I’ve always loved horror movies, but they very rarely scare me. I don’t know if it’s because I have a sick sense of humor or because I was raised to be tough or because so many horror movies are not well done (probably a combination of all three of these factors), but I usually find horror movies to be hilarious. Whenever I see a monster come out to attack their next victim or a character gets their head chopped off or something along those lines, I can’t help but laugh. I find most horror movies to be on the same level as comedies as far as humor is concerned…
With that being said, there is one movie series that stands out as being the only series to ever actually completely freak me out and scare me: the Saw series. I never once laughed while watching the movies in this series. I was completely freaked out, and yet I could not stop watching them. I watched the entire series on Netflix within about two days’ time. Since these movies left such a strong impact on me, it made sense for me to re-watch the original Saw film and analyze it in light of what I’ve learned in class about the horror genre so I could see just what it is that makes these movies so appealing and how I might choose to apply these principles to my own writing.
The first element that works well in this film is the fact that it’s extremely fast-paced. The movie opens with two men, Dr. Lawrence Gordon and a man that simply goes by “Adam” as being locked into a very dirty, almost archaic bathroom together. There is also a dead, bloodied body lying on the floor. Adam and Dr. Gordon have no memory of how they got there and they are also chained to the wall unable to escape. At first they also do not know how the man was killed or what happened to him. The last thing that Dr. Gordon remembers is going to work the night before and the last thing that Adam remembers was going to sleep the night before. This is scary because the characters were just living ordinary, regular lives and now they are in a very unordinary environment. It makes us think it could happen to us, too. There is also a bit of the fear of the unknown because Dr. Gordon and Adam don’t know how they got there or what’s going to happen next. Right away we as viewers know that something is drastically wrong and we are drawn in to the story because we want to know how they got there and how they might escape.
The entire story line and plot for the movie is also so expertly done. Many people would argue that Saw falls under the category of body horror, which I agree with since Dr. Gordon saws his foot off in an attempt to escape from his chains, Adam’s blood is poisoned, and Amanda has to solve a puzzle or risk having her jaw explode, but I’d also argue that this movie can also fall under the categories of police procedural and psychological horror. It’s police procedural because there is a mystery that must be solved throughout this movie. Detectives/police have been working on a case for a while now where a man known as “Jig Saw” has murdered and tortured several different individuals. His motive is that he wants to teach people to be appreciative of their lives. Jig Saw was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that is slowly killing him. He is very angry and bitter by this news and doesn’t think that others deserve to live unless they can appreciate the beauty of life. For those who manage to survive Jig Saw’s cruel games of torture, their views on life are forever changed, which some could argue is for the better. Since they were so close to death, they realize how easily life can be taken from them so they gain a stronger appreciation of it.
Even though Jig Saw is a horrible person who brutally kills and/or tortures people, I find myself almost sympathizing with him and liking his games at times. The idea that people should be appreciative and grateful to be alive is something that few people would argue against; Jig Saw just goes about it in the wrong way. The film also falls under the category of psychological horror for this reason. It messes with our minds as viewers. Are we really sympathizing and feeling sorry for a mass murderer? Furthermore, the story messes with the minds of the main characters, Dr. Gordon and Adam by putting them up against each other. In order to live, someone must die. In Dr. Gordon’s case, he must kill Adam if he wishes to allow his wife and his daughter to live. In Adam’s case, he must murder Dr. Gordon’s wife and child if he wishes to live since he now has poison in his blood that will kill him at a designated time if he does not complete this task. The characters often have to consider morality and ethics and what’s more important or valuable – their own lives or the lives of others around them. They have to do extremely immoral things if they want to live, and sometimes they also have to do those things just so the people closest to them may live. These are difficult decisions for anyone to make, and they also don’t have time to think through their decisions. Time is of the essence; wasting just 1 minute could be the difference between life or death.
The main takeaways I got from this film that I could apply to my own writing is to get to the action quickly, and have a strong/unique story line that keeps the reader’s attention. The puzzles are disturbing but entertaining to watch because you want to see if the characters will be able to solve them in time and be sparred their lives. They also set the scene for each film after, allowing all of the films in the series to fit together nicely. In writing this would be a great strategy to use if you were planning to write a book series rather than just one stand-alone novel. The film also has several highly graphic scenes such as the opening scene where the characters are in complete isolation with the exception of each other’s’ company in a filthy bathroom, all of the blood from the dead/dying characters, and the scene where Amanda must violently mutilate a dead man’s body and remove his intestines in order to get the key to remove the device from her jaws before she is killed. In order to achieve the same or similar effects in writing I would need to include very strong details for the setting and use very strong descriptions so that my reader could “see” the horror in each scene.
