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Ducharme Lecture: Are We Living in a Horror Movie?

Michael Hershey
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts

Professor Dudley in class

Associate Professor of English Jack Dudley, Ph.D., will deliver the Ducharme Lecture on March 22.

While there might not be anything hiding under the bed or in the closet, many of us retain our childhood fascination with horror stories. On March 22, Associate Professor of English Jack Dudley, Ph.D., will dive into the world of horror for the Spring Ducharme Lecture.

horror-graphic-in-text.pngDudley’s talk, titled “Are We Living in a Horror Movie?” will take the audience on a journey from 1950s Hammer Horror films like The Mummy and Dracula all the way to contemporary stories like Parasite and Possessor. Between these examples, he will draw relevant literary and cultural parallels in order to show the audience that the horror genre has been a legitimate expression of the human experience, beyond its chilling, thrilling exterior.

Sensational stories like Psycho and The Shining were originally books and were groundbreaking moments for literary horror. Of course, everyone knows the acclaimed films they eventually became. However, those who have consumed both will know how uniquely the stories are told in each medium. Dudley laments the neglect that film and the horror genre have received in critical analyses and serious commentaries. As a modernist and “phobo-phile,” he finds the two media work beautifully in concert with one another. He believes that the artistic choices and thoughtfulness of directors should appear in the bibliographies of many more essays on modernist theories.

The genre has also grown deeply nuanced, breaking away from cliched and overused tropes of a mysterious “other” (monster, man, or otherwise) who goes on a rampage against a “familiar.” The best stories contain deep layers of allegory and make us rethink our assumptions of what we think we know. The horror genre thrives on its use of the unknown and poses scenarios to its audience that we would otherwise never experience.

Running for your life from a werewolf or Freddy Krueger is not something that we are seeking to experience, yet by watching these films, what are we hoping to experience? Dudley hopes to draw the audience out of its comfort zone stating, “Horror tends to fixate on things we don’t like to focus on, such as death. But, it makes us contemplate the unknowable and unthinkable questions.” As he guides his assembly through the surface macabre, he wants to linger on the themes that can be extracted from the horrid and grotesque. What makes a menace?  How do we react to situations we cannot understand? What inspires people to produce horror stories?

When he isn’t sending chills down his students’ spines, he has published essays on Christian poetry and history, secularization in art and literature, and post-apocalyptic tragicomedy. Dudley has been teaching at the Mount since 2014, earning tenure in the fall of 2019. He received his Ph.D. in literary studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His courses cover a variety of topics from the novel Dune to Modernity to a class called American Horror Story (surprise, surprise). While his studies have taken him all over the map, Dudley sees horror as the perfect lens to weave many complicated themes together and excitedly anticipates a killer crowd in March.

Held twice a year, the Ducharme Series fosters the integration of learning between different fields in the Mount’s core curriculum. The series is named in honor of Professor Emeritus Robert Ducharme, Ph.D., who advanced the Mount’s mission for 39 years as an English professor and department chair. The Ducharme Lectures are endowed with a generous gift from Raphael Della Ratta, C’92, who was an English and philosophy major at the Mount.

Michael Hershey
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts