Zen and the Art of Screaming—Series Conspectus

The Horror Subcultures Across Media

Join us on an incisive deep-tissue study of the evolution and icons in classical and contemporary horror fiction, from monsters to slashers and less supernatural fare, as well as their varying manifestations, such as podcasts, radio plays, and other media.


While they may seem campy and dated, each of the Universal Studios monsters has a rich tradition where the psychological, the mystical and primal fears combine.

Horror has existed alongside the concept of fear for as long as one can remember. It’s likely to always have been so, and with the advent of new mediums it has changed to suit the modern age and will continue to do so. When you say horror, you are actually talking about a specific kind of story and the way you are telling that story. Horror adapts to the times; monsters are symbols, often of things we already fear with a different face.

A History of Horror

When it comes to the precursors of modern horror, it’s often traceable to prevailing societal fears. An example is Bram Stoker’s Dracula [ 1 ], which represented the British fear of foreigners taking their jobs and stealing their women [ 2 ]. That is what Count Dracula did after all; he literally showed up, drank the lifeblood of innocent maidens, and stole away with somebody’s wife, girlfriend, fiancé, or family member. He was a boogeyman born of British racism, given life with a foreign face. Another example is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein [ 3 ]. Like much of classic horror that got its start in the 1800s, Frankenstein’s theme wasn’t so much about the fear of technology, despite what many might suspect, but more about how people run headlong into situations without foreknowledge.

At the time that Shelley wrote the novel there was a new craze surrounding the search for the Northwest Passage, the theoretical shortcut across the northern part of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. If found, this new passage would eliminate the lengthy and expensive trip around the southern tip of South America. Thousands died looking for this passage from either frostbite or starvation, only to have their desiccated corpses turning up years later on their abandoned ships stuck in the Canadian ice. This is why Shelley both began and ended her story in the Arctic Circle in order to reinforce the cautionary tale.

In even older tales, such as the Homerian classics The Iliad and The Odyssey, this fear of the foreigner is a main component as seen in monsters and monstrous people such as the hydra and the sorceress Circe [ 4 ]. Thus this concept of a fear-based story has existed ever since days of early humans sitting around the campfire, looking out into the dark, and seeing that it was full of terrible things. Then, looking at his family cowering around the fire, inspiration struck: It was time to tell a story. To give “it” a face and a name, whether it be Hydra, Tiamat, vampire or ghost. To tell others how to beat it, drive it from their homes—how to feel safe beyond the ring of light from the campfire.

Thus the shapeless darkness out there waiting to devour you, wasn’t just an unknown: it was a werewolf, a tikbalang, a chupacabra, or a wendigo. History has not always been kind when belief in these stories got out of hand, however—stories of witches and werewolves swept across Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries and resulted in thousands upon thousands of horrific deaths [ 5 ]. People realized they could use such stories of The Other to steal someone’s land and livelihood, or to exact petty revenge. We have a prime example of this in America, with the Salem Witch Trials becoming an infamous moment in the nation’s early history.

Moving into the Modern Age

When AIDS was rampaging through Hollywood, even before there was a name and identity to be assigned to this new plague, the world of modern storytelling would produce a new monster, one that would unconsciously resonate with audiences and soon become famous. Mute and inexorable, impossible to halt and guaranteed to hunt you down and slay you if you had sex, Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th movie franchise was an indiscriminate killer [ 6 ]. Born of someone’s irresponsibility and let loose on an unsuspecting group of lustful teens, in the first film in this seminal series it’s important to note that the killer was not Jason himself but his mother, punishing people for being irresponsible and thoughtless, neglecting the well-being of her child to have sex instead. This act doomed them, as she became an instrument of vengeance.

Somewhere in our consciousness, our response to the AIDS epidemic, the thing that we were afraid to talk about in the late 1970s through the 1980s, the thing that kept Ronald Reagan’s mouth shut while one of his friends died of it as he didn’t want to admit that he knew homosexuals, was to ignore it [ 7 ].

