Stacey Abbott – University of Roehampton

“It’s Alive!”: Stop-Motion Animation and the Materiality of Horror

Often associated with fairy tales, comedy, and family-friendly film and TV, animation also has a long – much less commented on – relationship with the horror genre.  This is particularly the case for stop-motion, a form of animation where found objects, puppets, clay models, or other materials are seemingly brought to life, or re-animated Frankenstein-like, through frame-by-frame photography. Thus, stop motion embodies in its very matrix a long-standing gothic horror trope. Despite the prevalence of digital animation, stop-motion continues to be a preferred style for many artists, particularly those interested in explore themes of the grotesque and the macabre. The aim of this paper will be to explore the inherent synergies between stop motion and horror by considering how the materiality of the animated object lends itself to the construction of horror, in which it is manoeuvred, shaped, reshaped, and manipulated in order to generate an affective response. The paper will first establish how from the earliest days of cinema, with films such as ‘The Haunted Hotel’ (1907) and ‘Dreams of Toyland’ (1908), to the avant-garde work of artists such as The Brothers Quay or Jan Svankmajer, filmmakers have used stop motion to evoke the uncanny and the surreal, while special effects artists and animators have used it to breathe life into screen monsters such as King Kong, Dolls, Trilogy of Terror, and Clash of the Titans. The paper will then go on to examine  how contemporary examples, including Barnaby Dixon’s Eskos, Lee Hardcastle’s Claycat’s The Thing, and Chard Thurman and Neal O’Bryan’s Toe,  explore the affective properties of horror, particularly the abject through representations of the body in profuse disarray.

Stacey Abbott is Reader in Film and Television Studies at the University of Roehampton.  She has written extensively on the horror genre in film and television. She is the author of Celluloid Vampires (2007), Undead Apocalypse (2016), the BFI Film Classic on Near Dark (2020), co-author with Lorna Jowett of TV Horror (2013) and co-editor of Global TV Horror (2021). She is currently researching a book on horror and animation.

Speaking as part of ‘Haunted Toys: Animation & Children’s Horror’

Mark Richard Adams – Independent Scholar

We Have Such Sights to Show You: Exploring Transmedia Worldbuilding in the Hellraiser Film and Comic Franchises

Following the success of Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), the films became one of the earliest horror franchises to be adapted into a regular comic series. The next sequel, Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, would not arrive until four years later. Meanwhile Marvel’s imprint Epic Comics published a hugely successful on-going horror anthology series that greatly expanded, and in many cases established, the mythology of the series, building on narrative hooks present in the first two films. These comics did not focus on the character of Pinhead, who made only sporadic appearances, and instead built themselves around the Lovecraftian-themed mythology of Hellbound creating an anthology of disconnected storylines that shared a common fictional world.

Almost fifteen years later Boom Studios produced a new comic series starting in 2010, again inspired by the films but this time heavily focused on Pinhead, Kirsty (the original final girl), and other franchise signifiers. The new series put Clive Barker’s name at the forefront of its publicity, and drew on ideas and themes from his wider body of work. Both the EPIC and Boom comic series perfectly encapsulate the changing priorities of the Hellraiser franchise between the twentieth and twenty-first century, and illustrate the cultural power of icons such as Pinhead.

This paper is interested in exploring the transmedia mythologies built up around the Hellraiser franchise, primarily through studying the changing approaches of the franchise to its own narrative world building. Themes of authorship, creator authority, and the various individuals who contributed to the different interpretations of the Hellraiser franchise, across both the films and comics, will also be explored. It will also identify how many of the later films drew inspiration from both of the comic series’ and the ongoing transmedia nature of the franchise.

Mark Richard Adams received his Doctorate from Brunel University for his study examining institutional contexts of Doctor Who’s Fan-Producers and historical research into the concept of authorship. He also has a Masters in Cult Film. Publications include chapters on masochism in Screening Twilight: Critical Approaches to a Cinematic Phenomenon, an analysis of Valentine’s stylistic excess in Style and Form in the Hollywood Slasher Film, and ‘Clive Barker’s Queer Monsters’ in Clive Barker: Dark Imaginer.

Speaking as part of ‘Serial Offenders: Franchising’

Katarzyna Ancuta – Chulalongkorn University

From Revenants to Vampires: The Transmedia Evolution of the Jiangshi

The jiangshi (Mandarin), or goeng si (Cantonese) is a term used to describe reanimated stiff corpses that hop around attacking people to absorb their yang energy and suck out their life essence ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ qi. Most commonly known as the hopping vampires, in reference to the film Mr Vampire (Ricky Lau, 1985) that introduced them to international audiences, and occasionally branded as zombies due to their semi–decomposed condition, they are consequently depicted in early texts as a variety of ghosts, or revenants. Over the centuries, as a result of various media transmutations, the representations of this horror icon have become progressively more vampiric. Contemporary renditions, especially in popular media with active fandom participation like manga, anime, cosplay, games, or webnovels have contributed to the creation of new hybrid creatures that blend Asian and European folklore with popular depictions of vampires in literature, film and popular culture re-constructed to maximise their global appeal.

This paper examines the transmedia evolution of the jiangshi from their ghostly origins in Qing literature, through the cinematic portrayals as comic martial arts icons, to their recent appearances as hybrid creatures in popular fan-powered media, where their representations oscillate between cute and erotic and draw on the aesthetics related to the European vampire and Japanese anime characters. The paper discusses the portrayals of the jiangshi in Yuan Mei’s eighteenth–century collection of strange tales, Zibuyu, then moves on to examine the cinematic construction of the ‘hopping vampire’ in classic jiangshi films like Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) and Mr Vampire (1985) and, more recently, Rigor Mortis (2013) and Vampire Cleanup Department (2017). Finally, the paper focuses on the creature’s hybridization in fan-friendly contemporary texts like James Duvalier’s light novel Night Flowers (2015), collaborative webnovels, and drama CD series Midnight Jiang Shis (2016).

Katarzyna Ancuta is a lecturer at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. Her research interests oscillate around the interdisciplinary contexts of contemporary Asian Gothic/Horror. Her recent publications include contributions to B-Movie Gothic (2018), Twenty-first-century Gothic (2019) and Gothic and the Arts (2019). She also co-edited three special journal issues on Thai (2014) and Southeast Asian (2015) horror film, and Tropical Gothic (2019), a collection on Thai Cinema: The Complete Guide (2018) and Southeast Asian Gothic (forthcoming 2021).

Speaking as part of ‘Creature Features: Monsters & Folklore II’

Filipa Antunes – University of East Anglia

“Ages 5 and Up”: Contemporary Genre Histories, Transmedia Franchises and Kenner’s 1970s Alien Toys

Scholars increasingly recognise the value of transmedia franchising relationships in popular culture, and horror studies is progressively more interested in exploring how the genre manifests in ‘non-traditional’ industries such as video games and comics. Yet these analyses often begin from particular assumptions about what the genre is and isn’t, such as the idea that horror is inherently transgressive or inappropriate for children. This paper considers the children’s toys made by Kenner in 1979 for the R-rated film Alien and argues that this franchising link points to a cultural idea of horror and of its position in popular culture that challenges these widely-accepted premises of the genre and its history.

The paper begins by introducing Kenner’s toys and their popular reputation as inappropriate mistakes derived from Kenner’s misreading of Alien. We will note that these retrospective interpretations come from an understanding of horror’s boundaries as established by a niche demographic of genre enthusiasts—they do not correspond to the way horror was understood and expressed in the culture at large. Indeed, not only was Kenner’s Alien line comparable to all the other popular horror toylines of the period, the film too was read by a majority of 1970s critics as a family-friendly monster adventure, a far cry from its current reputation.

The paper thus argues that Kenner’s toys show a way of widening understandings of what horror is, and who it is for, in popular culture, not just in the 1970s but today, confirming a need to question the naturalised assumptions of genre histories, and to do so while looking beyond ‘traditional’ sites of horror, particularly when franchising relationships are at play.

Filipa Antunes is lecturer in humanities at the University of East Anglia. She researches horror and childhood, with special interests in children’s horror and media regulation. Her monograph, Children Beware! Childhood, Horror and the PG-13 Rating (2020), identifies a children’s horror trend in popular culture of the 1980s and 1990s and links it to important changes in American attitudes towards horror and childhood, as well as dramatical industrial transformation.

Co-presenting with Alec Plowman

Speaking as part of ‘Serial Offenders: Franchising’

Liam G. Ball – University of Sheffield

“The exactly right time and place”: Australian Horror Properties in Transmedia Contexts

Wake in Fright and Picnic at Hanging Rock have long, interconnected legacies. First published in 1961 and 1967, respectively, the novels were adapted in 1971 and 1975 as part of the burgeoning Australian New Wave. Although Wake in Fright vanished after a poor box-office showing, Picnic at Hanging Rock established the renascent industry on the world stage. Through its commercial and critical success, the film adaptation of Picnic also legitimised the Australian Gothic tradition. Forty years later—and after a renewed appreciation for Wake in Fright—the properties each saw double adaptations; Foxtel adapted both properties for television in 2017–18, and both were adapted for various stage circuits within the same period.

That these properties are rooted in the horror genre makes their continuous, high-profile adaptations more unusual – and also notable, given the general aversion to the horror genre in mainstream Australian culture. This paper will thus examine the phenomenon of these hybridised horror properties, and the simultaneity of their recurrence across various media, by exploring the thematic elements of these properties to suggest how their cultural aesthetics may have remained relevant over the years. As a counterpoint, it will also evaluate the relevant industrial developments that may have contributed to these films’ selection for adaptation across new media.

Liam Ball is a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield. His thesis analyses the intersection between commerce and thematic expression in the Australian horror film. He has presented on his wider interests in national genre cinemas at conferences throughout the UK.

Speaking as part of ‘Afterlives: Remaking’

Jay Bamber – University of Roehampton

Monsters on the Mouse-tube: The Gothic Horror Cinematic Tradition and the Disney Channel Original Movie

The Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) represents a particularly diverse and robust corpus, engaging with different registers, genres and aesthetics to become an essential part of the Disney Channel brand and help cultivate young Disney stars since 1997. Since the DCOM’s inception, cinematic and literary horror has been an integral influence, beginning with the original DCOM Under Wraps  (Beeman, 1997) which explicitly engages with the themes and aesthetics of the Universal Mummy movies  (starting with: Freund, 1932).

This relationship between the DCOM and historical horror has persisted over two decades, including movies that function as retelling of classic Gothic / horror texts such as Dracula (Stoker, 1887), The Invisible Man (Wells, 1897) and The Phantom of the Opera (Leroux, 1909). This paper aims to demonstrate how, by engaging with elements of cinematic horror, these made-for-television movies fit into a history of television serving as an introductory medium for children to horror. Given the tenacity of this subgenre, I will also argue that horror has become a key strategy for the Channel, especially with regards to seasonal programming, providing these texts with unusual cultural capital through reprogramming at Halloween.

By employing David J. Skal’s work on The Monster-Kid Movement (Skal, 1993) and scholarship examining more contemporary children’s horror (Abbott and Jowett, 2013; Lester, 2016; Balanzategui, 2018; Troutman, 2019) this presentation will explore how these DCOMS apply some of the meanings and metaphors of classical horror to engage with the anxieties of contemporary children. Additionally, I will demonstrate that by shifting classical horror iconography into more family-friendly registers and milieus, the DCOM furnishes them with unexpected and surprising new meanings.

Jay Bamber is a PhD candidate in film and television studies at the University of Roehampton. His thesis explores the relationship between Disney visual media and the cinematic horror tradition. Additionally, he is the author of several romance novels published by Less Than Three Press and a frequent contributor to popmatters.com. His most recent chapter, which explores Working Title romantic comedies, was published in 2020 in the Edinburgh University Press collection Love Across the Atlantic: US-UK Romance in Popular Culture.

Speaking as part of ‘Haunted Toys: Animation & Children’s Horror’

Rae Bamber – University of Roehampton

“Like Something Straight Out of a Gothic Horror Movie”: The Gothic as Represented in Resident Evil Village

Since the release of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts (Fujiwara, 1988) in 1988, video games have developed as a vehicle for Gothic horror and its generic elements (as exampled in texts such as The Castle of Otranto (Walpole, 1797), Frankenstein (Shelley, 1818) and Dracula (Stoker, 1897)) in the modern horror landscape. Particularly post 2010, video games have emerged as a unique space to explore the dark settings and narrative beats originally presented in early Gothic texts, as “both as a gaming construct and as a “manifestation of the fears of a contemporary audience” (Stobbart, 2019).

This new and valuable relationship between video gaming and the Gothic brings a level of legitimacy to a medium often overlooked in horror scholarship by aligning it with a long literary history, most of which belonging to what many deem as the literary canon (Gamer, 2000, 8). Therefore, to further the analysis of this subject, this paper will be analysing Resident Evil Village (Sato, 2020) and how it uses classical horror tropes through the contemporary lens of video game horror.

Different from the preceding instalments of the Resident Evil franchise, Village distinguishes itself as distinctly separate from the series’ typical biological/zombie horror plot lines and chooses to embrace more classical horror elements as established in early horror cinema (particularly exampled in the Universal Monster canon) and Gothic horror. The purpose of this paper will be not only to analyse Village’s use of these elements, but also the significance of early Gothic horror on video game horror as a whole. It will additionally use theory presented by genre writers such as Catherine Spooner and Dawn Stobbart, as well as Laurie Taylor’s concept of the “ludic-Gothic”, as an example of how Gothic signifiers can operate exclusively through video games as a valuable medium (Taylor, 2009).

Rae Bamber is a PhD student at the University of Roehampton, currently working on their PhD thesis on the representation of goth and goth subcultures in contemporary horror. Their research interestes have also included the use of homoerotic imagery and narrative in slasher and splatter horror cinema, and the ways in which marginalised audiences interact with horror fandom. Outside of academia, they self publish their work through the means of online video essays.

Speaking as part of ‘Permadeath: Video Games’

Gargi Bendre – D. G. Ruparel College

Exorcising the Monster Within: A Study of Social Horror in Indian Cinema

This paper attempts to study the emergence of social horror in Indian films, predominantly in Hindi cinema. The following films/miniseries will be the focus of study; namely Bulbul (2020), the short film ‘Story 3’ from the anthology titled Ghost Stories (2020) and the film Stree (2018). The paper also wishes to analyse the role of immensely popular OTT platforms in India as conducive to the social horror genre. A sizable population of the Indian youth are consumers of OTT platforms. In fact Bulbul and Ghost Stories are Netflix releases, while Stree is available to watch on Netflix.

