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April 26, 2011

These Are The Halves of Your Brain. These Are The Halves of Your Brain on Horror. Any Questions?

For reasons that were at the time unknown to me, I've been having a really difficult time writing for FMWL lately.  For the last few days, all I want to do is write lists.  Well, there are plenty of other things I want to do, but the only thing I want to write are lists.  The main thing I want to do is play Portal 2, which I'm madly addicted to.
If you're not familiar with Portal 2 (or Portal, for that matter), you should know that it is a video game that looks like a first-person shooter but is in fact one giant maze of puzzles you must solve using your trusty portal gun and an array of things you find like laser robots, boxes, and random gels.  It makes you think about physics and the position of items and logic and - quite frankly - will leave your brain in pain.  Literally.  As I sat down to try and write something last night, with a couple of hours of addictive and puzzling Portal 2 action behind me, I literally could not come up with a creative idea.  My mind was simply not in the mood for it.  And when I tried to logically solve the puzzle of why my brain didn't want to write, all that happened was that my headache got worse until I gave up...and played more Portal 2.

As fate would have it, today I wound up in a lecture/training on the human brain, and one bit of information suddenly struck a chord with me.  The brain - much like Kill Bill - has two halves.  And those halves, like the two halves of Kill Bill, do entirely different things.  Let's take a look at the best example of this that Google Images could give me in less than a minute.
As you can see, most of the things I've been focusing on - logic, science, lists - are controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain.  My creativity?  My imagination or emotional expression?  Yeah, those are right brain traits.  As a writer (and I hate being one of those punks who calls themselves a "writer" because they have a blog, but I'm doing it here, so shush!) it seems obvious to me that both sides of the brain are necessary to create a successful product.  The right side is also more visual and more random than the right - and I'd like to believe those are definitely The Mike traits - while the left side is more involved with putting things in a correct sequential order, which allows me to use these words and spell them properly so I don't look like a moron.

Once I got done thinking about the brain and my writing, I immediately started thinking about the other thing I love to think about: horror movies.  As the presenter rambled on and on about how the brain's division into hemispheres effects teenagers, I immediately wanted to start thinking about how it affects horror fans.  The results are the following totally random, non-professional, non-researched wonderings of The Mike.
My first thought about horror movies specifically, and all movies in general, is that the right hemisphere of the brain is of crucial importance.  Imagination, creativity, dimension - all words I'd associate with great horror films.  Wes Craven, for example, is someone I'd imagine is a heavy right brain thinker.  He can "dream" up Freddy Krueger with ease...but he can't even come close to finding a logical conclusion to that movie.  Don't deny it, you know that the last ten minutes of that movie flat out suck.  I'm sorry, but it's the truth.

Better examples of right brain filmmakers would certainly include the likes of:
David Lynch - EraserheadLost Highway? Mulholland Drive?  We all want to believe that each of these movies has a deep answer to them, some quantitative explanation that sums up all the thoughts in our head into one concrete, rational reason WHY. But let's not kid ourselves.  The man's all about random creativity. (BTW, We don't talk about Lost Highway enough. Fantastic bit of oddness.)
Brian De Palma - I've always been in love with Brian De Palma's work.  His films are usually a wonderfully polished bit of sleaze, and I just can't get enough of them.  In his work, De Palma often tries to give us a holistic view of what's going on by using split screen techniques to place two separate images on the screen at the same time.  Plus, De Palma often tries to find a way to bring these images together - off the top of my head the exploding car trunk scene in Phantom of the Paradise comes to mind - which increases the spatial awareness of the viewer by bringing separate events together in one place.
It's much harder to think of filmmakers who rely more on the left side of the brain.  The first film that came to mind when I tried to come up with logical, mathematical and scientific horror films was Vincenzo Natali's Cube, which includes no less than a billion conversations about math. (OK, so I exaggerated there. Right brain at work, sue me.)  And my mind then leaped to Natali's recent sci-fi/horror combo Splice, which certainly tries to be a little more logical and scientific than most films about a creature who might rape anyone with its tail should be.  (It should be noted that Natali's random follow up to Cube, Nothing, was a very abstract film...but it also really stunk.)
Also fitting into the left half, according to me, would be the majority of writers/directors who dove into the slasher craze of the '80s.  Or at least they often wanted to fit into that group, trying to find a logical way to explain formulaic killings.  A more intelligent example of what I'm going for here would be Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, who made his name by pointing out the sequential items that often occurred in those films of the '80s and putting them into a logical mystery that comes off like Sherlock Holmes for Dummies.  (On a random aside, I've always loved Halloween because it taps into the right side by making Michael Myers an abstract killing machine.  Most slashers didn't get that, they went for logical answers. What fun's a man who kills when an idea could be your killer instead?)
By this point in my ramblings, you're either thinking with your left brain and going "Ehh....what's your point The Mike?" or thinking with your right brain and going "Ooooh, I never thought about it that way! Even if it is a little fishy, it kinda makes sense!"  But again, I don't want to say the left brain is a bad thing.  As horror fans, we need a good dose of logic sometimes.  Films like The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby rely on the left side of our brain, because they provide creative terrors which also tap into logical fears and get both sides of the brain going.  The left half of the brain might not believe in demons or cults, but it can certainly tell us that a crucifix to the vajayjay or an old person screaming "Hail Satan!" are things we don't want to be around.  (To be fair, the amygdala - commonly known as the brain's "fear center" has something to do with this as well.) And what if there was no left half of the brain to say "Hey The Mike, those Paranormal Activity demons haven't been with you since childhood, and they don't just show up, so you're totally safe when you go to sleep"?  (Short answer: MIKE TEARS.)
Just like there can't be rain without clouds or vanilla without chocolate or Wesley Snipes without Woody Harrelson (I WISH!), both haves of the brain are quite necessary to us humans, and to us horror fans.  So the next time you get a little blocked up, or the next time you have trouble figuring out why a movie doesn't work for you - I'm still trying to figure out Insidious, which I feel spent far too much time in the left brain than the right - maybe you should take a look at how that movie fits into the hemispheres of your brain.  If you're a left brain dominant person, you could make a list of reasons the movie stinks.  If you're a right brain person, you could make fun of the characters by continuing their story in a neighborhood park all covered in cheese.  It's your brain man, use it wisely.
Me, I'm gonna take mine to play Portal 2 now.  Be well Midnight Warriors!  And don't forget to stretch BOTH hemispheres of your brain!


The Man-Cave said...

Portal rocks the house. I haven't played the sequel yet, but it is in my queue and the buzz about it is intriguing. That and Gears of War 3 are next on my list. If you haven't played Gears, I highly recommend 1 and 2.

Mr. Xploit, Esquire said...

Portal 2 is something I can't wait to play. I also love your recognition of Lost Highway. It is another ideal midnight movie, like all of Lynch's films. It's super fucking sexy too.

Malice said...

This is the most brilliant post I've ever encountered, The Mike. Oh, how I've missed this place. I, too, have been making lists of things to write, but failing to tell the left hemisphere to back off so the right hemisphere can get a move on.

The Mike said...

Thanks all!

Geof - I can't recommend Portal 2 enough. Though it seriously corrupted my brain for a good week, if not more. Be prepared. I have played part of Gears 1, but never finished. Still have it, so I'll have to try and catch up.

Mr. X - Glad to find another Lost Highway fan. It might be my favorite Lynch film. And yes, it is among the sexiest films out there.

Malice - Many thanks, you've been missed too! Looking forward to whatever you have up your sleeves when the brain starts working together!