A crazy with a butcher knife.

(The language in this post is going to be highly questionable and problematic. I am aware of this; it’s part of the point.)

There’s a crazy with a butcher knife in my neighbourhood. On my street, even.

And not just a butcher knife. She’s got a sledgehammer in the house. Garden shears–those really heavy duty ones that could snip right through fingers, could probably even cut chunks off a hand if she beat someone down first so they couldn’t struggle very well.

And no-one goes around warning people. They let her live in a neighbourhood where there are kids! And pets! They even let her keep a microwave, for Christ’s sake. She has cats in her house! Doesn’t everyone understand what one crazy with the kind of kitchens that normal people use could do to a cat?! And when her dog had surgery, they let her take care of it! Did no-one even think about how easily she could have hurt that animal by grabbing one of its legs and wrenching the joints that just had surgery around in a circle? Or by kicking the incision?

And her mother-in-law leaves her alone with the nieces and nephews sometimes. With children.

Really, it’s fine if that husband of hers is stupid enough to put on headphones so he couldn’t hear her if she snuck up on him, or actually fall asleep when she’s still up and walking around, not to mention giving her access to the joint checking account and letting her have her own key. But shouldn’t someone keep her from being around people that are too complacent in their ignorance to understand what it means to be crazy?

…and oh dear God do I ever wish there was a way to keep her away from people who are content to toss the word “crazy” around while being complacently ignorant of what it means to be mentally ill. Because she’s me, and those people are an incredibly draining pain in the ass.

I’m crazy–oh, sorry a crazy. Mentally ill. Batshit, cracked, insane, toys in the attic, not playing with a full deck, all those lovely thoughtful words and phrases.

(It occurs to me that tossing the word crazy around as a noun when discussing people is perhaps somewhat akin to tossing the word female around as a noun rather than an adjective when discussing people. You can have reasonable discussions while you’re doing it, sure. I just find it’s a lot more common to see it in the kind of conversation where someone goes on about how females behave despite how he’s apologized for the behaviour of other men and then people look at his comments and look at each other and at have conversations like “he’s… not usually a jackass, is he?” “no, not usually – I hope he just phrased himself badly” and then get on to saying “feeeeMAAAllles” at each other in silly Ferengi accents and laughing at him.)

Today, I got up when perkycat started chirping for food. I fed the cats, then I put away the dishes that had been in the drying rack overnight and decided to properly scrub out the coffee carafe before brewing coffee. The dog didn’t come down, so I didn’t worry about her food or pills just then. I cleaned the litter boxes and read a little while I was waiting for oldcat to finish her gooshyfood (if one of us isn’t around, rutabagacat will start edging up to her, which annoys her, and then dive for it the second she’s done, and he’s not allowed), and went back to bed to doze until the alarm went off. I had breakfast when I got up again, and coffee, and because I’m working from home today I spent the morning fixing code to produce accessible webpages.

(You know, I think they don’t even check my work to see if I’ve sneakily hidden dismemberment fantasies or bomb instructions in the comments. How trusting of the fools! It’s as if they expected me to behave in a professional manner!)

I’ve put on a load of laundry, have just logged into a MMORPG game to roll over my character’s professions, and am currently deciding what I want to do for lunch (the convenience of leftovers? the exercise of walking down to Starbucks and using my free item on a fruit-and-cheese bistro box?).  This afternoon I will finish up my work, and tonight I will probably read, and write, and catch up on TV, and maybe knit, and no-one will have their eye put out because thanks very much the crazy is actually way more interested in making progress on this cable pattern than she is in stabbing at people with sharp metal needles.

This is a not particularly surprising day in my life.

I’m crazy, and I’m getting really goddamn bored of that being used as a shorthand for a character that’s vicious and unreasonable and uncontrolled and a danger to others and possibly already has a string of murders and mutilations on her hands, instead of one who’s consciously learnt a bunch of coping and self-management strategies that some other people are lucky enough not to need.

I’m telling you stories.

By then serials were dying anyway, and of what use was a green suit with a long cape and wings on the sides of its cowl? In the real world, there was no room for Green Falcons.

Got to work this morning and I couldn’t get “Night Calls the Green Falcon” out of my head. It’s from Robert R. McCammon’s Blue World collection, or at least that’s where I first read it.

A shriek like the demons of hell singing Beastie Boys tunes came from the speakers.