Hey guys! For those of you who don’t already know I am currently enrolled in a Writing Genre Fiction course at Rowan University as I work towards completing my MA in Writing. I took this class because I had to take something. I’ve never really been into genre fiction (although I do like horror) and I am actually more of a non-fiction writer which is completely different from genre fiction. This class has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone as a writer on more than one occasion.
I actually really enjoyed writing my horror story though. Initially I had planned to write about something related to trypophobia, the fear of holes, because I think the whole concept is so strange but fascinating. However, I quickly changed my idea once I read about one of my Facebook friend’s nightmares. Here’s how they described it in their Facebook post:
And with that, the beginning of my story was born. I was going to write a story about a creepy doll that wanted to suck the breath out of people. But first I had to answer, why would she do that?
I pulled a lot from my Christian beliefs about life and death and good and evil and somehow came up with a story in which everything starts off dark, gloomy, and depressing. The horror is portrayed as being normal or even good, whereas normalcy and goodness is portrayed as being evil. I will allow you as a reader to draw your own conclusions about why I took this path.
The story is below. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂
A Breath Of Life
When Lillian was born, her parents had every intention to call her Lily.
“She’s beautiful, just like a field of fresh lilies,” her father said.
However, Lillian wanted no parts in lilies, or any flowers for that matter. From the time Lillian was three, she demanded to be called “Lilith”.
Lillian, or shall we say “Lilith’s stubborn, eccentric side showed in ways far beyond her name. When her mother, Rose, wanted to dress her up in frilly dresses with bows in her hair, Lilith refused.
“But you’ll look so pretty!” Rose said.
“I don’t want to look pretty!” Lilith said. “Black. I want to wear black,” she said as she pointed to her beloved black sweater with her black pants and black shoes. Rose never knew of another five year with half as many black clothes as Lilith had, but she also knew it wasn’t worth arguing with Lilith; Lilith never lost an argument.
Lilith’s dark side took some getting used to. Sure, adults expected some edginess and darkness from a moody teenager, but no one ever expected it from a “sweet” seven-year-old girl. Still, as everyone got to know Lilith, they became more and more familiar with her unusual sense of style and life perspective.
When Lilith requested to have her eighth birthday part on Friday, October 13th, no one was surprised, even if it was three weeks before her actual birthday.
Lilith’s birthday party was different from those of most eight year olds (or seven year olds, if you want to be technical). All of the balloons were black. There were no pony rides or petting zoos or even a walk around character. Instead, Lilith surrounded herself with her beloved black cat, Bones. She replaced the cliched piñata with a series of sugar skulls and for entertainment she played the saddest songs she could find while guests had the opportunity to build their own personal graveyards.
Lilith didn’t have any friends. Her parents enrolled her in a local public school, but all of the other kids thought she was weird. The parents didn’t help; they couldn’t understand why a child of Lilith’s age would choose to be so dark. They most certainly didn’t want their normal children hanging around someone of Lilith’s kind.
Still, Lilith’s party wasn’t a total bust. She had her parents, her brother, Ryan, and several aunts, uncles, and cousins in attendance, mainly because they all either felt obligated to come or they were sorry for her. Her parents guessed it was a combination of the two emotions.
Other than her parents, Lilith’s family never quite got her. Her parents tried endlessly to tell her other relatives that Lilith liked dark things. Still, year after year after year Lilith would end up with frilly pink and purple dresses, my little pony figures, and cute “girly” things that she’d promptly throw in the trash immediately after all of her guests have left. When Lilith’s Aunt Violet gifted her with a new, custom-made American Girl doll, she realized that this year was no different. However, her mother was determined to put a stop to it.
“Look Lilith! She looks just like you!” Rose exclaimed.
“I DO NOT LOOK LIKE THIS!” Lilith corrected her mother.
“Sure you do. See, she had beautiful black hair just like you. And isn’t her dress gorgeous?”
“My hair covers my face and I don’t wear dresses,” Lilith corrected.
