Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blood Frenzy and Larceny and Level Drain and Cute

Stokely missed a session. So we were updating her:

…King.

They want to see the Pale King because they want to collect their reward for rescuing the Sleeper ("that mouse"). The Sleeper himself was not forthcoming with loot.
The Pale King

It went like this:

A month ago they get into the dungeon, find a bunch of bottles with messages floating in them in a pool. One (the ranger could tell) was written by a mouse. It wanted to be rescued.

So then they spend like hours and hours and session and sessions roaming the dungeon...

…fighting demons and vampires and giant rooks, Mandy loses all her stuff, people almost die 2 or 3 time, Stokely loses 2 levels, Halloween comes and goes...
Yeah, I know, Tuxedo Mask sucks, but what am I supposed to do? 
…be all "Yeah, you guys can all go out as Sailor Scouts and I'll just stay home"?


...and then after like 5 sessions, they find the mouse, thanks to the druid's owl.



Chewie played the owl. Owls are good at finding mice. 

After all that shit, the party's expecting the mouse to give them a reward. Because, y'know, a writing mouse: it's probably rich, right?

And, frankly, the DM is expecting the mouse to give them a reward.

But then Mariah the cleric had found this teacup, so she's all "Tell the mouse we have a teacup it can rest in".

"The mouse comes out, crawls into the teacup…and disappears"

"No way…"

Y'know how sometimes you get to show your players your notes to prove you didn't just make up a gotcha because you're horrible?

Well I got to do that with my new book for the very first time...
"FUCK!"

Then I kind of just couldn't stop laughing for ten minutes because: seriously.

So Mariah turned her attention to other things, like the manticore Joey Vs Skin had drugged in other room that was paddling in circles thinking it was a manta ray after rolling a 1 to save vs hallucinogen.

Mariah found this obscurely charming even though manticores are jerks.


All this interspecies romance got everybody talking about rolling on the carousing table.

Stokes' witch problem turned into a whole elaborate plot thread--Mandy dealt with her unexpected morning after a lot more efficiently:


Then they fell in a river and fought some dragonfish. But that's life.

No more cute stuff for like a year after this. It's all claws made from the dreams of dead men after this.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Behir In Name Only

Ok, first: announcement: So James Raggi had me rewrite his classic Death Frost Doom module (the one I started my own campaign off with) to create a new deluxe version with more new stuff in it (and less old stuff) with Jez Gordon ilustrations. I feel good about it "…this feels like the essence of D&D crushed into diamond. Overworld and Underworld. Pure myth. "

It is currently available as part of the Bundle of Holding charity thing, where you can get this along with the Labyrinth Lord Advanced, and +Dyson Logos 's Dyson's Delves (awesome maps) and much more--all together for like 8 bucks or whatever. Only available for a week.

If you have any questions about what the differences between the old and new Death Frost Dooms feel free to ask in the comments--I definitely think the rewrite is worth getting even if you have the old one, as there's a lot of new content you can scrape fro other dungeons.
Ok, now on to the main course, continuing to vandalize the 5e monster manual.

Behirs. Behirs are basically crappy semidragons as if D&D needed more of those dating back to AD&D Monster Manual 2. However, the new 5e illustration is very cool and salamandery, and I did was black-in the shadow to make it look nice and slimy.

I completely, if lazily, overhauled this monster:
The behir is now a familiar-type monster maybe a foot and a half long.

"Behir" is a nice, pseudo-Arabic Jack Vance-style name--so I figured chaos wizards of the Dying Earth thousands of years into the future send Behirs back in time to whisper spells into the ears of sorcerers while they sleep.

The Chaos Wizards hope to place the right spells with the right wizards at the right time in order to carefully manipulate timelines so that futures where they rule come about.

Since these effects are subtle and have a butterfly-wing-theory-like effect on the future, practically speaking it seems like the wizard's just getting random spells each night. Which, in game terms, they are.

This very speedy revision of the Behir is based on two way better ideas you should read:

1. False Patrick's Shaman class-which chases spells in dreams using a cool mechanic which you can totally port over if a PC gets hold of a Behir.

2. Arnold Punch's idea about where faeries come from.
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Friday, November 7, 2014

ENTER THIS CONTEST! Make A Widget On Twine Or Whatever

So I made this, it's terrible…

…so why did I make it? Just to prove a point: here's a widget that generates random 3d6-in-order ability scores and walks a person through character creation and I made it in like fifteen minutes with zero programming skill using a thing called Inklewriter and the advice here. There are also ways to make it so certain options or ideas appear or disappear depending on whether you've passed "key" screens and to insert pictures and whatnot.