The emergence of the social horror is an interesting development in the growth of Indian cinema. In the Indian context, horror films have been primarily imitations of the West. The Indian canopy of horror films and tv shows were popularised with outlandish productions by the Ramsay brothers. They introduced a characteristic aesthetic to the Indian horror scene with shock and awe methods; namely haunted mansions, headless corpses, creaking doors and other common tropes. These tropes remained comparatively similar and predictable until the past couple of years. This change can be attributed to a renewed interest in pushing the limits of the horror genre and an eager audience ready to embrace this change.

I contend that social horror subverts the purely voyeuristic element of horror into one that is closer to reality than fiction. Social horror attaches us to the dystopian world it has created not as mute spectators but active participants. It forces us to engage with a is monster no longer outside our society, but rather one that is embedded within it. Bulbul and Stree deal with the position of women in the deeply patriarchal Indian society. It channelises the woman as the ‘other’ to question deep rooted misogyny, of granting female freedom most often understood as sexual freedom. ‘Story 3’ delves into the issues of class and caste using the trope of the zombie. What is obvious in these representations is their topical nature and the use of Indian folktales and legends. This adds to the notion that there is no longer a fear of the unknown, but a fear of the known.

Gargi Bendre is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at D. G. Ruparel College in Mumbai. She has been teaching English since December 2013 and completed her MPhil and PhD at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) Hyderabad. Her MPhil is a study of the work of Jeff Linday’s Dexter series. Her PhD is a study of fantasy fiction with special emphasis on vampire and zombie fiction. Her other interests include dark comedy and true crime.

Speaking as part of ‘Silver Screams: Cinema II’

Kev Bickerdike – Sheffield Hallam University

“It’s Just a Piss-up and a Bonfire”: The Significance of Alban Eiler in Calibre

In the current era of hyperconnectivity, geographical distance can be largely reduced through means of communication that allow the individual to (virtually) access literally any other global space instantaneously. Whilst this (inter)national congruence has undoubtedly led to an increased awareness of other cultural milieus, the reality is that geographical distance from large urban environments brings with it a corresponding cultural dissociation from generalised ideas of cultural agreement. This socio-spatial disconnect has been exploited to generate tension within a variety of cinematic narratives; perhaps most successfully within those classified as ‘backwoods horror’ and, more recently, those designated ‘folk horror’.

Matt Palmer’s Calibre (2018) offers a taut narrative that utilises the above idea to great effect. Two Edinburgh residents find themselves experiencing an insular Highland community that is both geographically and culturally distanced from large urban spaces and the attitudes of modernity found within such environments. The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of the spring equinox, celebrated by the community as the Alban Eiler festival, and the continued observance of this significant pagan date underlines the cultural separation that exists between the two urbanites and the rural folk of Culcarran. This paper will explore the significance of Alban Eiler in narrative terms; how the festival’s meaning is expressed through narrative events and whether the observation of a pagan date, coupled with a narrative that contains conspiratorial elements, justifies claims that Calibre is folk horror.

Kev Bickerdike is a PhD candidate at Sheffield Hallam University, where his thesis examines representations of space and place in British horror cinema, and the tensions that arise when space is subject to competing attempts to invest it with meaning.

Speaking as part of ‘Dark Woods: Folk Horror’

Simon Brown – Kingston University

“When God Builds a Church, the Devil Builds a Chapel Next Door”: Transnational Terror and The Unholy Adaptation

Drawn from the 1983 James Herbert novel Shrine, The Unholy, by writer/director Evan Spiliotopoulos, is the first of Herbert’s books to be adapted for the screen since his death in 2013. More importantly, it is also the first adaptation of a James Herbert horror novel to be both made, and set, in the USA, 1982s Deadly Eyes having been made in Canada, and 1995’s Fluke having been based on one of Herbert’s non-horror tales. This film therefore offers an important opportunity to examine the translation of Herbert’s very British strand of horror into an American context, both in terms of the story itself, and of its generic and temporal context.

This paper will examine the impact on this tale of religious mania of its relocation from Herbert’s Home Counties sleaze to Spiliotopoulos’ New England Gothic, and the updating of the story from early 1980s Britain to post-Trump America. In doing so it will pay particular attention to its folkloric influences, its depiction of the Catholic church, and its exploration of morality and evil. In addition the presentation will consider the critical reception of both the book and the film in order to locate the two texts within their own contemporary genres. Ultimately this paper seeks to explore what this unique and significant adaptation can tell us both about Herbert as a horror writer, the tradition of British horror writing which he represents, and their relationship to mainstream American horror cinema.

Simon Brown is Associate Professor of Film and Television at Kingston University. His most recent publications include Screening Stephen King: Adaptation and the Horror Genre in Film and Television (2018) and Creepshow for the Devil’s Advocate series (2019). He is currently researching a monograph on James Herbert.

Speaking as part of ‘Paper Cuts: Adaptation’

Ben Chinnery – University of Hull

The Monster with Two Origins: Transmedia Contradictions and Cloverfield

“We live in this world where now internet marketing is being treated as thought it is canon; it’s not canon, it’s marketing.” In an inteview at the time of Cloverfield‘s (2008) release, writer Drew Goddard outlined his philosophy to writing in response to a question about the monster’s origin in the film, “if it’s important to the movie, it’s on the screen.”

From the ‘wilderness years’ of Doctor Who to the ‘Expanded Universe’ of Star Wars being cut off from the cinematic canon, it is not unusual for the various transmedia expressions of a franchise to contradict each other; often one media expression rises to the top as the dominant narrative from which the other elements are derived.

In the case of Cloverfield, however, something interesting happens. In spite of Goddard’s philosophy and his clear insinuation that Clover is of extraterrestrial origin, something alluded to within the text, the first film in the franchise was heavily marketed with an augmented reality game (ARG). This game had eager players searching through social media accounts to discover a corporation, an energy drink, an activist group, deep sea drilling operations and falling satellites.

In this ARG game, the monster’s origin is indicated to be entirely different to Goddard’s intention, and it raises an interesting question: how should a viewer approach this transmedia contradiction? This paper’s argument is that, in a world where transmedia storytelling is more lucrative than ever and some fans are becoming increasingly vocal about changing released films because they want the canon to be different, Cloverfield offers a unique opportunity to analyse how the film industry works (as both art and as a business) and come to a healthier appreciation for finding your own story in the media you consume.

Ben Chinnery is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Hull specialising in found footage horror, why horror scares, and why that can be a good thing. He studied film at Falmouth University and then spent a number of years working before returning to academia. He is also a writer and voice actor.

Speaking as part of ‘Serial Offenders: Franchising’

J. Rocky Colavito – Butler University

Rewind Culture: VHS Inspired Literature, Film and Fandom

If you reached maturity or puberty sometime during the 1980s you probably have fond memories of visits to either mom and pop or chain video stores, where the lurid nature of VHS box covers in the horror section provided a serious draw and thrall. While the technology had its weaknesses (eg the quality of the viewing experience diminished with each rental and the activity of people with little regard for copyright), its spirit has refused to die:  VHS fandom still vital and thriving community;  the potential for tapes as sites of possession/horror has guided numerous mainstream and not so mainstream films; the DIY mentality of the filmmakers currently resides in wanna-be directors with IPhones, and the soul of the films infects the pens and keyboards of current writers, with publishers at the ready to get such works out to an adoring public.

What is evident is that there is a vital and influential crucible of aesthetic inspiration to be found in the VHS mode, with influence extending into literary, cinematic, and cultural realms, all driven by the engine of vibrant fandom. Stylistically, these new permutations of VHS are significant examples of appropriative and intertextual discourses designed to appeal to the fan base, and revive the tenacious technology for future ages. While VHS is in all likelihood anachronistic as a technology, it spirits live on Zombie-like in new times, infecting new “victims” who become fans.

By analyzing an array of films (documentaries, mockumentaries, anthologies, et al) and short form horror literature, the intertextual nature of medium and product becomes apparent. In many ways, this phenomena gives face to McLuhan’s timeless credo of “the medium is the massage.”

J. Rocky Colavito is a professor of English and Director of the Undrgraduate Major in Literary Theory, Culture, and Criticism at Butler University. He teaches a variety of courses, with film studies and Horror Creative Writing taking prominence. Active in regional and International popular culture circles, his work ranges from the intersections of rhetoric and professional wrestling to the Sharknado franchise. He has published on drive-in movie trailers, the socio-political dimensions of World War Z, and cryptid filmds made for the Syfy channel, among other topics.

Speaking as part of ‘Unkind, Rewind: Digital vs. Analogue’

Stephen Curtis – University of Central Lancashire

Fear of the Bard: How to Make Horror Out of Shakespeare

The eldritch horror of Stratford’s most iconic son has terrified and traumatised generations of teenagers as they are forced to read and engage with Shakespeare’s plays. For many this becomes a repressed memory only occasionally brought back to the surface when Renaissance culture hits the mainstream but others choose to write out this trauma through adaptations and appropriations of his work. In this paper I will discuss a number of texts that explicitly (re)write Shakespeare through a horror lens.

Horror is generally understood to have begun as a literary form with the works of Edgar Allen Poe or the Gothic excesses of Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto. As part of a larger project in which I argue that the characteristics, ideas, and tone of horror are in fact central to literature from a much earlier period, this paper looks at the fruitful intersections between Shakespeare and horror. Through discussions of the ways in which the Bard’s own plays contain horror motifs I will argue that the blood curdling origins of the genre go further back than often thought. This approach lays the groundwork for a transmedia discussion of contemporary engagements with Shakespearean Horror.

Shakespearean Horror can be found in the staging of plays, filmic adaptations of his works, transmedia adaptations, or even imaginative reworkings of his own life. Through discussion of a range of these texts, including Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland, Shakespeare vs Cthulhu ed. by Jonathan Green, Romeo & Juliet vs The Living Dead dir. by Ryan Denmark, amongst other less obvious adaptations, I will demonstrate that the transmedia potential of horror can illuminate the most canonical of literary texts. In doing so, I hope to prove that Shakespeare is truly horrible, but also that horror should be valued as highly as more traditional art forms.

Stephen Curtis specialises in the darker aspects of Early Modern Literature, and is currently working on two monographs, the first concerning the representation of blood in Early Modern tragedy and culture, and the second the establishment of a field of Early Modern Horror. This research interest comes from a lifetime spent immersed in horror fiction, films, and games. He has presented on a wide range of contemporary Gothic and horror topics, ranging from death in videogames to the particular horrors to be found on British farms. He tweets at @EarlyModBlood and is always happy to chat about blood and all things horror.

Speaking as part of ‘Paper Cuts: Adaptation’

Megen de Bruin-Molé – University of Southampton

Doing the Monster Mash: Universal’s “Classic Monsters”, Transmedia Franchising, and the Industrialization of the Cinematic Monster Mash-Up

Though the term ‘mash-up’ did not exist in the 1930s in the same sense it does today, Universal’s early appropriation of Gothic monsters from various literary traditions, along with its later recombination of these monsters (and their actors) into a series of increasingly parodic adaptations, prefigures today’s reboot and transmedia culture in important ways. Focusing on Universal’s curation and cultivation of the Classic Monsters brand from the 1930s through to the early twenty-first century, this paper gives an overview of the brand’s evolution from successful standalone horror adaptations to a monster mash comedy franchise, to its self-recycling and mash-up on later film, in television, and in off-screen merchandising and entertainment. In relation to these themes, the paper also touches briefly on Universal’s alleged efforts to “imitate” Marvel’s transmedia successes with its rebooted Dark Universe.

Universal’s story of the monster mash is one of variations on sameness, prefiguring the horror of twenty-first-century remixes and ‘Frankenfictions’ that update not to transform, but to revive and preserve a capitalistic status quo. Through its analysis of this history, the paper argues that Universal effectively industrialized the monster mash-up, offering one of the earliest cinematic examples of configurable or transmedia storytelling in the age of media conglomerates and convergence, and also setting a precedent for how later film franchises would capitalize on mash-up and other recombinant strategies. Not only do these kinds of practices reduce production costs, however, potentially allowing for more horror to enter the popular market (in which it often seen as a risky investment with a niche audience), they also demonstrate yet again that meaning and value are relative, and that the same text in a new context can produce new readings and perspectives. They teach us that we cannot overlook the importance of ‘unoriginal’ production to the world of Gothic and horror more generally.

Megen de Bruin-Molé (@MegenJM) is a Lecturer in Digital Media Practice with the University of Southampton. She specialises in ‘monstrous’ historical fiction, adaptation, and contemporary remix culture. Her book Gothic Remixed (2020) examines remix culture through the lens of monster studies, and her co-edited collection Embodying Contagion (2021) explores how fantastical metaphors of contagion have infiltrated the way news media, policymakers and the general public view the real world and the people within it. Read more about Megen’s work on her blog: frankenfiction.com.

Speaking as part of ‘Serial Offenders: Franchising’

Leyan Elyas – University of Hull

Bloodied Jaws, Gaping Wounds, and an Insatiable Hunger: A Critical Examination of the Transgressive Female Cannibal on Screen and her Cultural Significance

This paper aims to examine the cinematic and cultural significance behind the previously marginalised cinematic figure – the monstrous cannibal – and why it took shape as a bloodied, violent and sexually explosive female in twenty-first century film and television shows. The female cannibal is inherently a transgressive cinematic figure, due to the historical portrayal of the role, that was almost exclusively male and masculine, from the neo-Italian tribal cannibal, to the white and sophisticated male cannibal, as brandished by the Hannibal Lecter series. But this paper argues specifically for the socio-political transgressive nature of the female cannibal as a female monster figure in horror films, and how it reveals significant ideas about the way female sexuality, femininity and motherhood are seen and understood in western society, both on a conscious and subconscious level.

Interestingly, this topic of research is shockingly under-researched – despite its significance and increasing occurrence – across most fields of scholarship, specifically within the film studies discipline, due to the bias against the perceived significance of the female monster, women in the horror genre, and the horror genre as a whole. For this reason, the paper draws from multiple fields of scholarship, including: film studies, feminist theory, anthropology, social studies, evolutionary psychology and psychoanalysis theory. These fields all unite to explain the significance of the female cannibal, through understanding the female monster, gender roles and the psychological perception of gender differences in our western society.

Leyan Elyas is currently a Film Studies Masters by Thesis student in the University of Hull, after having undertaken and greatly enjoyed a Film Studies Undergraduate Degree, also in the University of Hull. Her research focuses on the portrayal of the female cannibal on screen, and she is especially interested in the blended approach of using psychoanalysis and social studies to better understand cinema and popular culture in general.

