Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Grindhouse

I've heard rumors of a specious schismatic somewhere out on the fringes of the internet with concerns about the content of my Grindhouse Edition box.

To clarify:

only responsibility I have with my releases is to honestly communicate their content so you can make an informed buying decision. I don't think anyone can argue that I wasn't forthcoming about the Grindhouse box before its release.

If it has the explicit content warning on it, then I mean it and I'm pulling no punches - beware.

If it does not have the explicit content warning on it, that's not a trick either. It'll be fine for general audiences.

Read reviews. Be informed about what you're spending your money on. That's your responsibility.

And now, story time!


I read Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space again yesterday, to get myself in the right mindset for some writing in that mode.

Now I don't know how you guys visualize the things you're reading, and I don't know how Die Farbe showed details BECAUSE IT WAS FUCKING SOLD OUT WHEN I WANTED TO SEE IT AT THE LAST NIGHT VISIONS EVEN THOUGH IT WAS A 3AM SHOWING SON OF A BITCH, but when I read the story I get some horrific images in my brain. Read this passage, where Ammi Pierce discovers and disposes of Mrs Gardner (is she even given a name? I can't remember it and a quick scan didn't help...):

There are things which cannot be mentioned, and what is done in common humanity is sometimes cruelly judged by the law. I gathered that no moving thing was left in that attic room, and that to leave anything capable of motion there would have been a deed so monstrous as to damn any accountable being to eternal torment. Anyone but a stolid farmer would have fainted or gone mad, but Ammi walked conscious through that low doorway and locked the accursed secret behind him.

It's a common lie that we tell ourselves that things we imagine are worse than the things we are shown. What did Mrs. Gardner look like at this point? Lovecraft doesn't directly say (although leaves hints throughout the story) here, and he also gives the "There is no need to speak too exactly of what they found," line when the bodies of the Gardner children are found in the well.

My mind goes into full-on overdrive when reading passages like these, and the autopsy piece from At the Mountains of Madness, or the descriptions of Pickman's paintings, or The Thing on the Doorstep. I see absolutely disgusting things whether or not its spelled out on the page, because that's what is actually being talked about.

Lovecraft's descriptions here are not likely to offend anyone, no matter how vivid their imagination. But an effective visual depiction of all of them likely would. So which then is really more effective at truly unnerving the audience?

I think the "it's more effective to not show everything and leave it up to the imagination of the reader/viewer" idea is bullshit as a blanket statement. It's truthy but not true. It's a valid stylistic choice but it's touted as some sort of universal truth. Is it a defense mechanism for those who don't actually fill in the blanks with their imagination when confronted with less graphic descriptions? Is it a lie told by those ashamed or disturbed that they can do so? An excuse by creators to act like that they're making a choice instead of being censored by an editor or studio or network?

I suspect a lot of that talk is really a handy excuse to work around shitty movie special effects. It really is better to hide the monster than to reveal it and and oh boy it's a man in a crappy rubber suit, you know? (I wish filmmakers today would have this attitude with their substandard CGI creations...)

Sometimes less is more. But sometimes, more is more.


Red Dragon was on Finnish prime time broadcast television Monday night, unedited. That girl putting her hand in the corpse's blown-out head was one of those sublime images that makes me all eeewwwwwww even though I'd seen the movie before some years back. It's a gross-out moment that even the worst of the worst in cinema can only hope to match, not better.

But that's Finland, you'll say, as if people here are Martians with their strange and different way of life. (OK, yeah, they eat creamed poo as an Easter treat and like to get naked a lot in groups for non-sexual purposes, but still...)

US prime time broadcast TV crime shows like CSI and House show a ton of gore. Severed heads, massive blood loss, an eye blowing out of its socket, or this one time on NCIS with this disemboweled guy in the elevator and his intestines and everything were all over the floor and...

You don't have to cite Saw or the like as something exposing what your insides might look like to the general populace.

It's all out there.


People have been bringing up Cannibal Corpse comparisons. It's totally fair since I hired Vince Locke to do the zombie attack because of his work with Cannibal Corpse and how it blew my mind when I was 17-18. It's being related in some quarters to the bad old days of the D&D witch-hunts.

