Professor Bryce Bullins of the English department is bringing scary cool classes to the University of Cincinnati (UC): Horror media. Professor Bullins has found a niche specialty in teaching students about famous contemporary horror in writing and film.
His classes challenge the way students choose to look critically at media, simultaneously offering a unique course for students to take for their major. Professor Bullins sat down with The News Record to talk about his love for horror and the value students get by studying this media.
The News Record (TNR): Besides the Stephen King focused class of American Literature and Film, what other classes do you teach at UC?
Bryce Bullins (BB): I teach English Composition either 1001 or 2089, in the fall I usually offer some sort of film or literature class. Last fall I taught an American horror film class where we traced the history of American horror from 1960 to the present, I think we ended it with the year 2018?
TNR: What is your educational background?
BB: Kind of a long winding trail to get here. I got my bachelor’s degree in English from Sierra Nevada College. From there I actually went down the creative writing path for a moment. I got my Master of Fine Arts from the same school with an emphasis in poetry. But I realized about halfway through it that I had a bigger draw to critically looking at creative texts.
So, I decided to pursue that. I met my fiancé and we moved to Ohio, so I went to the University of Toledo and got my masters there. Then I applied to UC, came here, and it was here that I sort of realized I can pursue horror as an actual academic study.
And I embraced that. I’ve been a big horror fan my entire life, I’ve gone down that path now and am studying gothic literature. I’m currently looking at 19th and 20th century American literature, I study contemporary texts as well, film of course. I don’t just look at horror films, I try to look at everything in this gothic theme.
TNR: Can you explain the premise of your Stephen King-focused class?
BB: Yeah. With the King class we are looking at text-to-screen adaptations. We are looking at what makes a “good” adaptation or if there even are any. We are also looking at how Stephen King has evolved as a writer from his first book in 1974 to now, and you know he’s a pretty big literary figure in the American landscape. So, I think it’s worth looking at his work. We’re also looking at how he deals with gender, which we have talked about extensively in the class already.
TNR: So, why choose to study Stephen King? There are so many horror writers and other forms of gothic literature in the media. What is it about King that is more appealing to you?
BB: King is very accessible, and I think that’s great. It’s a great jumping off point to start looking at, specifically, American horror. I think what makes King so compelling is, like all kinds of horror media, you’re able to see the cultural fears and anxieties of any given time period in horror.
Horror texts generally sort of reflect those fears and anxieties, the cultural climate is often reflected in horror media. I think King is a really accessible starting point in beginning to talk about that. And there are other writers that I would like to teach one day, but I would say King is the most easily understandable.
You can have next to no experience with horror at all and dive into one of his books without being lost. You don’t need background essentially.
TNR: So, kind of going off of that, what do you see as the academic benefit? What do you think students gain from studying this work?
BB: Like I kind of mentioned, I think there’s a way where you can see a lot of cultural anxieties reflected in horror media. Horror is a very political art form. You can look at things you wouldn’t even think, slasher films or something, can often be a commentary on gender relations.
I think a good example is “Paranormal Activity.” There’s a really compelling argument that this film, that comes out in 2008, is an interesting reflection on the housing crisis and sort of a commodity and fetishization of this event. The guy in “Paranormal Activity,” all he does is buy a super high-end, massive house and neither one of the couples in the film have jobs that would support that.
I think you can look at horror as a way to see what is going on culturally. There is something particular about horror that both terrifies people and allows you to do this reflection on the world around you at any given point.
TNR: What is your favorite Stephen King book and what is your favorite movie adaptation?
BB: My favorite book is probably “Pet Sematary.” I remember skipping Algebra II in high school to finish that book. It’s a scary novel, it’s one of the few novels that has genuinely given me goosebumps. In terms of adaptations that’s a bit harder to choose. I really enjoy “Shawshank Redemption” as a film, “The Shining” is great too. I’d probably have to pick “The Shining,” but I don’t know, I have like a top five. King is fortunate in that he has had quite a few good adaptations. There are some bad ones, but I think the good outweighs the bad.
TNR: How long have you been a Stephen King fan?
BB: I feel like—I mean I don’t want to say my whole life, right? But since I was a child at least. I can’t even remember the first thing I was exposed to. I think I might’ve watched “Stand by Me” at a really young age and I didn’t realize that was a Stephen King thing. But I do remember one of the first DVDs I bought for myself was “Creep Show,” an anthology horror film he helped write and he actually stars in one of the segments, I think that’s my earliest memory with him outside of some short stories. All to say, pretty much as long as I can remember.
TNR: Do you have any advice you’d like to offer students for the upcoming school year?
BB: Right now, it’s obviously a difficult moment to be a student. I think the biggest thing you can do right now is just hang in there. I know it’s easier said than done sometimes but try and stick with it, reach out to your instructors if you need to. We’re here to help you, we want you to succeed.