Killer Crazy: the Mental Health Horror

I’m a recently converted avid horror fan. My love began with the likes of The Shining and rages on to this day with films like It Follows and Lights Out. I think this love can be boiled down to one thing: the best horror films are just really fucking clever. Jump scare upon jump-scare doesn’t impress me now I’m a seasoned horror watcher: I crave something more. Something better. Don’t get me wrong, jump scares can be excellent, when built up effectively and used sparingly. I’ve found what scares me the most is surprise and sustained fear, not little spooks when the ghosties jump up in front of the camera. This lack of clever plot to me however extends further than just shitty jump scares. It’s a problem that’s been in the back of my mind for a really long time, and that is mental health in horror films. I’m almost certain that in the majority of your favourite horror films, there will be at least one person with a mental health problem. This could be the person who sees ghosts so is ‘crazy,’ or the ‘pshycho’ killer who says the voices made him do it. I am in no way innocent here; nearly all my favourite horrors feature one of these characters. It’s hard not to argue that no matter how people with mental illnesses are featured in these films, they are meant to scare us.

I wanted to express these thoughts a while ago, particularly inspired by the film Lights Out, among others, but I felt like I was being too picky. To put it simply, the main characters mother only sees Dianna, the monster/ghost in the film, when she doesn’t take her medication. I was worried I was being just another hashtag social justice warrior, aka finding problems where they don’t exist, and taking things too far. So I let it be. But let me make one thing clear, if I doubted how I felt then, I shouldn’t have, because I have watched a LOT of horror films, and continued to feel the same way. A few days ago I watched the James McAvoy thriller Split, and I can’t keep my big mouth shut any more.

Split, if you don’t know, is a very recent thrillerish nail biter about a man with multiple personality disorder who kidnaps a group of young girls. There are spoilers ahead, so don’t say I didn’t warn you! Basically, three of the Kevin’s twenty-four different personalities believe in ‘the beast,’ another of Kevin’s personalities that is essentially a higher evolved human, with advanced super-strong abilities. He can climb up walls, and alter his body chemistry with his mind to make him big and strong. This personality needs to feed on ‘impure’ flesh to grow stronger, and believes those who haven’t suffered in life are weaker in the evolutionary chain. The pure ones are the ones who have suffered, eventually saving the protagonists life. He doesn’t eat her when he sees her self harm scars and learns she has suffered and is thus pure. In summary, these three personalities kidnap the girls to feed to the beast, but first hold them hostage for a while to keep the spooks going.

Already, this sparks a lot of red flags for me. The trailer revealed most of this information, but I still went to see it, knowing it’s probably very dodgy. Why? Because it looked damn good, and it was. Looking at this film as a horror, regardless of the problems it could create in the stigmatisation of Dissociative Personality Disorder (split personality disorder,) it was a good horror. It came with clever and subtle suspense, with deliciously disturbing scenes to boot. But I can’t detach myself from this problem, and I don’t think I should have to in order to enjoy a film. I don’t believe it’s exactly easy writing, like jump scares- but I think there are other options that can be taken. The film was incredibly clever, and the idea of using this disorder created some highly unsettling scenes. But I still can’t quite let it go. For a lot of people, this may be the first time they ever encounter Dissociative Personality Disorder- a violent unhinged kidnapper, cannibal, and somebody who can supposedly alter his own body chemistry to make a monster? I’m no expert, but I’m 99.9% sure that isn’t possible. I wanted to get a proper opinion, so I found an article in which a proper doctor, Cathy Kezelman, describes the film as ‘stigmatizing,’ and I can’t help but agree The article also says that studies have found only 3% of people with DPD have done anything criminal: “the soon-to-be published research paper, Mental Illness and Violent Behaviour: The Role of Dissociation, which found that out of 173 people treated for the disorder, only three per cent reported having been charged with an offence in the past six months.” Basically, it’s pretty darn uncommon.
This is all getting a bit complicated, so let’s explore a more simple example. In The Ring, Samara is a creepy little girl who is seen either as a creepy ghost, or a little girl in a mental hospital. With her forever wet looking hair covering her face, in her white gown in her white room, Samara personifies all these things we associate with creepy. But why? It’s clear that Samara’s supernatural abilities are much more than her being a little ‘crazy.’ Then there’s the mental asylum scenes in Insidious 2, the ‘monster’ being a tortured and evil transgender person? Seriously?

