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It Takes Many Forms: Horror as Resistance

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 | Hallowed Horrors

BY JESS PEACOCK

(I recently had the honor of being invited to speak at the 2018 Salem Horror Fest in Salem, MA on the topic of the horror genre serving as an engine for resistance against systematic oppression. While I pulled some of the lecture material from past installments of Hallowed Horrors, I thought it might be of interest to Rue Morgue readers if I posted a properly edited version of my talk here. Enjoy!)

As a species, we’ve always sought to construct meaningful narratives and mythologies, of positioning ourselves as purposeful actors within the flow of history, and as such we have sought to invent stories that provide order and value to what often appears to be a chaotic and indifferent universe. These stories, religions, legends, and myths evolve out of our experiences and out of our need to give those experiences meaning and purpose. In other words, we live within the stories we share, and those narratives, imaginative as they might be, can exercise influence in our world.

Imagination is the womb of religion and myth; it is the human faculty that enables us to create texts, symbols, and rituals that exist in a repetitive ontological loop of being found meaningful because they convey meaning and are therefore found to be meaningful.

Unfortunately, the importance or validity of the mythological narrative has too often been exclusively claimed by institutional religion, and as such a separation between the religious and the secular – or the sacred and the profane – exists within the wider culture, imbuing religion with a sense of timeless meaning while popular culture is seen as fleeting at best, meaningless at worst.

As a result, the meaning-making potential of new mythologies and narratives is suppressed or simply ignored altogether. This disregard for non-religious narratives is evident in the evolution of the horror genre within western popular culture. While cultural master narratives, which are simply extensions of Judeo-Christian ideologies that have become dyed into the very fabric of society, chose to emphasize and promote their more benevolent principles, explaining away or outright disregarding the more insidious qualities of genocide, rape, filicide, racism, and general divine monstrousness within its canon, the contemporary horror genre emerged as a subversive collection of narratives conveying its own power, meaning, and religious experience.

In his book Monsters in America, historian Scott Poole writes:

“This is why we need to study monsters. They are the things hiding in history’s dark places, the silences that scream if you listen closely enough . . . The secrets and the lies, and perhaps most importantly the victims of history, are in those stories of monsters, those dark places waiting to be explored.”

All of this is to say that not only does the horror genre emerge as a source of meaning-making within popular culture, but due to its subversive nature it can often serve as a postcolonial or anti-imperial critique countering cultural norms and expectations.

Despite its recent mainstream acceptance reflected in the box office juggernauts IT and the latest Halloween, it’s important to remember that horror has traditionally been considered a form of entertainment at the fringes of society, appealing primarily to a disenfranchised and thus easily marginalized audience. As such, horror is, to some extent, imbued with an aura of resistance to cultural normativity, and introduces a hermeneutical alternative to the existing power dynamics within the wider society, and embodies marginalized bodies that have been othered, demonized, and treated as cultural monsters to be feared and destroyed, such as the black, female, queer, and immigrant body.

To this, the late Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldua, whose book Borderlands explores the cultural and social other as monstrous (in her case the queer mestiza body), spoke of her experience watching Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi/horror film Alien for the first time:

“I really identified with it. There was this serpent-like alien being, a parasite, in this man’s chest. It exploded; the being rushed out…In the film, it seemed like they were taking all the things they fear and hate about themselves and projecting them onto the monster. Just like we did with blacks and like people do with queers – all the evils get projected. My sympathies were not with the people at all; they were with the alien.”

Anzaldua understood how the monster can speak to the marginalized and the oppressed, and how the role of the horror genre might serve as an engine of postcolonial critique of repressive cultural boundaries, even if those boundaries have been rendered invisible by the dominant hegemonic structures within society. Alien provided Anzaldua a point of departure to identify with something wholly other, yet also entirely relatable, a place where one can begin to embark on the work of the transformation of their social reality, a space where the beautiful and the grotesque commingle and enmesh to create something unique and, perhaps, transcendent. The horror genre presents to us narrative models which embody struggle and resistance against overwhelming forces of oppression, stories that resonate with meaning and value. As Neil Gaiman has written:

“Horror and fantasy…are often seen simply as escapist literature…When we are lucky the fantastique offers a roadmap – a guide to the territory of the imagination, for it is the function of imaginative literature to show us the world we know, but from a different direction…these stories have power.”

