The comforts of the institutions

While “institution” is a word that has come to have negative connotations over the years – being associated with prisons, madhouses and the like – they are larger representations of a community. Institutions are not just penitentiaries; they are schools, hospitals, community centers, homes.

In World War Z, for example, after the zombie threat had been neutralized, the citizens were concerned with rebuilding their homes and the lives from before. It meant that they, human beings, had survived and would continue to do so. During our discussion of World War Z the question was brought up as to why people were choosing to rebuild governments that had essentially failed them. The answer is a simple one; humanity was already traumatized enough, the pressure of seriously looking at the government, redesigning and rebuilding it from scratch was not nearly as important. When people in North America started rebuilding, it was the white-collar upper classes who needed to be taught to do the blue-collar work, which was suddenly an incredibly valued skill set. Humanity as a whole wasn’t up to the task of rebuilding an entirely new institution, they needed the comfort of the familiar and so began to rebuild what they‘d previously had. In rebuilding institutions, people are regaining their sense of community, the idea that “We’re okay. We survived, and we will keep surviving until we thrive.”

     This sense “we” – of being part of a social structure – is important as human beings are by their nature social creatures. Even the Byronic hero of the Gothic tales or the Lone Cowboy of The Walking Dead are individual figures who are part of the structure. They live on the fringes of society but are never completely outside it, giving them an a sense of intrigue and danger while promising that they can still be part of the group, or even in charge of it, when needed.


gothic Vocabulary by Group 5

1) Intertextuality: The relationship between texts, especially literary ones.

-American Psycho: Patrick’s constant reference to music, literature, magazines, and fashion.


2) Picturesque: Visually attractive, especially in a quaint of pretty style. The idea that beauty is replicated in landscape

-Castle of Otranto: Controlled access to nature


3) Madness:  The state of being mentally ill; a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.

-Jack in The Shining

-Victor’s spiral down into madness with his obsession with creating the creature

-Renfield in Dracula


4) Isolation: Cause (a person or place) to be or remain alone or apart from others

-The whole Torrance family in The Shining

-Victor and the Creature in Frankenstein

-Patrick isolates himself from reality through the use of media


5) Suspension of disbelief:  The temporary acceptance as

-Castle of Otranto: The big head and the ghost pictures coming to life.


6) Heroine: Female hero

-Wendy in The Shining

-Mina is until the end of Dracula.


7) Daemon: A divinity or supernatural being of nature between gods and humans

– The creature from Frankenstein


8) Doppelganger: An apparition or double of living person

-The Shining: Tony is Danny’s doppelganger

– Frankenstein:  The creature is Victor’s doppelganger

– American Psycho: Everyone is everyone’s doppelganger. No one is real. Everyone is interchangeable with each other.


9) Naturalism: The use of detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character.

– Frankenstein: How the creature taught himself by living out in nature. His personality was shaping by how society treated him.


10) Panopticon: A type of institutional building, like a prison, designed in a way where you believe you are being watched at all times.

-The Shining: In the Overlook, there is a sense that someone, or something, is watching them at all times. For example: how they all fear room 217.


Group 5:

Shana Estahbanaty:

Matthew Mendoza:

Kathleen Maliksi:

Grace Sigala:

Michelle Wellwood:



Gothic Elements in The Shunned House

Don't be sad, Lovecraft. It's still not a mini mall. (img sourc: Yahoo Image search )

Don’t be sad, Lovecraft. It’s still not a mini mall.(img source: Yahoo Image search )

H.P. Lovecraft’s tale “The Shunned House” asserts the Gothic conventions by utilizing landscape to induce an atmosphere of horror and terror providing the audience with unexplained supernatural and a sense of legacy and lineage.

The titular house itself  is unconventional with a cellar is part of the street rather than underneath it. It’s insides are infested with molds, fungi and other things that make it impossible to rent. That entire groups of people have died here leads to a legacy that infuses the house with a sense of terror –something is very much responsible for the deaths of the family — and of horror — no true explanation was ever found. Having a cellar above ground that still manages to grow below-ground plant life  gives it an otherworldly aura even without the horrors simply because cellars are meant to be underground. It’s the entire point of their existence.

Lovecraft plays with the idea of the unexplained supernatural in “The Shunned House.” His story is full of theories as to why  people have died in the house. The most obvious and rational explanation is that it’s a house full of mold, fungi, carbon dioxide, spores and a thousands other natural phenomenon designed to make living things die. Speaking French can be classified as mistakes or knowledge gaps ( perhaps Mrs. Harris did know French as did some of the immigrant renters) that have trickled down to become part of the legend. The vampire and werewolf theories are just that theories, made to come up with an explanation or make for a better tale–certainly better than death by fungus. The protagonists even comes up with his own scientifically worded vampire explanation. At the same time the supernatural is all only given as theory: victims were told of dreaming of or exhibiting vampiric behavior the Roulet’s were hinted to be connected with the occult and werewolves. Uncle Whipple melts into a pile of goo and the protagonist uncovers a giant’s elbow with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. These images invoke a sense of horror  even if there isn’t a sense of physical terror because there is no answer and when the mind has no answer it is forced to populate it with the imagery of melting souls and  giant bones. Of nameless things.