Speaking as part of ‘Scream Queens: Women in Horror’

Gozde Erdogan – Independent Scholar

Transmedia Adaptation in the Age of Abundance: HBO’s The Outsider

HBO’s 2020 show The Outsider is intriguing precisely because of its paradoxical and monstrous nature as an adapted TV serial drama. The show has been denounced by critics as an inferior adaptation of its paratext, Stephen King’s novel of the same name. Moreover, it has been condemned as being style-over substance and too slow. On the other hand, the show has raked up strong ratings for HBO and has been praised by its portrayal of its female characters. It is a show that starts as a gruesome cop/murder narrative and slowly incorporates a supernatural, monstrous entity into the hyper-realistic and forensic world of crime solving. If the genre of TV crime drama is truly modern—founded on a diegesis of a realistic world replete with forensic evidence, facts and truths–, then The Outsider is what happens when that diegesis is truly disrupted with postmodern horror; monstrosity, hybridity and otherness blast open the seams of the crime narrative. In this vein, The Outsider is the true demonstration of the ever-expending and evolving narratological boundaries of TV adaptation and seriality.

In this era of abundance, such practices of transmedia adaptation help transform horror, opening up new spaces for diverse representations along the axes of gender and race. As a cultural product, The Outsider has its roots in many paratexts and intertexts. Along this journey, the story and the characters are diversified as narratological boundaries are stretched. The most prominent case of this is seen in the character of Holly Gibney, written by King, adapted by Stephen Price, directed by Jason Bateman and given life by Cynthia Erivo. This paper aims to analyse The Outsider as a prestigious quality TV product typical of HBO and how industry practices and intense competition within TV lead horror to be reimagined through experimental and creative means of adaptation.

Gozde Erdogan received her BA, MA and PhD from Hacettepe University, Department of American Culture and Literature in Ankara, Turkey, where she worked as a lecturer for 10 years. Her PhD thesis, completed in 2014, analyzes Southern Gothic American Television series. Her research areas fall mainly within Film and TV Studies with a focus on horror and the gothic mode. Erdogan currently resides in Cardiff, UK and is an independent scholar.

Speaking as part of ‘Paper Cuts: Adaptation’

Eddie Falvey – Plymouth College of Art

Inhabitations of the Past: A Hauntological Exploration of Cycles of Horror Remaking in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria

It is the position of this paper that the link between ‘classic’ and contemporary slasher films is not nearly as simple as some analytic models would have us believe. There has been a tendency in scholarship to apply reflectionist critical paradigms that aim to locate recent generic developments as conscious responses to direct points of cultural impact, with various works linking events such as 9/11 and its aftermath, the 2008 economic crash, and the resurgence of nationalism to all sorts of horror films. It is my position, however, that there is more at work. Reflectionism fails to account for wider industrial factors, however straightforward industry-analysis fails to synthesise properly how the texts of the past are adapted and evolve through a prism of repetition and reproduction. Neither methodology, I contend, accounts fully for what happens when the past and present collide.

I would like to explore the notion that there is something fundamentally hauntological about horror remakes in general and about Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (2018) in particular. It is a film that appears to be thematically obsessed with legacy, a theme that is vital to both the hauntological and to the overarching themes of contemporary horror remakes. A hauntological approach (after Derrida 1993, and Fisher 2012) will allow me to explore Guadagnino’s remake as a text that tests the “elasticity of [textual] borders”, that “crosses the threshold by making an opening” (Omar Calabrese on the neo-baroque, cited in Angela Ndalianis 2004: 73). Indeed, Guadagnino’s Suspiria, an auteur-driven and markedly creative remake of a horror classic, emerged out of a period in which horror’s textual past has been newly established as a dependable (but newly adaptable) resource for contemporary filmmakers working within the genre (see David Gordon Green’s Halloween [2018] for another example]). Indeed, Guadagnino’s Suspiria presents inviting questions regarding authorship, authenticity, and nostalgia which arise from its ‘high-brow’ characteristics, factors which underscore its placement within a complex intertextual network of signifiers that incorporates everything from Italian giallo to contemporary discursive interrogations over the arrival of ‘post’ horror. Therefore, I propose to make the case that during a period of accelerated horror production in which new modalities have been emerging (and as the exchange rate of cultural capital is in constant negotiation), Guadagnino’s Suspiria erodes the boundary between past and present while illustrating current directions in horror filmmaking.

Eddie Falvey completed his PhD at the University of Exeter in 2018. Eddie is author of Re-Animator (2021), a forthcoming volume for the Devil’s Advocates series. He recently released New Blood: Critical Approaches to Contemporary Horror (2020, co-edited with Joe Hickinbottom and Jonathan Wroot). He has published widely on film and associated media: most recently on sex toys as film reception for The Shape of Water, discourses of smartness in adult animation, and experimentation in art-horror. He is currently completing a project on the films of Yorgos Lanthimos. He lectures in the School of Art and Media at Plymouth College of Art.

Speaking as part of ‘Afterlives: Remaking’

Bruna Foletto Lucas – Kingston University

The Conundrum of “A Feminist Take on a Horror Classic”: Feminism and the Horror Distribution Landscape

The aim of this paper is to analyse two films, Rabid (Soska Sisters, 2019) and Black Christmas (Sophia Takal, 2019), which pose as two contrasting ends of the rich discussion around film distribution and reception, to explore specific problems regarding the distribution landscape of horror films. Despite the fact that these two films differ greatly in terms of how they were marketed, released and received, they have one thing in common: they are both remakes from horror classics from the 70s.

Indeed, both films were described by critics as being ‘feminist takes on horror classics’, and here is the source of the problem. Much of the backlash around Black Christmas was primarily rooted on its feminist agenda, the same thing which was applauded in Rabid. This backlash raises many questions, but most importantly it interrogates the impact of the distribution and reception on the idea the horror is a safe space for feminist films. This paper will then turn to the differences in how the films were distributed, marketed and received by both critics and fans, as well as to the career of the filmmakers to ask whether the horror genre offers a positive space for women filmmakers.

Bruna Foletto Lucas, a filmmaker turned academic, is currently on the second year of her PhD at Kingston University London where she is expanding her previous work (“Women’s Collective Nightmare: A Look at Horror Films Directed by Women”, 2016-2017) and analysing the role of the women in horror films. Bruna is a film critic and a film reviewer for London Horror Society and UK Film Review.

Speaking as part of ‘Scream Queens: Women in Horror’

Kieran Foster – University of Nottingham

Historicising Horror: Repurposing the Hammer Script Archive

This paper will examine how archival materials on unmade or unreleased films not only provide valuable evidence for revisionist film histories, but can be repurposed as events and media that imaginatively reconstitute unrealised projects in the modern day. Whilst archives are valued by film historians for the contextual evidence they provide, when it comes to films that never were they hold potential beyond the circumstantial.

Documentation on unmade films in the Hammer Script Archive at De Montfort University provide the point of departure for a survey of three live script readings. Two were staged at the Mayhem Festival in Nottingham in 2015 and 2017 and one at London’s Regent Street Cinema in 2019. The BBC also adapted for radio the unmade Hammer sequel The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula (1970) in 2017 as part of its ‘Unmade Movies’ season. As such, documentation in the Hammer Script Archive will be used to provide the production contexts for the original unmade films these projects were adapted from, and then studied to see how these primary materials were repurposed in the subsequent public adaptations.

By examining these public events and transmedia adaptations, this paper will explore the appeal and cultural function of this phenomenon and in doing so it will pose questions about fan response, nostalgia and these project’s status as adaptations.

Kieran Foster is Teaching Associate in Film and Television Studies at the University of Nottingham. His current research utilises the Hammer Script Archive to examine the British production company’s unmade films. He is the author of the forthcoming Hammer Goes to Hell, contracted to Edinburgh University Press, and he was the Principal Investigator on the AHRC/M4C post-doctoral project that produced a live script reading of the unmade Hammer script Vampirella.

Speaking as part of ‘From the Grave: Histories’

Stella Gaynor – University of Salford

“There’s Bones in the Chocolate!”: When Horror Fact Meets Horror Entertainment in Podcasting

The True Crime explosion has been visible across multiple platforms: linear television (Des, ITV, 2020); film (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, 2019), streaming services (Don’t F*ck With Cats, Netflix, 2019), and radio and podcast (Death in Ice Valley, BBC World Service, 2019). All of these examples take a factual event, a real murder, killer, or mystery, and explore and present the evidence in a dramatic but grave, sombre and above all, humourless way. This paper will examine what happens when horror fact – murder and terrifying history – meets horror entertainment, via the medium of the true crime / comedy podcast. Looking specifically at All Killa No Filla, Cult Liter and The Last Podcast on the Left, this paper will examine the transgression of boundaries between fact and entertainment, and consider what happens to these sometimes-well-trodden stories of serial killers, court cases, and dark moments in human history, when they are compressed and presented with comedy.

This paper will also explore how podcasts are using digital and social media platforms to develop transmedia storytelling of the focus of their episodes, for promotion and branding, and in the age of Covid-19, live online shows via Twitch and YouTube. This paper will demonstrate how the selected podcasts retelling of the crimes of Jeffery Dahmer; the high-profile murder acquittal of Casey Anthony; and the historical cannibalistic actions of the lost Donner Party in the Old West, transgress the line between horror fact and horror entertainment, and utilise contemporary transmedia storytelling techniques to allow the spectre of murder and grim history to move fluidly between media, while having some laughs along the way.

Stella Gaynor is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Salford, and Visiting Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. She has a chapter on the spread of The Walking Dead in the new Global TV Horror collection, edited by Stacey Abbott & Lorna Jowett, and has forthcoming works examining political commentary in Black Summer; Zombies and Theology in The Returned; and examining the contemporary cultural position of serial killer narratives. Her first monograph Rethinking Horror in the New Economies of Television will be available by the end of this year from Palgrave MacMillan.

Speaking as part of ‘Speak No Evil: Podcasts’

Mary Going – University of Sheffield

Some Legends are Born, Others are Created: The Golem and the Creation of a Jewish Frankenstein

In the beginning, God created Adam, breathing life into a being formed out of the earth; many, many years later, in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Gothic scientist Victor Frankenstein defied the laws of nature and the hierarchy of humans and the divine to give life to a creation made out of assorted dead body parts. Yet, Frankenstein is not the first tale to imagine humans playing God and creating life. Emerging as a thread of Jewish mysticism, the legend of the Golem — a being formed from clay and given life by rabbis — exists within Jewish folklore, and the Golem typically represents the Jewish community fighting back against antisemitic persecution. The most famous of these tales is the legend of the Golem of Prague featuring the sixteenth century Rabbi Judah Loew. Numerous versions of this legend manifested in Eastern Europe throughout the nineteenth century, and Rabbi Loew’s often violent and murderous creation has inspired countless adaptations and transmutations across various media including Paul Wegner’s antisemitic German silent horror film Der Golem (1920). 

Identifying the Golem figure as a “Jewish Frankenstein or a Jewish superhero”, Israeli filmmakers Doran and Yoav Paz adapt the legend through their 2018 horror film The Golem, and this paper will consider the Paz Brother’s film as both a Jewish reimagining of Frankenstein, but also as a feminist retelling of the Golem legend itself. Building upon the traditions existing in Jewish folklore and mysticism, as well as previous adaptations created across film and TV, the Paz Brothers retell the traditional story of a male rabbi who creates a giant creature, but with a feminist twist. Challenging the sovereignty of rabbinical authority and Kabbalah as exclusively male domains, I will discuss the role of Hanna as female creator to her child Golem, alongside the themes of creation and motherhood, loss and grief, and persecution of the Other. 

Mary Going is a research associate at the University of Sheffield exploring the ways that Gothic fiction influences discussions of race, and her own research focuses on constructions of Jewishness as well as the intersection of religion and the Gothic. She is the current web officer for the International Gothic Association and co-lead of the Gothic Bible project, and she has published on witch-hunts, Zion and anti-Semitism in Ivanhoe; Supernatural as a Gothic police procedural; and Jewish vampires.

Speaking as part of ‘Creature Features: Monsters & Folklore II’

Reece Goodall – University of Warwick

La Rage du Démon: Rewriting France’s History of Horror

France has become a significant name in contemporary horror, yet its presence nowadays belies a national lack of generic interest in the past. Despite producing some important horror texts, including Franju’s Les Yeux sans visage (1960) and the films of Jean Rollin, these are few and far between despite France’s near 130-year history of cinema. On French shores, horror is generally seen as low-culture, unable to appeal to a wide audience and – worst of all – American. There is a sense that horror is, broadly speaking, non-French, which is by far the largest obstacle to its national success.

This paper will explore La rage du Démon (2016), a mockumentary film by Fabian Delage which explores the history of the eponymous deadly horror film, which was supposedly produced at the turn of the 20th century by Georges Méliès and one of his apprentices, a Satanist called Victor Sicarius. I will explain how, through a number of intertextual references to the wider horror genre coupled with the evocation of events in modern French history, La rage du Démon works to create a fictitious history of France: one that has always been associated with horror, thus counteracting the national opposition to the genre. Although the film is most evidently an homage to the early days of cinema, it also draws on the theatre, photography, folklore and genuine history to position France and its culture within a wider web of horror, and thus demands a question of its national audience: why does it fail to embrace a genre that it contends is demonstrably and integrally French?

Reece Goodall is a PhD student at the University of Warwick, where he is working on an industrial and theoretical analysis of contemporary French horror cinema. His research interests include horror and other genres in French cinema, and the interplay between media, news and politics. He has previously written for Horror Studies and Animation Studies.

Speaking as part of ‘Silver Screams: Cinema I’

Janet K. Halfyard – Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Weird Vocality: Voices and the Uncanny in Twenty-first Century Horror

Voices have long had an important position in horror, from the victim’s scream to the maniacal laughter of the insane killer. Equally, horror soundtracks have explored a range of ways in which the voice might invoke the uncanny, such as the use of extremes of high and low pitch in the use of children’s singing voices and the slowed-down, pitch-modulated voices of the monstrous or the possessed. Other ways in which 20th century horror explored the uncanny voice is through positioning it as disembodied. Michel Chion asserts that the acousmêtre, the acousmatic voice of an unseen body, is “invested with magical powers” and “usually malevolent” (The Voice in Cinema, 1981), something we find in the acts of ventriloquism in films such as Psycho; and, indeed, the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Whilst all these manifestations of the voice continue in 21st century horror, several recent films have explored other ways of positioning the voice as a signifier of the uncanny, of otherness and sometimes outright evil. In this paper, I examine ideas of uncanny singing, speech and non-lingustic vocalizations in James Wan’s Insidious (2010), Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Us (2019); and Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019), exploring how Uncanny valley notions of how categorical uncertainty and violation of expectation also invoke the uncanny in relation to the sound the voice.

