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.
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?”
On the rare occasion that I write about a novel – especially a classic novel – on this horror site, I balk at the prospect. Reviewing a movie – even analyzing some of its salient components – is fairly easy, but how does one “review” a classic work of literature? To what extent am I just writing a paper? Who am I to say whether Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a great piece of literature? Haven’t preceding generations already decided that? And what in God’s name am I going to say about this novel that is original? Such hesitant speculation deterred me from writing for about a day after I finished the text, but since I haven’t written for my beloved website for over a month, and since I just read frickin’ Frankenstein, it was hard to justify my lassitude on a permanent basis.
One year, at the suggestion of another teacher, I required my Advanced Placement Literature students to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Hamilton was a serious scholar who compiled myths from varied sources and combined them into relatively easy to read, concise packages that, lined up one after another, formed a fat, enticing book. I was so compelled, as a 25-year-old, by the magical stories in her text, that I’d sit in my bedroom all night, reading, underlining, and scribbling notes in the book’s margins. I’d set the book down every so often and take manic walks in my pajama pants around Montrose, an artsy neighborhood in Houston, Texas, while listening to Joan Baez on my IPod and letting my mind roam. My decision to walk around downtown Houston at night was not a product of common sense or concern for safety, but I suppose none of the horror movie’s I’d watched up to that point properly indoctrinated me with a rational fear of the dark, or of other people. (I was watching The Ring on repeat then, so I likely thought that it was more dangerous to sit in front of the television – lest an evil little girl crawl out – than it was to walk outside.) Then, I’d hurry back in the house, run to my bedroom with its deep, maroon walls and black and brown bookshelves from Target, and re-enter the world of myth. Continue reading ““What a Lovely Throat!” – Getting Nosferatu’s Ultimate Hickey”
In his essay, “Why We Crave Horror,” Stephen King posits that we’re drawn to horror movies because they make us feel normal, essentially. When we compare ourselves to the debauchery of horror movies, we don’t feel so frighteningly different from others. We are not evil spirits or sociopathic serial killers, so we’re doing okay, and we’re not very unlike those around us. King’s theory makes sense; nobody wants to be the victim of “terminal uniqueness” – the state of feeling inherently and vastly different from others. But I think the theory is simplistic; it doesn’t fully embrace the multi-dimensional intrigue of the horror genre. The theory seems to imply that horror fans see themselves as quirky outcasts who crave the feeling of being like others. This is probably partially true. I’m a little strange, and there have been times in my life where I’ve felt both strange and estranged. But I think such a theory – without any supplementary reasoning – lends itself to a sort of “hasty generalization” of horror fans. It assumes that, first, all fans of the genre feel “less than normal,” and second, that they all desire a feeling of normalcy. I think King’s theory explains part of horror’s appeal, but it leaves room for further analysis. Continue reading “The Appeal of Horror”
So far this blog – dedicated to all that is slightly to majorly terrifying – has focused on contemporary T.V. shows and movies. But I have a broader objective. I want to explore all facets of horror in its myriad manifestations. I was browsing Barnes and Noble one idle Friday evening, seeking good horror between two covers. Michael, my significant other – who has an uncanny knack for sniffing out quality reads – found a decorative, hard-cover, 800 page Barnes and Noble collector’s edition entitled Classic Horror Stories, with a red ribbon bookmark and gold-trimmed pages, on the bargain shelf for $20. The book contains a lot of greats – Poe, unsurprisingly, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Ambrose Bierce – but I thought I’d sample a lesser-known author, so I flipped to Algernon Blackwood’s telling of “The Wendigo.” Because Blackwood lived from 1869-1951, I estimate that it was written at the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century. Though “The Wendigo” doesn’t float in the realm of “absolutely terrifying,” this relatively brief 40-page story is sufficiently creepy, with an undercurrent of dread pervading its well-established mood. Continue reading “Go for the Wendigo: What’s Appealing About this Classic Horror Story”