CONFIRMED: Car door is, in fact, locked

sa.jpgBy: Sarah Adams

I am writing this just off exit 378 on highway I5 somewhere in the middle of California.  It is 4:00 am, and my sister and I are alone surrounded by complete darkness.  AAA is still 45 minutes away, which would be fine if we weren’t alone with the strange green light in the field next to us and the mysterious car pulled over behind us.

Fall break has not gone as planned.  After some bad luck with flights earlier this evening, my sister and I started the drive from Los Angeles to Oakland, CA in an effort to get her back to school Monday morning. We embarked from LAX around 11:00 pm tired and unprepared for our projected six hour road trip.  By 1:00 am I was so tired that I was afraid I would fall asleep at the wheel.  We had to pull over for a nap in a gas station parking lot and re-embarked at 3:00 am.  As we pulled away from the gas station, I noticed our fuel was low but assumed we had enough to make it to the next gas station.  I was wrong.  An hour later, we had five miles of gas left and ten miles until the next gas station.

I write am writing this out of gas, just off of exit 378, at 4:00 am.  The only light is from the two street lamps that illuminate the off ramp, and we are pulled over quite out of range from them.  Far off on the horizon, there are various amber lights from homes.  However, in the dark my sister and I can see a green light that is somewhere in the field much closer than the other amber lights.  It goes off.  A sickly orange light illuminates some shapes that are indistinguishable.  They are large and abstract.  My sister is convinced it is the light from a fire, but it does not flicker and goes out as quickly as it came on.  The lonely green light stares at us again.  We try pulling closer to the street lights and get comfortable while we wait for the AAA agent to arrive.

We’ve been here for approximately 20 minutes.  A truck pulling a trailer of wooden pallets pulled off the highway and parked across the street behind us about 30 yards in the exact spot we moved away from.  They have turned off their lights and are just sitting there.  We are both sitting here is silence.  I feel completely exposed in this darkness with this green light and strange car watching us.

Our jolly AAA rescuer arrived and give us enough gas to get to the next gas station.  I was glad to have the extra light from his headlights. The green light was still on and had seemed to get closer.  As we started the car to pull away, so did the car that was parked behind us.  We peeled out of our little slice of purgatory after an hour of darkness, uncertainty, and one too many green lights.


Gyo is Disgusting!!: Grossness in Manga

By: David St. John

When I read Gyo by acclaimed horror manga artist Junji Ito a few days ago, I had a very intense reaction to it. I did not enjoy it, and I almost wish I didn’t read it. Then I got thinking – why? Outside of the fact that I thought there wasn’t a single good character in the book, there was one other big reason I hated Gyo so much, and it’s the fact that it’s just disgusting. It is the most disgusting piece of horror I have ever seen or read as of now, but the more I think about it, the more I think this method of disgusting the reader plays on the strengths of comics/manga as a medium.

sj.jpgLooking at a panel helps me see this: in the left picture, we see the first “monster” of Gyo – a bizarre, rotting, legged fish bleeding into a wall. This isn’t as disgusting as this mangaka gets, but it’s an example of how I think manga and comics can work with horror. The strength of this panel is in the small details – for one thing, readers get a nice detailed view of fish meat along its side where it’s been apparently crushed. By all means, this fish thing is very dead. In addition, readers can see that the legs are organically attached to the fish; it looks like the fish has a protruding stomach that flawlessly blends into its underbelly. Both of these details attest to the artist’s ability to bring his vision to life on page. It almost feels real to readers.

This image simply disgusts me. I’m thinking now, though, that is exactly the goal of the artist in this case. In comics and manga, the pictures are there for as long as you look at them, so they have more opportunity to stick with you. This is one of the strengths over movies and books; in movies, the scenes pass by with speed, leaving smaller details often forgotten. With books, the images are not as sharply visual, and these images too must eventually pass as the reader continues. Then with manga, readers have more opportunity to see these small details, and this is where I think the author is trying to scare us.

