Dalek and Us: Grey Areas, Otherization, and Monstrosity

Not all monsters are evil, to be sure. But we often assume they are. My dissertation, and thus my primary work of scholarship right now, focuses on monstrosity, but monstrosity and evil often correlate in pop culture representations.  Shortly after I started my blog, when I was a neophyte blogger and had not yet entered a PhD program, I had a profound interest in cultural manifestations of evil: who do we call evil, who gets to make that decision, what are the consequences of the word “evil,” and how do we navigate the fine line between excusing evil and seeking to understand it? Nurse Jude, played by Jessica Lange, says with her usual self-assurance in Season Two of American Horror Story, “All monsters are human.”  At the same time, writer Stephen T. Asma, in his book On Monsters, highlights the precarious nature of assuming a correlation between monstrosity and innate evil with his concept of “accidental monstrosity,” a phrase he uses to describe those who, after a slip and a slide in the wrong direction, become monsters without meaning to.  Monstrosity and evil, in any case, have one thing in common: both are massive umbrella terms that encompass multiple gradations and examples within their denotations. 

Continue reading “Dalek and Us: Grey Areas, Otherization, and Monstrosity”
Dalek and Us: Grey Areas, Otherization, and Monstrosity

Norma Bates: Fiction’s Fearless Females

One thing worth noting about the horror genre is that it produces images that resist quick mental erasure.  From the statuesque model who turns into a decrepit, decaying old woman in the infamous shower scene of The Shining to the bloody womb hanging limply outside the skin of Nola Carveth in The Brood, horror does nothing if not supply us with grotesque images of often monstrous women.  Psycho’s Norma Bates, then, is no exception.  In Hitchcock’s original film, Psycho, we see Norma not as a mommy so much as a stereotypical mummy; all that is left of her is a skeletal, eyeless frame and some tousled hair pulled back in a bun. We hear her character, and therefore understand her character, only through Marion Crane’s ears as the delusional Norman voices her from afar in the antiquated Victorian house on the hill outside Bates Motel.  But Norma is a famous mummy, and a famous mommy, to be sure, one who lingers in the mind of the viewer long after the theater lights go on, and one who has lingered in the cultural imagination now for sixty-one years and counting.  Significantly, Norma Bates didn’t get to speak for herself until 2013, when the hit TV show Bates Motel rescued and re-invented her character through Vera Farmiga’s portrayal of her as Norman’s mildly cooky but vivacious and loving mom.  As a woman who navigates an excruciating past, a corrupt, drug-infested city, and a psychotic son with surprising sangfroid, Norma Bates in Bates Motel is who I choose to feature this year for the annual Fiction’s Fearless Females blogathon. 

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Norma Bates: Fiction’s Fearless Females

What is Beetlejuice without Beetlejuice?: Thoughts on Death, Patriarchy, and Capitalism.

Beetlejuice One

I live diagonally across the street from a cemetery. On my more or less daily quarantine walks (note: I started writing this piece in mid-March 2020) I circle the suburb across the street from me, and I consider, often, walking into that sprawling, silent space of the graveyard, navigating the maze of granite and marble while I both recognize the (ephemeral, fleeting) moment and admit, to myself, that a headstone that will stand in for all the components of my life is my irrevocable fate.  I’ve dreamt about graveyards multiple times; in my dreams they represent the bleak and macabre, but also the unavoidable.  As a child I used to bemoan not just my inevitable death but eternity; the prospect of endlessness was too frightening to fully accept.  I believe, now, that time is a construct that makes life more comprehensible to finite beings; to that end, eternity is less the condemnation of disastrous endlessness and more a contrived concept that we use to try to understand the workings of a universal consciousness that is always beyond our complete grasp.  Of course, I hadn’t considered all that around age seven or eight, when my mind was reeling with a problem that resisted a solution: an eternity of anything sounded awful, but there was no alternative to eternity.  Even if humanity disappeared (a terrifying thought), time would still go on – and there was at least some possibility, I reasoned, that my soul would have to experience eternal time.  If not, eternal nothingness sounded even scarier.

