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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Things I Think About Things: "Alice"


The Silent Hill series has given me an appreciation of horror movies and games and it's also made me realize just how rare it is to find things that are truly scary. Well last night I watched a movie that definitely qualified. It's simply called Alice in the US version (or Něco z Alenky originally, it's Czech I think) and it's a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Now I know what you might be thinking, "Wow, another "creepy" version of Alice in Wonderland, that's new." Well the film itself is from 1988 so it can hardly be accused of jumping on the bandwagon. I haven't had much experience with the more recent "creepy wonderlands" but I doubt Tim Burton or American McGee managed to create an Alice story more disturbing than this one.

I hardly need to go into the plot so I'll just focus on what makes this a good horror film. First and foremost the animation is entirely stop motion which is creepy enough when the filmmaker isn't trying to make a horror movie. To make things more messed up almost all the creatures in the film are either dolls/puppets (i.e. horrifying) or animal remains. 

Meet the white rabbit.
That's an actual taxidermied rabbit corpse right there. The stop motion means it twitches oddly, walks unnaturally and basically looks exactly like the horrific walking corpse it is. It's tendency to carry a huge pair of scissors helps as well. The other creatures are equally horrifying. Some are created from other preserved animals, some from dolls and puppets and there's an entire crew of mismatched animal skeletons that follow the white rabbit around. Other than the white rabbit I'd say the scariest is the caterpillar, showing that if you're a good filmmaker you don't need anything other than a sock, some dentures and a pair of googly eyes to make nightmare fuel. 


Despite the horrific inhabitants wonderland isn't actually all that hostile. It's a perfect example of atmospheric horror which is the kind I like best and the kind that is also the hardest to find done well. There's almost no violence or even much in the way of danger. The place is just creepy and disturbing on a deeper level. Wonderland is a giant decaying house where everything is decaying but also disturbingly alive. It feels like you'll get tetanus just by walking down the hallway and Alice's well-documented tendency to put just about anything into her mouth makes things even more visceral. You know the creators of a horror movie are good when they can make the sight of a pocket watch being buttered seem disturbing and grotesque. The sound is another really great aspect of the movie. There is no music that I remember no "jump chords" or "tension music" to artificially heighten the mood. In many scenes the only thing you hear is dead silence that's broken only by the sound of Alice's footsteps or the horrific noises that some of Wonderland's inhabitants make. 

The ending isn't amazing. Dialogue begins to take over and the horrific meat-mannequins that filled Wonderland are replaced by giant animated cards. It's interesting but it's not nearly as scary. Fortunately this is perhaps the last 10-15 minutes and the first hour more than makes up for it. 
As a GM the film is a great source of inspiration for horror games. Just watch it and you'll see tons of things you can modify or clip wholesale from the movie for use in your games to build a sense of the grotesque or frightening. You want a nightmare for a character? Just load up the scene with the crawling slab of meat. Want a terrifying elevator ride? The movie has that too. Check out this trailer to get an idea although it certainly doesn't do it justice.

The movie is available streaming on Netflix so if you've got it I strongly recommend you check it out.


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