Cannibal Corpse had their moment in the light as well. They had a cameo in Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (and Jim Carrey appearing on Arsenio talking about his love of death metal was pretty funny) and then a few years later were brought up by Bob Dole's presidential campaign as being a negative influence on youth or some such rubbish. Chris Barnes was on some news show getting questioned by a clueless reporter.

The reaction in the metal scene? Howls of laughter. Or worry that oh god the posers were going to think it's cool and they'll ruin everything - we were sick enough of people confusing "our" stuff with crap like Korn.

Nobody was concerned on any sort of moral level, or freaked about what would happen to us if people knew that we enjoyed that sort of thing. Then again, we were all glad the days of Poison and Motley Crue and Quiet Riot were over, even (especially?) if that meant metal was nowhere near the charts. Remember, metal was DEAD during this time in the eyes of the general public, and while it was frustrating in terms of product availability (mail order or nothing) and tour frequency, people carried on doing whatever they wanted to do because the commercial success was a possible byproduct of the process, not the goal. More creative experimentation happened in those dead 90s because neither the artists nor their financiers had to worry about ruining their Top 10 chances.

Challenging and upsetting common sensibilities is kind of metal's raison d'ĂȘtre, you know?

Look, if you don't like it, fine. Fair enough. I knew that I was not doing something to fit every taste. I appreciate the publicity you give me when you express your distaste, and you're welcome for the traffic and attention that talking about it gives to you.

If you don't like it because you assume people you don't know might think badly about the things you do just because this different other thing exists, then you are an idiot with brains made of shit. Get some goddamn confidence to make your own decisions and live your life without worrying about the approval of strangers.


Remember all that whinging I was doing about the violence against women in the art?

Due to recent discussions, I did some counting.

There are four women in the whole of the game who die, are in the process of dying, or have just died in the art. All adventuring types, no innocent victim types. By comparison, there are four dead men in the Rules book by page 9.

(this doesn't count the zombiethings at the front of the Tutorial or end of the Referee book since those are more monster types - you don't count the existing zombies in a horror movie as "victims" - nor the corpse at the feet of Ollam Onga because I tried to crop that out as much as I could because it was godawful in quality compared to the rest of the piece, so you can argue 5 or 7 depending on how tough you want to be with the qualifications. But if you want to count those, then you have to count the 100+ dead men in the halfling picture, and the proportions get even more lopsided)

Complaining about violence in the art? Valid. Complaining about violence against women in the art? No basis at all.

In fact, I dare you to look at my game and find any indication anywhere that women are portrayed in any way inferior than men or treated more cruelly than men. (Quick, call the Sandwich lady! Actually, if this link draws you here, I'll send you a copy of the game and you can crucify me or not or just throw the thing away without comment if you wish) There are protagonist women all over this thing. There is some cheesecake, but it's not incidental costuming, it's the whole point of the pieces where it appears, and there is just as much beefcake to match. Violence against women? There's some, but that's only because I'm putting the women in as equals, and it would be fucking lame to then decide they can't be touched.

So where does this anti-woman impression come from?

Some is my fault, as I blogged about it because I was so concerned that I was being unbalanced in my artwork. Which turns out to be a total joke, because there would have to be TONS more dead adventuring women in the art to even approach balance.

Something Awful's feature had 3 of the 4 images, which I'm sure creates a lopsided impression for those that haven't seen the whole thing.

I'm sure there are those that think violence against women is inherently worse than violence against men, even given equal contexts, but I say no way. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

But I think the women's deaths stick out in people's minds for a more important reason: Each of those pieces was carefully plotted and designed. There's a story behind each and every one of them. And that gives those illustrations far greater weight, even if the story is not known, than a lot of the other ones which may be just "Hey, this is a cool idea!"

Alice's death is the least brutal, because of the rather cartoon "electrified skeleton" effect (my idea, not the artist's). But she's in the intro as a character, and a lot of people remember Aleena's death back in the day and make some easy comparisons. It's not just some woman getting zapped, it's your adventuring companion!

