All Aboard the Struggle Bus

I’ve been having some bad mental health….months. I’ll go more into them in a future post if I’m up for it. Suffice to say, this blog isn’t entirely abandoned. I’ve been writing on things for months, never finishing them, and convincing myself that they aren’t worth posting.

I’m tired of that attitude. I may not be 100% better, but I’m determined to fake it till I make it.

Hopefully there will be a new, full length post, next week.

Blog Update

I would like to assure you all, I have no fallen off the face of the earth nor have I abandoned this blog. I have had a severe case of writer’s block going on, with regards to my chosen topics, and I have had little time in order to work through said block. I will, however, give you a preview of the articles to come in the next few weeks if things go as planned.

Upcoming post schedule:

Closure and Catharsis: Revenge as Recovery in Horror Movies

Rednecks from Hell: The Intersections of Class and Disability in Horror

A Queer and Present Danger: Gay and Trans-Coded Horror Villains

Tod Browning’s Freak: When Does Representation Cross the Line to Exploitation?

I also have about a dozen more lined up, but these are the ones I am planning to release within the next several weeks. I hope you stick around to see them.

Horror and Women’s Intergenerational Trauma

Trauma is a universal language. Like language, it’s often passed down generation to generation. We all hear the stories, though we may not understand them. However, there is not–I would argue–any greater intergenerational trauma than the pain placed upon a person by an abuser or an attacker. Whether we are discussing institutionally crafted traumas such as genocide or slavery, more intimate yet pervasive issues such as long-term domestic abuse, or even single instance traumas which last a lifetime, the trauma brought on by such pain is incredibly long lasting and indelible upon the psyche of a family or a people.

On May 23, 2016, John Carpenter announced to the world that he would be returning to the Halloween franchise as executive producer for a new foray into a reimagined nightmare. With the new film ignoring all of the previous Halloween canon save for the first installment, fans were excited but skeptical as to how Carpenter would pull off a Michael Myers story with both Michael and his protagonist counterpart Laurie being in their sixties. What fans wanted was a fantastic sequel to a beloved horror franchise; Carpenter certainly delivered on that. He also delivered something unexpected: a bold look into how trauma affects not just survivors, but their families as well. I would hope, by writing this to not only justify the actions of Laurie Strode as a logical conclusion of severe trauma, but examine how that trauma passed itself down to both her daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson within the confines of the Halloween (2018) universe.

A theatrical poster of Halloween, 2018. The image shows an older Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, in profile in front of the masked killer Michael Myers.
Halloween, 2018, theatrical poster

While further study is warranted, initial findings point to the heritability of trauma, particularly with regards as to how it affects the nurture bond between parent and child (Kaitz, et. al., 2009). Horror as a genre is not unfamiliar with depictions of intergenerational trauma, either. As Lowenstein (2005) questions: where would horror be without reliance upon reactionary terrors to historical and contemporary traumas?

The historical trauma that the original Halloween movie franchise builds upon is women’s intergenerational trauma with regards to the male monster figure (Connelly, 2007). Michael Myers, or The Shape, is the prototypical figure of male violence within the slasher genre. Proceeded only by famous non-franchise slashers such as Psycho (1960), Black Christmas (1974) and The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), Michael Myers became – mostly by default – the first and most defining figure for the slasher subgenre. With few exceptions, many slasher killers would begin to follow the model set by Michael: a mask, a slow looming walk, and a seeming immortality. Beyond even these characteristics, the genre also became defined by its victims–or rather its survivors. As the slasher movie shifts from the view of the hunter to the view of the hunted, it also shifts from the perspective of male to female.

Carol Clover (1993) originated the term Final Girl for this trope; the Final Girl survives the killer and is the last one left to tell the story. The Final Girl does this by setting herself apart from the average horror movie girl; not only is the Final Girl generally perceived as virginal, she is often perceived as tomboyish, though not tomboyish enough to be a credible threat to actual male power (Clover, 1996). While Clover derides Laurie in the original film somewhat as a more passive Final Girl who ultimately needs rescuing by the male Dr. Loomis, she does not deny that Laurie meets the model of the Final Girl for the time period. Laurie fights back against Michael, wounding him and confusing him at various points in the chase. It is only Michael’s functional immortality that keeps him alive past the climax of the movie. When Dr. Loomis arrives seemingly miraculously and manages to put a stop to Michael by somehow firing seven shots from a revolver, Laurie is saved and the movie seems to be over. Of course, a startling reveal of the empty ground where Michael should lie subverts this idea and makes room for multiple sequels.