It seemed to work so well on crime, drugs, racism, and the economy, so why not for the human immunodeficiency virus as well? The Gay Plague, it was called, or “just some homo thing”: they will die of it and that will be the end of it [ 7 ]. “I’m straight, I don’t care what happens to them. They don’t matter, they’re not real. I don’t have to think about human beings dying of some horrible disease that I don’t understand.” Hollywood, always a bastion for the LGBTQ+ community, wouldn’t let that stand. Instead, Hollywood put a face on it so it could be talked about.

Jason Voorhees, and other, similar horror monsters of the time like Michael Meyers, were a natural byproduct of this age. They can’t be reasoned with, they can’t be bargained with, and they can’t be stopped. That’s the key, that’s how you know what they are. They are only around when people are having sex (that’s how you catch it) and only the pure virginal person who doesn’t have sex gets to survive, because they are pure and chaste and puritanical, and therefore righteous. The terrible disease won’t get them because they are obeying the pernicious Protestant work ethic of “work hard be honest and never think of anything sexual for your entire life.” Meanwhile, society’s surprise when the horror most ignored began popping up in straight people, married couples, and even children. Not so much a Gay Plague any more—now, the thing they feared the most had been visited upon them, almost as a form of retribution for so casually ignoring it in the first place.

Classic, Gothic Inspirations and Modern Interpretations

The works of Gothic authors such as Shelley, Stoker, and their contemporaries such as Lord Byron and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu have all been used as inspiration for horror movie makers throughout the decades. All are parents to children of horror, as all have birthed allegories to the horror in everyday life. Let’s take a look at Le Fanu, the man responsible for paving the way for Bram Stoker’s famous vampire. Le Fanu was the creator of the concept of the vampire as an act of transgression with the character Carmilla [ 8 ].

Carmilla, as a lesbian vampire, something that contemporaneous members of society were afraid to discuss. But Carmilla personified what they feared their womenfolk were up to when they weren’t looking. The character herself is from an old family named Karnstein, hailing from the distant country of Steria. She lures away young maidens and takes their strength and vitality, all while trying to turn them into creatures of the night. This is a reoccurring theme in the vampire mythos in that vampires steal the strength of something virtuous and then convert it to evil, much like themselves. This corruption, which spread like an infection, would find its ultimate 20th century expression in the mind of George Romero.

Taking the concept of the zombie, a cautionary tale of the Haitian Vodoun culture, that was a component of Orisha tribal religions carried to the New World by enslaved West Africans that had managed to survive being stamped out by Catholicism [ 9 ]. The zombie was not technically a monster but a victim; it existed as a symbol of punishment for those who have transgressed against a community or culture in such an egregious manner that the only suitable punishment was eternal servitude.

They would be killed and then brought back from the dead to become the lowest caste possible, that of a slave, to labor endlessly and make amends to the community that they have wronged. This theme is intact in much older zombie films from the 1930s and 1940s such as Bela Lugosi’s movie, White Zombie [ 10 ]. However, in these situations the transgressors are often the white culture that is crashing headlong into the Haitian zombie culture. They are interesting works, as the zombie often takes a similar role to that of robots in science fiction. It is a mindless engine of some greater power that is commanding it. A robot doesn’t act of its own accord; a robot is being controlled by someone else. Robots do occasionally rampage but we will discuss that at another time.

Romero took the zombie idea in a new direction with his film Night of the Living Dead [ 11 ]. What Romero did was look at the zombie; he looked at this faceless horror and gave it a property it never had before: he made it driven by insatiable hunger. That’s what motivated to rise from its grave and go shambling around. A whole mythology was constructed around these creatures and the many films he made after Night of the Living DeadNight of the Living Dead was also an excellent vehicle to examine not only the mindlessness of the mob mentality, but also the powerful racial tension that existed at that time. Making his protagonist a black man surrounded by white people in the middle of nowhere and all of them surrounded by other white people shuffling around trying to eat them, the symbolism of a society that is poised to devour itself is clear.