Then there's the duel. It's a 7 image sequence, the only one of its type in the game so it stands out. (the header images are a different sort of thing...)

I don't think those are at all out of line. Now we get into more complicated things.

The Flame Princess getting melted by the slime served two purposes. One, I wanted to get across that the game is supposed to be deadly. What better way to emphasize that than killing the game's titular character? It also gets across the horror of oozes, slimes, jellies, etc. In traditional game play, they attack, and often just do some damage to a PC (even as it melts their equipment). I wanted something to show just what it would mean to get brought down to 0hp by one of these nasty, horrific things. Two birds, one stone.

The zombie attack? Originally this was going to be much more over the top than it was. Remember the "get me arrested" thing? There were ideas thrown around where that victim was going to be gangbanged by zombies and all sorts of awful crap, just to be obnoxious.

You know why that didn't happen? Because it wouldn't have made any sense. Sure, the mental impression of "What would it be like to have a rotting maggoty zombie dick thrusting into your mouth?" would have been suitably gross, but I can't imagine zombies really giving a shit about sexual urges. It'd be a complete joke. (it hadn't yet been decided whether the victim was to be a man or a woman at that stage, FYI)

But there had to be something a bit more or there's no point hiring Vince Locke, so the genital ripping thing came up. And at this point assigning male and female in the pic had to be done. Originally it was going to be two women adventurers, because women adventurers are cool. There was then some debate over whether it would be gnarlier to rip a cock off or do this vagina thing. In the end, I decided that a man watching his pregnant adventuring companion lover getting ripped apart because of something he did (taking the staff) was the most tragic thing we could do with the basic setup. And so it was done.

I guess I should talk about the fertility goddess pic here, even though there's no violence towards women depicted. (true story - my ex said it reminded her of her own experience giving birth... sounds like justification to throw a LOL in here)

Amos turned in a racy sketch, and I balked at it because I didn't think it really fit where it was to go. We had a conversation and he talked about doing some of the weirder stuff (I guess maybe he was seeing the fun the other artists were having while I was giving him straight-laced assignments, and he wanted in?). Well I wanted to control that sort of thing and save it for specific pieces instead of having it all over the game. And so this one was the over-the-top taking-the-piss ridiculous wink-wink pic in the game and Amos got to have his fun.


If you take that seriously, I suggest suicide.


  1. YEAH!!!

    Especially the part about it being bullshit that it's always better to describe or show less because people always imagine worse stuff than anything that could be described or shown. If that was really true, then people would have shitfits when stuff isn't described or shown, not when things are. And Carcosa proves that isn't true.

  2. The whole rant about violence is old news. We've had it against books, films, television, rpgs; same old story. Sometimes it feels like we haven't progressed as a species.

    And we live in a society of consumer choice: if you want something, but it, if you don't like something, don't buy it, don't read it, don't flick through it. Make your choices, don't moan about something just because you personally have a problem with it, and don't go on a hate rant against others. Not unless you have a really good reason. As much as I like to say people are entitled to their opinion, sometimes I really wish people would just shut up.

    I think the less is more approach works better in literature than in visual media. There's something just, well, crap, about a writer trying to disturb or shock you with drawn out descriptions of gore and the like, it just doesn't work as well as leaving it (some or most) to the reader's imagination; but visual media, that's something else. I say it depends on the subject, style, and story. Sometimes less is definitely more, sometimes you need to show some gore. And sometimes it's just unnecessary because it's done for the wrong reasons.

    Hmm, I think I'm having a comment rant, and I'm starting to waffle. Oh well.

    I think people slagging off your game just for the art are missing out on the actual bloody game; it's a nice system, well-written, and mostly error-free, which is a great thing. It's become my nexy fame of choice and I looking forward to running it in the next couple of months. As much as I like art (in both this and other RPGs), if the rules are rubbish, it's not worth my time.

    Anyway, rant/comment almost over.

    Last thing: when it came to research for this game, for the implied 1500-1600 setting, what books did you read? It's probably in the rule book, but I don't have it on me, and I am having trouble finding something useful.

    Thanks. Ranty comment over. Bye.