Asylum horror has somehow become an entire genre too, and it grinds my bloody gears. With the likes of Grave Encounters and The Ward, these scary representations not only of mental illness, but also how the mentally ill are treated, are repeated over and over. How much media is out there to combat it? When I’m watching this stuff I can’t help but sit and wonder why mental illness is so scary to us as viewers, but the answer of course is obvious: it is scary. As someone who’s grappled with dodgy mental health personally, and watched people close to me grapple too, of course it’s scary. It’s fucking terrifying. But not in the way we see in horrors. Mental hospitals are not filled with ghosties and demons and torturous surgeons. The vast majority of mentally ill people are just living their every-day lives, just the same as any neuro-typical person. A pretty fucking big majority, actually. Not murderers, or kidnappers, and definitely not people with supernatural abilities to alter their own body chemistry etc etc.

On the other hand, there is the obvious thing to consider: these films are fiction. They’re not real, and they’re made to entertain, not to educate. It may also be important to note that murder and mental stability don’t exactly go hand in hand. Portraying a completely sane serial killer in a slasher wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. But for me, that doesn’t take anything away from how important representation is. As long as we have these scary portrayals, we need something good alongside them. As I said I’m in no way innocent when it comes to watching and loving these films. A lot of the films I’ve mentioned today are my favourites, and I’ve seen all of them. I’ve seen Split even though I knew what it was about. I love Lights Out and the Ring and so many others that pose the mental health problem, whether in subtle ways or not. I’m also not a film maker, and I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin when it came to writing something genuinely scary. I wanted to come to some kind of conclusion with this but I’m not sure what the answer is. Only to recognise that the world is moving forward, and it’s vitally important to show this in representation. Shows like My Mad Fat Diary and films like Silver Linings Playbook pave the way towards a better view of mental illness in the media. Am I just being too picky? Regardless of what I think, we still have a long way to go.

Am I being too picky or do you agree? Let me know what you think! Help end the mental health stigma with Bell Lets Talk.

 

Kids in museums- National Takeover Day hits Salford

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Salford Museum and Art Gallery, The Crescent

If you were to enter the Salford Museum and Art Gallery on November 17, you would have been greeted politely by a nine-year-old, asking if he can be of any assistance. Takeover Day, in short, puts children into various roles in museums all over the country, led by the charity Kids in Museums.

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Artifacts the children talked about

Ceri Horrocks, Heritage Development Manager of Salford Museum and Art Gallery worked with children from a local Salford school.

She said: “We worked with a year five group from Lewis Street Primary School, which is one of our local schools. Basically they’ve taken over all the jobs in the museum!”

These roles included front of house at reception, working with objects and artifacts, paintings and a little team of journalists, who were live tweeting the event throughout the day. Children showcasing objects would inform guests about historical objects such as a typewriter or a button hook, while the paintings experts would gladly march you around the gallery and teach you about its exhibits. While the detail was small, it was expertly told.

The children had a week of preparation for the day beforehand, giving them specialist knowledge they were very enthusiastic to tell you about. Horrocks said: “We’ve done several training days with them, and they’ve also had to write job applications for the jobs they’d like.”

The Heritage Development Manager said: “We wanted to work with a school in more depth- we welcome children every day to the museum but we only see them about once a year when they come with their school.”

The children also had the opportunity to meet the museum’s chief executive and their gardening team, in order to get a feel of all the jobs available at the museum. She expressed her belief at the importance of museums working with children, not just for their own good but for the museums too.

She said: “It was nice to get our members of staff who don’t always get involved with the schools to come help. We’re hoping to give them [the children] a wider idea of what’s out there in terms of jobs, opportunities and an experience of the workplace.”

Overall, the day was a success for the museum. Horrocks described how they had many visitors across the afternoon, and the children have shown their confidence and ability.

She said: “It’s been running very smoothly, and the children have been fantastic. They’ve worked really hard.”

Across Salford, the same event also went on at Odsall hall on the Friday, the official National Takeover Day. The Salford Museum and Art Gallery held their event a day early, as they are not open on Fridays.

Kids In Museums has many other exciting current projects, including their Flexible Family Ticket, and Teenage Film Projects.

Listen to the interview with Ceri Horrocks below

 

Sainsbury’s Christmas ad features same sex parents- progressiveness or trying too hard?

The latest Sainsbury’s Christmas advert has sparked debate among its use of diverse families.

