College life in Pittsburgh

This Point Park University class on zombies will take brains

Also: The professor’s 13 must-watch horror films on Netflix

zombies
mike mozart / flickr
MJ Slaby

There’s suspense and a heightened sense of fear as the worst case scenario plays out before your eyes.

Matthew Pelfrey, MFA program director at Point Park University’s Cinema Arts Department, loves horror films. And this spring, he’ll be teaching an undergraduate class all about a slice of the genre — zombies.

“There have been classes on horror before [at Point Park] but not on zombies,” said Pelfrey, an assistant professor. “And that seemed like a crime that we didn’t have that.”

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The Incline chatted with Pelfrey about his upcoming class and got his recommendations for horror films to watch on Netflix, as you count down the days to Halloween.

Zombie takeover

While most horror films are about something awful happening to one person or a small group, zombies are a “big public event” — and that can bring up fears about terrorism, Pelfrey said.

That’s why his class is called “Zombie Cinema and the rise of American Anxiety.” Students will watch films and study what the movies say about America at the time they were made. For example, he said, “28 Days Later” was made in 2002 and includes images of missing person signs, a tie to the aftermath of Sept. 11. Real life can reflect art, too, with zombie references even popping up in places such as a New York Times’ editorial from September referencing Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Another thing that makes zombies different from other monsters, like Frankenstein or Dracula or even Godzilla, is that zombies don’t have a personality, Pelfrey said.

“In a good zombie movie, the real threat is other humans,” he said.

Must-watch horror on Netflix

Horror films are filled with metaphors about current events, whether the filmmaker intended them or not, Pelfrey said. And even if the movies make us squirm, they are also a way to confront a dark side of reality.

Gore and special effects aren’t always needed, he said. Take “Night of the Living Dead,” the cost-saving black-and-white film ended up benefitting the movie, Pelfrey said.

And the same goes for twist endings, “Twists are good if they’re good twists,” he said adding that the best endings can be weirdly satisfying while still leaving a viewer creeped out.

So how does Pelfrey find horror movies worth watching, especially on Netflix? Here are his tips:

  • Look to see who the filmmaker is and what else they’ve worked on. “If I don’t recognize them, I Google the person.”
  • Foreign horror = a good bet. “The foreign films that make it this far, that generally mean they are pretty good.”
  • Do research, and check out reviews.

Or you could just follow this list that Pelfrey shared.

  1. Honeymoon“Caution: There are two with the same title. You want the one directed by Leigh Janiak and staring one of the women (Rose Leslie) from ‘Game of Thrones.'”
  2. It Follows
  3. Starry Eyes
  4. A Dark Song
  5. The Craft: “FUN!”
  6. Hellraiser“A classic”
  7. The Babadook
  8. The Invitation“Fantastic film”
  9. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil“Funny and clever”
  10. Creep: “Staring Mark Duplass!”
  11. When Animals Dream: “Arty werewolf flick”
  12. Baskin: “Turkish and messed up”
  13. Children of the Corn: Directed by George “Fritz” Kiersch, Point Park’s assistant vice president for academic affairs.

Want more zombies and horror? Even though the Point Park class on zombies doesn’t start until the spring, the university is hosting a special Halloween horror event, and you’re invited.

Point Park Monster Bash

What Students will present their work, both creative and critical, that relates to themes of terror and fear as well as the supernatural and the unexplained in media from TV and film to literature and journalism to music, dance, art and photography. Refreshments will be served and costumes are welcome. Following the event is a screening of "Dawn of the Dead."
Where Point Park Center for Media Innovation at 201 Wood St. (Downtown)
When October 31, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.