Scary’s Voices – Spotlight
Such A Nightmare
Such a Nightmare: Conversations About Horror
Back in March, I discovered a fantastic podcast called Such a Nightmare. What I love most about the show is that rather than looking at books and movies just in terms of plot and characters, the hosts take an academic lens to uncover social commentary, the use or subversion of horror tropes, and how these artistic expressions broaden what the horror genre can accomplish.
After just a couple episodes, I was absolutely hooked and started listening to all the show’s episodes. If you’ve ever thought that academic discussions are dry and stuffy, this podcast will soon change your mind.
Infusing excitement and fun into every discussion are the delightful hosts Katherine A. Troyer, PhD, and Anthony Tresca. These two are passionate about horror and they clearly appreciate the many forms our beloved genre can take. From the entire A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise to the artistic vision of Ari Aster, from the Southern Gothic aesthetic of Anne Rivers Siddons’ novel The House Next Door to an in-depth interview with Paul Tremblay, Such a Nightmare has something for everyone.
If that’s not enough range for you, Katherine and Anthony are taking a plunge into the comedic and musical sides of horror for their special 50th episode by looking at Roger Corman’s 1960 production of The Little Shop of Horrors, as well as Frank Oz’s 1986 adaptation. I was extremely interested in where this conversation would go and had the chance to listen to it before the episode drops on Monday, June 28th.
Being a huge fan of both films, I was delighted at the discussion which tackles the fine balance between horror, comedy, and satire, plus the themes of addiction, blind consumption, and the shallowness of the American Dream portrayed in these movies. Simply put, the episode is awesome, and I highly recommend it! After listening, be sure to check the show notes for a link to an insightful article by Marc Jensen about the racial undertones of the films.
Links to essays and articles to further your own research into horror are a staple of the show and one of the reasons I enjoy this podcast so much. But what captures me most about the show is that I learn something new in every episode. If you’re a fan of the genre, and especially if you write horror, Such a Nightmare deserves a regular spot in your podcast playlist.
New episodes are uploaded about every two weeks, with runtimes typically between 45 minutes to an hour. The conclusion of each discussion reveals the topic for the next episode, giving listeners a chance to read or watch the material ahead of time. Since the hosts approach is to dissect the film or book, you will want to be familiar with the subject before tuning in.
And, because the show analyses what makes horror tick, I thought it was only fair to flip the tables and look behind the mic to see the inner workings of Such a Nightmare.
The Scary’s Voices Interview
J.A. Sullivan Talks To Such A Nightmare
J.A. Sullivan: What made you decide to start a podcast together?
Such a Nightmare: Back in 2019, we both independently saw the Jordan Peele horror film Us and had… mixed reactions. Much to our surprise, we had similar feelings about Us, which, at the time, was quite surprising, for a couple of reasons. For starters, we usually have very different tastes in what we like in movies (we had not yet discovered our mutual love of horror comedies). Secondly, the general consensus on Us was that it was a near-masterpiece, so we hadn’t found anyone else who had gentle problems with the film like we did. So, the podcast started in part as a cathartic release for us, to talk about Us and to maybe allow others to also feel free to say it wasn’t their favorite film ever. And then we realized we were having fun talking to each other about the films that made us happy, confused, and scared.
JAS: What book or film sparked your interest in looking at horror through an academic lens?
SAN: The decision to approach the podcast through an academic lens came about very organically. The summer that we began podcasting we were working to develop an upcoming course on the home in American horror at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. Katherine has her PhD in Humanities from the University of Louisville, where she studied the horror genre through the lens of place and placelessness. (You know that feeling when you walk into a McDonald’s, and it feels the same as every other McDonald’s you’ve ever visited? That’s placelessness). Anthony was working that summer as Katherine’s research assistant on a number of horror-y projects and so we were talking about horror through an academic lens basically every day…so we thought, why not record our conversations for the masses? We were admittedly being a bit naive and narcissistic in that thought, but nevertheless, we hit the record button anyway. Now, we continue to approach horror through an academic lens because we have discovered that there is a real interest from people who never got a chance to take a horror class in college to talk thoughtfully and critically about a genre that consumes (zombie-style) their lives.
JAS: Why did you choose to discuss the franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street?
SAN: The real question is why did it take us so long to get to the franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street in the first place? Because, to be honest, these movies hit our sweet spots: horror comedies with a little camp and a lot of slash. The 1984 film was the first horror film Anthony saw as a little tiny Anthony and the film is also Katherine’s birthday twin as production began on the day that she was born. As we’ve been working our way through the franchise, we’ve discovered that because each film is truly its own unique beast (in terms of plot, tone, and themes) it never feels like we are rehashing old points in our discussions. We’ve also learned that the franchise is rich for interpretation, allowing us to explore a variety of topics such as disaffirmative and affirmative horror, the final girl (or sometimes boy), the patriarchy, institutional power (or lack thereof), and, of course, dreams (to name just a few topics). At the same time, we also get to talk about amazing practical effects and awesome kill sequences. We currently have episodes about the first 4 Nightmare films available on our channel and will be releasing episodes for the remaining 5 films in the franchise in the upcoming months.
