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What are your plans for the future in scholarly terms? For me, this is the textbook example of a cult film. Characters fall in love, break up, have children, and get into arguments with their co-workers about common, everyday things. It just so happens that most of these characters are played by people of extreme bodily difference.

The scene in the middle of the film when Hans tells Frieda that he plans to marry Cleopatra is so syrupy and melodramatic, but when the typical viewer takes a step back and reminds themselves they are watching this soap opera scene play out between two little people, the viewing experience is often one of ambivalence, which is both discomforting and engaging in a way few other films are.

The film is barely over an hour long, but the emotional journey on which the film takes the reader seems much longer. Bride of Frankenstein James Whale, The first Frankenstein film was a smash success for Universal Pictures in By all accounts, James Whale, the director of the film, did not want to direct a sequel and agreed to do so only if he could bring his own distinct flavour to the proceedings. Everything great about the Hollywood horror film is here, from gothic iconography of castles and forests, to shadowy cinematography, to psycho-sexual subtext. What Masque brings to the party that makes it so extra are delirious scenes of freakery, Satanic worship, Dionysian bacchanals, and even more hallucinogenic imagery.

In all, Masque is a feverish combination of drive-in and avant-garde, the essential psychedelic horror film. I never fail to be mesmerized by its uncanny oscillation between extreme poles. However, other filmic elements give it an experimental, avant-garde quality, with these techniques most clearly on display during the climatic, Mad-Hatter-tea-party-from-hell dinner scene during which the viewer is barraged with rapid, disorienting editing, dissonant sound design, and extreme close-ups. Among the brutally bizarre elements of the film are moments of perverse beauty, epitomized by the shot of the young lovers running through country fields with a rotting, decrepit house looming behind them.

One specific example of these transitions that immediately comes to mind is when Sally pulls a knife on the Cook, who disarms her with a swat of a broom. When I watch this film with an audience, the smack with the broom never fails to get a laugh — how dangerous can a broom really be? If you watch only one horror film in your life, make it this one. Lucio Fulci boasts a filmography loaded with titles emblematic of the excesses of grindhouse-era Italian exploitation.

These three films are: A portal to hell is opened when a priest commits suicide, unleashing a swarm of zombies. One victim is murdered by an inverted baptism, as maggot-filled dirt is ground into her face. Another victim has a vision that causes a grotesque stigmata: He is the author of Selling the Splat Pack: I would certainly urge interested readers to check out Selling the Splat Pack —a rigorous and robust analysis of the way in which the DVD revolution has sparked key shifts in industry and business practices centered on and around the horror film.


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When did your journey into horror and cult media begin? Are your academic pursuits a labour of fan love, first and foremost? And, if so, how do you negotiate between these different identities? My journey into horror began when my family purchased a VCR. I was about 10 years old. It seemed like a lot of kids at my school already had a VCR, so when we got one, I was absolutely thrilled. I stopped watching most television shows and instead watched tons of movies.

As I began to frequent the video store, I believe I gravitated toward horror movies because those were the movies I always heard older kids talking about. I grew up in the mountains and went to a small country Baptist church. There were no kids my age at church, so they put me in the teenage class for Sunday school. When the teacher sat me in the corner and gave me Bible-themed colouring books to play with while they had class, I would overhear the teenagers whispering about Friday the 13th and stuff like that. That stuff sounded really cool, so I headed straight for that section of the video store when I had the opportunity.

That type of thinking certainly influenced my choices. My parents were very conservative, but luckily for me, they were very lenient when it came to movies and let me watch pretty much whatever I wanted. I was aided and abetted in my quest for horror films by the family who owned the closest video store, which was located Baileyton, TN, a small town about a 20 minute drive from our house.

Baileyton was basically just a cluster of gas stations, bars, and truck stops off of Interstate 81, which was the only main highway running through northeast Tennessee back then. It still had old, decrepit fuel pumps standing in the middle of the parking lot. An elderly man who owned a small grocery store just down the road from Baileyton video was shot and killed in his store. They never caught the killer. Also, about a couple of miles or so away, a group of Satanists shot and killed a man, his wife, and their six-year-old daughter. They had a two-year-old son who was also shot, but he survived.

Also, woman who disappeared was last seen in the area, and the story was featured on the television show Unsolved Mysteries. The husband and wife who ran Baileyton Video really liked me for some reason or another. I started frequenting their store when I was around age 12 or so, and they let me rent pretty much any movie I wanted, even though I was way underage. I remember reading about Re-Animator somewhere or another probably Fangoria , which I had just discovered , and I really wanted to see it.

I took it to the counter anyway. I was lucky that, obviously, neither she nor her husband had seen it! In all my time as a customer, there was only one movie they did not let me rent: I wonder why they drew the line there? Horror movies were more than just what the cool older kids were watching. These movies gave me a way to deal with all the fear and anxiety I suffered from when growing up. In many ways, I was a terrified child, scared of a lot of stuff. I already mentioned that I attended a Southern Baptist church way up in the Tennessee mountains, and this stripe of Christianity instilled fear into me at a young age.

There was plenty of screaming and shouting and furious preaching. My very first memory is being at church. This culture instilled a healthy amount of fear into me at a young age: I was told that the rapture was something we should look forward to, but whenever I saw visual depictions of the event in drawings or paintings — with the sky cracking open, graves exploding, and cars crashing as spirits flew out the sunroofs — it looked absolutely terrifying.

My grandmother was a big believer in the supernatural and would often tell me about all the haunted houses and hollers. She warned me to never go to these places. Either way, she was very convincing! Something that made an indelible impact on me happened when I was about four or five. I was walking up a bank and started smelling an indescribable odour.

I got to the top of the bank. On the other side, there was a fairly steep incline into a ditch. At the bottom in the ditch, about fifteen or so yards away, was a huge pile of grey, white, and brown matter with waves of flies swarming all around it. It was the decomposing corpse of a cow. I ran to get my dad and my brother. The idea that something so terrible could happen so randomly was too much for my young mind to handle.

So, long story short, I believe I gravitated toward horror because horror films helped me wrap my tiny, terrified, anxious mind around all of these horrors — images of the end of the world, booger men, and dead carcasses — and have fun with them. Like a lot of things in life, horror movies were scary, but they were also really fun. I loved conventions and watching for certain recurring iconography, tropes, and story types. I was excited when the films broke from convention in new ways, but even the most by-the-numbers horror was fun for me. A lot of things changed through my prepubescent and teenage years, but the one constant was my love of horror cinema.

When I went to college, I majored in English, which was pretty much the only option for me since English was by far and away my strongest subject in school. I was thrilled to find out that the English department offered classes about movies. Not only that, but it turned out that you could do a film studies concentration. I fell in love!

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I suppose this brings us to the question about whether or not my academic pursuits are a labour of love. I believe so, but there was not a straight line leading directly from my love of film to my eventual academic pursuits. Somewhere along the line during my academic studies, I veered in a different direction and became convinced, for some reason or another, that I wanted to be a James Joyce scholar. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I began an MA program in literature.

However, a couple of years studying Modern Literature and writing an MA thesis on Joyce quickly disabused me of any notion that I would ever become a Joyce scholar. I got burned out. Figure out what you really care about and study that.

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As I got deeper and deeper into studying literature, I felt more and more cut off from life and the world in general. I felt unplugged from everything, like I was smothering. So, I quit school for a couple of years and thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to teach, and I loved teaching writing.

But beyond that was uncertain. My graduate studies in Modern Literature seemed to unplug me from everything and disengage me with the world. But whenever I watched films and read about films, especially horror, I felt really plugged into life. I felt like I could really engage with the world and its complexities when I talked and read about horror cinema. I found myself returning to the type of academic inquiry I undertook in my undergraduate classes in film studies, which led me back to horror cinema, my first love.

Around this time, I also got into cultural studies and starting thinking not only about film, but also its place in the material world.

What are the real world circumstances in which we consume film? How do these various reception contexts affect the ways we experience film? These types of questions excited me and got me thinking about how I experienced horror films via home video when I was growing up, which undoubtedly had something to do with my academic interest in home video. When I returned to graduate school, it was in a cultural studies program with an emphasis in film and media studies.

It gave me a lens through which to view the world as I was growing up. My interest in cultural studies led me to start asking questions about the practices — business, cultural, political, and otherwise — that surround this film genre that had been so important to me all my life. Is it a fan labour of love? My mentor and dissertation advisor, the wonderful Cynthia Baron, always encouraged me to try and keep the two separate.

Maybe too critical at times. In your excellent monograph, Selling the Splat Pack: What precipitated this riposte? Initially, it was the DVD that interested me. It made me nervous. Again, though, I came back to the DVD. Ultimately, instead of relying on reductive and ahistorical reflectionist models, I was interested in looking at how conscious business decisions in the film industry — in specific, the rollout of DVD — influenced horror film content in the mid-to-lates.