If I'd put a little more work in, I could actually plunk a new-to-D&D player down in front of the screen while I went and fished out dice and minis for them and they could make their first character for any edition with all the bonuses and thief percentages and spells and whatever. I can also see this interface being used for:

-Character lifepaths

-Interpret-the-picture style puzzle challenges

-Giving players characteristics or class/race based on hidden rules (i.e. like What Voltron Lion Are You?--style quizzes)

-Dungeon modules (click the option the players took instead of trying to find a page in a book)

etc.

So that point I was making is: there are several easy-to-use online story/text-game-writing tools that you  can use to make stuff that might be useful at a game table instead of for their original purpose.

Another one is Twine...

Since I managed to almost make a decent character generator and all I'm trained to do is rub colors into paper and jiz on people for money, I bet you'll be way better at this than me. So I am announcing the…

D&D With Porn Stars Official Digital Widget Contest

Due Date:

December 4th (but there's a bonus for turning your widget in early, see below).

Prize:

Signed copy of Red & Pleasant Land goes to the winner.

Rules:


  • What you make is supposed to be a useful tabletop game tool, not a game or story in itself. Edge cases acceptable.
  • Enter as many times as you like.
  • Tools can be for any tabletop RPG but since I'm the judge I'm probably biased towards ones I like.
  • You can make your widget using Inklewriter (some tips here) or Twine (available here--a little more complex instructions here) (some tips here and advanced tips here) or any other program you like so long as I can make the final product work on my mac.
  • Your widget cannot be extant and available on the web as of yesterday (i.e. no submitting old stuff)
  • More info about how to do things available from the RPG community here on Google +--add me if you haven't. (Not necessary to enter the contest).
  • Submit your entry by emailing me: zakzsmith at hawt mayle. If you don't email me, it does not count.
  • Entries will be judged by me on the following criteria:
  1. Usefulness: 1-100 points. How likely would I be to use this at the table for a game? Does it duplicate something already available or is it genuinely new? Do the writing and pictures (if any) make it more useful? 
  2. Speed of Entry: 1-27 points. For each day (Pacific time) your entry is received before December 4th you will receive an extra point. So if I receive your widget on December 3rd you get one bonus point. If I get it today--Nov 7--you get 27 bonus points. 
  3. Attractiveness: 0 points. Does it look lovely? If it doesn't make the thing work better I don't care. 
  4. Dorkness: Negative 100 points. Oh my god your widget is actually a Turing Test! How cleverly you have subverted the contest paradigm! If you do anything that tries to be funny but actually just makes the widget less useful you will end up with negative points which means I have to come to your house and take whatever you value most away from you. Exhausting for everyone involved.
  • Special Handicap Rule: Fancy smart actual programmers are totally allowed to enter with super-advanced widgets utilizing skill and programs far beyond that available to the average blogger. However, if this results in one or more stunning Lebron-shows-up-to-the-playground entries, these will be judged separately and I will award both "n00b" and "Jawa" prizes
Uh, I think that's it, you can ask questions here or on Google+.
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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

That's The Way To Do It!

Try this game:

Tell WOTC how to renew their settings for 5th Edition in two sentences or less. You have to do at least three settings. Extra points if it seems like something they might actually do.

Here are mine...

Dragonlance

Still a high-fantasy adventure path--but gamify the players' attempt to stay on the path and play their character: each player gets an objective slipped to them secretly ("Kill at least four draconians before reaching Mindenhork") and they level up when they achieve the objectives--at which point they get a new one. Also subsidiary objectives worth xp--but monsters alone are worth little or nothing.

Kara Tur/Oriental Adventures

All the Kara Tur classes are feat-heavy 4e-style variants on the core classes. Lots of shoving people around the scenery, tactical combat and crazy stunts and all the feats have names like "Thousand Golden Mantis Lock".

Dark Sun

There's no good reason not to just release Dark Sun as a complete Carcosa-style hexcrawl from the get-go, accompanied by random tables (like these) for generating weird locals and villages. Without these details, the setting can be summed up in like 4 pictures and there's no need for most of what's in the boxed set.

Ravenloft

…is redone as essentially Call of Cthulhu Medieval. Or the Dark Country. Ravenloft itself is just a big gothic country or alternate earth but the characters start out as Old School-style useless 0-level funnel-fodder in a place with terrible communication and supply lines and have to scrabble and scrimp for class features and spells.

Eberron

Start by releasing it not as a standard setting book but as an alternate monster manual--with each standard creature rewritten--with no stats (or collapsed stats) but with info on how they fit into the politics and ecology of Eberron.
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

We Need Your Help On Vornheim 2nd Edition


While the pdf of Vornheim: the Complete City Kit is still available *, the hardcovers sold out very quickly and people have been asking after them for years.