JAS: Are there any other film series you want to review in-depth?
SAN: As soon as we finish our examination of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, we will be transitioning from one horror-comedy franchise created by Wes Craven to another one as we tackle the Scream films. We are also slowly, but surely, trudging (Anthony’s word) our way through the Halloween franchise; although, it might be a while till we complete this film series because Katherine can only force Anthony to agree to voluntarily watch the Halloween movies once a year for Halloween.
JAS: If you were to indoctrinate a new fan of the genre, what one book and what one movie would you start them with?
Anthony: For films, I would start people with a slasher double feature: 1974’s Black Christmas and then move to 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Between these two films, people are introduced to everything that makes the slasher a slasher; also, they are both such delightful films that I think anyone (even those who don’t normally like horror) can appreciate these films. As for book recommendations, it depends on the person. If you just want classic horror fiction, then you can’t go wrong with King’s early work. If you want horror fiction that leaves you both horrified and incredibly depressed (but in a good way!), then check out any of Paul Tremblay’s stuff. And if you want horror that creeps you out but also makes you laugh, then check out Grady Hendrix’s work!
Katherine: So much pressure! I can only answer this question by cheating because I would make them read two books: Stephen King’s 1977 The Shining and Paul Tremblay’s 2015 A Head Full of Ghosts. These are my top two favorite horror novels, which is part of my reason for picking them; however, I also think that these novels would help introduce our new fan to the idea that horror is complex and complicated, about scarring you as much as it is about scaring you. For films, I would not repeat the mistake I made with Anthony by reintroducing them to the genre by making them watch the 2008 film Martyrs. Instead, I think I would probably echo Anthony’s answer; I would have our new horror fan watch the 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street and I would also have them watch Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out because I think, between these two films, our new horror fan would get to see how horror can be both an escape from the world and, as Stephen King once said, a very accurate social barometer of the things that keep (and should be keeping) us up at night.
JAS: If you were granted unlimited funds to produce a movie together, what author would you want to source material from, and who would you hire as the director?
SAN: Get ready for our cinematic adaptation of Grady Hendrix’s 2020 novel The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. Yes, we know that there is already a television show in the works; however, we are so excited and filled with divine inspiration for our film adaptation that we are confident we can convince all the executives to drop that project and move forward with our idea. 🙂 In a truly magical world, Wes Craven would return to Earth just to direct this film…but, alas, since we lack Ash’s Book of the Dead, we lack the means to bring him back. So, instead, we would choose a Key & Peele comeback with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele writing the script and Peele directing it (have you seen the opening carnival sequence in Us…a masterpiece!). Horror audiences right now are primed for works that push them to think deeper about what truly terrifies us—the monster in our closet or, rather, the society that created the monster in the first place. Hendrix’s novel explores all of that; it is a perfect blend of comedy and truly horrific moments. The villain is perfectly charming and a true (Southern) gentleman, which allows this story to comment on the profoundly disturbing ways that people can exploit societal norms and niceties to hurt the disenfranchised and broken. And, in our opinions, there is no one currently better than Peele to take us there.
JAS: How has your podcast evolved and what do you see in your future?
SAN: When we started, our podcast was quite reactionary. We chose texts that allowed us to express our dissenting (and usually in minority) opinions. We discussed films that we either felt didn’t get enough attention or films that we felt got too much praise; however, this format rarely allowed us to talk about texts that deeply excited us (like Evil Dead or A Nightmare on Elm Street) because often we didn’t feel we had a hot enough take to warrant an episode. We’ve since moved away from that format, which has allowed our conversations to be more organic and to become less emotionally charged and more academically focused. We aren’t as interested in shouting our opinions into the void, because we realize that it is much more rewarding for us (and we hope our listeners!) to discuss texts through a theoretical lens. We are thrilled about some of our upcoming episodes, including our fan-suggested look at the 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. And this summer—now that movies are coming out again (yay!)—we’ve been releasing video/audio episodes with our immediate responses to new horror releases. Finally, we have a couple of new Such a Nightmare projects and ideas on the horizon that we are excited to announce sometime in October (aka: the month that is Halloween).
JAS: I’d sincerely like to thank Katherine A. Troyer, PhD (she/her) and Anthony Tresca (they/he) of Such a Nightmare for taking the time to speak with me. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and if you would like to know more about this show and its creators, feel free to connect with them on the following social media platforms:
Apple Podcasts: Such A Nightmare: Conversations About Horror
YouTube: Such A Nightmare
Or find all their links via LinkTree: Such A Nightmare
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan