INSPO: The A-Team

INSPO is a series of posts about non-horror topics that could nonetheless be used as inspiration for a horror game. The rest of the series can be found here.

I am not clear on where we currently stand in the cycle of fashionable attitudes regarding the A-Team. Are we on ironic appreciation, nostalgic re-appropriation, or overly-sincere adoration? To be perfectly honest, I am not clear on where my own attitudes towards the original series lie. As with many of these kinds of series, I suspect I like them more in theory than I do in practice but the theory is so sound that it makes a great subject for a series of articles about using non-horrific media as inspiration for a horror RPG.

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WTD: Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi

Watching the Detectives is a series of posts about drawing inspiration from fictitious paranormal investigators, occult detectives, police psychics, and monster hunters. The rest of the series can be found here.

The website TV Tropes often talks about tropes originating in particular properties and then being codified by others. What they mean by this is that while some ideas have been around literally forever, their cultural presence can often be traced back to one particular use of said idea that proved so hugely popular and influential that everyone wound up using the idea in the exact same way.

I am still not sure how I feel about the assumptions and social-mechanics informing the TV Tropes website, but I do enjoy the way that these kinds of discussions often wind up feeling like people discussing the lineages of race horses, pedigree dogs, or Royal houses. Even serious literary scholars codify and legitimise cultural scenes by trying to come up with lists of literary ancestors, influences who did the same thing in another place and another time. But if we can talk about ancestors, can we not also talk about orphans?

For example, we can talk about occult detectives and how the sub-genre was ‘sired’ by Sheridan Le Fanu and then ‘codified’ by Bram Stoker but can we not also talk about the extinction of that particular cultural line? Consider for example the way that the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer film turned up at a time when the Occult Detective series was almost completely dead on its arse. In fact, the sub-genre had so little salience at the time that both the film and the TV series spent a lot of time dunking on traditional Occult Detectives in the form of the Watchers. One could even say that the central meta-textual theme of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a popular feminist take on the idea that stories about Occult Detectives are lame compared to stories about teenaged super-heroes and it’s time for the dusty-old detective dudes to step aside. Thus the Occult Detective sub-genre was broken down for parts and separated from its roots in Horror and Crime Fiction so that its ideas could be cannibalised and resold under the guise of Urban Fantasy. In other words, Buffy was a series that made orphans… it was so popular and so influential that it made the Occult Detective genre disappear and made it impossible to tell those kinds of stories without magic swords, lightening-bolts, and bantering heroes in trench-coats or leather trousers.

Kôji Shiraishi is a director with the power to make orphans. Best known in the West for his films Noroi and Occult he tells Occult Detective stories with such a clear and timely vision that it is difficult to imagine telling similar stories without at least acknowledging that sensibility. In fact, at this point, the only thing preventing him from launching a new golden age of Occult Detective stories is the fact that his films and TV series are almost impossible to find in English. I was lucky enough to stumble upon full subtitled run of Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi uploaded to YouTube but they now appear to have disappeared again.

Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi is everything you want from both Japanese horror and an Occult Detective series: It is weird, it is visually striking, it is mind-bending, and (like many of Shiraishi’s other films) it ends with a spiral down into conspiracy theories, cosmic horror, and really quite unpleasant depictions of mental illness. This is the Occult Detective genre stripped back to its basics and made new again.

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INSPO: Crimson Rivers

INSPO is a series of posts about non-horror topics that could nonetheless be used as inspiration for a horror game. The rest of the series can be found here.

Based on a 1998 French crime novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé,the Rivières Pourpres or Crimson Rivers franchise offers us an interesting snapshot of French genre film-making as well as the forms in which it makes it is allowed to make its way out of France and into English-speaking homes. In order to understand how and why this series exists, it is first necessary to know a bit about the market for French film.

French situation has a reputation for being a lot artier than the films produced in either the US or the UK. While a lot of that is down to the ongoing legacy of the French New Wave and how it inspired the American new wave whose collapse in the late 1970s laid the foundation for the corporate hell-scape that is contemporary Hollywood, a lot of it is down to the fact that the backbone of the French film industry is made up of smaller dramas and comedies rather than billion-dollar franchises. The reason for this is that French cinemas and TV stations are legally obliged to carry a certain percentage of French-made films and so the French film industry has been forced to actively maintain an audience for low-budget films and it does this by producing a steady stream of well-written, well-acted, and well-shot dramas and comedies that regularly fill cinemas and draw decent ratings but rarely travel beyond the borders of French-speaking Europe.