“I tried to get one that looked like you…this is the closest they could do…I even brought your picture in with me to the American Girl store…” Aunt Violet said, apologetically.
“It’s fine. Lilith loves it. It will do her good to have a new friend.” Rose said, you can even give her a nice new name. How about Eve? She suggested.
“Sure, whatever,” Lilith said.
The guests were invited to stay until dinner to enjoy Lilith’s favorite meal, spaghetti tacos. Many of the guests asked why they couldn’t have tacos OR spaghetti. Apparently, Lilith’s family didn’t understand the art of combining the two favorites into one, but Lilith didn’t mind.
When the last guest left shortly after 8, Lilith’s mother had a firm discussion with her daughter.
“I don’t understand why you found it necessary to be so rude to your guests today,” she said.
“I wasn’t rude!” Lilith said.
“Yes you were! You didn’t thank anyone for coming or for bringing your gifts. Your dear Aunt Violet went out of her way to visit NYC to get a custom American Girl doll made to look like you and your way of thanking her is by complaining!” Rose said.
“IT. DOES. NOT. LOOK. LIKE. ME,” Lilith argued.
“Whatever. Here’s what you’re going to do. You are going to learn to appreciate when people give you a gift. Remember, there are plenty of people on this planet that don’t even know what it is to be given a gift. Now I want you to take your doll up to bed with you to sleep with tonight. When you wake up in the morning I’ll help you to write a thank you letter to Aunt Violet explaining how much you love your new doll.”
“Yes, mama,” Lilith said. She knew it was no use arguing anymore, she had been clearly defeated this time around.
Lilith had no trouble falling asleep that night. A terrible thunderstorm has come in off the coast and threatened the area. Lilith was able to fall asleep to the sounds of heavy rain, and thunder with what she thought sounded like the occasional pang of hail. The surges of lightening gave way to just the right amount of light in her otherwise pitch-dark room to allow her to sleep comfortably and dream of all of her favorite monsters.
Shortly after Lilith entered a deep stage of REM sleep, the dreaming began. She saw the image of her favorite monster and only friend, Mr. Olga. Mr. Olga was tall, fat, and full of hair. He had a snaggle tooth, big mean claws, horns, and often wore a spike collar. In her art class at school, Lilith often drew pictures of Mr. Olga. Her classmates and her teacher, Miss Lana often said that Mr. Olga looked like a darker version of Sully from the Monsters, Inc. films, but Lilith knew he was far more unique than that.
Lilith’s dreams were always the same. She’d enter in to Mr. Olga’s home in the world of Sorrowville, a town of only two: her and Mr. Olga. This was the only place where they could truly be themselves and live freely among each other. They would plant cemeteries together (even though they never had any people to bury) and play with Mr. Olga’s black cats, Mischief and Despair. When they grew tired of that they’d put the radio on and play all of their favorite songs from My Chemical Romance, Black Veil Brides, and the occasional piece from Sleeping With Sirens. Then they would depart and count down the hours until the next day when they could do it all over again.
But tonight was different. Lilith knew that from the minute she stepped foot in Mr. Olga’s small cave in Sorrowville. The temperature wasn’t its breezy temperature of 66.6 degrees Fahrenheit the way her and Mr. Olga always set it. It was 34.14 degrees and set on Celsius. She felt warm and clammy and was even beginning to sweat a little, something she never thought was even possible in Sorrowville. What’s more, the town wasn’t its usual shades of black and grey with clouds and thunderstorms. The sky was bright blue without a single cloud in the atmosphere. The sun was bright and blazing hot, which explained why she was so warm. Her family would say it looked nice and she worried that if they ever seen this version of Sorrowville, they’d even want to join her and Mr. Olga. The very idea of that happening horrified Lilith.
Lilith and Mr. Olga weren’t the only ones in Sorrowville tonight. Instead, they were surrounded by the presence of a doll who looked like a prettier version of Lilith; it was her brand new custom-made American Girl doll from her Aunt Violet, Eve.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?!?” Lilith said.
“I came here to play, Lillian. Don’t you want to be friends?” Eve said.
“My name is LILITH, NOT LILLIAN. AND NO! NO ONE IS ALLOWED HERE BUT ME AND MR. OLGA!” she screamed.
“Silly Lillian. Don’t you know that I am you?” she said.
Mr. Olga glanced at Lilith. “She does have your hair,” he admitted.
