Monthly Archives: August 2012

Kevin Lucia: Interesting Reflections on the Origin of the Horror Genre

Lucia 2 Westminster Burial Grounds

Earlier in the year, a fantastic horror writer named Kevin Lucia was finishing grad school and, on his blog, presented a fascinating 9-part series on the nature of horror. I fell in love with this series, and Kevin has very graciously allowed me to reprint it here so others can enjoy it, too. Visit me every Thursday through October 18 for the next installment, and on October 25, some of his fiction—free—as a Halloween treat!

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine, and a blogger for The Midnight Diner. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he’s currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.

 

Interesting Reflections on the Origin of the Horror Genre

 

Just finished the first chapter of Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror, (which I’m reviewing and researching for my Film & Philosophy grad class), and he offers this interesting reflection on the origins of the horror genre.

Though it’s something that can be debated, Carroll marks the middle of the 18th century as the origin point of the horror genre, developing from Gothic novels such as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). He doesn’t try and make a case as to who wrote the first Gothic novel, just that the major consensus seems that the Gothic novel developed during this time period.

What he finds interesting is that horror’s “birth” overlaps the period cultural historians call the “Enlightenment” or “The Age of Reason”. This period is thought to have spanned the 18th century, saw the wide dissemination of the ideas of Descartes, Bacon, Locke, Hobbes, and Newton to the reading public (pg. 55).

The Enlightenment, of course, rested on “the immense achievements of natural science”, and things like religion or of a supernatural nature were viewed with distrust, because it valued faith and revelation over reason (pg. 55).

And, interesting to both Carroll – and honestly, myself – it is against this backdrop that “horror” found its birth in the Gothic novel, a fiction that was very fixated on the supernatural and “unknown”. Carroll offers two hypotheses for this development (both of which he admits are flawed and can be argued against):

1. the idea that the “horror” or “Gothic” genre developed as some sort of “answer” to “The Enlightenment” or “The Age of Reason”, a time period marked by reason and science and nature as the end all and be all, whereas horror/Gothic fiction explored emotions, especially violent ones in the case of the main characters. Also, Carroll points out that while a hallmark of The Enlightenment was objectivity, a hallmark of the horror novel is subjectivity (pg. 56).

So, according to this idea, Carroll advances the theory that while a convert of The Enlightenment held a naturalistic conception of the world, the horror novel presumes the existence of the supernatural, at least for fiction’s sake. That, in opposition to The Enlightenment’s “faith” in progress, horror promoted a regression to a belief in the unseen supernatural, which The Enlightenment had attempted to repress, or at least discourage (pg. 56).

Of course, Carroll points out it’s easy to shoot this theory full of holes, because without further, intensive research, there’s literally no way to know who wrote what and who read what and why? For example, how do we know who read Gothic fiction and why – can we honestly prove that people wrote and flocked to this new art form in a reaction to the faith in reason of The Enlightenment?  No. However, he does indicate that simply the rise of horror – which presupposes the supernatural and something “unknown” – during the Age of Reason, which believed nothing needed to be unknown by man, interesting enough to promote further study.

2. A much easier connection can be made, Carroll says, in thinking how one conceptual birth – The Age of Reason and Enlightenment – helped bring about another, simply in one creating a structure the other could violate. In short, and very paraphrased form: The Enlightenment, with its promotion of naturalistic theories and desire to develop a scientific, natural view of the world, gave horror/Gothic fiction the perfect backdrop against which  to develop its “monsters”.

So, in other words, because:

the Enlightenment made available the kind of conception of nature or the kind of cosmology needed to create a sense of horror.” (pg. 57)

by:

the sense of natural violation that attends art-horror” (pg. 57)

In other words, the Enlightenment developed a general idea of what the “natural” world was for the general reading public, which gave room for stories to create monsters and situations that violated that natural world, in essence, helping give horror natural rules to break with its monsters.