That power is needed now more than ever. As scholars such as Poole and Jill Halberstam remind us, the monster has traditionally come to represent the other throughout history. Whether that be a religious other, a political other, or a sexual other, the role of western colonialism has been to otherize or to make monsters out of anything or anyone that fails to meet a particular normative criterion. And that normative criteria, more often than not, is straight, white, and male.

This is most noticeable today, particularly in the rhetoric and fear surrounding transgender people and the trope of the public bathroom boogeyman, as well as the ongoing demonization of black bodies by police and other bigoted voices within the culture, such as when Officer Darren Wilson, after shooting and killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, described the 18-yeard old African American man as a demon, and referred to the victim as “it” in courtroom testimony. And most recently we’ve entered into a period of increased fear mongering regarding undocumented immigrants, with our own president labeling them as “animals” infesting the United States from “shithole” nations.

“Toxic masculinity and the othering of women as compensation for male fragility is quickly reaching its expiration date.”

These standards of normativity become our conditioned religious and cultural master narratives, serving as parameters of acceptability, where any deviancy becomes grounds for otherization, marginalization, and destruction. Throughout history we can see the long-term physical and psychic damage master narratives have created for marginalized groups through the process of colonialization, and it is within horror stories and tales of the monster where we can often examine the terror and dread of those who do not fit into our privileges and imposed norms.

Because of this, horror stories and the monsters lurking therein can be subversive and dangerous to existing power structures. Due to this subversive nature, the genre can counter or even queer cultural norms and expectations.

This is not to say that the horror genre has not also been complicit in maintaining our cultural and religious master narratives and norms. Stephen King once famously said that the horror genre is as Republican as a banker in a three-piece suit, serving as a conservative warning of overstepping social boundaries. And while the figure of the monster often stands as a transgressive figure and exists as the incarnation of radical difference, the original intent of many horror narratives was possibly meant to bolster cultural norms.

It could be argued that the unspoken role of horror figures such as Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers was to actually preserve the accepted socioreligious order of the United States in the 1980s, reflecting anxieties revolving around the conclusion of the permissible 1970s and the start of a morally conservative 1980s as they hacked and slashed their way through teenagers engaged in drug use, premarital sex, and other morally permissive acts.

However, a post-colonial deconstruction might engage in a double-read of these slasher narratives in order to understand both the obvious political or moral anxiety on display, as well as the potential subversive power of these stories. John Carpenter’s Halloween, for example, might reveal fears revolving around white flight from decaying urban centers. The arrival of anything other into this haven of upper middle-class privilege was considered a nightmare, whether that other was African-American families, single parents, or members of the LGBTQ community.

This is to say that the horror genre and the figure of the monster are flexible and multivariant metaphors. But they don’t exist in a cultural vacuum. For example, in the hands of, say, Terrence Fisher, who directed many of the British Hammer vampire films of the 1950s and 1960s, the vampire sub-genre is imbued with a strong patriarchal and misogynistic message. While a more contemporary fang flick such as Ana Lily Amirpour’s decidedly feminist A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night wrestles with complex gender roles and sexual politics through the lens of an Iranian female vampire.

 

THE VAMPIRE AS GENDER TRANSGRESSOR

When talking about the horror genre as liberative discourse or narrative of resistance, the vampire sub-genre is actually an important place to begin, as the figure has very deep misogynistic roots dating back well beyond Bram Stoker even considered putting pen to paper, embodied most notably in the Lilith myth, a Jewish legend that found its most common telling in the Alphabet of Ben Sira from the ninth century.

In the legend, Lilith is created by Yahweh as the first wife of Adam. However, as she viewed herself on equal footing to that of her husband, Lilith refused to take the submissive role during sex. This did not sit well with Adam, so Lilith fled Eden and got her own place. Adam complained to Yahweh, who eventually demanded that Lilith come home. She refused. Yahweh then sent angels to get her, but she refused again, even when threatened with death. According to the legend, Lilith then slept with demons and gave birth to the lilim, described as she-demons who would sneak into the beds of sleeping men and milk them of their life force.

This view of Lilith paints her as a vampiric beast seeking to devour men and children, a cultural and religious attempt by the patriarchy to demonize the idea of a woman operating apart from a male-centered hierarchy. She even makes an appearance in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Isaiah where she is presented as a monster living amongst the ruins of any nation that opposes God. The passage reads:

“They shall name it No Kingdom There, and all its princes shall be nothing. Thorns shall grow over its strongholds, nettles and thistles in its fortresses. It shall be the haunt of jackals…goat-demons shall call to each other; there too Lilith shall lurk, and live among the ruins.” – Isaiah 34:13-15

Some alternate translations of the Bible take the demonization of Lilith even further, calling her a night-demon, a night-monster, a creature of the night, evil and rapacious, a lamia (which should sound familiar if you’re a Drag Me to Hell fan), and the Living Bible’s translation just goes full-on macabre in the last line with “Their howls will fill the night. There the night-monsters will scream at each other, and the demons will come there to rest.”

Despite Lilith obviously not being presented as the hero of this ancient narrative, the legend nevertheless tells a fascinating story of a woman open about her sexuality and the power it affords her, and presents her as one who seeks agency in determining when and how said agency is expressed – not to mention the fear it generates within the male hierarchy.  As such, the Lilith narrative has found a foothold in the larger vampire mythos within popular culture, even if it tends to still be as the villainous beast. Whether in Tales From the Crypt: Bordello of Blood, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, True Blood, or the From Dusk Till Dawn series and movie, we see overt strains of the original Lilith myth.

Why is this important? It’s not difficult to see how this narrative model played out recently with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who slept with Donald Trump and was paid to keep it quiet. Trump apologist Rudy Giuliani said of her, “The business you were in entitles you to no degree of giving your credibility any weight. I’m sorry I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman or a woman of substance or a woman who … isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation.” Trump responded with, “Not going to disagree with that.” In some sense Stormy Daniels refused to take the submissive role to these powerful men who sought either her obedience or her destruction. She refused to return to Adam, and for that she had to be demonized.

This example of Stormy Daniels illustrates how many contemporary interpretations of Lilith and the Alphabet of Ben Sira seek to re-imagine the myth as a feminist anthem of resistance (which it very well can be). But we can’t forget that Lilith was first and foremost created as a warning to the patriarchy of the dangers of the independent and liberated woman in possession of her sexual agency. This normative structure has been perpetuated in modern popular culture through the western vampire narrative and is indicative of the ongoing stranglehold the patriarchy has on society as a whole with regard to views of gender roles, norms, and hierarchy.

And it is a stranglehold the patriarchy will not release without a fight.

This fear of female empowerment is disturbingly prescient in the Hammer film The Vampire Lovers, which is based on the novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, an unsubtle warning of the dangers inherent within female agency, particularly when that freedom leads a woman entirely out of patriarchal control in the form of a same-sex relationship. This concern over feminine agency is compounded when Carmilla, from the perspective of the patriarchy, seeks to seduce, convert, and indoctrinate other women and young girls into her “lifestyle.” The solution to such cultural insolence becomes, as demonstrated at the end of both the novella and the film, the destruction of the woman, bringing an end to the efforts of the vampire at transforming the strictly male-dominated culture.

This perspective powerfully resonates when one views it in the context of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s recent confrontation with a horde of angry old white men as she gave testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning her sexual assault at the hands of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as well as her metaphorical staking and dissection within the media.

This type of post-colonial double-read of the Lilith myth, or even of a film such asThe Vampire Lovers, can turn these horror stories into subversive criticisms of the very oppressive structures they emerge from, providing us with narrative roadmaps out of the defining nature of empire and brings forth the subversive message of resistance embedded within these films and texts.

Of course, while we do need to perform a double-read or re-interpretation on some of these older pop culture artifacts, recent horror efforts have been less subtle, heavily influenced and responsive to a society hell bent on continuing its white-hetero-patriarchal death grip. Recent notable horror movie entries such as Get Out, The Transfiguration, and Revenge have sought to weaponize the genre toward the goal of social progress by critiquing and commenting on everything from racism to socioeconomic issues to sexual assault and the horror of the male gaze.

Similarly, films such as the Autopsy of Jane Doe and Assassination Nation, with their overt connective lineage to the Salem witch trials, are unsubtle in their assertion that, with the former, the historic and ongoing dissection of the female body will not go unanswered, and with the latter, toxic masculinity and the othering of women as compensation for male fragility is quickly reaching its expiration date.

 

THE TRANSGRESSIVE AMPHIBIAN MAN

Most notable with regard to the genre of the monstrous directly addressing oppressive hegemonic issues as well as the othering process these structures engender is Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, a dark fairy tale of intersectional commentary that boldly explores the alienation of otherized bodies through the lens of the monstrous.

