Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fear is Fascinating: Clock Tower and the Gnarled Evolution of Survival Horror

A work of horror art most always calls upon a collection of familiar, archetypal anxieties, sculpted into worst-case scenarios with sinister faces. Cabin in the Woods says it best when it labels its retinue of monsters as "remnant of the Old World," all of them nightmare visions continually filtered through the collective conscious. The ingredients remain the same; the alchemy is volatile, subordinate to the aesthetic and cultural trends of the time, the artist's command of his or her subject, and perhaps most critically, the medium in which it is presented. Video games have had an exceptionally difficult time nailing down the formula for a variety of reasons that only seems to multiply as their technology develops.

Horror in gaming is often described as "survival horror" because, well, it falls on You the Player to survive. Easier said than done when the games of this genre deliberately leave you understocked and unprepared for whatever threats are waiting to bury you. Combat and restorative items are either nonexistent or in short supply, an emphasis is placed on spatial awareness and puzzle solving, and danger lurks unrepentant at every turn. These design principles can be found in games as early as the NES's 1989 Sweet Home, a tale of madness and infanticide Nintendo found too gruesome for their delicate American players, and were popularized by Capcom's 1996 Playstation hit Resident Evil. The problem is that the ludic cornerstones of the genre - deprivation, helplessness, resource conservation - run counter to what a vast majority of contemporary gamers now find satisfying in their virtual experience, and as such survival horror has significantly dwindled in popularity. There have been a few attempts to resurrect it, such as breakout hit Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but recent entries in old-guard franchises Resident Evil and Silent Hill have been met with disdain or disinterest.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sharknado and Pacific Rim: 21st Century Living for Monsters

Sharknado, SyFy's newest media Hail Mary, premiered on Thursday to squarely average ratings and a deluge of Twitter lurkers desperate for attention. I've already touched on the caveats of intentional camp programming, and this soulless nonsense doesn't deserve many more words than that. Bad movies are typically funny if they're unexpected and unintentional; when you have studios like The Asylum churning out mirror-image screenplays differentiated only by beastie, the thrill of discovery is gone. All you're watching is a movie that has successfully managed to be bad, a workmanlike mimicry of incompetence that begs for ridicule at every turn. Laugh at the man cutting an airborne shark in half with a chainsaw! Mock the newscaster's awkward voice! Groan at "We're gonna need a bigger chopper," just to show your friends that you understand the reference! Sharknado and its ilk are films forged in pure cynicism, the antithesis of what makes a work of art into camp.