With this first image, what the author wants to stick with us is that this fish’s legs are very much a part of the fish, and the fish is very much dead. For the former, readers are just freaked out that the fish has legs because that should not be possible – it goes against nature. The latter comes into play later on when you see the fish flying… in a trash bag

sj2Yep… I’m not kidding. The fish comes flying back from inside the trash bag it was thrown away in. This is scary because how does a dead fish act alive? Is it a zombie dead fish? This fish has now become a bit more scary on top of its scientific freakishness.

Ultimately, the little details emphasize the weirdness that is going on. We are able to more completely appreciate the bizarreness of these fish-with- legs, especially compared to if we were only given a few seconds of screen time during a movie. What I conclude from this is that when it comes to making horror comics and manga, there is ample opportunity through small details to add the the atmosphere. When readers are given so much time to look at an image, it only makes sense to make them really reel from every image they see. In Gyo, every monster is very detailed and disgusting, and it is through this disgust that the author is trying to make me scared of his creation… that nothing going on is remotely natural.

My Horror Playlist

cg.pngBy: Colleen Gorgan

Noёl Carroll spends considerable effort defining exactly what makes horror in The Philosophy of Horror. Although focusing on literature, he argues all forms of art could be horror and thus avoids defining horror as requiring a narrative (Carroll 15). He cites other, non-written medias that are art horror, such as visual art and theater (Carroll 12). The painting Gina included on our syllabus, The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, is also horrific, even if it is not a written narrative. Music seemed a prime example of non-literary art horror, but Carroll neglects the obvious source.

The first horrific piece that came to mind was Franz Schubert’s lied “Erlkönig.” Looking back through my old musicology textbook, the piece was even paired with The Nightmare in a section on romanticism. This lied is easy to decipher as horror; as a ballad set to classical music, it narrates a terrifying journey of a young boy and his father. The boy tells his father over and over again that the Elf King is coming after him and his father only understands when he finds his son dead as they reach their destination (Kerman 221). The more I looked into “Erlkönig” the more the literary tradition Schubert was working within became clear. Franz Schubert’s adaption of the poem was only published three years before Frankenstein and was blooming out of the same concepts of romanticism. The ballad uses elements of horror recognizable to us as 21st century listeners: the use of a child as the first connection with the supernatural and the deployment of the fantastic in the father’s doubts of the existence of a supernatural entity until it is too late. The music itself uses driving, repetitive melodies that urges the listener, and the father and son, always toward the Elf King.

Opera also became a stage for horror in the romantic period. Some of the most popular operas of the era dealt with dark topics: von Weber’s The Magic Bullet contemplates the devil and Verdi’s Macbeth tells Shakespeare’s play through music. Other genres consider similar subjects. Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique dives into drug induced nightmares and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain ponders witches, a common theme in romantic era horror music. All of these pieces use, like “Erlkönig,” fast tempoed, repetitive rhythms. Those same musical principles are employed in horror music today in the musical themes we all know and love in The Exorcist and Halloween. Those romantic pieces with lyrics detail horrifying topics and even give voice to the monster, a practice seen in almost all of our pieces in class thus far. Nineteenth century romantic music saw the development of the musical elements that would transform into today’s horror.

Another musical tradition with lasting roots in today’s horror music is the organ. Last week I went to the original viewing of the 1925 Phantom of the Opera film with a live organ accompaniment. Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor is often used in performances of The Phantom. With driving runs and dissonant block chords, Toccata and Fugue became a definitive piece of horror music. The organ is the principal example of a horror instrument. Bach’s organ tradition would transform into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s broadway version of The Phantom of the Opera (an example of musical horror that was actually mentioned in Carroll). Webber’s is a modern, non-canonical example of horror music; its 1980’s synth guitar and rock drums might not be high art, but the lasting popularity of the musical speaks to the horror it captures through the music. Organ has the ability to combine the driving tempos seen in the romantic period with the inharmonious atmospheric sound that comes to define modern horror music. This atmospheric sound music is often defined by its use of “sound blocks:” complex, often dissonant, chords without rhythm or tempo. These sound blocks are heard and seen in Ligeti’s Atmosphères, known for its use in 2001: A Space Odyssey (with this video having visualizations of these sound blocks).