The other is represented within The Shape of Water through a number of marginalized characters: Elisa Esposito, a mute and physically scarred woman working as a custodian at a secret research facility, and Zelda, her black co-worker, both of whom face the daily pressures of misogyny, ableism, and racism. Along with Giles, a gay artist grappling with the cruel reality of a closeted life in 1962 Baltimore,the heroes of del Toro’s Oscar winning tale are social throwaways, particularly with regard to a United States in the early 1960s still entrenched in white patriarchal heteronormativity – and let’s be honest, not much has changed since then.

Strickland, the square jawed straight white male who would be the hero of this film in another time and a different cultural setting, is represented as the epitome of toxic masculinity, a frightening career military man who lords his cultural dominance as an entitled white-Christian-alpha-male over Elisa and Zelda from the start, telling them, “[W]e’re created in the Lord’s image…He looks like a human, like me. Or even you. Maybe a little more like me, I guess.”

For Strickland, women are simply there to serve his privilege, evidenced not only by his disregarding of Elisa and Zelda’s presence in the bathroom when he takes a piss, but in his assertion of domestic authority over his dutiful wife, whom he expects to remain obediently silent during sex…even as he bleeds on her face. Of course, it is Strickland’s sense of entitlement and misogynistic superiority that ultimately proves to be his downfall, as he is unable to initially conceive of a world where anything less than a ten-man strike force could undermine him, let alone two women aided by a middle-aged queer artist.

The brilliant use by del Toro of the genre of magical realism, which was borne out of a Latin American post-colonial critique, opens the narrative to the introduction of his Amazonian Amphibian Man serving as a disruptive and transgressive presence for those who recognize it as such, while existing only as a repulsive monster in the eyes of the privileged and powerful who are unable to see another culture’s traditions as anything but monstrous.

However, for those already marginalized, the presence of the Amphibian Man, monstrous though it may be, offers something beyond the dominant narrative of power and oppression provided by structures of privilege and normativity. The existence of del Toro’s creature introduces a hermeneutical alternative by personifying the marginalized bodies that have been othered, demonized, and treated as monsters themselves – something Elisa, Giles, and Zelda understand all too well. The monster represented in the body of the Amphibian Man violates imposed boundaries, existing as the incarnation of radical difference.

The Shape of Water is a film that speaks truth to power through the horrific and the monstrous, lending metaphorical muscle to voices at the margins of society as they struggle against dominant oppressive paradigms. Guillermo del Toro’s spin on the classic horror movie Creature from the Black Lagoon is a parable that challenges our self-imposed cultural blinders. As the director told NPR in an interview soon after the release of the film:

“The movie is about connecting with the other. And that’s why the original title of the screenplay when I wrote it was A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times, because I think that this is a movie that is incredibly pertinent and almost like an antidote to a lot of the cynicism and disconnect that we experience day to day.”

The Shape of Water is a stunning exploration of humanity in the face of horrific and repressive circumstances and embodies the horror genre as a subversive critique of social norms and structures of oppression, showing us that what cannot be overthrown might at least be undermined or transgressed through creative defiance.

In other words: horror as resistance.

Films such as Get Out and The Shape of Water didn’t earn their box-office and critical accolades simply because they were thrilling or featured a cool creature. They spoke to our human and national condition. They served as roadmaps of solidarity and resistance against forces that seek to dominate and destroy.

The human animal is unique in that not only do we craft stories for an untold number of purposes, including entertainment, we tend also to live into the narratives we construct, as well as reflect through artistic expression the stories we live in. In other words, as a species we enflesh the narratives we tell ourselves, gleaning as much from the fictional worlds we inhabit as we do the “real” world.

According to author and comic book writer Grant Morrison:

“We tend to reenact the stories we tell ourselves. We learn as much from our fictional role models as we do from the real people who share our lives…We can write new lives and new futures, and, more important, live them. Stories can break hearts or foment revolutions.”

And it is the horror genre in particular that possesses within its dark DNA a transformative essence through not only its ability to show us the world from new and revelatory angles, but in its metaphorical usage of the image of the monster.

 

THE LAMENTATIONS OF STEPHEN KING

Author Stephen King, perhaps more than any writer of the twentieth or twenty-first century, is intimately aware of the connection between monsters and meaning, and how they, depending on the context in which they are created, possess the power to unearth cultural truths and to dismantle what social theorist Michel Foucault called pervasive power structures. Foucault wrote:

“The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.” (see every episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!)

Just as del Toro’s Amphibian Man unearthed everything from toxic masculinity and misogyny to racism and homophobia, the monster writ large can be viewed as the embodiment of the lamentations of our culture and history. Monsters emerge out of the margins of society in order to defend those being marginalized, as well as to confront the privileged with their role as monster makers.

