The Dark Side of Cartoons

By: Jacob Walker

When people think of the horror genre their minds normally go straight to slasher or possession live action movies such as Halloween or The Exorcist. Additionally, when people think of animated movies their minds go to happy movies such as Cinderella or Toy Story. The horror genre and animated movie style do not cross over, the only exceptions to this are Tim Burton’s wonderful creations. It is puzzling why a style of movie making, where you can make anything happen because the laws of the world do not apply, chooses to not take up a darker side. Is it because animation is supposed to be funny, happy, and for kids. Could it also be that animators are scared to make a horror film because of the difficulties that are unique to horror? If that is the reason than I have three great examples of short animated clips, that take advantage of being animated, that are truly terrifying and have haunted me for days.

The first clip is called The Backwater Gospel. This clip takes place in a little town called Backwater. Within this town everyone but one guitar playing hobo faithfully goes to church and listens to whatever the pastor says. Instead of going to church the hobo sings of The Undertaker. The Undertaker is a mysterious devil like figure who only shows up when someone is about to die. This clip is truly terrifying not because of the plot but the art style the animator chooses to use. The animator chooses to use dark shades for everyone and everything. It gives a very shadowy effect. Another style the animator uses is making everything very rigid and sharp along with making everyone seem like zombies with the use of off colored skin tones, dark non-pupil  eyes, and the mindless way they walk with that disturbing humming noise. Many of these visual effects would be very difficult for a live action movie to reproduce on such a grand scale and it is all these effects that make this clip so terrifying.

The second short animated clip is called Memoria. This clip that follows a young man who visits his childhood home and all the horrors that went on there. This animated film uses a much more realistic animation style for the characters and setting. What does make this scary, which would be difficult for a live action movie to do, is the use of a red tint and cracking of setting whenever he encounters another memory. This red tint and cracking parallels with his own mental breakdown from being within the house. It also leads one on a high anticipation factor of what exactly happened since we only get bits and pieces until he, like the walls, finally breakdown. This parallel and style leads one to sympathizing with the main character even though he is a monster.

The third and final short animated clip is called Who’s Hungry. This clip is about a brother and sister duo who get kidnapped by the ice cream man after he gives them free ice cream. The animation style that made this clip terrifying is the use of size disproportions. The ice cream man is a giant while the two kids are small enough to fit on a coat rack. This size proportion installs the fear of how are two little kids going to escape from a giant. This type of size proportion would not be doable in a live action movie.

Animation and horror are two subjects that do not typically mix and it is a shame that they don’t. Horror is all about taking some fear and intensifying it to some unrealistic proportions. This level of intensity is very difficult to achieve using realistic proportions and people. It is more affective and allows more free rein to do unrealistic things if horror directors simply made it all animated. This would allow the spider to be twenty five feet tall or blood to seem much more realistic and not like corn syrup. I strongly encourage the directors of these three short clips to keep using animation because it allows one to bring out the best in horror.

Behind the Walls

By: Hannah Katshir

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Growing up I was never really one to believe in ghosts. My parents continually drilled the whole “it’s just a movie” mantra into my head that I ceased to believe that anything remotely paranormal could happen in real life. It was all just smoke and mirrors and people dressed up in scary masks – the Scooby Doo effect if you will. Because of this my threshold for horror has always been extraordinarily high. Going to haunted houses was always a fun Friday night with my friends, but I always ended up being the one sitting in the back of the hayride laughing instead of being properly terrified.

hanna1My junior year of high school, all of my past ideas about what can and cannot happen in regards to real life horror were thrown into flux. As a class, the AP Psychology students at my high school annually take a field trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary. I am originally from south central Pennsylvania, and Eastern State is in Philadelphia, so it was only an hour and a half away. A little background on Eastern State: it was created as a new kind of penitentiary – the goal was to inspire change and remorse in the inmates, and it abandoned all ill treatment and corporal punishment which was prevalent in other jails of the same time. However, the system was still very, very strict; the inmates were kept in solitary, as well as kept silent. They were not allowed any connections with each other, were forced to wear hoods any time they exited their cells, and also permitted no connections with the outside world. This system was criticized by many and eventually discarded. Many infamous criminals were held here through the years, including Al Capone and Willie Sutton. The prison was closed in 1971, but there have been eerie stories about the happenings there since the early 1940’s. Eastern State is continually ranked as one of the most haunted places in the world, and there is a lot of clout to back up this accusation.

My personal experience at Eastern State was on one of these guided tours. It was also in the middle of the day on a school field trip, so I wasn’t expecting much real horror out of it. There are specific places inside which are said to be related to specific paranormal activities, so I remember being very nosy around all of those places, just trying to find something out of the ordinary, but not actually believing that anything could or would happen.

