The Curriculum of Horror

Or, the Pedagogies of Monsters, Madmen, and the Misanthropic

by James Grant (Author)
©2019 Monographs XII, 232 Pages


Horror often gets a bad rap, written off as fodder and sensational trash. This text argues that works of the grotesque, most particularly those that fit into the horror genre (including film, written works, radio plays, music, and more), are rich with content that has been largely ignored by curriculum theorists, and that this marginalization makes the genre rife for exploring the anxieties that drive people to invent these tales, leaving them fertile ground for curriculum exploration. Author James V. Grant takes a bricolage approach to understanding constructed monstrosity within cultural phenomena, using it as groundwork for autobiographical and cultural research. Through this bricolage—particularly as a means for exploring the third spaces that the monstrous inhabit and what this habitation reveals—the author problematizes not only a range of identity politics, but also the primacy of human access in educational thought, questioning the efficacy of viewing students, teachers, and schools as objectively knowable data factories. The blending of frameworks creates a Victor Frankenstein approach to uncovering what popular creations of monstrosity reveal about the anxieties of the current age, and what understanding them opens up for curriculum studies. The text’s arts-based inquiry into exploring monstrosity, beginning each chapter with a nightmare screenplay (based on the author’s own nightmares) relevant to the subject matter at hand and ending with theoretical introspection that situates the author within the subject matter, also provides a set of examples of horror theorizing in action.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Prelude
  • Chapter 1. Morbid Beauty: Toward a Curriculum of the Horrible
  • Curriculum Studies
  • The Study in Miniature
  • Introducing Dr. Frankenstein
  • A Case for Horror: Image, Text, Ambiguity, and the Explicit
  • The Textual Image
  • The Photographic Image
  • The Reveal
  • A Map of the Terrain
  • Thread for the Stitching
  • Regarding Bricolage
  • Collecting the Bones, Assembling the Thing
  • Ethical Considerations
  • Horror Unpacked: A General Theory for Curriculum Studies
  • Monsters
  • The Supernatural
  • The Unnatural
  • The Psychotic
  • The Psychological
  • Interlude: Blood Sisters
  • Chapter 2. Beyond Nature: Ghosts, Devils, and the Horror of History
  • The Haunted House
  • The Haunted Page
  • Possession
  • The Haunted Body
  • The Vengeful Spirit
  • Mirror, Mirror
  • “You helped her?” Ambiguity and Ethics in the 21st Century
  • Mirror, Mirror … Mirror: A Reflection on Reflection
  • Interlude: The Spider
  • Chapter 3. Against Nature: Twisted Minds, Twisted Things
  • The Mad Genius
  • The Being that Should Not Be
  • Hybrid Beasts
  • The Living Dead
  • The Un/living and the Self-Aware Self
  • Freaks!!
  • Freaks on the Big Screen
  • Freaks on the Small Screen
  • From the Journals of a 21st Century Frankenstein
  • Interlude: Drooling and Snarling
  • Chapter 4. Broken Brains: The Horrors Next Door and Inside
  • Speak of the Devil
  • Hiddenness: The Wo/man Behind the Mask
  • The Monster Next Door
  • The Mad Genius Redux
  • Sexual Ambiguity, Castration, and the Final Girl
  • The Horrors of Agency and Free Will
  • Interlude: The Windows Never Were
  • Chapter 5. There Must be Some Explanation: The Horror of Unknowing
  • On Duomining, the Earth, the Planet, and the World
  • My Own Worst Enemy: The Fractured Psyche
  • Strange Territory Part 1: The Ambivalent World
  • Strange Territory Part 2: The Antagonistic World
  • Weirding the Classroom
  • Interlude: Found Footage
  • Chapter 6. Bonus Features
  • On a Necessary Shift in Style
  • Family Matters: That Foundational Shaky Ground
  • Little Monsters
  • My Sister’s Keeper
  • Not-So-Haunted Houses
  • Evil Will Prevail
  • Reproanthesis
  • What’s for Dinner?

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Tiffany, your continuous encouragement and excitement over my progress has kept me going in a way that I may never be able to express or adequately thank you for.

