Greetings, Fall 2014 Class!

By: Gina Brandolino

Whether you have found this course website before classes begin or are visiting it after I showed it to you during our first class, I’m glad you have found the Course of Horror! This semester will be the second time this course will have a blog, and I’m excited to see the ways this class builds on and changes what last year’s students have done. Click around on the blog and take a look at what kinds of posts the 2013 class put up–some of them may still be following the blog and will keep up with what you’re posting and commenting. The blog makes it so that you may get a final grade in ENG290, but no one ever really leaves the Course of Horror; in that way, the blog is sort of like the Hotel California.

Here’s to the great semester ahead!

Wanna Play a Game? “The Outbreak”

 

By:Olivia Smyth

We all know what it feels like to watch a horror movie, and yell at all of the characters, trying to give them advice on what to do next. It’s almost as if we think we could do it better, or that the movie producers purposely make the actors and actresses stupid. Well here’s our chance, our one chance to prove that we would survive if we were placed into a horror scene or not….

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Do you think you have what it takes to survive the outbreak? Well, I guess you’ll see.

I found this online game as I was browsing the Internet for different horror movies and stories. I read a few reviews and thought, sure why not. I had nothing to lose except for maybe a few nights of peaceful sleep, which was not on my mind the moment I typed in the web address. To put it briefly, let’s just say I spent the rest of my night playing this game trying to figure out how to make it out alive.

One monster alone would be horrifying; however, in this online game, there are multiple monsters all of the same form, zombies. This allows the audience to imagine any human that they know, family member or friend, turned into one of these frightening creatures. They appear as corpse-like humans that move in slow motion and are covered in blood, which isn’t exactly the best image to go to bed thinking about. Another thing that makes zombies incredibly horrifying is that there is no solution to really get rid of them because you can’t kill them due to the fact that they are already dead. Zombies are not going to stop until they are satisfied, which is when they receive a human.

The visualization, interactive format, and zombie creatures made this game hard to quit. Playing this game, you become the character of the movie, you become the victim of the horror, and it’s only a matter of a timed decision that chooses your survival. Oh yeah, did I mention the decisions that you have to make throughout the game are timed? I’m an indecisive person, so that’s something I struggled with. You will get so pulled into this game, so captivated by the sense of urgency; you won’t want to stop until you figure out how to survive. Then you’ll realize that just like all those movie characters, it’s not so easy after all.

Again, here is the link for the website: http://www.survivetheoutbreak.com. Also, there is a new interactive movie, which is also an IPhone Game, from the same creators of The Outbreak, called Bank Run. If you like The Outbreak enough and are super eager for more, the link for this one is www.bankrungame.com.

The Nightmares of Other People

By: Gina Brandolino

photo by G Brandolino May 2014

I took the photo above while my partner Ellen and I were out on a hike in the north woods of Michigan a few days ago.  If you know who that is in the black suit off in the distance, I bet you have seen him yourself on occasion, or wondered if you have.  If not, read on at your own risk.

That man off in the woods is Slenderman. I first learned about him from my student Michael Mitchell (a.k.a. Mitch), who recommended him for the horror course. After spending a few afternoons watching Marble Hornets videos, I gave Slenderman a spot on the syllabus for Fall 2013. That class’s reaction to him was interesting. One thing I have learned teaching horror is that you will never find a story that scares everyone–and indeed, not everyone was scared of Slenderman.  But a great many students were, and that fear lingered.  Slenderman was a consistent recurring theme in class for the rest of the term. Students wrote blog posts about him. Months after the semester ended, I ran into a student on campus who said, “you know, I still get really freaked out that Slenderman is following me around when I walk back to my dorm alone at night.” (And this was the guy who sided with Damien in The Omen!)

This is one way horror works; someone tells us a scary story and, pretty often, it stays with us, and we pass it on. Fear is, in this way, sort of viral–this is an apt metaphor to apply to an internet-born and -bred monster like Slenderman, but it’s been explored in different contexts, too. (See, for example, the X-Files episode called “X-Cops.”) As the title of this post puts it, we inherit other people’s nightmares. It’s thanks to my student Mitch that I see Slenderman in the woods now; it’s on account of the horror class of Fall 2013 that some of my students look over their shoulders for him on their way back to their dorms late at night. And maybe because of this post, you’ll have something new that you peer into the dark or the distance hoping not to see.