Again, Carroll readily admits that more research is needed to support or refute either claim. And, yeah, once again, we’re probably splitting hairs here. But still, it provides plenty to think about….

Short Film: Ghost Story by Richard Lowenstein

LowensteinGhostStory

This short telefeature, although I found the ending a bit abrupt, is worth watching just because the setting is really interesting. http://vimeo.com/27466836

The road to our upcoming wedding has had a few interesting detours…

A Wedding at the Center of the Earth

My fascination with ghost stories is directly connected to my fascination with our personal pasts; so many of us are haunted by one thing or another, things that we don’t realize affect our choices in life many years later.

For me, RubyOtt—our childhood Adirondack summer camp—is one of those things.

Our family owned the camp from 1979-1986. 1985 was our last summer there; Dad quietly sold it after Mom passed away. It was a wonderful place to summer. Safe places to bike (often for miles), a stream to swim and play in, rocks everywhere (I was fascinated with geology), books to read, stories and poems to write, a General Store where we could buy penny candy. And then there were the trips we took: to Howe Caverns, to Lake Placid, to all of upstate New York’s bounty of summer attractions. Over the years, it haunted me that I’d never gotten…

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Kevin Lucia on The Philosophy of Horror

Westminster Hall, Baltimore

Westminster Hall, Baltimore, Maryland, the burial ground of which is the site of Edgar Allan Poe’s Grave.

Earlier in the year, a fantastic horror writer named Kevin Lucia was finishing grad school and, on his blog, presented a fascinating 9-part series on the nature of horror. I fell in love with this series, and Kevin has very graciously allowed me to reprint it here so others can enjoy it, too. Visit me every Thursday through October 18 for the next installment, and on October 25, some of his fiction—free—as a Halloween treat!

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine, and a blogger for The Midnight Diner. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he’s currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.

 

The Philosophy of Horror

As part of a semester project for my “Film & Philosophy” class, I’m reading The Philosophy of Horror, by film philosopher and critic, Noel Carroll. Not exactly sure what the thrust of my focus is going to be, I just know I’ve decided to focus my semester’s study on the development of the horror movie and horror cinema in general.

I need to write a critical review of a book on film and philosophy, (I’m reviewing Philosophy of Horror for that), give a presentation on one of our assigned texts, and write a final paper. (pretty standard grad school fare) Since I chose to give my presentation on a critical analysis of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (not necessarily horror, but definitely very dark and surreal), it makes sense to focus on the dark and the weird and the supernatural.

So, like my previous review of The Woman In Black, I’m going to thresh out my initial thoughts on The Philosophy of Horror, get my ideas in order, while sharing them with you all here on the blog. Here’s my first bit of reflection.

For much of the first forty pages, Carroll spends most his time articulating WHY attempting to generate a “philosophy of horror” is important, defining what horror is, and considering two important paradoxes when it comes to audiences – and readers – of horror:

1. how can anyone be frightened by what they know doesn’t exist?

2. why would anyone be interested in horror, when being horrified is so unpleasant?

One key factor that Carroll emphasizes early on is his focus: analyzing the emotional effect horror is intended to have on its audience, by analyzing the emotional state and reactions the main characters of horror movies and books and plays display, and how audiences and readers associate and empathize with those reactions. To him, THAT is the key element to consider when developing a philosophy of horror.

He also differentiates between something that is designed to produce sensations of horror and things that are merely horrific. For example, stories of murder and death and mass genocide in the newspapers and on television and documentaries – or, even in things like war movies – are not horror. They are horrific.

Carroll also differentiates between things that “shock” or produce “jump-scares” and horror. The element of “shock” is used across genres, from crime movies to science fiction and fantasy, is a story-telling element, NOT a defining element of horror itself.

Because of the two above examples and for the purpose of this work, Carroll deigns to coin the term “art-horror” for all fictive works designed to produce sensations of horror in audiences and readers. This, in many ways, rules out a lot of things from the very beginning, something I hope he’ll clarify throughout the rest the book.