For some people, their favourite supermarket’s Christmas advert is awaited with baited breath. Competing with the likes of John Lewis, such television advertising gets more and more emotional each year, designed to pull on your heartstrings… and make you want to buy things. For those who awaited the three minute long Sainsbury’s advert, ‘The Greatest Gift,’ it did not disappoint. With stop motion animation and a soundtrack from James Corden, the advert was described by some on twitter as a ‘short film,’ while others described it as ‘the world’s most boring Christmas advert.’

 

The advertisement has been praised on its use of diversity, a mixed race family and same-sex parents. Head of Broadcast Communications Sarah Kilmartin spoke at a press conference on the decision, describing their want to represent a ‘modern Britain.’ She had to say; ‘We’ve made sure we’ve got a true reflection of what we see out there every day.’ This was the second year in a row the supermarket has used a same sex couple in their Christmas ad, however Sainsbury’s history with LGBT issues is not always so positive. This push to include lesbian parents in this year’s Christmas campaign comes just three months after a young gay couple were told to stop holding hands by a security guard in a Hackney branch of the supermarket. This led to gay couples staging a ‘kiss-in’ protest at the store. Killmartin however was very enthusiastic to express Sainsbury’s ‘modern values,’ which were just as important last year as they are this year after the controversy back in August.

 

 

Amy Wilkinson, Manchester based jeweler and puppet armature maker had her part in the advert. Alongside her jewelry, Wilkinson said. ‘I also work with Mackinnon & Saunders. The latest project we’ve done is the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert. I made some of the armateurs and some of the glasses, among various other things for the puppets.’

For those not in the know, armateurs are the basic framework for the puppets before all the features are added. Wilkinson’s talents have also been put to use in films such as Corpse Bride, ParaNorman and Fantastic Mr Fox. Wilkinson works in Studio One at the Manchester Arts and Craft Center, a joint studio and retail space where her work comes to life.

‘It’s much better than working from home because I can be out and meet people, rather than just feeling isolated and trying to self-motivate.’ Wilkinson works in this space in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, where ‘The Greatest Gift’s’ Dave’s glasses were made, with an artist and two other jewelers.

Manchester homeless group fight eviction from unused Pizza Express

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A group of homeless people launch an appeal against their eviction from an abandoned building.

Manchester Activist Group describes themselves as  “A group of 30 formally homeless individuals living and working together whilst trying to make legislative change.” The group currently includes two autistic people, and Chris Blaine, a new but very active member.

Blaine is a part of the occupation of an unused Pizza Express in Manchester city center, which although abandoned still has a working kitchen, toilets and hot showers. “I don’t see why we can’t stay throughout the winter months,” said Blaine. “We are gonna lose the building, were gonna get thrown out eventually, but our campaign is that this building is empty.” The building is set to be renovated and re-opened in 18 months, but will remain in disuse until that point.

Accordirs-statsng to the homeless link charity, in the year 2015 homelessness levels rose across the UK by a huge 30%, with approximately 3,569 people counted sleeping rough in 2015. Out of the North Western cities counted, Manchester had the highest rate of homeless people, peaking at 70. The second highest group was Salford at 16, still in the greater Manchester area.

The group occupy unused buildings in the Manchester area, previous locations including the Ducie Bridge pub,from which they were evicted.

In spite of this fact, the group launched an appeal to stay in the building, which has successfully lead to their eviction being postponed. However, their appeal was returned to them due to some paperwork mistakes, and is to be lodged today. Blaine said: “Until the government accept that austerity is killing people, a lot more people will inevitably end up on the street.”

Upon their eviction, the group will have nowhere else to go. Blaine explained that no extra support will be provided for the group upon their eviction. “Nothing’s been offered to us,” he said. “We’ve got one or two people going through the system at the moment using different charities, different organisations, but Manchester council are making no offers of accommodation.”

He has been part of the group for the past seven months. After his release from Strangeways prison, he was homed in Blackburn, where he had no connections, friends or family. Blaine said: “They’ll put you in a hostel anywhere in Greater Manchester, you don’t get a say in anything, you’re just banged into a home and forgotten about.”

Having experienced both prison and the Manchester City Council hostel system for the homeless, Blaine said: “The hostel system is, in my view, more dangerous than the prison system. Your exposure to drugs, violence and abuse is just off the charts, and people just don’t want to live there. They claim that all these places are supporting shared housing but they’re just not. The only support you get it you get told the rules.”

