Making Sense of Horror Fiction: Exploring Theses

In light of the Halloween season, I have decided to explore horror fiction analysis. Many of the articles explore psychology, ethics, philosophy and literature, cutting across disciplines. Who knew popular works such as Stephen King’s Carrie,  could be cause for academic research!

Below you will find ten articles that explore horror fiction and their theses. I will then summarize the thesis statements, so although seemingly redundant, allows for a better understanding of the arguments.

1. Russ, J. (1980). On the Fascination of Horror-Stories, including Lovecraft’s. Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, Science Fiction and the Non-Print Media, pp. 350-352.

“At its best horror fiction does attempt to give subjective, undiluted, raw, absolute, global experience-in-itself of these basic human issues. Hence the primitiveness, the crudity, the coarseness of texture of even the best of stories, like Poe’s,  although such coarseness is not a defect. It is a consequence of the material, which is common psychology of experience, not an individual psychology of particular characters.”

In her article “On the Fascination of Horror-Stories, including Lovecraft’s, ” Joanna Russ’ thesis clearly states out the premise of the content. She is arguing that behind the general fascination of horror lies the idea of a common experience. Horror explores basic human issues through fear and gore and the primitive instinct to stay alive. These instincts are shared by the general public, and therefore create a general fascination with horror.

2. Bantinaki, K. (2012). The Paradox of Horror: Fear as a Positive Emotion. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 70(4), 383-392. Retrieved from

Taking fear as the paradigm horror emotion, I develop an integrationist moderate hedonic account of the attraction of horror. Following Gary Iseminger’s classification, the account is integrationist to the extent that it traces the attraction of horror in the emotions it elicits: an experience, I argue, that is potentially both beneficial and rewarding, unlike its real-life occurrences… fear in response to horror can be experienced as an overall positive emotion, that is, an emotion toward which the subject has a positive stance and thus enjoys experiencing, leaving it open whether the emotional experience is also affectively pleasurable or affectively painful.”
Bantinaki’s thesis outlines exactly what she will be arguing. She uses the first person and cites major references of which she will explore. In short, her thesis outlines her argument that due to the integrationist hedonic account, horror elicits an experience that based on its fictional nature can be beneficial and rewarding. The fictional fear of un-reality creates a positive emotion. It is important to note that the context of these emotions is wwhat is most important in integrationist theory.

3.Hull, T. (2006). H.P. Lovecraft: A Horror in Higher Dimensions. Math Horizons, 13(3), 10-12. Retrieved from
“Lovecraft’s fiction follows a rather non-traditional approach to horror, fitting more appropriately into the sub-genre of weird fiction. Specifically, Lovecraft was primarily interested in creating an appropriate mood to inspire in the reader a sense of cosmic horror: that the hopes, dreams, and philosophies of humankind are inconsequential to the larger universe, and that as a result the chaotic forces of nature could wipe out human existence in the blink of an eye without anyone even noticing.”
In Hull’s thesis he argues that Lovecraft’s work extends outside of the genre’s norms reaching a “higher dimension” of weird fiction. This type of fiction explores the cosmic in relation with some key emotions of the human psyche: the hopes, dreams, and philosophies of humankind. The sublime “chaotic forces” threaten human existence, which as Hull argues, creates a higher type of horror that many attempt to mimic.

4. Tompkins, J. (2009). What’s the Deal with Soundtrack Albums? Metal Music and the Customized Aesthetics of Contemporary Horror. Cinema Journal, 49(1), 65-81. Retrieved from
“This essay argues that film music functions not only as a cross-promotional medium for marketing movies and licensed recordings, but also as a key site for effectively managing and containing processes of consumption. Heavy metal music is deployed in horror films like Freddy vs. Jason to interpellate particular niche audiences and taste communities. Thus, soundtrack albums reveal assumption within media firms that a manageable relationship between niche formats and consumer tastes exists to be exploited.”
Tompkins clearly lays out the argument of his article. He argues that there is a direct correlation with the choice of music in film soundtracks with the targeted audience. He uses horror film and metal music as an example. He argues that in films like Freddy vs. Jason, media firms target audiences with metal music, assuming their tastes in music would coincide with their taste in film and encourage consumption.

