It’s Bad Mojo to Talk about It, and Even Worse if You See It

By: Hannah Katshir (Horror alum, Fall 2014)

The story of Goatman was one that I stumbled upon out of the blue on day, and something that I didn’t forget very soon after because of the unsettling feeling it leaves with the reader–making it a perfect addition to this class.

Anansi’s Goatman Story was originally posted on 4chan, a popular internet sharing site, but was eventually taken down–however, not before it was relocated onto the Creepypasta Wiki. It is told from the perspective of a 16 year old black male form Chicago, who is visiting his cousins in Alabama and going out on his first camping trip. He narrates the story as if it’s a few years down the line and he is speaking directly to the reader.

Most of the characters in the story are not very familiar with each other in the beginning, which helps to make the story even more frightening. This story was especially frightening to me because Goatman is such an enigma. He can shape shift, so no one can be sure of what he looks like, he comes with a hideous smell–with no explanation given–and above all, he has many opportunities to harm the campers, but never does. The scariest part of this is how realistic it becomes. The tone with which the narrator talks, and the way the story ends leave it up to interpretation, and make it seem as though it actually could have happened. Goatman always escapes, and he inserts himself into their group without anyone noticing time and time again. He seems like he is just lurking around and waiting for something bigger to happen. That constant threat of something bigger is always one that makes me shake.

I recommended this story not only because of how benignly scary I found it to be, but because of the dynamic between the black narrator and the white characters in the story. It is a great story to link the ever-present, mysterious, stalking terrors to real life horror. This story is brought to life through the narration, unfamiliarity of the characters, and the total mystery surround what the Goatman really is…or if this is the Goatman at all. Campers be warned, you may want to stay out of the woods for a while.

Look Away: Horror and Player Punishment

By: Sarah Doukakos (friend of The Course of Horror)

One of the first things players are asked to master in modern games is camera control, especially in first person games. The camera is tied to an analog stick (usually the right stick), and that camera view represents the player’s eyes. Many game tutorials establish ways to help the player practice how to use their new “eyes.” Popular franchises like Call of Duty, Halo, and Skyrim train the player to quickly pan the camera around to check for danger or enemies, and act on that behavior. The player is encouraged to do this, and is rewarded in the game by discovering access to hidden areas or catching a glimpse of an enemy before they are seen themselves. If players aren’t aware of their surroundings, it means a quick death.

From these experiences we can see games have largely established a rule, where greater player sight or knowledge is a positive, and lack of awareness means they’re open to an attack.

However, many horror games force players to go against a key survival instinct and avert their gaze. They survive by remaining visually unaware of creatures that try to kill them.

Another key piece of game design is to try to make the player as active in the game as possible. They are not supposed to be passive viewers of their surroundings, but must work to either actively shape it or react to it. While in many other mediums the saying is “show, don’t tell,” for games it’s “do, don’t show.” That means constant player movement, of both their vision and their bodies to survive. Horror games upend player movement expectations as well. They’re encouraged to be blind, and often encouraged to be still.

A perfect example is the treatment of the Slender Man in Slender: The Eight Pages. The player can hear a crackle of electric feedback nearby, and their experiences have taught them to quickly spin the camera to see what the sound could be. When they do this and catch sight of the Slender Man, or linger on him for too long, it’s instant death. All of those years of being taught that they need to constantly survey their surroundings are being used against them.

In terms of player stillness, games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 break movement expectations. A creature, who is often more powerful than the player, will roam around looking for them. The player must conceal themselves and they must remain still. They have to watch and hope that this being that is breathing right next to them doesn’t notice them. They are encouraged to not do, but watch, and wait.

Many other games use these horror death mechanics. Minecraft punishes players who allow their camera to sit on the Endermen for too long, making the Endermen suddenly hostile to the player. Don’t Starve punishes players who look at or interact with characters that are hostile or evil by having their sanity meter deplete. At night the player has to sit next to a campfire, and can’t move, or the darkness will swallow them and kill them, so they wait by the slowly fading light. Don’t Starve’s expression of this camera and combat experience comes the closest in explaining why the player would be punished for their activity. The very Lovecraftian reasoning is this: there are some things that are too terrible for humans to see or comprehend. It’s better to look away and be still, just to survive another day.

Games that make the player watch and wait also break another element of many mainstream games: that the player is all powerful. Many games teach the player that they are a strong hero who can kill anything that comes across their path, that if they keep trying or get a bigger gun or stronger weapon that they can destroy everything. But horror games let players feel weak. They let them know that sometimes, there’s nothing to be done in the face of evil. Sometimes they have to sit and wait. That they are so weak and so frail that even looking at the face of their tormentor will destroy them. Some games ultimately let the player succeed by striking at the right moment, but often there isn’t a way to defeat these enemies. They only win by escaping, and living to tell the tale of those who could kill them with sight alone.

