Mary Grabar

If you were a student at Virginia Tech last fall and had a propensity for the gruesome and violent you could have satisfied your thirst for the bloody and course requirements by enrolling in Professor Brent Stevens’s English 3984 class, “Special Studies: Contemporary Horror.” And, as a plus, you wouldn’t have to read many books because some of the “texts”--as they increasingly are in English classes today--would be movies.

Guess who took that class that watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and explored in papers and a “fear journal” how “horror has become a masochistic pleasure,” according to the course description? Guess who read a graphic novel (a book with pictures, i.e., a comic book) titled From Hell by Alan Moore, presented by Professor Stevens as “one of the most popular and accomplished writers in the medium,” as well as the work of scholarly “criticism,” Men, Women and Chainsaws? Guess who was drawn to the course described by the professor with these words: “We are consuming horror on an unprecedented scale. But the rules have changed. Until recent years, lead characters could be counted on to survive the invasion of zombies/homicidal maniacs/vampires. But this margin of safety no longer exists; horror has become a masochistic pleasure”? Guess who said to himself, “Bingo! That’s the course I want!” to a course description that ended with the words, ‘WARNING: Not for the faint of heart.”

Cho Seung-Hui proved, indeed, that he was not “faint of heart.” His own massacre of 32 fellow students and professors on April 16 demonstrated that if he did have a heart it was filled with evil. Cho outdid Freddy Krueger.

The showing of the videos and writings left by Cho has stirred up much debate by commentators. But what about the videos and books that were considered “texts” in an English class in an institution of supposedly “higher learning”? Would NBC and other stations be criticized for airing footage from one of the required class texts, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, on prime time? But this is what Cho and his classmates were writing term papers on.

And while the public gasped at Cho’s demented one-act plays (including one that involved a chainsaw murder), few noted that these were rather crude renderings of the subject matter of much young adult fiction discussed in high school classes: family dysfunction, the evil of teachers, and adults as perverts.

Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches in Atlanta. She is organizing the Resistance to the Re-Education of America at Her writing can be found at