BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Experts in various aspects of the macabre
include several University at Buffalo faculty members who
specialize in what many cultures find horrible and terrifying.
Video is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1K6irKHrjc.
The UB faculty specializations range from satanic practice,
black magic and cultural monstrosities (like serial killers) to
"real" and imagined vampires and zombies, as well as the bizarre
Spanish gothic period in which our fascination with the utterly
horrible is grounded. One expert includes greedy bankers and
environmentally destructive corporations among the monsters of our
All of these experts, described below, can discuss not only what
frightens us, but how and why we create monsters to help us cope
with cultural anxiety.
Yes, Virginia, There Are "Real" Vampires
John Edgar Browning is an Arthur A. Schomburg Fellow and
PhD candidate in American Studies at UB. He has written several
books and conducts research on the vampire. He specializes in the
Dracula figure in film, literature, television and popular
"Vampires and monsters -- they're just us," Browning says.
"They're what we aspire to be, what we're told to hate most about
ourselves, what we secretly yearn for, but shouldn't."
Browning is the author of several books, including "Draculas,
Vampires, and Other Undead Forms," "Dracula in Visual Media: Film,
Television, Comic Book and Electronic Game Appearances, 1921-2010"
and "Speaking of Monsters: A Teratological Anthology."
Browning has been invited to lecture on a Holland-American
vampire-themed cruise next summer.
The Monsters We Don't Recognize
David Schmid, PhD, professor of English, focuses on
cultural monstrosities -- those among us whom we perceive as
"monsters" and the role they play in our self-perception as
individual and social beings. Although his initial work in this
field focused on the serial killer as an American popular-culture
figure, he also studies how our society safely represents and
addresses the anxieties of our time through the use of other
monsters, such as zombies and vampires.
He is the author of "Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in
American Culture," "True Crime," a companion to crime fiction, "The
Devil You Know: Dexter and the 'Goodness' of American Serial
Killing" and books on noir novels, murderabilia and murder
"The monsters I'm most interested in are the ones that exist in
plain sight," Schmid says. "Sure, I write about the traditional
Halloween and pop culture fare -- zombies, vampires and so on --
but I never want to lose sight of the fact that the most
distinctive and numerous monsters in any culture are the ones that
we don't immediately recognize.
"I conduct research on killers and their place in our cultural
imagination but I also want to extend that focus to other monstrous
figures and institutions: those whose apparent normality makes them
no less destructive and murderous: the abusers at Abu Ghraib, the
banks that are destroying lives while reaping record profits and
the corporations who are poisoning the planet for their bottom
Witches, Demons, Satanism, Sorcerers and the Undead
Phillips Stevens Jr., PhD, is an associate professor of
anthropology and director of undergraduate studies in anthropology
at UB, whose research and publications embrace works on spirits and
spirit possession, Satanism, magic, sorcery, witchcraft, voodoo and
deities of various cultures. His work focuses on West African
spiritual practice and is a scholar of witchcraft.
Stevens has published dozens of articles on these issues as well
as on divination, "distance healing," zombies, rites of passage,
magical thinking and the dark side of humanity.
Where Does Our Fascination with the Horrible Come
David Castillo, PhD, associate professor and chair of the
UB Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, specializes in
an era that produced unusually grotesque, terrifying and fantastic
Castillo can discuss the historical roots of supernatural
visitation, terrifying visions, haunted houses and man-made horrors
not unlike those we read about online or in the tabloid press
today. Castillo can describe why we love this stuff, what it means
"really," and how old and creepy our fascination actually is.
His latest book, "Baroque Horrors" presents tales of mutilation,
mutation, monstrosity, murder and mayhem that, he says, "offer a
way for us to understand our own modern fears and their monstrous
offspring, and new ways to think about broad questions of political
history and relate them to the modern age."
He says the historical roots of horror in the modern age lie in
the Spanish baroque period, roughly 1600-1720. His book explores a
lot of terrifying behavior, beliefs, places and people of that era
rarely considered together. For instance, the young woman cemented
up in the family home -- by her family, who waited for six years,
despite the stench, while worms and vermin did her in from the feet
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