I believe the Splat Pack offered a good case study for this. I tried to look at the Hostel films and the Saw films, among others, as consumer products and think through what experiences these films on DVD are attempting to sell to home-viewing audiences. While writing, I was inspired by all the excellent scholarship in horror film industry studies. Following on from that last point, which academic work in horror film industry studies would you recommend for students and scholars interested in the field based on your own readings? Those three really inspired me. Do you think there has been a shift in the status of DVD in recent years?

Scholars such as Caetlin Benson-Allott and Tino Balio have shown that box office revenues are no longer the prime economic driver for contemporary cinema, having been overtaken by DVD sales by a significant margin. Is this changing with the impact of streaming do you think? It might seem that businesses like Redbox helped bring about the death of the video store, but if anything, Redbox is proof that there are still people out there who want to go out and rent a movie on a physical disc — whether it be DVD or Blu-ray — instead of renting one on iTunes or watching something on a streaming service.

In some areas in the US, businesses like Redbox continue to thrive because there are rural areas where the Internet signal is too weak for streaming video or there is no Internet altogether. But even with streaming video and digital download, I believe some of the vestiges of the DVD are still there.

The physical aspect of media may be gone, but the idea of bonus features and other extras engendered by DVD are often still there. Hulu has similar featurettes for their original programs. I think it was McLuhan who said that a new medium always contains an old one? The physical DVD may go away, but its presence is still felt. Criterion continues rolling out releases, as do genre specialists like Scream Factory my favourite and some others, that are loaded with extra features, commentaries, and tons of other great stuff.

There are a lot of claims in press discourse about a new Golden Age of horror cinema. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think there is truth to these claims? Or is this journalistic hyperbole? The one thing that troubles me about the journalism on this Golden Age, however, is how focused it has been on English-language horror film. Many of the films being celebrated now borrow extensively from international horror traditions, many of which have a closer relationship to melodrama than Anglophone horror movies.

While Japanese horror certainly has not shied away from onscreen violence and gore, it also boasts a much more nuanced understanding of horror as an affect than the US tradition. Going back to Psycho and even the Universal horror classics, American horror has been more invested in frightening, shocking, and even disgusting its audience than in horrifying them. The philosopher Robert C. Rather they paralyze and dumbfound as people struggle to understand how something so unthinkable, so beyond any expectations, could come to pass.

But what horrifies one person will not necessarily horrify another. Considering that horror cinema has often been at the lower end of the economic scale, what do you think has precipitated these shifts in budget if indeed there are noticeable shifts? Released in by Bryanston Pictures—the same company that released Deep Throat two years earlier— The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was absolutely received as an exploitation film.

It premiered at Sundance, after all, before Artisan gave it a slow roll-out to build the word-of-mouth enthusiasm that made it a sleeper hit. Blumhouse and the faux footage horror movies are two responses to making scary movies with limited means that found traction in their era. Could you expound on this point? Is this a theoretical argument? Or do you believe that such films have value for studios as a way to caution viewers not to illegally download material—not because it is against the law, but because they may end up haunted or demonically possessed?

In every faux footage horror movie up until , when Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens was published, all of the characters die; their footage reaches the spectator posthumously. The position we watch from then is that of a ghoul, someone who consumes the dead. These movies are titillating precisely because they seem illicit, because they give us the feeling tha we should not be watching them. Historicizing that affect and its appeal, I found it related to contemporaneous anxieties about online piracy in the US film industry.

But I do think that faux footage horror found purchase as a film cycle because of cultural and industry anxieties about illicit spectatorship at that point in time. Those films tell very different cautionary tales about online sociality, privacy, and mortality in the age of social media. What do you think of these kinds of films and what do they purport to caution against? I think that screencast horror films tend to express an anxiety about the effects of online sociality and information cultures on human subjectivity. In that context, it becomes quite important that Laura, the monster, also possesses many characteristics of the classic Final Girl as theorized by Carol Clover in Men, Women, and Chainsaws.

Right now, I am working on a book manuscript that argues that our materially and socially grounded interactions with film and television inform the political impact of those texts as much as the texts themselves. Like all my work, the new book focuses on uniting texts and paratexts towards deeper understandings of media culture. In this case, however, I am turning from spectatorship to reception, and particularly to the material realities of media reception, in order to argue that we read media with and through objects. These objects range from media platforms like VHS and DVD to inebriants like alcohol and marijuana as well as objects that are brought into into scenes of reception by viewers and distributors, such as guns and branded merchandise.

Focusing on the gun, for instance, I argue that the history of violent assaults at movie theaters—cinema violence—reveals much about the racist, neoliberal fantasy undergirding popular conception of cinema and cinemagoers in the US. This history has not been collected before, however, and so I chronicle the long list of shootings, stabbings, riots, and other violent incidents at movie theaters from the anti-racist protests at D.

The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi in Since the s, anti-Black racism and white privilege have shaped media representations of cinema violence. Cinema violence is always tragic, but not all cinema violence is treated as tragic, due to racialized fantasies undergirding past and present notions about who does and does not belong in movie theaters. Horror is not an explicit part of this new book project, but I continue to write about horror in articles and in my column for Film Quarterly.

The distinction between horror as genre and affect directs my current interest in scary movies and their criticism. Many critics have written about horror as a genre uniquely tied to the affect it aims to generate, but I would contend that very few so-called horror movies actually want to horrify the viewers. They try to scare, startle, shock disgust, and even mortify.

I would submit not. What horrifies one person may barely phase another. Night of the Living Dead George A. This is just simply my favorite movie. The Image Ten collective was an incredibly canny group of filmmakers who exploited the strengths of their industrial conditions and their projects exhibition platform namely drive-in theaters to craft a film that reflected and developed social anxieties of the era. That the zombie would prove such a capacious metaphor for alienation and disenfranchisement could not have been predicted, but Romero and company modelled the horrifying capacities of monster-as-social-metaphor for a generation of filmmakers.

But its riveting engagement with psychic and physical abjection was almost more than I could take. This one does, but it does so by violating the rules of the horror genre. Get Out cites the conventions of US horror but does not always perform them, which has led some genre fans to complain that it is not really a horror movie. To say that is to a great disservice to the film and to the genre.

Get Out is horrifying, especially if you encounter it, as Jordan Peele has suggested, as a documentary about contemporary US racism. There are precious few explicitly anti-racist horror movies yet the horrors of racism remain one of the dominant structures of feeling in the US today. Ignore the American remake. By presenting the process of recollection in real time, the film offers its viewer a unique experience of trauma, of the temporality of horror.

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Feminist novelist, activist, and screenwriter Rita Mae Brown developed The Slumber Party Massacre as a pro-woman parody of slasher movies. Director Amy Holden Jones stays true to this vision while also providing enough of titillating gore to satisfy her distributor, New World Pictures. She is the author of Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: She is a regular columnist and Contributing Editor at Film Quarterly. We also discuss reception practices, as well as the growing shift from physical to digital media, considering the state of the landscape at this current historical moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with and learning from Caetlin about her research and more , and I hope readers enjoy our cult conversation too. Or is your interest in the subjects you study purely an academic pursuit? I am certainly a fan of horror film and have been since junior high. Romero, when I was about thirteen and she was maybe eight. Night of the Living Dead later became a cornerstone text for my first book, Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens , and it remains my favorite movie to this day—so much so that I rarely teach it.

So yes, I am a big fan. When did your journey begin? What were the first cults objects you recall encountering in personal terms? My journey began at a drugstore in my hometown of Lincoln, Massachusetts. This little stop had one rack of VHS cassettes for rent for a dollar each, which is about how much money I usually had on hand from my allowance. I must have been no more than nine or ten when I started renting from them. When I was in high school, Lincoln finally got its own video store, and I started working my way through its genre shelves, in part because genre rentals were cheaper there than new releases.

As I recall, there was no rhyme or reason to what that store stocked; it seemed to follow the whims of its owners to an amazing degree. For these reasons, I consider videotapes my cult objects par excellence. They were my way into loving and living film history, horror most of all. Apart from Night of the Living Dead , then, what did your adventures in video expose you to as a child? What are your memories of favourite films during the period? The Wrath of Khan Nicholas Meyer, , the Alien chestbuster solidified my association of videotape with horror and bodily abjection.

Today I would argue that the breaching of bodily boundaries that I found so thrilling and terrifying in those films helped me make sense of and enjoy the penetration of illicit because violent rental cassettes into the domestic sphere, not to mention the VCR itself. Evidently her mother considered that much murder, profanity, and abjection inappropriate for school girls!

I knew nothing about film history or quality or genre. My initial understanding of who Peter Greenaway was and where he fit in international art cinema came from the poster, in other words, not the film itself. Unfortunately, I was right, and, as my teacher put it, the Academy will always be Unforgiven [Clint Eastwood, ]. Video stores impressed upon me the importance of paratexts and material culture for understanding film culture and the vagaries of taste and value within it. If you were to summarise your book, Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing , for readers that may be unfamiliar with your work, how would you do so?