Of course, the sequels all became moot with the announcement of the new 2018 film. Denying such key original plot points as Michael being Laurie’s older brother, the film instead focuses on Laurie’s lasting reaction to trauma. Laurie, in her adulthood, became a recluse and survivalist. Her marriages failed as she reacted to trauma by becoming a survivalist, a lifestyle she then attempts to force on her daughter until Karen is removed from her custody at age twelve. Her house is isolated; her backyard is a gun range. Laurie’s kitchen even has a secret secured entrance down to a hidden cellar, which becomes of great plot importance at the climax of the film.

In interviews prior to the 2018 film’s release, Jamie Lee Curtis spoke a great deal of Laurie’s initial denial of trauma, her feelings of freakishness, and her survivor’s guilt. Curtis went on to defend Laurie’s behavior as a reaction to untreated trauma. While she never justifies the trauma Laurie put her daughter Karen (and Karen’s daughter Allyson) in by proxy, the effect of untreated trauma in Laurie is not difficult to see manifested in her daily life.

Like many people who suffer from an untreated trauma, Laurie ends up unintentionally passing down said trauma through the women in her family. This is most readily apparent in Karen, whose unhappy marriage and blasé denial of potential danger bely a past overshadowed by a survivalist education and emotional trauma. While Allyson is more distant from the trauma, it is obvious that Laurie’s pain impacts her a great deal.

This form of intergenerational trauma is one of the first of its kind within the horror genre. While movies like Hereditary certainly explore intergenerational trauma within a family (and Hereditary is likely my favorite film of all time), the way Halloween does so while brilliantly giving homage to its source material is unsurpassed in my opinion.

In the next post, I will continue to talk about Halloween 2018 and how it relates to the closure process with regards to trauma.

I hope you’ve enjoyed things so far. Thank you for your patience while I got this out of my system.

Watching Cronenberg’s The Fly with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

The idea for this post came on a whim, as most things do. I was intending to write about trauma, specifically intergenerational trauma and how it affects women. It’s portrayed beautifully and bloodily in Halloween 2018, but it’s something about which only a handful of bloggers have written. Something about the concept began to frustrate me, however, which I can’t quite put my finger on, and I began to think about trauma as it relates to me personally.

Think of this as a secondary introduction post. Sort of a look into the way my experience as a horror fan is colored, beyond the already very specific lens of gender.

When I was a child, I was in a low growth percentile. Small, overly fragile, with horrendous internal problems that my poor parents barely knew how to mitigate. As I grew, I had mysterious growing pains, including–it seemed–in my ribs. I developed asthma, and my weight fluctuated violently between being too much to too little.

Eventually I stopped growing.

The growing pains didn’t stop.

It wasn’t until college age, that a doctor entered the room with little fanfare and violently dislocated all of the fingers on my right hand without any sort of warning. He told me derisively to stop crying and that I had a rare disease called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. He left the room without telling me what that was. I was left to Wikipedia and bouts of random crying.

Years later, a much kinder doctor would explain to me all of my symptoms and how they related to a genetic deformity on my collagen markers. You see, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder, which systematically affects everything in your body with collagen, including your organs. As the years continued, I would have to have a surgery to tie my stomach into a knot (my faulty tissue would reverse the surgery a mere three years later), I would be in and out of the ER with dislocated and micro-fractured joints, and my heart would start to rush so much I would pass out cold in the bathroom. There is no cure, there is barely any treatment asides from symptom management, and–despite what some doctors say–it is degenerative in the sense that you only get worse as you age.

As you might imagine, I have a strained relationship with the concept of body horror.

This brings me to Cronenberg. Cronenberg may not be the progenitor of body horror–that honor would most commonly and likely go to author Franz Kafka–, but he is certainly the director most known for its portrayal on screen. With films like The Brood, Videodrome, and probably most notably, The Fly, it’s no wonder he was given such a venerable title within the horror genre. His films have frightened people for decades, and with good cause.

After all, what is more terrifying than the betrayal of your own body?

I watched the Fly during one of the worst parts of my illness. I recall throwing up at least twice, not out of fear or disgust necessarily, but out of the degenerating path my own body was taking. At the time, my stomach was over-producing so much stomach acid, it was wearing away holes in my esophagus and the lining of my stomach. It was resistant to most medications at the time. I often would compare myself to the Xenomorph Queen in that every time I would get sick, I’d spit up acid. I would be throwing up acid at least three times a day. After seeing The Fly, I would say that I was just digesting a bit early and externally.

No one found my gallows humor quite as funny as I did.

I related strongly to the plight of Seth Brundle in the film. Though my body wasn’t changing out of my own jealous hubris, it was changing nonetheless into something I didn’t recognize. That said, I don’t believe Cronenberg necessarily intended for The Fly to be a chronic illness metaphor. A terminal illness metaphor, most definitely; perhaps it was even an unintentional treatise on the horrors and betrayals of aging. However, I doubt it was meant for someone whose illness would keep them alive for an indeterminate amount of time.

