Cheri's Hypertext Monster

09 Aug 2021

2021-08-07: Bothered by The Stand

Writing Journal

We’re halfway through the recent CBS adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand and while I think the casting is superb, the images upset me. At first I thought it was the recent pandemic making a fictional pandemic too real but that’s not it. I’ve been wondering: are my tastes changing? For reasons I can’t quite articulate, the imagery felt too disturbing. Not too scary. I love scary! But The Stand felt… exploitative and gross.

Perhaps my issue with the latest adaptation of The Stand is the way the camera lovingly lingers over the more disturbing scenes? The book holds plenty of horror, but the book is clearly grounded in the argument of good versus evil. (Pro-good!) Perhaps that’s what’s missing in this particular adaptation. We see some “good” people and some “bad” people and yet the story itself seems to have no opinion on where we’re headed. Good people offer a helping hand. Bad people rape. The camera shows more enthusiasm for the darker moments. I find it.… an empty, amoral depiction.

Perhaps it’s a fool’s errand to try to showcase such a complex work in nine hours of television?

I see a distinction between movies that activate fears in service of a good story and those where fear and violence is presented as the story. A Quiet Place was scary, but it was firmly in the camp of anti-evil. Let the Right One In and Nightmare on Elm Street are very different movies, but they both offered enjoyable scares. High Tension, a french horror film, was terrifying, but it didn’t leave me feeling morally compromised after I watched it.

I was starting to worry that I’d lost my love of horror movies. But last week I rewatched Aliens last week and I still loved it. There’s plenty of grossness in that movie, the chest-bursters, the dripping alien mucus, the acid burns. But I never felt morally gross in watching it. No one would mistake Aliens for being a film about violence. Our eye is firmly on Ripley and her team, we’re with them as they fight and sacrifice and kick alien ass. There’s a story there. Not just spectacle. The violence serves the story, not the other way around. And in the correct context, fictional violence can be quite exciting!

As a reader/viewer, it can be tricky to find scary stories that don’t cross the line. As a writer, I’ll keep these things in mind. POV matters. Where are we aiming our camera? How do we use violence in our stories? What will be the impact on those who trust us enough to follow along?