A Ghost by Serritella

By: Gina Brandolino

When you teach a course on horror stories, as I do, people are always offering recommendations.  “See this scary movie!”  “Read this terrifying book!”  Lately, I’ve even gotten some online horror recommendations (truth be told, these are really scary, and easily the scariest recent additions to my course).  But no one has ever recommended any horrifying art to me. In my course, I teach a story by H.P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model,” that is about just that, and through that story I found the work of Henry Fuseli, Francicso Goya, Sidney Sime, and Clark Ashton Smith. I also follow a blog focusing on ephemera relating to the film The Shining from which I learned about the unsettling work of artist Alex Colville, whose paintings are featured in the film. So for a while now, thanks to this course, I’ve been thinking about art and horror.

I’m thrilled to say that my own original piece of art featuring a subject of horror (to my mind, the best, most interesting subject–a ghost!) has found its way to me.  This is the art, and below is the story behind it.

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My sister Amy is an art historian, and last year, she told me about the artist Vincent Serritella, who had undertaken a project–Project 365–to give away one original piece of art a day for a year.  You can read all about Project 365 here. When Vincent decided to make a book about the project, Amy, who had received one of the 365 pieces, offered to write the foreward, and I lent a hand with the editing of Amy’s foreward and Vincent’s introduction. In exchange for my help, Vincent offered to make me a drawing on the subject of my choosing. I knew instantly: I wanted a ghost.

I think it’s a pretty tall order to draw a ghost. Drawing anything supernatural is tough because the artist is competing with what viewers’ imaginations can come up with.  But, though there is some variation, there are clear cultural ideas of what devils are supposed to look like. Many monsters have sort of “set” appearances–werewolves, vampires, zombies–but the thing about a monster is that you can invent one, appearance and all, and no one will question its uniqueness (don’t we all do this all the time? I know I do…). But most of the time, a ghost doesn’t appear; that is, we suspect a ghost when there is movement or action but no physical presence.  How do you draw that?

Of his drawing, Vincent wrote to me in a note, “I went classic with this one,” and he did. I did a little poking around online and learned that the shrouded ghost was originally an invention of theater. The shroud distinguished the ghost from other characters onstage; the character underneath it, the covering made clear, was not a living one. This convention evolved over time to emphasize the shroud more than the body–in effect, the shroud became the ghost.

This is true of Vincent’s ghost, too–the shroud is the thing. Looking at it, there appears to be a form under there–but is there?  And if so, what form? Vincent’s decision not to include the bottom of the ghost leaves the question of whether there are feet or not (and hence, if there is, after all, a form under that shroud) open, eternally unanswered.  And check out the right side, where you can make out the shadow of what looks like an arm.  Now compare it to the other side, where there is no matching shadow, just a sheet flap. The eye holes, too: Are they vacant? Or are they deep, dark hiding places from which something’s watching? The best part of this drawing is, you don’t know.

 

Thanks for a Great Semester, and Happy Holidays!

By: Gina Brandolino

This is just a quick post to say thanks to my Fall 2013 class for a great semester, and thanks especially to everyone in the class or with us only virtually who helped to make this blog so fun to follow this term!  I suspect the blog will be a little quiet until Fall 2014, when I am slated to teach Horror again, but I hope you all will continue to follow the blog, comment, and maybe even write posts, if you are so inspired.

Also, I want to confirm that yes, indeed, it is snowing on the blog and will be until just after the new year!  Go check it out if you have not already. Finally, I want to not so much recommend as make sure you know about the horror-holiday hybrid movie called Rare Exports.  It’s a Finnish movie, and while the trailer is interesting, it doesn’t tell you much–you may want to read the brief synopsis here. It’s definitely a movie that gives us a different take on Santa, and the Finns have, well, a special way with movies (see also this Iron Sky trailer).

Happy holidays to you all!

