January 2010 Archives

The Root of the Problem: Why am I in love with Horror?

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Horror appeals to me because I love the adrenaline rush I feel when I know something bad is going to happen,  the suspense I feel when the characters are wading between life and death, and frankly I just love being scared (feeling my heart race, reading more fast paced, doing a double take in the room that I’m sitting in).  I have always enjoyed being able to think outside the norm and travel into a world that is different in my own;  studies in the supernatural and the occult have always been a hobby, and I actually found myself doing some paranormal research with the historical society a few years back. It was after my experiences within Nemocolin Castle (Brownsville, PA) that I became enthralled with  the workings of the mind and how each situation can have different effects on people (I’ve been dabbling in some abnormal psyche lately….can you tell).

Another factor that draws me to this genre is that I hate when things are sugar coated; luckily, they often aren’t in horror, seeing that the genre is known for its graphic freedom of expression whether it is in the dialogue, the character’s mind, the body, etc.; and while I hate to admit it (ha), I love the guts and the gore! Sometimes I think to myself, if I was not going to write that I would have been a horror makeup artist instead.

I write horror because I like to experiment with what most people are afraid to admit to themselves.  I like making them face their nightmares, and then see how they respond to it. To me, writing horror started out as a great way to explore depth in the English language, as well as a method to practicing my usage of imagery—from there it just seemed to have taken off.  It’s almost cathartic in a way for me, because I get to learn more about myself, by putting characters into difficult and frightening situations, and well as explore different avenues of what it means to live and what it means to die.  I guess what it comes down to is… I just really like to scare people. Total power trip, I know… but I take pleasure in what I do.

Hmm…If I had to pick one master of the genre, I’m going to have to go with Poe.  I have been in love with him since I’ve been little…reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” in sixth grade. To me, his plots are so intricately woven and done in such a very eerie and macabre way that I just have to admire him.  I find it rather difficult to write short stories, and it amazes me how much detail and emotion he gets into his without making his pieces into a novella, novel, etc.  Last year I went and saw several performances of Poe’s work, as well as listened to some poetry readings, and no matter how many times I heard his work, or read it on my own…it still sent shivers down my spine, or made me wince as I questioned  the element on sanity.  I think it is the fact that I form a different opinion each time I read his work that makes him stand out above the others for me.

**King, Ketchum, Lovecraft, Barker and all them guys are ok too though.
(haha, I would kill to write like them)

Humanity in Lovecraft's Pickman's Model

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Despite being a huge fan of the horror genre, I’ll admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Lovecraft.  A few semesters ago, I read his short story “At the Mountains of Madness” and frankly, the plot of six foot , blind, albino penguins terrorizing scientists just didn’t do it for me; so I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I saw him on the syllabus.  Nevertheless, I am happy to say that I loved “Pickman’s Model” and really found his writing style admirable compared to what I read in the past (I have a feeling that the fact that it dealt with art and its surrealistic qualities had something to do with it though!).

The first thing that I immediately questioned while reading the story was the mentality of the narrator. When you start off reassuring others that you’re not crazy and then later wonder how you came out of the situation sane at all…that tends to send a red flag up to readers.  Take Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart for example- “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily --how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”  Just because he/she witnessed everything and survived, and did so cautiously and intellectually…that clearly means he/she is sane…right?

I also liked that in the third paragraph of the story, that Lovecraft mentioned his fear of cellars.  Now normally, this is early foreshadowing for later in the story, but I felt that he consistently used this setting as a means of providing suspense throughout the entire piece.  In addition to his issues with the cellar, there is also several mentioning(s) of Pickman, himself, being inhuman; as if something or someone was working indirectly through his body and producing what our narrator saw.

 In fact, throughout the story, I found indications of Pickman’s un-humanlike behavior:

·         “Gad, I wouldn’t be alive if I’d ever seen what that man-if he was a man-saw!” - This quote implies that Pickman is witnessing something or having encounters with something supernatural, or demonic,  and that he is dealing with something that the human body itself would be incapable of conquering.