1. how can anyone be frightened by what they know doesn’t exist?

Carroll spends a lot of time here analyzing the core of the “art-horror” movie, novel and play – the monster. What makes the monster dangerous, threatening, and impure. He focuses especially on that last element, how monsters really need to be considered impure to generate feelings of “art-horror” in the audience: fear, disgust, madness, irrationality, agitation. He then defines this key element of the “monster” – not limited to the supernatural – as being impure, in that they are:

unnatural relative to a culture’s conceptual scheme of nature. They do not fit into the scheme, the violate it.  They are threats to common knowledge. They are formless, and render those who encounter them insane, mad, deranged. They are challenges to the foundations of a culture’s way of thinking” (pg. 34)

native to places outside of and/or unknown to the human world. Or, the creatures come from marginal, hidden, abandoned sites: graveyards, abandoned towers and castles, sewers, or old houses…they belong to environs outside of and unknown to ordinary social intercourse” (pg. 35)

Of course, many of these “monsters” don’t really exist, so Carroll comes back again to the characterization of the movie’s “positive” main characters, and our reaction to their reactions, the strength of our emotional connection to them. He says in this that these monsters present a “cognitive threat” to our perceptions of the way the world should be.

Carroll emphasizes the need for all three elements to wholly create the monster: that it must be dangerous, threatening, and impure. He cites The Fly as an example. Though the positive characters and certainly audience are probably disgusted by the main protagonist’s transformation throughout the movie into an impure abomination, for most the movie, they feel sympathy for this guy turning into a human fly. Even the guy’s girlfriend feels sympathy and tries to deal with the situation. He (the human fly) doesn’t truly become threatening and dangerous until the movie’s very end.

So in this case, Carroll disclassifies The Fly as “art-horror” along these two lines:

a. he’s not dangerous or threatening until the end

b. for most the movie, other “positive” characters feel either sympathy or pity for him, thereby possibly engendering sympathy and pity in the audience, which, according to Carroll’s notion, is not the emotional reaction to the “monster” art-horror films are intending to produce.

2. why would anyone be interested in horror, when being horrified is so unpleasant?

This is something he hasn’t delved into yet, spending most his time so far defining the term “art-horror” and what exactly monsters are, and why we find them threatening. At the end of the introduction, he states that this is his goal: to thresh out this paradox of audiences and readers seeking out “art-horror”, as he hopes to try and articulate – even if only for himself – why the horror genre is so compelling.

One last bit that was especially thought provoking for ME as a reader and especially a writer is where he differentiates between art-horror and what he calls “tales of dread”, or works of the “fantastic”, such as the Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, etc. They are peripheral to the horror genre, but in Carroll’s estimation….

nevertheless, I do think that there is an important difference between this type of story – which I want to call tales of dread – and horror stories. Specifically, the emotional response they elicit seems to be quite different than that engendered by art-horror. The uncanny event which tops off such stories cause a sense of unease and awe, perhaps of momentary anxiety and foreboding. These events are constructed to move the audience rhetorically to the point that one entertains the idea that unavowed, unknown, perhaps concealed and inexplicable forces rule the universe. Where art-horror involves disgust as a central figure, what might be called art-dread does not” (pg. 42)

Now, genre definitions are hazy and fluid at best, which Carroll openly admits throughout the work, and goes on to state that because both “art-horror” and “art-dread” deal with supernatural or preternatural events, they are intimately related, just that he wanted to illustrate that both factions are discernible.  This little bit right here, though, provided ME with much food for thought as a writer and creator, about what types of emotions I want to inspire in readers:

These events are constructed to move the audience rhetorically to the point that one entertains the idea that unavowed, unknown, perhaps concealed and inexplicable forces rule the universe.

This is the realm many of my stories return to, it’s the framework from which I form all my story ideas, even (or especially) my Hiram Grange title. So does this mean I don’t write horror?