So: finally we are shooting to have a new physical version out this winter. We want to make a few very minor tweaks--one of which is fixing typos.

The only one I already know about is that the "Where's Eshrigel?" table appears on page 11 for no reason.

If you know of any typos in Vornheim, please send 'em in. You can post them in the comments here, or e-mail me.
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*Also: if you don't have one, get one, it's award winning and stuff. Here's a detailed review.
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Friday, October 31, 2014

Red & Pleasant Land--in the flesh

Red & Pleasant Land--my kit for running an Alice-In-Wonderland-inspired continent (plus vampire wars) is almost ready.

These are photos of a misprinted copy I just got--the pages are way too thin, but basically this is how it'll look. James spent more money printing these books than my art publishers did printing my coffee table books--so it's going to be something special. I do not think there is another RPG book like it.

The book will be available to order around December 4th and cost around 35 bucks I think. So the thing to do is save a dollar a day starting today. Or 2 dollars a day if you plan on buying someone one for Christmas or whatever. Which you should. Because it's awesome.






There are 3 locations done like this--with all the info on the map.

Like 40-some monsters

Like Vornheim, there's a ton of tables & tools for making
your own content--in or out of Lewis Carrolled Transylvania
2 big dungeons


You won't be able to see through the pages on the final version

Used it in physical form for the first time GMing yesterday.
It was easy to find stuff, easy to use and the red ribbon
bookmark James wanted turned out to be worth it. So: pleased. 
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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Horror, The Horrocks

An Interview With Sarah Horrocks. About Horror.
Tumblrable version here at this link here

From Horrocks' Tumblr
Most critics suck at their job. Few ever take the effort to push themselves past more or less dressed-up versions of "This part worked for me, this part didn't p.s. I went to college" and give you something to chew on even when you totally disagree with them--so I keep track of the good ones. If Dorothy Parker  says something about a play, if David Thomson says something about an actor, if Martin Amis says something about a novel, if Jeff Rients says something about games or if Sarah Horrocks says something about a horror movie, I wanna hear it.

Why here on an RPG blog? Here's why: in DIY D&D we talk about horror all the fucking time--when we talk about how a lot of Old School play turns D&D into a game of sneak-sneak-die, when we talk about atmosphere, when we talk about what and what isn't "across the line" in a game like Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or even when we just talk about how to make shit more metal. 

So it's worth consulting Sarah: she's agile, original, and precise (especially in analyzing how movies look), she avoids cliches while staying bloggily personal and conversational. Read her on a movie you haven't seen and you'll want to see it, read her on a movie you've seen and you'll see new things in it. Getting on with it, here's Horrocks talking horror:

Z: When did you first fall in love with horror movies?

S: It was really late.  I was a scared kid growing up.  I couldn't even watch like the scary episodes of Unsolved Mysteries without having terrible nightmares for months.  I mean I had nightmares without horror's help.  And I sort of carried that fear of horror into my early 20s even.  I started to dabble more into the genre mostly because of how depressed and terrible I felt in those years.  I was just coming out as trans, and was still massively struggling against depression, and I had no money--and against that I just felt numb.  I didn't know what I was going to do.  I mean I was writing then, but my sense was that nobody would ever want to read what I had to say. 

And so it was kind of a thing where it was almost like a self-harm kind of thing, where I wanted to terrorize myself

--I wanted to see how bad I could make it, by just confronting these things which terrified me or disgusted me--I mean I passed out in kindergarten on a trip to the hospital when they showed us how they took blood using a puppet.  

But I could just imagine the blood coming out of that puppet and what it would be like to have my own blood drained--so I mean, scared and weak stomached--and so at first horror was chasing this dark rush.  It's probably like that for other people, but when they're kids. To go through that as a young adult is weird.  

So I mean a large reason why I watched all of these movies was because in my comics, I know what I want to make, and I know that the stories I have to tell are horror stories--but I don't have the language for it, and by just spamming so many films at once into my brain, it would allow me to better articulate some of the horrors I feel day to day.  Plus, I mean there are so many great horror films that are a part of everyone else's lives, that I'd never seen...I felt left out!  I want to talk about Hellraiser 2, too, you know.
From Horrock's comic "Hecate Snake Diaries"
Z: So for a while there you were watching a gory horror film every day--did you find out anything that, overall, was true about horror?

S: Well I think moreso than most other genres, Horror is mostly the cycling of modes that the audience is familiar with going in--and because the modes are familiar, it produces a kind of hypnosis, whereby the details within those modes are more important.  Horror is a genre entirely of the details.  Which has I think made it very ill-suited to modern audiences which only care about how the plot comes together. So like in Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage--there's a killer on the loose, the detective of sorts, tries to figure out who it is, and how to stop them, yada yada--but what's important is that opening scene with the art gallery with the big windows and Tony Musantes trapped between doors witnessing the murder, as we watch him watch a girl bleed out. 
So much about the best horror is about the hypnosis of having you leave a wider context and live in as close to a singular moment as possible. 
And unlike many other genres, horror will happily be nonsensical to hit that spot.  Someone like Argento happily works in a dream logic that is hinged entirely on the sensations of a particular segment.  

