Episode 02 – Gore, Restraint, Quanta

Hello. Abby and Kris discuss restraint and subtlety in good horror movies and stories, the effectiveness of blood and gore, and the calculus of nightmares.

Stories mentioned:

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  • Cadistra

    I get a lot of the same stuff with narrated creepypastas and, bless them, the No Sleep podcast. “Oooh and then there was BLOOD and then there was….A SEVERED HEAD” and it’s just…tiring. Uninspired.
    I’m finding the stories/films that scared me the most are…things that could happen? Like I’m a single woman who lived alone for 7+ years, so having something peeking in my window at night, or following me, breaking in, becoming obsessed, etc were the ones that creeped me out.
    Wonderful podcast; I’m gonna go listen to the first episode!

    • Andrew

      I agree. The overtly supernatural/ghosts don’t really do anything for me. PEOPLE scare me.

  • Spencer Schwartz

    The movie Martyrs, for me, had one of the most effective uses of gore I’ve ever seen. I did not enjoy that movie, but I respect it for making me feel that horrified. Part of what Abby was saying, the whole “oh it’s fine I’m gonna die soon anyway”, I get it but that does actually scare me. The whole not-dead-yet-but-soon idea. It’s a kind of loss of hope that goes along with those things like burns and amputation etc, with the character having a physical manifestation of the idea that even if they survive their ordeal they will never be the same.

  • GaranjeAutomatic

    I LOVED Killer on Pseudopod. I’m gonna start earning my doctorate in psychology, and I’m trying to write horror, and so I was kinda wondering what angle the author (a psychologist) was gonna bring to horror and if I would identify with it at all. The funny thing was that the big thing that he did that resonated with me was that he called the titular Killer “spoiled.” Like, something bad happened that made this dude die Kreuger-style and now he’s back and murdering kids… Just because he’s angry? It’s a shitty reason for anyone to kill anyone, and that’s always been a HUGE sticking point for me in regards to ghost stories. Like why the heck would some Victorian-ass ghost be back and haunting this dang Victorian mansion 100 years after she died? Why the heck would she still care? It’s been a century – if you’re gonna stay murderous levels of mad for that long, then you’re just being a damn baby. You’re being spoiled. It was such a perfect term that I squee’d.

    Also, the weird thing for me about “The Exorcist” and “The Shining” when I read them wasn’t that they were scary at all, like, I just thought they were sad. There are a few parts in The Exorcist where the little girl’s lucid and she’s just sobbing, BEGGING for her mom. I was 16 or so when I read it and the hypothetical parent in me just lost it. The Shining had a similar moment when the dad gets a grip on himself moments before the final act juuuuust long enough to tell his kid to run, to tell him goodbye and that he’s sorry. Then, you know, the hotel makes him smash his face to pieces with a croquet mallet. The rest of those books, for me, were just really cool stories with nifty twists and turns that I took morbid delight in and had fun with, but those moments were the ones that I got the most emotion out of and those emotions were just the bummer sad-tears. What’s a lad to do, I ask?

    • GaranjeAutomatic

      Also you fellas could get some real mileage outta “The Calculus of Nightmares,” either in Broodhollow or TLH, I tell ya hwhat

      • lain of the Wired

        Searching “The Calculus of Nightmares” brings up something on “The Handmaid’s Tale” and a bunch of things on racism in Australia. Is there an author to look up with this, or is that seriously what you were suggesting they look at?

    • Brent

      I think The Exorcist is a scary movie (haven’t read the book), but those moments where someone realizes what they’ve done or what is happening to them…those are pretty horrifying to me. It’s sad as well, though you’re right. But can you imagine how horrified you would also be if you woke up and realized what was happening to you?

      I wish more stories and movie played up this fact. But I think a lot of things can be sad and horrific at the same time. But both of those to me are sad and horrific. For me, anyway.

  • Kp Webb

    Great discussion; I love funny Abby, and I’m finding out I equally love genuine Abby.

    As a future topic, could you talk about what makes for a satisfying conclusion to a work of horror? It seems like an incredibly difficult thing to do, and it can actually retroactively break the fear that you built up in the rest of the piece.

    • Andrew

      I was thinking about this and I think I’ve decided a few things – I’m not into long-form horror (feature length movies), and shorter-form horror doesn’t NEED satisfying conclusions. Take creepypastas – some of the better ones could be great if they just quit while they were ahead. Revealing the nature of whatever it is will never not be disappointing. Thinking of “Squidward’s Suicide”, or that one about the Pokemon? Both weird and unsettling ideas that work best with little other information.

  • Brent

    I have some thoughts on The Exorcist and possession stories. You may know what it is at that point: a demon/ devil…but there’s still a ton of unknown. That’s what’s scary to me: you don’t really know the rules (which is why supernatural horror scares me much more than slashers, etc.). There are some rules, we know- but where is the line drawn? How powerless is the person?

    Which takes me to the second horrifying part of it all: powerlessness. To me, the idea that I’ve been taken over by some other thing is scary enough- but if it’s something otherworldly that doesn’t play by our rules (there’s not mind control machine to be destroyed or something), then I’m pretty much powerless against this thing. I mean, you could argue that the same is true of torture films, but not really: you could potentially kill the bad guys or run away if something goes amiss. But if it’s something that we don’t even understand, you’re powerless in a truer sense of the word.

    One final small note is that The Exorcist goes a long way out of its way to show that these are good people who care about each other- we’re shown it and not just told (and not for just 10 mins in the beginning or something like that). So we’re also horrified at what is happening to someone we sympathize with. That one applies to non-supernatural horror stories, but most of the time they don’t invest the time to get us to care about them so it’s rare.