So I went looking, and bless the man, he has the whole thing up on his website. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; it’s written as a serial, it really suits being posted online.

“No, I haven’t seen him for a while, but I know what his name was.” He grinned, gapped-tooth. “John Smith. That’s what all their names were.” He glanced at the Green Falcon. “Can you breath inside that thing?”

It’s about a man who used to play a hero in the old movie serials–you know the kind, right? Ten chapters to a story, dramatic cliffhangers, come back next week for the next thrilling episode in this dynamic mystery, “The Star and Question Mark”!

“Hey, amigo,” the man said, and flame shot from the barrel of the small pistol he’d just drawn.

I mean… okay, it is not entirely surprising that I am a sap for stories about people trying to live up to the stories; ones about the power of stories to change the world. Galaxy Quest. Shakespeare in Love–not the romantic plot or subplot or whatever it was, but the sheer weight of the theatre, the “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.” Hogfather, and the difference between the sun coming up and a giant ball of flaming gas illuminating the world.

He kept going to the stairs, burdened with age.

“‘Dear Davy,’” the voice rang out. “‘I am sorry I can’t come to Center City this summer, but I’m working on a new mystery…’”

The Green Falcon stopped.

I’m not saying it’s great art. It’s a four-colour story, bright and simple and clear. It has a grim and bloody moment or two, but then of course it does; they always did.

Who was he? somebody asked. The Green Falcon? Did he used to be somebody? Yeah, a long time ago. I think I saw him on a rerun. He lives in Beverly Hills now, went into real estate and made about ten million bucks, but he still plays the Green Falcon on the side.

Oh, yeah, somebody else said. I heard that too.

I heard that too.

Notes from a dying laptop.

Huh.  822 words in just a bit under 57 minutes.  I think that’s actually pretty close to the “two hundred and fifty words every quarter hour.”  Mind, half of them need to be dragged out and shot, but there are words!

Had an interesting discussion about Dale (of Walking Dead), Glen Bateman (of The Stand), and Bobby (from Supernatural) with John, earlier today.  I was frustrated because I didn’t have quite the right words for them, and couldn’t pin down the common elements.  (Besides, you know, all three of them have made me cry once.  Damn characters.)

It’s hard to get into this without getting into spoilers, and my laptop is telling me “shut it down, dummy, you have 8 minutes left”, but the end result of the discussion was that we started with the idea of father figures and what they mean the hero has to do, and from there went through the concept of homemakers on to culture heros, tricksters, and civilizing influences.  TV Tropes has failed me, and that’s okay, because while it’s a nice thing to check in on occasionally I am actually perfectly fine with opinions that aren’t pre-listed on it.  (Still need a better breakdown of pet monster idea, too.)

4 minutes power left, warning light blinking, more later.

The Curse of the Forgotten Fedora


I an pleased to see that the use of sartorial cues with regards to life events has not completely fallen by the wayside since its use in “It Happened Tomorrow” (which is surely not the last use of it, but one I remember most clearly).

(Working on coming back. Horrible holiday season.)

Annoying Horror Story.

Alright.  Caught episodes 7 and 8 of American Horror story a couple of days ago, and taken together I’m actually really annoyed with the way the story is going.  My reasons are split up into a couple of posts, just because the rant about one particular issue was getting a bit long. Continue reading “Annoying Horror Story.”

Meeting a classic.

I’m a bit swamped/sick/exhausted right now, so I’m dusting off some old notes–my initial impressions from watching Night of the Living Dead, the original.

I actually only saw it six years ago–I’d read Russo’s novelization, which pretty near exactly follows the screenplay–and it was interesting to note what does and doesn’t show up. The word “zombie” doesn’t appear; they’re “ghouls”, “flesh-eating ghouls”, or “flesh-eaters”. They’re afraid of fire, and dislike particularly bright light, which never really seems to show up later (although the modern The Walking Dead does mention that walkers seem to be more active after dark). They seem to kill you first and eat you once you’re dead, rather than start chowing down while you’re still warm and screaming as in the later movies. They can use tools, crudely–a couple of them pick up rocks to break windows, and a couple pick up a club or a knife (actually, a trowel, but the intent’s there). This, to my mind, is something Dawn and Day did better than Night; the zombies in them don’t use tools, which makes the slow almost-recognition they display towards certain objects much creepier.