Although Carroll does no in depth look at music in The Philosophy of Horror, across genres and musical periods there are pieces that are truly definitive of art horror. The anxiously repetitive runs common in horror music makes listeners have a visceral reaction of a frantic heartbeat and the out-of-nowhere crescendos give listeners a jump. Romantic era music often worked directly with and from horror texts and even more commonly had a monster that would fit Carroll’s narrow definition. Even those pieces without a monster, like Atmosphères, works in a way like The Haunting of Hill House: creating a disturbing environment through horrific metonymy. Classical horror music employs the same elements of horror as horror literature and those elements are still apparent today in the horror music of cinema and beyond.


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.


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.

Who’s There

By: Dayna Plehn

“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”

— Fredric Brown, “Knock”


Sometimes, I hate my own brain. It distracts me and keeps me awake for the silliest of reasons – I can’t sleep for thinking about an action-packed book I just read, or while I’m trying to perform I suddenly am flooded with memories of every cringeworthy thing I’ve said in the past three years. My mind plagues me with nightmares, or when I stop paying attention, it has me overthinking every social interaction I had that day.

Fredric Brown’s short story “Knock” plays upon this effect marvelously. The above quote is just the first two lines of a longer work, which was inspired by this prompt from Thomas Bailey Aldrich:

Imagine all human beings swept off the face of the earth, excepting one man. Imagine this man in some vast city, Tripoli or Paris. Imagine him on the third or fourth day of his solitude sitting in a house and hearing a ring at the door-bell. (Aldrich)

Those first two sentences of “Knock,” however, are known across the internet as “the shortest horror story,” because they do indeed stand alone as a horror story by themselves. What makes this little “story” unsettling is not the detail that it provides, but rather the lack thereof. The story achieves horror by inference, simply providing us with a skeleton and leaving all of the actual horror up to our imaginations. In this way, it is tailored to suit each of its readers because whatever scares its audience most is what its audience will speculate first.

The story immediately sets a sinister tone by using aloneness as its setting, but saying nothing about it – when the fact that the man is the last one on earth simply begs for an explanation! Has humanity gone extinct? Or, arguably a bit less terrifying than total human annihilation, have only men disappeared from earth? Perhaps humanity has not died out, but everyone has simply left to go somewhere else – to another planet? Another dimension? And if they have left, or died, why is this one still here? Is he waiting to follow them, or was he forgotten? Perhaps he was deliberately left behind.

Aloneness itself also contributes to our discomfort because humans are social creatures that do not function well in prolonged isolation. The instinctive part of the human brain also knows that safety comes in numbers, and specifically in a horror context, aloneness implies that whatever might be out to hunt humans is hunting for you, because the other targets are fled or dead, and no one will be present to hear your cry for help.

The fact that the man is sitting in a room is also cause for question. He isn’t struggling, shouting, hiding, or even weeping. He is just sitting. He is passive. Is he waiting? What is he waiting for? We don’t know if what caused humanity’s disappearance is still out there, but if it is, he isn’t actively trying to fight it. He is essentially just a sitting duck; he is helpless. Perhaps he has given up – whatever horror he’s endured has broken him, and he believes it cannot be resisted.

Then, of course, there is the knock. If the man is waiting for something, is this it? If we sit and think about it a little harder, we might come to realize something: This is the last man on earth. To knock on doors is a human custom. Whatever is outside the door is intelligent – it is smart enough to understand human practices, or at least imitate them. Furthermore, this non-human intelligence is necessarily assumed to be related to the extinction event – in the worst case, it’s the cause of it. From a literary standpoint, a simple knock is also a remarkably effective way of giving us no information other than that something is there. If it had been a voice, it could have tone, words, accent, and other characteristics that might tell us something about the nature of its owner. As it is, we know nothing, and we never get to know anything. Does the man answer the door? If not, does the visitor enter anyway? In two sentences, the story has created a cliffhanger, and there it stops.

