Based on a short story of the same name by John Connolly, The New Daughter tells the story of a novelist, John James, and his two children who encounter a malevolent presence when they
move into their new house. One day, while exploring the surrounding fields of their new home, the James children come across a large mound to which Louisa is strangely attracted. John soon learns that his new home is an urban legend; locally infamous for the disappearance of a woman who previously lived there.


The burial mound, Louisa’s strange attraction to it, and her consequent symptoms all support a case of ghost sickness; a culture bound syndrome that occurs among Native American tribes, originating from the Navajo. First, the sufferer is obsessed with death or a certain deceased person (many Native Americans with ghost sickness may actually be suffering from a complicated bereavement). While we don’t know the ancestry of the James family, ritualized mound burials link cultures across the globe, explaining why Louisa would be at risk for developing ghost sickness. Furthermore, the woman who previously lived in the home (the object of Louisa’s obsession) may have been of Native American heritage. A common belief among the Kwakiuti tribe is that a child’s soul is weaker than that of an adult. Taken together, children such as Louisa would be more vulnerable to develop ghost sickness than adults. An alternative theory is that John killed his ex-wife and buried her under the mound on his new property, thus explaining Louisa’s pathological grief process.

In any case, the sufferer begins to have nightmares and dreams, then later feels queasy when the physiological and psychological symptoms set in. Louisa has nightmares and sleepwalks the
night after she lies on the mound. The next day, John is called by the school to pick up Louisa who is nauseous. Thereafter, Louisa demonstrates additional symptoms of ghost sickness
including a change in appetite, depression, and irritability.

Last week’s movie: Pumpkinhead (1988)
Next week’s movie: Deliverance (1972)



Inspired by a poem by Ed Justin, Pumpkinhead is a cult classic horror film about Ed Harley’s inner demon manifest as one of the most Underrated Horror Killers of all time (Tyler Doupe, 2013).
The supernatural Scarecrow Folk is introduced in the movie’s opening scene, and returns about 30 years later when Harley swears revenge on a group of teenagers who mortally wound his son
while operating a motorcycle under the influence of alcohol. Upon consulting a witch in a cabin in the woods, Harley goes to Razorback Hollow to exhume the eponymous legend, revenge


Pumpkinhead shares the same archetypal warning (trope) with January 23’s film, A Nightmare on Elm Street; there’s a steep price to pay for exacting revenge. The film revisits the internal conflict between what “we would like to do” versus society’s prohibitions about what we should do, and applies this to a case of child murderers. With superego (frontal lobe) dysfunction, people like Harley lose the protective cortical effect and succumb to the impulsivity of the id which is driven by the pleasure principle.

When bent on revenge, one can lose oneself, as evidenced by Harley experiencing the deaths of the teenage campers through the eyes of Pumpkinhead, then ultimately taking on the image of Pumpkinhead, itself. The film, then, is analogous to the infamous Stanford prison experiment that investigated how readily people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner in a role- playing exercise that simulated prison life (Zimbardo, 1973). A depiction of the experiment that’s less metaphorical than this week’s movie is Paul T. Scheuring’s The Experiment (2010). Similar to Zimbardo’s findings, Harley isn’t hardwired to be sadistic, but instead is influenced by environmental stress to do what he does; an action for which he pays the ultimate price.

Last week’s movie: Mama (2013)
Next week’s movie: The New Daughter (2009)

MAMA (2013)


Mama is a supernatural horror movie by AndreI?s Muschietti that is based on his 2008 Argentine short film MamaI? about two feral children abandoned in a cabin in the woods who are fostered by a ghost that they affectionately call “Mama.” Victoria and Lilly are abandoned in Helvetia (the name of the cabin) by their father after his attempted murder-suicide is thwarted by the cabin’s supernatural resident. The film depicts the plight of the children upon their discovery, as their new family must battle Mama when it follows the children to their new home.


With his film, AndreI?s Muschietti has inserted himself among attachment theorists such as Klein, Bowlby, Thomas and Chess.

The D’Asange children were 3- and 1-years-old when they were abandoned. Upon getting kidnapped, the older Victoria drops her stuffed animal on the living room floor. The transitional object is a symbol of the girls’ vulnerability during the critical period of language development. Once discovered, Victoria assimilates to her new family much
easier then Lilly, whose attachment to Mama is tested right up to the movie’s cliffhanging summit.

At Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the first module ‘ titled Necromancy ‘ of our year-long resident Psychopathology course focuses on ghosts (wraiths) and demons. While the latter reinforce teaching points of chronic and persistent illnesses, ghost stories are told to review disorders that are episodic in nature such as Major Depressive Disorder.

“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape…until it rights a wrong.”

Despite Dr. Dreyfuss (a psychiatrist) diagnosing Victoria with Dissociative Identity Disorder (misstated as Dissociative Personality Disorder), Mama’s true affliction is later revealed by Victoria, “It was a long time ago. A lady ran away from a hospital for sad people. She took her baby. They jumped into the water.” As such, Mama is a case study about Major Depressive Disorder, with Peripartum Onset (postpartum depression).

Last week’s movie: Mama (2013)
Next week’s movie: The New Daughter (2009)



The seminal movie of the “demonic possession’ subgenre is William Friedkin’s 1973 film adaptation of The Exorcist. Like our trip through Connecticut (The Conjuring) in Week 5, the film and its novel are based on true events. In a 1972 New York Times article titled “Everyone’s Reading It, Billy’s Filming It,” Chris Chase reported that Blatty based his novel on the 1949 Washington Post story, “Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip.” Details are provided in the personal diary of Fr. Raymond Bishop who performed over 30 exorcisms on 13-year-old Roland Doe. Supernatural occurrences noted in the diary included, but were not limited to, distortions in Doe’s voice (1). It has been speculated that Doe’s behavior may have been the result of a Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal (PANDAS) infection.


At Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the first module ‘ titled Necromancy ‘ of our year-long resident Psychopathology course focuses on ghosts (wraiths) and demons. While the former references disorders that are episodic in nature, tales of demonic possession serve to reinforce teaching points of chronic and persistent illnesses such as the Dissociative Disorders (DD). At the completion of the DD block, participants should appreciate that movies about demonic possession may be metaphorically interpreted as case studies of dissociation. For example, the hallmark characteristic of Dissociative Identity Disorder, a disruption of identity, may be described in some cultures as an experience of possession (DSM-5).

Another pedagogic lesson of The Exorcist references Holotropic Breathwork (HB). HB combines music with accelerated breathing to reach an “altered state of consciousness” as a form of self-exploration and psychotherapy. In their book (2), the Grofs describe the experience of demonic energy as “a change in facial and vocal expression…their voice is deep and raspy…spastic contractions make their hands look like claws, and their entire body tenses. [They] can muster physical strength.” After an outburst, everything quiets down and there is an eerie silence.

Regan demonstrates the pathognomonic description of demonic energy, which is associated with reliving memories of severe childhood trauma. The absence of her father and nocturnal enuresis (urinates coming down the stairs) lends further support to the etiology of her “possession.”

Last week’s movie: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Next week’s movie: Mama (2013)