5. Carroll, N. (1987). The Nature of Horror. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 46(1), 51-59. doi:10.2307/431308 
“It is not the purpose of this essay to analyze natural horror, but only art-horror-“horror,” that is, as it serves to name a cross-art genre whose existence is already recognized in ordinary language…Art-horror by stipulation, is supposed to refer to the product of a genre that crystallized roughly around the time of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and that has continued often cyclically, to persist through the novels and plays of the nineteenth century and the literature and films of the twentieth.”
Carroll’s thesis is somewhat abstract, he briefly describes the kind of horror he will be exploring as art horror, of which his essay will go on to explain. He gives an example of one of the works he will explore Frankenstein of whose description and epistolary style acts as art. Carroll will cross disciplines to explore film, literature, and plays that explore this genre.

6.Benshoff, H. (2000). Blaxploitation Horror Films: Generic Reappropriation or Reinscription? Cinema Journal, 39(2), 31-50. Retrieved from
“This essay explores how the concept of African American agency historically negotiated the generic structure of the horror film during the years of the blaxploitation film craze (roughly 1969-76). This is an important topic, since the American horror flm often hinges on filmically constructed fears of the Other- an Other-ness both drawn from constitutive of any given era’s cultural history.” 
Benshoff has a very straightforward thesis which highlights his essays objective. He states he will be exploring the idea of the Other in horror film, exploring stereotypes that black actors are often forced to fill in horror. He hopes to support this exploration through a historical look at blaxploitation of the early 70s, where black actors were exploited as the Other.

7.Briefel, A. (2005). Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film.Film Quarterly, 58(3), 16-27. doi:10.1525/fq.2005.58.3.16
“In what follows, I will suggest that pain is central to how we relate to the horror film- but not as a vehicle through which we can sympathize with the monster’s victims. Instead, I will propose that it is the monster’s pain that determines audience positioning in the horror film.The genre presents two contrasting modes of monstrous suffering: masochism and menstruation.”
Briefel has very original ideas about horror film. She suggests that audiences sympathies lie within the monster’s pain. She argues there are two camps one can sympathize with: masochism which represents male monsters and sadistic rampages, and the female counterpart to the act of self-mutiliation in menstruation. In short, she argues that their are feminine and masculine parts of horror that expose conservatism.

8.Lindsey, S. (1991). HORROR, FEMININITY, AND CARRIE’S MONSTROUS PUBERTY. Journal of Film and Video, 43(4), 33-44. Retrieved from
“The film is in essence a melodramatic rendering of female puberty where the mousy outcast triumphs(if only temporarily) over popular, better looking girls by beating them at their own game…the film surrounds such familiar issues with an aura of terror, grafting onto this plot a story of supernatural horror dealing with Carrie’s telekinetic power.”
Lindsey’s article opens with a thesis summarizing their thoughts on the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie. Lindsey argues that the film is a melodramatic rendition of female puberty and the struggles associated with that. The use of familiar issues makes the film popular, especially with the incorporation of fascinating themes such as terror and the supernatural.

9. Brauerhoch, A. (1995). Mixed Emotions: “Mommie Dearest.” Between Melodrama and Horror. Cinema Journal, 35(1), 53-64. doi:10.2307/1225807
“To this end the film, Mommie Dearest, falls back onto conventions of the “womans film” and employs a genre mix of melodrama and horror: it picks up the leitmotivs of the female melodrama, in which the protagonist becomes an icon of suffering; in other elements, especially in its visual style, however, the film rather reminds one of horror film.”
Brauerhoch argues that the film Mommie Dearest explores conventions of melodrama and horror. As a “womans film” the protagonist represents the female suffering that is often a stereotype in horror films. Brauerhoch argues that the film borders on historically misogynistic genres.