Janet K. Halfyard is Head of BMus programmes at RCS. Their research is mainly focused on music in horror/ supernatural and superhero film and TV, and publications include Danny Elfman’s Batman: a film score guide (Scarecrow Press, 2004), Sounds of Fear and Wonder: Music in Cult TV (IB Tauris, 2016) and the edited collections Music, Sound and Silence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Ashgate, 2010) and Music in Fantasy Cinema (Equinox, 2012).

Speaking as part of ‘Earworms: Sound & Music’

Sheldon Hall – Sheffield Hallam University

Masters of Terror, Appointments with Fear and Dates with the Devil: The Programming of Horror Films on British Television

Countless horror fans owe their love of the genre to their first exposure to it on television. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, British broadcasters – which is to say, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – frequently programmed horror films in regular slots, dedicated seasons and occasional theme nights. Aimed at adult viewers but drawing in vast numbers of children well past their bed-time, they were given generic titles such as Masters of Terror, Appointment with Fear and A Date with the Devil. This ‘branding’ of horror as a distinct televisual zone, defined in part by its late-night scheduling, was unlike the treatment accorded to other film genres.

Horror films posed a challenge to schedulers because the very content that was the source of their appeal for some viewers also tended to draw complaints from others and therefore invited internal censorship. For this reason, the networks were at first reluctant to acquire horror films or to identify them as such in published programme listings. Some films actually held by broadcasting companies were banned from transmission by the regulators. But in 1969 the purchase by ITV film buyer Leslie Halliwell of a package of twenty horror films from Universal’s parent company MCA – including titles made by Britain’s Hammer studio as well as Hollywood classics of the 1930s and 40s – led to a sea change in the way the genre was treated on TV and opened the gates to the acquisition of many more such films. Modern broadcasters such as Talking Pictures TV and the Horror channel now model much of their output on the patterns established in this pioneering period, while websites and social media pages pay tribute to their influence.

This paper discusses the early history of horror films on British television and examines some examples of scheduling choices made by broadcasters, focusing especially on the 1970s. It draws on extensive original research of primary documents held in broadcasting archives.

Sheldon Hall is Reader in Film and Television in the Department of Humanities, Sheffield Hallam University. A former film journalist, he is the author of Zulu – With Some Guts Behind It (2005; second edition, 2014), co-author of Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History (2010), co-editor of Widescreen Worldwide (2010) and a contributor to numerous books and journals on various aspects of the cinema. He is currently writing a monograph, Armchair Cinema: Feature Films on British Television, and maintains a blog about films on TV, Sheldon Times, at sheldontimeshall.com.

Speaking as part of ‘From the Grave: Histories’

Lindsay Hallam – University of East London

Predators Far and Near: The Sadean Gothic in Penny Dreadful and Contemporary Horror

In Season Three of Penny Dreadful season regulars Dorian Gray and Lily Frankenstein prepare for an evening of sinful decadence, arriving at a party filled with other wealthy aristocrats whose tastes are similar to theirs. A young woman, naked and afraid, is brought shivering before them. She is to be the night’s entertainment, her torture played out for the audience’s pleasure.

The scene begins in a manner reminiscent of the work of the Marquis de Sade; it is no surprise then that the young victim’s name turns out to be Justine, the same name given to the titular heroine of his 1971 novel. The evening takes a turn though, as Lily and Dorian save Justine and take her as their new companion. In Sade’s source novel Justine is the epitome of incorruptible innocence, destined to be continually abused. Yet in Penny Dreadful’s reimagining, several aspects of Sade’s work are adapted and revised. Further incorporating elements from Sade’s other novels Juliette and Philosophy in the Bedroom, this sub-plot is the first to directly reference his work, but this paper will argue that his influence has been present throughout the series, as well as in many other contemporary horror texts.

Lindsay Hallam is a Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of East London. She is author of the books Screening the Marquis de Sade: Pleasure, Pain and the Transgressive Body in Film, and the Devil’s Advocate edition on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. She is interested in all aspects of horror cinema, having written on topics such as female vampires, torture porn and post-9/11 trauma, mad science films, Italian horror, Australian eco-horror, and the television series Twin Peaks.

Speaking as part of ‘What’s in the Box?: Television’

Erin Harrington – University of Canterbury

Wellington Paranomal, Hyperlocal Horror and Transnational Flows

The celebrated horror-comedy What We Do in the Shadows (2014) presents a wry decolonisation and the domestication of the Gothic, as a camera crew follow four vampire housemates in and around Wellington, New Zealand. The film’s first major spin-off is horror mockumentary Wellington Paranormal (TVNZ2 2018-), a deadpan television series modelled on fly on-the-wall policing shows. Across three seasons it centres on bumbling Officers Minogue and O’Leary, bit players in the film, as they investigate low-key supernatural activity in New Zealand’s capital city: a sentient fatberg in the sewers, noise complaints about parties held by the ghosts of 1970s swingers, a haunted Nissan 300ZX, and so on.

Like the original film – and related media such as a short funded by Wellington’s tourism body that promotes the city as a vampire-friendly destination – Wellington Paranormal is what I term ‘hyperlocal’ horror. It explicitly leverages its niche cultural specificity to create, for the local viewer, a sense of tongue-in-cheek familiarity. This has an ideological function: it deflates heightened, imported forms of horror and the Gothic with the banality and bathos, through absurd, droll acts of localisation and generic hybridity.

In 2021 Wellington Paranormal will be screened and streamed in the United States after being acquired by The CW and HBO Max – something extremely unusual for a New Zealand television series. This builds on the popularity of the film’s acclaimed American television spinoff for network FX (2019-), but is also an example of the slow but increasing fragmentation of what have typically been one-way flows of pop cultural (and horror media) from the culturally-hegemonic US to global audiences.

This paper maps these transnational and intertextual flows, with a particular focus on the American reception of Wellington Paranormal, in the context of American adaptation and adoption of non-American horror comedy products. In doing so, it charts the emergence of a cross-platform, subversive and intertextual Shadows ‘universe’ that reflects the global, fragmented nature of the fictional vampire network itself.

Erin Harrington is senior lecturer in critical and cultural theory in the English Department at the University of Canterbury Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha, Aotearoa New Zealand. Current work focuses on bodies, gender, and ecologies in horror, as well as horror-comedy and the discursive construction of New Zealand horror. She is the author of Women, Monstrosity and Horror Film: Gynaehorror (2017).

Speaking as part of ‘What’s in the Box?: Television’

Rhys Jones – University of Liverpool

Putting Lovecraft’s Racism Front and Centre in Misha Green’s Lovecraft Country

The fantasy writer N. K. Jemisin considers H. P. Lovecraft’s racist attitudes essential to his literary world: ‘his biases were the basis of his horror. […] He does some incredible imagery, it’s powerful work, but it’s frightening because it’s a way to look into the mind of a true bigot, and realize just how alien their thinking is, just how disturbing their ability to dehumanise their fellow human beings is.’ This paper will begin by exploring the way in which the racist ideologies of the early-twentieth century saturate Lovecraft’s fiction at the level of explicit racist content and narrative form. This paper will then analyse how Misha Green’s Lovecraft Country (2020) harnesses the imaginative power of Lovecraft’s early writing and turns it back on itself, re-mapping the racist Lovecraftian worldview in order to highlight the violent racism experienced by Black Americans in the 1950s in the US and appropriating the Lovecraftian mythos to advance an inherently Afro-Futurist project. Drawing on Tavia Nyong’o’s concept of ‘afro-fabulation’, this paper will explore how Lovecraft Country functions as both a timely reminder of the violent events that make up the racist history of modern America, such as the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, and as a series that fabulates new spaces for Black American representation that exceeds and transforms this historical trauma and negates the destructive power of what Saidiya Hartman describes as ‘the spectacle of racialised bodily suffering’ within the American melodramatic imagination.

Rhys Jones is a teaching fellow and PhD student at the University of Liverpool. His thesis traces critical and cultural histories of abjection, including the prevalent definition mobilised by Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror (1980) as well as Bataille’s ‘Abjection and Miserable Forms’ (1934), in order to contextualise the term’s influence on horror film studies, art theory and literary criticism in the present-day. He has written for Horror Homeroom and Sublime Horror. His research interests include queer theory and sexuality studies; social reproduction theory; Marxist theories of the surplus population; critical race theory and horror film studies.

Speaking as part of ‘Paper Cuts: Adaptation’

Anıl Karasaç – Bilkent University

Screen Life: The Digital Screen as a Setting in Contemporary American Horror Cinema

Focusing on the recently emerged “screen life” format, this research examines how the contemporary culture surrounding tools of communication and social media affect a new genre cycle in American horror cinema, in terms of visual language and themes.

Coined by producer Timur Bekmambetov, “screen life” refers to a technique where the screen recording of an electronic device is incorporated into a cinematic narrative. This format, by virtue, utilizes Bolter and Grusin’s concept of remediation: the presence of aspects of one medium in a separate one. In the case of “screen life”, remediation is directly motivated by the current trends of horror cinema. Not unlike the post-9/11 found footage horror in American cinema, where the historical event informed the style and themes of a series of consecutive films, a new genre cycle is shaped by the unique anxieties deriving from society’s increasing exposure to social media and technology. Recent films like Unfriended (2014), Searching (2018), Cam (2018), and Host (2020), tackle these themes while entirely or partially integrating “screen life” into their narratives. Inspired by the way their audiences engage with the tools shaping these stories, films of this new cycle signify the emergence of a new, intimate cinematic language. A language where the overwhelmingly present diegetic electronic screens function as the narrative settings, tackling themes that are distinctly relevant in a world experiencing a global pandemic where basic human experiences are increasingly mediated.

Analyzing the characteristics of the intertextual connection between the aforementioned films, and the changing cultural conditions that inspire this connection, this research will highlight how the emergence of a genre cycle can contribute to a medium’s traditions while introducing a new perspective to the conventional diegetic and metaphorical film readings.

Anıl Karasaç is a graduate of Bilkent University with a BA in Communication and Design. He is currently enrolled at Bilkent, pursuing a master’s degree in Media and Visual Studies. Having studied popular genre fiction extensively throughout his academic career, his current research area is focused on contemporary American horror films dealing with the anxieties attached to modern communication tools and technologies.

Speaking as part of ‘Ghosts in the Machine: Digital Media’

John Kavanagh – Ulster University

Slasher Storyworlds and Transmedial Narratives: Can the Environments of the Slasher Sub-genre Support Transmedial Storytelling?

Jenkins’ (2007, 2008) definitions of transmedia storytelling can be quite problematic. Whilst stating that transmedial stories depend more on the complexity of the storyworld, rather than the characters and specific plot points (2007), he also frames transmedial stories around narratives that are woven together to tell one specific story, such as the Matrix franchise (2008). This privileges a few franchises that are designed to be transmedial from the beginning with advertisement campaigns and Alternate Reality Games that allow the viewer to hunt down additional media, such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Franchises that pre-date the internet are excluded from this theoretical definition, despite having complex storyworlds that can support multi-media narratives. Atkinson (2018) expands upon this definition and divides transmedial definitions into East Coast (the interactive form discussed by Jenkins) and West Coast (the Hollywood form focused on licensing). The franchises established prior to the Blair Witch Project (1999) fit this West Coast definition.

The slasher film is typically accused of being a non-complex and repetitive plot (Dika, 1990, Clover, 2015), but they present storyworlds that can produce transmedial narratives. The filmic entries of the franchises provide us with environments that are rich with subtext and cultural importance, regardless of the academic and social maligning of the subgenre. The Crystal Lake storyworld has supported a wide variety of transmedial narratives that act as a continued serialisation of a franchise that can no longer provide filmic entries (Kavanagh, 2021). Jason and his environment have been adapted, serialised, and continued in various mediums such as fan films, comic books, video games, and musical references. Can any other slasher franchise, particularly Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, support a transmedia narrative? This paper aims to look at the various transmedial narratives in the Haddonfield and Elm Street storyworlds to figure out if they present as coherent of a narrative as the Crystal Lake storyworld.

John Kavanagh is a PhD researcher at Ulster University. His research focuses on the slasher film, myths and misconceptions of the subgenre, and the masculinities depicted within these texts. John teaches on the Horror Film: Theory and Practice and Issues of Performance modules in the Cinematic Arts and Drama departments. His other research interests include late twentieth century global cinema, exploitation, and abject film, and the recontextualization of visceral/abject horror.

Speaking as part of ‘Serial Offenders: Franchising’

Farshid Kazemi – Simon Fraser University

Chador-Clad Vampires and Other Nightmares: New Iranian Horror Cinema

There is a notable shift in the films that are emerging from Iran today from the art-house films of the New Iranian Cinema that used to populate and dominate international film festivals with directors such as Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf, Panahi, Rasoulof, Bani-Etemad, Ghobadi, etc. Indeed, it is in this band of New Iranian Horror films where a visible shift can be detected between the New Iranian Cinema of the mid 1990s and 2000s, with its unique style and recognizable conventions (i.e., the blurring of documentary and narrative fiction, the use of non-professional actors, rural landscapes, etc.), and these emerging genre bending films. In this presentation, I will delineate a group of films that emerged in the aftermath of the 2009 mass protests in Tehran that deploy certain conventions of the horror genre as a politically subversive critique of the claustrophobic, terrifying, and paranoiac atmosphere of post-2009 Iranian society, by theorizing the rise of a New Iranian Horror cinema that I consider to be a new transnational movement structured around what I call, The Uncanny between the Weird and the Eerie. For my analysis, I rely on Mark Fisher’s formulation of the two modes that he uncovers in certain instances of music, novels and films, and that he characterizes as “The Weird and the Eerie (Beyond the Unheimlich).” A theoretical correlation will be made between these two modes theorized by Fisher to their literary counterparts in Persian-Arabic literature called: ‘ajib wa gharib (‘Ajib, meaning wondrous, marvellous or amazing; and gharib, meaning, strange or weird). I will present some important filmic examples of the emergence of this New Iranian Horror and discuss their salient formal and narrative features.

Farshid Kazemi is a postdoctoral fellow at the School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University. His research interests combine an interdisciplinary and theoretical approach to Film and Media Studies/Film Theory, Iranian Studies, and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. He holds a PhD in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Edinburgh with a thesis on Iranian Cinema and Psychoanalysis. His book A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2021) is published in the Devil’s Advocates series by Auteur-University of Liverpool Press. His work has also appeared in academic journals such as Camera Obscura, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, and Iranian Studies.