Apparently only the unburied dead rise–the radio broadcast uses that particular adjective at one point–which while it’s fairly conventional is something that’s rarely specified in zombie movies (to the point that I for one hadn’t consciously noticed it before). And the first one you see is pretty quick, although his fine motor control is for shit–he’s walking slowly at first, but he manages a shamble that could match a decent jogging speed for a while chasing Barbara. They’re all stumbling around very slowly by the end of the movie, though. Maybe he was particularly fresh at the beginning, or maybe they just can’t see very well in the dark and move slowly as a result…?

A couple of the events in the movie happen very abruptly; there’s a little dramatic build-up, and then a sudden resolution in which the movie generally does not behave the way polite convention indicates the movie is supposed to behave. It’s not quite disconcerting enough for me to call it shocking, but I think it might have been if I didn’t already know how the movie was going to run, and I sure it would have been if I deeply expected movies to follow polite convention. (If I ever get a week to spare, I’ll sit down with a bunch of mid- and late-sixties horror movies to get into the mindset, and then watch Night of the Living Dead and Westworld and anything else I can find that includes scenes which specifically break with the conventions of the time.)

The actual scenes of the zombies eating were much better than I expected. I thought I’d be interested–this is, after all, pretty much the zombie movie–and maybe a little squicked. It was interesting and squicky.

It was also creepy. I did not expect that. I am glad it happened, though. It was fairly standard presentation, I guess–level, detached shots of humans eating human bits, unflinching presentation of girlfriend gnawing flesh off former boyfriend’s hand, clinical and helpless protrayal of horrific events, uncaring universe, etcetera. (Best example I’ve seen of this is still the end sequence of Hannibal.) The scenes were pretty dark, which is a little unusual and probably helped the creepiness factor, putting together a relatively rare combination of indifferent horror with the viewer’s imagination needing to be involved to identify all the elements of the scene.

(Sidenote: dammit, creepy can’t be that hard to produce if they were doing it in ’68. Why am I not getting more creep in my horror movies? Why am I so often stuck with something that gets a twitch or a yelp or a flinch instead of that feeling that my skin is trying to crawl off my spine so it can leave the room where the scary pictures are showing? Come on.)

On a related note: I need to watch a little more of John Carpenter’s stuff. He’s prone, I think, to very static shots with very little movement in the frame, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s just me anticipating that something will happen that makes this disconcerting, or if he’s actually doing something with the composition of the scenes or the pacing of the movie.

That? That ain’t no miracle, that’s just the way things are.

I get that zombie stories are usually natural-disaster-survival stories. How far would you go, what would you get stripped down to to avoid getting stripped down to the bone, all this. But it amazes me how throughly that’s integrated into the in-character perspective of the stories, how they’re seen as nothing more than an emotionally charged mechanical threat.

I mean, this is a genre that involves dead people getting up and walking and then (usually) falling over when you damage a particular chunk of their body which by virtue of being dead they are not using for its intended purpose. That doesn’t happen. There is no currently plausible scientific mechanism by which it can happen. Viruses (virii?) do not do that, bacteria do not do that, radiation does not do that… And yet so few people in these stories ever suggest a fantastic explanation, a supernatural or super-scientific cause. The closest you get is the line “When there’s no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth,” and that is treated more as an expression of the unknowable monster we are helpless against. Not as a cause to hit the Orne Library and look up “Property Expansion, Infernal”.

I am not saying this is a bad thing, mind. Around the time you start digging into the exact structure of an archetypal monster, you start off the line of approach that leads to “Ah, well this is just a condition,” and take that too far you get “A misunderstood condition, which in actual fact is manageable,” and then you are telling an entirely different kind of story and a lot of the power to horrify seeps out of the monster.[1] But it’s kind of surprising that the characters never try to attribute causes. “Dead people walking around” is not the kind of thing you would expect people to shrug off with “just a disease”[2]; that’s an explanation that’s so facile and blatantly unlikely…

I mean, you wouldn’t expect people to handwave it with “Just a disease” if everyone who died got up and grew wings and flew away. I know people are probably not up for deep theorizing, what with trying to avoid being eaten, but there are times when the characters have a chance to talk and humans try to explain things. Put labels on them.

I mean, I understand that generally, attempts to explain the zombie apocalypse don’t matter.  That’s a basic conceit.  And yet, in a story about surviving a natural disaster, you could expect to touch on people’s attempts to explain it and thereby cope with it in more contexts than just watching them scrabble for answers while falling apart.

