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Film series continues with psychological thriller ‘Hell House’

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Just in time for Halloween, a film shown at Monmouth College is set in a haunted house.

But the film Hell House is not a typical Halloween horror movie. It goes much deeper than that, said former Monmouth psychology professor Kateryna Sylaska, who will introduce the film on Oct. 25. Part of the College’s Public Philosophy and Film Series, Hell House will be shown at 6 p.m. in the Barnes Electronic Classroom on the lower level of Hewes Library. It is free and open to the public.

“As a social psychologist, I’m drawn to films that portray some aspect of our everyday lives and leave us feeling unsettled or curious about human nature,” said Sylaska, who now teaches at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. “Hell House introduces us to members of a church community that put together a haunted house each year. Each ‘room’ or scene depicts a different sin being committed.”

Sylaska said the intended frights are not people jumping out and scaring visitors, but rather the fear of being in one of those situations or the ultimate fear of ending up in hell.

“Halloween has religious origins, and this film depicts how some groups are trying to take what has become a secular holiday and infuse the secular themes into their own persuasive appeals,” she said.

Those appeals utilize fear.

“Through the lens of social psychology, I see this as a strategy of fear-based persuasion,” said Sylaska. “If someone can elicit fear, that has the potential to change our behavior. Fear can be a powerful motivator; social psychologists interested in persuasion have long recognized its role in behavior change.”

The film is not only timely because of Halloween, but also because of the midterm elections, she said.

“Politicians often rely on similar fear-based appeals in garnering support,” said Sylaska, who will also lead a post-film discussion. “Let’s be informed consumers of the information around us. Our post-film discussion will focus on general tips for spotting and responding to fear-based messages. Social psychological research has lots to share with us. I encourage everyone to come learn about it.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies Ermine Algaier organized the Public Philosophy and Film Series, which began last spring.

“This series provides an informal, multidisciplinary platform for raising awareness of pressing contemporary public issues,” said Algaier. “Both educational and entertaining, the series aims to provide the campus and Monmouth community with an informal space that intellectually challenges the broader community, while also creating a safe space to confront culturally diverse topics and ideas.”