Or do you think that other film scholars may find it useful in general terms? Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens argues that video technologies have been the dominant platform of film spectatorship since the s and that horror films provide a rich set of case studies for understanding how filmmakers understood and adapted to video culture. This may seem strange, but I never considered Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens to be about horror while I was writing it as a dissertation at Cornell University. Its working title was ImperioVideo , and I really thought it was about spectatorship theory and its failure to acknowledge home video.

It was only at my defence that my committee pointed out to me that 1 what I was writing was a history as much as a theory of video spectatorship and 2 it was very much a history of horror filmmaking as related to video cultures. Some people are just there for the technology, others for the genre study. A few of us geek out on both.

Direct-to-Video DTV horror is a fascinating subgenre with its own conventions and social critiques. For Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens , you endorse spectatorship theory as a theoretical frame. Given the decades of audience studies that convincingly demonstrate that spectatorship theory treats audiences as a homogenous mass, what place does the tradition have in the twenty-first century academy?

First of all, I make a strong distinction between spectatorship and reception , spectators and viewers. Spectatorship studies typically have very little to say about how specific individuals or groups of individuals respond to such interpellation. Writing Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens , I wanted to know how motion pictures reflected the ascendance of various video platforms, how they encouraged their spectator to think about the issues those technologies brought up. How different groups responded to that encouragement would be the subject of another book.

With regards to the Prince argument you mention, I absolutely agree that some spectatorship theory has been ahistorical and universalizing in very problematic ways. We have a lot of data—not just on viewers but on theatre spaces, screen technologies and sound systems, and other material realities of film spectatorship—that should also be analysed.

People do not watch and interpret film and television in a vacuum; the spaces within which they watch and interpret are never ideologically neutral. I am interested in the way that exhibition technologies impart and influence messages about how we should interact with them and what we should value or abhor about specific media content.

In the introduction to Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens , you argue: Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens is definitely a history; its last chapter is on peer-to-peer file sharing—and almost no one uses p2p technologies for their movie piracy anymore. The improvement of streaming services and the continued spread of high-speed internet access have definitely impacted DVD sales, and all physical media sales are on the decline. But there are a lot of important questions we can ask about how different contemporaneous media platforms frame their content different.

I recently finished a book chapter on the original Battlestar Galactica television series ABC , which has the distinction of being distributed on every major video platform since Media platforms are not redundant; they all frame their content in a different way. Understanding those distinctions is crucial for understanding our current media ecology. Following on from the last question, why do you think Hollywood producers remain fixated on box office receipts as a signifier of triumph or failure? The first thing that comes to mind is that video revenues trickle in slowly, whereas the box office figures we see in the news are usually opening-weekend reports.

It does not feel like news. Of course, all this begs the question of why newspapers are willing to report boring stories about weekend box office. But that question deserves to be answered by a media industries specialist. I think people are increasingly aware that DTV and film distribution have permeable borders. I think we are on the cusp of seeing a major change in what cinema-going means culturally, which will likely change how viewers negotiate the distinction between a DTV and a cinematic release.

As ticket prices soar and theater owners offer more expensive, gourmet concessions, including beer, wine, and liquor, the ethos of cinema-going is changing, at least in the US. Almost all of the movie theaters in Washington, DC. They present going to the movies as a luxury experience, not a regular pastime. They often feature movies produced by Neflix, Amazon, and Hulu—movies that announce their future streaming platforms in their credit sequences. Rather I am going for the anomaly of the theatrical experience, which does not speak to the quality or even the budget necessarily of the film.

Similarly, contemporary horror fiction has been viewed as underpinned by golden age rhetoric, as pronounced by Paul Tremblay in a recent article in The Los Angeles Times. What do you think of these claims regarding cinema and literature? This is why directors from countries that had only rarely turned to it, like Spain or Italy, began to produce them en masse in the s and s. The returns were potentially handsome and the films themselves, shot economically, relatively risk-free.

Having said this, we also know that the success of one particular film or set of films normally brings about cycles: Psycho , The Exorcist , Paranormal Activity — these were all trend setters that generated a slew of imitators — and a stronger investment in the genre. I suspect what is at stake here is the scope and mainstream attention horror is receiving, something it has attracted less often. But here we have very successful films It and Netflix series Stranger Things that have also resisted critical lambasting.

There is a conference taking place this year on Stranger Things as cult text, and that seems interesting to me. And does that mean horror, fantasy and science fiction must always, by their very nature, remain cult? What changes is the amount of people attracted to it, and the critical mass and media attention it commands. What we are seeing is a consumer pool increasingly made up of nostalgic year-olds who were raised by the likes of King. Bring on the new golden age of horror! Can you broadly summarise the key points of your research in this area and what you have learned about audiences and horror?

I have always been fascinated by the human capacity to be horrified by something that we know is not real. A lot has been written and theorised about this, especially about the relationship between horrific bodies and those of cinema viewers. In Horror Film and Affect , my book from , I took issue with the privileging of the psychoanalytic approach to representation in Horror Studies that, in my view, is partly responsible for the conflation of learnt or cultural fear and the emotional and somatic aspects that are exclusive to the audio-visual horror experience.

It is fairly easy to assume that sympathy is responsible for the ways in which we are negatively affected by, for example, scenes of extreme and graphic violence. One of the things I show in that book is that somatic empathy — the capacity to engage with onscreen bodies and recognised their vulnerability — as well as the ability to anticipate and imagine pain are equally important.

This corporeal aspect of cinema is less written about because it does not intersect with identity politics and is thus perceived to be of less interest to a field interested in proving its social value. For me, affect and the body are not only fascinating, but inextricable from the experience of engaging with audio-visual horror. As I have argued, the experience of horror is ultimately not defined by the temporal, spatial or thematic coordinates of the genre, but by the generation of a strong sense of vulnerability and the foregrounding of a harmful source of threat.

I have always been interested in the ways bodies are represented in the Gothic mode, too, from monstrous corporealities and the exaggerations of the grotesque to the less anthropocentric echoes of the abhuman. This is the area I explored with Body Gothic , from , which was concerned with recuperating the body for contemporary Gothic Studies, especially following a turn to the spectral and the uncanny towards the beginning of the s.

Further work by the likes of Marie Mulvey-Roberts has followed, and I think it is an incredibly productive area for the Gothic. It is also one that is undergoing tremendous change at a time when the bodies that had previously been abjected and monstered gender, racial and sexual minorities, as well as the disabled body are being reconsidered.

Is this approach primarily theoretical or did the work involve audience research at all? After all, one of the big bugbears of psychoanalysis, for me, is precisely its universal models of psychosexual, unconscious and repressed experience archaic mothers, Oedipal complexes and so forth.

I think part of the issue is that film is often theorised by scholars who work with literature and critical theory and philosophy, so the focus may end up remaining narrative and thematic, rather than cinematic. Fear can be both learnt and ingrained. The former is primarily socio-cultural fear of black cats, say but the latter is somatic and connected to evolution and instinct. For me, this is about understanding how we engage with fictional horror through our bodies and brains, and about how we use senses and thinking processes borrowed from real life.

But of course, this is not to say that the whole turn to affect and the body would not benefit from research on viewing subjects, and I hope to be able to go there in the future. I also think that reception studies, especially fandom and non-cooperative viewers, are very interesting and deserving of attention. Matt Hills has done some brilliant work on fan audiences, and Julian Hanich recently wrote a really interesting book on how collective viewing filters cinema experiences.

There is clearly a lot more work yet to be carried out in this field, and it is incredibly exciting, especially because we are finally getting away from theories of horror that, to me, never felt experientially true. I think I would rather concentrate on some of my personal favourites, which is a way of answering this question without suggesting that there is a top five that everyone must read.

As with all literature, canons are full of biases, and what I consider to be fascinating and ground-breaking may well feel old hat to someone else. Given that all these writers are still the subject of academic work in the field, I am tempted to think so. In any case, here goes:. What can I say about this impressive collection of short stories that has not already been said a hundred times? It is also a rare instance of a first collection of horror short stories gaining critical acclaim and commercial success in publishing.

If the stories are not as stylistically polished as some of his other works — say, other much-loved works like The Hellbound Heart or Cabal — they make up for it in sheer wildness and complexity. It is such a shame that Barker has only ever sparingly returned to the short story. Billy Martin formerly Poppy Z.

Brite , Lost Souls There is something about this novel about vampiric misfits and perambulating musicians that just spoke to me when I first read it in my teens. It has stayed with me to this day. The lush, baroque prose and attractive downbeat subcultural jadedness of the main characters — Molochai, Twig and Zillah, the main vampires, but also Nothing, the teenager who does not belong in their community — are unparalleled in Gothic fiction.

Very few people are able to portray gay characters with the psychological richness that Brite can. Lost Souls is a great example of how horror fiction often encompasses other narrative and genre modes, from the coming of age narrative to the road trip. My teenage self also loved the setting. Wherever you are born, there are always places you romanticise and fantasise about.

