Keynote Speakers

Kendall R. Phillips – Syracuse University

“The Soul of Our Country is at Stake”:

Rhetorics of Rage in (and around) the Purge Franchise

Scholarship on horror has consistently suggested a relationship between frightening fiction and contemporary real-world fears and anxieties. In this regard, the Purge franchise represents an interesting case study. The Purge extends across five feature films – The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), The Purge: Election Year (2016), The First Purge (2018), and The Forever Purge (2021)  all of which have been successful at the box office. The franchise also inspired a television series that aired for two seasons on USA network (2018-2019) and there have been provocative social media campaigns connected to each of the films. Unlike some other horror franchises, the Purge films have been the work of one screenwriter, James DeMonaco, who also directed the first three films. The franchise has also maintained a consistently critical tone in response to contemporary American politics across all five films and the associated television series.

In this keynote, I examine this critical politics by attending to the affective dimensions of the Purge franchise. In my reading, the franchise critically engages a prominent affect of rage that has been circulating in American, and in many ways global, culture since the initial installment appeared in 2013. The initial film served as what I have called elsewhere an “affective echo” of anger and frustration that culminated in various anti-establishment movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. Of interest in the keynote are the ways these affective energies have echoed from cultural politics into the film and from the film into American political culture. This movement between news reports, political discourse, film, television, and social media, constitutes what I call a “transmedial affective echo” that can be seen in, through, and around the installments of the Purge franchise.

Kendall R. Phillips is Professor of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University (USA). His research focuses on the intersection between politics and popular culture with particular attention to horror cinema. He has published several books on horror films, including Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture (2005), A Place of Darkness: The Rhetoric of Horror in Early American Cinema (2018)and, most recently, A Cinema of Hopelessness: The Rhetoric of Rage in 21st Century Popular Culture (2021).

Speaking at 16:40 on Friday 10 September in Stream A


Thomas Joseph Watson – Teesside University

This is Not Just a Minor Threat:

Music Subcultures and Contemporary Horror Cinema

The intersections between horror media and punk music subcultures have a long standing cultural history, ranging from the B-Movie inspired punk aesthetics of bands such as The Misfits and Negative Approach, onwards to more contemporary examples of hardcore music represented by bands such as Voorhees and Send More Paramedics. As such, it is perhaps clearer to see how certain examples of punk music have adopted and reappropriated the iconography and themes of horror into their respective releases and ephemera. What is missing from such a discussion, however, is the way horror cinema has been able to incorporate elements of punk and subcultural value into narratives that explicitly address representations of the subculture. Taking the observations of Roger Sabin as its starting point, in that ‘punk was not an isolated, bounded phenomenon, but had an extensive impact on a variety of cultural and political fields’ (1999), this talk aims to chart the historical and cultural development of contemporary Punk Horror cinema and its apparent relationship with the so-called ‘Punxploitation’ film.

As a sub-genre of exploitation cinema, the descriptor of Punxploitation has been referred to in critical interrogations of transgressive anti-art cinema (They Eat Scum [Zedd, 1979], documented examples of key subcultural scenes and their dramatisation (The Decline of Western Civilization [Spheeris, 1981]), and notable genre films with respective cult reputations (Class of 1984 [Lester, 1982], Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains [Adler, 1982], Repo Man [Cox, 1984], and The Return of the Living Dead [O’Bannon, 1985]). In recent years, this term has been applied to several examples of independent horror cinema, with Green Room (Saulnier, 2015), The Ranger (Wexler, 2018), Straight Edge Kegger (Zink, 2019) and Uncle Peckerhead (Lawrence, 2020) being notable examples of what this keynote defines as ‘Punk Horror’. Representing punk figures as both victims and antagonists, these films are important reflections on key historical subcultural moments and scenes, alongside their wider representation in the media. This talk aims to explore the ways examples of Punk Horror can observe and incorporate the changing subcultural values, sensibilities and politics of punk into their narratives and wider production contexts.

Thomas Joseph Watson is Lecturer in Transmedia Production at Teesside University. His current research considers representations of violence, transgression and ‘extremity’, fringe music subcultures and their cinematic representation, and cultures of Noise music. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Edinburgh University Press volume ReFocus: The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn and his most recent publication is the book chapter ‘The Kids are Alt-Right: Hardcore Punk, Subcultural Violence and Contemporary American Politics in Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room’ in New Blood: Critical Approaches to Contemporary Horror (2021).

Speaking at 16:40 on Saturday 11 September in Stream A


Tanya Krzywinska – Falmouth University

Curses, Rites and Questionable Offerings:

Ludic Folk Horror in Video Games

A major aim of this keynote is to provide an overview of the presence of folk horror iconography, settings, themes and structures in videogames. Given that games present us with a modality of interaction absent from other media, it is also important to give some sense of how the formal characteristics of game media shape the articulation of folk horror in game contexts. While there are elements of folk horror in board games, such as those based on the Lovecraft mythos or those parented by comics or other media, such as the Lock and Key board game, we’ll focus instead on videogames across a range of game genres; mainly those that fall into the category of Adventure or Horror ‘role-playing games’, both single-player games and multiplayer games.

While I will give a sense of the scope of the presence of folk horror in videogames, and account for the role of game genre in the ways in which folk horror is rendered, I will also focus in a little more intently on Blizzard’s online game, World of Warcraft. This game is singled out for closer focus because over its lifetime of over 17 years it has often deployed elements of folk horror in various expansions and I will show that folk horror provides one of the key referents that are used by the game in the creation of its world and mythos. In addition to this closer analysis, I will also compare the design efficacy of various game mechanics in relation to the way that they serve a folk horror oeuvre.

Tanya Krzywinska is author of a range of papers and books that sought to distinguish the formal and aesthetic differences of games from other media. She has also written extensively on the Gothic and horror in relation to game form. Tanya was an early member of DIGRA, acting as President in 2006 until 2010.  Since 2012, she has been Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed journal Games and Culture. Tanya has designed and convened a range of games courses that provide students with the experience knowledge and skills needed for employment in the games industry. Tanya holds the chair in Digital Economy at Falmouth University and was Director of the Games Academy that provides incubation-based and innovation-led game development and game art courses (www.falmouth.ac.uk/games). She now focuses on leading research into the design of game-based immersive experiences for heritage context. Given time, Tanya continues to practice as an artist. 

Speaking at 15:40 on Sunday 12 September in Stream A