·         “He said Pickman repelled him more and more every day, and almost frightened him toward the last- that the fellow’s features and expression were slowly developing in a way he didn’t like; in a way that wasn’t human.” - After reading the story in its entirety, I have to wonder if the more time that Pickman spent with these creatures, if he was starting to turn into one himself.

·         “…you know Pickman comes from of old Salem stock, and had a witch ancestor hanged in 1692.” - While this doesn’t directly confront him being inhuman, it does provide an interesting thought as to why his ancestry would be mentioned if it wasn’t being used to further add to the feeling of him being something more than normal.  Does with/warlock blood run within his veins?  Is the calling of the supernatural already bestowed within in?  Can he connect with these creatures based on something that happened to his family is the past?

·         “…the ghosts of beings highly organized enough to have looked on hell and known the meaning of what they saw.” - Why can he look at and create these images and remain sane while any other is shaken to the point of nightmares?

·         “In the first place, I said to myself that these things repelled because of the utter inhumanity and callous cruelty they showed in Pickman.”

·         “The monster was there-it glared and gnawed and gnawed and glared-and I knew that only a suspension of Nature’s laws could ever let a man paint a thing like that without a model-without some glimpse of the nether world which no mortal unsold to the Fiend has ever had.” -After reading this, I thought of Dr. Faustus, the character who made a deal with the devil  in order for infinite knowledge and power; it seems that our narrator is accusing Pickman of making a deal with the devil in order to paint these ghastly images, so therefore by selling his soul, he loses his humanity.

·         “He wasn’t strictly human.  Either he was born in strange shadow, or he’d found a way to unlock the forbidden gate.  It’s all the same now, for he’s gone- back into the fabulous darkness he loved to haunt.” - This one is pretty straightforward, even though it is only our narrator’s opinion of who this man was/is and what he witnessed.

It is also mentioned several times that Pickman chooses to do his work in the dark, and that his studio is in the cellar with boarded up windows etc.  This seemed kind of seemed like a stereotypical parallel to a vampire reference, especially after the comment was made earlier in the story when Pickman stated,” I wish someone had laid a spell on him or sucked his blood in the night.”


Fuseli’s The Nightmare - “That’s because only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible of the physiology of fear- the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts of hereditary memories of fright, and the proper color contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness. I don’t have to tell you why Fuseli really brings a shiver while a cheap ghost-story frontispiece merely makes us laugh.” -Lovecraft, Pickman’s Model


Goya’s Saturn Devouring one of his Children- “Ugh! I can see them now! Their occupations-well, don’t ask me to be too precise.  They were usually feeding-I won’t say on what.” Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model


Piranesi- one of his drawings from his series The Imaginary Prisons : “The backgrounds were mostly old Churchyards, deep woods, cliffs by the sea, brick tunnels, ancient paneled rooms, or simple vaults of masonry.  Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, which could not be many blocks away from this very house, was a favorite scene.” - Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model


One of Goya’s paintings in his Black Paintings Series- “These figures were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree.  Most of the bodies, while roughly bipedal, had a forward slumping, and a vaguely canine cast.  The texture of the majority was a kind of unpleasant rubberiness.” Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model

The Madness of Art: A Look into Genres and Labels

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“We work in the dark-we do what we can-we give what we have.  Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task.  The rest is the madness of art.”- On Writing Horror, edited by Mort Castle

While this section of reading was relatively short, I found myself very interested in what it had to say.  It raised a lot of intriguing questions, and touched upon subjects that I, myself, have been wrestling with over the years.  Being a undergraduate student at Seton Hill, I find that I am growing more and more interested in the psychology of writing and art, and how one falls into a certain genre while finding  out exactly what is expected of you within it (seeing that I am a double major in both English Literature and Art History); when the nature of writing was put up against surrealist art, I felt immediately at home, but also somewhat puzzled.  Castle questions “What are the “Gothic,” the “grotesque,” “horror”- as literary genres (4),” and I found myself thinking, how does one fall into one of these categories and get labeled as such within their technique?  Can one not write a mixture of both? Then, when surrealism was brought up, I really started to question the sub-genres of the horror world, because even the artists mentioned were thrown into different categories.  Take Miro and Dali for instance; Miro was strictly biomorphic and autonomism, whereas Dali was virturistic, but at the same time, they each carried out similar techniques that were seen in each other’s work.  So I’m guessing my question in this, is how a label is bestowed upon someone, and what happens when it is.  If someone read my writing and felt that I leaned more towards the gothic side of literature, does that mean readers are going to expect to see some aspect of that style in all of my writings?  Does that mean that the publishing world is going to constantly expect the melodramatic gothic language in further works? 