Blaine described, in his words, that the ‘only solution’ to Manchester’s homeless problem is the Manchester City Council providing housing, not shared hostel spaces for those without a home, as they are unsafe and often completely unideal for their tenants. Whether this be location, space available or even simply the ability to feel safe.

“You get a house first and then you move on with the rest of your problems,” Said Blaine. So far, Manchester City Council has made no attempts to speak with or work with the group. He explained: “The help you get it what the help is for everyone: you come and sign on.”

Manchester Activist Group are currently waiting for a response to their newly lodged appeal.

 

Freshers Thoughts: Why Freshers Doesn’t Have to be the Best Week of Your Life

Today is a beautiful if not a tad cold Sunday. I got up, went to work, went to Pret and came home. But for many Salford freshers, my getting home time will have been their getting up time. This past weekend was the first weekend of freshers, a sure to be fun filled week of drinking, making memories and kissing strange boys. It’s how you get to know your flatmates, meet people and have the time of your life. But what if it isn’t? This time last year I had just moved in. I didn’t know anybody and to be quite frank I was bloody lonely. I remember feeling very frustrated that everybody else already seemed to be besties. In the weeks to come I was still  adding people on facebook while everyone else was talking and seeing eachother every day; basically, they were moving a lot faster than I was. I found it difficult that it took me so much longer than everyone else to get to know people, to feel comfortable around people. This is one of the reasons why freshers wasn’t the greatest for me, and it made me feel so inferior. First of all I couldn’t go out every night; I struggled going out every other night. I was still at the stage in my life where I was used to drinking but I was so ready for bed by 2am, often meaning I had to get expensive taxis and go home because I was that tired. My extremely slow pace at getting to know people who are now all my true besties meant freshers just wasn’t this incredible experience it is supposed to be.  I didn’t feel good about getting off my tits around people I didn’t know yet. The fact that everyone else all already seemed to be really close only made it worse. I know now that it’s just my slower pace, and like to tell myself that it was the tortoise that won the race, not that hare. It took me longer, but nowadays I have what I affectionately call a ‘reet good uni crew’ in my drunk tweets.

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Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy freshers at the time. From what I can remember, which isn’t much, there were some good nights here and there. I also do firmly believe a great way to get to know people is for you all to get shit faced together. But the idea that I’m supposed to remember that week for the rest of my life? That all I’m supposed to have so much fun? It just wasn’t what I experienced. I wanted to write this to tell any readers that it’s okay if you feel this way too. For some people, freshers is this great experience. If it’s quick and easy for you to make friends and have people to party with then I can only applaud you. But it’s also okay if you’re not having the time of your life. Feeling the pressure to have fun in the same way I did only makes it worse too. If you are like me, and can be a little shy when you first meet people, being drunk is a great way to get over this. People say you loose all your inhibitions after six shots for a reason. Drinking games like never have I ever can also be a great way to learn fun facts about people, like knowing exactly who has done what for every sexual thing ever concieved, for example. Freshers can be a great week for the introvert, it might just have to be at a slower pace than some people.

Of course freshers is different at every university, but one thing I do regret about the week was not going to some of the more relaxed events. Games nights at the students union, film screenings and sports events. All the little things that happen in the day time with less pressure to be off your face and stay up all night. While I really enjoyed a night out back then, I just couldn’t do it at the pace freshers demanded. I wasn’t a hardened student gal I like to think I am now, even thought I’m still behind everyone else most of the time. So I’d say to all the people out there who need something a bit more chill to try these none drinking daytime events. It’s likely there will be a lot of more chilled out stuff happening at your students union, and you can probably find a schedule on their website. Parties in halls are also a good idea because if you’re feeling like you need to step out for a bit you can just go back to your room and maybe even come back later when you’ve got your bearings again. 4300623468_a17044355b_bEven just a pizza and film night with your flatmates is a great way to make friends. I would also say however that it’s great to get out of your comfort zone. Push yourself to go to that club that looks really crowded and scary, but most of all just let those barriers down. If you’re guarded for a long time after you meet people as I was, it’s easy to get lonely. Of course not everybody is gonna be great, a lot of people you meet will be arseholes. But you will find your amazing crew too. You just never know until you all get suffocated together in a sweaty crowd at Tiger Tiger.

This article is the first in a series I am planning called ‘Freshers Thoughts,’ in which I give a second years perspective on first year. Keep an eye out for other articles in the series, and pass on to the freshers in your life!