In short, our minds are scarier than anything else, because by their very reactive nature, they immediately jump to the conclusions we most dread. “Knock” elicits this response elegantly, because even to the mind inexperienced in horror, something is wrong. Something has happened to humanity, done to humanity. Something terrible, irresistible, and intelligent. And now it’s here for you.

Works Cited

Brown, Fredric. “Knock.” Thrilling Wonder Stories. Edited by Sam Merwin, Jr. December 1948. Standard Magazines, Inc. pp 180.

Aldrich, Thomas Bailey. “Ponkapog Papers.” 18 March 2006. Project Gutenberg.

A Blip in the Matrix

By: Courtney Cook

I have always had a fascination with things that are ‘other’, whether that be the psychology of serial killers, true-crime, conspiracy theories, or the existence (or lack-thereof) of auras, and so on. If it is peculiar in anyway, I am drawn to it, whatever “it” is. Despite my fascination, I absolutely have never wanted any of these things to melt over into my “real” life. I have anxiety, and there is a huge difference between thinking a ghost story is cool and living a ghost story. Lucky for me, I haven’t encountered a ghost, but I have encountered something that shook me in a way a ghost sighting would. From the bottom of my heart, I believe that my freshman year of college, I experienced what I’d like to call a “blip in the matrix.”

I lived in a quiet dorm at the University of Michigan, and had a kind RA who had helped me when I was struggling with my suitemate. She was above-average height with long brown hair that fell to almost her hips; she was easy to point out in a crowd. Though we weren’t close, each time I saw her we waved to one another or made small talk. In short, she wasn’t someone I would’ve been able to mistake for someone else.

One morning as I was leaving my room to go to a nearby dorm to get brunch, my RA asked if I wanted to join a dorm tie-dye party they were having outside. My dorm was providing free t-shirts and socks, and being the cheap college student I was (and am), I accepted her invitation. Brunch was open for another few hours, I wasn’t exceptionally hungry, and I was ready to make myself a super cool maize and blue swirled tie-dye shirt to flaunt around campus.

I followed her outside and sat on the grass alongside other members of my dorm while she and a few other RA’s worked to fill buckets full of water and dye for us to use. By the time they were done setting up, her hands were completely stained. She said something about wishing she’d worn gloves, but remarked that they wouldn’t have done much because the dye was splattered up to her elbows. We all laughed and pulled on the thin, flimsy plastic gloves provided and began to dip our shirts and socks into the buckets. The gloves weren’t cut out for the job, and as I worked to create my maize and blue masterpiece, my hands and forearms were just as covered as hers.

When I was done dying my shirt I thanked her and headed to my room. There was still a big group of kids waiting for their turn, and I was grateful I’d ran into her when the event was just beginning. I placed the shirt in my bathroom and tried to scrub the dye off my hands, but no matter how much soap I used or how hard I rubbed, it stayed put. I was hungry at this point so I decided to just head to the brunch.

As I walked to the dining hall I passed my RA and the group of kids she was assisting. I noticed her arms had only gotten more stained, and thought that if I thought the dye was hard to get off my arms, it was going to be impossible for her to get it off hers. Just as I was about to enter the dining hall, my RA walked out of the entrance. She was in a completely different outfit, no stains on her arms or sign that she’d been tie-dying, and she waved at me and said hello. I stopped in my tracks. There was absolutely no way that she could have gotten to the dining hall before me, no less changed clothes or gotten the dye off of her arms. I was so shocked, I couldn’t bring myself to wave back.