There is no denying the artistic and economic successes of this model but it is not without its detractors and the late 1990s in particular saw the emergence of a group of directors intent upon pushing-back the boundaries of what was expected of French cinema. In some cases, this involved challenging the insipient bourgeois whiteness of French cultural institutions, and in others it involved making greater use of genre elements and trying to produce films that could be viewed outside of France. Looking back on this period, its most enduring successes include the horror films of the New French Extremity but there were also a number of intriguing thrillers including Matthieu Kassovitz’s adaptation of Jean-Christophe Grangé’s Les Rivières Pourpres.

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WTD: Harry Price – Ghost Hunter (2015)

Watching the Detectives is a series of posts about drawing inspiration from fictitious paranormal investigators, occult detectives, police psychics, and monster hunters. The rest of the series can be found here.

There is something deeply satisfying about the on-going relevance of Harry Price. Price was born in 1881 and died in 1948 meaning that his career as a ghost-hunter straddled a period in which British ideas about ghosts transitioned from the earnest sub-Christian spirituality of the Victorian era to something more fluid and complex. This relevance is satisfying because, if you consider Price’s career and his various writings on the subject of ghosts, you will find ideas and attitudes consistent with every single point on the spectrum between absolute scepticism and utter credulity.

Harry Price was a passionately idealistic cynic and a laughably credulous sceptic at the same time except for those moments in which he was the opposite. His life and actions are peppered with so many lies, reversions, rebuttals, and inconsistencies that it is almost impossible to work out where genuine belief ended and cynical pragmatism began.

When viewed from a historical perspective, Price’s inconsistencies are fascinating as the contradictions in his thoughts and deeds often serve to highlight tensions that are still present in the beliefs of people who claim to believe in ghosts. For example, Price’s tendency to double down on his own claims whilst rigorously debunking the claims of others reflects the way that people who believe in the paranormal will often make a great show of their own studious scepticism. I mean… sure… I believe that the spirit of my dead grandmother is feeding me the week’s lottery numbers but at least I’m not a credulous imbecile like those Bigfoot wankers! When viewed from a dramatic perspective, Price’s inconsistencies and reversals are almost unfathomable. How can you make sense of a man who seemed to believe both in everything and nothing at all?

Harry Price: Ghost Hunter is a 2015 TV movie inspired by a series of novels by Neil Spring. The film tried to account for Price’s ideological mercuriality in terms of lingering trauma, financial necessity, and something far more engagingly pragmatic. The result was a short film that really should have become a longer series as its vision of Price was just as compelling as its willingness to engage with the idea of spiritualism as a form of ersatz psychotherapy.

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REVIEW: World of Darkness – The Documentary (2017)

I have written a few pieces about the history of roleplaying games and the books that are attempting to piece it all together. In some of these reviews I complain about the writers’ reluctance to take even a centimetre’s critical distance from official corporate narratives, in others I bemoan the obsession not just with Dungeons & Dragons but with the period of the game’s history for which it was under the creative control of E. Gary Gygax.

My complaints are rooted in the fact that there are a number of historic moments that would really benefit from sustained critical scrutiny. Books could be written about the early years of Games Workshop, the boom in collectible card games, the weird bubble that surrounded the launch of the D20 open gaming license, the first disastrous attempt to shift the hobby closer to MMORPGs that resulted in D&D becoming second fiddle to its own licensee, and that’s without mentioning the fascinating social histories that might come from thinking and talking about non-Anglophonic gaming scenes. However, as instructive as these various moments may be, none has greater potential to disrupt existing cultural narratives than the history of the games making up the World of Darkness. While we may not yet have a book about the creators of Vampire: The Masquerade, we do now have a film written by Kevin Lee and directed by Giles Alderson.

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WTD: Marebito (2004)

Watching the Detectives is a series of posts about drawing inspiration from fictitious paranormal investigators, occult detectives, police psychics, and monster hunters. The rest of the series can be found here.

J-Horror is a bit like New Metal in so far as its cultural impact seems to bear little or no relation to the quality of the art produced under that label.

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