Speaking as part of ‘Silver Screams: Cinema II’

Lynn Kozak – McGill University

Evil Nightmares

Robert and Michelle King’s Evil (CBS, 2019–) follows the case-of-the-week adventures of forensic psychologist (and mom) Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), priest-in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter) and tech expert Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) as they investigate possible supernatural incidents for the Catholic church. The show foregrounds Kristen’s night terrors throughout, where she experiences night paralysis and visitation by a demonic entity named George, who may or may not be real. First, I will explore Evil’s influences and intertexts in its representations of nightmares, from night terror as possession or the tool of an adversary in network episodic dramas (Batman the Animated Series; Star Trek: The Next Generation; The X-Files) to recent film representations of night paralysis (2015’s The Nightmare, 2016’s Dead Awake, 2017’s Slumber, 2018’s Mara), to recurring nightmares contributing to network serial televisual characterisation and world-building (Twin Peaks, Hannibal, Supernatural). From this mediascape that Evil draws on, I will turn towards Evil’s diegetic explorations of transmedia horror, including its show-within-a-show and its incorporations of augmented reality horror games, and how Evil posits a relationship between media and Kristen’s (and her daughters’) nightmares. Finally, I will consider how these horror-specific generic elements bleed into the King’s concerns about contemporary media forms that they have explored throughout their television oeuvre, from social media and online message boards to youtube influencer videos. Evil emerges as a potent meta-nightmare, where night terrors point towards the blurring between media and reality, innovating on network television horror’s long-standing threats, not only that the “monster is in our living room” (Jowett and Abbott), but that the monster is the media all around us: “The horror is not merely among us, but rather part of us, caused by us” (Polan).

Lynn Kozak is Associate Professor at McGill University. Recent and forthcoming publications include “The Exorcist and a New Kind of American Television Horror,” (2020) “Homeric Intimacy in NBC’s Hannibal,” (2021), and “Digressions and Recaps: The Bingeable Narrative” (on Stranger Things, with Martin Zeller-Jacques; 2021).

Speaking as part of ‘Night Terrors: Sleep Horror’

Tugce Kutlu – University College London

Mourning in Horror: Grief in Twenty-first Century Horror Cinema

This work sets out to firstly analyse horror’s relation to grief due to the genre’s proximity to death and secondly, to propose a new theory that establishes twenty-first century horror films to be directly about the process of mourning. The paper utilises a case study design, examining some of the most prominent horror films of the century: Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019), Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018), Pet Sematary (Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, 2019), The Woman in Black (James Watkins, 2012) and The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014). These films are studied closely using the tools of genre theory and grief studies and the research is structured according to Kübler-Ross’s “five stages of grief”. Looking at these horror films’ narrative and visual approaches to grief with fresh eyes, building on the works of grief scholars, and redefining the genre studies’ perspective to the horror being more about the fear, this research highlights the horror genre as a cinematic tool for representing the emotional and mental outcomes of death.

Tugce Kutlu completed her undergraduate education in Radio, Television and Film as a valedictorian at Ankara University, received another BA in International Relations from Anadolu University. She completed her MA in Film Studies at University College London (UCL) under a scholarship, wrote her dissertation on horror films supervised by Professor Susanne Kord at UCL and was awarded a Distinction. She is currently writing her thesis on the 21st-century Turkish cinema and power relations for her second MA at Ankara University.

Speaking as part of ‘Silver Screams: Cinema I’

Murray Leeder – University of Manitoba

Indigeneity and Horror in Recent Canadian Cinema

This paper will examine a number of recent Canadian horror texts that deal with horror and Indigeneity, especially as these topics involve landscape and exteriority. It starts by outlining the “Atwoodian” paradigm – built around fears of an external wilderness coming to reside in the Canadian subject – as the prevailing discourse for discussion Canadian horror, first with reference to the decidedly Atwoodian Backcountry (2014), by settler director Adam MacDonald, a survival film in which a white couple backpacking in an Ontario provincial park are attacked by a bear. No Indigenous characters appear but the idea of Indigeneity is alluded to throughout. Though the film suggests a critique of colonialism, by depicting the boyfriend as an inept braggart consciously trespassing on sacred lands, it also preserves a sense of settler innocence through the girlfriend, whose transgressions are only accidental and who thus survives the bear.

I will then discuss four Indigenous-directed shorts: Savage (2009) by Lisa Jackson (Anishinaabe), File Under Miscellaneous (2010) by Jeff Barnaby (Mi’gmaq), Wakening (2013) by Danis Goulet (Cree-Métis) and Kajutaijuq (2015), produced and written by Nyla Innuksuk (Inuit). They are quite different yet all use horror, science fiction and fantasy tropes to represent the historical and ongoing crimes against the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Savage seems to be a social realist historical piece about the genocide affected through the residential school system, until the children suddenly transform into Thriller-esque dancing zombies while their teacher is out of the room, File Under Miscellaneous depicts a Mi’gmaq man in a hyper-urban future undergoing a painful transformation into whiteness, and Wakening stages the conflict between Weetigo and Weesageechak, figures from Cree folklore, against a totalitarian future. In each of these films, in a neat inversion of the Atwoodian paradigm, estrangement from the landscape is a source of monstrosity.

Murray Leeder is a Research Affiliate at the University of Manitoba’s Institute for the Humanities. He the author of Horror Film: A Critical Introduction (2018), The Modern Supernatural and the Beginnings of Cinema (2017) and Halloween (2014), and editor of Cinematic Ghosts: Haunting and Spectrality from Silent Cinema to the Digital Era (2015) and ReFocus: The Films of William Castle (2018). He has published in such journals as Horror Studies, The Canadian Journal of Film Studies, The Journal of Popular Culture, The Journal of Popular Film and Television, Film Journal and The Journal of Communication and Languages.

Speaking as part of ‘Silver Screams: Cinema II’

Anna Marta Marini – Instituto Franklin – UAH

Re/structuring Borderland Supernatural Horror in From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

The TV series From Dusk till Dawn (El Rey Network, 2014-16) represents the most recent addition to the homonymous horror franchise, composed of three feature-length films, a documentary, a graphic novel, and a video game. Embodying a peculiarly weird western cross-genre, the transmedia franchise revolves around the existence of reptile vampires lurking across the US–Mexico border. Developed by Robert Rodriguez, the series spans three seasons in which the filmmaker reprises the plot of the first film (1996) and extends the narrative, expanding on the backstories of the protagonists, as well as the mythological and supernatural elements characterizing the franchise. Escaping after a robbery and taking a family hostage in order to cross the border, brothers Seth and Richie Gecko maintain their role as Carpenter-esque anti-heroes, impulsive and ruthless. As they unwittingly mingle with Mexican vampire dealers, psychotic Richie develops an uncanny connection to the borderlands’ supernatural forces.

The serial development blends horror tropes with timely cross-border topics such as drug trafficking and border enforcement. On the one hand, the series relies on a substantial reshaping of Carlos’s character—as he turns from instrumental appearance to main supernatural villain—and a development of Santanico Pandamonium’s role. The reptile vampires are depicted as a sect and crime syndicate, building on a mishmash of Mesoamerican references and hints at the Mayan text Popul Vuh. On the other hand, the series also introduces Ranger Gonzalez—a new deranged anti-hero chasing the Gecko brothers—whose role helps in constructing the show’s borderland context in realistic terms, exploiting border-related tropes. This paper will delve into how the TV series integrates and updates the franchise, deepening the horrific themes and developing further the nature of the shapeshifting vampires while, at the same time, framing the present reality of the US–Mexico borderlands.

Anna Marta Marini is PhD fellow at Instituto Franklin – UAH. Her main research project (in collaboration with CISAN–UNAM) delves into the representations of border-crossing and the “other side” in US pop-ular culture. Her research interests are: CDA related to violence (either direct, structural, or cultural); the representation of borderlands and Mexican American heritage; the re/construction of identity and otherness in film and comics. She’s currently the president of the PopMeC Association for US Popular Culture Studies.

Speaking as part of ‘What’s in the Box?: Television’

Emily Theodore Marlow – University of Sheffield

“Are You Afraid of God?”: Religion as Horror in Videogames

This paper will explore the correlation between the use of Gothic & Horror aesthetics and depictions of organised and solitary religion/s in videogames. Looking at games that don’t necessarily fall into the Horror genre we can see the use of horror aesthetics repeatedly at play in conversations about faith, as well as coding of organised religions in a negative light.

In contrast, personal faiths are positively coded in the same games, and values of loyalty, selflessness and sacrifice are upheld. This phenomena aligns with larger patterns in the depiction of (particularly Christian) faiths across multiple visual mediums in the past thirty years, including an increase in purely visual referencing of religious characters and motifs.

Emily Theodore Marlow is curator at the National Videogame Museum, Sheffield, UK. They also are completing a PhD in religion, sexuality & hybrid masculinities in film, videogames and visual media at the University of Sheffield, funded by WRoCAH (White Rose College of Arts & Humanities).

Steve Marsden – Stephen F. Austin State University

Narratology and Framing Devices in Recent Found Footage Audio Podcasts

Although horror audio drama with substantial “found audio” elements dates back at least to 1949’s “Ghost Hunt” episode from Suspense, and more than a dozen recent podcasts apply those framing and narrative devices, the sub-genre remains relatively unexplored and undertheorized, particularly when compared to the parallel genre of found footage horror film.

Hancock and McMurtry’s 2017 “‘Cycles upon Cycles, Stories upon Stories’: Contemporary Audio Media and Podcast Horror’s New Frights” provided a useful overview of the horror podcasts available as of 2016, and usefully linked the structures of the genre to the literary Gothic tendency to montage  multi-vocal texts of questionable reliability.

I examine some more recent series to show how they create multiple narrative layers of investigation, editing, and commentary, mimicking many non-fiction micro-genres in several media including the audio diary, journalistic reportage, interviews, personal notes, phone calls, read-in paper documents, answering machine messages, audio tracks from video, described video and visual genres and deploy recontextualization and reframing devices typical of gothic narratives. While all use found audio to dim the lines between fiction and reality, each uses paratexts to key their outside framing differently–some explicitly presented as non-fiction podcasts, complete with diegetic social media and in-character funding drives, while others lack transmission information, and others are framed specifically as audio drama.

I analyze and compare the approaches of recent podcasts such as The White Vault (2017-), Duggan Hill (2017-), The Parkdale Haunt (2020-), The Left-Right Game (2020), and The Box Podcast (2016-present) to  survey variations of found-audio horror devices presently in use.

Steve Marsden is a Professor of American Literature at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He has published on the portrayal of ghost hunting in versions of The Haunting of Hill House, the racialized use of ghost stories by Thomas Nelson Page and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and written and presented on the ghost stories of Ambrose Bierce. He teaches (among other things) American Gothic literature, horror short story, horror film, and film adaptation.

Speaking as part of ‘Speak No Evil: Podcasts’

Gillian McIver – Independent Scholar

Egyptomania, Unbound and Unwrapped: Paranormal, Egypt’s Homegrown Horror

The European obsession with Egypt started early. Piccadilly’s famous Egyptian Hall (1812) attracted huge crowds, just as serious folk like John Soane busily acquired Egyptian artifacts. Soon ‘Egyptomania’ took hold. It ranged from morbid but thrilling ‘mummy unwrapping’ events, Bram Stoker’s lurid Jewel of the Seven Stars and Highgate’s Egyptian Avenue,  to the complex ‘Egyptian’ rituals of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Just as self-styled European magicians were claiming esoteric knowledge of Egyptian magic, Egyptian mummies (codified as monsters) made their way into early cinema as fearsome adversaries for European adventurers, a tendency that has continued to the present. The failure of the recent Tom Cruise Mummy film (Alex Kurtzman, 2017) and the Netflix series Paranormal‘s success (Amr Salama, 2020) may seem like poetic justice: a wholly Egyptian production has, at last, found its place in the horror genre. Paranormal is also a showpiece for Netflix’s MENA investment.

Nevertheless, what is the history of Egyptian cinema and mummies? One thing Egyptomania never had much interest in is living Egyptians. What did they make of it all? Despite being very diverse and productive, Egyptian cinema never made much of the horror genre and, until Paranormal, avoided depicting mummies.  This paper will start by briefly examining the influence of  Egyptomania on European occultism and its trace effects on cinema before turning to look in-depth at how Paranormal addresses magic, curses, mummies and the afterlife. I will ask whether Paranormal, set in Nasser’s Egypt with lavish and detailed period production design, really belongs to the horror genre? The paper will also examine recent Egyptian horror Doors of Fear (Ahmed Khaled, 2011) and Wanoos (Shady El-Fakharany, 2016), which explore different approaches. Has a new genre of authentic Egyptian horror arrived?

Gillian McIver is a writer, filmmaker and curator based in London. She is the author of Art History for Filmmakers: The Art of Visual Storytelling (2016) a survey of the historical and aesthetic relationship between cinema and visual art. She teaches at the University for the Creative Arts and Central St Martins. She is currently researching Egyptian art and cinema.

Speaking as part of ‘Creature Features: Monsters & Folklore II’

Dayna McLeod – McGill University

Sleeping for Audiences and the Terror that it Brings

I experience horror as I sleep and wake abruptly from sleeping—I am terrified. I’ve always had sleep disturbances like nightmares, sleepwalking, and night terrors, but didn’t realize their extent and frequency until I started filming myself as part of my research-creation practice. Restless is a video installation comprised of night-vision surveillance footage of my girlfriend and I sleeping for sixty days in 2020 at the start of the Covid pandemic. The piece cuts together nightly scenes of gasps, yelling, talking, screaming, starts, jumps, snores, sleep walking, and other outbursts. This work is a collaboration with my subconscious self as sleeping subject and productive participant. It also depicts non-sexualized representations of queer coupling and middle-aging queerness. My paper will discuss Restless as well as an excerpt of Under Surveillance: 12hrs at the PHI, a live feed performance that featured me sleeping at the PHI Centre that was streamed as part of a 15-day live broadcasting program in February 2021. I will present how these different sleeping scenarios—one for an installation where I have editing control over footage and content, and what is eventually shown to an audience, and the other, where I have no control over what is shown to a live-streaming audience—impacted and affected my sleep, sleeping performance, and terror of sleeping while I was performing and making this work. I will detail how mediatizing my night terrors for audiences turns viewers into voyeurs and draws on their experience as horror film fans while asking them to think about their own sleep cycles because everybody sleeps.

Dayna McLeod is an artist-scholar and Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture research-creation postdoctoral fellow. She earned a PhD from the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University. She is part-time faculty at the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at McGill University, and at Concordia University.

Speaking as part of ‘Night Terrors: Sleep Horror’

Issy Macleod – University of Queensland

“I Work Bloody Hard, Just Like the Men Do”: Tracking Jennifer Kent’s Career as a Pioneer of a New Era of Australian Horror

From its first fledgling productions in the 1970s, Australian horror has remained an essential part of the national film landscape. The genre has kept a relatively robust pace with the mainstream film production in the country, earning two notable peaks with the original ‘ozploitation’ era in the late 1970s and early 1980s and its revival in the 2000s starting arguably with Wolf Creek (Greg McLean, 2005). It is also an undeniably male-dominated genre. Of all feature length Australian horror films released post-2000, only four have been directed by women – and half of them by the same director; Jennifer Kent.