Past that, I think horror is more rich than any other field in terms of women's studies.  This is one of the few genres where women are usually the focal point.  For a variety of interesting reasons--but I mean, all these nerds are trying to get a Black Widow movie--but that's never going to be as empowering as Ripley in Alien.  The final girl concept in general is a really enjoyable way to approach these films.  I mean so many issues of harassment, and space and agency get hit up in horror so directly--and there's a lot more empowering figures in these films than like noir or superhero or romance genres.  So I thought that was interesting.

Z: Here's something you said that I love:
"There is a relationship between horror and the things that make us happy in this life that I think culturally we are unable to appreciate...when we deny horror's role we end up with lying sack of shit art that contains no truth to it"
…I was wondering if you could expand on how you see horror as a kind of "responsible" art form, with something to say.

S: Well for me the only thing that's really interesting to me in life is beauty or more directly the sublime.  I say this because I think that the sublime is an aspect of death, and the awe that we feel in it's presence is the terrible processes of time and how it pulls all of the moments that make up our experience farther and farther away from us--and that the process of living requires a desire for beauty in some form in order to justify itself--but if we see that beauty as attached to an idea that exists outside of time, outside of life--and actually as an aspect of the end of our continuous experience--then we understand that it is the one singular experience in life, and everything is just it's shade.  And so I look for ways to find these sort of imperfect temporal occurrences of beauty in symbols.

I think I probably need to expand slightly what I mean when I say beauty is death, and then once I do that it will make more sense why horror is important.  So what is the experience of beholding beauty?  It is fundamentally the experience of our own deficits.  Our own mortality.  Our own imperfections.  It is something that is beyond our scope and makes us feel small and dying in it's presence.  It calls attention to the horror of the passing of our time around us.  When you see beauty as the sublime, it's the sensation of losing your breath.  I've heard before, the idea of death represented as a entity like you see death and death is so beautiful that you can't help but accept it.  Whether that's a light that you follow, or whether it's a beautiful form with an infinity of unfolding eyes--that experience outside of life is what informs beauty.

I think even though functionally the way we are using beauty culturally is to scare people into spending money, the presentation is generally as an affirmation of life, which I don't think is correct. 
There is an underlying horror to all representations of beauty.  Beauty causes hate.  Enmity.  Jealousy.
We warp the bodies of ourselves and the world around us and do horrible horrible things because of it.  And in fact, many of our standards of beauty are built upon famine, torture, and exploitation.

So I think this is where the value of horror comes in because it reminds us of death's place in beauty.  And the times when that horror has been most fully accepted--that our lives such that they are are build upon the terrorism of the experiences of others around us--these are also the times when art has been most potent.  The most prominent example in American culture of this is 1970s American cinema which I think most would freely hold without too much contention, as the apex of our film culture.

But what was that built upon?  It was built upon the crashed idealism of the 60s, the dead bodies of King, the Kennedy Brothers, the re-election of Nixon, the Vietnam meat factory, Watergate--our crimes had become impossible to ignore, and our cinema reflected that. 

And was better for it.  Because it was the closest thing to expressing the truth of any moment which is it's attachment to an attendant horror.  Sometimes quite directly.  I think that horror is the most exciting way to attack this kind of thing as well--because with horror we can transgress and be terrible--now where Horror starts to fail is when those transgressions have no weight.  But fundamentally, horror is the ritualized symbols through which we can debase ourselves enough to sometimes peak at really rich veins of the sublime.  I mean any genre can have it's possibilities--but I find with horror the probability of seeing something and being shaken in some way, is much higher.  The number of sort of one hit wonders in horror kind of attests to this.  Pascal Laugier can only make Martyrs and films which aren't Martyrs.


