Before There Was Chucky, There Was Tina And Willie

By: Alexis Low

Horror has become a genre that is viewed in varying methods of text. Through these texts we become connected to the victim, more so connected to the fear. As humans, we empathize and the fear experienced by the victim is manifested within us as well.

twiThere is something about inanimate objects that become animate killers that just terrifies me. My mother is a fan of horror, and introduced me to old films that were of that genre. We would have marathons of horror movies such as the 1968 version of The Night of the Living Dead, Psycho, and The Twilight Zone.

The first time I was terrified, was when my mother decided that we would have a marathon of The Twilight Zone, and the first two episodes she showed me were called “The Living Doll” and “The Dummy”.

In, “The Living Doll”, the doll, Talky Tina, would become more animated as the stepfather became more verbally abusive to the stepdaughter. Tina would talk to the girl, threaten the father, and mysteriously move; when the stepfather feels that the doll is threatening his sanity and his family, he tries to destroy her with a torch, squeezing her head, throwing her away, but the doll remains unscathed. As a doll, that has become animated, she still remains the figure of the innocent pure doll, yet creepily says without moving her lips, through a phone, “My name is Talky Tina, and I am going to kill you!”

In “The Dummy”, a second-rate ventriloquist believes that his dummy, Willie, is alive; he believes that there is a difference between Willie and other dummies. Willie taunts the ventriloquist left and right, and no one else sees that Willie is alive. The ventriloquist was right. In the end, their roles become reversed and Willie becomes the ventriloquist.

twi2(PA: This episode is on Netflix)

The dolls fed off the energy of the men, this states that one can create their own demon.

The thing that is horrifying about the Twilight Zone (besides dolls) is that it is a portal fantasy, that has no apparent visible portal; there is no rabbit hole, or a stranger named Morphious giving you a choice between a red pill and a blue pill. Rod Sterling, the creator, with his famous lines, says that the characters, (mysteriously) “…crossed over into The Twilight Zone.” You never know if you are living a nightmare.

You can imagine, after watching these episodes that every Baby Alive, Bratz, Barbie, and stuffed animal was packed into bags, and thrown into the garbage. It was the night I would have my first nightmare, or at least the first one I recall.

I thought that I would be done with that nightmare, until I went to Arkansas to visit my grandmother. She had a room in her ranch house that was cut off from everyone. One day I decided to explore it. I let myself into that room, and saw a sepia colored scene of gifts she forgotten to give, memories, memoirs, expensive cigars, wine, and candy. As I crossed the room to get to the candy I suddenly became terrified. For around the room and on the couch were dolls of every size, shape, color, gender, and historical date. One sitting on the ground, the biggest one, looked like the reincarnation of “Talky Tina”, (the doll was even named Tina) she had the same creepy smile, and her eyes blinked.

At that moment I proceeded to scream and run out the room. My grandmother, not even two hours later, would take me back in there to show me that her eyes can’t move, and that she is just a doll. The thought of the doll being just a doll didn’t make sense. You give life, you give purpose to anything that you give energy to, whether using the inanimate object as part of your job or as your friend. My grandmother was a connoisseur of dolls for years, and she expects me to think that its just a doll. Like the ventriloquist said in the episode, “I can tell when something is a dummy, and that ain’t no dummy.”

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

Believers and Skeptics: The X-Files

By: Nadia Azad

When discussing texts in class, we usually go over arguments for both the believer’s side and the skeptic’s side. For example, in Dan Chaon’s The Bees, we discussed the possibility of DJ, the protagonist’s son, being a supernatural stalker; however we also discussed the possible clues in the text that suggest that DJ is just a figment of the protagonist’s mind. Sometimes, we even call these types of explanations the “Mulder” or the “Scully” rationalization of the paranormal. However, it was only recently in class that we discussed the origin of these names: the popular television show, “The X-Files,” by Chris Carter.

“The X-Files” is a supernatural horror show about two F.B.I. agents, Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson), who are assigned to “The X-files,” a sector of the F.B.I. that is dedicated to investigating paranormal cases. Mulder, an Oxford-educated psychologist, got in to the “X-Files” due to his search for the truth about his abducted sister, who he believes was taken by aliens. Viewers begin the series from the point of view of Dana Scully, a physics major and medical doctor who was recruited by the F.B.I. and sent to work with Mulder. Scully, in almost every episode, provides the voice of scientific reason to the case, and sometimes, Mulder’s own life. On the other hand, Mulder, who hangs a poster depicting a U.F.O and reading “I Want To Believe” in his office, is the staunch believer in almost everything supernatural. The premise of many of the episodes deals with the conflicting nature of these agents, with Mulder developing a theory of the event they are investigating that is supernatural, and Scully denying this theory in favor of a scientific explanation. As more elements of the case are uncovered, viewers learn who is right.

Not only is the merging of the believer and skeptic a key theme of the series, but “The X-Files” also deals with the search for the truth and government conspiracy. In many episodes, when Mulder starts to uncover truths about the existence of aliens, people higher up in the government (who Mulder and Scully are under the order of) start wiping out evidence and covering up the truth about the paranormal. An excellent episode called “Jose Chung’s from Outer Space” deals with whether two teens who had their memories wiped were abducted by aliens or abducted by the government. Aliens and the government are paralleled frequently by the show, begging the question of if what we really should be fearing is life from another planet, or life that already exists on our own. Watch the promo for this episode below:

While the heart of “The X-Files” deals with aliens, there are also episodes about all sorts of paranormal creatures from the more traditional ghosts and vampires to liver-eating mutants and mud creatures that dwell under suburban neighborhoods. The X-Files, which ran from 1993 to 2002, remains an excellent show that has won 92 awards and been nominated 202 times. It not only provides a dose of terror but also thoughtfulness about the nature of the supernatural. I find it funny that, when watching the show, nearly all viewers become a “Mulder,” almost chastising Scully for her lack of belief when surrounded by so much evidence. However, in real life, most people are more likely to be a “Scully” when it comes to claims about the paranormal. A question that Mulder asks Scully in the episode “Beyond the Sea” is a question that I think is fitting for us all: “After all you’ve seen… why can’t you believe?”