As I mentioned, I am also fascinated in art, so I looked up some of the images that Castle mentioned within this chapter, and tried to think of whether I would classify them as gothic, grotesque, etc.  And when I tried to think about it from a literary point of view, I found it quite interesting, and rather difficult.  I also wondered if the artists themselves would be insulted by my judgment or nod approvingly to the label that I gave them.  I would love to hear what others think about this—can you simply throw each painting into a genre…or is it more complicated than that?  What do you think the artist would feel about your interpretation? 


Magritte's The Rape (surrealism)


Munch's Weeping Nude (Is this surrealism? Looks more impressionistic and fauvistic to me?  So how and why did they label him as this?)


Egon Schiele, Self Portrait

Once again, does this look like the surrealism of Dali and Miro?  Does it employ the dreamlike fantasies, or show us the biomorphic form?  So why is it surrealism, if this is how he viewed himself- as a gothic skeleton.  Wouldn't it be realism then? What do you think?

Jennifer's body...is all about Jennifer's body.

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When one thinks about the female characters in a horror movie, there seems to be two main types:  the butt kicking protagonist that never gives up and ultimately defeats (or so we think) the monster, and the slut that is the first to go. In Jennifer's Body,  those rules don't seem to really apply; in fact, none of the elements of horror do. It's all literally about Jennifer's body in this film. Now we all know Megan Fox is gorgeous, but is it necessary to make a movie that simply focuses just on that? I hate to say it, but when I first watched this film, I thought that there was a real movie out there somewhere, and that I was just watching the spoof.

The plot revolved around a virgin sacrifice gone wrong, and when Jennifer realized that she managed to survive, she had to kill people to survive.  To me, that's just about as vague of a plot as humanly possible.  She honestly had no method of revenge, and didn't even attempt to go after the people that wronged her in the beginning.  Then, what really confused me, was that the more people she killed...the prettier she would get...but even though she was in a school full of people, she hardly ever ate. With that said, I'm not sure I would even consider this a horror movie.  I mean, when she bit people, her mouth got bigger and she spewed black stuff every once in a while, but even her victims weren't scared of her.  They were more interested in seeing her body...some even still talked while she killed them as if nothing was going on.  Throw in some awkward teenage lingo, that puts some of Juno's phrases to the test, and we have yet another disappointing horror flick.

--The scariest part was when a deer was licking out a bloody carcass, and that was more of a gross out factor.

The only redeeming quality in this movie was the character of Needy Lesnicky (played by Amanda Seyfired).  Her character added some humor to the movie, but also stuck to the role of the butt kicking protagonist.  For instance, the movie opened in on her being in jail, going over her file that labeled her as a kicker.  In the end, the movie comes full circle, and we learned how she got there, as well as what her plans are for revenge, since she actually plans on getting some. But throughout the movie, she is the only character that seems somewhat dedicated to making a plot, as well as being the only one that seems freaked out by everything that is going on in town.  While she is weird, and kind of unpopular, she since stands out...and does so more than Megan Fox in my opinion.

I would give this movie a 4 overall.


"Jumby wants to be born now." - The Unborn

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These past couple weeks, I have been trying to rent some popular horror movies that I haven't seen yet and I ended up getting: The Unborn, Jennifer's Body, and The Orphan.  Let's just say that with these movies I witnessed it all...from pretty decent, to bad, to just plain horrible.