Sarah Doukakos is a Game Designer for Nickelodeon Digital, working with properties including SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Legend of Korra, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. In her past she worked as a producer at Cartoon Network, and her projects included the first Adventure Time game. She spends her spare time watching cartoons, playing a lot of Dark Souls and Minecraft, and creating game design curriculum for middle school students. 

This Old House, Part II

By: Betsy Smith

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. . . continued from Part I.

When I was three years old my mother died in our living room, making her the second person (that we know of) to pass in that house. As I reflect on all the scary happenings of myself and others in the house, I sometimes imagine it could have been the ghosts of my mother and the women who died there before her. It was as if the ghosts were just going about their lives in the house at the same time we were. Sometimes I debate going back to our house, but I do not think I have the guts to feel the paralyzing fear as I used to.

My own encounters with my home were scary enough, but I was not the only one feeling other presences. I can only remember a few exact scary occurrences, though I remember being scared my entire childhood there. The earliest memory I have of being intensely scared was one night while my sister and I were home alone. We were younger than most kids are when they begin staying alone while their parents are at work, but still old enough to manage. My sister and I were on our twin beds, in our shared room, watching television. Our house had hardwood floors that, since the house was so old, were loud and creaky. You could hear footsteps in one end of the house in the other. That night, as I sat there on my bed, I heard loud pounding footsteps coming down the hallway in our dining room as the china cabinet shook as it always does, glassware clinking together. But we were home all alone. I remember it so clearly: my face got tingly and hot, and my stomach felt like it does when you breathe all your air out and your muscles begin to shake. I backed up to the very corner of my bed and cowered, not yelling or grabbing a weapon as you think you would do in such a situation. Then the footsteps stopped, and that was it. My sister looked at me like I was crazy, as if she did not hear anything. But I didn’t even speak to tell her what I heard.

The second downright paralyzing experience, again, happened while I was safe in my bed. I was alone in my room trying to fall asleep, when I saw a dark figure in the corner at the end of my bed. Telling myself it was just the vacuum I had used to clean my room earlier, I tried falling asleep. The outline was very dark and defined and reminded me of the way the boogeyman in the movies stood in the shadows of rooms. I knew something was there; it did not flicker like a shadow in the passing car lights through my window. Of course I was too paranoid to just fall asleep, so I just flicked the light on my bedside lamp, and nothing was there. My instinct kicked in and I immediately flicked the light back off and covered my face with my blanket, forcing myself back to sleep.

My friends also experienced scary sightings. My two best high school best friends refused to stay overnight at my house after one slumber party. In the middle of the night, I woke to my friends dragging all of their bedding up the stairs and crawling into my bed. The next morning she told me she saw the door open and someone walk in, so she sat up thinking it was my dad coming home through the living room door. When she looked, though, she realized my dad was not there. No one was there but a shadow that walked through the door then disappeared. She was so certain that it scared her enough to carry our other friend and their blankets up the stairs at 2 a.m.

Needless to say, it was not just me imagining the shadowy figures. Though I’m unsure if I believe in the supernatural, I know what I saw. Maybe if I could go back now, I would be a little tougher to really investigate my home, but I doubt I will be feeling brave enough anytime soon!

Body Horror?

By: Amber Gustafson

When I was about 8, I was rebelliously up late at night and flipping through channels when I landed on an episode of The X-Files. It is a scene I will never forget: a portly man reclining on a couch, his stomach blown open like a crater. There was some dialogue, possibly about an alien who had used the man as a host and then hatched itself from his stomach like an egg. This moment was the start of my terror of – and fascination with – body horror.

Body horror is something that is very difficult to define, as there are many different types. Essentially, all body horror preys upon our instinctual comfort with the human body. Body horror purposefully turns our idea of what is a “physical normality” on its head – and this differentness is what terrifies. TVtropes explains it nicely: “The mind knows on a deep instinctive level that faces should have eyes and hands should not. Organs and bones belong on the inside, and parasites and circuit boards do not. Bodies should be roughly symmetrical and have logical proportions.” Thus, we get movies like Alien and The Blob – both involve body horror, but one does it by using humanoid-like creatures, in a similar parasitic fashion to The X-Files example above, in order to evoke fear and the other represents the contamination and defilement of humans. It is terrifying to have an invader in the one space each of us can uniquely call private: our own bodies.