10. Stewart, S. (1982). The Epistemology of the Horror Story. The Journal of American Folklore, 95(375), 33-50. doi:10.2307/540021
“The narrative structure of the horror story exaggerates and displays the sequentiality of all narrative structures; hence its adaptability to the monologic narrative voice, to the phenomenon of one page after another, to the sequential shots of the film, and to the temporality of directed travel through the landscape of the “house of horrors.” The horror story form thus spans both preindustrial and postindustrial modes of fiction making and provides an important example of the ways in which folklore and literature share a repertoire of narrative devices.”
Stewart argues that the form of horror through its narrative structures, temporality, and adaptability spans the pre and post industrial modes of fiction. The relationship between folklore and literature mark the importance and popularity of these narrative devices which allow for a timeless feel.

Titles: A First Glimpse into the Thoughts, Opinions and Writings of an Author

Titles are the first thing we see when we are first introduced to a product or piece of work. Titles are everywhere; in books, magazines, movies, songs, paintings, sculptures,and  buildings. What kind of title captivates audiences to want more? What is the difference between a good title and a bad title? Is there such thing as a bad title? How does one articulate their entire writing using one sentence? These are the questions an author must think of before (or after) they produce their work, whatever it may be. For the purpose of this assignment, articles on Gender Studies will be explored.

Some titles are abstract and to the point, while others are followed by a subtitle or provide deeper insight by the use of a colon. Examples of simple titles include “Who Studies Women’s Studies?” by Marion Price and Mairead Owen and “The State of Gender Studies in Political Science” by Gretchen Ritter and Nicole Mellow. Price, Owen, Ritter and Mellow use titles that clearly state the article’s topic and focus of content. Both captivate the audience by inviting them to question the content. Price and Owen simplify this by using a question mark. Ritter and Mellow allude to the question: what is the state of an often controversial subject (Gender Studies) in a discipline that is built upon debate and conflict (Political Science). It is assumed that by reading this article, these questions will be answered.

In academic writing, it can be difficult to be creative with titles. When an author is creative it gives their article that much more of an edge.  Leora Audlander uses an interesting combination of mathematical symbols and punctuation to catch the audience’s attention in “Do Women’s + Feminist + Men’s + Lesbian and Gay + Queer Studies = Gender Studies?” References are also an interesting way to add creativity. In “To See and Hear Like Ophelia, or How Not to Take Leave of One’s Senses: Representations of the Madwoman in Youtube Culture” by Monika Sosnowska she references Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” comparing a historically popular character, Ophelia, to what is now arguably modern theatre “Youtube.” The interesting comparison is made possible by using a colonic title.

I am a huge fan of the colonic title. Simple titles are good to get a point across, however a more complex title (like a colonic title) gives room for creativity and clarification. From the list below I tried to find a wide range of titles, however colonic titles stood out. In conclusion, I think a title is quite dependent on the content of the articles and colonic titles would not always be necessary. However, the difference between a good title and a great title has proven itself to be about creativity and clarity, which a colonic title further allows.

1.”The State of Gender Studies in Political Science” by Gretchen Ritter, Nicole Mellow

2.”She Who Speaks Shadow Speaks Truth: Transdisciplinarity in Women’s and Gender Studies” by Irene Dolling, Sabine Hark

3.”The Selfish Gender, or the Reproduction of Gender Asymmetry in Gender Studies” by: T.V. Barchunova

4. “Ecofeminist Study of Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes in 1843” by: Sanjay D. Palwekar

5. “To See and Hear Like Ophelia, or How Not to Take Leave of One’s Senses: Representations of the Madwoman in Youtube Culture” by: Monika Sosnowska

6. “Female Sex Tourism in the Caribbean – A “Fair Trade” or a New Kind of Colonial Exploitation? – Tanika Gupta’s Sugar Mummies and Debbie Tucker Green’s Trade” by: Hildegard Klein

