I was driving from Indiana PA to Erie one night not a few weeks ago, my mind enmeshed in rapid succession of thoughts. It was dark outside, and I noticed little except for fleeting, flickering glimpses of surreal roadside images, ambiguous shadow outlines in the night, as my car coasted across 422, and then across 1-79, headed north. My CD player has been broken for months, so I was flipping through the channels, trying to settle on a song even vaguely satisfying, a melody that didn’t wink out into a barrage of static thirty seconds after I found it. Reliable radio stations are difficult to come by in some parts of Western Pennsylvania.
Occasionally, I stumble on an idea that really excites me. This would be a fortuitous occurrence to combat mid-day lethargy, but for better or worse, I’ve become perhaps irrevocably nocturnal. As such, it’s two in the morning, and re-reading sections of Paradise Lost for the upcoming candidacy exam has yielded a level of excitement about pondering the nature of evil – indeed, writing an essay completely committed to the topic of evil, which seems appropriate for a horror blog. And the excitement is difficult to contain. Really, I’m not exaggerating. I even thought maybe dissecting literary depictions of evil would be good fodder for a doctoral dissertation, which brought further almost uncomfortable fervor. So, I started pacing around frantically, then I decided to settle on the couch for a ten-minute meditation, to calm down and focus. I have learned, especially under the right circumstances, that I am a person who feels very strong emotions. In any case, the idea tonight is to harness those emotions into a writing product, one of my atypical miscellaneous essays for this blog, a piece of writing not tied to one particular work of art. Who knows – such meanderings may even help me shape the dissertation I need to start writing in about two years. As usual, then, I’m using whoever might be misguided enough to read my thoughts for my own academic purposes. To that end, thanks for your time. Continue reading “3 A.M. Thoughts on Evil”
With the mass-produced barrage of horror movies available to us – sometimes formulaic, sometimes cheaply made – it can be tempting for the jaded horror-goer to presume that nothing is truly scary anymore. I offer no new argument, after all, when I contend that in our increasingly sensationalized visual culture, we become (or at least risk becoming) desensitized to so many horrible things, immune to so much tragedy. It takes far more, at least from a visual standpoint, to scare us than it did sixty years ago (a fact that will be evident to anyone who compares The Haunting to an Eli Roth film). This may not be the case universally, but it’s a general rule. And still, scary movies are manufactured, and the passionate horror fan does encounter, every now and then, a film that is particularly, unexpectedly scary. Such was my experience with the film Sinister, released about two weeks before Halloween in 2012 (although I saw it much later ). Granted, Sinister is not as artistically scintillating as my two favorite horror movies of reference – The Shining and It Follows – but it’s still a well-made, incredibly unsettling film. When I told Michael I wanted to write a piece about it, he reassured me that he wouldn’t be upset if I re-watched it without him; one time was enough for him. So I sat down tonight, in my little Indiana apartment, with a focusing question in mind: What makes this film so scary? While I may discuss other things in the post below, I am particularly interested in exploring possible answers to this question. Continue reading “What Makes Sinister So Scary?”
While my horror-related haul wasn’t as sprawling this Christmas as it was last Christmas, I still received a few terrifying tokens in my stocking this year. Among them, Michael got me the 2005 movie The Strangers starring Liv Tyler. Michael is a considerable Liv Tyler fan but held off on seeing this particular movie for over a decade because it looked too scary. This gift was thus twofold: he bought me the DVD and, bonus, resolved to watch it with me, despite resisting this action repeatedly over the course of our two plus year relationship. While Michael was terrified throughout the whole film, my feathers remained surprisingly unruffled. I do find the film intriguing, however, for its exploration of senseless human malice.
It’s happened to all of us: we meet that person who’s inexplicably captivating. I admit, I’ve been enamored by people now and then after little more than a brief introduction. But, usually those people are charming, witty, sometimes attractive, seemingly kind, and so forth. Usually such people are not white-faced demons with flaming green hair and a pointed desire to “watch the world burn,” as they say in The Dark Knight. And yet, I know now it’s not impossible to be fascinated by just such a person. Much like psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel, who tragically transforms into Harley Quinn, the villainous Joker who sits opposite to the Batman captivates me, though, unlike Harley Quinn, I am (thankfully) not madly in love with him.
I waited in anticipation for The Witch. I don’t know what to liken the anticipation to, except to say that it must be a milder version of the excitement I felt for major holidays when I was younger. Maybe I was almost as excited to see The Witch as I was for the second half of season six of The Walking Dead to arrive. I mean, come on, a horror film that won “Best Director” at the Sundance film festival? How rare that someone manages to combine truly artistic, original filmmaking with the horror genre. And then there’s that trailer that appeared in the theaters and online, in which a girl is playing peek-a-boo with a baby, only to open her eyes and find that the baby has disappeared. Good film-making. Witches. Disappearing babies. What else could a self-avowed horror addict request? Continue reading “The Witch is Back”
I’ve heard the argument that there’s no need for horror movies because there’s enough horror in this world already. Perhaps, but perhaps not. What is horror? Bing’s search engine defines it as an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. Okay, that doesn’t really help. What is horror as a genre? To cheapen a genre I love, we could say that horror is fiction-stuff marketed to manufacture fear, shock, or disgust. But horror movies do this by departing from reality, by placing us in far-flung scenarios that aren’t emotionally troubling – at least not in the long run – because they’re so blatantly fictional. The horror we see in movies really has nothing at all to do with the horror we see in real life. There are very few witches, vampires, and monsters traipsing about North America, and while there are murderers, there aren’t many methodical, superhuman, Michael Meyers-esque serial killers like the ones we see in slasher movies. People will say that we’re an apathetic nation, desensitized by horror and violence. But often times, entertainment violence is grounded in pure fancy; it bears no semblance to the problematic, and often violent scenarios we find in the real world. If I were concerned with avoiding real world horror, I would be more likely to cut myself off from action movies or any movie involving any kind of war – whether it be The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games, or Saving Private Ryan. Continue reading “In Defense of Horror”