As a child, I was mildly afraid of a lot of things—dark basements, mean dogs, the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys—so it’s always a bit difficult for me to think of one thing that scared me, or at least one thing that has a decent story behind it. Then I remember the time my mother and grandmother dragged me on a ghost tour in Gettysburg, PA when I was about ten years old.Continue reading “What Scares Us: Briana’s First Fright”
Tonight, I laughed at my imminent comp exam as I nestled in a couch corner and picked up a book of Edith Wharton’s ghost stories. Had I structured my exam differently, it’s quite possible these stories would have made the exam cut, but as it stands they’re only extra, unrelated reading that’s taking away from the time I’ve been devoting reading The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction (which, by the way, is incredibly interesting in and of itself, but a harder piece about which to write a post). My sister bought me Edith Wharton’s ghost stories last year for Christmas, but it’s taken me an entire year to write about one for my blog. This evening I sat down to a rather chilling tale called The Lady’s Maid’s Bell, and I decided I’d write a bit about it. According to the text’s introduction, this is Wharton’s most ambiguous ghost story, and after reading it, I think I can surmise why. Since it’s hard to write about a story in much detail without giving away the ending, this analysis will contain spoilers. If I were a better, or perhaps a more careful writer, I would be able to produce analysis without spoilers. But as it stands, I think I’ll have to say a fair deal about the story to analyze it.Continue reading ““The Lady’s Maid’s Bell”: An Overview”
Let me start by saying that the title of this piece isn’t really meant to be vituperative or condemning. In fact, the word “insidious” might be a little strong for the point I’m trying to make (but, hey, I liked the sound of the title, and it’s kind of my blog…so…there you go). I have made a critique of horror, before, on this blog, that the genre tends to be formulaic, that a truly original and artistic horror film, while possible (see The Witch, It Follows, etc.) is rare, and many horror films are startlingly similar. And this is true. But, far from continuing to condemn this tendency, in this post I’d like to celebrate the beauty of formula, when the director works well within a framework to create a really excellent film. In doing so, I guess I’ll sort of be suggesting that much of contemporary horror gets a bad rap from – not even, but especially – its most avid, enthusiastic followers, when it need not. A filmmaker can follow common horror tropes and eschew aiming for arthouse quality filmmaking without creating a bad film. I believe this because I’ve invested some time in watching really bad horror, and I avoid, for the most part, posting about it, because there’s no point in simply slandering someone else’s efforts on a blog when I have little if anything nice to say. So, today I praise Insidious. While it’s a movie that follows some typical horror conventions, it’s a really fantastic, scary, fun movie, and one that says a lot of interesting things about the ghost or the specter. Continue reading “An Insidious Slander: In Praise of Insidious”
In the beginning of Place: An Introduction, Tim Cresswell describes the significance of placing a specific art exhibit, one foregrounding Bollywood movies, in an elite Swedish town where only the 1% tend to visit, in part because it’s difficult to get there. Cresswell includes the following quote in his introduction: “ ‘It’s difficult to get to,’ Mr. Wakefield added, ‘but because of that, it also demands a different kind of attention. You discover the art through the place and the place through the art.’ The exhibition at Gstaad reflects a wider interest in how art and place interact on the part of both the artists and art theorists” (2). This got me thinking that it might be intriguing to examine The Shining not just from a few lenses but – perhaps – from the intersection of a few lenses: Space or place, as its conveyed in the film, the cultural space in which the film is produced, and the current cultural space in which I, the viewer, am watching the film. This move, I think, is necessarily spectral, or turns the art under examination into a specter that disrupts linear time, since I become sort of engaged in this spectral moment, where I’m looking at the art forward, backward, etc – and this is especially true of The Shining, which situates its primary space, The Overlook Hotel, as a place that’s both mad and spectral, that consistently – if not constantly – manifests itself as a presence in the spectral moment by embodying both the past and the present – and, to the contemporary viewer, the more recent past (1921, 1980, 2017, but arranged as 2017 encompassing a film that shifts back and forth between 1921 and 1980, that begins by emphasizing 1980 but ends by emphasizing 1921). As a “cautionary note,” I found, as I was watching, that it was challenging to thread the entirety of this analysis throughout my interpretation of the film, especially for a blog post, but that’s the general angle I’m coming from when I look at the film. (As a sidenote, I wonder the extent to which we could deduce that all art is “spectral” – or maybe that’s what I’m getting at, but that seems like a sweeping argument for a later time). Continue reading “The Shining: A Spacial and Temporal Examination of a Spectral Narrative”
