Halloween 101: SF State Experts' Ghoulish Guide to the Holiday

Monday, October 30, 2017
Photo of Jack o' Lantern with SFSU carved in it

Halloween is a day away. If you’re looking to add a bit more fright to your night, here’s a guide that includes picks from San Francisco State University experts and other fearsome finds on campus.

Let music set the scene

Professor and Director of the School of Music Cyrus Ginwala shared his three favorite scary film scores:

  1. Jaws composed by John Williams (1975). What makes this Academy Award-winning score so scary is its simplicity, Ginwala said.
  2. Psycho composed by Bernard Herrmann (1960). Psycho composer Bernard Herrmann limited himself to a string orchestra only, Ginwala said. “The score for the famous shower scene uses extreme registers on the instruments and very dissonant intervals to achieve a ‘screaming’ effect.
  3. Young Frankenstein composed by John Morris (1974). Morris and the sound designer did a brilliant job of evoking the sound of Hollywood’s black-and-white monster movies, Ginwala said, which are characterized by rich, romantic orchestral textures and harmonies.

For more spooky tunes, faculty pianists Inara Morgenstern and Victoria Neve will perform Halloween-themed music, a more than 25-year San Francisco State tradition, on Monday, October 30, at 1:10pm in Knuth Hall. This year’s Scary Concert will be streamed live on the San Francisco State Facebook page.

Turn the lights out and turn on a movie

San Francisco State Professor of Cinema Aaron Kerner has taught a number of classes on the horror film genre, including a class on slasher films. He’s noticed a trend in modern horror films — more and more women are making them. Here are some of his top picks:

  • Raw, written and directed by Julia Ducournau (2016): A French-Belgian horror film about a young veterinary student who develops cannibalistic urges.
  • The Babadook,directed by Jennifer Kent (2014): An Australian horror film about an imaginary monster that haunts a widowed mother and her son.
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014): A Persian-language vampire Western.

SF State Associate Professor of Cinema Steve Choe said nostalgia plays a role in modern horror films. “The latest version of Stephen King’s It and the Netflix show ‘Stranger Things are both set in the ’80s and deal with themes from that period, such as the cool kids versus the nerds,” Choe said.

He recommends watching new films and comparing them with classics like The Exorcist and Alien. Choe, who is writing a book on Exorcist director William Friedkin, said it’s interesting to find what resonates with younger audiences. “I showed The Exorcist to my students, and they were distracted by the outdated special effects. They could tell that vomit was pea soup and they could see some of the wire used in the special effects,” he said.

Horrors through history

The Sutro Library in the J. Paul Leonard Library has a number of “spooky” Halloween items in its archives, such as the second anatomy book ever published (1545 A.D.); historical surgical and medical books; insect books; and lots of illustrations with skulls. The library has also been sharing some of these images on its Twitter feed.

The Sutro Library is the legacy collection of Adolph Sutro, the 24th mayor of San Francisco. If students want to look at an item they need to fill out an online form and wait two business days for the request to be processed.

— Jamie Oppenheim

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