Halloween Horror and Wonder in Over the Garden Wall

By: Ariel Everitt

The animated television series Over the Garden Wall takes place around Halloween, on nights just like these.  The show follows two half-brothers, Wirt and Greg, as they explore the eerie woods (“The Unknown”) in which they are lost.

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This near-Halloween autumn setting is particularly conducive to both feelings of horror and wonder in the viewer, as is Halloween itself, along with the peculiar chill and thrill of death and change that autumn carries.  In the penultimate installment of the ten-episode series, titled “Into the Unknown,” it is revealed that hijinks on Halloween night led the brothers to become lost in the woods; they fled a Halloween party in a cemetery and tumbled unconscious into this strange space.

The feelings we derive from Halloween are naturally complicated: we are scared of the horrors with which Halloweentime presents us, but we are also in awe of it all — even that which most terrifies us.  The feelings of wonder that both Halloween and Over the Garden Wall spur are not complete without horrific imagery.  Further, Over the Garden Wall induces both horror and wonder in the viewer for very similar reasons that Halloween does, and these evocations of wonder and horror rely on eachother, like the two young brothers in the show, in order to make their own unique, yet deeply connected, impacts.

Halloween is the one day a year when it is ordinary to see many people so openly subverting social norms, masquerading as others.  For a day, this shatters the facade of our world of strict social rules.  In this way, Halloween can be seen as part of a ritual, creating a liminal space in which children and adults alike can bask in the wonder of a temporary world with fundamentally different rules.

The wonder, then, facilitated by the rather inherent awe of a liminal space, is manyfold: we stand in awe of the freedom to dress in ways our social norms usually forbid, we find it wondrous to pretend for a day, and we enjoy the power that these disguises give us (whether it be the power to frighten, sexual power, the power of the monsters we embody, or simply the power to be noticed).

In Over the Garden Wall, these feelings are channeled into the mysterious forest world in which the brothers Greg and Wirt find themselves lost.  They wander woods that do not obey traditional standards of conduct and reality, and they do so in their Halloween costumes which represent the creation of an awe-inspiring liminal space, no less.

The boys encounter people who reveal clearly that ordinary social order is not in place here.  They come across a tavern in which each member of the town plays a specific role in their society and shows this by singing a tune about it.  The people of the town try to place Wirt in one role (as the young romantic or the pilgrim), but fail to because Wirt is a product of different social norms that encompass different complexities of a person, but also (as Wirt believes) reject him for being “weird.”  Thus, our social norms are shucked off in these woods, and this is disorienting, terrifying, and wondrous to the brothers.

Contributing further to their sense of being lost in a faraway land that does not abide by the rules of their homeland, the brothers also encounter and respond to many horrific images.  These horrific images include: a giant black wolf with protruding rainbow eyes and a ravenous demeanor, a cultish group of undead skeletons who don pumpkins as costumes to celebrate the harvest, a misshapen old women named Auntie Whispers who eats squirming black turtles live and speaks of children being eaten, the face of a sweet young girl marred with the features of an empty-eyed demon, and a beast in the form of a shadowy wendigo whose soul lantern is fueled by oil from the trees that grow and feed upon its dead victims.

This horror functions extraordinarily well (with the jarring emotions it engenders) to represent a shucking off of traditional rules of safe reality (related to Halloween and its liminal space), as well as to lead both the viewers and the characters to feel utterly lost, afraid, and in awe of the power of this free place called The Unknown.

These horrific images show that the world these boys wander is not what our world seems to be, and a space separate from traditional reality is created, where any number of horrors and wonders are possible.  We marvel at the freedom and power of this space in the woods, unbound by the laws we feel ourselves to be bound by — perhaps on every day of the year besides Halloween night.

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Stone-cold Stare

By: Chris Ridolphi

Before this class, I had not experienced much horror in my life; never really read any stories or watched any movies, never had any paranormal experiences and never really had many nightmares in my life. However, the one nightmare I ever remember having in my entire life, I still remember vividly today. I can’t recall many other things from when I was 5 years old, but the fact that I can recall this so easily proves the impression it had on me. Growing up I didn’t have cable television, but my grandma just down the street did, so I would always be excited to go to her house because she had Cartoon Network. Unlike the Saturday morning cartoons I was typically stuck with, Cartoon Network had the TV series, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, my favorite TV show at the time. Little did I know, this particular day would be the last time I would ever watch Jonny Quest on a mission.