Hmm. Who knows? And maybe the point’s moot, splitting hairs. BUT, I sometimes think – maybe arrogantly – that a lot of the bad fiction written across ALL genres today has been produced without really thinking very deeply about where the ideas have come from, why they’ve been generated, and what we want to inspire in our readers. At the very best, I’m driving myself deeper into thinking what it is I want to write and why.

Stay tuned…

Writer Terri Bruce on her decade in a Haunted House: “So, Do I Believe in Ghosts?”

Terri Bruce headshot

It’s straight out of A Haunting: Writer Terri Bruce shares her experiences living in a haunted house — then shares a sneak-peek at her just-released paranormal novel, Hereafter.

I’m a story-teller. I tell stories. It’s what I do. So sit back, relax, and let me tell you a story about my house. Is it a true story? Well, I’m going to tell it to you the way it happened and then you tell me if it’s true or not.

We moved into our house in a sweltering hot August ten years ago. It was not our dream house. It was a “best we can afford right now”—in the height of the real estate boom—fixer-upper with “potential charm” but no actual charm. The day I first went to look at the house, there was six inches of water in the basement and I joked that it came with its own indoor swimming pool. However, it was still the best we’d seen in our price range and so we bought it.

At first there were only “oddities” that made the house seem interesting: it was the only historic property not included in the town’s thorough and detailed book and files of the town’s historic properties; none of the neighbors seems to know the history of the house even though it’s the oldest house in the immediate area (in fact, this was the main homestead/farm in the area and all of the neighboring properties AND the state highway that runs past the house were all sub-divided off of this property); I couldn’t trace the deed for the property beyond 1850 though the construction of the house indicates it is much older; Mapquest and GPS devices have no record of the house’s address (despite the fact that the house has been here for at least 200 years)—using our address sends visitors to an empty field in a neighboring town. The address of all of the surrounding properties (some built only fourteen years ago), however, works fine with Mapquest and GPSes; the gold crucifix hanging on the chimney in the basement (a dirt-floored, fieldstone-walled, low-ceiling, spider-infested, fancy root cellar type deal

typical of an ancient farmhouse); the black flies covering the third-floor windows that always returned no matter how many times we killed them and vacuumed up their dead bodies; and, perhaps strangest of all, the various people—contractors, repairmen, area store clerks, and even the state highway inspector who, when told our address, always replied, “Oh, I know *that* house.” When probed further they always answered, “Oh, nothing. I just know it is all.”

There were no overt indicators of strangeness at first. Just a lot of forgetfulness on our part—“Honey, have you seen the flashlight? I thought I left it right here“ or “Honey, have you my keys? I can’t find them.” That sort of thing. Invariably, the missing item would show up several days later, usually right where we thought we had left it (and had looked several times). We had just moved in and most everything we owned was still in storage, so it seemed that it should be very hard to misplace items, but misplace we did. My husband, who doesn’t believe in ghosts, finally said, “Things seem to move around a lot in this house.”

Our forgetfulness increased. My husband locked himself out of the house three times; each time he had stepped out for a minute and had no recollection of locking the door behind him. Once I came home to find him shoveling snow with no coat on. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was trying to keep warm—he was locked out and waiting for me to come home.

Then the noises began. The sound of a crying child in the hallway when I was in the spare bedroom. The sound of someone in the next room calling my name when I was home alone.

Then one night, I had a very vivid dream—the result of an overactive imagination, stimulated by the noises, no doubt. I dreamed that I awoke and standing at the foot of the bed was a young woman with frizzy red hair, wearing an old-fashioned lavender-colored dress and an elderly man dressed in a black stove-pipe hat, a black suit, and a black, many-caped overcoat. They didn’t speak and I had no sense of malevolence from them. They just stood there, observing me. So I closed my eyes, rolled over, and went

back to sleep.

Finally, there was “the incident.”