One of them, for me, continues to be the New Orleans of this novel, with its promise of chartreuse, culinary delights and nihilistic vampires. I love everything Brite wrote. The day he retired was a sad one for me. I went through a period in my teens, probably from the ages of 13 to 16, where I read little else but King. There are many I love: Carrie , The Shining , Misery , the short story collections Night Shift and Nightmares and Dreamscapes , the novellas in Four Past Midnight , and so many others. And yet, the one I could never get was It.

What a terrifying novel to read as a teenager! The size of it was scary enough, but Pennywise the clown never quite left my nightmares. Apart from its brilliant exploration of adulthood and friendship, this novel is one of the most interesting piece of fiction about fear. An impressive book in many respects. I came late to this one, I must confess, first encountering while studying for my MA, but I have since had the pleasure of teaching it on at least two occasions.

And what a wonderfully rich novel it is. Eleanor must be one of the most believable and complex characters in horror literature, and I love how Jackson only ever gives you just about information to draw you in and keep you in tenterhooks. A novel about oppressive family relationships, about growing up, about missed opportunities, about sexuality, about psychic powers and, of course, about hauntings. The house becomes the main character, and this is what makes it so special.

Together with Mark Z. Unforgettable and a rightful classic. Lovecraft, The Complete Fiction of H. I realise I am cheating here, but I simply could not choose between his many stories. Together with Poe, he is, in my opinion, the best horror short story and novella writer ever. And, like Poe, he got the unity of effect of this type of tale down to a tee. He is someone to savour, though. I can never read a lot of him in one go or in a rush. He is also the editor of Horror: I often joke that I was taught to read not by teacher or parent, but by the many novelists that were active during the horror fiction boom of the s and 80s: Smith—and of course, James Herbert and Stephen King.

But no one seemed to be concerned that many teens in the s were delving deeply into the dark recesses of literary horror. Indeed, video was the main political target, eventually leading to the formation of the Video Recordings Act in I have tried to seek some of these out on the internet, but, alas, like many fan objects, they fetch a hefty price. At least I was reading! And read I did, gulping voraciously on these tales of the macabre and the dead.

I would say it never did me any harm, but I expect anyone who knows me might have some long-lost memory to barter or bribe me with. Sadly, many of these authors have gone the way of the dinosaur. Ramsey Campbell is still active, and carries on experimenting, growing, adapting. But the halcyon days of the horror fiction boom has passed. There may not be legions of paperbacks in bookstores, but horror fiction is alive and well. Over the past few years, I have found myself playing catch up and have thoroughly been enjoying the ride.

This year alone I have been moved, stunned and in awe of great storytelling by contemporary horror novelists. Well, what are you waiting for? Xavier first entered my sphere with his edited anthology, Horror: A Literary History , a remarkable collection of essays that covers a lot of ground. In the following interview, Xavier and I get into the legacy of H. I throughly enjoyed speaking with Xavier and learned a lot from our conversation even though I ended up stocking up my online shopping basket with more ghastly tales and adventures in the macabre.

I hope you enjoy the next instalment in the Cult Conversations series. How would you describe your research interests for readers unfamiliar with your work and subject area? I mostly research Gothic and Horror film and literature, with the odd excursion into television. I am absolutely fascinated by the emotions we associate with fear, and with the idea that something fictional, in whatever medium, can move us viscerally in the ways horror does. I am also intrigued with what horror allows writers, filmmakers, scriptwriters, etc.

Lovecraft and more modern Stephen King, Poppy Z. In fact, I think the first book I ever bought for myself was a Goosebumps novel — I still remember my dad cautioning me about that I would not be able to sleep that night! But I actually started out as a modern and contemporary literature student. It was only while doing my MA in this subject at Birkbeck that I came across the Gothic as an artistic mode.

This capacious umbrella term seemed to conglomerate all of the artists and texts I admired. You could say I never got over its brilliance! Then I began a PhD under the tutelage of the wonderful Catherine Spooner, at Lancaster, and that took me, rather unexpectedly, in the direction of film. I started to explore the connections between fiction as an affective medium and cinema and drama, as it happens!

I have long been interested in horror film, but that came later in life. My tolerance for horror films was initially very low, and I even had nightmares where I tried to look away from a screen showing a horror film but my eyelids became see-through! It has rained a lot since then. I am lucky enough that I work at a place where I can develop my interests in Gothic and Horror Studies irrespective of media.

In short, I am interested in all things fictional considered dark and nasty, and am especially concerned with why they are considered dark and nasty and how they operate psychologically and socially. Would you consider yourself a fan of the texts and objects that you study? Or put differently, what came first: It is a hard question to answer truthfully. You end up knowing too much about the conventions and become much more critical. Which is not to say that I no longer enjoy the topic or that fans are uncritical — quite the opposite! I would propose that I am now a lot more interested in the history and value of the Gothic and Horror, which, in turn, makes me more appreciative of its developments and of the contemporary writers who are doing something innovative.

Being this immersed in a subject has also allowed me to discover writers and filmmakers who I would probably never have otherwise, so I guess it is swings and roundabouts. I would say my fan interest informed the critic I am today, but also that I am an atypical horror fan. The lack of distance between fannish enthusiasm and academic interest is also what makes disconnecting from research harder: It is both a blessing and a curse.

It certainly appears to be the case that Lovecraft continues to be a vibrant source of intertextuality and homage in the twenty-first century both in literary quarter and across media. Are there any adaptations, extensions or homages etc. I am in awe of the scope of his imagination and his idiosyncratic writing — personally, I love his cumulative purple prose, which is very baroque and similar to the overwritten style of many a Gothic novel. You have named a few of the writers who have either homaged or expanded Lovecraft in recent years and there are many more, even in non-English speaking countries like Spain — check out Emilio Bueso, although I do not think he has been translated into English yet , but his impact on horror is, I think, even larger.

So yes, I would never say we should forget the fact that he was an awful racist, but I certainly think that that side of his writing has not been what writers and readers have taken from his work. Lovecraft , as my intention with that anthology was to collect fiction that readers of more classical Gothic, say, M.

James, who was also published in this series, might appreciate. Those are all faves of mine. As you say, Lovecraft seems to have placed those writers well under his shadow. But what is it in particular that you think reading those lesser known authors—or at least less known than Lovecraft—are worth investigating, especially for readers not familiar with those works?

It is obvious from his long essay Supernatural Horror in Literature that he was not just well read, but had a great sense of the various phases or periods of horror literature, and of where his work would eventually slot in. James, and the previous one, where he writes about John Buchan and William Hope Hodgson Bierce is also covered in the book are revealing, for it is precisely what he sees as innovative in these writers.

Shiel that still managed to produce something new and powerful. It is interesting that he pins the weird tale against the bloody murder and mystery of the Gothic his thoughts about the haunting of the past against the expansive nature of the weird are, of course, very interesting and valid , for in his fiction, he managed to often marry the two rather seamlessly. What does the term mean to you? I also briefly covered it in Horror: The Image Ten collective was an incredibly canny group of filmmakers who exploited the strengths of their industrial conditions and their projects exhibition platform namely drive-in theaters to craft a film that reflected and developed social anxieties of the era.

That the zombie would prove such a capacious metaphor for alienation and disenfranchisement could not have been predicted, but Romero and company modelled the horrifying capacities of monster-as-social-metaphor for a generation of filmmakers. But its riveting engagement with psychic and physical abjection was almost more than I could take.

This one does, but it does so by violating the rules of the horror genre. Get Out cites the conventions of US horror but does not always perform them, which has led some genre fans to complain that it is not really a horror movie. To say that is to a great disservice to the film and to the genre. Get Out is horrifying, especially if you encounter it, as Jordan Peele has suggested, as a documentary about contemporary US racism. There are precious few explicitly anti-racist horror movies yet the horrors of racism remain one of the dominant structures of feeling in the US today.

Ignore the American remake. By presenting the process of recollection in real time, the film offers its viewer a unique experience of trauma, of the temporality of horror. Feminist novelist, activist, and screenwriter Rita Mae Brown developed The Slumber Party Massacre as a pro-woman parody of slasher movies. Director Amy Holden Jones stays true to this vision while also providing enough of titillating gore to satisfy her distributor, New World Pictures.

She is the author of Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: She is a regular columnist and Contributing Editor at Film Quarterly. We also discuss reception practices, as well as the growing shift from physical to digital media, considering the state of the landscape at this current historical moment. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with and learning from Caetlin about her research and more , and I hope readers enjoy our cult conversation too. Or is your interest in the subjects you study purely an academic pursuit? I am certainly a fan of horror film and have been since junior high.

Romero, when I was about thirteen and she was maybe eight. Night of the Living Dead later became a cornerstone text for my first book, Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens , and it remains my favorite movie to this day—so much so that I rarely teach it. So yes, I am a big fan. When did your journey begin?

What were the first cults objects you recall encountering in personal terms? My journey began at a drugstore in my hometown of Lincoln, Massachusetts. This little stop had one rack of VHS cassettes for rent for a dollar each, which is about how much money I usually had on hand from my allowance.