Because of its rich symbolism and the greater truths that it reveals through the mask of surviving a bunch of shambling dead guys who are trying to eat them, it’s one of the pinnacle works of cinema. Zombies became part of the modern collective horror consciousness, making them a vehicle to open our eyes to other issues. Romero’s next movie would find zombies in a shopping mall to symbolize the driving force of mindless consumerism and what that was doing to us all [ 12 ]. This is indicative of all creatures of horror; there is a cycle that all things we fear go through. They start as something too frightening to be believed, to comedic and even romantic approaches to these tales. The cycle then often repeats. This happens to all creatures of the night. Fear gives way to understanding, then to ridicule, then to envy. Case in point: Dracula. Bela Lugosi was an incredible man and a great actor.

Meanwhile, Nosferatu, an epic film in its own right was nearly destroyed and erased from the consciousness of people despite predating Dracula [ 13 ].The culprit? The vengeful fury of Bram Stoker’s grieving widow, who had not given permission for the film to be made, and demanded in her legal settlement for all copies of it to be destroyed [ 14 ].

Lugosi avoided this terrible mistake by approaching the widow Stoker and begging to get the rights so that movie could be made, something that was overlooked by Max Schreck and the rest of the crew of Nosferatu. Meanwhile, Nosferatu is a significant work, as it was groundbreaking in its effects for the time even for the limitations that accompanied movie making in the silent film era [ 14 ]. But the genius of Nosferatu, of the vampire’s inhuman appearance, all created with 1920s technology, was such that there were rumors after the completion and release of that movie that Max Schreck was the real deal—that he was an actual monster.

H.P. Lovecraft—the Next Evolution

On the subject of how things evolve over time, H.P. Lovecraft bears mentioning. The master of not describing the unworldly monsters his protagonists encounter is an acknowledgement that what’s left unsaid can be just as frightening of that is revealed, Lovecraft invented a whole new genre of horror with his Cthulhu mythos. The difference between Lovecraft’s monsters and everything that came before it (and some of the things that came after it) is, up until then, the concept of humanity being important was a strong theme. Being a human being is significant. We matter. Lovecraft looked around at the cold, unblinking stars and the Atomic Age that was opening up before him and said, “What if the Universe doesn’t actually give a flying fuck about us? What if we don’t matter at God Damn all? Look how big the universe is. WE matter? Our one planet and everything around us is dead. We matter, really? How?”

There are accusations that Lovecraft was both racist and classist [ 15 ]. These accusations are absolutely true. He was from an insular New England community surrounded by lily white people, most of whom believed as he did. His marriage was a disaster, he openly made statements about hating Russians and Poles and considered other races as degenerate and scum, and even went so far as to have named a beloved pet, a black cat, “Niggerman” [ 16 ]. These things are public record. His thoughts and behavior were awful and should be condemned for the racism they express. These views also resonate in many of his works. Inbred families and people being born of apes feature heavily.

Yet even as his personal views were reprehensible, the thing that he did that was significant and noteworthy is that he changed the perspective of modern horror. He invented a whole new genre: Cosmic Horror [ 17 ]. In it, there are forces and entities at work that are so big and powerful that the entirety of humanity has not even been noticed by them.

We are so insignificant that they don’t even see us. They wander through a place and destroy the minds that look upon them because they are so horrifically different and incomprehensible; slapping your individuality and your humanity in the face by their very existence that you cannot look upon them and keep your sanity.

That was brilliant; this revelation was so overwhelming because he addressed the elephant that was in the room. Throughout all of human all stories focused on the fact that humans were the center of the universe, by forcing a culture to face its own insignificance, he not only broke the mind of the characters in his stories, he also broke the mind of the reader. The raging battle he depicted in his works, the one that he put a face to by not describing its face, was the struggle that was taking place at the time between reason and mysticism, between the church and state, between science and religion. Science was proclaiming so much at the time—that humanity wasn’t born in a garden, that the Earth wasn’t made in six days, that we and apes were descended from a common ancestor.

The concepts science had been pushing since Darwin had been driving people the brink of sanity. This mirrors the characters’ thought processes in Lovecraft’s work, as they would look at these unspeakable horrors and lose their minds, just as people of the time were reacting—often violently—to the concept of evolution. We need only look at the reaction to the Scopes Monkey Trial to illustrate that point.