Continue reading “What is Beetlejuice without Beetlejuice?: Thoughts on Death, Patriarchy, and Capitalism.”

What is Beetlejuice without Beetlejuice?: Thoughts on Death, Patriarchy, and Capitalism.

My First Viewing of Freaks (1932)

Freaks Three
Cleo faux-flirting with Hans in Freaks

Before I started studying horror as a path toward getting a doctorate, I’d never heard of Tod Browning’s Freaks.  In fact, I’d only vaguely heard of Tod Browning.  I’d seen his 1931 rendition of Dracula, featuring Bela Lugosi, one fall night quite a few years ago, when Tinseltown was doing a double feature of Browning’s Dracula, followed by the far superior Spanish version of the film shot the same year (on the same set, but at night, with a different director).  I suppose back then I thought of myself as a bit of a horror connoisseur, but perhaps I was basking in my own ego – and that ego was eclipsing all my knowledge of what I didn’t know.  Because what I’ve learned since I started reading about horror is that Tod Browning is considered a central auteur in the horror field.  In terms of horror cinema, he’s easily one of the genre’s founders, and with good (varying) reasons. Continue reading “My First Viewing of Freaks (1932)”

My First Viewing of Freaks (1932)

Re-Watching The Haunting of Hill House: Episodes One and Two

Haunting of Hill House One
A shot of the siblings, The Haunting of Hill House

Note:  Though this post was generated from a re-viewing of episodes one and two of The Haunting of Hill House, the analysis entails a broader knowledge of the show’s trajectory.  So, if you still haven’t seen this excellent show and don’t want spoilers, it might be beneficial to avoid reading this piece until you’ve watched the show! Continue reading “Re-Watching The Haunting of Hill House: Episodes One and Two”

Re-Watching The Haunting of Hill House: Episodes One and Two

Dani from Midsommar — Fiction’s Fearless Females

Dani Midsommar 5
Dani and her emotionally distant boyfriend, Christian

Warning: Because of the film I’ve decided to talk about, the following subject matter will be unavoidably uncomfortable and dismal. Second Warning: If you’ve not yet seen Midsommar and you want to see it, well, first of all, get to it 🙂 (it’s free on Amazon Prime), and second, you may encounter some spoilers. Okay, you’ve been warned, onward: Continue reading “Dani from Midsommar — Fiction’s Fearless Females”

Dani from Midsommar — Fiction’s Fearless Females

Partying with Ma on a Sunny Summer Saturday

Photo Credit – Ma

Michael and I were just sitting around on a slow Saturday afternoon, without much on the agenda.  While horror movies tend to be night-time fare for us, the feeling of an afternoon movie on a warm June day just sort of says summer vacation (present summer vacation for me, imminent summer vacation for Michael), so we decided on a 12:10 showing of Ma.  My excitement about the film was considerable, but my trepidation about the film regarded the possibility that all of the really shocking, provocative elements of the film may have already been showcased in the trailer – I thought.  I was prepared – similar to the situation I experienced with Brightburn –to see a film that didn’t offer much beyond the preview attractions.  And while it is true – we get a glimpse of a lot of gore before the movie – there’s so much more to the film than the previews indicate, and Octavia Spencer captures a complex, layered, troubled character with unquestionable perfection.  It’s hard to call Ma the best horror movie of the spring, with gems like Us and Pet Sematary gracing the screen, but it can certainly compete.  As a heads-up, I have all but given up on writing spoiler-free reviews, so my apologies, but spoilers will abound in this piece.