And it is this role of serving as a contemporary form of lamentations where, I would argue, the aforementioned Stephen King in particular finds his resonance.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the book ofLamentations found in the Hebrew Bible assaults the reader with the pain and suffering of ancient Jewish people facing oppression, displacement, and potential extinction, prompting religious historian Tod Linafelt to classify the text as survival or resistance literature.

Whether we’re visiting King’s fictional destinations of Haven, Desperation, Jerusalem’s Lot, or Derry, we find ourselves in a similar geography of oppression and destruction where, as the author writes in Pet Sematary, “The ground became sour.” This souring of the land is a constant in King’s work, perhaps reflecting a country built on a foundation of genocide and slavery often obscured and denied through hyper-Nationalism and a resurgent white supremacy – a past buried but never dead.

As the adult Mike Hanlon observed in the novel IT:

“I’ve begun to think, you see, that It has been here so long . . . whatever It really is . . . that It’s become a part of Derry. Only It’s not a matter of outward geography, you understand. Maybe that was true once, but now It’s . . . inside. Somehow It’s gotten inside. That’s the only way I know to understand all of the terrible things that have happened here – the nominally explicable as well as the utterly inexplicable.”

Through such a lens, King, and thus the reader, might then interrogate the consequence of the violence and cruelty baked into the crust of the United States, the external violence of native American genocide and slavery manifesting itself internally today at the intersection of the cultural captivity and hegemony of racism, classism, ethnic discrimination, sexism, and heterosexism just to name a few of the more prominent oppressions.

While speaking with an audience in 1983, King said:

“A lot of the frights, a lot of the nightmares that we get in books and in movies really are symbolic…Underneath or between the lines, in the tension, where the fear is, there’s something else going on altogether…All the time I was writing [‘salem’s Lot], the Watergate hearings were pouring out of the TV… During that time, I was thinking about secrets, things that have been hidden and were being dragged out into the light.”

King’s story about vampires systematically consuming a small town in Maine reflects an existential mistrust that had been metastasizing within the United States in the mid-1970s. The monsters within the novel served as the embodiment of that mistrust, making palpable an encroaching sense of dread within the culture, a fear that, despite the appearance of a society filled with vitality and life, in actuality reeked of rot and death just beneath the surface.

One only has to briefly read or watch the news today to see that the political implications of ‘salem’s Lot resonate as powerfully now as they did forty years ago.

The monsters that King conjures are filled with dark meaning and dire admonitions, shambling out of our fretful collective political, social, and religious psyche, warnings to the characters within his books – as well as the reader – to venture no further for fear of losing one’s grip on reality. These monsters are hegemonic, symbols of the oppressive forces throughout American history that coalesce into a common theme in King’s expansive work; the past is never dead…and the past is hungry.

In the novel IT, the eldritch monster Pennywise stalks and brutally kills the children of Derry approximately every twenty-seven years. The townspeople seem to accept this without question, the horrors regularly explained away with contorted logic or simply forgotten, a mysterious amnesia that afflicts most of the inhabitants. This lack of communal solidarity has enabled the despotic monstrousness of Pennywise to return again and again, making the oppressed community of Derry conspirators in maintaining their own oppression.

Interestingly, the young protagonists of IT, collectively known as the Losers’ Club, include Beverly, labeled by other kids as a slut and who lives under the thumb of a tyrannical and incestuous misogyny at the hands of her father; Bill, who lives with a physical disability; Stan, who is Jewish; as well as Mike, a young African American facing aggressive and violent racism from outside the group, and sometimes “friendly” racism from within.

It’s not difficult to see, then, how the terror bubbling up from the sewers of Derry and the themes within the larger narrative might come to embody our own current national landscape. Whether it be the return of consequence free public lynchings of Black bodies under the guise of law and order, or the resurgence of white nationalism and anti-Semitism following the election of Donald Trump, or the often-hidden systems of ableism found across the social spectrum, or the renewed assaults on women’s access to family planning and new concerns regarding the ongoing viability of Roe v Wade, the rallying cry of “Make America great again” and its nationalistic implications could just easily be read as “They all float down here!”

In the novel and film IT, the Losers’ Club survive a battle with Pennywise as kids and make a promise to return if the monster comes back, slicing their palms with a broken glass bottle in a binding blood oath. As an adult who receives a fateful phone call, Bill Denbrow is shocked to discover that the scars from that day, scars that had vanished, have become clearly visible again. “Scars can’t come back,” he says, speaking to our uncanny collective ability within the United States to forget our own disfigurements, our trespasses, and the sins of our elders. It is that denial which allows the monsters to continually feed.