In Lovecraft’s world, God is not in His heaven and all is not right in the world. Lovecraft instead says that the universe is neither an orderly place nor a disorderly one—it’s simply one that doesn’t give a shit about us, and that’s horrifying.

The irony is that science and magic can have many of the same trappings. Magic is scary and unexplainable, it can do anything, and there is nothing you can do about it. It seems impossible but it happens. That is part of the problem, as humans have created science and to a layperson it can look indistinguishable from magic. You can harness the power of an explosion and kill at great distances just as you can save lives and sometimes even bring the dead back to life. Magic may be made up and science may be real, but both can accomplish the “impossible.” Religion (which is, after all, just another name for magic), says it can do the impossible but shows no proof, which results in faith considering science a challenger.

Meanwhile, science has always been part of the horror genre due to not just its ability to seemingly work miracles but the obvious path that a lot of science goes down: nuclear destruction, evolution, and body-horror genetics. Fear of what nuclear power brings can be seen in Godzilla, genetic manipulation, can be seen in the The Fly, or evolution in works where our own children evolve beyond the need for us like Childhood’s End.

Different Branches of the Same Tree

There are different branches of horror. When you view horror you realize that it comes in various formats to achieve suspense and atmosphere. More often than not movies will find some sort of shortcut to get a reaction by relying on specific tropes, such as those encountered in the slasher films, as evidenced in iconic characters such as Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers, or any lunatic that likes to chase horny teenagers with an axe or a chainsaw (no offense to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which we’ll be covering a later time).

Yet these different genres, these different branches of the horror tree, all play specific roles. The self-horror of body horror, for example, is founded on the sort of fears that are generated during puberty, when your body starts rapidly changing out of your control. It taps into instinctual fears of ugliness, of disease, of losing control of perhaps the one thing you do have control of in this world: your own body. The films of David Cronenberg serve as great examples of this. The Fly (both the original and the Jeff Goldblum remake) also exemplifies the horror of science. The role science fiction plays in horror cannot be downplayed here—the loss of self as the brilliant scientist twists and warps through the scientific experience into the fly-headed monster shows the viewer the dangers of science run amok [ 18 ]. The fact is that body horror, which tends to be sticky, gooey, and disgusting, is also always about something about losing control of your own body and existence.

Existential horror, meanwhile, needs no slavering monsters to elicit fear. Excellent examples include 1984 and A Clockwork Orange. Arguably also American Psycho, with its burning indictment of stockbroker culture of the ’80s and their focus on needing to have the right suit, the right car, the right pen, the right house in the right neighborhood, even the right business card, all exemplify the soul-crushing horror of existentialism [ 19 ]. The infamous business card scene makes that film; all the business cards look exactly the same, just as Bateman looks like every other one of these stockbrokers.

They have molded themselves into this cookie-cutter shape of looking and acting and thinking so much the same that when Bateman kills one of his colleagues nobody notices he is gone; when Bateman gives the flimsy excuse that his victim is in some foreign country, dozens of people claim they saw him there. Yes, Bateman is lunatic who may be killing people, but the crushing sameness of his existence is the true horror [ 20 ].

Existential horror tropes also extend to a similar film. The existential horror of Fight Club is in the loss, and finding, of the main character as he, too, is overwhelmed by the crushing sameness of his existence. This literally drives him mad, and that madness drove him to do the sort of things crazy people do. Chuck Palahniuk has often said that people don’t get his story, that Tyler Durden is not so much a hero but a consequence. We never learn the protagonist’s actual name. Not in the whole story; he never says it once. He has so lost himself in this process so much so that only the façade remains.

The bravado-filled, Nietzschean superhero that is Tyler Durden, created by a petulant, insane child, is no hero—he is literally committing acts of terrorism [ 21 ]. That is a sublime telling of existential horror. These are not Cosmic horror stories as the scale is too small; these are horrors of existence, focused on one person, or one instance of man’s inhumanity to man. They are not staring at vastness of the cosmos and it uncaring coldness.

