that it was poorly executed. If they wanted sci-fi, they could go for option A) The monster was simply the result of a foreign military experiment produced by either the Americans or the Chinese (actually, a visit to SBMA, a former U.S. military base, can give you all sorts of ideas) or option B) The lore would stay the same but the monster would be much slower, rely more on stealth and behave more like the killer mutant in the film Creep which I think the movie short also rips off. Or they could’ve just gone with a supernatural concept and made the monster a demon that haunts that specific part of that LRT station which the authorities are trying to cover up to prevent a panic.
There have been some local horror films with lore that I did like. For instance, Huwag Mong Buhayin Ang Bangkay (Don’t Bring the Dead Back to Life) was pretty straightforward but I liked it anyway because of the idea that trying to bring a dead loved one back to life might bring something else entirely into the world that is clearly not your departed loved one. Halimaw sa Banga (Monster in the Pot) wasn’t bad either although they could’ve been more creative with the monster in question as it put for using the idea of an artifact of doom like the puzzle box from the Hellraiser franchise. Takot Ka Ba Sa Dilim? (Are You Afraid of the Dark?) [NOT related to the American children’s horror series] was also not a bad entry as it depicted a group of teenagers on vacation who discover, much to their horror, that God might not be able to protect them from supernatural nasties if they keep up their stupid behavior. Zuma with the titular monster based on an Aztec deity was another good concept but then someone got the hot idea of giving him a cute daughter who was more or less his good counterpart which kind of disappointed me because it was like they gave Slender Man a cute daughter called Slender Girl (I mean, Cthulhu does have Cthylla but she’s not pretty or nice either). T2 is perhaps one of the better Pinoy horror films I’ve liked because of its portrayal of the fair folk and The Healing is actually an inspiration for some of my works mentioned above.
Suggestions For Improving IDIOT LORE:
- Take a cosmic horror approach. Make the monster make less sense but still malevolent.
- When doing a demonic possession movie, do PLENTY of research to make it more convincing.
- When doing a sci-fi movie, do PLENTY of research to make it more feasible and thus scary.
Overexposed And Poorly Created Monsters
Another big problem with Pinoy horror stories is the monsters. From Halimaw sa Banga to Feng Shui, majority of our horror filmmakers seem to be cashing in on the popularity of stringy-haired ghost girls. Unfortunately, as some will tell you, the more you look at these kinds of monsters, the more silly they actually become. As for me, since I don’t hold the same kind of fear for ghost girls, I might even hit on one should I meet one.
There was also this other local horror film that featured a demonic gargoyle. It was a nice try at introducing a new kind of monster to Philippine cinema but revealing too much of the thing kind a killed the fear. I mean, they showed it at the very beginning of the film instead of exposing it at the last few minutes. It was even obvious that the actor hired for the part was having difficulties with his costume.
Suggestions For Improving OVER EXPOSED AND POORLY CREATED MONSTERS
- Invoke the rule of NOTHING IS SCARIER
- Okay, let me explain this one. The thing is, there are some things that are a lot more scary the less you see them. This is the major selling point for films like The Blair Witch Project, Evil Dead and Jaws. Note that the monsters in the mentioned films are barely shown if at all and it works well with audiences because, while you know that there’s a monster in each film, you don’t have any real idea what they look like. So what happens is that your mind makes it up for you. When you watch horror films that invoke this concept, your imagination fills in the blanks and you’re left putting together the monster in your own mind which is probably more scary since it’s personal for you. Like, what I mentioned above, while some people find the idea of stringy-haired ghost-girls scary, I find myself actually attracted to them. (Oh crap, does that mean I’m a necrophiliac?)
- Invoke the rule of UNCANNY VALLEY and/or BODY HORROR
- Oh God, this is by far what a lot of good horror filmmakers in the Philippines miss out on. See, you don’t really need a lot of special effects. (And no, I also find the idea of using unattractive people as monsters repulsive and degrading and should be abolished. I respect people like Lilia Cuntapay and Nonong “Bangkay” de Andres too much to use them as monsters in a film.) What I think should instead be used is invoking Uncanny Valley, making a creature somewhat human yet not human enough or body horror which often includes misplaced, missing or mutilated body parts. For instance, instead of a stringy-haired ghost-girl, why not a girl with long hair but has no eyes, ears, nose or mouth and just have a plain featureless face. How about something more primal? Say long and slithery tentacles that snake out of a character’s orifices such as their nose or mouth. Why not have a monster that just has too many eyes or eyes in inappropriate places like the palms of their hands or chest? What about a monster with a large, slobbering mouth where its stomach should be? Or, if you really want to be extreme, what about a monster that’s made from multiple, mismatched human body party with flailing arms and screaming human faces everywhere.