Legacy and lineage also plays a huge role in “The Shunned House.”  Lovecraft devotes an entire chapter to the genealogy that owned the house. The legacy of the Roulet is said to have been the source of all the trouble. The protagonist and his uncle are the one who decide to hunt down the answer. By providing these Lovecraft gives the Shunned House a family lineage. The people and the names have changed yet the House links itself to a part of each member of that family. This adds to the idea of psychological horror that the house is now inexorably a part of that family. The protagonist even says he will miss it when it is gone even after having lay the evil to rest .

Note: Also of interest is the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast; two guys who like talking about Lovecraft from a sort of literary point of view. Since they focus more on why they love the works, the listener gets a good overview of what there is to love or hate about the story presented. For example they think The Shunned House is bad story, only getting good around chapter four. Their reviews are fun and pose some interesting questions like “ Why would you not put pirates in your story when the real explanation has pirates built-in?” ( regarding the real death of the real Capt. Harris) and ” Is it me or does anyone else hear the voice of Speedy Gonzales’s cousin Slowpoke when they read this?” ( about the landlady’s accent in “Cool Air”. ) I recommend them because they make me hate Lovecraft a little less and appreciate him more.


The Horrors of Reality

When looking to create the tale which would become Frankenstein, Mary Shelley writes of trying to create

“(a story) which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name.”

Stephen King is attempting to do the same thing with his novel, the Shining.  Both authors succeed in their venture by utilizing their Imagination in order to draw the reader into their tale.

Horror done well takes reality and adds to it. If there is a man who can animate something as simple as a piece of worm, why not the dead? What would happen when he did? A man is tortured by his own self-loathing, and his friends are talking him into one more drink. How far can those friends go in talking him into things? Murder? What if those friends aren’t even real?

Reality is far more complex than a simple ghost story, offering far more to an astute viewer. A gifted author observing reality can discern the emotional and intellectual connection between humans; the Sublime*.  In reaching out to his/her own imagination, the author can tap into the Sublime and connect with the reader. This connection makes it easier for the author to detail those things which will frighten others and  to convey the experiences of horror and terror to their audience. It is not only that the Creature in Frankenstein is huge and undead (living?); it represents the new found power of Scientific enquiry and the responsibility humanity has with this newly discovered power. It is not merely that the Overlook spirits possess  Jack Torrance, but his own memories and ever child’s fears of being just like their parent that drive the narrative. “I believe” King states in his introduction “ these stories exist because we sometimes need to create unreal monsters and bogies to stand in for all the things we fear in our real lives…” The supernatural forces in these novels are secondary. They merely serve as a way for the author to usher in the real horrors to frighten their audience.

*Sublime refers to the connection of all things, but for the purposes of this post, the focus is on the connection between all human beings.



    Discussions in class and in our group regarding the role of media in tales of horror and terror has given me reason to mention GhostWatch. It was a program aired by the BBC in 1992, who hoped to have one every year as a Halloween tradition. It was so effective, that it was actually banned from ever airing again and has only recently been allowed on DVD, now that all the children traumatized by it have grown up and wish to be re-traumatized, please.
    In brief: Ghostwatch is a show interviewing Mrs. Early and her two daughters, who have become the topic of  journalistic mocking due to believing their house is maliciously haunted. Mrs. Early hopes Ghostwatch can bring some legitimacy back to her family and maybe even help uncover the source of the haunting. It’s presented in that strange semi-serious, long dull-sounding interview way that characterizes 1990’s talk shows ( at least, the way I remember them) . Then the audience finds out the truth about the haunting. Then the questions arise. Then the audience finds out the real truth about the haunting. Then

    I’m not going to finish that sentence. You’ll just have to watch and find out.

     There are two reasons for the horror this show inspires. The first was that the majority of the people were playing themselves. Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, even sound man Mike Aiton are portraying themselves, giving the viewing audience a sense of realism. The second is Pipes the ghost and the way media uses him.  Ghostwatch shows Pipes at various times throughout the program and despite the technological advances made since, does it better than most shows and movies do today. There are eight confirmed sightings, done with such an artistry that the viewer can miss some of the less obvious or even second guess.
       The first appearance of Pipes for example, shows him in front of the window curtains in the daughters bedroom. The footage is repeated three times, but Pipes only really appears once and when para psychologist Dr. Lin Pascoe points it out, it is obvious that she’s wrong, that she’s circling his shoulder and calling it his head but there is a need to believe she’s right, because Pipes is/was clearly there- isn’t he? In this show even the camera, which should be able to “view” everything in the most empirical sense, has proven it can be tricked.

     In addition there’s all the theories that are implanted throughout. Similar to the way we want to know how much of what we’re reading in American Psycho is actually happening and how much is Patrick’s hallucinating, Ghostwatch asks the viewer to consider: Is this real? How much of it? And if it is real, why? with answers to the latter ranging from an evil woman‘s to the properties of poltergeist activity to the implication of a cursed land.
    You can read more about it on Wikipedia, but don’t, because that entry spoils everything and half the “fun” is sighting Pipes. If you must, go to the TVTropes page: Ghostwatch. The page picture shows his first confirmed appearance. Maybe.
    The YouTube link I originally found this movie at has been torn away for multiple third-party infringements and there are numerous videos titled Ghost Watch that have nothing to do with this show. Vimeo subscriber Encounters with Spirit, however, was kind enough to download it in three parts, starting here. Don’t read his/her summary though, it’ll spoil the fun.

Ten years later, Ghostwatch creator Stephen Volks talks about its effects in this article:


Oh and don’t worry about that knocking sound.

It’s just pipes.