A lot of body horror is linked to our fears of the Uncanny Valley, where something resembles humanness but there is something fundamentally wrong. A prominent example is a clown, who generally has normally body proportions but the unnatural colors and extreme facial features push it into terrifying territory. Other examples include ventriloquist dummies, dolls (such as Chucky – how can something so small be so deadly?) and zombies, who in fact seem more terrifying when they are moving (an undead rotting corpse versus a rotting corpse). Slenderman creates an image that horrifies partly because of the Uncanny Valley, with his elongated limbs and lack of facial features. Another internet terror, Jeff the Killer, similarly utilizes exaggerated facial expressions.

It is also no surprise that body horror is most effective in a visual format. One of my favorite current television shows, Hannibal, uses body horror to a different extent. The scenes of food preparation and of the characters eating Hannibal’s meals are crafted as if they came straight from a cooking show on the Food Network. Part of the terror and discomfort is that we, the audience, are enticed by and hunger for food that we know is human flesh. In effect, we are devouring ourselves. John Carpenter’s The Thing is another classic of the body horror genre. It is not only gory but uses anonymity and imitation to invoke fear; The Thing preys on the idea that our bodies are not special, and they do not even belong to us.

Another medium that makes great use of body horror is the graphic novel. One of my favorites is “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” by Junji Ito, one of the forerunners in horror manga, which begins with human-shaped holes suddenly appearing on the side of a mountain. “Black Hole” can also be categorized as body horror, as the sickness that spreads through the teen population manifests physically, sometimes to the disfigurement of the individual.

The caution I have with body horror is that it is somewhat ableist in nature, and can very easily ostracize and victimize those with different bodies – possibly because they were born with bones in different places or formations, they were involved in an incident that left them with a different physical appearance, they have had one or more limbs amputated, or they behave differently. Body horror’s use of fearing those who are “different” is also similar to the roots of racism. However, I think if a new unit in the course focuses on body horror, it should acknowledge these facts and carefully select stories which stray away from creating this negative connotation.

Spider Bite

By: Ashley Parker

Last week I participated in a photo shoot at a local cemetery for an affiliated organization. Sardonically, my photo scenes were labeled “Horror” as I was photographed sitting on a tombstone, caressing a granite angel and lying on an overgrown grave. I was completely terrified.

“Touch the grave! Hug it! Yeah, climb on it just like that,” coached the photographer and my giggling associates.

My mind fluctuated between taking a daring venture into the realm of the supernatural and the moral responsibility of engaging in an activity that was disrespectful and bordering on the illegal. However, to create a creepy ambiance, our executive board and photographer insisted that the setting for the flash shots stir up eerie visions and shocking thoughts Because I selected to journey into the frightening arena of horror, my actions came back to bite me, literally.

During the shoot, I suddenly felt a tingling sensation on my arm that I presumed was just an itch so I rubbed the irritation through my clothing and continued to pose and taunt the dead. The crawling tickle continued. As I was changing my clothes for the next scene, I discovered the truth behind that “small itch.” Underneath my dress and on a mass of swollen flesh were five oozing pimples. Bewildered, I quickly glanced back and forth and all around to discover the source of this repulsive intrusion. Unconsciously, I scratched the ugly malformation and a painful explosion erupted in my arm. With throbbing soreness and panic escalating, I questioned whether I had goaded evil spirits into retaliation. I was no longer the self confident model and was quickly descending into the blackness of terror. When my friends saw my distress, they quickly gathered round to lend their support and disavowed the presence of the occult. Nervously laughing, they said, “That’s a spider bite!” Attempting to convince themselves, they kept repeating, “Yep, that’s a spider bite!” Trembling with fear, I completely freaked out. Had the spiders assaulted my body as I lay on Mr. Morley’s grave or had they mysteriously infiltrated my being under the guidance of evil spirits? Not only are spiders paramount on my list of fears, I guiltily knew I was being paid back for being insolent to the dead. Swallowed up in terrifying misery, I immediately called my mother.

exxs“Mom, something weird has bitten me and I think something horrifying is happening to me.”

Even after Mom applied a cream to the bitten area, I still could not shake the unnerving sense of the mystic in my life. Restlessly sleeping, I tossed and turned and visualized spiders laying eggs inside me and eventually possessing me. I began to fantasize myself as a bizarre Spider Woman shrouded with clinging spiders like those pictured on the left.

Today, my arm looks like the figure below and the spider bites are diminishing. However, it is still early in the healing process, and the possibility of remaining spider eggs in my body and the potential for me evolving into Spider Woman still loom on my scary horizon.

bite

Ho Ho Horrible

By: Hannah Katshir

hannahIt’s December first!!!! For many people, this just means the continuation of the cold weather, more snow, and one day closer to being home for an extended break. But for me, it means that other people finally find it acceptable to listen to Christmas music, put up Christmas decorations, bake pounds of cookies, and, the greatest of all television traditions, watch the 25 Days of Christmas on ABC Family – all of which I have already been doing and planning out for weeks. If you haven’t gathered, I absolutely love Christmas.