I must have been no more than nine or ten when I started renting from them. When I was in high school, Lincoln finally got its own video store, and I started working my way through its genre shelves, in part because genre rentals were cheaper there than new releases. As I recall, there was no rhyme or reason to what that store stocked; it seemed to follow the whims of its owners to an amazing degree. For these reasons, I consider videotapes my cult objects par excellence.

They were my way into loving and living film history, horror most of all. Apart from Night of the Living Dead , then, what did your adventures in video expose you to as a child? What are your memories of favourite films during the period? The Wrath of Khan Nicholas Meyer, , the Alien chestbuster solidified my association of videotape with horror and bodily abjection. Today I would argue that the breaching of bodily boundaries that I found so thrilling and terrifying in those films helped me make sense of and enjoy the penetration of illicit because violent rental cassettes into the domestic sphere, not to mention the VCR itself.

Evidently her mother considered that much murder, profanity, and abjection inappropriate for school girls! I knew nothing about film history or quality or genre. My initial understanding of who Peter Greenaway was and where he fit in international art cinema came from the poster, in other words, not the film itself. Unfortunately, I was right, and, as my teacher put it, the Academy will always be Unforgiven [Clint Eastwood, ]. Video stores impressed upon me the importance of paratexts and material culture for understanding film culture and the vagaries of taste and value within it.

If you were to summarise your book, Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing , for readers that may be unfamiliar with your work, how would you do so? Or do you think that other film scholars may find it useful in general terms? Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens argues that video technologies have been the dominant platform of film spectatorship since the s and that horror films provide a rich set of case studies for understanding how filmmakers understood and adapted to video culture.

This may seem strange, but I never considered Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens to be about horror while I was writing it as a dissertation at Cornell University. Its working title was ImperioVideo , and I really thought it was about spectatorship theory and its failure to acknowledge home video. It was only at my defence that my committee pointed out to me that 1 what I was writing was a history as much as a theory of video spectatorship and 2 it was very much a history of horror filmmaking as related to video cultures.

Some people are just there for the technology, others for the genre study. A few of us geek out on both. Direct-to-Video DTV horror is a fascinating subgenre with its own conventions and social critiques. For Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens , you endorse spectatorship theory as a theoretical frame. Given the decades of audience studies that convincingly demonstrate that spectatorship theory treats audiences as a homogenous mass, what place does the tradition have in the twenty-first century academy?

First of all, I make a strong distinction between spectatorship and reception , spectators and viewers. Spectatorship studies typically have very little to say about how specific individuals or groups of individuals respond to such interpellation. Writing Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens , I wanted to know how motion pictures reflected the ascendance of various video platforms, how they encouraged their spectator to think about the issues those technologies brought up.

How different groups responded to that encouragement would be the subject of another book. With regards to the Prince argument you mention, I absolutely agree that some spectatorship theory has been ahistorical and universalizing in very problematic ways. We have a lot of data—not just on viewers but on theatre spaces, screen technologies and sound systems, and other material realities of film spectatorship—that should also be analysed.

People do not watch and interpret film and television in a vacuum; the spaces within which they watch and interpret are never ideologically neutral. I am interested in the way that exhibition technologies impart and influence messages about how we should interact with them and what we should value or abhor about specific media content. In the introduction to Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens , you argue: Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens is definitely a history; its last chapter is on peer-to-peer file sharing—and almost no one uses p2p technologies for their movie piracy anymore.

The improvement of streaming services and the continued spread of high-speed internet access have definitely impacted DVD sales, and all physical media sales are on the decline. But there are a lot of important questions we can ask about how different contemporaneous media platforms frame their content different. I recently finished a book chapter on the original Battlestar Galactica television series ABC , which has the distinction of being distributed on every major video platform since Media platforms are not redundant; they all frame their content in a different way. Understanding those distinctions is crucial for understanding our current media ecology.

Following on from the last question, why do you think Hollywood producers remain fixated on box office receipts as a signifier of triumph or failure? The first thing that comes to mind is that video revenues trickle in slowly, whereas the box office figures we see in the news are usually opening-weekend reports. It does not feel like news. Of course, all this begs the question of why newspapers are willing to report boring stories about weekend box office.

But that question deserves to be answered by a media industries specialist. I think people are increasingly aware that DTV and film distribution have permeable borders. I think we are on the cusp of seeing a major change in what cinema-going means culturally, which will likely change how viewers negotiate the distinction between a DTV and a cinematic release.

As ticket prices soar and theater owners offer more expensive, gourmet concessions, including beer, wine, and liquor, the ethos of cinema-going is changing, at least in the US. Almost all of the movie theaters in Washington, DC. They present going to the movies as a luxury experience, not a regular pastime. They often feature movies produced by Neflix, Amazon, and Hulu—movies that announce their future streaming platforms in their credit sequences.

Rather I am going for the anomaly of the theatrical experience, which does not speak to the quality or even the budget necessarily of the film. Similarly, contemporary horror fiction has been viewed as underpinned by golden age rhetoric, as pronounced by Paul Tremblay in a recent article in The Los Angeles Times. What do you think of these claims regarding cinema and literature? This is why directors from countries that had only rarely turned to it, like Spain or Italy, began to produce them en masse in the s and s. The returns were potentially handsome and the films themselves, shot economically, relatively risk-free.

Having said this, we also know that the success of one particular film or set of films normally brings about cycles: Psycho , The Exorcist , Paranormal Activity — these were all trend setters that generated a slew of imitators — and a stronger investment in the genre. I suspect what is at stake here is the scope and mainstream attention horror is receiving, something it has attracted less often.

But here we have very successful films It and Netflix series Stranger Things that have also resisted critical lambasting. There is a conference taking place this year on Stranger Things as cult text, and that seems interesting to me. And does that mean horror, fantasy and science fiction must always, by their very nature, remain cult? What changes is the amount of people attracted to it, and the critical mass and media attention it commands. What we are seeing is a consumer pool increasingly made up of nostalgic year-olds who were raised by the likes of King.

Bring on the new golden age of horror! Can you broadly summarise the key points of your research in this area and what you have learned about audiences and horror? I have always been fascinated by the human capacity to be horrified by something that we know is not real. A lot has been written and theorised about this, especially about the relationship between horrific bodies and those of cinema viewers. In Horror Film and Affect , my book from , I took issue with the privileging of the psychoanalytic approach to representation in Horror Studies that, in my view, is partly responsible for the conflation of learnt or cultural fear and the emotional and somatic aspects that are exclusive to the audio-visual horror experience.

It is fairly easy to assume that sympathy is responsible for the ways in which we are negatively affected by, for example, scenes of extreme and graphic violence. One of the things I show in that book is that somatic empathy — the capacity to engage with onscreen bodies and recognised their vulnerability — as well as the ability to anticipate and imagine pain are equally important.

This corporeal aspect of cinema is less written about because it does not intersect with identity politics and is thus perceived to be of less interest to a field interested in proving its social value. For me, affect and the body are not only fascinating, but inextricable from the experience of engaging with audio-visual horror.

As I have argued, the experience of horror is ultimately not defined by the temporal, spatial or thematic coordinates of the genre, but by the generation of a strong sense of vulnerability and the foregrounding of a harmful source of threat. I have always been interested in the ways bodies are represented in the Gothic mode, too, from monstrous corporealities and the exaggerations of the grotesque to the less anthropocentric echoes of the abhuman. This is the area I explored with Body Gothic , from , which was concerned with recuperating the body for contemporary Gothic Studies, especially following a turn to the spectral and the uncanny towards the beginning of the s.

Further work by the likes of Marie Mulvey-Roberts has followed, and I think it is an incredibly productive area for the Gothic. It is also one that is undergoing tremendous change at a time when the bodies that had previously been abjected and monstered gender, racial and sexual minorities, as well as the disabled body are being reconsidered.

Is this approach primarily theoretical or did the work involve audience research at all? After all, one of the big bugbears of psychoanalysis, for me, is precisely its universal models of psychosexual, unconscious and repressed experience archaic mothers, Oedipal complexes and so forth. I think part of the issue is that film is often theorised by scholars who work with literature and critical theory and philosophy, so the focus may end up remaining narrative and thematic, rather than cinematic.

Fear can be both learnt and ingrained. The former is primarily socio-cultural fear of black cats, say but the latter is somatic and connected to evolution and instinct. For me, this is about understanding how we engage with fictional horror through our bodies and brains, and about how we use senses and thinking processes borrowed from real life.

But of course, this is not to say that the whole turn to affect and the body would not benefit from research on viewing subjects, and I hope to be able to go there in the future. I also think that reception studies, especially fandom and non-cooperative viewers, are very interesting and deserving of attention. Matt Hills has done some brilliant work on fan audiences, and Julian Hanich recently wrote a really interesting book on how collective viewing filters cinema experiences.