The Unborn:  For those of you that haven't seen this movie, don't be thrown by the movie trailer for it.  When I first saw it, I thought it was about the girl's unborn brother that was coming after her-- you know the whole only one of us can live thing.  But to be honest, this movie really didn't have anything to do with that, except for the fact that the movie concluded with it???  It turns out, the plot actually begins back in the Holocaust were the Nazi's were experimenting on twins--primarily their eye color.  Well long story short, they ended up killing one of the twins, only for his body to become inhabited by a dibook (sp?), a creature of Jewish mysticism that is neither human nor ghost. 

The story's protagonist, Casey, played by Odette Yustman, finds out that she is a twin (due to a color defect in her eye) as well as that it was her cord that killed him in the womb.  Her mother committed suicide when she was younger, and the emotional effects of everything that is happening around her seems to be building up around her.  Through some research into her family history, a visit to the hospital where her mother died, and a meeting with a rabbi, Casey slowing begins to unravel her dark past as she fights forces of the unknown by means of possession and exorcism.  Sounds like one of your basic plots for a horror movie...right?? We'll here is what made me personally hate this movie.

First off...the movie is full of your basic cliches: faces in the mirror, lights going out at the worst possible moment, the exorcism goes wrong and turns one of the priestly figures into a possessed demon...you know the usual (haha).  But to make matters worse....the movie starts out with her finding a fetus in a glass jar in the woods, and then leads up to her seeing this creepy child (her great uncle), staring at her from the road.  She brushes it off and goes to babysit, and finds one of the kids holding a mirror to his baby brother screaming "Jumby wants to be born."  Well as I mentioned, we later find out that Jumby is her dead twin brother....but the movie has nothing to do with him??  All throughout the movie, kids, and teachers, and signs keep appearing that "Jumby want's to be born"  but the movie is about her escaping the dibook that he haunting her for her body?  True, she gets pregnant at the end of the story... but that is ever unclear.  To me, it makes sense that the dibook would try to come back after her children (similar with that happened to her mother), but then they do that weird Jumby thing again, so I have to wonder if they meant her to get pregnant with her brother now??  Very weird.

I didn't find the movie scary at all, and frankly it was pretty bad.  I feel like the writer had a really good idea in his head for a movie, but wanted to almost put two movies into one, which clearly didn't work.  The cliches made the "chill factor" or the "jumpy parts" easy to feel coming, so there wasn't really a freak out factor to the movie in my opinion. Although I will admit that they made the child (great uncle) a pretty creepy specimen!  If I had to rate it, I think I would give it a 4.


"Welcome back to humanity. Now you get to die." -- Daybreakers

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What's up horror fans!  It's been a while since I've been on here, but I've been brainstorming a lot over break and have some pretty cool topics I want to talk about on here.  First off, as one can see from the title, I went and saw Daybreakers yesterday, and it was a pretty decent vampire film.  I was glad to get away from all the twilight hype and see some throat biting, blood guzzling action again!  I really liked the whole idea/plot for the film: in 2019 an outbreak occurs and people begin turning into vampires, while some resist the change.  The doctors are trying to work on finding a blood substitute since there is a huge blood shortage going around and the humans that they are farming are only going to give enough blood to satisfy the population for the next month or so.

Christian Bale does a great job at being the protagonist in my eyes, as well as playing devil's advocate (being the one vampire that refuses to drink human blood).  I don't want to give away the plot or anything since it's still a fresh movie in theaters, but I would give it a go if you're looking for a good monster flick to fill the void after the sparkling vampire trauma of twilight.  I think the ending could have been a little better if the movie would have went on for about 10  minutes longer....but it worked.  I would give it a 7 on the scale for a sci-fi vamp movie-- great conflict, interesting characters, ironic twists, and creep out factors.  If you don't like blood, don't see it. But come on guys.... what would a vampire movie be without all the blood?!

I will admit to there being another breed of vampire in this film, and it brings back the chill that vampires are suppose to give us as we watch them attack others and themselves for blood to sustain themselves.  The only problem is that when you drink your own blood, the mutations start..

Happy haunts.