Phones: A Terror To Horror? Or A Devilish Lover?

“What’s your favorite scary movie?”

“7 Days….”

“Why haven’t you checked the children?”

Ah, horror movies. From the everlasting tradition of oral storytelling to the big screen, horror stories/films/literature/etc. have found ways to haunt every aspect of our day-to-day lives. One such way of scaring us is through our phones, but through this medium there have been many technological changes that in turn change the methods used by creators. For example, how do we make people feel isolated when a smartphone has reception nearly anywhere these days? How do we utilize the unknown when anyone can have sketchy numbers blocked from their phones? And don’t even get me started on how we are now seeing a generation of people who have no clue what the extinct payphone was!

In the beginning, a mastermind like Alfred Hitchcock could easily use the disrupting timbre of a rotary telephone. It’s loud, sudden, and perfect to place in moments of tension. Hey, do you hear that in the basement? Listen closely, put your ear to the basement… you hear that? *silence* BRRRRING!!! RRRRRING! It’s perfect. And whilst the rotary phone became obsolete, phones could still be used to this effect. You see it on the landline used in M Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” for example.

And that’s something that could be beautifully used with both landline, rotary phones, and especially phone booths! Restriction. Pre-cordless era, one had to stay put on the phone. There was no walking around the house unless you had a weirdly long line. What does this mean? Well, if you want to obey the killer caller’s orders, stay put. It’s not quite horror, but remember Phone Booth with Colin Farrell and Forrest Whitaker? While it’s not always the case that a full-movie consists of a phone call, the idea of being restricted to the area of your phone during a call can mean multiple things – you can’t check anywhere else in your house until you hang up, if you want to dial 911 you have to race to a phone that’s hopefully still intact, and ultimately, your contact with the outside world is limited to a designated area of your home. Overall, it just sucks.

But a wireless landline! Ah-ha! Everything’s great! Not quite. As we see in films like the rebooted 2006 version of “When A Stranger Calls” the horror adapts into becoming a free-range type of situation. Able to move around the house, the limits to the horror escape the isolation of one area of the home to the home itself. “When A Stranger Calls” is a good example of this, because viewers see the isolation taking place in the actual rural placement of the home. True, it is the typical baby-sitter horror, but with a wireless phone comes a great tension of life-or-death marco-polo.

It is from here that we get into the wonderful introduction years to cellular telephones. “Go anywhere you wish!” they say. That is, until you travel 2 miles out of a major city and find that coverage sucks. Welcome to the world of the first-generation cellphones! Hello, Nokia and Motorola! I think that the beginnings of cellphones worked out far better for horror films because with the early unreliability of these devices, content creators could easily convince the audience that the phone would never work once you needed it to for added terror, and then work when needed for the proper plot device movements. Same could be said of cut-off phone conversations, they schemingly lead the viewer to the next place and add to anxieties across audiences. But what about when the reception increases throughout the country? How do we adapt from here?

One way is to manipulate the supernatural around you to make the cell phone void altogether. Oh, you usually get reception everywhere? Spirits, dude. 4G doesn’t exist here. Oh, your phone can give you directions to the safe zone? Spirits, dude. Your google maps are messin’ up big time. Oh, everything else is fine and there’s actually no supernatural stuff going on? What a time for your phone to be dead. Some may call these manipulations cop-outs, but when done correctly, they can do real wonders to making sure the audience has struck out of escape options to yell at the screen with. My favorite instances of this are in the Silent Hill franchise. No matter what, it is understood that Silent Hill plays by its own rules. There is no society that you are used to, there is no technology, night and day do not exist. Fantastic. Where’s my popcorn?

Another way is to just go with the flow! “One Missed Call” and its Japanese original “Chakushin Ari” takes full advantage of the new technology and distorts it. And this is really why I love Japanese-based horror films. Being incredulously tuned into the culture of American horror and isolation-tropes, being introduced to something like “Chakushin Ari” is so unsettling. Why? The phones work fine. They are haunted, in a sense, but majority of the horrors that are experienced are within the public. You know, the public, that place where we usually are supposed to feel at ease and safe? And once the horrors begin to happen in isolated spaces, the effects of the terror felt are far greater. I mean, if this stuff could freak you out with people around, imagine what can happen behind closed doors! It is films like “Chakushin Ari” and “One Missed Call” that do a neat job in taking advantage of the tech of the day to work for the time being.

