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.

Sure, Let’s Go for a Walk on a Full Moon in the Fog

By: Allison Pellerito

09-24-2013 farm pic

When I was younger, I was terrified to walk around my grandpa’s farm at night. During the day, I was fine- I got to hang out with my cousins, play with my grandpa’s dog, walk the trails. At night? Yikes.

My grandpa’s farm, by all rights, deserved to be the scenery of some horror film. Old, abandoned, rusty farm equipment surrounds nearly every part of the nearby forest. Bats fly from the unused barn, seemingly at the most opportunistic of moments during scary campfire stories. My cousin used to take us on tractor rides through the dark while cousins would tell the younger kids about the trolls that lived under the walking paths. Deer skeletons could be found in the most hidden pits of earth every so often after the uncles’ inebriated hunting trips. The moon always seemed to be full and in summer, and there always seemed to be a fog over the crops.

Walking to the house is spooky, as eerie light peek through the cracks of crumbling storage sheds as apples plummet to the earth near the campfire.

The house itself is not any less frightening. Years upon years of family history is stored in every single corner of the house. Countless pictures of long dead ancestors hang on the wall, each with that creepily familiar feature of all looking at the bed. Breezes pass through rooms, despite closed doors and locked windows. Everyone seemed to have at least one story dealing with the Haunts that lived in the house.

As a child I was admittedly scared of the house, but as I grew up, I learned over and over that real life is always scarier than the stories. Fear is being sat down by my mother and hearing the words “There’s been a fire” blur with “we don’t know how bad it is yet.” It is not if anyone was hurt or why. It is the kind of fear that strikes when life outshines urban legend, when I was sat down in the same chair at the kitchen table: “I was laid off at work” and “Your grandpa’s in the hospital” and “We need to borrow money for your tuition.”
My grandpa’s farmhouse has been in my family for generations. It’s old. It was as good as kindling.

The Haunts that live in my grandpa’s farmhouse weren’t quite as scary in comparison. The strangest thing, though… The fire inspector was amazed. Despite all reason, the house was miraculously intact. A house that hardly had anything to count for “fire retardant” only needed a few coats of paint and the reimbursement of remarkably few heirlooms.

The Haunts may have been more powerful than we thought.

My grandpa’s land is my childhood. The Haunts may still be there, but they’re nothing to worry about.

This is all there is.

And yet. And yet, during an actual full moon in August before the family reunion, I couldn’t quite comfort myself as usual. My mind replaying the terrible thunk of my cousin mercy killing a raccoon literally rotting alive the night before, I almost didn’t agree to go on a midnight walk with my cousins. As we walked past the foggy corn field, joking about werewolves and zombies, we still felt that underlying hint of danger. We laughed to ourselves about our cliché horror movie counterparts, as we walked through the foggy clearing and under the moon beams filtering through the leaves. We weren’t attacked by a zombie scavenger or a feral lycanthrope that night, but I know that setting is important to scary stories. If these stories were to come to life- well, I can certainly say I’d become a new urban legend quite quickly.

The Kalamazoo Mystery Team

By: Madeline Marchak

It began in the summer of 2011 when my friends and I had reached a point of age crisis. We were roughly 17, staring at the ugly head of senior year, our impending futures, and the inevitable rift between us. Although the fear of growing up had not actually set in, we were desperate for anything far from the adult world to distract us. It came to me one morning while reading some urban legends associated with Michigan – to explore the local unknown ourselves.

I would like to say that “I gathered my team,” but my so-called “team” involved anyone with a car and free on any given night. We scoured the Internet and rifled through the libraries until we had set our list of supernatural occurrences and a group name, “The Kalamazoo Mystery Team.” Together, we attempted to debunk at least ten legends over the course of three summers and failed tremendously at each task.

Our first attempt was that of a mausoleum located in a cemetery near Vicksburg that acted as a gateway to Hell. We pulled up in our beat-up cars at dusk, equipped with two containers of salt, flashlights, and a piece of jewelry someone claimed to have been made of iron. We searched the graveyard that was smaller and less ominous than we had imagined and sadly could not find even a mausoleum to begin with. We settled for the groundskeeper’s shed, which only proved to be terrifying in its amount of littered pop cans. We were dejected until a girl mentioned that she brought her aunt’s book of Wiccan spells, and we proceeded to drive to another, much more impressive cemetery to have a séance. When it was completely dark, we had located a small valley amidst the gravestones and sat in a circle. The girl with the book lit a candle and repeated incantations, and, with eyes closed and hands held tight, we waited for a ghost. Everyone decided the séance had been a bust after waiting for five minutes – and unceremoniously breaking the circle without sending the spirit home – but I will protest that I heard footsteps in our moment of silence, crunching the grass behind us slowly down the hill.

Another expedition involved the Melon Heads at Felt Mansion in Saugatuck. “Melon Heads” was a name for those who suffered from hydrocephalus and had remarkably large heads. The legend stated that back around 1900, there was an asylum for the Melon Heads, but the doctor at that asylum abused them and experimented on them. When the funds for the asylum had run out, the doctor sent the Melon Heads out into the wild, where they have been since. After a trip to the beach, we decided to find Felt Mansion, the old asylum, and find some sign of the improbable tale. We drove down a long country road until we eventually came to a dead end. The sun was slowly setting as we crept down this road by the woods, seeing an abandoned semi-truck between the trees. When we reached the dead end, we were suddenly alarmed by the pair of incredibly aged roller skates dangling over the dirty dead end sign. We immediately reversed and never attempted to find the asylum again.