Z: So what's good about beauty? Or is beauty just like: full of bad things but basically just a peak experience in and of itself so, without those peak experiences: why live? Can we make a "sugar-free dessert"? Beauty that's harmless? Is that a good idea?
S: Everything is good about beauty.  I don't think it's the dessert, I think it's the main course, in encapsulates the most we can aspire to experience both from within and from without, in life--because it is death.  There's nothing harmless about it.  Even in it's most neutered form. The question is more how can we craft beauty, or replicate beauty--or what are the conditions that are most useful for it to be called into being.  So like a soap commercial with a "beautiful" face, how that works is by creating a gap between how you feel, and what is being presented to you with beauty--the fear of your lack in this presence--and of the attendant deterioration of beauty through time, is enough to induce the kind of panic that may make you part with a few dollars.  But that's a pretty low form, because it is so sanitized.  In a soap commercial, the form that is being presented as beauty has been market tested to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and has been scrubbed of any and all danger--it's barely beauty at all because of this.  Beauty in it's full bloom is terrifying.  It doesn't just induce a clutching of one's wallet--but your heart and breath can actually stop--you think about Stendhal syndrome, and those kinds of reactions to beauty--or congregations in a church who start speaking in tongues--that's closer to beauty in it's actual manifestation.  When we make beauty safe and controlled I think life gets a little more stupid.

Z: Is catharsis basically what we're talking about here? How does catharsis work?
S: I think the best horror films, what's great about them is that they don't give you catharsis.  The end of Wake in Fright just makes you want to saw your head off.  Horror works obviously with repression, like catharsis does--but at it's best, it's catharsis without release.  In Simon Rumley's The Living and the Dead, it just keeps getting worse and worse, and nothing ever gets better.  You just watch this family disintegrate humiliatingly, horribly, violently under the weight of mental illness, and economic ruin until there's nothing left.

To come out of a horror film and feel that life is more bleak, and that there is no comfort for us in the end--it's pretty great.

I do think in the slasher film genre there is catharsis, but it's because that genre is also so phallic.  You're kind of coming in with the idea that it will be this buildup, and then the girl will get off.  Weirdly the killer's sexual attention is largely thwarted in the end, he never gets release--but the audience by seeing the final girl escape, gets their relief.  At least until the sequel.

But not all horror falls into that category.  I don't think for instance that Trouble Every Day is cathartic.  Maybe In My Skin is cathartic?  It depends on whether you view self-cannibalization with the same self-actualization as the protagonist of the film. 

I think the high point of horror is probably before the relief from terror, if there is any--where the story is at it's bleakest, darkest peak--it can kind of float in that space for a moment---and that's the spot you'd like to live in forever as an audience--even if it is completely awful.
Z: Is that sort of moment like the semi-catharsis of waking from a nightmare and realizing it was just
a nightmare?


S: Of course, but oftentimes this convention is subverted.  In Nightmare on Elm Street, they always think they're awake and safe and Freddy's gone, but there's always that last bit where Freddy's like "nah, not going anywhere".  Don Coscarelli's Phantasm and Phantasm II play with that as well.  "It's only a dream"  Except in a horror film, it's oftentimes not.  

I think horror is on some level intrinsically about the notion that there is in the end no relief.  


Maybe the killer is killed like in Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling--but the system, which is the real one creating the evil that is killing these children, is alive and well, and will continue to perpetuate.  Even when it's not a system, the slasher film from the get is set up with the killer just going away to jail.  Norman Bates wasn't dead at the end of Psycho.  At the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface and crew are still THERE.  Still waiting.  There is no relief, and I think that extrapolates out to a more realistic way to view the world, because we'd like to think, okay Hitler is dead, evil is gone--but Pol Pot comes around, Pinochet is making bodies disappear in a Chilean desert.  Murder continues to happen.  Molestation.  The rules of torture are rewritten for the sensibilities of our latest horrible incarnation.  This is an aspect of how our lives function.  Even something as seemingly innocuous as a Coca-Cola comes with a body count.  I mean the makeup that made so many women match the standards men created for them, was based on the experimentation and torture of animals.  Maybe capitalism has made the veneer of these transactions more palatable--but everything is still attached to an attendant horror, and it's only through feeling that horror in it's full weight that we can even approach the kind of truth that creates lasting beauty.  I mean like you said, what even is catharsis?  It seems like it's just one breath drawn among a lot of others.
Z: Do you think there's a difference between people who Don't Want To Be Reminded
of horrible things in their entertainment and people who Do Want To Be Reminded?

S: Just focus and how they are kind of oriented for whatever reason.  I mean some people stay through the credits of movies to see who all worked on the thing and out of respect, some people stay through the credits to see Howard the Duck.  I don't think one way is better or worse than the other.  Good and terrible people on all sides of it.

Z: You've talked a little about metaphors for your (or a?) trans- experience in horror movies--can you go into that a little?

S: Well as I said, even getting into horror movies at the age I did, I think came a lot from the attendant pressures and alienation that comes from being trans in a culture without a clear seat for that at the table.  But I think more precisely, it made relating to the "monsters" of these films much easier.  Or even if not relate--at least pursue a more well rounded understanding of the contexts around which they have been created.  Which I don't think is a wholly trans-thing because I think that general thing is what draws a lot of people who feel ostracized from society to monsters.  But I do think that horror films become infinitely more compelling the more malleable you are with your sympathies. 