But what about today? Lately it seems like more and more horror articles pop up to question the survival of the horror genre when considering the continuously increasing access to mobile devices of all sorts. Sure, we can keep spinning off every new piece of technology and making them scary (i.e. dark-web tales, creepypastas, etc.), but what about horror content that doesn’t want to be solely based in the technology of the time? The last pieces of example I’ll give out comes from the recently released film “Rings”. I really enjoyed how this film took advantage of the supernatural. It was a bit corny in the end (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it), but overall I saw the creativity used in order to make the cellphones a non-factor in the story. As a viewer in the theatre, I wasn’t distracted by that thought. And the same goes for a film like “Get Out”. Access to phones did not change throughout the course of the film, and yet I still felt isolated and anxious. Keep your heads up, horror creators, if there’s a will, there’s a way.

In all, as time changes, so do our livelihoods in nearly every aspect of being. How we function, how we communicate, how we commute to work, how we gather our information, how we perceive the world and its existence develops over time. Variables that we cannot control whatsoever, but variables that can certainly be creatively manipulated. In the case of phones, I don’t think that the development of technology necessarily hurts or limits horror. Instead, I’m thinking that maybe it challenges a new wave of horror altogether. We’ve seen horror in the 60s already, and we’ve already seen how it looks in the 70s, 80s, 90s, etc. While it is good to go back with film to capture new ideas about the past, for those who want to make horror about the present and future, fear not. These challenges, I think, will only assist in making present-based horror that much more new, unique, and exciting. But also, there's like, NEVER any cell reception on the reservation - so any Native horror writers/filmmakers/etc.... JUST SAYIN'!


And for God-sakes, stop looking at your phone in the theatre!

Anthony-Hopkins-as-Alfred-Hitchcock instructs you to silence your cell phones with this in-theater PSA!

Invasion: Ironic Colonial Fear

    As you can see in the first article that I have done as a contributor to the platform NativesInAmerica, I’ve always been so drawn to hip hop. Though, I don’t think people quite understood how non mutually-exclusive that passion was with my longstanding affinity to horror. Scrolling back through the memories of my early-adolescence, I recall one of the first professionally released independent and Indigenous-created albums I had ever come across and owned - Maniac: The Siouxpernatural’s “Nightmerika” released in 2005 under Night Shield Entertainment.

maniac sioux.jpg

    I was so drawn to Maniac and this album because it truly sounded like what I was familiar with growing up on the specific rez of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. To me, that mix of horror elements here and there sprinkled in with the nostalgic hip-hop/boom-bap soundstyle was what fit in my life and experience living around Eagle Butte, South Dakota. The style of it screamed “DarkSide” to me, a small neighborhood that I walked through often, hoping to not get chased by unchained dogs in darkened streets below lights that usually never worked. The most influential track from that already influential album in my life was the very first song called, “The Invasion”.

Provided to YouTube by CDBaby The Invasion · Maniac the Siouxpernatural Nightmerika ℗ 2005 Gabriel Night Shield Released on: 2005-03-15 Auto-generated by YouTube.

    The track itself has so much of everything that I like in that style of hip hop. A creepy beat that builds in momentum and anticipation. Lyrics that talk about nearly every ideology behind “invasion” in its many forms. And the film quotes inserted at the beginning and end are what caught me the most. Overall, it’s such a good track, and probably one of my favorite intro’s to an album ever.

“Our official opinions are this IS genuine. What you’re about to see, may disturb you.”

    As I think back to that song, probably one of the most ear-catching soundbyte samples comes from the film “Signs”. There was something about that idea of invasion being broadcasted that really encapsulated the whole theme for me. The ideas of mass hysteria, panic, or even how one would react in a rural area to events that affect the entire world. But as I got to appreciating this song more and more, another interesting topic came to mind.

    The most frequent question that comes to horror-fans is one that requests reasons “Why?”. Why horror? Why scare yourself? Why do these specific things frighten us? Why do we then watch those specific things? After admiring this track by Maniac, I found myself asking, “Why Alien Invasion?” Within the subgenre of aliens in film, there are different categories to which I believe either make up an entire film or combine in a film: sighting, contact, abduction, and invasion (there are others, but I mostly recall seeing these four in particular the most in film). So, then, with all of these categories, why is invasion the most prevalent?

    Personally, I really like movies of invasion in particular, just like the rest of the country when you look at the amount of films with this theme. It was the only kind of horror that got me to walk out of a theatre (as I candidly discussed in this episode of #NeverDeadRadio). To me, that anticipation of an invasion was so anxiety-provoking and… fun! The news broadcasts preparing the masses for the unknown in the film “Signs”. The sudden shock of seeing an invasion begin live on television like in the film “Mars Attacks!”. A Silent Hill siren-esque sound-off that the tripods from “War of the Worlds” let out as silence and awe-struck crowds would soon be running for their lives. The same anticipation that late-comedian Patrice O’Neal talked of being the better part of the film “Independence Day” on the classic Opie and Anthony program. I remember specifically LOVING just the film trailer to “Skyline” - as it showed people from afar simply being sucked up into spacecrafts (no plot device, just straight up terror). I could go on and on, but still, something recently was getting to me concerning this aspect of the sub-genre, and I had to just hash it out a little.