Just as Kafka’s metaphor of the cockroach for physical disability could also be read as a metaphor for depression, however, so did become my viewing of The Fly. Through no fault of my own had I become freakish and in pain, likely destined to die before reaching a very old age, and having a strong chance of passing the monstrosity I possessed down to any children I may have had had I not learned about my condition’s hereditary nature first.

With that said, my view of body horror is inherently tainted. It’s also, at the same time painfully intimate. Much like Seth’s transformation into the Brundlefly, talking about it is difficult at the best of times. However, I hope that by writing this post, I have given anyone reading a potential lens through to the way I view horror, particularly certain kinds of horror, before we technically begin this journey together.

I will try to make my next post a little less…depressing.

Promise.

Spilling My Guts

I must have started writing this post over a dozen times. There’s something so personally impersonal about an introduction post. You want to share what drew you to create this little corner of the internet, yet you don’t want to get so terrifyingly intimate that you scare people away. It’s a difficult balancing act to perform, particularly for a newer blogger.

That said, this is Shock and Aww, so named for my combined love of the grotesque and the adorable, all wrapped up into one little spot on the world wide web. The goal of this blog is to combine my love of horror with my love of writing, particularly academic writing, and create some sort of conversations around horror that either haven’t been had before or have been limited in scope.

My love of horror grew from trauma, as many things grow. I was bullied a lot as a kid, in ways I won’t get into, and horror was a good retreat into that. My first horror movie was the children’s horror comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, one of a lengthy series of largely regional, mostly direct-to-video comedies. They starred Shakespearean actor Jim Varney as the titular Ernest P. Worrell, a loveable redneck with a heart of gold who consistently got into outlandish shenanigans.

Rumor has it that the character of Ernest, a cap-wearing, catchphrase spewing Southerner, was based on a hitchhiker Varney picked in in Paducah, Kentucky.

Rumor also has it that that hitchhiker was my great-uncle Billy.

Who knows though.

What I do know is that I latched onto to everything horror that my parents would let me watch. It wasn’t much to be honest, and it was all more-or-less child friendly. Movies from Jim Henson Studios like Dark Crystal and Labyrinth got viewed so much that the tapes wore out. The Witches, Hocus Pocus, and Something Wicked This Way Comes scared me much more, but I loved them. Shows like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? became must-see TV, as did the annual Halloween Disney Channel original movies. I missed more than one fall festival night out of a desire to stay home to see Nightmare Before Christmas or Beetlejuice.

I also liked more traditional adult horror fare–at least what my very mindful mom let me watch with my dad. The Universal monster movies were perpetual favorites every year, as was an edited for televsion version of Young Frankenstein. A lot of my first forays into adult horror were in the edited-for-tv versions on AMC and Turner Classic Movies. TV Land became a good source of year round entertainment with shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters.

As I grew, I branched out into more adult horror. My very first PG-13 movie was–well, it was Spiderman directed by Sam Raimi, actually–but the second one was The Ring. I was, like many nerdy kids in the early 2000s, obsessed with anime and all things Japan, and that transferred over to horror. I saw The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye, and several other remakes from Japan.

The video store in my hometown saw me frequently, especially after I learned how to drive. Not only did they have all of the subtitled, original Japanese films I adored in my early teens, they also weren’t very particular as to whether or not I was old enough to see an R film. While I strictly avoided films that looked too lurid, the more violent horror films definitely caught my eye. I also was able to see a few classics, though I largely avoided the slasher genre due to the conflation of violence with sex. I didn’t see Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, or Friday the 13th until I was much older. I did, however, see Hellraiser at 18. In retrospect, this was a strange dichotomy, I’ll admit, but it seemed like a good idea the time.

As I grew more, so did my love of horror. I started going to conventions, I started getting rarer cuts of movies, and I started testing to see how extreme of films I could watch before I grossed myself out too much. While plenty of movies have the ability to disturb, scare, and upset me, one of the only films I remember turning off because it was too gross was Mimic. I couldn’t take all the scenes in the sewers.

I had always loved to read, so I turned to books for analysis. I read every academic book about horror I could get my hands on.

There weren’t many.

Ever since then, a part of me has wanted to write about horror from a more academic bent. Not necessarily in the objective, pure academic sense, but in a way that interrogates films and subgenres based on concepts often not talked about seriously in relation to the genre.  

And thus, Shock and Aww was talked about and eventually born.

I truly hope you enjoy the posts I create and the subjects that I write about. I currently have a backlogged list of topics, but feel free to comment with things you would like to see on the blog. I appreciate every single person who reads this and has decided to go along on this journey with me.