I also think in terms of a transwoman's experience, that--I mean there's a big cliff you drop off when you stop presenting yourself as male in this culture--

things get a lot scarier and the space changes quite a bit, and that's without even adding into it the trans side of it, which ups the danger even more--but so fears about men's propriety and violent need to control my body, kind of get this really ramped up presentation that I think maybe makes those themes even more vibrant.

I've often thought that a lot of transphobia actually has it's roots in misogyny in general, and that if that were cured (which I doubt it ever will), then transphobia would follow suit.  A lot of the freaked-outedness about trans people is usually about transwomen, and it's the same way that a lot of homophobia is about gay men--fundamentally what you are talking about is the fear that straight cisgender men have of losing what they see as their masculinity, and being subject to the same terrors that they on some subconscious level must understand they perpetuate on a daily basis. I mean think of how many murders of transwomen have as their starting point, a straight cis-male who is attracted to a transwoman, but because of how masculinity is constructed--that attraction undermines core parts of his identity, and that undermining drives him to crazy fucked up violence.  But he didn't himself put that idea of masculinity there.  It was every man he met, and ever man they met, farther and farther back through history.  Until the idea of masculinity can be rewritten within the culture in a meaningful way, dark shadowy streets are going to feel like they always have a killer lurking in them. One of the great things about a film like Ms. 45 is Zoe Lund as part of her revenge for being raped--just refuses to stay in the safe spaces that are set up for women.  She goes into all of these spaces where women are occluded, and just starts lighting dudes up.
Beyond all of this, the body horror side of horror is also really palatable to me, because first being trans there's this horror of this wretched form and body, which is kind of this constant obstruction to my ability to express myself societally, and then past that, there's the body horror of being a woman and all of the insane impossible standards your body is constantly judged short of.  Anything good about your body is always eclipsed by the things which aren't.  So a film like In My Skin by Marina De Van is truly beautiful because it is fundamentally about this feeling of alienation within your own skin, and the struggle not per se to morph one's body into something else--but to come to an understanding and an appreciation of yourself within the skin you live in. 


There's this wonderful moment in that movie where she contorts herself in front of a mirror--she's covered in blood and viscera, and this contortion is really this strange violent angle that we see only through a mirror--but fucccck if that's not my everyday. 

The lies of the mirror and how our perceptions are unreal.  Like I can't look into a mirror to see myself for more than a few seconds.  I have to see myself as a stranger in the mirror in order to be able to like...get out of the house.  So like you know when you just glance quickly into a mirror, and that slight lag while your brain links the image you are seeing to your identity--that's how the rest of the world sees you.  But the longer you look at a mirror, particularly if you have any kind of body dysmorphic issues--you can watch--I can watch myself change shape in the mirror--I start to focus on all of the areas about my face or body that make me feel insecure, and those parts grow and become more prominent--so even though the mirror is the same mirror as it was to start, by the end, the image is not.  Weirdly photographs don't seem as prone to this problem.  I can see a photograph of myself, and there's enough of a distance there that I can believe it.  Even if I know intrinsically that photographs are just the editing of the photographer--and if they pick this photo of you vs. another, it's one thing vs. another.  Each image is a different you.  Which is really strange.

But yeah, these are the horrors of being trans.  I think that they parallel so much struggles cisgender women have shows that they are probably caused in most of their totality, from the discomfort culture induces in us, and the fact that for instance if you are trans, your safety is dependent upon how you scale up or down from notions of cisgender women's beauty--if you look too good, you'll get attention from men who might not know your gender history, and because of that might react violently--if you don't look good enough, you might freak everyone out and also get hit up.  It's a sincere mindfuck.  But it wouldn't be QUITE as bad if there were accepted ideas of trans-beauty within the culture--but we'd have to expand our ideas of beauty, and there's no money in that right now(maybe ever).  The big money is in the tabloid freakiness of transwomen, so thus and thus.  Which is something you see unfortunately in films like Silence of the Lambs and Dressed to Kill--which are excellent--but rely upon this freakishness to unsettle their audiences.  I man even Psycho, Norman dressed up as his mother *shocking*.  You could make a case that the slasher killer has at his roots coding for transphobia.  Thank god Michael Myers came along.


 You know Silence of the Lambs probably set me coming out back at least 10 years.  I was mortified back then that that's what I would be. 

It's embarrassing to admit now, because now I don't really give very much of a fuck.  But I've talked to other transwomen about Buffalo Bill, and they've said the same sorts of things.  How crazy is that?  That's one powerful monster.  This is where I remind people that transwomen are way more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetuate it.