    Ultimately, what essentially felt odd about Americans and the concept of “invasion” was just the irony. Of course, various Indigenous artists throughout media have taken this stance in their independent art, video games, etc. and in re-listening to Maniac’s “Nightmerika” release, I couldn’t help but go through the motions, so to speak.

    Firstly, there’s a real trend of narcissism in American-film’s portrayal of “invasion”. The aliens are always intelligent beyond comprehension, as if that is the only way in which humans/America can truly be taken over. Not by outnumbered resources or overpowered soldiers, but the idea that the minds of the extra-terrestrial are so far beyond us, and THAT is why they would be able to invade and succeed. When thinking about the Great American Invasion that began in 1492, wasn’t it moreso cutthroat trickery, injustice, lies, and deception that led to a near successful genocide? Who’s to say the aliens won't come in claiming to be peaceful only to backstab us while we teach them agriculture? “Can you teach us to plant digital corn?” Perhaps that’s not as exciting, or that that does not give sufficient explanation as to how aliens would reach us in the first place, but it just seems like an odd occurrence that this often is the case.

    Secondly, could this be a subconscious fear of the collective colonial mind? I’d like to think so. Imagine the original “War of the Worlds” for example. The invasion occurs, and suddenly humans’ worlds are “turned upside down” as they become slaves, must adapt to a new way of living, and have to abide by laws foreign to their natural way of life that they once knew. Really uncomfortable to have to assimilate and compromise huh? Life’s hard, bro.

    Thirdly, now that I think about it, is this catharsis for a colonized America? Could an oppressive majority (that indeed still oppresses) feel the need to feel oppressed, and thus the conception of aliens invading Earth is simply a way to “be oppressed” when that’s clearly not the open case for most people? I make the case of catharsis, because it is one that is made in the “Masters of Horror” documentary, in which some directors talk about how death (be it human, animal, etc.) is not one that people in modernized society see so much of anymore. In this theory, it is pointed out that certain duties of surviving that used to be the norm (i.e. butchering one’s own food, if you’re a meat-eater) is now replaced with supermarkets and distanced delicatessens that don’t show you exactly what happens to your food before it reaches your cooking pan or mouth. Could the oppressor have been in illusionary power for so long that there is a need for feeling “oppressed” or “threatened”? Does it kind of sound like I’m just talking about scare tactics that the news and media uses now to act aggressively towards other possible “invaders”? I honestly don’t know anymore.

    My last thought on this whole matter overall is, with all of this irony, is there a way to construct a horror-film that takes the story of American Genocide of Indigenous peoples and form it into a way similar to alien invasion films? “They Came From Europe” or “War of the ‘Discovered’ Worlds”. Something that basically states, “Hey, you know that thing you’re afraid of? It’s happening to us.” Think of it this way: due to genocide my blood and affiliation is questionably documented in tribal ID form. The identity I hold, according to the U.S. government, is dependent on my enrollment, blood quantum, and overall documentation - all factors that have always only been geared towards extermination (a fraction can only go down). On top of that, when I go to create a bank account, fly a plane, cash a check, etc. that same forced documentation is then denied by banks, TSA agents, and postal offices who are inconsiderately ignorant to tribal sovereignty. So, technically many Indigenous peoples are documented while simultaneously that documentation is deemed insufficient by the oppressor in order to function in their controlled world and economy. That’s the real horror. That’s the real invasion. And maybe, that’s why I’ve always liked those kinds of films. One of my favorite films of all time speaks to this idea closest, in my eyes, in terms of consumption and control: They Live. Hopefully the trailer below says enough to make my point:

Original theatrical trailer for the 1988 film "John Carpenter's They Live." Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, Raymond St. Jacques, Peter Jason, Sy Richardson, George "Buck" Flower. Written & directed by John Carpenter.

    Overall, there are so many other questions and ideas I have concerning this topic, and so much more hashing out that I need to do with this idea, and thus I invite you all to comment your thoughts/opinions/differences/similar views! Or even submit a piece to our graveyard section! What other ways do you see the subgenre of aliens or abduction specifically as speaking to larger/deeper aspects of society and its history? What are some other films that come to mind?