Horror Movies: Almost Famous

By: Bailey Smith

For me, as I’m sure is the same for many people in our class, last week was characterized by imbibing unnecessarily huge amounts of food and sitting around in front of the fireplace doing absolutely nothing of value. Sometimes I would sit there and talk to my family, sometimes I would sit and eat, and sometimes I would watch a movie. On Friday, I decided to suck up my fear and watch The Cabin in the Woods (watch the trailer here) with my younger brother. The completely paralyzing terror that shot up and down my body the entire time demonstrated to me absolutely nothing about the quality of the movie. Recall that I slept in my parents’ bed approximately four nights in a row after watching The Grudge. What did convince me of this movie’s merit, however, was the way my brother reacted. He, too, was terrified at the events playing out on screen. As the credits rolled, we looked at each other and broke out in nervous laughter. Both of us were completely convinced that the movie had to have been nominated for some sort of award. We first checked Rotten Tomatoes, whose critics gave it a score of 92%. Movies have been nominated and have even won Oscars with lower scores than this. After extensive research, however, we discovered that The Cabin in the Woods neither won nor was even nominated for a single Oscar. Incredulous, I did further research. It won a British Fantasy Award for Best Screenplay. It won a Saturn Award for Best Thriller or Horror Film. It won the Fangoria Chainsaw Award in five different categories. But there was no acknowledgement from the Academy at all (as you can see from the websites alone, they are considerably less esteemed than the Academy Awards).

Looking further, I found that very rarely have any horror films been nominated for or won Academy Awards. Some exceptions include Rosemary’s Baby, which won Best Supporting Actress in 1968, Silence of the Lambs, which won Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Writing in 1991, and The Exorcist, which won for Best Sound and Screenplay in 1973. These three movies, however, are nothing but a tiny sample of the excellent horror movies that have been produced since the beginning of film.

I began to ponder why horror films are so frequently ignored by the Academy Awards. I thought that perhaps it was the lack of true cerebral content that so many movies are characterized by. Horror movies are often rated based on their ability to scare the viewers, rather than on their merit as films. It is often difficult to coax forth true meaning from horror movies, and rarely do they contain any deeper message about society. I also considered that it is difficult to become attached to any character when watching a horror movie, because there is such a pressing possibility of death. Perhaps this prohibits true connection with the movie. Finally, I considered that it could be fear itself that prevents people from thinking of horror movies as truly excellent cinema. By acknowledging that the movies are, in fact, good, people may feel that they are opening the possibility that the events of the movie could happen to them.

These were just a few of the thoughts that crossed my mind in regards to horror and the Oscars. I am curious to see what the rest of the class thinks. 

Accepting the Paranormal and Supernatural Worlds

By: Paula Moldovan

You know that moment when you read or hear something and you just know that it’s real? You know it’s real because you try to think of possible counter arguments and you just can’t think of any. This is the conclusion I came to after Gina described “Electronic Voice Phenomena” or EVP in class today. I have to admit, I am (or was?) a huge ghost hunter skeptic. Every time I flipped the channel to find a show on paranormal activity I immediately changed the channel. I figured, why waste my time on a “reality” show that is clearly not real? Raised in a culture that is skeptical of all things paranormal and supernatural, it takes some serious evidence for me to believe in these things.

Before Gina played the EVP recordings in class, I was expecting something really obvious and scary. But the recordings shocked me. The fact that they, at least those that we listened to in class, were nothing like what I expected really got me thinking. The voices that were recorded were mostly calm and none were malevolent. The voice was either soft spoken, sad, unsettled, or simply average. The fact that there were so many recordings of EVPs on the Allegheny Mountain Ghosthunters website and the way in which these voices are recorded (unheard by the living in the room), was very intriguing. I left class thinking about what I had heard but that was it until later tonight.

The recordings had completely escaped my mind until after dinner when my thoughts drifted back to the EVPs. As I was thinking about what the recordings meant and how they had been recorded, I could not avoid the obvious and unavoidable conclusion: these recordings had to be real. How else could they be so common? Why would someone go back and tirelessly record “ghost” voices over recordings. The Allegheny Mountain Ghosthunters are not advertising their website for publicity; they simply share these occurrences with others for the sole purpose of sharing what they have discovered during their research on the paranormal world.

Now don’t get me wrong, this being said, I do not plan on watching ghost hunting shows. As the paranormal world becomes more real for me, especially after this semester, ghost hunting shows would just be too scary. While I may recognize the paranormal, I do not necessarily want to interact with them.

http://www.amghosthunters.com/evp.htm