Happy Halloween!

By: Gina Brandolino

IMG_2133In honor of Halloween, here’s my head in a jar! A friend, colleague, and person never to mess with at Sweetland saw the instructions for how to pull this off earlier this year in an online list of practical jokes for April Fools Day and showed it to me.  We thought it was a better Halloween prank, so saved it up until now . Also, we used the photocopier instead of using a photo editor. (Side note:  it’s harder than you think to get a 180 degree photocopy of your head.)  Turned out pretty great, I think!

IMG_2172The photo above shows my quart-sized “home edition” head-in-a-jar, but to the left here is the one my friend and I put in the refrigerator at Sweetland. It’s in a bigger jar and, because of the vagaries of photocopying, this one turned out a little stranger–doesn’t it actually look like there are two of my heads crammed in there? I find that at school, it’s always good to have a few extra heads on hand.

Happy Halloween to all, but especially to my students this term, who have helped me truly get into the spirit of scary!

Bone-Chilling Chords

By: Lizzy Critchlow

As a child, I was scared of pretty much everything, but especially of any scary movies. Naturally, having a good family friend who was seven years older than me, I was constantly dragged into doing things that I didn’t really want to do, including watching horror movies. As soon as the creepy introduction music started, I knew I was done for. It became routine to hide my face during the parts I expected to be especially frightening (which often ended up being the entire movie). I would rarely get any relief from doing so, however, because I could never block out the music, which I discovered was really what frightened me the most.

During one of these traumatic horror movie sessions at home, my friend muted the television. Suddenly, I felt safe. Everything I saw on the screen looked ridiculous; all I saw was a man with his face painted green, a group of stupid teenagers constantly tripping over tree roots in the woods, a flickering lightbulb in an empty hallway. None of these images were frightening to me on their own because I could see them for what they were without creepy music persuading me to make any assumptions about what they “meant”.

Normal, everyday occurrences can be manipulated through sound, and these sounds draw you into the film. Taking away the music and sound brings you back to reality as you see merely flashing images, most of them too dark to see clearly anyway, which alone are rarely frightening. After all, what would Rosemary’s Baby be without its trademark lullaby? What would The Shining trailer be without its terrifying, anxiety-inducing music? How would you perceive climactic chase scenes without the accompanying music? How different would pointed moments of horror be without the orchestral accompaniment to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, heavily hinting that something will soon jump out? How would you even know you should be scared?

To take this in reverse, try listening to orchestral tracks taken from famous horror movies. The Saw soundtrack above alone is scary enough to make me cry. I find it fascinating that music alone can give you a gut feeling such as pure terror, when you often are unable to even identify what it is that you are afraid of. The use of minor cords, dissonant sounds, and sudden loud noises are most notable features of “scary” music, but even by identifying these features, it’s hard to explain exactly why they affect us so deeply. Here is a fascinating article on why exactly these types of sounds scare us; it argues that these sounds mimic terror calls and screams of wild animals.

This Halloween, if you’re afraid of everything like I am, just put that scary movie on mute and watch it turn from horrifying to humorous.

Fear of the Unknown

By: Jordan McHugh


There isn’t a road for miles. 27.8 miles, to be exact. Do you know how long it would take for help to come get you, out in the middle of the wilderness? Let’s just say that your attacker would be enjoying a nice cup of coffee while you still lay dead in the dirt.
Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it?

Not when you’ve been backpacking for four days and campfire ghost stories replace prime-time TV. Murderers are a not so distant reality.

Well, this was my reality when I was backpacking deep in the Smoky Mountains during fall break.

Out in the wilderness the fear of unknown can be overwhelming. And that’s what makes scary stories scary, isn’t it? You know something bad is going to happen, you just don’t know how or when. And in a world of unknowns like a vast forest miles away from other humans, the power of a scary story is magnified.

After reading Black Hole and seeing those with “the bug” at a campsite all alone in the wilderness, I couldn’t help but relate it to a story someone told on our trip:

Two girls had been backpacking for weeks alone in the mountains of New Hampshire. Nothing out of the ordinary happened to them on this trip-no surprise ghost sightings, no Blair Witch, not even a bear to mess with their food. However, upon returning home, they got their pictures developed and realized that there was a picture of the two of them sleeping in their tent.

This story irks me due to the sheer likeliness that this could possibly happen. We are unaware and unknowing of what surrounds us in the darkness of a forest. When we are out on our own, we believe that monsters can lurk everywhere, because really they can! Even though I was with a group of people, I felt like there was someone watching our every move. Whether it’s Rick from our 5th period Calc class who now eats Twinkies for lunch in a tattered tent miles from the closest highway, or Buffalo Bill waiting to turn our skin into a nice fall parka, we are scared of the emptiness and of not knowing what’s there. Fear stems from many places out in the wilderness—maybe it’s a man with a knife, some masked Scooby-Doo character, or just the snap of a twig. Fear inevitably surrounds us in desolate places. In these situations our fear is amplified because we know that if our fears become reality there is no way for us to get help.

It’s hard not to think about where our fears stem from in the woods. Often, they come from things external to ourselves–stories, darkness, and animals. In the luxury of our classroom though, the demons we fear often come from within. For these monsters, while a mask may be scary it is the unknown of what’s behind the mask that is the most terrifying. It is under these masks where we see who a monster truly is. His motivations. His identity. His darkness.

How scary are villains actually? When the mask is pulled down and the unknown becomes known, are we still scared? Are we scared of pulling off the mask because we don’t want to see what’s behind it? Are we scared of learning that what’s behind the mask might be something familiar; something that we see ourselves in? Are we scared of seeming that the monster behind the mask isn’t so different from ourselves? In the wilderness we are scared of the things we don’t understand, but in the classroom and in our stories we are faced with a fear more terrifying–the things that we do.

If you’re wondering how truly helpless you are in the woods, and you have no future plans for backpacking, click here for a diary collective of people’s creepiest experiences!

Looks Aren’t Everything

By: Chanell “Chainsaw” Thomas

The aesthetic of horror drives the experience. The after image that haunts your dreams for days after viewing a horror movie is crucial to the power of the genre. We generally believe that a monster is scary if his or her aesthetic is scary; I also believed this seemingly obvious statement. However, John Juessenhop and his most recent adaptation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2013) completely undermine my fear of one of the most iconic serial killers in cinematic history.

Leatherface, a man-child who fashionably wears the skin of others as a mask and wields a chainsaw, terrified me. He terrified all who saw him. Gunnar Hansen played an actively violent, sinister villain in the original film. A large portion of his ability to scare international audiences was his aesthetic. In addition to being intimidating in stature, his human mask and our understanding of where it came from were equally terrifying. Furthermore, the sound of the chainsaw was, and still is, a universally terrifying sound. One would imagine that a villain with these horrific attributes could be scary regardless of personality, context, or location. Unfortunately this is extremely untrue, and Dan Yeager, the most recent Leatherface, is a prime example of this.

I was unaware of the individuality Gunnar Hansen put into the original Leatherface. He had habits, reactions, and specific behaviors. He was calm, but extraordinarily violent in his calculated movements. He had a very childish, giddy laugh as he captured his victims and reveled in their screams. His reactions to almost any sudden stimuli were sharp and abrupt. He defined chaos; he made me cringe, whether he was doing something cringe-worthy, or not. The same cannot be said for the most recent adaptation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I did not know it was possible for a man wearing a human face and swinging a chainsaw to be uninteresting. Dan Yeager’s performance is dismal and character itself is more like Pleatherface, than Leatherface. He has the physical capacity of a man in his 60s with a history of back problems. He skins his victims as if he has better things to do. Finally, he is a horribly ineffectual murderer. The franchise rests on Leatherface’s shoulders and his ability to terrify the audience; however, the most recent adaptation falls flat. While I appreciate the visual of Leatherface, he is dull. And if the horrific part of a horror isn’t horrific, is it a horror at all? If Dan Yeager’s leatherface believes the answer is yes, I will gladly debate this with him in person because he does not scare me.

It All Started When…

By: Katelyn Colter

I never used to be scared by scary movies or stories. I enjoyed the cheap thrills, but I rationalized everything, thinking it would never actually happen. That was the case until I went to Wiard’s Night Terrors in Ypsilanti a few years ago. It’s rated one of the best in the country, and I went with my sister for her birthday. We had a huge group of people, thinking that would keep us safe and be more fun. At Wiard’s there are six attractions: four haunted houses, a tractor ride, and a haunted maze (now turned into haunted paintball). The tractor ride was alright; the best part about it was it ended with cider and donuts. The maze was also alright, nothing too spooky. As for each of the haunted houses, though, I don’t think I’ve ever screamed that much in my life. I didn’t even have a voice the next day, and I vaguely remember crying after the clown house. Don’t take this the wrong way, though, this was one of the most fun times I’ve had. Yet, again, I was never one to be that scared, but this changed everything.

After that experience, I started to be scared by everything. I couldn’t even watch cheap scary movies without screaming or jumping. One movie, I believe it was “The Grudge,” that I watched on my laptop got me so bad I flipped my laptop off my lap and broke my headphones. I also had my first nightmare in the few months following. I don’t remember much, just that there was a creepy man in my living room that I could only see from the headlights of cars that drove by. It was pretty rough.

I believe my terrifying reactions to scary movies and stories started because I was subjected to the “reality” of horror when I went to the haunted houses. When I watched movies, I was always an outsider, and I was not involved with the movie in any way. However, the haunted house put me in a role like I was in a scary movie. It was like I was in my own personal horror movie. Now when I watch scary movies, I relate much more to the characters, and I can feel their terror or dread. I watch through almost closed eyes or cover my face with a blanket. I’m afraid to watch them by myself, and when I do watch one, I have to occupy myself with “fluffy” stories for a while afterwards. Even though this haunted house slightly messed me up in terms of viewing horror, I highly recommend it. Check out their website by clicking here.