The Indian Burial Ground Trope

Excavating Projections of Colonialism
in the Horror and Paranormal Realm 

Being a Native viewer of horror films, often means making a choice to acknowledge or dismiss our role of self-awareness and ultimately being cognizant of our place within the realm of horror.  This introspection is not only limited to realizing the barriers of exclusion we face, but also the the constant normalization of dominant paradigms that are so prevalent and typically molded to fit a broader audience. Those paradigms reveal themselves through the frequent use of tropes and symbols that have become so repetitive it becomes near impossible to ignore; And it brings about the question, are these tropes utilized as filler for a plot device? Or do they act as a blanket projection of collective fears from a societal culture that has been built upon, and sustained by settler colonialism?

One of the tropes most blatantly representative of settler colonialism is the “Indian Burial ground” trope. This trope had reached its peak within popular culture in the 1980s where it was most associated (but not limited to) horror classics such as Pet Cemetery,  Amityville horror and The Shining.  While it could be argued to be a product of its time, that doesn’t explain the ongoing usage of Indian burial grounds and “Indian curses” that persist even today.

Paranormal shows such as Ghost Adventures, Ghost hunters, Paranormal Witness, Paranormal State, Dead Files, have all included Indian Burial Grounds or Indian curses as an explanation of paranormal phenomena at some point. That is not to relegate the fact that it could be a possibility of spiritual unrest in the afterlife, (for those who believe in the paranormal) but it is also possible that too often this explanation is an easy answer for every paranormal experience. Upon realizing that this trope is so pervasive, it then becomes evident that there is some sort of collective infatuation in these mythologies, and when being mindful of the various levels of genocide (past and ongoing) this trope represents many meanings and unconscious associations that extend beyond the horror genre. This trope is not a product of horror, but simply a westernized paradigm that has been normalized within horror, the paranormal, and accepted as a nostalgic device, so much to the point it has also become a punchline for satire within popular culture.

The idea of building on top of Native remains is polarizing, because of the nature of injustice fuels settler guilt while also establishing Indigenous peoples as “the other”. Horror as a genre works to play on the primal fears of their audience, and those who enjoy the paranormal, tend to be attracted to it because so much of it represents what it unknown and cannot be explained. The Indian Burial Ground trope is successful because of its ability to stir up supernatural trepidation while also appealing to collective societal fears that have been ingrained into public consciousness for centuries.

On that note, there are further presuppositions to the ways the Indian Burial ground trope is inherently anti Native and reflective of settler colonial attitudes. One reason is the fact it furthers the vanishing Native trope; One that originated out of the era of Federal Indian policy that had the assumption that Indians would eventually vanish.  While this trope is not so explicitly stated, its often vocalized and upheld through the misinformed perspective of many Americans who assert that Natives are extinct. It is alluded to in the constant imagery of dead Natives such as through the ever popular skull in headdress image. The idea of the vanishing Native has acted as a justification of colonization, where Native dispossession, displacement, and acts of post mortem violence such as building on Native burial grounds or stealing Native remains, goes unquestioned when the popular assumption is “they’re all dead anyway”.

Most disturbing is the parallels that can be drawn to desecration of remains and sacred grounds in real life (such as what is occurring right now with Dakota Access Pipeline) which I classify as an act of Post Mortem Violence.  Natives have been resisting against the desecration of Burial grounds as well as the unjust theft or remains for centuries. Another negative aspect of the Indian Burial ground trope is that  it paints Settler Colonialism in the light that corruption that has already been committed, and that genocide is a process of the past. It ignores that settler colonialism is ongoing, upon Indigenous peoples who have a thriving presence and ongoing existence.  Pipelines are still being forced onto sacred grounds and corporations are still building upon burial grounds. Tribes are still fighting to have their relative’s remains returned home, even the remains of famed Native Olympian, Jim Thorpe.  In God Is Red, Vine Deloria Jr describes the many instances of grave looting and unearthing of grave sites in the name of archaeology and other state institutions. These acts of injustice are not simply residual haunting of American guilt, but an active presence in the treatment of modern Indigenous peoples.

One of the most prevalent criticisms about the Indian Burial ground trope is the fact that it is representative of settler guilt. Like the crying Indian commercial, it has come to represent the fact that settlers may be pondering the tragedy of genocide and projecting as a way of grappling with that guilt. But one of the ways that can also be interpreted, is not so much that it’s about the process of unpacking that guilt, but to dissociate from it. The primary red flag in identifying that dynamic is by acknowledging the stigmatization that occurs in tandem with the burial ground trope.