True to the title of my piece, this is not a horror story. Although, what I see now that I didn’t see when things like this happened was just how much my friend and I wanted it to be a horror story, how much we enacted the things that we read in our Fear Street books and our horror movies, and made the world of horror come alive, if, simultaneously, to our delight and our chagrin. Again, this is not a horror story. This is a childhood memory – a childhood memory I share on an overcast day in early November, when my frenetic, two-and-a-half-month mania has dwindled and I’ve suddenly fallen into this shifting state that fluctuates between focused, positive energy and complete depression and self-loathing. This is not a horror story—at least, I hadn’t intended it to be so. But, maybe it will turn out that way as I keep writing. One never can predict the end of the story, after all—or, at least, I can’t—when one’s merely writing the beginning. Continue reading “The Blue Man – Or, This is Not a Horror Story”
A year ago on my blog, I began a series called “My First Fright” which sought to examine the things that scare us most when we’re children, to re-situate us in those moments when we first encountered feelings of fear. Upon consideration, it has occurred to me that a first fright, or a first confrontation with the feeling of fear, can be, and often is, much different than a first encounter with something – a story, experience, movie, and so forth – that may typically be considered part of the horror genre. While I may have experienced fear listening to the dreaded chipmunk song or watching Large Marge’s face contort during Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, those horrifying moments were far different than early moments I faced that constituted my first encounter with horror. And while I can’t decide, with certainty, what qualifies a work or a story for membership in the horror pantheon, and what my definitive first-horror moment is, I very much recall hearing the story of the formidable Bloody Mary, the violent mirror witch-ghost, for the first time. To that end, I’ll delight in re-living my first encounters with the Bloody Mary myth, and how she partially initiated me into the genre during my early years of childhood. Continue reading “Early Encounters, Part I: The Horror of Bloody Mary”
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?”
Michael and I have been talking lately about the phenomenon of hating. Of course, hate is prevalent in all sects of life, and more problematic in some sects than others. But when it comes to the arts, and films specifically, people love to hate. Witness the new female-driven Ghostbusters film: it’s brilliant and funny and original, but people get this weird high off slamming it on the internet. The same goes for the Star Wars prequels: any attempt to re-visit the highly successful plot of the first three films was certain to be met with some contempt, because our proclivity to love has an opposite proclivity to hate. And I think the same observation could be made with M. Night Shyamalan. Continue reading “Sensing Brilliance in the Sixth Sense”
Some time ago, I started a series called “Point Counterpoint.” In the first installment, Michael and his brother debated one another about the importance of grooming in a zombie apocalypse. The series then waned, as I had difficulty contriving another debatable issue and became interested in other things. Happily, however, “Point Counterpoint” has returned! In this installment, my boyfriend, Michael, of My Comic Relief, explains why he would love to be a ghostbuster and would be ideally suited for it. I then explore the ethics of ghostbusting and why I find the practice problematic. Lend us your thoughts in the comment section!
The title of this post comes from the Dave Matthews Band Song, “Two Step,” an old favorite I found on a dusty, battered but still half-working mixed CD I made in college over a decade ago. In the song, Dave sings “Celebrate we will, ‘cause life is short but sweet for certain.” Well, Dave, I agree with you, life is short, and (often, but not always) sweet, but I’m not celebrating because life is short and sweet. I’m celebrating because my little blog recently had her first birthday (yes, in case you didn’t know, Just Dread-full is a girl), and I’m gushing and bragging like any proud parent. Unlike the proud parent who thinks her baby is the best, I in no way contend that my blog is the best blog on the interweb (I’m not delusional, and there’s tons of good stuff out there) but it is a creation uniquely mine that I can share with anyone who’s remotely interested. If I’m Victor Frankenstein, this blog is my glistening, verbose, sometimes pedantic monster – only, it’s not going to skulk around my perimeter, threatening to kill me if I don’t create a mate for it (which I tried to do when I started another blog that I never post on, 1000 in a Decade).