While most 4-year-old children watch Elmo singing tunes on “Sesame Street,” Diana Anselmo-Sequeira was watching horror movies.
Her mom showed her “A Nightmare on Elm Street” at an early age, and afterward she was hooked. The ’90s brought her other formative favorites, “Interview with the Vampire” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
Anselmo-Sequeira, a postdoctoral fellow in film studies, has since made a career out of horror film studies, and currently teaches a horror film course called Horror Film: Genre and Genre. Instead of just teaching the formal elements of each film on the syllabus, she’s focusing the class’ scope on gender and women’s studies, watching films that take place in various time periods and geographic regions.
For Anselmo-Sequeira, horror films explore the idea of otherness, and she uses the genre’s lens to examine a fear of loss of control in society that’s exploited through the representation of women and minority groups on the big screen.
The Pitt News caught up with Anselmo-Sequeira and asked about her favorite films and her suggestions for the Halloween season. Here are a few of her picks.
A Personal Favorite: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)
“If I had to choose, the most influential horror film for me was ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ because I watched it when it kind of came out — I was four. And my mother is spectacular, so she got me into watching horror as soon as I was born. So ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ because I couldn’t sleep for a year…I didn’t understand very well what was going on but I knew I shouldn’t sleep because it was coming for me.”
Animated Film: “Belladonna of Sadness” (1973)
I’ve watched one recently — I would not call it necessarily horror, although it has a lot of graphic material — called ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ that was actually playing at the Row House theater here. And it’s a cult film, where watercolor marries with violence and women getting chopped to pieces or raped. It was gorgeous, because it was watercolor animated, so it was aesthetically very pleasing, the subject matter was a little bit like, ‘Woah, there.’”
A Classic: “Portrait of Jennie” (1948)
“I also like when horror meets with other genres, so like romantic melodrama, so ‘Portrait of Jennie’ is really beautiful. It’s like a ghost story but also like packaged as a classical romance, Hollywood romance, I love that one.”
Hybrid Movie: “The Neon Demon” (2016)
“[Nicolas Winding Refn] made this film about Los Angeles and the fashion industry of sorts. It starts as if it was just gonna be one of those very trite sort of [films] — there’s this little girl from a small town trying to make it in the big city. And like the spaces he films in, like motels — it seems like it’s going to be that story, a coming-of-age story. And then it takes a veer to be almost like, it’s a horror movie, it’s a satire, it looks like a music video, like MTV music video. At times it just looks also like a fashion spread — it’s about girls being photographed, so it’s very still. And it’s very existential too because it’s sparse in the dialogue, and it has a David Lynch kind of feel to it, like you’re watching ‘Mulholland Drive,’ but now. So it’s a pastiche of different influences, and not just in the sense of like he took from other movies or he took from other time periods, but he took from other directors. It’s crazy — it bombed so hard in the box office — I barely got to catch it.”
Best Soundtrack: “Donnie Darko” (2001)
“My favorite would be ‘Donnie Darko.’ Amazing soundtrack from the ’80s. Again, a retro-horror kind of film already. So that would be one that I would [pick] … Have you watched ‘Stranger Things?’ Because all these movies, like ‘Stranger Things’ stole from all these movies. And the kind of music that’s at the beginning of ‘Stranger Things’ is part of that ’80s, retro soundtrack.”