Another existential horror story, though much more lighthearted, is Disney’s The Haunted Mansion. How is a Disney film an existential horror story? The main character, beautifully played by Eddie Murphy, is a driven businessman, all about making the deal and doesn’t understand the importance of family and the love that binds them. Yet he gets drawn into this story that is over 100 years old about these tortured souls who are trapped in the mansion because they would not give up their family, a love that held them beyond death [ 22 ].

Compare this film to Pirates of the Caribbean, which is not existential horror, despite having the trappings of it—ghost ships, the undead, and curses. Yet the Pirates movies are more campfire tales, a story of an insipid looney who, despite his obvious behavior, is honestly more complicated than people make out; his crime that got him branded a pirate was his refusal to ship slaves as cargo. This makes him a noble figure. The character of Davey Jones, by comparison, is a creepy chthonic looking son of a bitch. Yet despite the Pirates films being as lighthearted as Haunted Mansion there is no crisis of personality, there is not moment of truth that the characters experience; they don’t have that revelatory moment of becoming something else that is part of the well-told horror story. The only exception to this might be the development of the Commodore, as his character realizes, after time, that his dedication to law is not the same as a dedication to justice. These differences are important ones to be made. Like the inherent differences between Batman and Superman, where Batman strives for justice while Superman upholds the law.

Monsters

Cycling back to different types of monsters, the ghost story is probably the oldest of the horror stories. This also cycles back into the subject of justice. The ghosts in these stories are driven by a desire for justice, especially if they were murder victims. Ghosts are frequently there to represent an injustice and having that injustice brought to light. “The Woman in White” trope is a fairly common variety of ghost story, usually considered to be the ghost of a widowed woman or someone who died on their wedding day because of some injustice that occurred, such as the death of a loved one; as a result, they are forever in mourning [ 23 ].

These ghosts are very common in European theatre. A sub-genre of that would be the hitchhiker ghosts made famous in the 1950s through many songs and movies. Sometimes these do not necessarily represent an injustice other than someone dying young. They are in that odd sort of space in a horror story that is creepy but is not horrifying. That they usually take the form of a young girl who is walking home from the big dance, maybe a prom or something of that nature, and that the address she provides the driver with is usually a graveyard. The usual hook they use with these types of stories is that the driver gives them a coat or jacket, often due to the added element of a weather condition that is unpleasant, and then the next day the coat is found at the gravesite.

Again, there is less symbolism here, as such ghost stories are more akin to campfire stories. It is a classic that you will hear in many campfire stories. That is something I am going to differentiate here: there are campfire stories, there are ghost stories, and there are horror stories. These things have many names, many faces, and many forms. Sometimes you are going to find them in places you don’t expect, and other times you are going to be in places you expect and don’t find them. Sometimes you can find horror in the strangest of places; sometimes it’s just a twist in perspective.

Back to the zombie and supernatural aspect of things, the classic horror film Evil Dead and its remake were staples of the horror genre. They combined body horror with the protagonist Ash and his hand; there is some cosmic horror as the undead are involved. The Deadites, as summoned by the Necronomicon, are quite literally a Lovecraftian entity, with the famous fictional book one of the major plot points that H.P. Lovecraft uses to reveal the dangerous supernatural powers of Cthulhu and his ilk. One of the reinforced tropes in all of the Evil Dead films and reboots is that there is an insistence on being punished for breaking the rules and pursuing forbidden knowledge.

That message echoes through horror all over the place; “don’t touch this, don’t read that, don’t say these words, don’t do this thing, don’t do that thing.” The idea of enforcing some sort of standard or ideal goes all the way back to fairy tales. If you don’t follow these rules this horrible thing happens. What rule they are enforcing varies from story to story, in this case when you see the book bound in human flesh and inked in blood, maybe you shouldn’t read it out loud until you know what you’re doing. It all boils down to this; listen to your elders. Do what’s tried-and-true. Don’t poke weird shit—it might bite you.