I was home alone. My husband was traveling for business. I awoke in the middle of the night to the light in the hall—visible through the bedroom doorway—tinged a strange, greenish color, a noise, a crashing, clanging, banging, as if someone was throwing pots and pans down the hall stairs, and my bed was shaking, as if it was vibrating in time to someone’s cranked-up bass.

I threw back the covers, jumped out of bed, and ran across the hall to the spare room, where the telephone was. I frantically dialed my husband, who thankfully answered his cell. He said, in some confusion, “What are you doing up? Isn’t it like one a.m. there?” In a panicked jumble I explained what had happened and told him that I was scared, I wanted to leave and go to a hotel.

“Oh, honey,” he said impatiently. “Nothing is going to happen to you. I don’t believe in that kind of thing.”

The logic of this statement stopped me cold for a moment. I remember very clearly, standing there, blinking in stupefaction, my jaw hanging open. Thinking perhaps he hadn’t understood properly, I explained again that there were noises and lights and shaking beds and I was leaving for a hotel.

“Look, honey, I can’t talk right now. I’m at a party,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Then he hung up on me.

Now, for most women that probably would have been grounds for divorce; however, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was over-tired—it WAS one a.m. after all—I had been frightened (which always puts me in a bad mood) and now I was mad. In fact, I was very mad and since my husband—the target of my anger—was there to choke, my anger sought another target. Slowly, the crashing, clanging, banging noise, which I had apparently blocked out while talking on the phone, filtered back into my consciousness.

Only now it wasn’t scary—it was annoying! Annoying as hell! I wanted to sleep, damn it!

“Shut up!” I screamed to the house, the air, the world in general. “Just shut the hell up!” I stormed back to bed, screamed “Shut up!” once more, and pulled the covers over my head to block out lights, noises, and all other sensory inputs. In a minute, I fell back to sleep.

There were other attempts to get my attention over the following months, but I was no longer in a mood to be receptive. The sounds of a crying child in the hall were met with, “I don’t care. So you can just shut the hell up,” and the sound of someone calling my name was met with a simple, “Bugger off!”

Soon I had the sense the house was puzzled and then finally resigned. My husband and I finally regained our memories—tools and flashlights and keys stopped being misplaced and we stopped getting locked out.

Only the mysteriously recurring black flies on the third floor remained. Finally, several years ago, we decided to do some renovations to the third floor. As we were pulling down sheetrock, my husband called me over to where he was working. “Uh, honey, I think you should see this.”

There, nestled IN the wall, hanging on wall stud, was a crucifix. A feeling of dread and horror washed over me—crucifixes are something you hang ON the wall, not IN it. Even to a non-religious person such as myself, putting a crucifix in the wall at the top of the house, as well as one in the basement, seemed to indicate a protection spell of some sort, an attempt to guard against something.

“I think I’ll just leave that where it is,” my husband said.

“Damn straight!” I said. “It’s there for a reason. It’s doing something.”

Oddly enough, after that day, the black flies disappeared from the third floor, and all has been peaceful ever since.

But my house still doesn’t show up on Mapquest.

***

P.S. For more of my real-life experiences with ghosts, visit my guest post at Happy Tails and Tales (http://magluvsya03.wordpress.com/) on August 31st for the story of an encounter I had with one of my cats after she had passed away

***.

HereafterBookCover

An excerpt from Terri Bruce’s new novel, Hereafter

At that moment, the front door of Mrs. Boine’s house opened and two little girls in long pigtails pelted down the stairs, leaving the door hanging ajar.

“Grandma! Grandma!” they cried, tumbling across the lawn. “Push us! Push us!”

“Oh, they want their buggies,” Mrs. Boine said, her face going soft with fond indulgence.

Each girl threw herself onto a three-wheeled toy—the preschooler version of a tricycle—and continued to cry for Mrs. Boine like a chorus of baby birds at feeding time.

“Okay, I’m coming.” The old woman heaved herself out of her chair.