There is clearly a lot more work yet to be carried out in this field, and it is incredibly exciting, especially because we are finally getting away from theories of horror that, to me, never felt experientially true. I think I would rather concentrate on some of my personal favourites, which is a way of answering this question without suggesting that there is a top five that everyone must read. As with all literature, canons are full of biases, and what I consider to be fascinating and ground-breaking may well feel old hat to someone else.

Given that all these writers are still the subject of academic work in the field, I am tempted to think so. In any case, here goes:. What can I say about this impressive collection of short stories that has not already been said a hundred times? It is also a rare instance of a first collection of horror short stories gaining critical acclaim and commercial success in publishing.

If the stories are not as stylistically polished as some of his other works — say, other much-loved works like The Hellbound Heart or Cabal — they make up for it in sheer wildness and complexity. It is such a shame that Barker has only ever sparingly returned to the short story. Billy Martin formerly Poppy Z. Brite , Lost Souls There is something about this novel about vampiric misfits and perambulating musicians that just spoke to me when I first read it in my teens.

It has stayed with me to this day. The lush, baroque prose and attractive downbeat subcultural jadedness of the main characters — Molochai, Twig and Zillah, the main vampires, but also Nothing, the teenager who does not belong in their community — are unparalleled in Gothic fiction. Very few people are able to portray gay characters with the psychological richness that Brite can. Lost Souls is a great example of how horror fiction often encompasses other narrative and genre modes, from the coming of age narrative to the road trip. My teenage self also loved the setting. Wherever you are born, there are always places you romanticise and fantasise about.

One of them, for me, continues to be the New Orleans of this novel, with its promise of chartreuse, culinary delights and nihilistic vampires. I love everything Brite wrote. The day he retired was a sad one for me. I went through a period in my teens, probably from the ages of 13 to 16, where I read little else but King.

There are many I love: Carrie , The Shining , Misery , the short story collections Night Shift and Nightmares and Dreamscapes , the novellas in Four Past Midnight , and so many others. And yet, the one I could never get was It. What a terrifying novel to read as a teenager! The size of it was scary enough, but Pennywise the clown never quite left my nightmares. Apart from its brilliant exploration of adulthood and friendship, this novel is one of the most interesting piece of fiction about fear.

An impressive book in many respects. I came late to this one, I must confess, first encountering while studying for my MA, but I have since had the pleasure of teaching it on at least two occasions. And what a wonderfully rich novel it is. Eleanor must be one of the most believable and complex characters in horror literature, and I love how Jackson only ever gives you just about information to draw you in and keep you in tenterhooks. A novel about oppressive family relationships, about growing up, about missed opportunities, about sexuality, about psychic powers and, of course, about hauntings.

The house becomes the main character, and this is what makes it so special. Together with Mark Z. Unforgettable and a rightful classic. Lovecraft, The Complete Fiction of H. I realise I am cheating here, but I simply could not choose between his many stories. Together with Poe, he is, in my opinion, the best horror short story and novella writer ever. And, like Poe, he got the unity of effect of this type of tale down to a tee. He is someone to savour, though. I can never read a lot of him in one go or in a rush. He is also the editor of Horror: I often joke that I was taught to read not by teacher or parent, but by the many novelists that were active during the horror fiction boom of the s and 80s: Smith—and of course, James Herbert and Stephen King.

But no one seemed to be concerned that many teens in the s were delving deeply into the dark recesses of literary horror. Indeed, video was the main political target, eventually leading to the formation of the Video Recordings Act in I have tried to seek some of these out on the internet, but, alas, like many fan objects, they fetch a hefty price.

At least I was reading! And read I did, gulping voraciously on these tales of the macabre and the dead. I would say it never did me any harm, but I expect anyone who knows me might have some long-lost memory to barter or bribe me with. Sadly, many of these authors have gone the way of the dinosaur. Ramsey Campbell is still active, and carries on experimenting, growing, adapting. But the halcyon days of the horror fiction boom has passed.

There may not be legions of paperbacks in bookstores, but horror fiction is alive and well. Over the past few years, I have found myself playing catch up and have thoroughly been enjoying the ride. This year alone I have been moved, stunned and in awe of great storytelling by contemporary horror novelists. Well, what are you waiting for? Xavier first entered my sphere with his edited anthology, Horror: A Literary History , a remarkable collection of essays that covers a lot of ground.

In the following interview, Xavier and I get into the legacy of H. I throughly enjoyed speaking with Xavier and learned a lot from our conversation even though I ended up stocking up my online shopping basket with more ghastly tales and adventures in the macabre. I hope you enjoy the next instalment in the Cult Conversations series. How would you describe your research interests for readers unfamiliar with your work and subject area? I mostly research Gothic and Horror film and literature, with the odd excursion into television.

I am absolutely fascinated by the emotions we associate with fear, and with the idea that something fictional, in whatever medium, can move us viscerally in the ways horror does. I am also intrigued with what horror allows writers, filmmakers, scriptwriters, etc. Lovecraft and more modern Stephen King, Poppy Z. In fact, I think the first book I ever bought for myself was a Goosebumps novel — I still remember my dad cautioning me about that I would not be able to sleep that night! But I actually started out as a modern and contemporary literature student. It was only while doing my MA in this subject at Birkbeck that I came across the Gothic as an artistic mode.

This capacious umbrella term seemed to conglomerate all of the artists and texts I admired. You could say I never got over its brilliance! Then I began a PhD under the tutelage of the wonderful Catherine Spooner, at Lancaster, and that took me, rather unexpectedly, in the direction of film. I started to explore the connections between fiction as an affective medium and cinema and drama, as it happens!

I have long been interested in horror film, but that came later in life. My tolerance for horror films was initially very low, and I even had nightmares where I tried to look away from a screen showing a horror film but my eyelids became see-through! It has rained a lot since then. I am lucky enough that I work at a place where I can develop my interests in Gothic and Horror Studies irrespective of media.

In short, I am interested in all things fictional considered dark and nasty, and am especially concerned with why they are considered dark and nasty and how they operate psychologically and socially. Would you consider yourself a fan of the texts and objects that you study?

Or put differently, what came first: It is a hard question to answer truthfully. You end up knowing too much about the conventions and become much more critical. Which is not to say that I no longer enjoy the topic or that fans are uncritical — quite the opposite! I would propose that I am now a lot more interested in the history and value of the Gothic and Horror, which, in turn, makes me more appreciative of its developments and of the contemporary writers who are doing something innovative. Being this immersed in a subject has also allowed me to discover writers and filmmakers who I would probably never have otherwise, so I guess it is swings and roundabouts.

I would say my fan interest informed the critic I am today, but also that I am an atypical horror fan. The lack of distance between fannish enthusiasm and academic interest is also what makes disconnecting from research harder: It is both a blessing and a curse.

It certainly appears to be the case that Lovecraft continues to be a vibrant source of intertextuality and homage in the twenty-first century both in literary quarter and across media. Are there any adaptations, extensions or homages etc. I am in awe of the scope of his imagination and his idiosyncratic writing — personally, I love his cumulative purple prose, which is very baroque and similar to the overwritten style of many a Gothic novel.

You have named a few of the writers who have either homaged or expanded Lovecraft in recent years and there are many more, even in non-English speaking countries like Spain — check out Emilio Bueso, although I do not think he has been translated into English yet , but his impact on horror is, I think, even larger.

So yes, I would never say we should forget the fact that he was an awful racist, but I certainly think that that side of his writing has not been what writers and readers have taken from his work. Lovecraft , as my intention with that anthology was to collect fiction that readers of more classical Gothic, say, M. James, who was also published in this series, might appreciate.

Those are all faves of mine. As you say, Lovecraft seems to have placed those writers well under his shadow. But what is it in particular that you think reading those lesser known authors—or at least less known than Lovecraft—are worth investigating, especially for readers not familiar with those works? It is obvious from his long essay Supernatural Horror in Literature that he was not just well read, but had a great sense of the various phases or periods of horror literature, and of where his work would eventually slot in.

James, and the previous one, where he writes about John Buchan and William Hope Hodgson Bierce is also covered in the book are revealing, for it is precisely what he sees as innovative in these writers. Shiel that still managed to produce something new and powerful. It is interesting that he pins the weird tale against the bloody murder and mystery of the Gothic his thoughts about the haunting of the past against the expansive nature of the weird are, of course, very interesting and valid , for in his fiction, he managed to often marry the two rather seamlessly.

What does the term mean to you? I also briefly covered it in Horror: A Literary History with apologies for the shameless plugs! The popular opinion is that the Gothic, previously called a genre, is rather an artistic mode that focused on the dark and the repressed, the fearful and the abject. According to this, horror would be one expression of the Gothic.

Personally, I see horror as a genre marked by the emotional effects it attempts to elicit in readers and viewers. This means that, unlike other genres like the Western, which may be more delimited by setting and characters, horror can take place anywhere in the past, in the present and in the future. Horror is marked by its treatment of the material, in other words.