Kent’s feature debut; The Babadook (2014), received little fanfare during its initial release in Australia, but found global acclaim before going on to win an AACTA award for Best Film. Her next film; The Nightingale (2019), was met with further acclaim alongside a gendered critique in relation to its depiction of violence against women.

With this paper I intend to explore the impact Kent’s landmark debut had on the Australian horror industry. I will draw attention to her influences and aesthetics and how they deviate from the aesthetics of her male predecessors who in turn were primarily inspired by the original ‘ozploitation’ classics; favouring the masculine narratives of domination over nature and excesses of violence and gore. I will also consider how her directorial trajectory differs markedly from the Australian horror to Hollywood horror pipeline those male directors before her mostly followed.

I will conclude by considering the influence of Kent’s aesthetic on Natalie Erika James’ debut; Relic (2020), and how their work collectively signals a possible new era of women-focused, Australian-located horror cinema.

Issy Macleod is starting their PhD at the University of Queensland in 2022 where they will be completing a thesis on the outback as a space of trauma in Australian cinema. Their interests include a focus on forms of marginalisation in media spaces. They have written multiple articles for Fantasy/Animation.

Speaking as part of ‘Scream Queens: Women in Horror’

Shellie McMurdo – University of Hertfordshire

“Aesthetic Observance of Violence”: Transfer Terror in Contemporary Horror

This paper will focus on the tension between analogue and digital in contemporary horror texts and explore how movement between media formats plays into this. In both Sinister (Derrickson, 2012) and its sequel Sinister 2 (Foy, 2015), and Rings (Gutierrez, 2017), supernatural beings reside in analogue media formats—Super 8 film and a VHS tape respectively—but characters transfer images of these beings onto digital formats. The action of doing so enables unbound terror. A character in Sinister 2 describes the recording of horrific murders and supernatural phenomena as “aesthetic observations of violence.” The film objects become totemic offerings or iconological records which both contain and control evil, while allowing it to pass from person to person like a curse.

Analogue formats are predominantly used in these texts for aesthetic effect. They amplify a sense of authenticity and an eerie tactile quality recognisable throughout the horror genre’s history, which some would argue is lost in digital media. The Super 8 and VHS mediums themselves are not integral to their effectiveness as supernatural vessels, but rather enhance the horror of the films in which they feature. The transmediation of analogue “aesthetic observation” to digital files, images and video gives the films’ antagonists unprecedented power and additional opportunities to wreak terror and inflict violence.

This paper then, takes the term “transmedia” quite literally, exploring the movement of horror from analogue to digital formats, and the horror, death, and loss that shift engenders.

Shellie McMurdo is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Roehampton. She is the author of Blood on the Lens: North American Found Footage Horror Cinema and Cultural Trauma (forthcoming) and Pet Sematary for the Devil’s Advocate series. She has published on American Horror Story and serial killer fandoms, post-peak torture horror, and Blumhouse Productions. Shellie is a co-convenor for the BAFTSS Horror Studies subject interest group.

Co-presenting with Laura Mee

Speaking as part of ‘Unkind, Rewind: Digital vs. Analogue’

Donna McRae – Deakin University

Spectral Pied-Pipers: La Llorona and The Woman in Black

The female ghost, originating from ancient mythologies and folklore, continues to haunt the horror genre and popular culture. This spectral archetype occupies a complex history of cross-media adaptations, including recent horror films The Woman in Black (James Watkins, 2012) and La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, 2020).

According to Robin Roberts (2018), ‘Jennet Humfrye’, aka The Woman in Black, is the embodiment of Julia Kristova’s abject, the reviled object which society has cast out. Humfrye, railing against the masculine narrative that defines her role as a failed mother, is connected to water as the site of her child’s death. Humfrye shares this association with water and motherhood with Hispanic La Llorona; the weeping woman who is betrayed by a lover and kills her children and herself. She returns as a frightening apparition that continues to drown wandering children, an act which Roberts reads as a symbolic returning to the womb.

Both the Woman in Black and La Llorona function as maternal but shadowy pied-pipers, luring children away from the safety of their homes. Both women haunt their own constructed psychogeographies through which we experience the cultural and political landscapes they occupy. These hauntings continue to be enabled via a wide range of contemporary media. Their methods of killing children are elemental, just as they are themselves. While La Llorona weaponises water, The Woman in Black employs whichever element is at hand.

This paper will present a cross-cultural and feminist examination of these spectral women and examine their trajectories from failed mothers to terrifying vengeful ghosts that transgress liminal and temporal boundaries within the transmedial consumption of their stories.

Donna McRae is a filmmaker and Lecturer at Deakin University. Publication highlights include a chapter in Women Make Horror, and the forthcoming The Punk Reader and Spoofing the Vampire. She is currently preparing for her third feature film Dawn.

Co-presenting with Kate Murray

Speaking as part of ‘Creature Features: Monsters & Folklore I’

Laura Mee – University of Hertfordshire

“Aesthetic Observance of Violence”: Transfer Terror in Contemporary Horror

This paper will focus on the tension between analogue and digital in contemporary horror texts and explore how movement between media formats plays into this. In both Sinister (Derrickson, 2012) and its sequel Sinister 2 (Foy, 2015), and Rings (Gutierrez, 2017), supernatural beings reside in analogue media formats—Super 8 film and a VHS tape respectively—but characters transfer images of these beings onto digital formats. The action of doing so enables unbound terror. A character in Sinister 2 describes the recording of horrific murders and supernatural phenomena as “aesthetic observations of violence.” The film objects become totemic offerings or iconological records which both contain and control evil, while allowing it to pass from person to person like a curse.

Analogue formats are predominantly used in these texts for aesthetic effect. They amplify a sense of authenticity and an eerie tactile quality recognisable throughout the horror genre’s history, which some would argue is lost in digital media. The Super 8 and VHS mediums themselves are not integral to their effectiveness as supernatural vessels, but rather enhance the horror of the films in which they feature. The transmediation of analogue “aesthetic observation” to digital files, images and video gives the films’ antagonists unprecedented power and additional opportunities to wreak terror and inflict violence.

This paper then, takes the term “transmedia” quite literally, exploring the movement of horror from analogue to digital formats, and the horror, death, and loss that shift engenders.

Laura Mee is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at the University of Hertfordshire and co-convenor of the BAFTSS Horror Studies SIG. Her research focuses on horror cinema, adaptation, and seriality. She is the author of Reanimated: The Contemporary American Horror Film Remake (forthcoming) and Devil’s Advocates: The Shining (2017), and has published on rape-revenge remakes, the critical reception of horror remakes, Room 237 and cinephilia, and American Psycho and gender.

Co-presenting with Shellie McMurdo

Speaking as part of ‘Unkind, Rewind: Digital vs. Analogue’

Matt Melia – Kingston University

The Otherwise: Horror, Mark E. Smith and The Fall in the Twenty-first Century

The work of Mark E. Smith and his “group”,  The Fall,  is historically  infused with visual and auditory language of horror. Smith himself was an avowed H.P. Lovecraft devotee and a pre-occupation with the wyrd and the urban gothic is  something which pervades the lyrics and their delivery across The Fall’s back catalogue, from early albums such as Live at the Witch Trials (1979), Dragnet (1979) and Hex Enduction Hour (1980), to much later work such as the final album before Smith’s death,  New Facts Emerge (2018). Here the delivery of the lyrics had become a set of primal utterances and howls. Of it, comedian and fan Stewart Lee wrote that “Smith took the persona of the incoherent animal-shaman he’d been perfecting for the last decade to a whole new level of total theatre.”

Smith’s lyrics and the music of The Fall also offer an uncanny depiction of  the divided and wounded landscape of Britain (for example on the albums Grotestque [1980] or Fall Heads Roll [2011]) that verges on folk horror. This served as an influence for Stephen Barber’s apocalyptic, horror-inflected novel England’s Darkness (2013), which depicts “England’s future corporate and digital disintegration, and the fall of its cities and the spectre of Punk Rock, Jimmy Savile and Peter Sutcliffe”.  The Novel depicts a cataclysmic confrontation between North and South at the centre of which is “The King of Leeds” – a figure  that was  heavily based on Smith (who was from Prestwich, near Manchester).

In 2015, Smith co-authored a screenplay with Graham Duff  for a “horror film that never was” which was published in May 2021 through Strange Attractor Press. This paper will present an analysis of the (un)production contexts and content of the screenplay and consider how it aligns with horror trends across The Fall’s work but particularly in the last ten years of The Fall (leading up to Smith’s death in 2018) – a period of comparative stability in the group’s line up. More broadly, it aims to consider the role of horror in The Fall’s work during this period using the script as a hub for these ideas. The paper will draw on materials published with the screenplay, as well as a matrix other sources such as discussions between myself and Stephen Barber regarding his own novel and Fall (para)texts such as Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired By The Fall, a collection of short stories based around tracks by the Fall and published by Serpents Tail in 2007 and edited by Peter Wild.

Matt Melia is a Senior Lecturer in Film, Literature and Media at Kingston University, where he is also currently acting course leader for the Humanities foundation degree. His doctorate was on The Theatre of the Absurd, Architecture and Cruelty and his current research interests include the work of both Ken Russell and Stanley Kubrick. He is co-editor of The Jaws Book (2020) and the forthcoming Anthony Burgess, Stanley Kubrick and A Clockwork Orange (2022). He is also editor of the forthcoming The Films of Ken Russell (2021) and is working on a monograph on Russell’s Gothic (2023).

Speaking as part of ‘From the Grave: Histories’

Jason Middleton – University of Rochester

“No Drama”: Emotion Work in Midsommar

Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2018) uses its over-arching folk horror plot and mise-en-scène to critically examine two related concepts with contemporary cultural currency and relevance for feminist thinking about intimacy: “emotion work” and “no drama.” Sociologist Arlie Hochschild developed the terms “emotion work” and “emotional labor” to describe the work that “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others.” I use the term “emotion work” to describe the effort expended by protagonist Dani throughout Midsommar to sustain and manage her relationship with her boyfriend Christian in the wake of the horrific murder-suicide of her parents and sister, and in the increasingly gruesome environment of the Harga community in rural Sweden.  “No drama” names a troubling trend in online dating profiles recently identified by the New York Times and other media outlets, in which people, predominantly straight men, specify that they will only accept partners who bring “no drama” to a relationship.

The narrative arc of Midsommar is structured according to the stages of Dani’s self-extrication from a toxic relationship, the climax represented by her cathartic final break from Christian. The film’s folk horror elements serve as catalysts moving Dani along toward this outcome. The ideology of “no-drama” dictates that emotions remain repressed, interiorized, and silent, experienced in isolation. The Harga community inverts these precepts: feeling is collective, externalized, and expressed through ritual and pageantry. Christian demands no-drama; among the Harga, feelings are essentially nothing if not dramatic. The gaslighting upon which no-drama depends isolates Dani in her grief following the horrific murder-suicide of her family. The progression of the narrative is marked by a gradual turning outward of Dani’s affects. Midsommar frames no-drama as a gendered ideology, a contemporary form of toxic masculinity calling for a feminist critique of women’s emotion work in intimate relationships.

Jason Middleton is Associate Professor in the English Department and the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies, and director of the Film and Media Studies Program, at University of Rochester. He is author of Documentary’s Awkward Turn: Cringe Comedy and Media Spectatorship and co-editor of Medium Cool: Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones. His essays have been published in Cinema Journal, Feminist Media Histories, The Journal of Visual Culture, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and elsewhere.

Speaking as part of ‘Scream Queens: Women in Horror’

Stephen Morgan – King’s College London

The Ghosts of Ramowood: Community (Trans)Media in Ramo Mokuy and Ramo Mokuy 2: The Frakkers

The remote Indigenous community of Ramingining has long been a hub of creativity for the local Yolngu population, who produce work across a range of mediums. Most famously, the town is home to Yolngu actor David Gulpilil, whose films Charlie’s Country (Rolf de Heer, 2013) and Another Country (Molly Reynolds, 2015) were both shot there.

This paper investigates two lesser known examples of ‘Ramowood’ output – Ramo Mokuy (2017) and Ramo Mokuy 2: The Frakkers (2019) – created as part of training scheme for community media production, screened for local audiences and circulated more widely via YouTube. Drawing on international horror cinema tropes and iconography, these amateur productions offer a new spin on traditional belief systems and the ghost figure of the Mokuy.

Used in Yolngu culture to refer to a malignant spirit, the Mokuy is a form that appears across a range of visual media, from traditional and modern visual art to theatre and dance. This paper will offer a brief account of the figure of the Mokuy, and – drawing on interviews with key creatives – explore their adaptation within the thematic and aesthetic contexts of international horror cinema via the Ramo Mokuy films.

Stephen Morgan is Visiting Lecturer at King’s College London, whose research focuses on the cinemas of Britain and its former settler colonies.

Speaking as part of ‘Creature Features: Monsters & Folklore I’

Kate Murray – Deakin University

Spectral Pied-Pipers: La Llorona and The Woman in Black

The female ghost, originating from ancient mythologies and folklore, continues to haunt the horror genre and popular culture. This spectral archetype occupies a complex history of cross-media adaptations, including recent horror films The Woman in Black (James Watkins, 2012) and La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, 2020).

According to Robin Roberts (2018), ‘Jennet Humfrye’, aka The Woman in Black, is the embodiment of Julia Kristova’s abject, the reviled object which society has cast out. Humfrye, railing against the masculine narrative that defines her role as a failed mother, is connected to water as the site of her child’s death. Humfrye shares this association with water and motherhood with Hispanic La Llorona; the weeping woman who is betrayed by a lover and kills her children and herself. She returns as a frightening apparition that continues to drown wandering children, an act which Roberts reads as a symbolic returning to the womb.

Both the Woman in Black and La Llorona function as maternal but shadowy pied-pipers, luring children away from the safety of their homes. Both women haunt their own constructed psychogeographies through which we experience the cultural and political landscapes they occupy. These hauntings continue to be enabled via a wide range of contemporary media. Their methods of killing children are elemental, just as they are themselves. While La Llorona weaponises water, The Woman in Black employs whichever element is at hand.

This paper will present a cross-cultural and feminist examination of these spectral women and examine their trajectories from failed mothers to terrifying vengeful ghosts that transgress liminal and temporal boundaries within the transmedial consumption of their stories.