And now I ask you, has anything you’ve done or anything that’s happened to you changed how you perceive horror?

Dracula Untold

By: Kenneth Barwin

Bran Castle in Romania, commonly known as Dracula's Castle.

Bran Castle in Romania, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle.

“Men do not fear swords. They fear monsters.”

This quote from “Dracula Untold” perfectly emphasizes one key element of fear: the idea of something is always more frightening than the actual thing. And throughout the entire movie, even when the main character isn’t a vampire, he tries to utilize fear in this manner through psychological warfare. For those that are not aware, “Dracula Untold” is a spinoff from the legends of Dracula. From the point of view of the movie, “Vlad the Impaler” was made into a vampire when he chose to live with the curse to give him the power to save his family and kingdom.

Before Vlad was turned into a vampire, he was commonly known as “Vlad the Impaler.” He was given this nickname due to his use of wooden stakes through the bodies of the people he killed. Vlad used psychological warfare to instill a sense of fear into everyone who witnessed the horrific remnants of his victims. He mentions that his enemies were so stricken with fear that he believes his horrific scenes saved countless lives. The entire goal was to create the image of a monster, a human monster. You can kill a human on the battlefield, but a monster is something else entirely.

Comparing Vlad the Impaler to Dracula, the vampire version of Vlad utilizes the exact same framework of fear. In addition to still putting wooden stakes through his victims, he uses “monster-like” characteristics to begin putting fear in the enemy. Among these characteristics are floods of bats, the ability to turn into bats, sucking blood, and the ability to defeat entire armies by himself. The extent of his horror was even having unintended side effects. Although he originally meant to scare his enemies, even the members of his own kingdom began to fear him. They viewed him as a monster too.

Dracula’s enemies tried to counteract the fear that he was instilling among their armies by making the warriors wear blindfolds. They believed that if they couldn’t see how monstrous Dracula was, he would just be viewed as another human they were trying to kill. I believe this is a key point in a lot of horror films. If you take off the mask of a lot of these serial killers, they simply become human murders. It’s much easier to defend yourself against a human who is robbing your place than a supernatural being sent to steal your soul.

This movie captured what horror is all about: fear. Often times the scariest movies are the ones that have realistic, horrific backstories. Obviously, movies that simply have gruesome attributes are horrifying at that instant, but it isn’t likely to have a lasting effect. Compare this to “The Ring.” Every time I turn on the television, only to see black and white dots splattered across the entire screen, I instantly think of the creepy girl with long, black hair covering her face. Both the human and vampire monsters of Vlad and Dracula were the results of a layering of images that he tried to resonate with his enemies. He created the realistic, horrific backstories. Horror films, and Dracula, are scary because in the far reaches of our brain, we believe that this “story” we are being told could have actually happened. Vampires, ghosts, and the creepy girl from “The Ring” could be lurking just around the corner. It is in this possibility of reality that fear terrorizes us all.

They Walked Like Men and Screamed

By: Joseph Guerra

(The clip above is from the famous Gable Film that supposedly shows footage of the Dogman)

Every October for has a special meaning for me as a person who has lived in Michigan all my life. And when I say that I mean it’s particularly exciting for someone from the northern part of the state. That’s because every October means the return of Michigan’s own Dogman. More important than the pumpkin or even trick or treating, for people who have heard the legend know that Halloween isn’t a time for celebration but instead a time for fear, a time when the Dogman comes out to play. The Dogman in our times has become popular through a song that originally played in 1987 on a local country radio station. The song speaks of a creature that stands on two legs which looks and howls like a dog. Unlike the werewolf, a dogman is and always was a wild animal that loves to attack and frighten its prey. The legend says that the dogman only comes out on the seventh year of every decade, but that doesn’t stop sightings from all year round. People who have encountered the creature describe the terror of watching an animal walk like a man as well as the fact that it’s a goddamn seven foot tall wolf. Cabins have been found destroyed, livestock have been found slaughtered, and the whole town of Sigma in the northern- most part of the state has its whole populace vanish without a trace, with hundreds of wolf tracks surrounding the houses in the village. The Dogman is a real monster.

Which brings me to the reason has to why I’m writing about it. The legend of the Dogman has always been an integral part of my Halloween as well as why I love horror. If you look at the Wikipedia article for the Dogman you’ll find that it says the creature resides in Wexford County. That’s literally where I was born and raised. Every single October I would eagerly search for signs of the Dogman and I would listen to WTCM just to hear the song play again. I never found any signs but I loved the idea that a monster might live outside my house. Of course, I also spent a lot of nights staying awake as I lived right next to several hundred acres of forest. Nevertheless, the legend played a huge part in my search for even scarier stories, which lead me to Stephen King, Wes Craven, and other icons of horror. Although I live in Ann Arbor now I always listen to the song every October as a reminder of home and that childhood feeling of fear. If there’s a point to all this it’s that sometimes horror can be just as close to your heart as a childhood friend or your first crush. The Dogman will always have a special place in my heart, and hopefully you have something that scares you as well as brings out the warm fuzzies.