Of course, as happens to all genres, notions of purity are hard to sustain, and horror comedies can merge fear with laughter unproblematically. I understand the Gothic to be an aesthetic mode delimited by its temporal retrojection to a barbaric or dark past the medieval period initially, but increasingly the Victorian that may manifest at the level of the building the haunted house and which tends to include certain characters: According to this line of thinking, the Gothic would be one more expression, a hybrid one that takes elements from the chivalric romance, of what has become the horror genre.

Since the horror genre does not begin out of nowhere, aspects of the Gothic have been recycled and modernised. Nowadays, I would say that a film like Crimson Peak is a Gothic horror film, but Aliens is an action film with horror elements and The Shape of Water is a monster romance with horror and fairy tale elements.

For me the key indicators of a genre are its predominant emotional primers, which is why I see horror as a genre and the Gothic as an aesthetic sometimes thematic mode or subgenre of horror, when the focus is fear. To answer the second part of your question: The Gothic has been through its own path of legitimisation since the s and, actively, since the s and the formation of the International Gothic Association, but for me the Gothic: The Gothic Imagination —15 were real game changers that signalled the word is definitely out there in the public sphere and that it has begun meaning something to people outside academia.

The downside of the mainstreaming of the word is that it has become rather ambiguous and vague, too pliable, if you like. For example, are all narratives that contain a ghost de facto Gothic? For me, the challenge is now to get to the heart of the Gothic. As it becomes, increasingly, its own set of theoretical and critical reading tools, matters are bound to get even more slippery. It all sounds quite murky in a conceptual sense. In cinematic terms, it took Peter Hutchings and David Pirie to bring Hammer Horror out of the pop culture dungeon and into academic appreciation.

Do you see the gothic penetrating contemporary horror cinema; and, if so, what do you think are prime candidates for the descriptor? Or indeed of any other work in the area. I think there is a lot to unpack there. For me the Gothic is aesthetic and thematic, and it is pervaded by the return of the barbaric past. That often takes the shape of the chronotopic castle and the Victorian mansion.

Although The Beano and AD are still being published in , what is it about the British comics industry that continues to demonstrate its value for scholarly investigation? I think that the British comics industry is a fascinating example of the intersections of creativity and commerce. By the end of the s there were at least fifty different titles in the UK, with more emerging in the s and s, and some had weekly circulations of a million or more School Friend in the s ; Jackie in the s. But the market collapsed in the s and today The Beano and Commando are the only ones to remain in print, alongside a selection of magazines that are predominantly based around toys and merchandise.

My research reveals that this had its roots in company policies, the denigration of creators and readers, economic factors, and a loss of clear direction and identity for previously distinct titles. When sales started to fall on an established title it would be merged with another to artificially boost the circulation figure.

This would keep it alive for a time, but there was always the possibility of it ending abruptly if sales kept falling. The merger strategy led to a loss of clear identity, and readers would quickly drift from the new combined title as their favourite stories or characters appeared less or were watered down. Having invested years of time, emotion and money, readers were understandably upset when their comic ended without warning — often with serials simply unfinished, or wrapped up abruptly and unconvincingly in a single episode.

For me—following critics such as Hannah Priest , Spooner and Buckley —this is just another example of how certain demographics such as young female audiences and consumers are marginalised and disregarded socially and critically. Acknowledging their agency and allowing their tastes to shape the canons of literature and popular media gives a quite different — and much wider — picture of what a genre such as Gothic can be.

In many ways it seems that Misty "plundered" images from pop culture—the Carrie analogue is an excellent example. I think the exploitation model you mention is exactly what Pat Mills had in mind for Misty. My role models were Carrie and Audrey Rose , suitably modified for a younger audience.

The back and forth between the two publishers had been going on for decades, across all genres. When DC Thomson's Warlord came out it had longer stories and dramatic layouts, and IPC responded to its military themes and gritty action. These were comics filled to the brim with trauma and angst, and this was the wave of which Spellbound and Misty would become a part.

It owes a lot to its stablemate Tammy and also competitor titles such as Diana and Spellbound. It also draws heavily on the surrounding atmosphere of horror in s Britain. The s were a strange time in the UK — uncertain politically and threatening globally — with terrible fashions, recessions and ideologies coexisting alongside great advances in technology, environmental law, and equalities.

Many of the Misty stories articulate specific fears of the decade environmental, social , and it also draws strongly on the contemporary new age witch in the character of Misty herself. So horror for both adults and children was at its zenith in the s, and Misty of course follows the cultural mood. A number of the Misty serials adapt contemporary horror books and films in different ways. It perhaps also takes its title and scenario from The Sentinel Konvitz, ; movie adaptation dir.

Winner, in which protagonist Alison discovers her Brooklyn apartment building contains the gate to hell and that she has been chosen by God to be its guardian. All of these categories resonate with Gothic themes power, control, persecution, isolation, suspense. But my analysis of Misty showed that the categories are seldom clear cut and around a quarter of its stories do not fall into any of these categories.

So instead I used an inductive approach: These included elements such as external magic; internal powers; wishes being granted; actions backfiring, and so forth. My findings were especially interesting as they revealed that the stories contained an emphasis on personal responsibility — echoing the dominant mood of s horror movies and other British media such as public information films.

Dark fantasy, ghost stories and alterities abound. At the cusp of the millennium imprints such as Point Horror or Goosebumps emerge. Many of the most popular have clear similarities, as young female protagonists experience isolation, transformation, and Otherness during a quest for individuation. I argue that this is an undertheorised subgenre, despite appearing over and over again in texts for young female readers around the cusp of the millennium.

It takes place in a magical realist world, focusing on a young female protagonist who is usually isolated or trapped in some way. The narrative enacts and mediates their wakening to this and their own magical potential. Temptation and transgression are the main catalysts, creating a clear moral or lesson, as traditional fairy tale sins greed, pride, laziness are common sources of conflict. In this way, Gothic for Girls constructs and acknowledges girlhood as an uncanny experience.

That's a very condensed version of my findings and my critical definition! Literary scholarship — including Gothic criticism — has also often treated its privileged texts as anomalies, for example citing the genius of Radcliffe or Shelley as exceptions to the norm. Rather than framing Misty as a title of exceptional brilliance, I use it as an exemplar of the unsung significance of British comics and their creators more generally.

Publishers are seeking to revitalise the comics industry today and comics studies is fast becoming its own academic discipline and thus creating its own canons both academic and fan-based. I think that the story of Misty demonstrates that we should aim for a more inclusive approach than has been the case previously in literature, art and society. In particular, perhaps, a Gothic for Girls? Originally serialised in British comic Taboo , the collected edition is a work of vast scope with extensive references and appendices.

Nothing like the abysmal movie, this comic is an impeccably researched retelling of the Whitechapel murders that terrorised Victorian London in Alan Moore brings in cosmology, conspiracy, black magic, secret societies, time travel and more to create a work of speculative faction that will mess with your understanding of history, time, and space. The oppressive darkness of a nighttime train journey is the catalyst and its skillfully evoked as Berry combines a sense of creeping menace with outright shock.

You can also read a preview for free at http: It tells the story of the three Locke children, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, who move to their ancestral home, Keyhouse, after their father is murdered. The American horror comics that sparked the introduction of the Comics Code are classics of the genre and well worth a read. Or dig into some less well-remembered titles from other publishers such as Atlas who would become Marvel , or Harvey Comics. Junji Ito is the master of Japanese horror — in particular body horror that simultaneously tends towards the psychological and pathological.

His most famous manga, Uzumaki , is about a town whose inhabitants become obsessed with spirals. If you like it then do check out his other work — Tomie is another great starting point. She has recently completed two AHRC-funded studies examining how digital transformations affect young people's reading. I have had the honour and pleasure of working alongside Julia Round since I secured my first full-time post at Bournemouth University. Not only have a learned a great deal from Julia over the past four years but I have also been continually impressed by her keen insights and rigorous scholarship—her monograph Gothic in Comics and Graphic Novels is an exceptional work and I highly recommend it.

In this interview, Julia and I discuss the Gothic, and the way in which comic books, especially in the UK, have engaged with the tenets and tropes of the phenomenon. I still have a lot to learn from Julia and consider myself a passionate student of her work, going back to when I was an undergraduate and PhD candidate at the University of Sunderland. In your monograph, Gothic in Comics and Graphic Novels , you begin by saying that: Was there anything in particular that instigated such a viewpoint?

One of the more obvious examples of Gothic themes in comics is, of course, the American horror comics of the s and s. They were absolutely dominant for a short period of time, circulating over 60 million copies per month. Like the earliest Gothic texts, these comics went against the grain of social acceptability: The problem was that they were sold on newsstands and to children, prompting widespread moral panic and a Senate investigation that forced the American industry to commit to a Code of self-censorship in In many ways this has shaped the comics medium in Britain and America today as it led to the dominance of the superhero genre and the rise of the underground.