  3. Oh, I don't know, it's kind of exciting isn't it? I mean, you wanted "dangerous", right? And is something really dangerous if it isn't upsetting people?

    Anyway, give us a link or I'm going to accuse you of manufacturing a controversy out of whole cloth ;)

  4. Hmm. While I do think there is some truth to the “our imagination is (sometimes) better/worse” idea, I have to admit that I prefer disturbing sights being off screen simply because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to be unnerved.

    On the one hand, I was somewhat perplexed by Lovecraft’s work not really seeming like horror to me at all. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t like it if it was.

    But, that’s me, and I have no expectation that you should conform to my preferences. I appreciate that you let me know up-front that the Grindhouse edition wasn’t for me but Vornheim was.

  5. @ Robert

    Lovecraft is one of the founding father's of horror literature. But it depends on what you call horror; I would say the definition has been altered with time and changes in our culture and society. What was horrific a few decades ago, isn't so much nowadays. We get used to things, desensitised. It's all part of the progression of life, of our own mental evolution.

    Lovecraft wrote about (amongst other stuff) cosmic horror, the fear of the unknown and of things man was not meant to know, of ancient races and gods and aliens that disrupted the sense of what reality was perceived to him, almost like taking down the fourth wall.

    These days horror seems to be thought of as gore and shock, which is not quite the same thing.

    Someone else can probably say all that much better than me. My brain's tired.

  6. Challenging and upsetting common sensibilities is kind of metal's raison d'ĂȘtre, you know?

    This, a thousand times.

    Heavy metal music and horror movies are TRANSGRESSIVE BY DESIGN. Why on earth would a game informed by them be anything else?

    So much of the moralizing about this game seems to be, "Shocking things are shocking!"

  7. Visuals matter. Isn't the big issue with Del Toro's version of "At the Mountains of Madness" getting approved is the R rating - because the horrific tent autopsy scene needs to be shown?

  8. "Amos was turning in sketches for a lot of the layout filling pics with boobs and such things, and it was a bit too much"

    This never happened. I went through all of my sketches to make sure I recalled what I actually drew. (The ONE insert sketch with "boobs" I did was a sorceress nipping out through a skimpy robe)

    I was happy and greatful to work on the project, and I think any discussion about needing censorship or "this shouldn't exist" is rediculous --- but there is no need to make up stories about me, Jim.

  9. "I think the "it's more effective to not show everything and leave it up to the imagination of the reader/viewer" idea is bullshit as a blanket statement. It's truthy but not true. "

    I think the opposite of this is true. Once you've illustrated something, you've defined it. Defining something limits it, you've essentially killed it by saying,"this is what happened".
    Once a thing is described, it is static, there is no longer room for imagination to consider the possibilities.
    It's this undefinable quality that ensures that an image can never be as vivid as writing in invoking emotion.
    Most especially in regards to horror. I've had to deal with some awful things, but once you say, "Well, there it is." You've got to roll up your sleeves and just take care of it.
    That's why the "Stolid farmer" in the Lovecraft example is able to deal with the horror.
    The situation wasn't undefined and thus something that couldn't be faced or dealt with.

  10. Amos - hmmm, I'll change that in the article then, maybe I was confusing something else, but whichever happened on your end, I know for my part I gave that one to you to give you something a bit weirder to play around with.

  11. I'd be angry about the Cannibal Corpse comparisons, not because they were "ooh, too scary!", but because they were crappy, bottom-of-the-barrel brutal death metal.

  12. Cannibal Corpse headlined the first club show I ever went to (with Unleashed and Epidemic, tickets $5!).

    When I was brand new to the whole death metal thing and didn't know my ass from a hole in the ground, they made a big impression.

  13. Yes, I did want a weird assignment and you gave it to me in spades with that ritual pic.

  14. (post updated - I wasn't completely insane making stuff up, I had just confused a conversation I had with Amos with sketches actually received)

  15. Recollections aside; don't sell yourself short on the "completely insane" front - thats how we like you.

  16. Yeah, I certainly think part of the reason Lovecraft doesn't scare or unnerve me is because he was so influential that his sort of strange isn't so strange to me.

