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Thread: Week 55- I'm Not Angry, I'm MAD!

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 55- I'm Not Angry, I'm MAD!

    Itís Tuesday. I just got off work, and am starting my three-day weekend. Thatís ending soon, though. Iím going to weekends off! Go figure! Iím surprised, let me tell you. Weekends off, during football season? Iím all over it!

    Anyway, welcome back to Bolts & Nuts! Weíve been doing a lot of talk about horror lately, and this week is no different. Weíre still talking about it, but this time, our area of concentration is going to be the madman.

    Iím going to tell you all a secret, okay? You have to promise not to tell anyone else, though. First, to set the scene: as a kid, I took martial arts for a number of years. As an adult, I joined the Marine Corps, and continued taking martial arts while I was in. While in the Corps, I qualified as an expert with every weapon they put in my hands: M16A2 rifle, a revolver, a 9mm, a shotgun, and the PR90 nightstick. I know how to shoot, I know how to take care of myself with my hands. Iím not afraid to take on just about any two men at the same time. (Boast much?) [Nope. Water is wet. Air is transparent. Iím just stating facts on how I feel about my ability to protect myself.]

    Now, when I was in the Corps, I went to see the new release of Halloween. I believe it was Resurrection. And when I got back to my barracks room that night? I slept with the lights on. Actually, I slept with the lights on for the next couple of nights.

    Michael Myers terrifies me, and for some reason, I go out of my way to watch every movie they put out about him.

    The madman can be powerful, and can be used to great effect if used well. While I feel that theyíre used to better effect in film, comics can still use him, although we need to be more careful with their use within our medium than they do with our film brethren.

    Madmen come in all kinds of stripes and flavors. You have the virtually unkillable killers such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, you have the killers in Scream who are very human but are just crazy, you have the deformed but mortal killer such as the one in Humongous, and all kinds of gradations between them. (Humongous? Never heard of it.) [Itís an 80s movie. Go rent it. Itís worth a watch. Kids getting killed because theyíre stupid is always worth a watch. Why else watch the Friday the 13th movies?]

    Hereís part of what makes madmen so scary: theyíre human. You think you can relate to them, but really, itís like a cowboy trying to relate to a ballerina. Doesnít really work, does it? The madman will chase you, hunt you, trap you and kill you, and you may never really know the reason why.

    To quote Tom Clancy, who paraphrased Mark Twain, ďThe difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.Ē

    This is going to be the hard part of writing a madman. The story, being fiction, has to make sense, even though in reality, it really doesnít. The ďwhyĒ of that is because as rational beings, we like to have reasons for things. When dealing with reality, we canít always fathom things, even though we strive our best to do so. Why else do we strive so hard to make sense of things like the Bible? Rational explanations are few and far between when dealing with reality. Fiction, however, has to be done better.

    Do me a favor. Go watch The Dark Knight. Though a great movie, there are things that make no sense, even though weíre talking about Batman: when Gordon raids the bank, talking with his lieutenant, you see everyone is just standing around one moment, and then Batman is in the vault the next. In broad daylight. Sorry, heís not THAT good. Or, after the Joker is captured, and is in the darkened interrogation room, and Gordon comes rushing in after heís already placed there. Now, mind you, Gordon JUST got there. He then leaves, and the lights come up, and Batman is standing behind the Joker. How he got there is a mystery. Itís where fiction breaks down. Again, a great movie, but these are instances of bad storytelling. I like to call instances like that magically delicious.

    So, your madman has to make sense, if only to himself. He has to have a reason for doing what he does, even if that reason makes no sense to the reader. ďIím going to do all kinds of intimate, dirty, nasty things to your brain and your gizzards, because the moon is high and I was cut off in traffic by your sisterís husband, whom I hate with a passion that rivals flowers.Ē Thereís a stated reason in there, and even though it makes no sense, it works.

    Or, letís go back to the Joker for a moment. Heís an anarchist, for its own sake. Definitely a madman by anyoneís standards. And his reasoning? Because he can. He gets the joke, and wants others to get it, too. [Except that the jokes are rarely funny.]

    There arenít any real tropes with madmen. You have your strong silent types who want to kill the hell out of you because you either got in their way or invaded their territory, you have the ones who hunt you because you did something to them and theyíre just nucking futs, and you have those who just want to cause pain. Now, there are some who believe they have a mission, trying to transform themselves or the world around them, and because of that, they hurt, maim, and kill. Simply put, madmen are as varied as humans. Youíll have to get used to that.

    Your goal is to make them as scary as possible within themselves, and even harder to do is to do this without making the madman sympathetic, and not doing any killing from their point of view.

    Iím going to tell you right now, doing it from their point of view is a cop out. Iíll go so far as to call it porn, and the worst kind of it. If youíre writing a story from the point of view of the killer, and youíre inside the killerís head, putting their thoughts down, youíre writing snuff. (Thatís your opinion, Steven.) True, it is. However, try selling that story. Unless it is extremely well done, youíre not going to be able to sell it. Itís snuff porn. Once you get over that realization, youíll find a different way to come at it.

    And again, doing it from the point of view of the killer is a cop out. Itís SO damned easy itís not even funny. You think to yourself, in the movies, they have the killer watching their helpless victims all the time! Letís get inside the killerís head and do it that way! Thatís original!

    Itís not. Really. Donít do it. No oneís going to buy it, unless the person really isnít crazy, and theyíre just doing what they have to do.

