About Mario

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mario Piumetti is a freelance writer of science fiction, horror, screenplays, and nonfiction. He has a bachelor's degree in English from California Lutheran University and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. An avid music lover, his work is heavily influenced by rock, punk, and metal. You can contact him at mario.piumetti.writer@gmail.com.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Corner of the Catacombs Has Moved to WordPress

Hi, everyone.

It's been a while since I've posted, I know, but I've been swamped lately and felt I needed a bit of a break.

I have, however, started a new website on WordPress and will continue My Corner of the Catacombs there.

It's been a pleasure writing here on Blogger, but I've felt for a while that this page is feeling crowded with various widgets from archives to the bio to the Twitter feed, and I believe WordPress will allow me the flexibility to include all these features without giving a claustrophobic impression.

Thanks, everyone, for reading, and I'll catch you on the flip side.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Will Horror Be Like in 100 Years?

It's unfortunate that a lot of early horror films are considered lost.  A number of Lon Chaney films were lost, I've heard, because Universal Studios intentionally destroyed the reels in order to recover the silver used in their manufacturing.  But like fossils and artifacts, the films that remain tell us a lot about the industry and the horror genre of the time.  The earliest horror film I can think of is 1922's Nosferatu, which itself is lucky to have survived after legal disputes with Bram Stoker's estate resulted in a court order that the film be destroyed.

The cinema of the time was very imaginative, exploiting black and white to great effect with shadows.  If you look at The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a lot of the sets are clearly drawn and painted.  The fiction of the time was just as evocative.  There's a story by Lord Dunsany called Thirteen at Table.  It's about a fox hunter who stays the night at a mansion.  He goes to dinner.  At the table are him, his host, and the host's daughter, along with thirteen seemingly empty seats.  These, says the host, are inhabited by the ghosts of people he's wronged.  The hunter entertains everyone with wonderful stories, but eventually begins worrying that he is offending the ghosts, and slips into madness.  In reading it, I imagined The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, particularly the ballroom.

As I see it, horror has evolved over the last hundred years to up the shock value.  The limitation of horror is that it frightens you on the first exposure, but you're desensitized to it over time.  Unless, of course, it's something you've got a genuine phobia of.  For example, I still can't watch Arachnophobia because I have a fear of spiders - large spiders, in particular - and there's a shot in the climax where you see Jeff Daniels reflected off the many eyes of the spider queen, and I just can't deal with that.

I think it used to be that shock was used merely as a tool in the genre.  When The Walking Dead started off, Frank Darabont said the zombies were just the icing on the cake, and that the real story was about the fragility of human society and nature.  I've noticed a number of writers and filmmakers who intentionally try to shock and disgust the audience, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.  What worries me about that is that as more people become used to it and steel themselves in preparation for the next gore-fest, horror in a hundred years' time is going to become more graphic, and maybe even border on the snuff film.  If it serves a larger purpose in the story, wonderful.  But if it's there just for the sake of being there, then I think it means there's a psychological problem in the audience that needs to be addressed.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Biggest Problems in Horror

I don't just write horror.  I'm a fan of the genre, and I get this delightful chill down my spine when it's done right.  However, horror films exist with a certain stigma about them.  Along with science fiction, it gets many nods for technical achievement at the Oscars, but little respect when it comes to the big prize of Best Picture.  That tends to be reserved for heavy, inspiring, social problem-solving films.  The Exorcist is still the only real horror film ever nominated for best picture, though there's some debate about whether The Silence of the Lambs qualifies as horror or thriller (it's both, actually).

Genre bias aside - really, the Oscars nowadays exist only to give actors and directors a pay raise anyway - critics often dismiss horror films as mere popcorn flicks.  This is unfair, but with so many horror films released of late, there's an increase in movies of poor quality.

Here are some of the biggest problems.

Too much torture porn

Torture porn is a subgenre of horror heavily reliant on gore to shock the audience.  This is when you've got a deluge of violence and mutilation, which has it's value in horror but only if it advances the story (as every other element ought to).  A film like Braindead does have use for excessive gore because it's used in a comedic fashion.

Not enough originality

I'm not talking about only the remakes here.  A lot of times, I see a horror film that follows the same old formula: filling the first half with most of the big scares and addressing and resolving the crisis in the second half.  That's fine.  In fact, that's the plot structure horror films are expected to use.  But I often see films that merely fit the mold without trying anything new with the material.  It Follows was a nicely original film in that the entity pursuing the characters was one I'd never seen before, and Inner Demons was a great departure from other tales of demonic possession by having drug use be the girl's method of keeping the monster at bay.

Not enough evocative atmosphere

I think most people forget that monsters aren't enough, and they don't realize that until they're presented with a situation where they're overwhelmed by the visual of a creature.  A lot of times, horror can be even more effective with proper lighting, shadow, and sound (or silence).  Anyone questions that ought to take a look at the Eric Bana film Deliver Us From Evil, which is about a cop investigating a string of demonic possessions in New York City.  It does have the monsters, but also makes great use of songs from The Doors, especially during a very atmospheric scene in which Bana pursues a possessed man through the basement of an apartment building and the demon keeps playing People Are Strange in his head.

Seeing only one side of the coin

John Carpenter said that horror goes back to tribesmen gathered around the campfire explaining to each other where evil came from.  One explanation is that evil is beyond the fire, outside of the safety of the tribe.  In the modern sense, this is the serial killer stalking the alleys, the zombies lumbering out of the woods, the vampire arriving from his castle.  The other explanation is that evil is something found within everyone's heart.  We have this protective boundary, but the monster is already inside that fence among us.  This is the monster who beats his wife and kids, the monster who steals her grandmother's medication because she's a drug addict, the monster who says she loves her boyfriend but then constantly cheats and berates him.  While we have plenty of external monsters in horror, the internal ones often get overlooked, and the cream of the crop in the genre are those films that feature both.