One thing I love about studying monsters is that stories have quite literally always contained them. There is arguably something universal, or near-universal, about imagining these unique, often antagonistic beings and situating them among their non-monstrous counterparts. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, is the first story we know of that was written down instead of transmitted orally. Etched first in a language called Akkadian (and then in other languages), on stones that have become faded and smooth so that some parts of the story are now indecipherable, the tale of Gilgamesh (technically a poem) tells us about a warrior, Gilgamesh, and the difficulty he experiences when losing his friend Enkidu and facing the reality of his own mortality – a difficulty that at some point in our lives, we’ve probably all been able to understand. After all, the thought of dying is scary.
On Gilgamesh’s initial journey with his bestie, Enkidu, one of his goals is to slay the forest monster Humbaba – a task that is framed in different lights, depending on which version of the story you read. I find it fascinating that both the monster and the monster hunter exist in the world’s earliest written story, and this complicated binary persists through the ages, up to both early and contemporary horror films. It is interesting, I think, to consider what we can learn from monsters, monster hunters, and the relationship between the two beings. Various monster theorists take up the subject of the monster and the monster hunter, but the topic is not central to most Monster Theory. To be honest, it’s not a relationship that’s proven central to my work so far – part of the reason why I want to give it some attention tonight. I argue in this piece that the role between the monster and the monster hunter is rarely simple, and that we have much to learn from their relationship, and how it transforms through space and time.
Well, like I said in my last post, yesterday, Michael and I started watching Netflix’s “Evil Genius” series about the bizarre pizza bomber case in Erie, PA. And, riveted as we were to the story, Michael and I finished the series already. In my last post, I predicted that Marjorie-Diehl Armstrong would be humanized by the documentary during the second half. And while the documentary interviews people who saw a human side of Marjorie in the courtroom of her trial, I would argue that the documentary, itself, didn’t do much to humanize her. In fact, I think the interview clips that were pieced together did a lot to suggest that Diehl-Armstrong was innately bad, and that maybe she’d always had at least a strong proclivity to be that way. This really interests me, because it flies in the face of what I think I know about human beings, and the existence of evil in the world. It’s also just a dangerous road to travel down: what can we do to someone when we label them “evil from birth?” These are some questions this post will consider. Continue reading ““Baby I was Born That Way”: Depicting Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong in “Evil Genius” as Bad-Since-Birth.”→
Whoa. I’m writing for my blog. Gasp. What a strange phenomenon this is—something I haven’t had time to do for months. I almost forget how. How do I start? What do I say? Gahhhh!!! The pressure weighs on me so. (Searching brain for an apt metaphor to describe this feeling – coming up with nothing). This blog-writing business is, indeed, a weird sensation, after such a long hiatus. It is, loosely stated, my summer vacation, and so I have time to write again. But having not written recreationally in quite some time, the task seems a little daunting. Of course, I write papers all the time, but blog-writing is a different beast, all together. Still, like I said, it’s my sorta-summer vacation (I still have lots to do) and Michael and I sat down earlier today to watch the first two episodes of Evil Genius. The show got me to thinking… … …so I decided to take a break after the first two episodes to write about it. Continue reading “How We Construct the Monster: Thoughts on Evil Genius, Parts One and Two”→
In a rare turn of events, I got off work early today (woo-hoo!) and had to decide how to occupy my time. I was thinking about a post I could write without re-reading anything, or re-watching anything – so I could just start writing for the sake of writing, and get a post up today before my plans tonight. And it occurred to me that while I’ve talked about evil a lot on this blog, there is a rich pantheon of evil horror characters I’ve never discussed.
One thing is for certain: not all villains are made alike, and not all behave similarly. I thought about this when considering the difference, in Star Wars, between a Vader and a Palpatine. Vader becomes pure evil, but he becomes evil because he falls; the prequels tell us that he was once the promising Jedi, Annakin Skywalker. And ultimately, Vader is redeemed. Palpatine, on the other hand, is more or less bad to the bone, as the cliché song goes. So I started thinking about all the evil horror characters who are insane, who are sympathetic, who have at least strands of humanity that sometimes surmount the darkness and show themselves a bit. And then, I thought of the horror characters that don’t have any of that – no really human tendencies, no back story, few redeeming qualities. For the purposes of this post, these are the characters I’ll label “truly evil,” and I’ve chosen five of them. I couldn’t put these five characters in order, because they’re all pretty damn malicious, but here’s the list, nonetheless, with my explanation: My five favorite truly evil horror characters: Continue reading “Evil is as Evil Does: Five of Horror’s Vilest Villains”→
Okay, so in the chaos of finishing final papers and working at my jobs, I ended up not writing 1,700 words a day for my imminent novel. I will admit, being busy (which I was) became mixed with both some discomfort at how personal and emotional my writing was getting, how uncomfortable I was with other elements of the text that were unfolding, and how unsure I was (am) that I could ever add any sort of structure or plot twist that would make the strange storyline that’s unfolding, in my eyes, a viable novel, or novel-like production. I am not dropping my “Post Nano-wrimo” project, but I took a very Un-Nano-wrimo-like break and will probably return to the original project in a couple of days. The reason I write today is because I finally saw The Last Jedi and, as someone who contemplates the villainy of villains, the inherent evil-ness of characters and how we regard the bad guy, how we treat the monster, so-called, I found myself (as I was to a lesser degree in The Force Awakens) incredibly drawn to Kylo Ren. And that’s all I’ll say in the first paragraph, before I add more details about the film. I think it goes without saying that if you still haven’t seen The Last Jedi and you’re averse to spoilers, DON’T READ THIS. It will probably be necessary to reveal spoilers while delving into an analysis of Kylo. But I want to talk, I think, about reading Kylo as a monster –or not—and what that does to our conception of the monster. Continue reading “Contemplating Kylo Ren”→
It’s one of those nights where falling asleep to the usual evening playlist and temporarily entering oblivion sounds delightful, but since that particular pleasure does not appear, for me, to be in the cards right now, I thought I’d extend this mini-series on witchiness and continue to ask the question I raised a couple posts ago: What is “The Witch?” You see, I’ve done some film-watching and some reading lately, and I have an eclectic barrage of notes scribbled on the cardboard backings of notebooks and in the inside covers of novels, and if I really wanted to, I could probably sit here and practice my use of complex theoretical terms to hash out some ideas that might be ridiculous but might also be interesting. As I was watching Black Sunday after all – which I’ll probably write about at some point – I wrote down a lot of fancy words and ideas that I thought would be fun to share in a blog post. I like, sometimes, to be unapologetically verbose and excessive when I write, even though, stylistically, doing so defies contemporary conventions. But I think one always runs the risk of saying much while saying nothing at all – saying nothing really at least – and I wanted to address that possibility tonight. Because as a woman, as a feminist, I have a special sort of relationship to “the witch,” as she’s been conceived, and made manifest through brutal, torturous punishment, across space and time. And despite having scribbled a lot of thoughts that felt really insightful to me when I was writing them down, it occurred to me that perhaps, to a considerable degree, in contemplating the witch, I still don’t really understand her. Why does this figure exist? How do we reconcile contemporary horror movies with the needless decimation of subversive women and young girls in witch trials hundreds of years ago? Why am I so drawn to this character? And, most importantly, regardless of what I think I know, what don’t I know? These questions are the ones that interest me tonight. Continue reading “Who Is the Witch (Part Two): I Don’t Know, I Don’t Know”→
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 Hauntingto 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 Shiningand 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.