There’s no denying that there was a creepy feeling throughout the tour, partly because of the gothic architecture and decrepitness of the building, but also because of the stories we were being told about what had happened right where we were standing. Other than that, we escaped relatively scot-free as a group. Nothing dramatic had happened, and we had all had a fun day off of school in Philadelphia. However, when we got back to the bus and everyone was looking through their pictures from the trip, one girl a couple of seats in front of me – one of my classmates since middle school – started freaking out over something in the background of one of the pictures she had taken. We started passing her camera around and looking at what had startled her so much. In the back of her photo was what looked kind of just like a smudge, but, when looked at closer, could definitely be described as a human-like figure. There were distinguishable extremities off of the blur, and it looked too real to not question. (I wish I could find any of the pictures from this trip, but after trying for a very long time, I couldn’t find anything).

Opinions surround the haunted nature of Eastern State (and hauntings in general) are varied, but it all comes down to what you want to believe, and from that day on, I have been much more willing to believe in things that may not seem so viable at first glance.

For more information on hauntings at Eastern State, click here.

My Brother’s New Friend

By: Tamara Mackie

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The day started out like any other, my little brother and I, age 6 and 10 at the time, came home from school and plopped down in front of the TV to watch some cartoons. Being the eldest child it was up to me to make sure that everything was in order until my parents got home from work, usually an hour after we got home from school. As we sat on the couch I started to doze off and before I knew it I fell asleep completely. Roughly 30 minutes later I woke up to the sound of my parents coming through the door, and I ran to greet them. My mom started making us a snack and she told me to tell my brother to come to the kitchen, so I yelled out his name but there was no response.

I figured he was probably in his room so I ran upstairs but I still couldn’t find him. I was certain he was hiding from me for fun and decided that when I found him I was going to tackle him to the ground for wasting my time. I scoured the house and there was still no sign of him. Finally, panic took over and I ran to my parents, and told them I couldn’t find my brother anywhere. My parents then searched the house and went on to search the neighborhood. I stayed home in case he wandered back in and spent every second praying that my brother was okay, how could I let this happen I wondered, and fear and guilt filled my chest. For what seemed like hours, my parents finally returned home with my brother in hand an hour later. I let out a sigh of relief, then started yelling at him for leaving the house and asked him why he would do such a thing. And what he told me next… I will never forget.

He started by telling me that he wanted to go play at the park by our house but that he didn’t want to wake me so he left as quietly as he could. While at the park he told me he had made a new friend. I asked him what his friend’s name was and he said he didn’t know but that he played with him all over the playground. I was relieved to hear that my brother had a rather typical day at the park but when I asked if his new friend was in his grade my brother responded by saying that his new friend was far too old to be in school. The fear returned and I immediately questioned my brother further about his new companion. It seemed that while at the park, an older man approached him, who he had never met before, and asked my brother if he would like to be pushed on the swings. My brother being the young, naïve 6 year old that he was, responded with a “yes please.” The man then proceeded to ask my brother about his life and school and what his favorite cartoons were, and went so far as to give my brother a candy bar – the cliché of all stranger danger. Afterward, he bid my brother farewell, said he would see him soon, and shortly after departing, my parents had arrived to take my brother home.

As he finished telling me this story he still seemed none the wiser to the potential danger he had put himself in, and I went off to reprimand him on his actions and informed my parents who went on to lecture him further. What had scared me most though was how easily my brother seemed to trust this stranger, and while I was furious he accepted food, I couldn’t help but be thankful it didn’t go as far as the unknown man asking my bother to leave with him, because at that point in his life, still young, innocent and trusting, I think he just might have.

Childhood Is Where It Begins

By: Lana Abdole

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Little kids and their toys have always been creepy when combined into a scary story. It’s just abnormal for something that’s supposed to be pure to become something evil; it adds to the fear factor. It has been a topic of debate for psychologists whether fears are innate or not.  Some believe as babies we don’t fear much, we learn to fear things. In first grade I still hadn’t been exposed to the genre of horror, until one day at recess while we were all sitting around the sand box, my friend told a story:

Sarah and her mom were at the store looking for a new toy for Sarah’s birthday. They were in the doll aisle looking at the life like dolls. Sarah’s eyes fell on one particular doll “Mommy, I want that the one” she says. The doll was a toddler-sized doll, with braided, blonde hair and it wore a yellow sunflower dress. Her mom looks at the doll and notices something strange in comparison to the others, “but honey that one only has three fingers”. “But I want that one” she whines, stomping her foot down. Her mom sighs, but agrees. As they were talking they didn’t notice the slightest twitch of the dolls hand.