Z: Can you go  a little more into why you find these horror movie women more empowering than women in other genres? Is it about surviving (or at least facing) a sort of totally inimical world?

S: I mean, it's some of that.  Getting pushed to your limits, to the point of hysteria, but still surviving--that you've taken this huge weight of the world on you, and like Marilyn Burns in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you're covered in blood and screaming and laughing--but you've somehow come out on top.  I don't think other genres allow women to be strong, tough, and vulnerable in this way. And I mean there's just way more movies in the horror genre where the perspective is that of a woman's.  The slasher flick is not through the killer's point of view afterall, it's through the woman's.  Usually in other genres the majority of the work they get is as a capable sidekick, or a love interest.  If they are the central focal point, it is usually in the romance genre, but they don't get to have quite as active a role as in the slasher flick.  Or Lady Vamp films.

Z: And some people are going to be distracted because when a women dies they just think "Some dude wanted to see a women in a refrigerator" and their ability to connect ends there. Do other peoples' responses affect your responses? Does this question make sense?
H: Well the thing with horror is that while women die, they also oftentimes are the sole survivor.  And yeah most of these films are made by dudes, and like, in a Giallo film when you see a knife stripping a woman naked, and the camera and the knife stabbing in places where straight dudes want to look--I mean that's certainly a huge part of the genre.  But the cool thing with horror in the slasher flicks is that even though that stuff kind of brings dudes into see these films, at the end of the day they still end up dramatically rooting for the final girl.  It's one of the few genres that is popular with men, where by genre tropes they are forced to see things through the perspective of women.
But as far as other people's responses to anything, I don't really bother. I mean I have my friends that I care what they think--but I have never needed my tastes or opinions to line up with anyone else's. But past that, meh. Even when I write it's for myself, and people can follow me on it or not--but I'm just trying to keep it moving.  I don't have time for suckers.

Z: Does "exploitive" mean something in horror? What?

H: I don't think more than anything else.  I mean the Avengers is exploitative.  Nike Shoes are exploitative.  Maybe in horror exploitation can be more freely owned up to and explored with more depth.  I dunno.  I often find the term to be used to feign a civility that is almost always false in some way.  These are exploitation films.  These are oscar nominated films.  I know I'd rather watch the former. 

I think with trash cinema or trash art in general, there's often times a crude directness that gives voice to factions in society that are being ignored in more mainstream areas.

So a lot of the Lady Vampire films from the 70s would be called exploitative--but the women in those films have more agency than the sidekick women in these modern day action flicks.  And you think about something like Ganja and Hess which is this beautiful blacksploitation vampire film--that's as good as any sort of art house movie you would put up against it now or then--and that that was a space where black stories could be told, black faces could be seen and heard--and how that space didn't exist then, and still doesn't really exist now--but that's the exploitation film?  So I feel like the term is a top down evaluation from people who it'd seem wise to distrust.

Z: I'd love to hear about how you'd sum up the work of your favorite directors: Jean Rollin? Dario Argento?

S: Jean Rollin is like huge for me.  My comic Dysnomia is basically a 30 page love letter to his movies.  My friend Katie Skelly is actually making this super Rollin-esque comic right now called My Pretty Vampire.  Like why Rollin is cool--well first off, it's just that, he's cool.  But the great thing with Rollin, and maybe Jess Franco has a liiiitttle bit of this--but not as much as Rollin, is this dream like quality--he definitely approaches horror as beauty.  And all of his films follow these dangerous sexual women who exist antagonistically against these peripheral rather clueless men.  And I mean just the way he will set up shots and the mis en scene that he builds up.  Like the end of Living Dead Girl where Françoise Blanchard devours her friend and lover Marina Pierro against this spotlit castle bridge in this long shot long take that could almost be a shot out of a slow cinema thing---THAT is why I love Jean Rollin.  He does things like that, that are so fucking beautiful, I can't stand it.  I have to pause his movies sometimes just because the experience is so overwhelming.  He's just a succession of perfect.  Like when you see someone put something horrifying together that you feel within you--I mean that scene is imbued with so much emotion because Blanchard's desire to feed has overcome her passion to love--but she is cognizant of that transaction as well, but is powerless to do anything about it.  She is both surviving and watching her part in the death of someone that she loved so much that she came back from the dead for her!  And Rollin and his actors get that so perfectly, and to let it play out in this long shot--and to really let it play out--I mean it's perfect.  If I ever make anything half that good!
I mean I like Argento a lot--but there are no horror directors who do it for me like Rollin.  You have to talk about specific films, like Possession, Trouble Every Day, In My Skin.  Or Argento's Stendhal Syndrome or Tenebre.  I probably like Argento on the same level as Fulci and Bava.  All of those italian masters are so predicated on the details and the visuals--they make really beautiful things.  I think the giallo in general is one of my favorite things just because it's this nexus of high fashion/luxury/excess, women, architecture, and gruesome nightmarish death.  I'm actually working on a comic that is very much inspired the feelings I have watching Mario Bava's best work.