    But I also think his habit of circumlocution plays a part in the fact that I like his stuff.

  17. I read scholarly essays on horror cinema, and the term for the "don't show it" type of horror in egghead circles is "restrained" horror. An article I read about RINGU a couple years back described the film (and certain other J-Horror pics) as "restrained" horror, whereas American horror films of the same period tended toward the more "shock and surprise" modality, where explicitly gory stuff happens and stuff pops out at the viewer really fast.

    If anyone cares, here's the citation for that article:

    Martin, Daniel. "Japan’s Blair Witch: Restraint, Maturity, and Generic Canons in the British Critical Reception of Ring." Cinema Journal - Vol. 48, Number 3, Spring 2009, pp. 35-51

  18. If you take that seriously, I suggest suicide.

    Good-bye cruel world! Pat Pulling was right! James Raggi IV, Death Metal and LotFP drove me to it!

  19. Brady wrote,
    "Heavy metal music and horror movies are TRANSGRESSIVE BY DESIGN. Why on earth would a game informed by them be anything else?"

    But what do they transgress against? Who is being offended? A few bloggers? Not to discredit the heroic effort being put into blog posts, but the norms aren't exactly being freaked, or even listening. Transgression now is a thing in a box; purchased in online stores with Rebel brand credit cards on PayPal; a commodified form of safely integrated niche entertainment that has found its audience but does not reach beyond it; it does not upset the order of things because it is part of this order; bottled rebellion and discounted weekly deals supported by SME grants; patted on the head by a culture that accepts and encourages transgression to reinforce its own self-image of tolerance and diversity; it does not challenge, it does not change, it does not threaten, it does not even register in a compartmental society. It is, by itself and without other virtues, empty, it is nothing, it is lazy and self-congratulating, a self-delusion.

    If you wish to transgress in a modern post-1968 Western European society, your only means to do it are pedophilia advocacy, radical Islam, or a Mussolini T-shirt. Not roleplaying games with vaguely risque art.

  20. Fascinating! And utterly beside the point!

  21. Huh... I wasn't counting the zapped cleric or the melting Flame Princess as deaths, since characters in my games get over that stuff all the time. ;p

  22. Honestly, anybody complaining about the artwork in this book needs to pop their head out of a cave and take a look at the world for a few minutes. This isn't the 1980's. Honestly, how the hell can anybody complain about the art in the book being "too violent". I say screw it. I want to buy the Grindhouse Edition Artbook which is literally a B4 Size version of this RPG but without any of the text. I'll put that art book on my coffee table. Please make this happen.

  23. Just dropped in to add my support to your efforts and to say do not ever let anyone distract you from those efforts now or in the future.

  24. I think the "it's more effective to not show everything and leave it up to the imagination of the reader/viewer" idea is bullshit as a blanket statement. It's truthy but not true. It's a valid stylistic choice but it's touted as some sort of universal truth.

    The reason it's almost always more effective not to depict the 'horror' directly is that the viewer/reader will then provide a fantasy image specifically tailored to his own anxieties. You get off on stupid 'transgressive' violence, bully for you, so you fill your adventures with that stuff (or what you're just anxious to show off, e.g. your 'fucking with the norms' cred). But the Colour is precisely the opposite: it's anxiety, and so the fate of the family in the barn isn't What Lovecraft's Whatever I Fear.

    Understanding that potency requires nothing more than empathetic connection.

    It seems you're as literal-minded as every other geek around here. Your writing often treats disgust (unreflective visceral response) as if it were as important, as meaningful, as more complex/deeper imaginative engagements; you buy the 'just like the old stuff but NASTIER' model of horror/thrills; you refer to the mere visual content of a shock-horror film moment as 'sublime' (perhaps not realizing that the word 'sublime' has an actual meaning); you even elliptically congratulate yourself in this post for seeing exactly 'what's being talked about' in a written story, as if that were some sign of great depth on your part.

