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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Electric Terror

Ladies and gentlemen, as I am currently suffering from a truly staggering cold which is causing my brain to feel somewhat like mush, and as the last few posts have run to the long side, this post is going to be a bit simpler, with just a few explorations of a few rather interesting music videos. In keeping with my theme of spooky stuff this season, I thought I would wander through some of the most striking horror videos in the music genre most naturally suited to horror:



[checks notes]


Yeah, that's what it says, folks. That's weird. I mean, you would think it would be industrial or deathmetal or...

Oh well, let's see what we've got cued up, shall we?

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAhhhook now this topic is making a bit more sense.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, at the top of everyone's list of scary music videos1 is this treat from Aphex Twin--a wonderful little song called Come To Daddy. It's not hard to see why. I mean, the song, in and of itself, is rather terrifying when you're just listening to it without visuals. But Chris Cunningham, the director of this little freakish masterpiece, has taken the song and added some correspondingly horrible visuals. There's just such a panoply of awfulness here, it's really quite overwhelming. Whether it's the children with the face of Richard David James, the mastermind behind Aphex Twin, or the warping face in the television set, or the giant screaming figure unhinging its jaw and screaming for a half minute that seems like eternity, everything about this video is exceptionally alarming.

It's not just that the visuals and music are alarming, though. It's that they are alarming in a synchronized way. The music proper starts with the lyrics, which also signal the sudden emergence of the face. Then the drum machine starts in earnest when the creepy children show up. Little moments like the desperate turning of a car's ignition or a stick dragged along a metal fence are mirrored in the rhythm of the song itself, allowing the visuals and the music to feed off of one another, reinforcing their themes. And then, of course, there's that bizarre sudden break to pretty music--a wonderful juxtaposition of innocence and the brutally monstrous devil children skipping through an abandoned building. And, of course, the instrumental breakdown at the end includes some truly uncanny motion with the Richard D James demon doing some sort of jerky dance.

I think perhaps the most powerful horror element of the video, though, comes from something called the Teathercat Principle. The idea is that the last thing you've seen a character doing is probably what they're still doing. The video begins with the demon locked inside a TV.

It ends with him standing, smiling, surrounded by adoring demon kids.

Which means that, in all probability, he's still out there somewhere.

There is something marvelously Orwellian about this video from Daft Punk. It is almost Orwell as interpreted by William Gibson or Neil Stephenson--a cyberpunk Big Brother, a Big Brother that is able to dominate due to his total absence of humanity. That little doll is the ultimate petty despot, the ultimate brainwashing machine. I love the flashing words behind it, spouting out commands. And, of course, there is the setup of the whole thing: another hapless victim staring at a malevolent TV set.

It is interesting, actually, that we see two versions of the same being--one almost sympathetic looking on one side of the screen, and the other within the screen, a dominating, threatening, red eyed presence. I think what Daft Punk have managed to do here is they've managed to portray, symbolically, a robot having a very human crisis of evil, by which I mean that we see a fairly innocent looking creature and then the dark mirror of its potential. It's a theme that we see in literature all the time, especially gothic literature: the human as container for a dark beast. It's a notion that our friend Goya might be familiar with:

And this is one of his less fucked up images. Goya wasn't a happy guy.
Or perhaps the German Expressionists, like Max Beckmann:

Max Beckmann was also not a cheery fellow.
Of course, the style is totally different, but the idea is the same--there lurks within humanity a tempting darkness, a night that we can embrace if we cast reason to the side.

Daft Punk suggests that these same temptations exist within the circuitry of machines.

Let's wrap things up with an obvious descendant of Aphex Twin's "Come To Daddy" video: First of the Year by Skrillex. I honestly don't have a whole lot to say about this--many of the comments are identical to what I said above. The video works particularly well because of the synchronization of action to music, allowing the two features to reinforce each other and build the sense of dread and--by the end--awe. Of course, part of the power of this comes from just how unexpected the trajectory of the video is. We of course expect terrible things to happen from about twenty seconds in. And they do. They just aren't anything like what we expected.

And, of course, there's the iconic nature of the end creature. In fact, it almost seems familiar somehow...

Hm, now where have I seen that before...


I can almost remember...

Eh, whatever, I guess it's not important.

So why is electronic music so well suited to horror?

I don't know that it is. It's interesting to me that these videos--and the videos of a few other bands that could broadly be termed "electronic"--are so powerfully unnerving, but I'm not sure it's fair to say that horror works particularly well with techno or dubstep or whathaveyou. It may be, though, that the lack of an expected horror content in these genres of music allows them to more fully explore the genre of horror in a genuine rather than an affected and overproduced way. Perhaps the very unexpectedness of the two genres coming together is what allows the results to be so innovative--there are no preconceptions to hold them down.

Now if I could only remember what it was that seemed so familiar about that Skrillex video...

As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days. Oh, and I'm looking for guest entries this month, so if you have something interesting to say about things that generally fit the theme, send them my way.
1Everyone. Seriously. I checked.

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