    This does NOT mean, however, that you cannot get across the madmanís point of view. If theyíre a talker, they can do a monologue or something. They can talk to one of their victims, or the protagonist, and their story/reason can come out that way. Or, they can lay a discourse on their followers [if any], because there are always those who are willing to follow the mad.

    In the end, madmen can be hard to write. You have to be convincing, really selling their madness. The strong, silent types are even harder to write. Since they donít talk, their motivations have to come about through your storytelling abilities. Their actions are predicated upon the actions of others. Take Michael. Why does he kill? Sure, people keep invading his turf, but why does he hunt and kill the friends of his targets, as well as those who get in his way? Getting somewhat into that can be part of the story you try to tell.

    If your madmanís a talker, then you have to sell a convincing reason for their madness, or at least for the pain and suffering they put the antagonist through. This is often easier said than done.

    Thatís really about it for this week. Homework is to study the reasoning for your madman, and make sure that they hold water. Try to get as compelling as you can. I know its tough with madmen, but it can be done.

    See you next week!



  2. AdamH Guest

    Another good column Steven, you get props from me for using the term "nucking futs". It's one of my favorite phrases to use in mixed company.

    If you want to watch a fairly entertaining film that deconstructs the Jason Voorhees/Michael Myers type serial killers, I recommend is "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon". It's kind of a behind the scenes look at the next "supernatural" killer in the making.



  3. Dungbeetle Guest

    Nice one as always. I'm a big fan of the noble psychopath Hannibal Lecter type, whereby you get killed if you are in some way morally offensive.

    While I'd agree that using the killer's POV is a copout, switching to it at the last minute can make for a good reveal. Remember the movie the Fisher King? Not about a mad killer, but still about insanity, and very well done.

    I've opened one of my scripts with the villain as the focus, but presented in a sort of Robin Hood light. As the story goes on we see less and less from his point of view and more from the other characters. It's really challenging to write a descent into madness through frustration, rather than having a character start out mad. Ennis did it with Herr Starr. He gradually gets more and more irritated by Custer thwarting his every plan and his motives change. Classic villain development.



  4. JohnLees Guest

    Great column. Michael Myers also gave me many a sleepless night. The sequels might suck, but Halloween remains one of the all-time film classics, not just of horror, but any genre.

    Another madman archetype that I find highly compelling is the powderkeg. The kinda character who you puts you in constant discomfort whenever they enter a scene, because you never know when they're going to fly off the handle and do something awful. This kind of madman shows up in the gangster genre rather than horror quite often - see Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas or Don Logan in Sexy Beast. But in my opinion, the benchmark for this kind of character came when David Lynch saw the horror potential in such a figure, and pushed the archetype to its nightmarish limits with Dennis Hopper's terrifying Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. By the end of that film my sphincter hurt from all the clenching.

    Speaking about sphincter-clenching - it wasn't horror, and he may not even be a madman, but what did people make of Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds? This character was the opposite of powderkeg, but in a way that made the tension even more unbearable: he was constantly, oppressively, suffocatingly NICE. Nice to the point where it felt invasive and unnerving. Of course, it was all an act to toy with his victims, and the moments where the mask drops to show the monster beneath were all the more frightening for it. I think this kind of personality could really work well with a horror madman. While a powderkeg is frightening because of their complete lack of self-control, someone like Landa is frightening because they have so much self-control you never have any idea what they're thinking, or how the scene is going to play out.



  5. AdamH Guest

    Good reference John, if we're talking about tension you have to bring up Inglourious Basterds. The Hans Landa character just had an intimidating presence. If you're trying to slide something by him, he's to smart for that. Kind of like my mother growing up *rimshot*. If you're a "good guy" you don't want to go up against this dude.

    In a sideways "kind of" way he reminded of Columbo, except Columbo was a "good guy" and everyone completely underestimated him. But, had Columbo not acted like a stumble bum and gained a reputation with the criminal element, "bad guys" would not want to mess with him.



  6. tiggerpete Guest

    lol steven, you can handle yourself and two guys at the same time, I imagine that gets pretty messy.



  7. BarriLang Guest

    You wanna talk MAD MEN.

    Check out Deam Man's Shoes.

    It's like the punisher, on crack. And what makes it worse is that you're on his side!!! You're rooting for this guy, you feel nervous and scared but still rooting for him.

    Despite his reasons for doing what he does... He's "nuckin futs" . I suppose Richard (the psycho in this instance) would be classed as a noble psychopath.



  8. Dungbeetle Guest

    Dead Man's Shoes is a brilliant film, only saw that recently. All the satisfaction of a revenge flick with a little bit more depth and lot more low-key than most.



  9. JohnLees Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by BarriLang View Post
    You wanna talk MAD MEN.

    Check out Deam Man's Shoes.

    It's like the punisher, on crack. And what makes it worse is that you're on his side!!! You're rooting for this guy, you feel nervous and scared but still rooting for him.

    Despite his reasons for doing what he does... He's "nuckin futs" . I suppose Richard (the psycho in this instance) would be classed as a noble psychopath.
    Oh yeah, I LOVED Dead Man's Shoes. And oddly enough, it's one of my gran's favourite movies! I think this bit of the film made it clear that Richard is not someone you want to cross:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YRvDh-T6UY



  10. Dungbeetle Guest

    Well, while we're on the topic of maniacs, a friend of mine who works in a secure unit just found out why one of the patients is in ther....... for biting off childrens' toes.

    I hope someone finds that, uh, inspiring. Imagine Bob from Twin Peakes at the bottom of the bed going "This little piggy went to market..." Well, apparently, these things happen in real life. As I'm sure Forbes knows all too well.



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