Sarah played with her doll all day, and right before she’d go to sleep she would tuck the doll into the crib that was kept in the basement. Sarah failed to notice, every morning, that the doll was never in the same position as the way she left it the night before. Sarah’s mom noticed that items around the house weren’t as they were before she went to sleep, but she just thought Sarah might’ve moved things around and didn’t think much into it. As the days passed, Sarah grew bored with the doll, as all kids do, and left it untouched in its crib.

One night down in the basement, when everyone was asleep, the doll sat up with a haunting smile. It hopped over the crib and made its way upstairs to the living room area. She goes into the kitchen and grabs a knife. She walks towards the stairs that leads up to the bedrooms. As she begins to climb them she starts to sing in a sing-song voice, “I’m on the first step, I’m on the second step, …” and it continues on until she reaches Sarah’s door, “I’m on your doorstep” then it walks over to her bed “I’m sitting on your bed.” Right as Sarah is somewhat conscious and about to scream, she stabs her in the chest. Then slices off two of her fingers and somehow attaches them to her own hand.

The next morning Sarah’s mom is taken over by grief at the site of her daughter. Her clothes bloodstained around the chest and her hands crusted with blood. The doll was nowhere to be seen.

I can assure you, after I heard this story, I never owned another doll again. For me, since this was my first taste into the genre of horror, kids stories have always been the scariest kind of scary stories. Hearing these type of stories when you’re a kid is terrifying because it takes something you’re attached to, like a toy, and makes you fear it. It makes things that aren’t supposed to be scary, scary. That’s why movies like Chuckie, The Sixth Sense, and stories similar to those, are such successful scary movies.

Stories similar to the one above are online here and here.

The Return of the Freakshow

By: Doug Anderson (friend of The Course of Horror)

The television program American Horror Story has entered my life twice in the past couple of days, once from a Facebook post of the video of Jessica Lange covering Bowie’s Life on Mars for the new season and then a post on this blog.  I’ve never watched AHS though I do understand from reliable sources that past seasons have been worth it for the camp value alone.  This season’s storyline takes up a classic area of American horror, fetishism, and general weirdness, the freakshow.

Any mention of a freakshow takes me straight to Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks.  Browning made over sixty films including a number of silent movies with Lon Chaney, and of course the Bela Lugosi Dracula released in 1931.  Freaks is an oddly straightforward story of love, betrayal, and vengeance (I won’t spoil it for you but someone does get turned into a chicken.) set in a circus sideshow, a freakshow.  Freaks is best known for its use of real circus performers in the cast, real sideshow freaks including armless, legless, and armless/legless performers as well as pinheads, bearded women, midgets, conjoined twins, an hermaphrodite, and others.  Released in an America reeling from the Depression and quite content with big brassy distracting musical pictures Freaks was an unwelcome addition to the cinematic landscape.  Public outrage was such that the movie was pulled from distribution shortly after its release and shelved for thirty years until it was rereleased in 1962, quickly becoming a cult classic.  Browning made a few more films but never recovered from the failure of Freaks and soon left the industry.

Sideshows including freakshows and geek magic were brought to us by P.T. Barnum (and other circus pioneers) and were immensely popular from the middle of the 19th century into the inter-war period when changes in taste and new entertainment options chased them from the mainstream.  Disability became a medical condition and freaks became patients, and often inmates.  The ability to swallow a large number of needles only to regurgitate them a few minutes later tied neatly along a string faded along with Harry Houdini.  Magic became about furry or feathered animals and female assistants in scant clothing rather than the in-your-face horror of freaks and geek tricks.  Today if you type “geek tricks” into Google most of what you will get back are ways to trick your computer into doing what you want.  Today, the floridly tattooed and heavily pierced person you are most likely to see is making you a coffee.  And the folk with long flowing beards aren’t sitting on a stool in a dark room to be ogled but are hanging out in a hipster bar.

Magicians like Harry Anderson (yes, the Night Court guy) kept geek magic going with things like his thoroughly creepy hat pin through the arm trick.  Penn and Teller brought gory geek tricks into the light often infusing them with a political component.   Add in folks like David Blaine, Criss Angel, and many others, and the geek trick seems alive and well.  With the new season of AHS, maybe the freakshow will stage a comeback too.

If these forms of entertainment are moving back into the mainstream (along with a renewed interest in burlesque), they are doing so at a time when mass entertainments are more and more created within the digital confines of a computer.  Perhaps this new interest in very old forms of horror is a bit of a rebellion against mass produced horror with loads of CGI and makeup effects.  Geek tricks and freakshows are by their very nature real, up-close, and personal – no green screens, no computer graphics, no homogenized plots.  Long hat pins go through arms as blood drips, needles are swallowed, things move under the skin.  Perhaps we are seeing a turn in horror from the mass produced impersonal back to the personal, a time when one performer alone in the dark in a mildewed tent with the smell of sweat, liquor, and fear coming from the audience contrived to horrify and delight as he or she displayed a freakish body in the best sideshow tradition.

