Play the scene in which we, the audience, meet the ghost. He is quickly established as no ordinary ghost. Discuss with the class the usual conventions of ghost stories and ghost characters. The purpose of the discussion is to link humour to the breaking of standard conventions. What stories do they know? The emphasis is on generic knowledge (that is children's knowledge of other ghost stories). List these conventions and against them list the elements that tell the audience that this is no ordinary ghost. For example:
white sheet costumes
denim jacket, earring, punk hairstyle
Discuss how the reversal of the conventions makes for a comic effect.
Link the idea of conventional ghost stories to the concept of typage in literature (one dimensional characterisation).
The idea of typage can be extended to the Dracula myth. The figure of Dracula is easily and immediately recognised despite the lack of personal experience with such an individual. This recognition is an example of generic knowledge. The key questions might be:
How do they recognise Dracula?
What do they already know about Dracula? Read some excerpts from Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ to illustrate the horror genre. What devices are used to make skin crawl?
How is this knowledge exploited by the program makers?
How is this knowledge used for humorous purposes?
Encourage students to explore their intertextual knowledge through discussion of the Dracula myth across film and literature. The process of interpreting, making sense and appreciating new texts is largely one of reference to known texts. This program draws upon one aspect of the myth - blood sucking.
In small groups
Students can script another scene from a Dracula play drawing upon other aspects of the myth with which they are familiar. (Some suggestions are the use of garlic, the burning of incense and crosses to ward off Dracula, sleeping in a coffin.)
Fear and horror
Both Dracula and ghost stories are staple ingredients of the horror genre. Quivering Heap however is not a horror story because it gives a comic twist to these myths. Nevertheless it incorporates aspects of horror by presenting in graphic form some of the real terrors people have. For example the scariest parts of the program are about snakes, rats, bats and heights.
Replay these scenes and discuss their possible effects upon the audience. Focus on real life fears, irrational fears, inherited fears and experiential fears. Discuss coping with fears, sensitivity to the fears of others and overcoming fear. Encourage students to draw upon and share their real life experiences. The discussion could be used as the stimulus for a creative writing exercise on different phobias that people have (eg. arachnophobia, fear of flying, agoraphobia etc) and how these might be overcome.
Explore other ghost/fear stories in the media/literature eg. ‘Skellig’ by David Almond has been made into a film.