Adventure Time explores horror conventions in a sharp episode

Adventure Time explores horror conventions in a sharp episode


Adventure Time

"Blank-Eyed Girl"

Season 7 , Episode 10

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I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of horror movies. I’ve become more comfortable with the genre as I’ve grown up, largely because I can distance myself from the story and not have as acute an emotional reaction as I did when I was a kid, but I still don’t seek out horror movies. I just don’t like feeling scared, and even if I enjoy a horror movie, the fear tends to linger after the story ends. Watching Scream in the 5th grade scarred me for life, and I’m still occasionally gripped by inexplicable panic when I’m alone at night, specifically during the seconds when I’m walking up the stairs after locking the front door. There’s this fear that someone is right behind me even though I know I’m, and it comes from watching a slasher flick during an important developmental period.

Scream is not an especially scary horror movie, but it left a major mark on my pre-adolescent mind, one that hadn’t really been exposed to horror movies before. I didn’t understand the conventions of the genre that Scream was poking fun at, and was just plain terrified at the idea of a slasher villain. As I grew up and watched more horror movies, I became familiar with those conventions, many of which can be found in “Blank-Eyed Girl,” Somvilay Xayaphone and Seo Kim’s tribute to the horror genre. Horror movies are all about manipulating the audience and finding ways to use the medium of cinema to create fear and suspense, and this episode’s writers/storyboard artists use those same techniques to frighten the viewer.

In horror stories, there’s usually a skeptic that doesn’t take the situation as seriously as he should, and Jake is that skeptic in “Blank-Eyed Girl.” While listening to Starchy’s radio show, which features Starchy broadcasting far-fetched claims about conspiracies and paranormal activity, Jake freaks out and says that all of Starchy’s theories are baloney, an argument Finn has trouble believing considering the crazy world they live in. And Finn is right. Starchy is a living malt ball and Jake is a talking shapeshifting dog, so why isn’t it possible that all the chocolate in the Candy Kingdom has been replaced by mud, or that the burrito man is an evil scientist trying to turn everyone into tortillas, or that pencils are actually pens painted to look like pencils?

No matter how outlandish Starchy’s claim, it’s plausible in the fantastic world of Ooo, and a major element of this episode involves wearing down Jake’s skepticism. According to Starchy, the titular Blank-Eyed Girl has been haunting the various kingdoms of Ooo for centuries, and Finn and Jake is her next victim. Xayaphone and Kim begin incorporating the aesthetic aspects of horror films when Finn and Jake leave Sassy’s Pizza, changing the environment and sound to create a creepier atmosphere. The brightness of the pizzeria is replaced by the dark woods hiding all sorts of unseen terrors, and every small sound makes Finn and Jake jump with fear. Jake may not be convinced of Starchy’s claims, but he can’t deny the frightful environment he’s in, showing how setting and sound play an important role in the emotional manipulation of horror stories.

This transitional scene through the woods prepares the viewer for the Blank-Eyed Girl’s impending appearance by heightening the suspense, so when there’s a knock at Finn and Jake’s door soon after they arrive home, the audience assumes that the Blank-Eyed Girl is there. The door becomes an important object, and it’s highlighted by the angles of the scene, particularly an upward shot from the floor that makes the objects in the room point toward the door . The lighting from the small window on the door also creates a blue glow on the surfaces around the entryway, and the camera angle, lighting, and props all come together to give the door an otherworldly ambiance.

Once the Blank-Eyed Girl’s haunting begins, we start to see more horror narrative conventions. The characters frantically try to figure out the true nature of the threat in hopes that they can stop it, and the behavior and visual of the Blank-Eyed Girl is reminiscent of figures from films like The Ring and It Follows. With dead eyes, pale skin, long hair, and no expression, the Blank-Eyed Girl is a type that can be found in a lot of horror films because that emptiness is very creepy. But why is it creepy? After setting up the horror, Xayaphone and Kim begin to explore what it means to creeped out by something, and the work done in the events leading up to the more cerebral material allows them to successfully get larger ideas across.

As Jake is bombarded by a number of Blank-Eyed Girls that have crawled out of various corners of the treehouse (a moment very reminiscent of last episode’s similar gag), Finn sits with BMO and muses, “Creepy is just another label we use to distance ourselves from stuff we don’t understand. Or reminds us of something within ourselves we’re not comfortable with. It just ain’t an actual thing, unless you choose to believe it.” It’s like my relationship with horror movies; I was creeped out way more when I didn’t understand them, but once I became familiar with them, I was able to appreciate the craft without the crippling fear. I’m still scared, but not to the point that I can’t enjoy myself, and after a while, I’ve learned to appreciate the heightened emotional reactions I have when watching well-done horror movies.

The goal of the Blank-Eyed Girls isn’t explicit, but it can be inferred that what they wanted was to successfully scare Jake as that’s the last thing they do before revealing their true nature as luminescent white cloud-people made of fluffy dandelion seeds. Finn and Jake have no idea what just happened when these creatures disappear out the window, but BMO recognizes their beauty. The shape of the beings underneath the Blank-Eyed Girls is heavily reminiscent of a design Michael DeForge (one of this show’s character designers) has been using in some of his recent comic work; it’s alien and ethereal but also humanoid, and a very smart design to incorporate for characters that represent the majesty of the unknown.

Stray observations

  • Like any horror story, this episode takes advantage of the viewer’s expectations of how a scene will go. Finn is on the phone getting advice from Starchy on how to stop the Blank-Eyed Girl, says he’s going to take notes, reaches for a pencil on the table, it falls off the table, rolls between Finn’s legs, and he reaches down to grab it. We’re caught up in this sequence and expect that the next step will be Finn grabbing the pencil and taking the note, so it’s a shock when Finn looks through his legs and sees that the Blank-Eyed Girl is already in the house and just a few feet away from him.
  • Some items on the menu at Pizza Sassy’s: Creamie Beanie, Gloopy Soupy, Candy Chowder.
  • The employees of Pizza Sassy’s occasionally shape pizza dough with their butts. That’s not hygienic.
  • Stuff at the library: Stuff Stuff, Gross Stuff, Girl Stuff, Boy Stuff, Ear Stuff, Butt Stuff, Creepy Stuff, Skull Stuff, Private Stuff, Maybe Stuff, Yes Stuff
  • “It’s our fifth anniversary show! So many things have happened in that time: I switched from drinking rain water to eating distilled ice chips! I took up rock climbin’! My wife left me. And all-new conspiracies!”
  • “No more relying on hearsay! We’re going to take it to the source: secondary source.” Reference joke!
  • Finn: “Sittin’ on my not creepy butt.” BMO: “Heh. Your butt is kinda creepy.”