Archive for the ‘Questions’ Category

Sinister Seven Q&A with RUE MORGUE

May 15, 2015

My Sinister Seven Q&A with Rue Morgue Magazine!


We managed to snag photographer JOSHUA HOFFINE fresh from his cinematic debut, the stunning short film BLACK LULLABY, for this week’s Sinister Seven Q&A. Hoffine has been hard at work on INNSMOUTH, a “Lovecraft photograph” inspired by the master’s classic tale The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and starring DOUG JONES and featuring creature design by J. ANTHONY KOSAR.

1. What is the difference between telling a story with a photograph and telling a story with a movie?

The power of a photograph comes from its perceived limitations – it is a fixed moment in time.  This inherent feature of the photograph can be used to great effect for Suspense and Horror.  Unlike a movie, there is no before and there is no after.  There is only the single moment – frozen and unresolvable. And because the image is fixed, and does not fleet across the screen like a movie, the metaphoric aspects of the image can be highlighted as details in the background. This added layer of ‘depth’ engages the viewer in a way that is different than cinema. The photograph becomes more reflective due to its static nature.

2. Tell us about the worst nightmare you’ve ever had.

I once had a terrible nightmare where somebody was hiding in the backseat of my car and slit my throat with a knife. It was the only dream I ever had that made me sit bolt upright in bed with a gasp – just like in the movies.

3. What makes a monster scary?

The absence of humanity, I think. That could be a lack of empathy, or a relish for violence and brutality. Or it can be expressed more symbolically as a non-humanoid monster, or even a distorted human form (like a clown, zombie, or vampire) where obvious humanity has been diminished.

4. What was your inspiration behind making BLACK LULLABY?

BLACK LULLABY was intended to be the climax to my photo series dealing with childhood fears.  The inspiration for the film was simply an earnest desire to see one of my photographs move, while preserving the same ‘look’. It is an exercise in building tension, as much as it is about style. More and more, my new ideas are about moving pictures.

5. What inspired you to pursue a photo project based on Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth?

The project began as a suggestion from the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in San Pedro, California. I read the story and loved it. Part of what made it exciting to me visually, was that the story featured a single person being chased through the city streets at night by hordes of monsters. The imagery is similar to I Am Legend, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or any modern zombie movie, but exists first in this story. I like the potential grandeur of this image, it’s spectacle – but I also like the core idea of being hunted down by an entire society.

6. What is the scariest story you have ever read?

Mabye, The Big Toe in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.

7. What’s next for Joshua Hoffine?

Next year I hope to publish a limited edition book of my photographs and then start work on a full-length Horror movie.

Thank you Rue Morgue!

Neurobiology of Fear

December 17, 2012

Continued from post What is Horror?

If the Horror genre is best defined by the intention to elicit and manipulate the emotion of fear, what then exactly is the emotion of fear?

The dictionary defines fear as: a feeling of agitation and dread caused by the presence or imminence of danger.

Persons experiencing fear display increased alertness, concentration on the source of fear, attack and fight-or-flight behaviors, and evidence of sympathetic-nerve stimulation such as cardiovascular excitation, superficial vasoconstriction, and dilation of the pupils.

Fear evolved as a basic survival mechanism. It is the ability to recognize danger, which leads to an urge to confront the danger, or flee from it: the fight-or-flight response. This mechanism allows animals to move quickly away from a location of perceived threat and hide.  All people experience fear as an instinctual response to potential danger – this mechanism is important to the survival of all species.

Although many fears are learned, the capacity to fear is part of human nature.  Many studies have found that certain fears are much more common than others.  These fears, such as fear of heights, predatory animals, darkness, etc. are also easier to induce in the laboratory. Because early humans who were quick to fear dangerous situations were more likely to survive and reproduce, certain innate fears developed as a result of natural selection.

People also develop specific fears as a result of learning.  Fear can be acquired through a traumatic event. The area of the brain most involved with the learning of conditioned fears is the amygdala.


The amygdala is located behind the pituitary gland. In the presence of a threatening stimulus the amygdala generates a secretion of hormones that influence fear and aggression. Once response to the fear stimulus commences, the amygdala elicits the release of hormones into the body to put the person into a state of alertness, in which they are ready to move, run, fight, etc.

There are many physiological changes in the body associated with fear. The fight-or-flight response accelerates heart rate, dilates blood vessels, and increases muscle tension and breathing rate. Only after this series of physiological changes, does the consciousness realize an emotion of fear.

After a situation which incites fear occurs, the amygdala and the hippocampus record the event.  The stimulation of the hippocampus will cause the individual to remember many details surrounding the situation. Memory formation in the amygdala is generated by activating the neurons in the region.  Once the person is in safe mode, meaning there are no longer any potential threats surrounding them, the amygdala will send this information to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) where it is stored for similar future situations.  The storing of memory in the mPFC is known as memory consolidation.

Recent studies show that a person learns to fear regardless of whether they themselves have experienced trauma, or if they have only observed the fear in others. Fear responses in the amygdala can develop in both conditions.

Fear is transferable.

This is partly achieved through mirror neurons.  A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another.  The neuron ‘mirrors’ the behavior of the other, as though the observer himself were acting, not simply watching. Such neurons have been directly observed in primates and other species. Mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.

Fear and the emotional response to dangerous situations can be triggered through observation and simulation.  Recreational Horror, such as Horror movies, roller coasters, and Haunt Attractions, all simulate danger for the bodily pleasure of the fight-or-flight response in the absence of real threat.

What is Horror?

December 2, 2012

The Horror genre is a vast sprawling landscape, populated by numerous sub-genres and hybridized genre mutants, like the Horror-Comedy, Sci-Fi Horror, and even the Horror Musical.  Some would argue that it is impossible to devise a definition of Horror that encapsulates them all.  What is the difference between a Horror film and a Thriller?  Or a Horror film and a Suspense film?  Does a movie require a monster, or a supernatural element to qualify as Horror? defines Horror as “an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting.”

The Horror genre seeks to elicit this negative emotional reaction from viewers.  Stock elements, such as ghosts, vampires, serial killers, and so forth, may populate the Horror genre, but they do not define it. Movies about the supernatural, and movies with monsters, are not necessarily always horrific.  I believe that the Horror genre is best defined by it’s intent to terrorize the audience.

Although many sequences in non-Horror films are frightening, they do so to advance narrative agendas that have something other than fear at their cores.  Non-Horror films may frighten the audience to tell their stories, but Horror films tell stories to frighten the audience.  In the former, fear is a side effect; in the latter, it is the object of the exercise.