The concept probably goes all the way back to cavemen, “Yeah, sure it’s got lots of pretty colors but pretty colors usually means venomous, so don’t touch that thing.” Guy reads book, evil spirits get released, and horrible things happen. Then they did it again and again in the series whether it be Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, or Army of Darkness [ 24 ]. This is when your protagonist says, “Nope, I’m not in a horror story anymore, I am in an action adventure tale.” But the writers and the director go, “but monsters and demons and scary spooky things.” I shoot them and I say smart-ass things, would be the response of an action hero. A part of the process of horror is that the protagonist does not possess agency.

Consider the character of Kirsty from Hellraiser [ 25 ]. She is most certainly not in control of her situation: the box is. The cenobites are calling the shots. There is, of course, also some serious body horror in Hellraiser, and from a certain perspective existential horror, but only after repeated viewings (I say this from experience). When Evil Dead became Army of Darkness, the protagonist seized control. He was no more in control of his situation than he was before; he was just being successfully proactive enough that it stopped being a horror story and, despite having all the trappings of a horror story, became an action-adventure comedy. That is a hard line for producers and writers and filmmakers to maintain. When somebody sees the zipper in the Godzilla costume, that’s it—that’s where the fear ends.

Sometimes this lack of fear is from a diminished capacity to suspend your disbelief. But the important thing about this it in films like The Ring, which is a beautiful example of the protagonist having no control of the situation, is that the entire story is about the characters struggling to get some form of agency. The best they can do is just push the impending sense of doom off on somebody else to keep their ass alive. That says a lot about our modern age, especially in films like It Follows where the action involves passing along a supernatural curse like a virus. Modern monsters like the Slender Man also embody this, especially when it comes to our fear of surveillance and our lack of control [ 26 ].

The tragic affair that was inspired by the Slender Man, where two young girls attempted to murder their friend, obviously can’t be laid at the feet of a fictional character, but it can speak volumes to the visceral fear Slendy can engender in us all [ 26 ].

A “modern cryptid,” the Slender Man is part of a rich tradition, with human minds crafting and mixing elements of the unknown with communal storytelling.

Childhood Horror

In my childhood, there was horror aimed at children represented by things like Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Are You Afraid of the Dark, the latter being a show where teenagers were going out and telling stories around the campfire. Typically, they are horror stories, where horrible things were always happening to little children, much like shows like Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Tales from the Crypt, and numerous anthological horror stories have a similar format but different content. Some sort of introductory segment has a character telling a story that segues into an actual film presentation.

They usually have some sort of medium, such as teens around a campfire, or, in the case of Night Gallery, the paintings hanging in the titular gallery would represent each story. Are You Afraid of the Dark, of course, is horror geared for a younger audience, and frankly has made quite a lot of money. The truth is that horror has to reveal is for all ages, and like R.L. Stine and other vastly successful writers of his ilk creating horror stories for children know, of course there are things that need to be adjusted for the capacity of children to cope with but still provide them with the kinds of chills they can handle. You don’t want to have a 12-year-old watching Apocalypse Now. They aren’t going to have the emotional or intellectual development to deal with such a film—they may not even recognize it as horror.

Meanwhile, childhood horror doesn’t always mean horror for children. Sometimes children are the horror, such as in Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen series. These are all founded on the very sturdy fear that is inherent in any pregnant woman since the dawn of time: the will something horrible will happen to my child? Other examples include It Lives and Basket Case, and there are films filled with instances of older children being literal terrors, such as The Children of the Corn.

Musical Horror

We can’t discuss horror without the role that music plays in establishing it. Where music really became a home for horror probably started with metal acts that embraced Gothic imagery such as Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, and the masters of overkill splash and display Gwar. To a different degree KISS, which had many of the trappings but was much more glamorous about the whole performance. Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, both while in the band and during his solo career, was certainly at the bleeding edge of what’s often called Black Metal or Devil Rock. There were vast accusations being thrown around that these people were involved with dark forces and they had sold their souls to the devil in exchange for wealth and fame. This this goes back, of course, to the early 20th century to the blues era, most notably with blues legend Robert Johnson. But these more modern groups, either for notoriety, for art, or for whatever their personal reasons were, played up the horror aspects and the scary spooky stuff. Alice Cooper had fantastic stage shows, with huge sets and fog and effects. Rumors propagated that Ozzy bit the head off a bat (he did by the way), that Alice Cooper is a reincarnated witch, and that Gwar are a bunch of monsters. People believed that the success of these bands was due to their satanic or occult rituals. That’s where all this lies in the music. It’s either imagery or pageantry; sometimes it’s in the lyrics. That’s where the whole myth of back masking, the recording of something backwards that you could only hear if you played it backwards on a turntable, came from.

