Killing Stalking Excels at Depicting the Horror of Abuse

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It’s hard to find a title more straightforward than the manhwa (a Korean comic) Killing Stalking. The story opens on withdrawn, isolated Yoon Bum breaking into the house of the man he’d admired from afar for coincidentally saving him in the past – stalking. Bum makes his way inside and happens to discover a secret basement where a blindfolded and beaten women begs him to help her; his crush, Oh Sangwoo, comes home with baseball bat in hand and makes Bum the basement’s new resident – killing.

From there the story becomes a survival story, as Bum tries to make himself useful enough to Sangwoo to be kept alive while looking for a way to escape. It’s one of the most compelling horror stories I’ve read in years.

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Five Forgotten Gems – Horror Comedies

Hand in hand with the human fascination with death comes the desire to defang it – to make it bearable and understandable. And yet, horror comedies are perilously difficult to pull off with much success, often veering toward one or the other or coming off with a unpleasantly leering tone (looking at you, Thankskilling). In a world where we’ve all shrugged our shoulders and said, “sure, saying we’re all watching Sharknado ironically is good enough,” I thought it might be nice to take a look at some films that melded comedy and horror with love, effort, and actual worthwhile effect.

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What Are Good Girls Made Of? Impossible Femininity in Black Swan vs. Perfect Blue

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This post was commissioned by Frank Hecker. You can find out more about commissions here.

Back in 2010, a certain segment of anime fandom was abuzz with arguments over whether Black Swan was a rip-off of Satoshi Kon’s 1997 film Perfect Blue – think the Battle Royale/Hunger Games debate, but for the Very Serious Art Film crowd. It’s no secret that Aronofsky is a fan of Kon’s work (witness this direct homage in Requiem for a Dream, just for starters), and the two films do share, on a basic level, an identical premise: a young artist seeking to advance her career, previously shackled by her image as a “pure” object, takes on a demanding and very sexual role; the strain of this choice and outside factors causes a breakdown in the artist’s psyche, including persistent images of being stalked by a doppelganger of her “other” self.

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Five Forgotten Gems – Lives of Quiet Desperation

Last week we talked about The Witch, a decidedly strange and mostly effective film that inhabits that wonderful horror subgenre known as “everything’s a metaphor.” But as much as that film defied analysis by modern standards, against all odds demanding to be taken by its own internal logic, its best feature was undoubtedly its skill in creating tension from the mundane.

So, taking The Witch (and its stand-alone essay) as our fifth number, let’s take a look at some other films that effectively captured that elusive quality: a bubble of existence whose logic is its own, a careful structure waiting to fall apart; or a time capsule that, whether we know its context or not, demands that we invest fully in the stakes at hand.

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The Witch – Horror as Anthropology

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Horror is the most of-the-moment genre out there: by its nature it makes itself a time capsule, simultaneously responding to gut-level fears in its surrounding culture and almost always reinforcing an Other vs. status quo arrangement. You can tell a culture’s history in no small part by the stories it weaves to scare itself. Which might explain the chilly reception The Witch received at my late-Sunday viewing: the audience (if I might grossly simplify by what I overheard) was prepared for a visceral emotional experience that would speak to them, and were thus at a loss for how to respond to a colonial-era pastiche of fairytales that was far more interested in examining its characters’ era-appropriate fears than mapping them onto modern ones.

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American Mary: Mad Science Needs More Women

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It’s so rare to see Mad Scientist stories starring women: that particular breed of ambition and cold calculation, discovery and ultimate downfall, seems to go almost exclusively to men, in spite of the fact that the genre’s great progenitor came from Mary Shelley’s own pen. Women are allowed to be traitorous femme fatales, using their sex appeal and apparent fragility to weave hapless men into traps; rarely they are allowed to be forces of nature, the Annie Wilkeses of the world, raging over helpless captives; or perhaps the insidious, poisonous psychological hold of a Norma Bates. But almost never a scientist, an explorer, someone whose achievements we are urged to marvel at before the constraints of the genre yank things back to the status quo. Even the promising title of Frankenstein’s Daughter cheated us by presenting the man’s grandson instead.

So it was with great joy that I learned of Jen and Sylvia Soska’s attempt to redress some small part of this issue with their sophomore directorial effort, American Mary. Never in my life have I so desperately tried to love a film that, in the end, I can only like.

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The Value of OFF after Undertale

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It can be difficult to recommend OFF in a post-Undertale world. After all, it would seem that everything Mortis Ghost’s 2008 indie darling had to offer was revisited and built upon by Toby Fox’s recent masterpiece. OFF, in broad strokes, is basically equivalent to being locked into a Genocide Run; only without the other, redemptive half of the story on offer. This isn’t to say that OFF is somehow to blame for this: the seven year gap between the two games spans the death throes of the PS2, the entire 360/PS3 generation and the beginning of current-gen and nascent VR; it’s to be expected that there would be leaps and bounds in what could potentially be programmed even before taking in Toby’s experience as a modder versus what was, by all appearances, the first time effort of an amateur developer. I come not to dismiss OFF nor to bury Undertale, but to ask: what does a landmark work have to offer when future generations build on its best ideas?

As you might suppose, extensive spoilers for two excellent games will follow hereafter.

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