Mom, I don’t know if you and Dad were aware when I sneak-watched that first Nightmare on Elm Street movie with you guys as a kid or not, but who knows where I’d be right now if I hadn’t. I’m not sure whether to thank you for looking the other way, or for having faith that I’d probably turn out OK, anyway.

Rob, Tillman, Mike, Woody, and the Church of Panera, those early mornings over coffee and bagels and late nights over beers and bonfires lurk behind every word here.

Adam, Stacey, and the rest of the Summer 2014 crew who recognized that drinks at Gnat’s was always a good lunch plan, the ghosts of our conversations surely haunt these pages.

Marla, John, Julie, Mary, Brad, Lucy, and everyone else, this is no dream. This is really happening.

| 1 →




A forest darker than the night stands at the field’s western end, which provides the backdrop for the shot. We zoom in on a half-moon that is perfectly mid-sky. Zoom out on that same half-moon, shining on the waters of a pond that lies mid-field. There is a young BOY, roughly five years old, in the field, some twenty yards east of the pond. He is alone. He has shaggy, curly, brown hair and blue eyes. He is wearing jeans and a collared Izod shirt with thick stripes alternating white/green/white/navy. He is walking slowly toward the pond, kicking ragweed flowers as he does so, occasionally hopping a puddle.

As he makes it to the bank of the pond, the moon becomes a spotlight, its beam shining directly and concentratedly onto the surface of the pond. Slowly, ← 1 | 2 → a FACELESS CREATURE rises from the pond while at the very same time a microphone drops from the heavens, much like would happen at a boxing match. The creature is bald, pale. It has a facial area, but the face itself is indescribable.

INTERCUT FACE SHIFT: Creature face shifts from completely blank to red-eyed with a wide nose and thin lips to completely blank to blue-eyed with a thin nose and thick lips to completely blank with brown eyes and no nose or lips and every other combination of these possibilities at a rate of 10 frames per second.

Boy stops. Creature begins to dance a soft-shoe on the surface of the water while burlesque music plays in the background.

Boy’s eyes are wide.

Pond. As the faceless creature descends into the water, a SNAKE MAN rises up. It stands 6-feet tall. It has the legs and torso of a man, but the head and hood of a cobra. Its eyes are black. It is scaled from head to toe and the scales alternate between brown, grey, and black in no distinguishable pattern.

PAN OUT: the field as a whole.

Boy begins to run east.


Snake Man snaps his jaws, begins to run across the surface of the water and the field. ← 2 | 3 →


He is running; there is dew on the grass beneath his feet. He climbs an aluminum gate and begins to pass a house. The house is brick. Its yard is grassless. There are a few pines and a large oak. The BOY is running downhill across the yard. There are roots across the ground.


He is treading across the field. The aluminum gate is near to him. He glides under it. The boy is nearing in his distance.


He looks over his shoulder. The Snake Man is approaching. He looks forward. Another aluminum gate. This one slimmer. He continues to run. Jumps over the latch that connects the gate to a tree. There is a slender wooden bridge in front of him that runs over a small creek. It is clear the wood is wet. There are no rails. His feet slip for a moment, stalling him, then he gains traction.


The slender aluminum gate is in front of him. He glides through it. He hits the bridge and is stalled, almost cartoon-like.


He is now climbing a wooden fence. The fence has three levels of horizontal slats going from post to post in a top-middle-bottom format. He jumps from the top slat and runs across a well-manicured lawn.


He is nearly across the bridge. The wooden fence is a few steps away. The BOY is barely over the fence.


He is at the steps of a house.


He is over the fence. The boy is a few steps away.


He looks over his shoulder. The Snake Man is a few steps behind.


He is at the boy’s heels.


He has approached the door to the house. He opens it. Slams it shut behind himself.


The boy is standing just in front of the door. Across the room, a WOMAN is standing over a stove. There is a pot on the stove and she is stirring it.


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· 1 ·


Toward a Curriculum of the Horrible

Whether in daylight or in shadow, the horrific has a secret to whisper to those who would listen. There is something to be learned from decay, from morbidity, from fear and the infinite question mark of death. When a thing falls apart, there is a world of knowledge to be gained not only from its decomposition, but also the source, effects, and experience of its retreat into rot. Several simple questions open up this very point: Why is this thing decaying? What is the manner of its decay? What other organisms will be affected if the rot continues? What is it like to fall apart in this particular way? Can—or should—it be stopped?