I would like to say that there had been a successful time, that after searching for the paranormal, we did experience something that proved the local legends to be true or fake. However, we were kids with flashlights and a zeal for the unexplained – we were never meant to figure it out.

Here’s a link to a few occurrences we have visited or wanted to:

Horrifyingly Funny – EC’s Legacy Lives On

By: Kyle Twadelle

When EC Comics’ horror titles first became popular in the 1940s with strips such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, it introduced a new spin on horror media. While terrifying elements were still front and foremost, “hosts” such as the Crypt Keeper would bookend the comics with humorous remarks regarding the story’s gruesome contents, somehow using the horror of the story as a source of humor. This popular trend almost disappeared, however, with the popularity superhero comics gained in the 60s and afterwards, but EC’s unique, and disturbing, brand of humorous horror has found a resurgence in today’s comics.

Although the current comic market is still cornered by superheroes, there is a growing fad of “funny” horror that continues to inspire new titles and even worm its way into the superhero universes. One of the most famous examples is Preacher, published in the 1990s by Garth Ennis. Preacher, in my mind, is the most horrifying comic in print, not shying away from cannibalism, incest, rape, and graphic body horror, to name a few, in its story of a former preacher’s quest to confront God for abandoning humanity. The content goes far beyond what many comics, and even movies, consider horrifying, but Ennis still manages to suffuse the comic with a slapstick sense of humor that allows truly funny moments to exist between the most terrifying scenes.

With Preacher as the sadistic frontrunner, more and more horror/comedy comics are appearing and gaining popularity in the new millennium. Examples include Criminal Macabre, a tale of a Han Solo-esque paranormal detective’s adventures with his sidekick, a sarcastic, wise-cracking ghoul Mo’Lock, as they fight disemboweling demons and other creatures of Hell. The Goon, by Eric Powell, chronicles the day-to-day lives of a good-hearted mob boss, “The Goon”, and his foul-mouth, perverse, intoxicated buddy Franky. The two fight creatures both terrifying and laughable, ranging from an undead mother’s unborn baby to a trash-talking Mexican lizard-man. Mentioned in class, another horror-humour mashup that is becoming extremely popular is Chew, which tells the adventures of Tony Chu, a former police detective and “cibopath” who solves crimes by eating parts of its victims, from which he can discern moments from their pasts.

As this genre of comic increases in popularity, it raises the question of how humour can be successfully mixed with truly horrifying content, without seeming too forced or heavy-handed as comic relief. One answer to this, seen in all the titles mentioned above, is the fact that even the most humorous moments can be based on something otherwise terrifying. For instance, a running joke in Preacher is that Herr Starr, the main character’s arch-enemy, continuously encounters grievous and permanent bodily harm, such as losing a leg, splitting his head open, and having a dog attack the family jewels. In The Goon, the two heroes crack wise while fighting back hideous monsters, making fun of their enemies’ deformities that, in real life, would be terrifying to behold.  This successful formula of blending humor into horror allows for the reader to enjoy a good scare while simultaneously cracking up, an impressive feat that harks back to the days of the Crypt Keeper, whose legacy is kept alive by these comics’ growing popularity.

Breaking Down Fear

By: Serena Sana

1We’ve spent an entire semester discussing the things that scare us. We are scared of everything ranging from bees to ghost children. The list is endless and the only thing that they all seem to have in common is that they make us want to run far far away. For me, I am not typically fearful of something until someone has told me a story that is related or I have some kind of “experience” with the offender. We, at some point, should have learned about the fight or flight response associated with being in a bad situation. For all of this, we can thank our brain and its utterly complex response mechanisms that allow us to be scared.

The amygdala, highlighted red in the picture above, is the part of the human brain in charge of our emotional reactions. It also happens to be in charge of sending signals to the other parts of the brain and body when it senses potential danger. There are two different routes that happen simultaneously, the “low road” and the “high road”. In the first “low road” pathway, the amygdala, is what tells us to run, hide, or defend ourselves with a textbook. The other “high road” pathway acts towards figuring out if we truly need to be scared or if it was just the neighbor innocently taking out the trash. The low road takes but a few milliseconds to react whereas the high road takes a few seconds. This gap is what allows us to be scared of just about anything and, to be scared of something, our brains must have a memory (with a negative response) to recall. Eventually, the gap closes and the truth is revealed. Sometimes the low road response pathway could save your life and sometimes it can give you a mini fake heart attack.

For me, it is houses. Houses make weird sounds but until Dionaea House or Sammy’s recent blog post, I just assumed it had to do with the engineering or construction of the house. Now, because my high road response has more to think about, the gap is greater thus allowing for me to panic and remember all the terrifying things the house wants with me.

All in all, every scary blog post and every scary story we just read have given our brains more ammunition to use against us one day. While understanding how our brain works might help remain calm in some situations, I believe there is no way to ever avoid being scared once it has already happened.