On a bit of a lark, this weekend, I sat down with my children to watch Jim Henson’s the Labyrinth. When I was a kid, I loved that movie, and even though I haven’t seen it since I threw out my VCR, I still love it. No, the acting isn’t great, but it’s alright. David Bowie’s character is so hard-core 80’s that it would be funny, if it didn’t scare the hell out of me. Okay, it doesn’t actually scare the hell out of me, but the movie IS creepy. The whole thing. It’s not horror movie scary, it just makes you feel vaguely uncomfortable.
For the entire movie, I sat there wondering how he does that. Labyrinth isn’t even the best example of a creepy as heck fantasy by Jim Henson. The Dark Crystal comes to mind. If you didn’t think it was creepy, then you probably didn’t see it, and if you did see it, right now you’re saying Hmmmmmmm Hmmmmm in that high pitched voice. What about Jim Henson’s the Story Teller? If you’ve seen those, I’ll bet the hair on the back of your neck is already standing up. If you haven’t seen them, check them out.
That guy is the master of making fantasy feel uncomfortable. I’m not saying its a requirement that fantasy flex a little horror muscle, but in my case, it’s what the story is missing. I have written a world and a situation where a little bit of creepy would give the story the punch it needs to move it from a pretty good tale, to a damn good book. What Jim Henson does is makes the world, the setting, dark and unnerving, and the characters light and even funny. It’s a good trick because it makes the characters, even the bad guys, engaging and likable in spite of the circumstances. Unfortunately, most of the effect Jim Henson gets comes from the visuals, and so there’s not much by way of technique to lift directly. Instead, I have to figure out a way to make the setting vaguely unsettling with words.
The series that comes into my mind as having something like the ‘feel’ I’m going for is the Phillip Pullman series His Dark Materials. It was more dark than creepy, but it had its moments. I listened to this one on Audio Book a few years ago now, and so I don’t recall quite how he did it. Really though, my book is going to need to have it’s own feel, and I suppose I know what it needs to look like, but I still lack the skill to pull it off. Anyhow, this is one more thing to work on when I start the re-write, and it’s going to require a lot of research (reading). Any suggestions?
Also, I’m not done with this topic. It will be rolling around in my mind quite a lot before this is all said and done.
photo credit: Wharlock DOF via photopin (license)