Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Body: Happy Halloween.

Warning, spoiler: The Monk by Matthew Lewis, The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.

There is no point to this post. It is for your pleasure. :)

According to Wikipedia, "the slasher film (sometimes referred to as bodycount films and dead teenager movies) is a sub-genre of horror film typically involving a psychopathic killer (often wearing a mask) who stalks and graphically murders a series of victims in a random, unprovoked fashion, killing many within a single day. The victims are usually photogenic teenagers or young adults who are away from mainstream civilization or far away from help and often involved in sexual activities or illegal-drug use or both. These films typically begin with the murder of a young woman and typically end with a lone female survivor who manages to subdue the killer, only to discover that the problem has not been completely solved." This definition is perhaps over-specific, but understood a little more broadly, slashers evoke a response by the explicitness of affliction and an emphasis on its bodily nature.

As a genre, slashers supposedly contrast with thrillers, which rely on suspense about what is going to happen instead of simply when, psychological terror over physical atrocity, and defers the most gruesome effects to the imagination. Thrillers are often seen to require more craft on the part of artists and patience on the part of audiences, and are more highly regarded by mainstream critics.

But I have long thought that each genre has something different to offer. By trading in one subtlety, the slasher can develop another. They are, by the very reason of their visceral, blatant effect, more adaptable to allegory and stylization than more psychologically dependent work. Alfred Hichcock made masterfully crafted and subtle thrillers, and George Romero has made crafted and masterfully subtle slashers.

Today, of course, these terms are thrown around mostly with regard to films, but the first precedent, in terms of these genre and many of their conventions, may actually be literary. Ann Radcliffe wrote novels during the 1790s, including The Mysteries of Udolpho, and characters must reconcile the mysteries and connections of their past in a vast and threatening setting. Isolation and uncertainty are the impetus for fear, and her books typically involve little or no bloodshed.

Her chief rival, Matthew Lewis, was mostly known for one book, The Monk which, while completely immersed in the biases and prejudices of its day, also provided a very forceful and striking study of the virgin/whore mythology.

Here's an excerpt from each. See if you can tell who is who.

To withdraw her thoughts, however, from the subject of her misfortunes, she attempted to read, but her attention wandered from the page, and, at length, she threw aside the book, and determined to explore the adjoining chambers of the castle. Her imagination was pleased with the view of ancient grandeur, and an emotion of melancholy awe awakened all its powers, as she walked through rooms, obscure and desolate, where no footsteps had passed probably for many years, and remembered the strange history of the former possessor of the edifice. This brought to her recollection the veiled picture, which had attracted her curiosity, on the preceding night, and she resolved to examine it. As she passed through the chambers, that led to this, she found herself somewhat agitated; its connection with the late lady of the castle, and the conversation of Annette, together with the circumstance of the veil, throwing a mystery over the subject, that excited a faint degree of terror. But a terror of this nature, as it occupies and expands the mind, and elevates it to high expectation, is purely sublime, and leads us, by a kind of fascination, to seek even the object, from which we appear to shrink.

Emily passed on with faltering steps, and having paused a moment at the door, before she attempted to open it, she then hastily entered the chamber, and went towards the picture, which appeared to be enclosed in a frame of uncommon size, that hung in a dark part of the room. She paused again, and then, with a timid hand, lifted the veil; but instantly let it fall--perceiving that what it had concealed was no picture, and, before she could leave the chamber, she dropped senseless on the floor.

'The fatal night arrived. The Baron slept in the arms of his perfidious Mistress, when the Castle-Bell struck 'One.' Immediately Beatrice drew a dagger from underneath the pillow, and plunged it in her Paramour's heart. The Baron uttered a single dreadful groan, and expired. The Murderess quitted her bed hastily, took a Lamp in one hand, in the other the bloody dagger, and bent her course towards the cavern. The Porter dared not to refuse opening the Gates to one more dreaded in the Castle than its Master. Beatrice reached Lindenberg Hole unopposed, where according to promise She found Otto waiting for her. He received and listened to her narrative with transport: But ere She had time to ask why He came unaccompanied, He convinced her that He wished for no witnesses to their interview. Anxious to conceal his share in the murder, and to free himself from a Woman, whose violent and atrocious character made him tremble with reason for his own safety, He had resolved on the
destruction of his wretched Agent. Rushing upon her suddenly, He wrested the dagger from her hand: He plunged it still reeking with his Brother's blood in her bosom, and put an end to her existence by repeated blows.

'Otto now succeeded to the Barony of Lindenberg. The murder was attributed solely to the fugitive Nun, and no one suspected him to have persuaded her to the action. But though his crime was unpunished by Man, God's justice permitted him not to enjoy in peace his blood-stained honours. Her bones lying still unburied in the Cave, the restless soul of Beatrice continued to inhabit the Castle. Drest in her religious habit in memory of her vows broken to heaven, furnished with the dagger which had drank the blood of her Paramour, and holding the Lamp which had guided her flying steps, every night did She stand before the Bed of Otto. The most dreadful confusion reigned through the Castle; The vaulted chambers resounded with shrieks and groans; And the Spectre, as She ranged along the antique Galleries, uttered an incoherent mixture of prayers and blasphemies. Otto was unable to withstand the shock which He felt at this fearful Vision: Its horror increased with every succeeding appearance: His alarm at length became so insupportable that his heart burst, and one morning He was found in his bed totally deprived of warmth and animation.

Happy Halloween!

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