(Anyone interested in freakshows can check out Rachel Adams great book Sideshow U.S.A. or Robert Bogdan’s Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit.)

Wir Sind Alle Freaks

By: Courtney Keller

*Spoiler Alert*

Come one, come all, it’s a Freakshow! American Horror Story is a television series on FX and each season has a new horror to premiere. Season one was a haunted house, season two an asylum, season three a witch coven, and finally season four a freakshow! It is set in Jupiter, Florida in 1952 and follows one of the only surviving Freakshows in the country that is clearly dying out. It is also cross sectioned by a dark entity in the town that threatens the lives of both the freaks and the townspeople.

This season has many different elements of horror. One of the first being the “freak” element. Many of the characters in this season could be seen as almost human monsters. Some of the main human monsters or freaks are a woman with no legs, the tiniest woman in the world, a man with seal arms, a transgendered giant, a bearded woman, a man with “lobster claws”, and a two headed woman. One of the interesting aspects of American Horror Story is that many of the “freaks” are real. This may be unconventional and controversial, but I believe it really adds to the storyline. The Freakshow does not show the people in the Freakshow as different or especially freaks, but that there is a little freak in all of us. The tagline for the season is “Wir sind all freaks,” or we are all freaks in German, as the main ringleader (Jessica Lange) is a German citizen that moved to America.

The part that makes this season most terrifying is the murderous clown running rampage through Jupiter. We first get a look of the clown as a young couple is having a picnic. In the beginning it appears that the boyfriend had hired the clown as he said he had something special to ask her, but things never are what they appear to be and the clown ends up murdering the boy. The clown has also murdered a few other victims in the town of Jupiter, but no one has caught onto the fact that it is a clown just yet. As we talked about in class with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, women and children are seen as pure and innocent. Although women and children are what Mr. Hyde attacked, the clown did not kill women and children, only men. The clown has kept the girlfriend of the boy he murdered and a young child in his trailer. It seems as though the clown just wants someone to enjoy his tricks and when they do not he gets very angry.

The first episode was so packed full with information and horror that I can hardly imagine and maybe do not want to imagine what will happen in the rest of the season. This season seems to be scarier and have much more gore. I am sure all of the viewers are in for a big surprise! So do not waste anytime and watch FX at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays! You won’t be sorry……or maybe you will be.

Footprints

By: Ryan Song

You know how sometimes you have a dream that is so realistic that you remember it forever? I once had a dream like that about the house I lived in back when was in Australia. The house was a small one-story house sitting on the side of the top of a hill, with a driveway that declined into the depths of the garage and a balcony outside the front door that overlooked the garage (see image below).

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One night, I had a dream where I looked through old newspapers and found an article about the house, which detailed how it used to be the residence of a mass murderer who killed his victims in the garage and was eventually found drowned in a nearby river. People who lived in the house before my family have reported seeing bloody footprints appearing to “walk out” from the garage at dusk, immediately followed by creepy occurrences around the house such as seeing the ghost of the murderer.

Shocked, I went to report the details to my mother, but I noticed my grandfather standing on the balcony looking at the driveway outside. “It’s happening again,” he told me without taking his eyes off the driveway. I looked outside and noticed some marks on the ground. Under the blood red sky of the setting sun, it looked like there were bloody footprints making their way up the driveway.

I ran into the living room to tell my dad who was watching TV and eating peanuts, discarding the shells into a nearby trashcan. I recall seeing a bloody hand reaching out from the trashcan towards him and when I rushed over and kicked the bucket over, the hand retracted back into the trash bin. It was water that spilled out, no hand or peanut shells.

My dad refused to believe my words, and frustrated, I ran to tell my younger brother, who was taking a nap in his room at the back of the house. I breathed a sigh of relief when I entered the room and saw that he was still safe and sleeping. But when I got closer to wake him up, I saw something strange. There was a bald man with dark eyes lying behind them in the same bed. His dark eyes seemed to stare at the back of my brother’s head and as he reached a clawed hand over my brother towards me, I woke up. My heart was pounding so fast that it felt like my bed shook in unison with each beat.

In the morning I had explained the dream I had to my family, and I laughed with them about how unrealistic it was and how even in my dream, my dad was still so glued to the TV (like he always was), completely oblivious to the hand reaching up to him. After breakfast my brother and I headed downstairs to wait for my dad to take us to school, but I saw something on the driveway that stopped me dead in my tracks.

There was a stain a few meters from the garage door (just like the stains in the picture). It was a stain that had always been there since we moved into the house and it was something I saw every day when I walked in and out of the garage, so I never really paid attention to it. However, when I looked at it that morning, I noticed that it looked like a footprint.