There are historical parallels to be drawn, as comics have often been considered sensationalist, lowbrow and subversive — much like Gothic texts. Gothic themes also underpin many genres of comics — not just the obvious examples of horror comics. Today the genre has developed away from its action-driven origins, moving towards introspection and confessional narratives.

The cultures that surround Gothic and comics also share similarities. They both carry a weight of cultural assumptions and stereotypes, for example Goths are seen as depressed, morbid and pretentious, while comics are the domain of geeky fanboys and fangirls. We might consider Goth as an identity performance using surface appearance and fetishized commodities: Comics cosplay performs similar tensions, as it asserts individuality homemade costumes, the accompanying pose and performance, adaptations and subversions such as re-gendering whilst still adopting an industry-controlled image. Both Goth and comics subcultures present outwardly as a collaborative group, while remaining split internally in defence of particular titles or types of knowledge.

Finally, I think comics narratives exploit Gothic in their storytelling structure and formalist qualities, and this is the main subject of my first book. My own work synthesises and builds on these critics and uses Gothic critical theory to revalue their ideas. I use three key Gothic concepts haunting, the crypt, and excess to analyse the comics page.

I suggest that if we use this holistic approach to evaluate comics, we will find that every page employs one or more of these three tropes to enhance its message, and the way that it is used will give insight into the story. So for me, comics can be considered Gothic in historical, thematic, cultural, structural and formalist terms, and Gothic characteristics can be found in the most unlikely of places one of my articles analyses the uncanny perspectives and destabilised narrative used in the Care Bears comics! The tensions and paradoxes between surface and depth have always appealed to me.


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  • When did your journey into comics begin? Would you consider yourself a fan first and foremost? Or was it academic study that sparked your interest in the medium? I read comics as a kid, but not obsessively. Hellblazer, Preacher and of course Sandman were the first ones I remember reading, thanks to my brother. They grabbed my attention and challenged my expectations of what I thought could be done with narrative and storytelling. They were also irreverent, parodic, and self-aware, and I loved that. My academic study did play a big part in honing my interest in comics though.

    When I began to encounter critical theory in earnest during my undergraduate degree BA English Literature, Cardiff University , I became interested in genre theory and semiotics. The Vertigo comics told stories that I thought really pushed the boundaries of genre, and exploited the Romantic notion of the author, using structure and semiotics to create reflexive meaning. My supervisor was landmark Gothic theorist David Punter, which doubtless shaped my thesis as I explored the applicability and use of different genre models in contemporary comics, such as myth, the Fantastic, and Gothic. In your view, how might Gothic be best described?

    I think Gothic is hard to categorise because it is so wide-ranging. It takes on different forms at different times and in different media. Even if we just focus on Gothic literature, how can we find a definition that reconciles texts ranging from The Castle of Otranto Walpole, to Twilight Meyers, ? They are miles apart in historical, philosophical, formal, generic and cultural terms. Gothic motifs have changed as the genre developed — Fred Botting identifies a turn from external to internal, and contemporary Gothic incorporates suburbia alongside the haunted castle.

    Its archetypes have also shifted — vampires are now sympathetic Nina Auerbach , and zombies have moved from living slaves to cannibalistic corpses, and back again to an infected human. Critical approaches to Gothic are equally diverse, and many critics argue that Gothic is more than a genre, and may be better understood as a mode of writing or ur-form David Punter , a poetic tradition Anne Williams , a rhetoric Robert Mighall , a discursive site Robert Miles , or a habitus Timothy Jones.

    Gothic is also full of contradictions — mobilising fear and attraction simultaneously and inviting us to read its texts as both shockingly transgressive taboo acts and events and rigidly conservative as these acts are punished and order restored. Gothic remains notoriously hard to define in all these models, and somewhat tautological.

    Critics like Baldick and Mighall have pointed out that most definitions really tell us more about what Gothic does than what it actually is. Critics such as Catherine Spooner , and Chloe Buckley also draw attention to overlooked Gothics that are celebratory or playful and which rely more on aesthetics than thematics. So Gothic becomes multiple and mutable, ranging from parody to pain, and can appear as affect, aesthetic, or practice. Punter and Jerrold E. Fear is of course a key element, although subjective, and so many critics focus on its textual presence rather than speculating about reader response, and try to identify the various forms that fear can take — most famously writer Ann Radcliffe separates it into terror the unseen and speculative and horror the dramatic and repulsive.

    For me, Gothic is a mode of creation both literary and cultural that draws on fear and is both disturbing and appealing. It is an affective and structural paradox: It is built on confrontations between opposing ideas, and contains an inner conflict characterised by ambivalence and uncertainty. It inverts, distorts, and obscures. Its common tropes which are both aesthetic and affective include temporal or spatial haunting, a reliance on hidden meaning the crypt , and a sense of excess beyond control — and these are the three key components of my critical approach to comics.

    Within Gothic I recognize the distinctions that Radcliffe draws between terror the threatening, obscured and unknown and horror the shocking, grotesque and obscene. Alongside these terms I also recognize horror as a cinematic and literary genre that privileges this second type of fear: Is there a critical and conceptual distinction between the Gothic tradition and horror?

    Do you see these two functioning as a binary or do they possess a more closely knit relationship? I think there is a distinction between Gothic and horror. In general there is agreement that Gothic terror is psychological and insidious while horror is violent and confrontational see for example Gina Wisker ; Dale Townshend , although the categories sometimes cross and blur. I also think medium has also played a part in validating and distinguishing the two.

    So within Gothic I follow the distinctions Radcliffe draws between horror and terror, but alongside these terms I also recognize horror as a cinematic and literary genre that privileges this second type of fear. When it comes to horror I certainly think there has been a value judgement made of the type you suggest — but alongside this I would stress that only one particular type of Gothic has been canonised the serious, weighty, literary and often historical.

    So within Gothic itself there is a tension and a disparagement of certain types — particularly relating to the tastes of particular audiences such as young girls. What authors and artists do you think have successfully adopted the Gothic aesthetic in their works? Are they historically contingent or is it more widespread that we might commonly think? I want to pick that question apart a little first as I think a Gothic aesthetic is different from a Gothic thematic. These aesthetic Gothics are often denigrated and viewed as lightweight, and there is a danger that when we analyse them we resort to simply listing motifs.

    I think Gothic has a complicated relationship between surface and depth; where aesthetic motifs can be linked with affective themes, but can also be decoupled. Purely aesthetic Gothics are often denigrated, like the works of Burton, which have been criticised as lightweight and superficial. But Gothic has always been populist, and if we trace a path back through the Romance, sensationalist and Decadent genres as critics such as Crawford have done we can see that Gothic is in fact very widespread, varied, and popular in all its different forms.

    However, Misty may be somewhat alien to readers outside the field and British geography. Can you explain what it is about Misty that you find worthy of academic enquiry? The serials were generally tales of personal growth where a heroine is thrown into the middle of a mystery, for example by receiving a magic item, or strange powers. But the single stories were even better — horrible cautionary tales in which bad heroines were punished in a number of very imaginative ways!

    They might be trapped permanently in magical items such as crystal balls, snow globes, music boxes, or weather houses; aged prematurely; ousted from their bodies; or transformed into something monstrous! They can also die in a number of horrible ways. I think it has stood the test of time due to some great storytelling and fantastic artwork.

    But the comic that Misty became was much more than just horror rewrites. Its first editor Wilf Prigmore introduced the character of Misty herself, its fictional host and editor, who is beautifully drawn by Shirley Bellwood and acts as a sort of spirit guide to its readers. Its main editor Malcolm Shaw was a wonderful writer who shaped Misty around his own literary interests in science fiction and myth. The art came from a number of British and European artists who were absurdly talented — many of the Spanish artists who worked on Misty were also drawing for American horror titles such as Creepy and Eerie Warren Publishing at the same time, and they did not pull their punches.

    I led a small research project that combined qualitative and quantitative analysis of layout and used the findings to reflect on current formalist comics theory — the findings were very illuminating! So although it is a great example of Gothic storytelling structure and themes, I think Misty can also tell us a lot about the motivations and limitations of the British comics industry see below , the aesthetics of comics storytelling, and at a wider level the intersections of genre and gender.

    My in-depth page analysis of Misty found that the vast majority of the pages were transgressive in some way, and I used these findings to reflect on established comics theory from scholars such as Thierry Groensteen and Neil Cohn. It led me to rethink many ideas about page layouts. The project also looks closely at how Gothic archetypes, tropes and themes are being reworked for a younger readership.

    As I mentioned above, the tastes of young female audiences have often been mocked and marginalised, and so there is a significant gap in scholarly material around these texts and their distribution that is only just starting to be addressed. Analysing the types of narratives that are offered to these readers tells us a lot about the cultural construction of gender and about the way in which genres like Gothic have been conceptualised and curated, excluding the tastes of particular demographics and privileging a narrow view of the genre.

    So although it began as an attempt to track down a half-remembered story and explore my ideas about Gothic in comics from a new angle, my Misty project has grown far beyond that.