    But anyway, I just wanted to share those thoughts on why The Exorcist is still scary once we know what’s behind it all. And also I admit things like “Let Jesus fuck you” and some of those more shocking aspects haven’t aged well- so I also get where you guys are coming from.
    Anyway, I’m enjoying the show and I look forward to more!

  • Sean

    This might be the most cliche example but Alien nails all your points really well. Although they DO show the monster, it is only for a limited time. They employ the best use of gore. When they do use gore it’s never meant to show the fear of the victim but rather the witness, which means those scars will last a lot longer.
    And although it’s not exactly throwing up in someones mouth, i think the face hugger depositing eggs in your mouth is very close and very uncomfortable.
    In comment conclusion, i like alien and i think it’s really scary even today.

  • Larl Caemmle

    A great example of how gratuitous blood n’ guts can be used well is in Laird Barron’s story “The Siphon”. Its climax checks all the boxes–scene momentum increasing suddenly, believable and (mostly) sympathetic characters finding themselves the victims, some catastrophes being heavily foreshadowed while others come out of nowhere, showing a lot but not all, and incredibly original gore mechanics (for lack of a better term). To top it all off, the “crowning horror” is kept completely off-camera, and only partly recounted in the denouement. When you realize that it’s nominally a vampire story, the audacity of the twists to the genre are all the more affecting.
    Wow yeah so I really like that story, and there should be a canon of effective gore use in horror that would-bes could consult to avoid making more Sawlikes. Anyway great podcast, please keep it up, “look out for the bones” would be a “killer” recurring signoff line!

  • Keleri

    Oh man, I so agree on The Exorcist. That 1970s CAT scan or spinal tap or whatever they do in the hospital is way worse than omg!the!devil.

    There’s a scene in the director’s cut where the doctor reports to the mom that the girl cussed at him, accusing him of touching her inappropriately. And the mom is just HORRIBLY EMBARRASSED, oh noes the little girl said the C word or whatever, but the question on my mind was wait, what the heck WAS the doctor doing? Good on you for speaking up, devil!

  • Mr. Bildango

    When it comes to gore I normally like it because it can be almost funny, and it think that’s where a lot of people take it these days. People grew up on Re-Animator and other splatter movies from the 70s and 80s and are obsessed with the campiness. Camp is easier than horror when gore is concerned because if it isn’t scary at least it can be silly. A recent exception is a Bone Tomahawk. Great combination of the general fear of everything in a frontier situation with some actual missing link type monsters. The gore is mainly swift with one notable exception where something so shocking happens and it is focused on at a wide angle that it’s just terrifying.

    I saw The VVitch and I liked it too, but the end disappointed me. I love that idea of the ergot mold hallucinations from historical accounts of mass hysteria and I thought that’s where it was headed.

    Anyway great podcast 🙂

  • godslavecomic

    I was so happy you mentioned Dead Milk, I’d just recently listened to it with a friend!

    We both thought the same– that it was waaay too gorey for the sake of being gross. But we also thought- going along with the same line of ‘showing restraint’– the story should have stopped when the boy woke up and saw his grandfather cough red wax into his hand. But instead kept on for another ten minutes explaining itself.

  • Velvet Isis

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on Poe. His short creepy tales are almost precursors to creepy pastas. Not really. But still, how does Poe sit in your mind brains?

    • Anodos

      Im pretty sure they dont want to talk about something as obscure as Poe. Keep it to stuff thats known by everybody.

  • talamini714

    If you’re interested in horror that’s more existential or philosophical, check out Brian Evenson. I particularly like his collection Windeye. His stuff is creepy in a really subtle way that gets under your skin.

  • Greg

    Topic suggestion: Mythologies in horror.

    Both of your horror comics relish in developing the underlying mythology of the world in which they occur. What do you think are the keys to a good mythology for a horror story or serial? What are your favorite examples of horror mythologies?

  • Pearce

    I don’t want to come down too hard, but have you guys actually seen The Exorcist as adults? Your takes on it seem like half-remembered misunderstandings.

    First of all, it’s a textbook example of never seeing the monster. We see a stylised representation of it as a worn statue and an old figurine and we see Regan possessed by it, but we never do actually see it.

    Secondly, it’s not The Devil. It’s a devil. The movie and the book both go out of their way to specify that Regan is possessed by a demon called Pazuzu, not by Satan. And it also shows the demon effortlessly leaving her body to enter somebody else, so locking her up wouldn’t have any effect.

    Thirdly, in terms of what it’s trying to accomplish, it’s attempting to destroy the faiths of two priests. The girl is incidental, it wants to undermine the leadership of the Catholic Church. The movie is filled to the brim with Catholic imagery and references to suffering and martyrdom.

    • Frankie D.

      It’s still not scary.

  • Alexander Steinberg

    What about “I have no mouth yet I must scream” in this context? Pretty much the sci-fi version of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Almost all gore and suffering.

    • Oh, jeez. It took me days to get out of the funk that story put me into. Seldom have I felt *scarred* by a story, but that was one of two I’ve ever read that did it to me (the other being a random bit of fiction I happened across on the internet about a child bully suffering in Hell).

  • chuckleberry

    Great podcast, I read “The Whistlers” and watched “The Witch” based on your comments. Would love to hear you two talk about some classic horror stories too. I know Abby did that great “Oh, whistle, and i’ll come to you, my lad” adaptation…wait…more whistling???

  • chuckleberry

    MOAR!!!!!!!

  • BurningHeron

    I have an idea for a topic. You’ve talked about authors that overplay their hands in showing the monster or resorting to gore, but what about showing too little? Ambiguity is considered the key to great horror, but you still have to show the audience something or you’ll get with with a bunch of that-wasn’t-scary’s. Are there any stories that would’ve been better if the author had done more to build on a creepy idea? What are your personal that-wasn’t-scary’s?

  • Mike

    So, uhhhh…. what happened to this show?!