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Monsters, zombies and blood help students learn in English class

On April 28, 2014

Professor Joe Lewis uses what he describes as his first love and passion, horror films, to teach students in the accelerated honors composition course. Zombies, blood, religion and haunted houses are all part of Lewis’ class as tools for research and studies in society.

“Can we use horror films to teach research?,” said Lewis, when referring to one of the questions he had while coming up with the ideas for incorporating horror in the classroom. Lewis has used Wes Craven’s 1984 original film, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” to teach diversity awareness through monstrosity.

“Take Freddy Krueger for instance; how does he become a monster? He’s a product of his own society,” said Lewis. By using characters like this, Lewis can explain how environment affects everything from divorce to the American dream.

This is Lewis’ second semester teaching the honors horror-themed English class.

“It’s not just horror films; we also do adaptation looking at novels,” said Lewis. Stephen King’s “The Mist” is one of those novels.

“This semester we started off with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, “The Shining;” we were talking about what patriarchy means in a male-dominated society,” said Lewis. He explained how movies like “Poltergeist” showed what life was like for the American family moving to the suburbs after World War II.

Students decide what they want to study, including research papers. Topics range from mental illnesses in films to religion and the roles it plays in society. The accelerated honors course is a combination of English 111 and 112, and students meet on campus and online.

Abigail Barnes, 18, of Midland, is currently taking the course.

“I’ve really enjoyed the class. You really don’t see classes like this,” said Barnes. “I hadn’t watched a lot of horror movies, only a few, but it made me want to take it because it was an opportunity to expand my knowledge,” said Barnes.

Barnes is completing her study for the class by making several types of stage blood. “It’s safe and there’s different ways to make it,” said Barnes. She learned how to make the blood from acting in the play, “Dracula.” “I was really excited when they said there was going to be a ton of blood in the show,” said Barnes.

Five different types of blood such as brains, flesh and thick and thin blood is made by adding items such as toilet paper for flesh and oatmeal for brains. Barnes said the hardest part about the class wasn’t making the perfect blood type, but doing a research paper.

“We had to find academic articles and scholarly articles about horror and theatre, and it took a lot of searching,” said Barnes.12

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