7. “Do Women’s + Feminist + Men’s + Lesbian and Gay + Queer Studies = Gender Studies?”by: Leora Auslander

8. “Gender Studies; New gender studies findings from National Institutes of Health” published by: Anonymous

9. “Who Studies Women’s Studies? ” by: Marion Price, Mairead Owen

10.”Global Trends: Gender Studies in Europe and the US” by: Giulia Calvi

Below I have included 5 practice titles that could be used for three hypothetical essays. Of the five practice titles, I favour the combination of colons and question marks. The use of both allows for a direct subject accompanied by the implication of the article’s content and answers to the question in the title. I also like to play on popular culture references, because popular subject matter is what will often grab a greater readership. The title “Trudeamania: A Recurring Phenomena or Living in the Shadows of Predecessor’s Fame?” combines all three of these title traits, and therefore is one of the stronger titles in my opinion.

1. Essay on Canadian Art History and the Cultural and Geological Impacts:

  • Northern River by Tom Thomson: The Harsh Realities of the Canadian Landscape
  • Cultural Appropriation of a Lost Land: Emily Carr and Indigenous Landscape Painting

2. Essay on History of Canadian Politics:

  • Trudeaumania: A Recurring Phenomena or Living in the Shadows of  Predecessor’s Fame?
  • Life after Jack Layton: Reconstructing a Legacy

3. Essay on Possibility of Pipelines:

  • Natural Gas Pipelines: What Means More, Preservation or Prosperity?

Comparing Two Different Articles: What’s The Point?

Two articles were chosen at random by going to Royal Roads University’s academic journal library and picking an article from two areas that interest me, by using the “filter” function on the side bar to narrow down the topics.

Luckily for me the two topics I chose at random were two topics I am very interested in! The first one is an article involving the Strength of Materials, which is what my job directly pertains to and I deal with on an almost daily basis, yet am still mystified by how it works on a mathematical level. This article specifically deals with comparing two kinds of materials (glass reinforced plastic & carbon reinforced plastic) and which of the two is more idealistic to create a seal in a centrifugal pump.

The second article is something that interests me in my personal life yet have no actual expertise in, which is an article found in the Journal of Child Custody. This article deals with intimate violence present in families and the effect it has on children.

As the reader can see, these two articles couldn’t be further the opposite, which makes them perfect to compare, between the style of writing, the types of people who would take interest, the people who would write such articles and the language/numbers used.

Engineering and Social Work come from two very different spheres of ideology, one completely depends on mathematics and can break down the science to literally fractions of decimal places and the other uses mathematics as an aid to prove theory via statistics and surveys.

As a person whose life has been based around engineering and technical applications, I’ve always felt myself finding a better understanding of social, political and  theoretical problems. Mathematics has never been my specialty, I’ve always been a man of language and literary theory. This way of thinking is what has led me to pursuing “Interdisciplinary Studies,” finding great value in both sides of the dichotomy.

Here was my response to part one of the assignment (what you see above is part two):

INDS 300, Unit 3 Discussion:

I’ve chosen two articles within two different journals which have absolutely nothing to do with each other and compare the writing styles each author uses. The article from The Journal of Child Custody is fairly understandable and straightforward.

The article from the journal Strength of Materials can also be understood to a point, but to be able to apply the equations and mathematics is a totally different story, one I’m not too proficient in doing.

