Steffen Hantke – Sogang University
Are Robots the New Zombies?:
Monstrosity for the Twenty-first Century
To the extent that robots can trace their generic origins back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), they have always contained within them traces of a generic hybridity, which was to differentiate subsequently into the separate genre traditions of, respectively, science fiction and horror. Even though robots have traditionally been part of the genre inventory of science fiction, a recent cycle of robot narratives in popular culture appears to redress this generic hybridity in favor of the horror genre. Given the increasingly porous boundaries between genres in recent popular culture, these narratives either mobilize the inventory of science fiction or position themselves in the generically ambiguous terrain of techno-horror or the techno-thriller. Films like The Machine (2013), Automata (2014), Ex Machina (2015), and the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 (2017), as well as television series like Real Humans (2012-16) and Westworld (2016- ) are bringing robots back to the forefront of popular culture.
Since this is occurring just as the cultural cycle of the past decade in which zombies were dominating the narrative appears to have run its course, it is worthwhile comparing the way both figures imagine, model, and embody monstrosity. Beyond the obvious fact that robots can be figures of anxiety and horror, two aspects of this comparative reading highlight changes within the ongoing cultural discourse on monstrosity. The first concerns the problem of embodied monstrosity, which, unlike the zombie, places the robot in a complex and problematic relationship with Kristevan abjection. The second concerns the range of narrative options, a range which, unlike standard narratives about zombie monstrosity, has narrowed down around the robot’s violent Oedipal confrontation with its creator. Examining these two discursive discontinuities promises to reveal whether robots take over where zombies left off, or whether a new monster for the twenty-first century is announcing its triumphant return.
Steffen Hantke is Professor of English at Sogang University, Seoul. He has edited Horror, a special topic issue of Paradoxa (2002), Horror: Creating and Marketing Fear (2004), Caligari’s Heirs: The German Cinema of Fear after 1945 (2007), American Horror Film: The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium (2010), and, with Agnieszka Soltysik-Monnet, War Gothic in Literature and Culture (2016). He is also author of Conspiracy and Paranoia in Contemporary American Literature (1994) and Monsters in the Machine: Science Fiction Film and the Militarization of America after World War II (2016).
Speaking at 17:15 on 21 April 2017
Peter Hutchings – Northumbria University
New Monsters for Old in Twenty-first Century Horror Cinema
The Australian production The Babadook (2014) and the US films It Follows (2014) and The Witch (2016) have been widely acclaimed as innovative interventions into the horror genre that mix generic conventions with approaches from art and indie cinema. As different from each other as these films might be, this paper considers them as texts that together offer a particular twenty-first century treatment of monsters. In particular, it focuses on the way in which, for all the centrality of the monster to their respective narratives, these films often present the monstrous in an elliptical and ambiguous fashion.
The paper identifies new ideological and ethical issues arising from the designation of people, entities or things as monstrous and explores the ways in which these issues have manifested in and helped to form The Babadook, It Follows and The Witch. It demonstrates that while these films are intensely aware of the history and productivity of the monster, they are at the same time uncomfortable with the idea of the monstrous and seek to reframe it in a manner that is not always coherent or consistent with their identities as horror films.
Peter Hutchings is Professor of Film Studies at Northumbria University. He has published widely on the horror genre, British cinema and television, science fiction and the thriller. His books include Hammer and Beyond: the British Horror Film (1993), Terence Fisher (2001), The British Film Guide to Dracula (2003), The Horror Film (2004) and The Historical Dictionary of Horror Cinema (2008, republished in paperback as The A-Z of Horror Cinema). He is currently completing a second edition of The Historical Dictionary of Horror Cinema and writing a book on 1970s American horror cinema.
Speaking at 17:15 on 22 April 2017