Simon Brown  Kingston University
How It Happened:

2017, Horror and ‘The Year of Stephen King’

With multiplex versions of The Dark Tower and It, small-screen Neflix adaptations of Gerald’s Game and 1922, the television premieres of The Mist and Mr Mercedes, and the announcement of the forthcoming Castle Rock, 2017 has been a great year for Stephen King. Never have this many King adaptations been commercially released in a single year, meaning the cinematic and televisual Stephen King brand is now more marketable than it has been since the early 1980s. While both The Dark Tower and The Mist were met with King-typical disappointment by fans and audiences alike, the other adaptations were critically acclaimed, and It has become one of the most successful horror films of all time.

As King’s star rises in film and TV horror, this paper examines the reasons for the success of this remarkable flurry of King projects within the broader context of the contemporary horror genre on the big and small screen. The presentation will examine how these projects connect with current trends in mainstream horror, considering issues such as nostalgia, adaptations, remakes, re-imaginings, terrorism, family and cultural horror. It will also explore the fear of the unknown and nebulous ‘it’, which has emerged through films such as It Follows (2014), It Comes at Night (2017), and King’s eponymous blockbuster.  Through locating these mainstream texts, with their very different approaches to horror, within the genre’s current industrial contexts and thematic preoccupations, this paper will seek to uncover what these King films can tell us about the state of modern screen horror.

Simon Brown is Associate Professor of Film and Television at Kingston University. He has published extensively on numerous aspects of film and TV, including early cinema, colour cinematography, 3D, cult television and horror. His current research is around Stephen King and adaptation. His recent publications include a special issue of the journal Science Fiction Film and Television on Stephen King and sf, for which he contributed an article on Under the Dome, and a monograph, Screening Stephen King: Adaptation and the Horror Genre on Film and Television, for the University of Texas Press.

Speaking on 6 April, 2018

Laura Mee University of Hertfordshire

Massacring Texas Chain Saw:

The American Horror Franchise as a Study in Seriality

From Tobe Hooper’s seminal The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to Leatherface (Maury & Bustillo, 2017), Chainsaw has become the quintessential modern American horror franchise, and its instalments coincide with significant developments in the genre’s evolution over almost fifty years. Hooper’s film epitomised Robin Wood’s ‘golden age’ of politically engaged horror in the 1970s, before a sequel was released—followed by two further films—more than a decade later at the height of the trend for retroactive serialisation. A commercially successful adaptation (Nispel, 2003) initiated the post-millennium remake boom, and, along with a prequel (Liebesman, 2006) provided a figurehead feature for the much maligned, remake-led production company Platinum Dunes. Texas Chainsaw 3D (Luessenhop, 2013) and prequel Leatherface attempt to rectify the narrative transgressions of the sequels and remake, returning the series to its roots to form a trilogy with Hooper’s original.

Chainsaw provides an ideal case study for serious examination of the remake and reboot trend in the 2000s and 2010s. Its strategic production and promotion relied on the popularity of the original series among horror fans, and its notoriety and brand value among unfamiliar audiences. Rather than simply overwriting or erasing the significance of the original, the remake appealed directly to fans and wider audiences through a careful process of recalling franchise mythology and resurrecting an iconic antagonist. Thematically, it has been claimed (as with other remakes of 1970s horror) as both a meaningless copy which disposes of any allegorical commentary, or otherwise aligned with a cycle of new American horror suggested to reflect post-9/11 America in an equivalent way to the 1970s films. Closer analysis of the Chainsaw franchise, however, highlights a number of problems with crediting any definitive political sentiment to the films of either era, not least that these interpretations are retrospectively imposed, and assume that audiences only engage with the films on account of some deep, socio-cultural resonance. This paper will use the Chainsaw films to explore some of the issues which arise in studying remaking as a significant trend in contemporary horror cinema, and will examine the tensions between our desire to retell (and rewatch) familiar stories in new ways while demanding new versions respect old classics.

Laura Mee is a Lecturer in Film and Television at the University of Hertfordshire. Her research interests include contemporary American cinema, horror and cult film, adaptation and seriality. She is the author of Devil’s Advocates: The Shining (Auteur, 2017) and the forthcoming Reanimated: The Contemporary American Horror Film Remake (Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

Speaking on 7 April, 2018