Theatrical Roots

Moving on, we have three major points we are going to hit before we get into more detail in later episodes. Horror in theatre goes back to France—the Grand Guignol [ 27 ]. This was an offshoot of existentialism in theatre that focused on the horrific, the shocking, and the bizarre, a horrific reflection of Dadaism, to drive home the horror of existence and the meaninglessness of life. In the movie Interview with a Vampire, the vampires they encounter in Paris are performing the Grand Guignol at their theatre.

Another twist from the minds of Americans (enterprising guys that we are), thanks to having a lot of unoccupied cornfields, somebody figured out they could turn those cornfields into theatre. Yes, by turning harvest festivals into Halloween extravaganzas, we hire a lot of underpaid high school and college students to wear fancy costumes and jump out at people. There are many that spring up all the time: around the same time every year, farmers transform their cornfields into these various venues, be it Scarecrow Hollow, Jason’s Woods, Bates Motel, the Headless Horseman Hayride, what have you. There are some permanent attractions in some places and at one time there were some particularly epic examples of the haunted attractions.

That’s were true successors to the Guignol, where artistry and stage magic combine. Legendary venues such as Brigantine Castle and Dracula’s Castle may be gone but their legacy lives on. Brigantine Castle literally fell into the ocean like the gothic castle it appeared to be; Dracula’s Castle perished in flames. Oddly fitting and appropriate ends for both. These are, however, tales for another time.

Instead, I will leave you with these parting words: Sometimes the monster is right in front of you, instead of right behind you. Sometimes it’s not the thing in the shadow; it’s the thing in the light. Sometimes it’s not the voice you hear whispering in the hall, it’s the voice in your own head. Horror has a thousand faces and a thousand voices, and is the beating of 10,000 hearts. There’s a saying that in wine, there is truth. And to you all I say, “in horror, there is great truth indeed.”

Images

  1. “While they may seem campy and dated, each of the Universal Studios monsters has a rich tradition where the psychological, the mystical and primal fears combine.” Source: https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/villains/images/5/54/Universal_Monsters.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20220131222311
  2. “A ‘modern cryptid,’ the Slender Man is part of a rich tradition, with human minds crafting and mixing elements of the unknown with communal storytelling.” Source:https://parade.com/300983/erinhill/wisconsin-girls-stabbing-raises-question-who-is-slender-man/

Ed Jones revels in unpacking the sociopolitical motivations behind popular culture and placing them in their historical context. An avid gamer since the early 1980s, a veteran, and the one-time God-Emperor of Newark, Delaware, Ed serves as a contributor to The Unconventional, as well as regular staff for Damocles Thread Development. His series “Zen and the Art of Screaming” is a thorough exploration into the horror genre’s tropes, its origins and evolution.

Resources

  1. Stoker, Bram. Dracula. United Kingdom, Archibald Constable and Company, 26 May 1887.
  2. FORMANM. “Fear of Colonization in Dracula | Monsters & Madness.” Blogs.dickinson.edu, Dickinson College, 13 Nov. 2017, blogs.dickinson.edu/secretlives/2017/11/13/fear-of-colonization-in-dracula/.
  3. Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus: the 1818 Text. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  4. Homer, et al. The Essential Homer: Selections from the Iliad and Odyssey. Hackett Pub., 2000.
  5. Interesting, All That’s. “The Grisly Werewolf Panic That Swept Europe a Century before the Salem Witch Trials.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 31 Aug. 2017, allthatsinteresting.com/hans-werewolf-trials.
  6. Friday the 13th. Directed by Sean Cunningham, Paramount Pictures, 9 May 1980.
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