Kate Murray is a Melbourne-based filmmaker, PhD Student, and casual academic at Deakin University. She has presented her research on women in horror at the 2019 Revelation Perth International Film Festival Academic Conference and the 2021 Virtual NeMLA Conference.

Co-presenting with Donna McRae

Speaking as part of ‘Creature Features: Monsters & Folklore I’

Joe Ondrak – Sheffield Hallam University

Deeper We Go, the More Unrealistic it All Becomes: QAnon’s ‘Horroring’ of Reality

The QAnon movement is arguably the USA’s most successful contemporary transmedia horror export. The conspiracy theory, centred around an enigmatic and anonymous imageboard poster referred to as ‘Q’, has dedicated groups in Japan, the UK, across Europe, and its core beliefs have spread even further. The movement causes very real harm, resulting in kidnappings, murders, and ultimately changing the function and stance of what Colin Campbell calls the “cultic milieu” to a dangerously hyperpartisan and right-leaning space. In this paper, I will more deeply analyse the language and rhetoric used by Q in ‘Q drops’ as well as that of high-level influencers within the movement. I argue that part of QAnon’s success as a movement hinges on the deployment of filmic rhetoric and imagery to distort the perception of reality for its followers. From here, I will show how the tangled and bewildering QAnon ‘lore’ can be teased out into distinct cinematic genres:

  • The Political Thriller
  • The Satanic Horror
  • The Dystopian Revolution
  • The Contact-esque Alien Drama

I will show how the interplay between these genres is essential to QAnon’s appeal and function to give QAnon as a movement and set of beliefs a mercurial and malleable quality that allows for adaptation to and alignment with other conspiracies – all the while underpinning and enforcing the belief that an existential horror lurks beyond the sight of ‘normies’. Ultimately, I hope that this paper will demonstrate how understanding QAnon’s transmedia messaging in terms of fiction can generate useful insights into its factual existence and while it may not be the silver bullet to curb its spread, may lead to new methodologies to counter QAnon.

Joe Ondrak is an Associate Lecturer and doctoral candidate in English at Sheffield Hallam University and Senior Researcher for Logically. His PhD thesis focuses on the unique formal characteristics of social media horror fiction, and his research interests include horror, fact/fiction boundaries, hauntology, and media forms beyond postmodernism. In his day-job, he heads up a team of OSINT researchers investigating malinformation networks and online conspiracy networks.

Speaking as part of ‘Ghosts in the Machine: Digital Media

MK Pinder – Deakin University

Mouldy Matriachs and Dangerous Daughters: An Ecofeminist Look at Resident Evil Antagonists

The monstrous women that prowl videoludic spaces prompt questioning about society’s attitudes towards women. Why, for example, is Resident Evil so preoccupied with traumatic relationships between mothers and daughters? And why are malevolent women so often supernatural, manipulative temptresses, relying on the physical agency of men under their thrall? These monstrous women, through their corporeal forms and means of control, blur the boundaries between the human and the non-human. Not only that, but they represent the supposed degradation of the human form and delegitimisation of “man’s” dominion over “nature”. These women who have merged with the non-human ecosystem have become creatures that challenge our conception of what it is to be human.

This paper will examine the intersection of ecophobia and the perceived transgression of gender roles that make up the anatomy of the female and non-cis-masculine presenting videoludic monster. I will be referring to literary ecogothic theories relating to hybridity, transmedia theories of ecofeminism and ecophobia, and video game studies principles. Using Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil Village as my primary examples, I will unpack the implications of these fungus infested women, and how family and trauma plays a role in their narratives. Is the terror they induce related to how they subvert expectations of motherhood? And are players encouraged to treat them as expendable because of their integration with the non-human ecology?

MK Pinder is a PhD candidate at Deakin University, Australia studying Eco-Gothic representation in videogames. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Literature and a Master of Communications in Digital Media. Her research interests are in the intersection of genre, transmedia narratives and ecocriticism.

Speaking as part of ‘Permadeath: Video Games’

Alec Plowman – Independent Scholar

“Ages 5 and Up”: Contemporary Genre Histories, Transmedia Franchises and Kenner’s 1970s Alien Toys

Scholars increasingly recognise the value of transmedia franchising relationships in popular culture, and horror studies is progressively more interested in exploring how the genre manifests in ‘non-traditional’ industries such as video games and comics. Yet these analyses often begin from particular assumptions about what the genre is and isn’t, such as the idea that horror is inherently transgressive or inappropriate for children. This paper considers the children’s toys made by Kenner in 1979 for the R-rated film Alien and argues that this franchising link points to a cultural idea of horror and of its position in popular culture that challenges these widely-accepted premises of the genre and its history.

The paper begins by introducing Kenner’s toys and their popular reputation as inappropriate mistakes derived from Kenner’s misreading of Alien. We will note that these retrospective interpretations come from an understanding of horror’s boundaries as established by a niche demographic of genre enthusiasts—they do not correspond to the way horror was understood and expressed in the culture at large. Indeed, not only was Kenner’s Alien line comparable to all the other popular horror toylines of the period, the film too was read by a majority of 1970s critics as a family-friendly monster adventure, a far cry from its current reputation.

The paper thus argues that Kenner’s toys show a way of widening understandings of what horror is, and who it is for, in popular culture, not just in the 1970s but today, confirming a need to question the naturalised assumptions of genre histories, and to do so while looking beyond ‘traditional’ sites of horror, particularly when franchising relationships are at play.

Alec Plowman is an independent scholar and toy industry expert. Alec previously researched rock music culture and liveness, and is currently exploring the history of toy licenses. His book on bizarre action figures and the stories behind them, co-written with Stuart Ashen, is forthcoming.

Co-presenting with Filipa Antunes

Speaking as part of ‘From the Grave: Histories’

Donald Prentice Jr – University of Canterbury

Mapping Rabbits: A Sitcom Becoming Horror

This paper will explore the dynamic, intertextual relationship between David Lynch’s Rabbits (2002), an early web series with horrific and comedic elements, and Lynch’s later experimental film, Inland Empire (2006). The series, which has been largely absent from critical engagement, relies heavily on features often found in the situational comedy, such as the laugh track; a relation that is not lost on its audience. After a quick browse of the series’ YouTube comment section, you will find many viewers relating Rabbits to an established sitcom or simply regarding it as one. However, I argue that Rabbits is more than just a sitcom. By analyzing the affective potential of Rabbits, it is more fitting to see the horror genre and the sitcom as contaminating one another to create something new: a sitcom becoming-horror. Through contamination and exchange, the capabilities and affective possibilities of elements found in a traditional sitcom have changed via their relation within a Lynchian proximity.

I will then demonstrate how the movement of Rabbits continues with its connection and adaptation into the 2006 film, Inland Empire. Director David Lynch reuses footage from Rabbits, giving it a new context in relation to his film about a woman in trouble. However, by splicing Rabbits into another film, Inland Empire acts as a power take over, restricting certain capabilities of Rabbits and halting this particular becoming. An audience’s affective response to Rabbits may remain the same but connections with the sitcom are cut off in favor of new connections with Inland Empire. As such, Rabbits demonstrates not just the potential of adaptation within a digital text but also the capacity of horrific elements to contaminate, showing that the series is deserving of further analysis within horror and comprehensive media studies.

Donald Prentice Jr Is a first year PhD student at the University of Canterbury where he is researching the action and results of being named beautiful in the horror genre.

Speaking as part of ‘Afterlives: Remaking’

James Rendell – University of South Wales

Pop Royalty to Scream Queen: Rihanna’s Marion Crane and Transmedial Subversion in Bates Motel

With increasingly graphic imagery and overt cinematic horrality (Calvert 2014:186), the twenty-first century has given rise to what Abbott calls ‘a new Golden Age of TV horror’ (2018). But whilst horror has trickled-down from premium subscription to network broadcast and spread across the post-TV landscape, attesting to the genre’s popularity, North American television is still a profit-focused risk-averse industry (Warner 2013). Concurrently, the epoch has seen a cycle of televisual transmedia extensions of legacy horror cinema (Conrich 2018). Focusing on the latter subgenre contextualised against the former’s political economy, this paper analyses R&B/pop star Rihanna as Psycho’s (1960) iconic Marion Crane in its contemporary prequel TV series, Bates Motel (A&E 2013-17).

The paper begins by arguing Rihanna’s A-list celebrity image serves a specific interpellation strategy indicative of ‘the commodification of cult for mainstream TV telefantasy brands’ (Haslop 2019) as the show seeks to appeal to genre fans and wider audiences. Moreover, switching Crane’s ethnicity, the paper argues, is significant as Black women have been repeatedly marginalised within mainstream horror media (Brooks 2014). Alongside Rihanna’s casting offering an instance of much-needed diversity within the genre, Bates Motel’s subversion of Psycho’s infamous shower scene provides a feminist treatment of Crane, undermining horror’s legacy of misogyny (Clover 1992). Therefore, Rihanna’s Crane allows the TV transmedia text to readdress/exceed its film counterpart’s gender and racial politics. Finally, the paper analyses audiences’ mixed responses to Rihanna’s casting and Bates Motel’s knowing undermining of storyworld canonicity where (anti-)fan discourse oscillates between textual fidelity, auteur authenticity, cult/mainstream distinctions, acting credentials, and the (post-)racialisation of characters. Consequently, the paper highlights the complexities of audience engagement with the intratextual dynamics of film-to-television horror transmedia, whereby ‘variation and renewal of the genre’s conventions takes the audience by surprise and simulates a more active involvement in the individual work’ (Leffler 2000).

James Rendell is a Lecturer in Creative Industries at University of South Wales. His works focuses on screen media audiences and their meaning-making practices. His research is published in Transformative Works and Cultures, Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, Convergence, New Review of Film and Television Studies, and Global TV Horror. His forthcoming monograph Transmedia Terrors in Post-TV Horror is to be published with Amsterdam University Press.

Speaking as part of ‘Dead Famous: Celebrity’

Diane A. Rodgers – Sheffield Hallam University

“Isn’t Folk Horror All Horror?”

The notion of folk horror as a distinct sub-genre has developed in leaps and bounds since its revival in the post-2000 period, with the most oft-cited examples still distinctly being from British 1970s cinema. The release of a number of folk horror titles (including Antrum, 2018 and Midsommar, 2019) continue to echo qualities from this earlier period. In 2017 Ben Wheatley (director of films considered seminal in the modern folk horror canon) wondered in my interview with him: “Isn’t folk horror all horror?” He goes on to muse upon folkloric tales of vampires and (quite rightly) wonders “isn’t the werewolf’s tale a folk horror tale… usually a village dealing with someone who transforms? That’s all folk tale stuff. So, in a way, most horror is folk” (pers. comm. 25 May 2018).

The roots of horror are indeed often firmly based in folk tales, myth and legend, indeed horror is the stuff of folklore: unofficially recorded histories, campfire tales and urban legend. But, whilst the schlock and gore antics of villains like Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees may have folkloric origins in satanic panics and urban legends of murdered babysitters, the films in which such characters appear are not regarded as folk horror. Although I and others have argued (Rodgers, 2019, Cowdell, 2019) that the use of folklore is absolutely integral to folk horror narratives, conversely, not all horror is folk horror. Folk horror is not even always horrific or merely restricted to the medium of film: its eerie dissonance “can be observed extending beyond boundaries of genre and medium” (Rodgers, 2019, 134). This paper proposes, therefore, that folk horror is no longer a sub-genre of horror, but can in fact be viewed as a wyrd genre in its own right, atypical of conventional cinema horror, with its own peculiar eeriness traversing a broad media landscape.

Diane A. Rodgers is Senior Lecturer in Media, Arts and Communications and co-founder of the Centre for Contemporary Legend Research Group at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. She specialises in teaching alternative media (including cult TV, films, music and comics), and storytelling in film and television, including textual analysis and folklore. Diane is currently conducting PhD research in ‘Wyrd TV: Folklore, dystopia and hauntology in British 1970s television’.

Speaking as part of ‘Dark Woods: Folk Horror’

Merlin Seller – University of Edinburgh

“How Do You Know It Was People?”: Mediating Plant Epistemologies in the Blair Witch Franchise

This paper explores the ways in which film and videogame horror produce knotted vegetal remainders in the process of mediating non-human time. Taking the Blair Witch franchise as its case study, focusing on Bloober Team’s (2019) videogame, I argue that these transmedial texts emphasise inhuman qualities of space and time using the mediating frame of found-footage aesthetics to reflect on post-industrial anxieties concerning our huge, alien ‘plantscape’ (Hall, 2011:3).

Plant’s ontology poses a radical alterity to human subjectivity can both horrify viewers/players and disrupt anthropocentric worldviews (Irigary & Marder, 2016). In my case study, trees subvert traditional hierarchies and epistemologies to suggest alien modes of causality, counters what Michael Marder identifies as Western society’s marginalisation of the ubiquitous, excessive and diffuse lives of plants (2014). In Blair Witch (1999) and its sequel (2000) a mass of plant matter traps its occupants in loops of space, time and forgetfulness. In the vast forest of grey bark and film grain, we are forced to reflect on the plant world which mediates between animate and inanimate, and will eventually consume us all (Keetley et al., 2016:1). In recent and transmedia instalments (2016, 2019), slippages between first-person subjective camera and nostalgia for 1990s VHS/Camcorder visual artefacts combine with thematics of trauma to problematise our relationship to memory and indexicality. The deep time of the forest and its repeating spaces here frustrate attempts to tame the vast feedback loops of the biosphere (Morton, 2016) into linear ludic and filmic narrative.

Concerned with memory and mediation, rebooted and re-adapted as self-referential film and game, Blair Witch combines the extraordinariness of cosmic horror with the strange banality of metonymic horror (Carroll, 2001). In doing so it reflects on the everyday aliens we try to forget but which obstinately persist across media: the cold trees of autumn.

Merlin Seller has a background in Art History and Game Studies and  is currently a Lecturer in Design and Screen Cultures at the University of Edinburgh, working across visual studies, game studies and contemporary cinema. Present research interests concern post-phenomenology, horror, and the non-human. Recent and forthcoming publications include articles for the New Review of Film and Television Studies and Revenant on queer negativity in Joker and fungi in The Last of Us respectively.

Speaking as part of ‘Earthly Plagues: Eco-horror’

Alicja Sulkowska – Bauhaus-University Weimar

“Peek-a-boo!”: Horror Aesthetics and the Metatextuality of K-Pop

From haunted houses and vampires to werewolves and ghosts, the darker side of K-pop aesthetics is rarely highlighted when speaking about the genre and its usage of pop-cultural legacy. Simultaneously, however, these motifs seem to have gained popularity inside the Korean entertainment industry, often becoming the focus of groups’ concepts. Acknowledging the importance of those visual solutions for K-pop artists’ position in dynamic media landscapes, the study focuses on horror-aesthetics and their productive variations created inside the genre.