- Invoke PARANOIA
- One of the biggest selling points of films like The Thing and The Body Snatchers were that the heroes could trust no one in their struggles. Anyone could be a monster, even their most trusted loved ones. In these kinds of stories, one is forced to question everything one knows about another person and perhaps their own identity as well. For how can one be sure that one isn’t already a monster as well?
- Invoke ADULT FEARS
- As Stephen King put it, why not use one’s own personal fears in a story. If any of you have ever read Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, one of the scariest scenes in that one is when the hero’s son is run over by a large truck. As it turns out, this is one of Stephen King’s personal fears as he has also once lived by the side of a highway and was constantly worried that one of his own children would try to cross the street at an inappropriate moment and get hit by a speeding vehicle. I’m not sure about you guys, but to me, losing a loved one is way more scary than any ghost girl.
- Use different actors for villains
- Once upon a time, I saw veteran Filipino actor Christopher de Leon play the role of a mad bomber and heartthrob Aga Mulach as a serial killer. Where are movies like that now? Nowadays, I think Pinoy horror has become every bit as mean-spirited as Pinoy comedy. Actors like Lilia Cuntapay and Nonong “Bangkay” de Andres are often cast into the role of ghosts or monsters simply because they look unattractive to audiences rather than because they can invoke a sense of actual fear. For instance, if you ask me, you could easily cast Daniel Padilla and Katherine Bernardo as villains in a horror flick by making them vicious serial killers dedicated to some demonic entity while you could cast Lilia Cuntapay and Nonong de Andres as heroes or protagonists by making them a concerned elderly couple trying to stop the former younger couple.
Lastly, some of the most annoying instances in Filipino horror films is where the characters simply scream too much or scream in a rather ridiculous way. Especially in movies that feature the alleged “scream queen” Kris Aquino, I find it strange that some people even find it scary for the said actress when she would scream her signature scream since, it seems more hilarious and annoying. I mean, instead of being afraid of the monster or the circumstances that surround the protagonists, I just find myself distracted and utterly annoyed by Kris Aquino’s scream.
Of course, Kris Aquino isn’t the only culprit when it comes to exaggerated screaming in Pinoy horror films. I remember other actresses and even other actors who scream or react in a way that is utterly unconvincing or outright hilarious. In the end, the actors are more about “looking cute while scared” rather than “making the scene scary by pretending to be scared”.
Okay, let me elaborate:
I’m sure many of you have already seen the film Alien. The first Alien film with a young and beautiful Sigourney Weaver whom, I must say, is an actress that the likes of Kris Aquino will never match no matter who she sleeps with. Anyway, if you will look at the scene where the first chestbuster in film history makes its appearance, you find yourself also as frightened as the other people in the scene because their reactions look so real. Well, in case you didn’t know, that’s because their expressions were real. See, when the film was made, James Cameron (the renowned director of not just Alien but also Terminator, Titanic and Avatar) only gave the cast an idea of what would happen in the film. So seriously, when the xenomorph puppet burst out of the crewman’s chest cavity with fake blood and possibly egg-shells for bones spraying the faces of the surrounding actors and actresses, none of the latter were prepared for it.
That “WTF!?” look on all their faces? That’s the real deal. That’s what a person actually looks like when something disgusts or disturbs them. No, they don’t ball their hands into fists underneath their chins and scream like young boys being circumcised. No, they don’t just stand around there while trying to widen their eyes but their body posture actually looks more bored than anything else. Lastly, no, they don’t look constipated.
If you want a scene to be scary, you have to use actors and actresses who actually know how to look scared. You don’t need a bunch of teens or an old maid who thinks she’s a teen who all just try to look for the camera while some unseen horror is trying to munch on them. A horror film, ladies and gentlemen, is about fear, plain and simple. Horror has very little to do with cuteness unless of course the film we’re talking about is either Critters or Gremlins but that’s not the point.
And so ends another senseless rant from your favorite media basher and all-around troll Thaddeus Morvacle Grimwald. I don’t know if you bothered to read all of what I’ve written here, let alone make sense of it, but I certainly hope you enjoyed it anyway.
Oh, and the noise you heard earlier? I lied. Maybe it’s not the wind after all. The wind doesn’t make that kind of noise and whatever’s out there has footsteps that are just too heavy to belong to an animal like a cat or dog but too furtive and predatory to belong to anything human. I really hope you locked your doors and windows like I suggested earlier but have you really? Are you sure you locked everything? If so, why do I hear the click and rattle noise of an opening window somewhere inside your house?
Goodnight then, my dear readers…
I HAVE RETURNED TO LAY WASTE TO OUR ENEMIES!