I do not believe it to be a coincidence that King’s two greatest periods of cultural success were during the Reagan era as well as the current reign of Trump – two presidencies separated by nearly twenty-seven years, no doubt making Pennywise very proud. Despite the mythology surrounding Ronald Reagan as one of our most cherished national leaders, the former and late POTUS initiated the dismantling of labor unions, oversaw an unprecedented gap (at least at that time) between the rich and working families, and turned his back on the horror of the AIDS epidemic. While comparing the two terms of Reagan to the comparatively small reign of Trump is not necessarily fair, the repressive similarities are eerie nonetheless.

In many of King’s narratives, whether it be It, ‘salem’s Lot, Desperation, or any number of his dark fables, there is a theme of constructing solidarity within an oppressed community. This may be why King’s narratives, as well as his characters, resonate with the culture so deeply. They are oppressed, afraid, and in pain – yet they don’t give in. They find meaning and value together. They struggle, they resist, and they do so with no promise of success. Desperation is not simply the name of a town in a King novel by the same name. Desperation is the trait that comes to define King’s various ka-tets, his characters fighting for survival.

Ethicist and theologian Miguel De La Torre writes:

“When a people are desperate, they will do whatever it takes to change the situation because nothing is left to lose. The Latin root for ‘desperate’ suggests a hopelessness that leads to action, at times reckless action, brought about by great urgency and anxiety. Desperation becomes the means by which we work out our liberation.”

The monsters from King’s id possess the metaphorical power to unearth cultural truths and to dismantle Foucault’s pervasive power structures, invisible monstrosities that have been feeding off of society in much the same way Barlow fed off the townspeople of ‘salem’s Lot or the True Knot fed off those with the shine. King shows us that these monsters can be defeated, but often only through de la Torre’s reckless action and always at great cost to those fighting.

King stated in 1979, “I think this bravery in the face of horror is one of the things that people respond to in my work.” The Master of Horror’s dark yet confident narratives challenge us to remember the scars of our violent and repressive history, to venture into the sewers of our cultural captivity together, and to confront the very monsters that seek to devour us all.

In her book A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong, while addressing the format of the fictional novel, sheds light on the role and potential of narratives within popular culture writ large, including, I would argue, horror narratives. She writes:

“…like mythology, an important novel is transformative. If we allow it to do so, it can change us forever…A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest.”

Armstrong affirms how the act of reading a novel or, perhaps, watching a movie, can function as a type of ritual as it projects the initiate to a place of liminality where transformation can occur. Indeed, the horror genre coalesces into a rich literary tradition that conveys the ongoing story of unspeakable oppression and the marginalized characters who, often at great cost, choose to resist. Horror leads us to a larger consideration of not only what it means to be alive in the face of death, but what it means to be alive together.

I believe that these narratives have power. Horror speaks to survival, both individual and communal, potentially serving as a canon of resistance meant to remind us of death, of oppression, and of the forces that seek endless power and consumption in our uncertain times. The sharing of these narratives, whether in a movie theater, at a book club, or at Salem Horror Fest, can become an act of resistance that challenges social patterns of oppression.

Horror narratives can change the world by changing us.

“Horror narratives can change the world by changing us.”

Jess Peacock
JESS PEACOCK is the author of SUCH A DARK THING: THEOLOGY OF THE VAMPIRE NARRATIVE IN POPULAR CULTURE ("Smart and insightful" - FANGORIA) from Wipf and Stock Publishers. He has contributed to RELIGION DISPATCHES, RUE MORGUE MAGAZINE, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, and is the former editor-in-chief of STREET SPEECH, a social justice publication produced by the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless in Ohio. Among his academic distinctions, Peacock is the recipient of Methodist Theological School in Ohio's Ronald L. Williams Book Prize in Theology and Ethics, as well as The Matey Janata Freedwomen Award for his research and work in women's issues and is the recipient of the Heldrich-Dvorak Fellowship from the Popular/American Culture Association. He currently writes the HALLOWED HORRORS column for RUE MORGUE online, and his similarly titled book is scheduled for release in early 2019 from Wipf and Stock. Jess is currently a PhD student living in Chicago and can regularly be heard on the LEGACY OF THE MARSTEN HOUSE podcast available on iTunes.