Title: “Stress State of Sealing Ring of Composite Material with the Specified Physical and Mechanical Characteristics” Title: “Estimating Canadian childhood exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) and other risky parental behaviours”
To Determine the physical and mechanical characteristics of an anisotropic material when stress is introduced on a single plane. Trying to find the importance of interventions addressing a multitude of risk factors present in families with IPV, ie. prescription medication usage, anxiety, binge drinking, etc.
Deals with moving fluid through a centrifugal pump with light hydrocarbons present. Deals with violence in families and how it affects children.
Very to the point and concise. Quite expansive.
Uses a combination of writing, mathematical formulas and charts along with several units of measurements (MPa, %, m • k, etc. Uses a single graph and only uses one form of measurement (%).
Uses footnotes to reference. Includes the references within the article itself.
Uses a lot of technical engineering jargon, a background in engineering would help with all the symbols. Relatively easy to read, even if the reader doesn’t have a background, it can still be understood relatively fast.
Not very open for interpretation, there are definite answers to the problems and those problems can be solved with equations and mathematics down to the fraction of a decimal point. Very open to interpretation and the answers cannot be solved using mathematics or equations.
States that in fact, glass reinforced plastic is three times more effective thermally than carbon reinforced plastic and gives proof. Suggests that there are many contributing factors to IPV and gives possible solutions to the problem.
Deals with machines. Deals with humans.

The reason why I chose these two topics is one is what I currently do for work. I’m a marine engineer so I have an understanding of centrifugal pumps, seals and a slight understanding of thermodynamics. Although a lot of this is beyond my level, I do find it quite fascinating and would like to know much more on how it actually works in a numerical sense.

The second is the field which I would like to make a career out of, which is: helping people (not machines). As I slowly make the transition to helping humans rather than helping machines, they couldn’t be more different from each other. From the writing used, the data collected, the kinds of people involved in these fields of study and the fact that humans are far more complex than machines.




Compassionate Lying: The Truth Hurts

Sometimes lying is good. When taking first aid courses and dealing with people who have sustained massive trauma you’re encouraged to lie to them in order to give them hope, and to keep them calm. Dr. Thomas G. Plante argues in Is lying for the Greater Good Ethical?  “…while one can argue if lying is ethical from multiple angles, I might suggest that if white lies help to manage healthy relationships and nurture others then lying could be the ethical thing to do after all.” I agree and consider this compassionate lying.

You see it in movies and hear about it in books, especially tales about war. When a soldier is severely wounded and his comrade is holding them close, promising everything will be alright even though one knows well enough that the wounded person will be dead shortly. It’s better to deal with terrible situations in a calm fashion rather than in a panic.

I recognize a time in my life when I came to the conclusion that I was able to compassionately lie to keep a situation calm. As a teenager I used to walk my dog through a field behind a cul-de-sac. As I was walking my best friend Patch the Jack Russell Terrier, I noticed a kid riding his bike. The bike wasn’t assembled properly and right in front of my eyes, the front tire of the bike popped off without warning.

The front end of the bike plummeted to the ground and the kid fell very hard, reaching out to brace himself for a hard landing. After a sickening noise the kid was on the ground panicked, dazed and frightened.

Patch and I ran over to him to see if he was alright. It appeared that the child had broken his arm very badly, his Ulna bone was sticking up pressing against his skin almost bursting out of his forearm. He could not move his hand or fingers. The child was rambling on asking how bad it was and if it looked alright (which it was not).

I ended up telling the kid that it was fine, it looked great and it would be healed in no time, but I needed to take him home right away for his parents to inspect the injury. If I had of been in his situation I probably would have passed out due to the grotesque scene but he didn’t know any better.

He walked with me to his home without shedding a single tear and remained calm the entire way, until I rang the doorbell and his father answered. His father did not possess the skills I had recently learned.  All the screaming and yelling that man did eventually set his child off and the poor kid found out the hard way that his injury was a rather severe one, resulting in him crying and eventually fainting.

To reiterate, as Max Pemberton says in his article The truth is, lying can be a kindness, the type of lie described in the above narrative is a “brief reassurance intended to pacify and ease…They are rooted in compassion.” I used emotional awareness to gauge and manipulate a situation for the well being of the child.


Everyday Liars: Micro-Expression & Facial Recognition

As humans we are liars, whether or not we want to be. Not telling the truth can potentially get us out of trouble or awkward situations, it can give someone a shred of hope or it can cause serious irreparable damage.

