CULT FILM CONFERENCE
WE ARE ALL HAUNTED HOUSES: THE CULT OF THE UNCANNY
17. 4. 2020 / 14:00 – 17:00 / Kinodvor
The Cult Film Conference is presented in collaboration with Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK) and chaired by Dr Russ Hunter, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at Northumbria. Free admission. Lectures are conducted in English.
That which disquiets us the most is – ironically – that which superficially appears most familiar to us: The zombie is terrifying because it looks like a human being, but doesn’t act like one; the more lifelike robots become, the more they unsettle us as they straddle a disturbing line between the human and non-human; the darkness when we return home late at night scares us partly because it renders us blind, but also because everything we know is now unfamiliar (even though it is still there); that eerie sound in the dead of night makes us fearful because, in an environment where we feel comfortable, it is out of place, unexpected. Our talks this year, in one way or another, address the uncanny – that feeling that something is familiar (but out of place), that something can’t quite be categorised (but perhaps can), that feeling, in short, that something odd is going on. Drawing upon the work of E. T. A. Hoffmann, it has been elaborated upon most notably by Sigmund Freud who saw the kinds of uncanny instances outlined above as being related to our own deeply repressed impulses and that ultimately threatened our own sense of control. In her A Tribute to Freud, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) noted that that “we are all haunted houses” and our two talks this year will, each in their own way, approach this fact. Dr Alexia Kannas will examine the ways in which that most ‘canny’ of places – the home – is so often explored via the haunted house motif in cinema. Taking a very different tact, Dr Claire Nally will explore the ways in which the persona of Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) represented a curious intersection between a range of identities and ideological positions. Both talks will be followed by a panel discussion with Dr Alexia Kannas, Dr Claire Nally and Dr Steve Jones on the issues of the uncanny in cinema.
– Dr Russ Hunter (Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK)
Dr Russ Hunter is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television in the Department of Arts at Northumbria University. His research focuses on Italian genre cinema, European horror cinema and genre film festivals. He has published on a variety of aspects of Italian and European genre cinema and is the co-editor (with Stefano Baschiera) of Italian Horror Cinema (2016). He is currently writing Italian Horror: A History, which will be published by Edinburgh University Press. He has published in numerous film encyclopedias and reference guides and works closely with a number of European genre film festivals.
One Cry in the Night, One Laugh Afterwards: The Haunted House on Film
Dr Alexia Kannas (RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
What characterises the peculiar allure of the cinematic haunted house? Its tattered curtains, creaking floorboards and inexplicably cold and sudden draughts should feel clichéd; everyone knows that if the lights don’t switch on, something is wrong. And yet we return to them, time and time again. If the home is understood as a place of sanctuary and familiarity, the haunted house is a place of temporal and spatial destabilisation – a literal manifestation of Freud’s unheimlich or “unhomely”, in which we experience what Barry Brummett calls “the paradoxical conjunction of normally separate dimensions.” This talk examines the horror and the pleasures of cinematic haunted houses, and explores these places of paradox in a range of films including Segundo de Chomón’s The Haunted House (La maison ensorcelée, 1908), Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage, 1960), Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962) and Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992).
Dr Alexia Kannas is Lecturer in Media and Cinema Studies in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and Co-director of the Screen & Sound Cultures Research Group. Her research concerns topics in cult cinema, film genre and performance. She is the author of Deep Red (Columbia University Press/Wallflower, 2017) and GIALLO: Genre, Modernity and Detection in Italian Horror Cinema (SUNY, 2020).
Camp, Kitsch and Cassandra Peterson: The Role of Elvira in Goth Subculture
Dr Claire Nally (Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK)
This talk explores the persona of Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) as a model of camp, kitsch femininity and as an influence on the goth subculture. Relatedly but not synonymously, Elvira has played an important role in the construction of the vamp as a part of gothic femininity. Through her iconic, cult films Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988) and Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001), the character has cemented links between goth subculture, horror and performativity, as well as highlighting the ways in which gatekeeping and ownership of gothic tropes have been navigated and reappropriated. This is especially apparent in the ways Elvira draws on Maila Nurmi’s Vampira (which she successfully defended against legal action), and Carolyn Jones’s Morticia Addams. Fundamental to Elvira’s iconic status is a postmodern, self-reflexive approach to identity, which is underpinned by parody and subversive campness. This, I argue, allows the character to articulate aspects of goth subculture which might be best expressed as non-standard sexualities. Elvira’s sexuality draws on BDSM and fetishism, as well as knowing humour and a wry take on patriarchal institutions. However, despite this positive inflection, I will argue that Elvira may also represent what Moe Meyer (1994) has characterised as ‘camp trace’ – a depoliticised camp which may be reappropriated by mainstream discourses of sexuality and gender. As such, she also reflects the dilemma of subcultural performance in goth, insofar as the articulation of perversity is also a characteristic which may be implicated in or co-opted by the very systems it seeks to undermine (commodity, capitalism, heteronormativity). As such, Elvira’s image is charged with ideological complexity, but one which is pervasive in terms of the intersection between horror and goth iconography.
Dr Claire Nally is an Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Northumbria University, UK. She researches Irish Studies, Neo-Victorianism, Gender and Subcultures. She published her first monograph, Envisioning Ireland: W. B. Yeats’s Occult Nationalism (2009), followed by her second book, Selling Ireland: Advertising, Literature and Irish Print Culture 1891–1922 (written with John Strachan, 2012). She has co-edited a volume on Yeats, and two volumes on gender, as well as the library series ‘Gender and Popular Culture’ for Bloomsbury (with Angela Smith). She has written widely on subcultures, including goth and steampunk. Her monograph on this subject, Steampunk: Gender, Subculture and the Neo-Victorian was published by Bloomsbury (2019).
Panel Discussion: The Uncanny in Cinema
The talks will be followed by a panel discussion on the issues of the uncanny in cinema.
With Dr Alexia Kannas, Dr Claire Nally and Dr Steve Jones. Chaired by Dr Russ Hunter.
Dr Steve Jones is Head of Media in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University, UK, and Adjunct Research Professor in Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa. His research principally focuses on sex, violence, ethics and selfhood within horror and pornography. He is the author of Torture Porn: Popular Horror After Saw (2013). His work has been published in Feminist Media Studies, Sexuality & Culture, Sexualities, Porn Studies
and Film-Philosophy. He is also on the editorial board of Porn Studies. His published articles can be accessed for free at http://www.drstevejones.co.uk/publications.html.