However, as much as I adore the traditions and the holiday spirit that runs rampant at this time of year, one holiday tradition has always put me off a little bit. Santa Clause, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle – a man of many names, but one simple job. He is supposedly the bringer of joy to children on Christmas, leaving presents under the trees of all of the good little boys and girls and putting coal in the stockings of those who had been naughty. Now, ever since I was younger, this idea this idea didn’t thrill me as much as it did my peers. When you really think about it, someone breaking into every house in the world in the middle of the night with no problem, stealing and eating their food, and then leaving mysterious, wrapped boxes in his wake is not exactly a warming idea. In fact, take away the allure of Christmas, and it sounds a little bit like a burglary mixed with something that could easily be mistaken for a bomb threat in any other situation.

Two years ago, everyone’s favorite horror television show, American Horror Story, perpetuated my fears by focusing an episode which premiered right around Christmas time on a man who would dress as Santa, break into homes, and kill the people living in them. As a child, I would have nightmares of Santa going rogue and ending up as this. It seemed to me the perfect ruse, because very few children would turn Santa away from their house at Christmas time – that would obviously land them a spot on the naughty list.

More recently, there has been a resurgence of another Christmas demon. In old German folktales, there was a monster commonly known as Krampus – a half-goat, half-demon with horns and dark hair. He is the antithesis of St. Nicholas who is known to literally beat children into being nice, and often taking the still naughty ones back down to the underworld. This “Christmas Devil” and the traditions around it were banned by the Catholic church a long time ago, but are now making a resurgence, possibly for people to celebrate Christmas in a new way, maybe to take a more direct path of scaring children into being nice. No matter the reason, Krampus is coming back into style, which is both kind of exciting and a little horrifying.

So this holiday season while sitting around the fire, drinking hot chocolate, and making gingerbread houses, just keep in mind that there is much more to the holiday than visions of sugar plums dancing through your head.

For more information of Krampus, visit this site, and this one.

“Trip Up Gravity Road”

By: Joseph Guerra

There’s a road in northern Michigan a couple of miles from Frankfort and Arcadia called Putney Road that has gained quite the reputation for inspiring both fear and awe alike for those who have experienced it. Putney Road is a fairly average northern Michigan road in that it cuts through vast miles of trees with the occasional field or house, but for the most part lies deserted. At the spot from which the road derives its other name, “Gravity Road,” the only building in sight is an old church that is closed most of the week. The road is called Gravity Road for its peculiar effect on the driver: after driving down the road a couple of miles, the driver appears to drive downhill. If the driver parks their car at the bottom of the hill, puts the car into neutral, then something interesting happens. For a couple of seconds, nothing happens, but suddenly the car begins to move back up the hill, almost as if something is pulling it. Your car will roll for a few minutes before it you make it to the top of the hill, although most who have tried it only last a while before they freak out and drive away.

Which brings us to my experience with Gravity Hill. One night, while coming back from a family event, my aunt who lives near Putney Road decided it would be fun to scare her nephews (my brother and I) by showing us Gravity Road. Before we got there, she told us how the road worked and what would happen. She also told us that the reason the driver is pulled back is because the church at the top of the hill is pulling sinners towards the church to be punished. Mind you, I was only 12 at the time, which is the right age to be skeptical and scared shitless at the same time. Suffice to say I was scared of being pulled into Hell when we got there. We stopped at the bottom and stayed still for a few seconds before we started moving backwards. My brother and I sat still for all of ten seconds before we both started freaking out: my brother started cheering and I started screaming. Oh, and this was all at midnight. We got to the top of the hill which was right next to the church, and we pleaded with my aunt to get us out of there. We did, and I’ve never been back since.

Although nothing supernatural happened (the experience of running uphill is apparently attributed to an optical illusion that happens around very low grade hills) This experience got me thinking about “Backseat Driver.” My experience was obviously nothing like the things that Susanna experiences in that story, but the story got me thinking about how much we take the experience for driving granted. Most of us are excited when we get our driver’s license but it quickly fades and driving just becomes something routine, and we forget how dangerous driving can actually be or how scary cars can be. Gravity Hill can be interpreted as a phenomenon similar to the EVP’s we listened to in class: what if people are pulled back on the road because they are being told something? Or what if it actually is a warning from a spirit in the church to repent for your sins? Whatever the case, the road still scares me to this day, and it reminds me that even mundane things in life will always have a degree of danger and mystery to them.

You can read more about Gravity Road by clicking here.