Grab a potion brew and don your boots as we venture into the woods tonight. Hello and welcome to the Train, where we explore the realms of film. My name is Gavin, but you would know me best as the conductor. Now, fetch a freshly made cup of cocoa on this cold winter’s night while I talk about a most adventurous genre of Fantasy. Yes, the wizards, the dragons, the daring swordfights, and all the mystical wonder that accompanies it. Some well-realized series in this aura are The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. But here on the tracks, some of you may recall our deviation from more mainstream media. Instead we enjoy the strange projects, ones that never saw the light of day, or others whom have been forgotten in the nostalgia flush. So, in that regard, what about darker fantasies? Oh yes, the bedtime tales that are infused with some realistic or twisted storytelling is what we’ll be looking back on here this evening. What makes them so interesting, how they accomplish it, and ways to recreate this rare appetizer. Let’s get this show on the road!
How Can the Genre be Done Right?
That’s an excellent question. Is it comparable to a certain style that must be mastered to get correct? Or could it be like comedy, in which the quality is somewhat subjective varying from person to person. First, let me develop my particular speculations on the ever-growing genre. I see it as very misunderstood through the big picture, but when it’s funneled down into the details it can be remarkably complex. I could hastily slash this conversation off with a simple explanation; the dark fantasy genre is grim and somber. But am I? No, I have passengers I’m incredibly grateful for hearing my thoughts! I can’t simply put out terrible content or answers. Thus, we shall delve further into the rabbit hole here. Now we should probably advance forward by defining fantasy. As the name implies, it in fact contains the fantastic like magic, monsters, unorthodox lands, and a well-knit battle against the forces of good and evil. However, dark could define a wide meaning of explanations. In my mindset, a dark fantasy has one key deviation away from normal fairy tales. The clean cut separation of morality is scrubbed indefinitely until it becomes fuzzy. This paves a pathway for either villains to be fleshed out a smidgen or our formerly daring and courageous do-gooder to become spearheaded with flaws and insecurities. Division between the opposites rather absorbs into a whole ensemble of struggling characters sprinkled with their own goals, allies, rivals, and demons.
As with nearly anything you may come across, a couple of indecent scums must additionally be pointed out to those who dip their toes in the genre. One, don’t go so far as to create unlikable characters, because then the audience will easily drop all interest towards the plot. Always notice the difference between flaws and pure despicable nature. Second, shoehorned shock and depravity doesn’t make a dark fantasy. Writing something that’s so outrageously violent or explicit should not be an assumed must for every piece of fiction in this category. With that out of our way, let’s look at two films in this peculiar subgenre to explore if they qualify as a dark fantasy, and what does or doesn’t click within the established cognition.
Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)
The film follows Billy Petzler, who is gifted a “mogwai” named Gizmo for Christmas. Unaware of three very important guidelines, Gizmo begins spawning scaly, devious imps. With a trusty soak of water, they multiply by the hundreds and instigate violence and mayhem in the quiet town. I know, there isn’t any majestic realms here, but stick with me. I feel that Gremlins has all the workings of a modern dark fantasy classic. Well, does it work?
I’m not sure. The flick does have very clear good and even more recognizable evil to boot. In this convoluted case, I would eventually determine that the tone is 100 percent of the dark but the construction isn’t. Gremlins did have a good start in the fast lane by having Billy’s father and a shopkeeper’s son making an exchange for Gizmo against the owner’s will, a point that could make the father seem conniving. But the rest of the road doesn’t continue the cycle, apparently so. The movie is by no means a bad one, it’s actually among my favorites, though it is not really worthy of the title we’re discussing. Still, the undertones of American consumerism and the amusingly malicious nature under the wraps of a holiday coating is inches close to absolute perfection. Not a dark fantasy for those scouring for such entertainment, but a recommended Christmas treat that will delightfully subvert your expectations. Maybe I’ll talk more about this movie in a more in-depth individual review on a later date…
RATING: 8/10 IS IT DARK FANTASY?: Not Quite
Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)
From the director of Nightmare Before Christmas despite everyone claiming it was Tim Burton comes Coraline. This was the creator’s big return to the cinema screen following the mammoth failure that was Monkeybone, and it was also a beginning for other creative minds. Enter the Oregon based stop-motion studio Laika, which was overflowing with imagineers prepared to aid in a new masterpiece. Based off a children’s novella, the story takes root at the Pink Palace Apartments, where the young Coraline Jones is down on her last legs. Away from home and neglected by her workaholic parents, she soon discovers an alternate world. Everything appears to be lively, bright, and whimsical in contrast to reality’s gloom, even if the replacement of human eyes for buttons sows in a skeptical urge to leave the merriment behind. With each of her escalating visits to her other family, things begin to take a terrifying turn.
Now this is how you do it! What I love so immensely in Coraline is the characters and imagery. Coraline isn’t exactly a role model, being as she’s brash and sometimes rude to those around her, especially Wybie in their first scene together. But, her bravery in the face of unspeakable horror is admirable. In fact, the whole cast of larger-than-life personalities are usually morally grey or struggle with their deeds as well. And yes, I can already hear the remarks daring to me that the Beldum is quite obviously the villain, and you’re correct on that regard. Meanwhile in the setting, the uniquely sculpted world is beyond stellar. Admittedly, the folks over at Laika don’t receive enough praise for the long nights and artistic patience working within this medium. They can convey the creepy atmosphere you need, and the ever-present whimsy is always supporting. And I’m general, Coraline is a delectable and rather magnificent journey into the peculiar depths of Selick’s imagination; a welcome addition to his creative catalog.
RATING: 9/10 IS IT DARK FANTASY?: Yes
Here’s to wrapping up this venture! What’s your favorite dark fantasy media? Thanks for 90 subscribers to the Train and I hope you visit again next week. Later.
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4 thoughts on “The Macabre Side of Fantasy: An Underestimated Technique | Lighttrain”
Potion brew. Cup of cocoa. Rare appetizer. Christmas treat (could be a cookie…).
I just watched Gremlins, again, a couple of days ago. I think it was on AMC. Though a Christmas movie, it was released in June 1984, the summer after I graduated high school. I’ve never seen Coraline though I loved The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Edward Scissorhands might qualify for Dark Fantasy. In fact, Johnny Depp is the poster child for Dark Fantasy.
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I definitely recommend checking Coraline out, especially if you’re into Nightmare Before Christmas. Yeah, perhaps I should’ve given a few more shoutouts to Edward Scissorhands and Over the Garden Wall (the latter influenced the drawing for this week)!
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I love your drawings. Do you sell them? You are very talented.
I’ve never heard of Over the Garden Wall.
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Thank you! Yeah, I plan to start selling entirely new art pieces (still all related to film though) on my Instagram. It’s definitely a work in progress. If you’re interested, Over the Garden Wall is worth it!
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