Sex, Drugs, and Horror: American Horror Story “Hotel”

By: Emily Sabia

For followers of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s popular FX anthology American Horror Story, the fifth season, Hotel, has started off slowly but has nonetheless, shocked and stunned viewers in its gory, controversial nature. As a loyal viewer of the series, I was eager to watch Hotel with the hope that it would draw parallels to the first season (arguably the best,) Murder House, by following the classic ghost story of a haunted hotel. However, by the end of the first episode viewers learn through a striking, bloody orgy scene that it is not ghosts that make the Hotel Cortez ‘horrific,’ it is vampires.  

The plot focuses on a detective, played by Wes Bentley, who is drawn to the mysterious Los Angeles Hotel Cortez after a series of disappearances lead him there. Haunted by his alcoholic past, his deteriorating relationship with his wife, and the disappearance of his son Holden, the detective moves into the hotel where he encounters many unique people and strange experiences. The Cortez is home to an entire cast of questionable characters that wreak havoc within its enigmatic walls. Some of these include a serial killer (Evan Peters,) a drug addicted prostitute (Sarah Paulson,) and a mother (Kathy Bates) trying to stay close to her vampire son (Matt Bomer.)

Lady Gaga, a new addition to the cast this season, is one of the standout central figures of Hotel. She is the ‘Countess:’ the mysterious, ruthless vampiress, and fashionista whose background and intentions are unclear. She hoards a host of vampire children in the Cortez and works alongside her ‘boy toy’ (Finn Wittrock) to lure victims in. Each episode provides another anecdote, fact, or explanation for the Countess and her current life as both the murderess and hotel owner. She delivers her lines simply, seductively, and with a near emptiness of any human emotion. From the moment the Countess first appears on screen she commands attention and makes an enormous visual impact with her dramatic clothing, overstated jewelry, and standout makeup.

While each episode of Hotel consistently provides viewers with scenes of gore, violence, sex, and new plot elements, the episodes feel largely disconnected in their narrative content. It has been exceptionally difficult to try and piece these complex characters, events, and time periods together into a coherent explanation of the Hotel Cortez and its inhabitants. In fact, the gaudy style and gratuitous violence completely overpower any evidence of effective storytelling.

The main thing that has struck me about each episode of Hotel is the ostentatious brutality. For example, the first episode immediately stuns viewers with a scene of a hotel guest being anally raped by an anonymous man wearing a pointed drill dildo. Many of the scenes felt overtly disturbing and as if they were one exposed body part away from exceeding the limitations of the MA rating. Murphy and Falchuk have certainly pushed many limits with Hotel but nonetheless; the first few episodes have been a promising new start to a consistently captivating series. Aside from the gore and scattered plot, the fundamental concept of the season and each character’s unique story is fascinating. I am hopeful that the episodes will all reach a logical conclusion and some type of coherency both within Hotel and the anthology as a whole by the end of the season. The eighth episode airs on December 2nd on FX.

Fear the Scream Queens

By:  Allyson Boe

Looking to fill your most recent TV binge-watching void with something scary? Well look no further. FOX TV has the perfect show for you. From the producers of Glee and American Horror Story comes the horrifying yet unreasonably funny TV show, Scream Queens. Airing on September 22 at the 2015 Comic-Con, Scream Queens has got people screaming for more… literally! From its iconic actors to its addicting plot line, this latest horror spectacle is sure to lure you in within the very first episode.

Throughout the first season, viewers are introduced to the prestigious sisters of Kappa Kappa Tau sorority at Wallace University, lead by the heartless president, Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts). After the mortifying death of the previous president, Melanie Dorkess (Brianne Howey) that occurred last spring, Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) attempts to shut down their Kappa Kappa Tau chapter. In order to stay up and running, Kappa Kappa Tau is forced to accept anyone who wants to join the sorority, even if that means destroying Chanel’s popularity in the process. In an attempt to scare off the potential new members, Chanel and her ruthless clique accidently kill their housemaid, whose body they hide in the freezer. The body soon disappears and the girls are targeted by a serial killer they call the Red Devil. They are forced to solve the 20-year old murder mystery of Kappa Kappa Tau and unmask the serial killer in order to save their sisterhood.

The mystery unfolds throughout the season, with the producers killing off at least one of the cast members every episode. Those lucky enough not to be killed usually end the episode with a missing limb or a horrible wound. The revenge has begun and no one is safe. Anticipation and suspense build as you are unsure of who the Red Devil’s next victim will be. From Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande) to Caulfield (Evan Paley), expect the unexpected because for all you know, Chanel could be next. All of the attempts to defeat and reveal the Red Devil’s identity have failed, frustrating the girls even more. Will they live to make it another day at Kappa Kappa Tau? Keep your eyes and ears open, rumor has it that there are big hints dropped, especially in the first episode, as to the identity of the killer. Maybe you will pick up on something that Chanel’s clique neglected to realize. Or maybe you can piece together all of the clues to solve the mystery.

Since September 22, seven episodes have aired, leaving only a few horrifying episodes left of the season. Although the first season is coming to a quick close, there will be a following season with only four of the twenty-five original cast members expected to move forward. No one can be sure of who those four might be or even how they will last that long with a serial killer on the loose. Will they sacrifice another to stay alive? Or will they band together, never leaving a sister behind? You will have to watch and see for yourself.

“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

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.