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 9.54.51 PM.pngI immediately texted my friend Chris, who is big into the spiritual world, and told him I thought that I “saw the worlds dimensions get fucked up or something.” I was so shaken, I could hardly eat. When I returned back to my dorm, I checked my on my shirt to make sure I hadn’t imagined it all. It was still sitting in a baggie on my bathroom floor, though the maize and blue colors I’d chosen had melded together into a fluorescent green.

I think about this instance often, and it makes me question the singularity of time, and sometimes it makes me question myself. I have no explanations for what happened that day, but I do know I have never chosen to wear that t-shirt. And it’s not just because of how the colors turned out.

Being Gay: A 19th Century Tale of Isolating Terror

domBy: Dominic Polsinelli

It’s a dark, rainy night; the previous evening I finished reading “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” for the fourth or fifth time. I decide to rifle through my dad’s collection of literature to find a new novel to start. After adamantly being denied Stephen King’s “Misery,” I land on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” a request my conservative parents can abide. I begin reading, thrust into an epistolary exposition detailing an exploring scientist wrought with loneliness in his passions and intellectual curiosity.

Fast forward almost 9 years later. I’m now an openly gay man, rereading “Frankenstein” for the third time, and this explorer’s mental isolation is essentially hitting me over the head with a baseball bat, an all-too-familiar sensation that crashes into the mind like a wave. When you’ve spent years in isolation, a fictional character’s own isolation is one of the most relatable horror tropes.

In a BuzzFeed article from late 2013, the writer argues that gay men tend to relate to monsters and villains in popular horror cinema due to the “otherness” associated with the genre. I certainly don’t disagree with his viewpoint—I vividly remember being strongly attracted to the horror aisle at Blockbuster as a kid myself, comforted by the perverseness of my attraction to the supernatural and gory. However, I think it’s also arguable that gay people, regardless of sexual or gender identity, can universally identify with the horror of isolation that protagonists (and even villains) in the genre often experience, especially when referencing classic 19th century horror literature.

Being raised in a conservative, Catholic household, my situation may be more extreme than other gay people brought up in more accepting communities. Religion, as I was raised to see it, tends to be one of the most terrifyingly isolating forces for the LGBT community. This heightened isolation is what makes being gay and growing up stuffed into a closet real-life horror stemming from intense mental claustrophobia, a theme often explored in horror.

Regarding the 19th century, themes of isolation were often applied in works of literature to both heroes and villains (and even characters in between) to create horror. Prominent examples include Jonathan Harker’s imprisonment at Castle Dracula, an experience that eventually drives him to a bout of madness; Frankenstein’s monster, whose abandonment and isolation pushes him down a path of evil; even the protagonist of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” desperately lonely and clearly quite mad in his conversation with the bird, yells out, “Leave my loneliness unbroken!” (61).

The literary horror of isolation directly mirrors that of queer isolation. The gay community has been physically attacked and ostracized throughout the course of history, just as Harker is eventually preyed upon by Dracula during and after his imprisonment. Frankenstein’s abandonment of his creation is similar to that of familial abandonment of a queer child. Poe’s protagonist seeks the solitude of isolation that gay people can find comfort in because of our natural otherness. These tales of terror from over a century ago (a time when being gay was exponentially more terrifying) directly relate to the modern horror of queer life

Don’t get me wrong. Being gay isn’t unbearably scary. Oftentimes as an adult it’s not even scary at all—except when a certain orange toned president somehow wins an election. But it’s also a fact that there is a very visceral fear and dread that comes with realizing as a child that you’re more alone in the world, less likely to get into heaven, and undesirably different from those around you due to a perceptively isolating mental state you can’t control. Yet, just as experiencing fictional horror for enjoyment has the merits of relief and intellectual growth as described in Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror, growing up with the scary isolation of queerness is something that has made me and countless others better members of our world.

Carroll, Noël. The Philosophy of Horror. Routledge, 1990.
Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Raven.” 1845.
Shelley, Mary, et al. Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Penguin Group, 1978.