Class of horrors

Oct 31, 2002, vol. 25, no. 5
By Marianne Meadahl



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English professor Paul Budra (left) with a skull from his family's ornate collection, which graces their mantle during the Halloween season.


Paul Budra is content to know that some of his students are having a horrifying experience in class this semester.

The English professor is immersing them in blood-chilling, heart-racing, nerve-twisting stories written to shock and frighten. The faint of heart need not apply for this course.

But Budra had no trouble filling the 50 seats in his new upper level English course, the literature of horror (Eng. 399). The course is for non-English majors and has drawn horror buffs - and even a few former Goths - from fields as diverse as chemistry and psychology.

“There's something compelling about a good horror story,” says Budra, a Shakespearean scholar, whose passion for horror has been in his blood since childhood. “As a young tyke I would jump at the chance to see triple header bug invasion movies. I don't know what started it. My parents were very uncreepy people.”

Budra initially offered a lower level course on horror two years ago, packing 200 students into the class. As the instructor of the new English 399 course, he thought horror might sell.

“There was no shortage of interest. Most of these students have had a long-standing attraction to horror movies,” he says. “Seminar discussions are lively.”

Budra covers all of the classics, from Frankenstein and Dracula to Psycho and the gamut of Stephen King novels, and explores the writings and cult following of H.P. Lovecraft. Students look at adaptations of stories to film and the success of such transitions.

“In their day, movies like Dracula really put horror on the map, but the fact is they are no longer very scary movies,” says Budra. “A lot of horror doesn't age well. Then again, there are some films, like The Exorcist, that really do stand up as truly scary.”

And while so-called splatter movies still fill a niche, they may be entertaining, but not truly frightening, Budra suggests. “Films that are really scary and will stand up over time are those which set the pace with good suspense and tension. They are past films like Rosemary's Baby, or current films like The Ring. Those put us on the edge of our seats.”

But Budra, who concedes to multi-viewings of The Chainsaw Massacre and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, admits his all-time favourite is the 1987 film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, once described by columnist Roger Ebert as “a comedy disguised as a blood-soaked shock-a-rama.”

Budra still insists: “I love that movie.

What's the attraction? Budra stays away from any attempt to analyse why people like horror. “People like good stories. They like intrigue. That will probably never change.”

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