Continue reading “Partying with Ma on a Sunny Summer Saturday”
Partying with Ma on a Sunny Summer Saturday

Feel the (Bright)Burn: Strengths and Shortcomings of the Inverted Superman Mythos

Photo Credit — Brightburn

Well, the long-awaited evening arrived.  I’d been looking forward to Brightburn with at least tenuously high expectations since Michael told me about the premise oh-so-many-months ago.  The film’s situation sounded fascinating – an inversion of the Superman mythos, in which Superman is embodied in an evil 12-year-old child – and the previews looked plenty scary.  Couple that with the fact that I really like Elizabeth Banks – and she’s one of the main forces behind Shrill, a show I’ve been singing the praises of a la twitter for months – and this was definitely a film I had to see when it came out.  “How about we see it Saturday” Michael suggested sweetly.  I replied, “I’m going on Thursday night when I get off work, whether you go with me or not.”  So, I’m not quite sure if I would have put my money where my mouth was – I don’t go to the movies alone much, and I hadn’t asked anyone else along – but luckily, Michael capitulated, and after a quick four hour shift at Torrid, I met him at the coffee shop across the street and we zipped to Tinseltown, where we were two of six people in the theater to see one of the first screenings of Brightburn.

Continue reading “Feel the (Bright)Burn: Strengths and Shortcomings of the Inverted Superman Mythos”
Feel the (Bright)Burn: Strengths and Shortcomings of the Inverted Superman Mythos

A Macabre Mother’s Day for a Macabre Horror Mother: Contemplating the Woman in Black

Photo Credit — The Woman in Black

It is just a screen.  I tell myself.  Nothing but some actors playing out a ghost story on the screen.  You’ll be 35 years old in a couple months—you can do this.  My self-assurance slowly lapses into condescension as I secretly lambast myself for being so afraid.  After all, do I not write on a horror blog?  Am I not focusing my dissertation on some element of the horror genre?  Some of this stuff is, indeed, second nature to me –werewolves and vampires have never scared me, and I’ve seen The Shining at least fifty times by now—but something about a well-made ghost movie, one that I haven’t already watched on repeat, really has the ability to de-stabilize my zen.  With the right directing and producing – the appropriate manufacture of jump scares – I can find myself fighting the urge (and sometimes giving into the urge) to cover my ears and eyes as I’m watching a particularly suspenseful horror film.  It’s rare that I react this way, but it does occur—which, I might mention, is another reason I love the horror genre.  For as many of these films as I’ve seen, the right one still has the power to scare the $#!+ out of me. 

Continue reading “A Macabre Mother’s Day for a Macabre Horror Mother: Contemplating the Woman in Black”
A Macabre Mother’s Day for a Macabre Horror Mother: Contemplating the Woman in Black

Fiction’s Fearless Females – Wendy Torrance

Photo Credit — The Shining

One of my favorite scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a two or three second shock during which a series of terrifying events happen.  At this point in the film, Danny has been replaced by Tony, who’s saying “Redrum” in a voice that’s robotic at first and amplifies in intensity and urgency as Jack’s presence gets closer.  As Danny—or “Tony,” his psychic alter-ego—screams “Redrum,” Wendy reads the words backward in the mirror.  The camera pans in on the word “murder” written in childish handwriting with blood-red lipstick.  Almost as soon as we, the viewers, read “murder” in the mirror, we hear the unnerving sound of an ax chopping through wood and the camera moves to Jack, who wields the huge, sharp, silver device and uses it to slice through the wooden door of the caretaker’s quarters, where Danny and Wendy reside.  As if this nexus of sensation weren’t enough to alarm us, the viewers, and pull as even a little more deeply into The Shining’s sinister, unpredictable world, Wendy’s voice intercepts this moment with a simultaneously frenetic and bone-chilling scream—a scream that we’ll hear different variations of for the rest of the movie.  In turn, we, as the viewers—at least a little bit—start feeling Wendy’s maddening fear, and our cognition is ultimately forced to accept a mis-en-scene and narrative moment that’s eliminated anything reassuring or comforting for us to latch onto.  We are, in a sense, in the void, and we are there with Wendy. 

Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females – Wendy Torrance”
Fiction’s Fearless Females – Wendy Torrance