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  • Michael Hershey

Dudley Delivers Dynamic Ducharme Lecture

Michael Hershey

The Spring Ducharme Lecture, "Are We Living in a Horror Movie," was presented by Associate Professor of English Dr. Jack Dudley. With such an evocative title, it was sure to bring crowds, and certainly did with nearly 200 seats filled as the talk began.

He was welcomed by a colleague and dear friend Dr. Sean Lewis who has been at the Mount as long as Dudley. He spoke of the education of friendship that is imparted to students and faculty alike at the Mount. A modernist like Dudley and a medievalist like Lewis are constantly driven to look beyond their discipline and appreciate the other’s scholarship.

The lecture began and Dudley immediately addressed the peculiarity of the title and shared some responses he had heard to the titular question: “‘Of course’, ‘obviously’, and “I assume the answer is, yes.’” After this brief bit of humor, he dove right into the severity of the content, spooking the crowd with hokey clips of early horror films like "Dracula" and "Nosferatu" as examples of thick allegory.

Thick allegory is the abstraction of the metaphors in a story. Early monster movies and low-brow horror rely on an enemy that could represent anything: the economy, inequality, racism, wars and any other source of terror. As the talk progressed, he explained how as the horror genre has evolved that allegory is thinning and the sources of terror in horror are not maniacs with axes

anymore. Instead, the true dread is from how characters in horror stories are experiencing the same strains that can be found every day.

In "The Shining" when Jack first picks up the axe, he lays out a clear argument of the importance of his work to the hotel and the responsibilities of his contract. Releasing pent-up rage against society on one’s family is a horror story that tens of thousands of victims of domestic violence immediately felt. “Do you see it?” Dudley said. How about at the end of "Get Out" when the protagonist is nearly free of his enslavers, but police lights approach as Chris, a black man, is fighting in the street with his would-be murderer, Rose, a white woman. “Do you see it?”, Dudley repeated.

Stories that thin the allegories and force audiences to grapple with the source of our fears are profound uses of horror. Horror can make the themes that are too gruesome to grapple with head-on, like police brutality and racism, and retells those miseries through allegory to make the audience realize that these problems are real and the true villain in the story.

After analyzing the movies, Dudley focused on historical examples of horror and the black-and-white true stories of brutality in the U.S. Stories of slavery, lynching and police brutality have been heard, but are not understood as the horror stories they are or the legacies that they have wrought.

Despite the tragedy and nihilism that horror stories often end with, in reality, and in film, Dudley insisted that the audience needs to be introspective on what aspects of society are unacceptable. “Do ideas you hold as true and good keep you from seeing real horrors of our world for the horrors that they are?”

We must avoid complacency and be reevaluating what is right, what is good and what is justice if we are to avoid becoming characters in a horror story.

The talk generated many questions from students, professors, and the community alike asking for elaboration on the topics of censorship, how fear is seen in the Bible, and predictions about the future of the horror genre.

The talk had several distinguished guests including the lecture’s namesake Professor Emeritus of English, Dr. Robert Ducharme and the benefactor of the lecture, Raphael Della Ratta (C’92).

Dr. Dudley speaking at the Ducharme Lecture


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