Lying and telling the truth can be hard, believing can be even harder. There are certain methods we can use to determine if a person is being truthful or not – one of the easiest ways to know is through their facial expressions.

As we get older it becomes easier to hide our true emotions and feelings if we feel the need to, by mastering how to manipulate our faces in to looking truthful, go ahead give it a try. If you catch a child in the act of doing something wrong you can tell if they’re being honest or not within moments of looking at them; their cheeky smirks, their shifty eyes, their pouting and trembling lips, and the fumbling of their words. There are many tell-tale signs that give a person away.

Over time we learn by trial and error what facial expressions we should use and not use in certain scenarios and eventually figure out how to “keep a straight face” when we don’t necessarily want to.

We don’t live in a fairy tale world such as the story of Pinocchio. When he lies his nose grows which is a dead giveaway. As humans our facial expressions are far more subtle, so subtle that we can rectify an unwanted expression within less than a second. Our initial expression which we quickly hide is called a “micro expression” which shows our true feelings before we mask it with an opposite expression.

With advances in psychology and technology we are lied to continuously. Lying is portrayed through visual media outlets such as television and web news to manipulate for mass consumption of hidden agendas. The news anchor, politician, religious leader, salesperson can now look millions of people in the eyes and lie directly to them, all they need to do is keep a straight face.

As Paula Gordon says in her article Who Can We Believe? Dr. Ekman’s Not-so-Magic Cure, lying is accepted and often condoned.

“All too frequently we are in a con game, particularly in the commercial sphere. Advertising, marketing, sales, finance, politics and belief systems do not traffic in veracity. Indeed, even if the game is not a con game, if I don’t know the rules, I am at risk. If someone can change the rules on a whim or on the back of a purchased politician, I am at risk. If I am a lousy player, I am at risk. If I trust the untrustworthy, I am at risk.”

With an understanding of emotional intelligence one can recognize the facial expressions of manipulation but also empathize with more sincere expression. With influences both positive and negative, our views are often shaped from what we read, what we see, and what we hear. It can be very hard to tune out all the lies and deceit. The best we can do is filter through it using our education, experience and the wisdom we gain over time. Everyone is capable of lying and telling the truth, it is up to each individual person to choose whether they want to believe or not.

A Change in Perspective: From East to West

Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my very first blog post, ever!

Writing has always been a passion of mine, even though I hardly ever write. I never know where to begin or end. This very second I’m struggling with what to say and how to say it. However, all I know is that my passion for reading and writing is real, for reading is one of my favourite past times and my friends say I’m a great story teller.

Growing up in a very suburbanized area of London, Ontario creativity was never a big thing for most people. Creativity was never sought to make money, earn a decent living or put food on the table. What did put food on the table was hard work, conforming to the ordinary and achieving the stereotypical benchmarks laid out modern society. Most people follow the following steps: go to school; get a job; perhaps get more schooling through post-secondary education; get a better job; save money; find a suitable partner; buy a house together; have children; teach them the previous steps then eventually die happy and somewhat fulfilled.

To me that state of mind is existing but not living. It wasn’t until I moved out west that I truly felt what it was like to be alive. Here I felt what it is like to have the freedom of exploration, to be able to pack a bag and disappear into the wilderness for a few days at a time, to climb things, and to meet new people from all over the world.

I come from a place where the culture is non-existent. On top of that the cultures around me that I discovered were generally bad experiences due to racism within the communities. Outside of my little suburban bubble lived a plethora of cultures in the Canadian melting pot. However, invisible borders divided cultures. There was segregation and little education, leaving most children in my community ignorant to the many voices around them.

By taking this course, I hope to finally take the many ideas I’ve jotted down over the years and be able to articulate them properly on paper (or in this case online). The intersectionality of this course I hope will broaden my perspectives and hear those many voices that go unheard (often mine included).

A poor writer can have a great idea and make it sound awful and a great writer can take a poor idea and make it sound wonderful if they know what to say and when to say it!