It's interesting to sort of think about how the three might be different.  I think Fulci is more political.  His films are always kind of about the hypocrisies and failures of communal systems which allow--or almost encourage horror to take place.  In his movies, backs are turned, old women spit at you, doors and windows are closed--and everyone is complicit.  With Argento, he is a surrealist, he only cares about the dream, the hypnosis, his monsters are supernatural even when they are men, maybe especially so, and while he's thematically interesting, what I love about him is the power of his aesthetic--in a battle of themes vs. aesthetics, I will always end up caring about aesthetics.

With Bava, I think what I vibe most with him right now is he also has the aesthetic heft of Argento--but he also hates the rich in a way that someone like Bunuel could appreciate--and I think that feels really timely.  My two favorite Bava films are Bay of Blood and 5 Dolls for an August Moon--and both are just these greedy rich bastards beautifully cannibalizing themselves for some extra money.  I'm always down for that.  It's why the Exterminating Angel is my favorite Bunuel film. 

Oh we're going to lock some rich people in a room and let them be the monsters they are?  Sign me up.

And Bava does it with panache.  These gorgeous villas and spaces--the bay in Bay of Blood is beautiful, and all of the kill scenes are wonderfully staged.  And then you also have work of his like Shocked which I still roll over in my head.  I probably like the heights Argento gets up to the most, but Bava is close.  And Fulci's New York Ripper is absolutely one of my favorite movies.  It's almost like an Abel Ferarrra movie!

Z: Are there any comics that you feel tap the same kind of territory as your favorite horror movies?

S: Well I mentioned Katie Skelly's comic that she's making which she's been posting on her tumblr as it progresses.  I love Emily Carroll's horror stuff--but she's more like Junji Ito in that they're kind of classical horror in that Poe-Lovecraft radioplay way--it's delightful and I love it--but it's not exactly what I'm most into.  Sloane Leong's short body horror comics, are really cool, they're like on some new french extremity type vibe.  Suehiro Maruo's Ultra-Gash Inferno and the Laughing Vampire are definitely in the spot for me.  But really, not really.  Skelly's Vampire is the first thing I've seen that is coming from the spot I am.  Oh something like Saga De Xam--but I've never read all of that.  But I mean it's good. There's a lot of space for what I want to do and what I like.  Oh yeah, also Al Columbia.  It's still like 1930s/40s horror--but I like how it's fucked up.  I mean I guess him and Suehiro Maruo are similar in that way.  Though the transgressions of Maruo in terms of fluids and humiliation is stuff I'm really interested in.

Z: Can you talk a little about color and horror? Saga De Xam and Argento have this certain lurid post-psychedelic palette, while a lot of '70s films have a sort of warm underlying tone whereas new movies tend to have a sort of cool bluish thing going on. Is that something you think about?
S: Yeah.  Color is a big deal for me.  I don't know why.  I guess it's not for everyone, otherwise people wouldn't keep making comics and movies with aimless shitty palettes.  But I am really drawn to expressive color.  Like the first Alien has these deep blacks, which you lose yourself in, and they set off against these really sterile eggshell white rooms--and it is completely beautiful, and it works across thematic and dramatic lines within the film as a whole--and then you watch Prometheus, which is a film I like--but Ridley almostly completely tossed out the blacks.

So we finally see a thorough exploration of the engineer's place, and rather than the gothic black Giger paintings of the first film--we get this blueish greyish tones, which depower both the black AND the white--so the separation is muddled, the contrast is fucked, and nothing hits with that leathery bio-mechanical oomph that the first film had.

And I mean it's the same director!  What drives me crazy about a lot of modern films is that colors aren't allowed to express themselves anymore.  You watch like late 60s Godard, and he's just hitting you with primary colors like haymakers--directors now don't even think in color it feels like--and I'm speaking generally, but they just digitally tone everything into this grey bleaugh or amber bleaugh--and then comics copy that too--and I feel like if you're going to have something in color--throw those colors with bad intentions.  I want to feel them.  And with horror this is doubly important, because horror is always really effective in black and white, so if you make the decision that you're going to go color on horror--you need to have a reason for it, and you need to know why you are using this color or that color. And again, I'm speaking in generalities.  There are modern filmmakers in horror or otherwise who use color like they know what they're doing.  I saw this great Albert Serra film called the Story of My Death, which has these deep blacks and lovely browns and greens.  American Mary I thought had some great color stuff in it.  Antichrist.  There's a lot.  Just...not a lot.