The premise of the show is this teenager named Jonny Quest would go on excursions with some other friends and his father Dr. Quest and sometimes would enter a virtual reality called, “QuestWorld.” In Episode 18 of Season 1, called “Heroes,” their team makes a great archeological discovery of the statue of Apollo, but it is smashed to pieces. Using a computer program, they are able to piece the statue back together properly, but the evil villain, Surd, hacks their program in hopes of stealing the statue. Because of this, they all of a sudden cannot locate the file, so Jonny and his team go into QuestWorld to search for missing file.

medusaWhile inside the virtual reality, they end up at the temple of Zeus, who is the father of Apollo, so they believe they are on the right track. When they enter the temple, they are ambushed by the evil Surd, who is disguised as the goddess Medusa! She was a terrifying green creature, with deep, glowing red eyes and snakes for hair. Jonny shouts to not look in her eyes, but his friend is immediately turned into stone. She then turns to Jonny making squelching growling noises and yells, “look into my eyes, boy!” and releases snakes from her head to chase him, followed by, “I will give you eternal life…in stone!” in the same horrifying tone.

This was a pretty tame show up to this point; Jonny would always succeed in his missions and nobody had ever died before. Although Jonny would have surely ended up on top like he always did, I didn’t even give him close to a chance and ran out of my grandma’s house crying, leaving my mom and grandma very concerned. That night, and thankfully only for the rest of that week, I had a dream each night with the vision of Medusa’s snake-filled head staring at me with her creepy glowing eyes shouting, “look into my eyes, boy!” and then I would start to turn into stone. Needless to say…I never watched that show again.

Link to Episode

“Gravity Falls” and Kid’s Censorship

By: Matthew Holland

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For those of you who do not watch Gravity Falls on Disney X D, A) you are missing out on something wonderful, so start from the beginning and B) weird stuff went down in this past week’s episode. While I don’t want to spoil anything, a man’s face was rearranged and Louis C.K. voiced (and I’m serious here) “The Horrifying Sweaty One-Armed Monstrosity.”

Considering this is a children’s animated TV series, these images may not strike you as horrifying. But for a child, it’s at least questionable. Part of horror is showing us that which we either don’t want to see, or shouldn’t see. It exploits our imaginations to create fantasies that- if nothing else- make us feel uncomfortable.

Gravity Falls is not the only one to do this. There are films such as Coraline (2009), The Witches (1990), Watership Down (1978), a handful of kid’s flicks from the 1980’s from Disney’s Return to Oz (1985), The Neverending Story (1984), to The Dark Crystal (1982), and let’s not forget that tunnel sequence in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). All these films have weird elements that may be somewhat frightening to younger audiences.

There are numerous reasons why one might find these films terrifying. For myself, I would not describe kid-friendly animatronics as “comforting.” However, horror is like comedy, in that they are both highly subjective. That which terrifies you may not terrify me, and this rule applies to these children’s stories as well.

My question is not whether or not these stories are scary, but whether or not we should censor such imagery from our children. Or perhaps, should we introduce horror to children by subtlety inserting it into their programs?

While I don’t have an answer to this, I do have some food for thought.

To begin, different cultures have different rules of censorship. While most modern cultures would agree that it is probably a bad idea to show children an R-rated horror film, there were some cultures that believed it to be acceptable to frighten the youth. Grimm’s Fairy Tales are perhaps most famous for their dark nature. While some stories, such as “Cinderella,” have become associated with joyous songs, anthropomorphic animals, and happy endings, not all of them originated so. Many depicted violent acts and gave warnings about the cruelties in life.  Is it good to show our kids horror, if it teaches them a lesson?

Secondly, our rules (specifically modern American rules) of censorship are somewhat fickle. For example, the 2013 Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street, was almost given an NC-17 rating for its sex scenes. While the film did make certain cuts to obtain its R-rating, it narrowly avoided an MPAA rating that would have drastically reduced the audience size. However, pay-per-view channels such as HBO have mature rated shows (which are more or less equivalent to R-rated films), like Game of Thrones, which depict violence, nudity, rape, and incest, often with no discrimination as to who the victim is (the victim could be a despicable villain, or an innocent child.) Nowadays, parents have the ability to block their child’s access to channels such as HBO. But if horror is being introduced in shows that are rated “child-friendly,” how do parents know what to block? And if the rating industry is as fickle as it seems, how can parents trust it to give them the information necessary to decide whether a show/movie is too scary for their children?

And finally, we must consider the effect of media on its audience. The debate as to whether or not media can influence audience actions has sparked controversy throughout the years, but has had heightened attention with current day mass shootings. A definitive answer to this question has yet to arise. Depending on who you ask, you will get very different responses, academic and non. Would introducing horror to children desensitize them to violence and make them more capable of committing acts of violence?

I adore Gravity Falls, and while I don’t want a single thing to change, I am forced to ask myself- this show is made mainly for kids, so are my own desires impeding on the best interests of others?

WatchMojo video: “Top 10 Creepy Kids Movies” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3_1cLWREIY

League of Super Critics video: “Should We Scare the S#*% Out of Kids – Nostalgia Critic” (note: contains some explicit language) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej_gAWacmiY

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.