[1] I mean, consider the vampire. Yes, the basic idea of the monster is horrific, but at this point I think some variation of the phrase “he’s not sparkly, he’s a real vampire” would creep into a lot of explanations of that. And when the sparkle gets so deeply associated with the perception of the monster, when it becomes not only familiar but banal, the story-telling power of the tool is weakened.
Of course, you can also say that the association of “destroy the head, and it’s okay” with the zombies is an idea with a similarly neutralizing effect on the horror of the monster. Associates them with a purely mechanical solution, takes the focus away from what they are… And I suspect this shorthand, this taking the focus away from the zombie, is what allows zombie stories to be about people.
Okay. Footnote getting way too long, back to text.
[2] Or radiation from a downed satellite, or whatever.

Missing Cassandra.

Happily rewatching the first season of The Walking Dead, which led to my discussing it when I was out with a friend yesterday afternoon.  And so the topic of zombies in general entered the discussion, and we circled around and back to it a couple of times, as you do.

Something consciously occurred to me which has never occurred to me before.  Back up a bit; I’m going to make a generalization about horror movies, and that generalization is someone knows what is going on.  Someone knows the what, and if people in general are beginning to be aware of the what, someone knows the why.  There’s a spooky caretaker or a horror movie geek who knows the slasher rules[1] or a PTA conspiracy or a brilliant and insane cannibal[2] who knows the secret.

Because there is a secret.

You don’t get this in zombie movies.  There is hardly ever any struggle to figure out what’s happening or desperate effort to explain to people, and when it does show up, it’s a brief thing–a panicked phone call to a disbelieving 911 line or something, lasts maybe forty seconds and then everyone gets back to falling apart or surviving.  Because in zombie movies, the how and the why don’t matter, so the secret has no power.  It has no weight.

This is rare in horror movies.  Combined with the lack of any kind of mystery, you get an utterly mechanical threat–something that is really rare in horror movies.  The only thing you need to know about zombies is to shoot them in the head, and that’s not even the kind of thing that you wouldn’t try if you needed to stop a crazed human attacker.

The light of my life makes a fairly convincing argument that the zombie movie is basically a natural-disaster movie.  I think he’s right, but until the discussion yesterday I hadn’t begun to actually see what it doesn’t have that most horror movies do.  Between the utterly prosaic threat and the ubiquitous spread of same, the element of the unknown is practically non-existent.  It’s seeing the situation for what it is that’s truly horrifying–


How very Lovecraftian.

[1] I love ya, Randy.
[2] Come on, Hannibal Lecter so fits.  I didn’t see it for ages, because the setting is so atypical, but he is absolutely the Spooky Stranger Making Pronouncements who Understands the Nature of the Threat and who can tell the protagonists what they need to know to defeat the monster.

Well my name’s John Lee Pettimore/Same as my daddy and his daddy before

Paying proper attention to the first episode of this season of Walking Dead.  I’d forgotten how bloodily effective Daryl Dixon was.  He’s like some kind of “Copperhead Road” ninja.

It’s been a while since I saw the first season.  I can’t actually remember if there’s been an explanation provided for why some corpses turn into walkers and others don’t.  Clearly bodies staying down is common enough that people open cars with bodies inside as if it’s dangerous but not guaranteed to be deadly–

Come to think of it, I don’t recall if a passive corpse has ever gotten up and started chewing. Possibly it’s the perfectly normal human reaction of getting twitchy around anything that looks like it could get up and start chewing, even if it won’t do it.

The show has the same oddly unselfconscious mood that I remember from the first season.  Walking Dead came out in 2003; the zombies weren’t saturating the media horror tropes nearly as much as they are now.  No-one’s running around talking about how it isn’t like this in the movies, or conversely how it is like this in the movies.  I think that not needing to nod towards the movies and books that everyone’s heard of or seen gives the show a bit more room to develop people actually dealing with the situation, rather than just correlating it to something else.

This isn’t the “You mean the movie lied?” of Return of the Living Dead. This is the “I’m gonna board up that door, and I’m not going to unlock it again no matter what happens!” of Night of the Living Dead.

And having properly rewatched the first episode, am pleased to say that the characters are still being awesome, and flawed, and very reasonably human.