“YOU ARE NOTHING LIKE ME!” Lilith screamed, “I NEVER WEAR MY HAIR LIKE THAT AND I HATE DRESSES!”
“We can fix that, Lillian,” she said.
“I am perfectly fine the way I am. I don’t need to be fixed.”
“That’s too bad. You see, your Aunt Violet sent me here to fix you. She said it’s not normal for a girl your age to be so… dark. And depressing.
“Psh. What does she know. She can’t change me,” Lilith said.
“No she can’t. That’s what I’m here for,” Eve said. I came to suck the breath right from you.”
Mr. Olga started to laugh.
“Stop it!” Lilith said. “Why would you laugh at that?”
“Because she thinks she can suck the breath out of you. Did she forget that I’m a monster?” he said.
“Good point,” Lilith said.
Mr. Olga inched closer to the Eve’s face and placed his hands up high above his head to show off his freshly sharpened claws. He then let out a huge growl. “RAWRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!” he said.
Eve flew over top of Mr. Olga and made her way through to Lilith.
“Just one little bite. A little something soft, trying to be polite. Nothing too hard, it wouldn’t be nice,” the doll chanted as it took a bite out of Lilith’s neck.
“WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU? ARE YOU A FRIGGEN VAMPIRE?!? Lilith screamed as Mr. Olga rushed over to her pry the doll off of her neck.
Mr. Olga clenched the doll tightly in his claws. He walked outside of his cave, towards the lake of misery and cast the doll threw the doll deep into the lake.
“Well done!” Lilith exclaimed, “Thank you for always taking such good care of me.” She gave Mr. Olga a big hug.
“You’re welcome,” he grunted.
Mr. Olga and Lilith began their walk back to Mr. Olga’s cave to resume their daily adventures. When Mr. Olga went to turn the knob on the cave door, the entire door knob fell off and the door flung open on its own.
Eve was standing there, glaring at both Lilith and Mr. Olga.
“You can’t get rid of me that easily, but it was cute for you to try,” she said.
“Not again! What do you want?” Lilith said.
“I already told you, Lillian. I want to suck the breath right out of you.”
“Okay, but why?”
“You need to change Lillian. It is not good to be so dark. Dark is a form of evil, and there is no place for evil in our world.
“Which is why Lilith comes with me to Sorrowville,” Mr. Olga explained.
“Yeah…about that. Sorrowville’s got to go, too.” Eve said.
“Go? Where?” Lilith asked.
“Bye bye. Sorrowville go bye bye,” the doll said as she struck a match and tossed it towards Mr. Olga. “Lilith, run! REMEMBER: 1 Peter 3:11!”
Lilith woke up covered in sweat and out of breath. Nightmares usually excited Lilith. She found them to be fascinating and entertaining, never scary the way her family and classmates described them. But even Lilith had to admit that the nightmare she just had was absolutely horrifying.
Lilith climbed out of bed and walked towards her window, hoping to find solace. She didn’t think it was still raining, but she always felt at peace with the passing of a storm. She pushed back her black curtains and opened the window by an inch and looked outside.
The sun was beginning to rise. The sky was bright and by society’s definition (though never Lilith’s), it was a beautiful shade of pinks, purples, and a hint of blue. There was no sign of the storm.
Lilith looked down towards the ground and then she saw it. Eve. Her custom-made American Girl Doll. It was holding a sign that read:
“Hi Lillian. I didn’t forget last night. Don’t forget 1 Peter 3:11. Also, remember Proverbs 16:17. Allow me to suck the breath right out of you. Or else. Love, your favorite doll.”
Lilith shut the window and pulled the curtains tight again. She ran into her bed and pulled the covers overhead, hoping to fall back asleep again. Her dreams were bad but reality was somehow even worse. She needed to get back to Sorrowville, back to Mr. Olga. She hoped he had survived the fire, that this dream would bring forth a new adventure, one without that stupid evil doll.
- 2. 1. And she was back into her deep REM Sleep, back in the darkness of Sorrowville.
Only there was no Mr. Olga this time. There was no darkness. The cave was even gone. She was greeted by the doll and a beautiful mansion on a bright and sunny day.
“Are you ready to follow Proverbs 16:17 yet?” she asked. “Will you allow me to suck the breath right out of you? Do you want to live?” she asked.
Lilith could not speak, she had no answers.