    And I'm guessing this literal-mindedness is why you can say shit like 'sometimes more is more' as if you weren't repeating trivia. The difference between lingering anxiety and direct sensation is actually important to human beings. You talk as if the one were the same as the other, as if the idea of latent content hadn't yet trickled down to your corner of Finland.

    There's a reason so many readers here (including me) love the image of the Flame Princess as a little girl lifting up the sword to defend/avenge her family. It's an evocative image, universal. But you play it as if that doesn't matter - ignoring, denying, or simply missing your own reliance on precisely that universality in the art you value. Or make. (Or commission.)

    You beat your breast about not caring what other people think of your stuff (except insofar as it affects sales, presumably) because you're only trying to please yourself. It always comes off as defensive posturing. But it shouldn't surprise anyone. You're not the first person to declare the incomprehensible irrelevant.

  25. Shorter version of previous post: Equating 'disgusting' and 'transgressive' is puerile; asking whether shock-horror is actually 'more unnerving' than horrific suggestion is some K-12 bullshit.

  26. There's so much to argue with, and yet it's completely pointless because it is simply a matter of taste. We simply disagree.

    What I think we do need is a better venue than blog comments to do some head-to-head cinematic and literary review (I'm wanting to go on a lengthy rant about Colour Out of Space, haha!). No joking here - I think that'd be fascinating. Although I have a feeling we couldn't get past choosing which things to talk about. :D

  27. When James states "I think the "it's more effective to not show everything and leave it up to the imagination of the reader/viewer" idea is bullshit as a blanket statement. It's truthy but not true. It's a valid stylistic choice but it's touted as some sort of universal truth."

    it shouldn't be confused with how people react to his personal expression of that statement (i.e., whether or not you like James' influences or artistic choices is completely beside the point of what he's arguing). Wally, above, spends more time attacking James' personal attitudes than the veracity of the statement itself.

    Many horror stories and weird tales (for an explication of the differences of both - as well as additonal explaination of what makes LotFP 'weird' I recommend S.T. Joshi's "The Weird Tale" and "The Evolution of the Weird Tale") benefit from the 'less is more' approach while others do not.

    "Hellraiser" was extremely effective because of what it did show. The intensely graphic nature of its content provided a visceral nexus for the audience to explore the blurring boundaries between 'Heaven' and 'Hell; 'pain' and 'pleasure' - and arguably 'love' and 'hate'.

    "Psycho" was extremely effective because of how Hitchcock employed 'closure' and not showing the details of the shower scene.

    Cliver Barker, Laird Barron, Edward Lee, Richard Laymon, Skipp and Spector, and even Poppy Z Brite are effective because of what they are willing to show and what boundaries they were willing to cross. And how they were changing the nature of Horror from being supporters of the status quo to transgressors.

    HPL, MR James, Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell, and Peter Straub are examples of authors that suggest more than they show and are very effective in their understated qualities.

    What I believe James is arguing is that blanket statements (or most generalizations) are flawed - especially when coming from a place of personal discomfort or fear or ignorance born of fear.

    Disgusting may not equate with transgression but can be a valid tool to use when an artist is seeking to explore transgression in their art - if it fits well with their personal voice and style.

    Whether or not anyone feels James (or his influences) effectively use those tools towards that goal is a completely separate argument.

    The fact that he's pushed enough buttons to get these kinds of responses (as opposed to boring them into indifference and to reading other blogs) indicates that he's doing a better job than people may give him credit for.

  28. @Osskorrei -- YEAH!!!

    (In other words, I wish I was as well-read and eloquent as you are.)

  29. Thanks Ed. ;-)

    The current 'controversy' regarding all this has triggered many issues for lots of people.

    For me, as a horror fan (and a Metal fan as well) I find it disheartening that people who *don't* like such material to label those who do and those who produce such content as 'immature' 'sick' or any other sort of armchair psychoanalytical derogatory term.

    It reminds me of the people who think Stephen King was deranged for writing his books or, dare I say, the people who thought that D&D players were satanists.

    It's truly fascinating to see how much LotFP has threatened people enough to get so hot and bothered about what, when compared to what's come out of the Horror RPG industry for the past 15 years, is really not that extreme in any sense of the word.