The paper discusses the purpose of this application of horror-characteristic narratives or images, expressed both in lyrics, videos, dress, and make-up, leading to a hypothesis regarding the metatextual role of pop-culture references (here: horror-anchored) in the Korean entertainment industry. This observation strongly highlights the dynamic construction of the genre on multiple media platforms and its role in the longevity of the connection to its audience.

Selecting 50 horror-themed K-Pop music videos and analyzing their re-production in other marketing-oriented formats introduced by the industry, the paper showcases the central aesthetic and interpretative aspects of those themes and their impact on the audience’s receptive engagement. Moreover, exploring the most popular horror-inspired visual solutions, the study accentuates the connection between this sudden interest in horror-aesthetics and the growing popularity of K-Pop in non-Asian countries, suggesting, new media and communication patterns the genre had to implement in this global environment are partially responsible for those narrative and aesthetic paths chosen by some entertainment companies.

In the end-effect, the study delivers a complex and diverse sketch of the K-pop industry and its variation of image-focused marketing and communication schemes. Therefore, horror aesthetics are viewed here as a universally understood and enjoyable code, helping to stabilize the genre as a dynamic fusion of various types of pop-cultural texts and their creative actualizations through the audio-visual presence.

Alicja Sulkowska is a music journalist, graduate student, and research assistant at Bauhaus-University Weimar, living in Germany as DAAD-scholar. Her main research interests include the evolution of pop-culture texts in mass and social media and the performativity of artists’ image creation, as well as its reception by different audiences.

Speaking as part of ‘Earworms: Sound & Music’

Tosha R. Taylor – Manhattanville College

Where Do We Go from Slender Man?: The Decline of Crowd-Sourced Transmedia Horror Memes

In 2009, a social media forum gave rise to one of the most prominent horror memes, the entity known as Slender Man. Interest in the meme quickly resulted in several transmedia fanmade works, including historical fiction, a wide array of visual art, and multiple DIY video series; similar horror entity-memes were subsequently created and disseminated. Mainstream deployments of these entity-memes, however, failed to achieve the same success. Yet despite increases in fans’ abilities to create and network in more recent years, the culture of transmedia horror meme creation has declined heavily. This presentation will explore that decline, noting that memeification in digital horror discourse still occurs, but now more commonly utilizes materials from commercial horror films. This reversal, the presentation will posit, highlights the disparity in power between corporate media makers and participatory fan culture. The presentation will problematize this relationship with regard for the concerns expressed in many digital and underground-interest subcultures that the intensified corporatization of social media platforms, rather than democratizing creativity, discourages truly independent works and places transmedia horror works at particular risk of censorship and removal. Key to this exploration will be a contrast between the means by which the Slender Man and similar horror memes disseminated through independent transmedia works and solicitation of sponsorship in equivalent horror-centric digital spaces today. Through this critique, the presentation will further historicize a culturally important period of transmedia horror while situating contemporary participatory culture in a liminal space between independent creation and commercialism.

Tosha R. Taylor is a lecturer in Languages, Literature, and Writing at Manhattanville College in New York. Her research predominantly concerns abjection and extreme violence in horror film as well as digital fan cultures. Recently published works include studies of horror memes, post-object fandoms, women’s horror filmmaking, queer horror, and performative masculinity in rock music. She holds a PhD from Loughborough University.

Speaking as part of ‘Ghosts in the Machine: Digital Media’

Alanna Thain – McGill University

Dark Times: Feminist Sleep Thrillers and the Labour of Being a Body

In the last decade, the feminist sleep thriller has emerged to capture the labour of being a body marked female. Such works exploit transmedial forms (texting, social media, surveillance) to weaponize soft spaces between sleep’s vulnerability and its capture in biometrics and the always-working of late capitalism. In a new twist on traditional sleep thrillers (eg. Nightmare on Elm Street), in Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, 2011), I May Destroy You (Michaela Coel, 2020) and Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, 2020) the waking/dreaming binary is displaced by the grey zone of somatic capitalism, where even off-hours are occupied by apps that track, quantify and assess us while we sleep, for purposes not our own. This dispossessive horror is rooted in sleep’s specific vulnerabilities. Our lack of conscious access to the experience of sleep impacts credibility our own somatic experience: a central feminist concern. Sleep is desubjectifying; what is novel in these works is how sleep is horrific not because we lack agency, but because just as we need sleep, we need—and are often denied–the right to be vulnerable. Sleep becomes the site of different kinds of encounter where horror affects rework the everyday risk of being a body. Media extension of labour—social media in IMDY, the circulations of texting in PYW, and surveillance cameras in SB—thus stage the horror of exploitation and exhaustion where you are never off the (gendered) clock, and weaponize it to demand something different from sleep’s vulnerabilities.

Alanna Thain is associate professor of world cinema and cultural studies at McGill University. She directs the Moving Image Research Lab, devoted to the study of the body in moving image media, and leads the research team CORERISC and its current project: Horror in Media and Performance: Unruly Bodies, Histories and Affects.

Speaking as part of ‘Night Terrors: Sleep Horror’

Christy Tidwell – South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

“Nothing is Safe”: Clipping’s Twenty-first Century Revision of John Carpenter

Experimental hip hop group Clipping’s recent work refigures familiar horror narratives in new media and for new audiences. “Nothing Is Safe” (2019), for instance, draws on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Halloween (1978) to update 1970s critiques of authority, institutional forces, and suburbanization for the 21st century.

A reversal of Assault on Precinct 13, “Nothing Is Safe” presents police as the invaders rather than the invaded. Although the song begins with “everyone safe and sound,” the setting is a trap house and its safety is short-lived, one person shot and bleeding by the end of the first verse. The song describes the protagonists (us – it uses second person) barricading ourselves against invaders and failing: “Death is comin’ for you, but you already knew that.” This narrative extends the critique of the police in Carpenter’s film. For Carpenter, most police are corrupt, but there is at least one good cop to serve as the hero; for Clipping, the cops are simply invaders and killers. The song’s video references Halloween, too: orange credits and titles, accompanied by a burning garbage can jack-o’-lantern (replacing the pumpkin jack-o’-lantern of the film). Ultimately, the song’s narrative ends with an image that could come from either film: “a man with no face / A golden halo that could be the sun.” Is this a cop, backlit and de-individualized? Or is this Michael Myers, wearing a blank mask, with orange hair sticking out around the edges?

“Nothing Is Safe” reveals that the anxieties of the 1970s have not dissipated in the intervening decades but also that the fear of lost safety in the police station and the suburbs is only part of the story. For many in the US, nothing has ever been safe, and safety could never be found in those locations.

Christy Tidwell is Associate Professor of English & Humanities at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Her work frequently engages with combinations of speculative fiction, environment, and gender. She is co-editor of Gender and Environment in Science Fiction with Bridgitte Barclay (2018) and Fear and Nature: Ecohorror Studies in the Anthropocene with Carter Soles (2021).

Speaking as part of ‘Earworms: Sound & Music’

Jon Towlson – University of Leeds

The Imagination of Disaster 2.0: Revisiting Susan Sontag in the Age of the Pandemic Horror Narrative

n her 1965 essay, The Imagination of Disaster, Susan Sontag argued that science fiction-horror films provide ‘inadequate responses’ to major socio-political issues: while the concerns they raise may be valid, their conclusions tend to be formulaic and unsatisfactory. Sontag was concerned about the threat to the world posed by the atomic age and saw science fiction-horror films as cultural imaginings of the disaster to mankind that nuclear weapons represented at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and early 1960s. She found these imaginings sorely lacking in moral and political urgency. Instead of challenging the political systems that had brought the world to the brink of destruction, films like The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962), made in the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, created a fantasy for audiences that, according to Sontag, inured them to the reality of nuclear war and the possibility of the extinction of mankind. ‘There is a sense in which all these films are in complicity with the abhorrent,’ Sontag wrote. ‘They inculcate a strange apathy concerning the process of radiation, contamination and destruction which I for one find haunting and depressing.’

In this paper I will revisit Sontag’s influential essay in light of modern pandemic/apocalyptic horror narratives, such as the films Contagion (2011) and Safer At Home (2021), the comic book/TV franchise The Walking Dead (2003 -) and the video game series The Last of Us (2013 -). Do these works continue to provide ‘inadequate responses’ in the context of contemporary social and political issues – climate change, the nuclear threat, world recession and the current global pandemic? Working on the premise that such transmedia constructs are embodiments of culture and thus do ‘cultural work’, and using Sontag’s classic text as a starting point, I will first examine how cinema and fiction have provided literary and screen responses to emergent ‘apocalyptic’ threats historically (using the ‘80s ‘nuclear fear’ television film [The Day After, 1983] and the ‘70s ‘rabies’ novel [Saliva, 1977; Rage, 1978; Day of the Mad Dogs, 1978] as examples) before considering modern pandemic/apocalyptic horror narratives in detail.

Jon Towlson is a film critic and the author of Global Horror Cinema Today: 28 Representative Films from 17 Countries (2021), Candyman (Devil’s Advocates, 2018), The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films, 1931 -1936 (2016) and Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present (2014). He lectures at the University of Leeds.

Speaking as part of ‘Earthly Plagues: Eco-horror’

Peter Turner – Oxford Brookes University

“Dad Was Happy for Us to Watch Horror But Would Fast Forward Any Sex Scenes”: Memories of Underage Horror Film Viewing in 1980s Britain

In this paper, I want to discuss some of my findings from a work-in-progress project that I began working on last year investigating the memories of 1980s British audiences surrounding viewing films classified either 15 or 18 by the BBFC, while underage. The first stage of the project is complete, having gathered 300 completed questionnaires between October 2020 and April 2021. This paper will give some brief details about the methodology of the project.

Though the project is not specifically focused on horror films, many of the questions ask about the genre, and many of the responses have talked about horror films. This paper will discuss how/when/where underage viewers watched horror films rated ‘suitable for 18 years and over’ and what viewer memories of the conditions of reception and what the post-viewing experience was like for these viewers.

The investigation of viewer recollections will be presented against BBFC and archival media documents such as newspaper articles on ‘video nasties’ in order to highlight how audience memories of, and responses to watching horror films underage compares and contrasts with official discourses around illegal film viewing, classification and censorship.

I will present some of the findings from the data collected from participants that were under the age of 18 in the 1980s, and that remember watching 18 rated horror films, or films that were banned in the UK. My analysis of these findings will:

  • Establish the factors influencing decisions regarding underage horror film viewing, practices and habits
  • Investigate recollections of horror film classification and censorship and how these compare to official discourses on the subject

Peter Turner is a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University where he teaches on the Film, Digital Media Production, and Media, Communications and Culture courses. He is the author of Found Footage Horror Films: A Cognitive Approach and a monograph on The Blair Witch Project as part of Auteur’s Devil’s Advocates series.

Speaking as part of ‘From the Grave: Histories’

Sandra Aline Wagner – University of Limerick

“Strangeness Had Come into Everything Growing Now”: Eco-horror in Die Farbe and Color Out of Space

H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Colour Out of Space (1927) has had two notable film adaptations in recent years: the critically acclaimed German adaptation Die Farbe (2010) directed by Huan Vu, as well as Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space (2019).

In Lovecraft’s story, a meteorite lands beside the remote farm of the Gardner family. Scientists arrive the next day to examine the cosmic rock and find a strange colour emanating from its core, slowly infecting the farm’s well, in addition to the surrounding plants, woods and animals. The visual adaptations of this story – Lovecraft’s personal favourite amongst his array of weird fiction – face particular difficulties as they have to visualise an indescribable and unknown colour – a colour so alien to humans that it is a colour only ‘by analogy’.

The cosmic threat that this alien colour poses and its impact on the environment take on new relevance in the contemporary film adaptations of Lovecraft’s story. In the light of posthumanism and the end of the Anthropocene, the mutating crops and fruit – as well as the ensuing blight that slowly extends a few inches per year ever since the meteorite hit the farm – resemble an ecological disaster caused by radiation. Both movies adapt the environmental horror of the original story in different ways: whereas Color Out of Space is set in modern times and works with bright colours, Die Farbe is shot in monochrome and the events – which take place between World War II and 1975 – are re-located from the woods of New England to the Swabian-Franconian forest.

This paper will thus examine the visual realisation of the natural disaster to explore the implications of the cosmically induced environmental catastrophe, arguing that both movies tap into the current post-anthropocentric atmosphere of the 2010s, albeit in different ways.

Sandra Aline Wagner is a lecturer and researcher in the Department of German Studies at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick. Her monograph on romantic monsters in German mash-up novels, Monströse Romanzen und romantische Monster: Zum Zeitgeist der Millennial-Generation in deutschsprachigen Mash-Up-Romanen (2019), is published by Köngishausen & Neumann. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Gothic Studies, Aeternum and Germanistik in Ireland. She also works as a cultural journalist for OPUS Kulturmagazin and Sonah Magazin.

Speaking as part of ‘Earthly Plagues: Eco-horror’

Abby Whittall – Independent Scholar

Killer Dolls: Tracing the Legend of Annabelle Across Horror Media

The living doll is a monster connected to a widespread and persistent mythology, one which can be traced from oral testimonies to literature to screen. Notorious examples include Annabelle the Doll, who was contained by the famous demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren in their ‘Occult Museum’, and Robert the Doll, an urban legend surrounding a 19th century doll belonging to the Otto family. This paper will consider the influence of these dolls throughout a range of horror media with a particular focus on screens, tracing key representations from Talky Tina of The Twilight Zone television series (1963) to films such as Dolls (1987) and Annabelle (2014) to recent video game Resident Evil Village (2021).

Identifying this broad body of transmedia representations poses the question of how the killer doll has been portrayed, particularly whether there are marked similarities and divergences across different franchises and media, and why it has been so prolific. These questions are important as although this monster has been subject to some critical attention it is rarely sustained, often focusing on better known films such as Child’s Play (1988) and the theme of childhood. Moreover, the living doll is frequently connected to the uncanny as the main explanation for the doll’s affect. While the uncanny may be of some use in analysing the killer doll and childhood may be one pertinent theme, this paper will suggest that such a wealth of transmedia installations deserves further attention and that a number of cultural and industrial factors have contributed to the doll’s sustained horrific presence.

Abby Whittall received her PhD from the University of Winchester in 2020 titled ‘Horrors of the Second World War: Nazi Monsters on 21st Century Screens’. Her research interests include underexamined monsters, genre theory and psychoanalysis. She is an independent scholar and works as a Senior Research Administrator at Buckinghamshire New University.

Speaking as part of ‘Creature Features: Monsters & Folklore I