Before she could reach the children, though, the silhouette of a woman appeared in the open front

door of the house. “Girls? What are you doing? Get in here.”

“Grandma’s going to push us!” the girls cried in unison.

“You know you’re not allowed in the yard when I’m not there! Get in here this instant!”

The girls reluctantly complied, climbing off the “buggies” and dragging themselves back to the house, whining, begging, and pleading the entire way. The front door closed with a decided snap. Irene gave Mrs. Boine an inquiring look. The old lady beamed. “My grandbabies.”

“They can see you?”

“See? No, but they know I’m here.”

“How do you know they know you’re here?”

Mrs. Boine didn’t seem in the least bothered by the incredulity in Irene’s voice. “They talk to me and leave me little presents. See here…” She drew a wilted dandelion from her pocket and held it up for Irene’s inspection, beaming as if she’d just pulled a lump of gold from behind Irene’s ear. “I tuck them in and sing them to sleep every night. Oh, they know I’m here alright.”

“What about your daughter?”

Mrs. Boine set the flower down and then waved a dismissive hand, her smile disappearing under a heavy-browed frown. “Oh, Gloria was always too stubborn by half. Thinks the girls have too much imagination.” She said the word as if it was something catching. “It’s a damn shame how the living only see what they want to see, but that’s life, I suppose.”

A car rattled by. Mrs. Boine swore.

Mister MacKenzie appeared in his yard, closely inspecting his lawn, and seeming not liking what he saw. Mrs. Boine raised a hand in greeting. “Yooo-hooo!” she called.

Mister MacKenzie didn’t notice.

Mrs. Boine dropped her hand with a wistful sigh. “That man,” she said with a regretful shake of her head, as if she deeply pitied Mister MacKenzie.

Irene was still thinking of Mrs. Boine’s daughter. “Well, can’t you just write Gloria a note or something? Provide irrefutable proof that you’re still here?”

Mrs. Boine looked at Irene over the rim of her glasses. “Let me give you some advice, dear. Don’t upset the living and they won’t upset you.”

Irene gave a stubborn shake of her head. “There has to be a way to make people believe that we’re here. I can’t believe that I’m just…stuck. That I…I just have to hang around…forever…doing nothing.”

Mrs. Boine gave Irene another disapproving look. “There’s plenty to be doin’. Who’s gonna watch over your mother now that you’re gone?”

“My mother is just going to have to learn to take care of herself for once,” Irene snapped without thinking and then instantly wished she could take back the words.

Mrs. Boine’s face twisted in an affronted pucker. “Oh, well…if you don’t have anything to keep you here, then I suppose you’ll be going off to the city to live again…” Mrs. Boine said coldly, her nose rising into the air as if catching a whiff of something unpleasant. “…or going off to look for your angels and harps

and whatnots.”

“Well, if there’s somewhere else to go, why wouldn’t we leave? Why would anyone hang around here?”

Mrs. Boine looked at Irene as if she’d lost her mind. “Why would I leave? I’ve got everything I want right here. This house has been my home for fifty years, and now Gloria and the girls live here. I would never dream of leaving.”

Terri Bruce’s Hereafter available everywhere. Amazon easiest? Just click here for the Kindle Edition: http://amzn.com/B008S6K8GE It’s also available in print.

Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats.

Short Film: Ghost Story by Taryn Jones

TarynJonesGhostStory

This student project—a University of Colorado BFA thesis—is a quiet little film with some genuinely unsettling moments. What I liked most about it, though, is that it’s really about coming-of-age rather than haunting. http://vimeo.com/4462690

Short Film: The Ghosts of Père Lachaise

LachaiseGhostStory

Written and directed by Antoine Colomb and Guillaume Rio this surprising, surreal animated feature is beautifully rendered. If you like any of Pixar’s shorts, then this will appeal to you. Well worth two and a half minutes…and I’m sorry it isn’t longer. http://vimeo.com/43180571

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