It should be clear, then, that there is a curriculum to decay, to death, to the decomposition of individual organisms, relationships, societies, worlds. While there may be many avenues for exploring and incorporating the potentialities that decay opens up for us into academic discourse, I propose that the Horror genre is—because of its aesthetic and socio-cultural diversity—the most potent mean for exploring the curriculum of decay as an expression of the concerns of the 21st century; concerns which are postmodern, posthuman, and ultimately destabilized. Of course, it is not only decay that is central to Horror; there are the obvious issues of monstrosity and mood, each of which works together with the theme of decay to create a sense of the horrific. Horror holds as its general aesthetic a movement toward the development of ← 5 | 6 → anxiety, fear, and disgust, each of these banking on the exploitation of the grotesque and morbid. This grotesquerie and morbidity establish a visceral and mental creation of something that was once unimagined, yet always at the cusp of one’s imagination, and this something consistently possesses the potential for destroying any tie that the viewer/consumer has on what may be considered reality.

Pinar (2004) writes that nightmares “often refer to waking life, and so we must remember the broader political context and historical moment in which our efforts at self-understanding and social reconstruction occur” (p. 10). I will argue from here that productions of Horror function like constructed nightmares for the modern psyche (modern in this sense of referring to whatever age originally produced those works), expressing the concerns of the age through the manifestation of the monstrous. Horror is meant to unsettle us, to put us into a place wherein we question our understanding of normality and what it means, exactly, to be safe. Considering all of this, Horror becomes a heuristic device for exploring the potentialities of a postmodern culture which, as Storey (2015) suggests, has collapsed necessary distinctions between high and popular culture, borrowing aspects of any element of culture to create new culture. Indeed, in considering the work of Shelley (1818/2003) and Victor Frankenstein’s borrowing this and that toward his own ends (never mind the cataclysmic results of that borrowing), the sense of the Other even in one’s own self that readers find in Stevenson’s (1886/1991) The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or the strange alterity of the doppelganger that Freud (1919) argues makes Hermann’s “The sandman” so uncanny, audiences find that the genre has invited a sense of the postmodern before such a notion was even conceived. When thinking of how they are constructed and what the intended reactions of those who have constructed them are, monstrous individuals, monstrous worlds, monstrous minds, and the unnameably monstrous—I hope to show—become starting points for mapping our relations and concerns.

The opening sequence was a nightmare that I had when I was four or five years old, and the kid in the sequence was me. It is the first one I remember having, and it is one that I continue to return to routinely. Not while I am sleeping, though; in my waking hours. In fact, I only ever had it while I was asleep the one time, as a kid. Why do I keep coming back to it, then? After over thirty years of thinking about this question, I am still not comfortable giving an answer to it; I simply do not know. I do have some ideas, though, and maybe that is enough. ← 6 | 7 →

When I was younger, I would dream it back up because it was exciting. Remembering that chase, those horrible faces, the slow ascent of the Snake Man from the water, and the sickening drag of time as I made the distance between my grandfather’s pond and my house always brought on a rush, partially because a good chase scene can be such a thing of beauty in itself, and partially because it was me being chased and I knew how the race was going to end. I would tell the dream to new or hopefully-soon-to-be friends in exquisite detail, always hoping they would feel that same excitement, as a way of saying this is who I am: the kid who outruns monsters, the kid that beat the Snake Man.


XII, 232
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XII, 232 pp.

Biographical notes

James Grant (Author)

James V. Grant earned his Ed.D from Georgia Southern University, focusing on curriculum and cultural studies, with a personal lens turned most often toward how the monstrous creeps into those areas. He has published several articles in educational journals in recent years, each exploring the curricular value of some dark element of humanity. He has taught English, debate, and film classes in private, public, impoverished, economically privileged, rural, urban, and suburban schools across Georgia. He currently teaches English at Grovetown High School.


Title: The Curriculum of Horror