Every time there is a demonic entity, whether it be through the resurrection of evil pets in Pet cemetery, or through a malevolent entity haunting American families, it can easily be explained as a vengeful spirit because burial grounds were tampered with. But if that fear were so real would Hollywood still be profiting off this trope while continuing to commit the same transgressions? Why do films like “The Darkness” exist where the focus is on demonizing Native cultures to the point where tampering with sacred ground is no longer an allegory but an excuse to act upon dehumanization, Anti Native sentiments and more erasure.  Overall if we were to go with this logic, it could be said that all of America is one mass burial ground, as so many have pointed out at this point that it has lost its severity as a political rhetoric point to becoming a comedy punchline.   

These reactionary plots are the same typical response colonizers have fostered since the beginning of their invasion, to deem Indigenous peoples as angry, hostile, savages, and it seems they are still projecting that idea upon the spirits of the undead. Colonizers thrived on religious violence as an impetus of conquest and the noble thought that they were saving souls. Years later during the civil rights era and even up until modern times, there have even been segregated cemeteries; Therefore, the assertion that settler colonial projections have been extended upon the dead, aren’t that far off.

That Idea of anti-Native tropes existing as a matter of projection, can be furthered when discussing the history of Native spirituality being historically stigmatized and even made illegal, in attempt to be wiped out by the US government, through the process of assimilation. Currently that is what tropes like Indian burial ground further represent, when Indigenous spirituality is otherized with negative connotations of mysticism; Whether through projections of the noble savage or the idea that Native culture exist as a symbol of the past, as an imaginary ghost. Culture is further co-opted and mystified with the constant appropriation of Indigenous cultural customs to eradicate violent spirits. (Such as through the burning of sage, in the context of Native cultural traditions is referred to as smudging). That in itself is paradoxical where Native culture and spirituality is stigmatized yet consumed and appropriated in the same breath. While some may argue those appropriating are validating those practices, what is actually occurring when demonization and mysticism is present, is the dispossession of those practices from their actual cultures of origin.

In conclusion, if the point of these tropes is to enact guilt from historical injustice but is carried out through stigmatization, then that guilt boils down to another level of the white savior complex. The white savior complex can be defined as one’s belief in the divine right to “save” indigenous peoples. But in matter of doing so, that also takes place through the veil of paternalism that says that Indigenous peoples are primitive and need to be saved. Alluding to an Indian burial ground isn’t a direct illusion to this, however it beckons the guilt of saviors that says it’s their jobs to draw light to injustice regardless of the matter in which they are doing so, it is dehumanizing and consumptive. Many times this trope is merely used as a story plot but the director or author doesn’t even care to acknowledge the issues of Injustice happening with Indigenous communities in real life. Ultimately the savior complex acts out of opportunistic motives, and in the context of the horror genre, acts simply as a filler; Regardless of whether there is a genuine attribution of “Indian Burial grounds” to other acts of post mortem violence, sacred desecration. When there is a completely disregard in dynamics for respecting the cultures from which those supposed associations originate, it comes off as a replication of the same violence its purportedly meant to condemn.

In conclusion, it can be said that its time for creators to move beyond these tropes, not only for the sake of respecting Native horror fans, but also to renew dusty plotlines and unveil new possibilities for horror. Questioning these tropes is not just a matter of race baiting or stirring up guilt, but can be seen as a genuine opportunity to revamp and enrich Indigenous involvement in horror. Rather than repeating age old cycles we can all move beyond that and lay the burial ground trope to rest.


#NeverDeadNative Films to Watch This Halloween

#NeverDeadDani & #NeverDeadTalon give their picks of films to turn the lights out to this year!

Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight

#NeverDeadTalon: I was very young when my mom first introduced me to the HBO series that would change my life forever. To be honest, I wasn’t really aware at first that this one was actually a film! I figured it was the show getting a bigger budget or something. You really do have it all with this film, an interesting green-purple pallet of demons and ghouls, an instance where bigger production value DOESN’T taint the artistic value, a really dope performance from actors like Jada Pinkett Smith, William Sadler, and Billy Zane, fun ooze and fx, and so much more. Hell, Rza (of Wu-Tang Clan) even had a song in the soundtrack along his earlier group Gravediggaz called “1-800-Suicide”! Overall, I still really enjoy this film and think that it’s fun and uneasy enough to be a good Halloween watch this year!


#NeverDeadDani: Creep Show described as a black comedy horror anthology film, is a classic that I was introduced to by my Mother when I was a kid. While this film has its creepy and practically allegorical moments, I would describe it overall as more of a fun Halloween film. Some of the shorts can seem almost goofy with their eccentric plots and characters, but that’s part of the fun of Halloween! This film always gives me nostalgia and makes me want to pick up comic books. It has an eccentric charm that makes it a film I can watch every year if given the opportunity. I hope for others to partake in this cult classic with me for this Halloween season and others to come!