CULT FILM CONFERENCE
June 8 – 11 / 14:00 CEST / online
The online conference is free, accessible worldwide and conducted in English. The conference is chaired by Dr Russ Hunter, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK). The final talk will be followed by a discussion with the conference speakers, moderated by Dr Hunter.
All talks will be posted on this website and the festival YouTube channel according to schedule, and will remain accessible for viewing also after the festival.
Introduction by Dr Russ Hunter
As we all pin our hopes on the swift and effective rollout of a COVID19 vaccine, I can’t help but reflect on how important science is to us all. Indeed, it seems trite to make such an observation, but the global pandemic has focused our attention on just how central a role science plays in a return to normality and the basic functioning of our lives. And yet, and yet… If the last year has shown us anything it’s also just how important culture is to us. How important cinema’s capacity to transport us to another world is. How film feeds the soul. How much we miss being in the cinema and how much we miss sharing the nourishing fruits that watching films together give us. We’ve all missed that feeling of coming out of a film screening on a high and desperately wanting to share our thoughts, good, bad, and indifferent, about what we have just seen. In so many ways the communal quality of cinema as a medium for sharing ideas, as a way of looking at the world and even as an argument starter has been a painful loss to us. Our souls are poorer for its absence. Kurja Polt, of course, wondrously – marvellously – always allows to immerse ourselves in the sometimes crazed, sometimes offbeat, but always fulfilling, world of genre cinema. We have missed you Kurja Polt.
This year – alas – we cannot meet in Ljubljana, so we are going online! Over four days from Tuesday June 8th to Friday June 11th we will be presenting to you a talk each day, culminating in a roundtable Q&A amongst all of the conference speakers where we try to tie together the crazy world of genre cinema we will have presented to you in the preceding four days. As such, the Cult Film Conference will look a little different than it normally does. The unusual circumstances surrounding the pandemic have allowed us to rip up the rulebook (not that there is one but as I am British, I like to think there is) and present to you talks on a wide-range of topics. This year you are getting the fruits of academic projects that our speakers are currently working on and having a sneak-peak before the work is published. We have Laura Mee and Shellie McMurdo (University of Hertfordshire) looking at the place of what is usually perceived to be a ‘dead media’, video, and exploring what place it has in contemporary horror cinema. Alexia Kannas (RMIT University) will explore the ways in which film reflects the haunting quality of Melbourne’s post-punk scene. Film conference stalwart Steve Jones (Northumbria University) focuses our attention on a new trend in an old sub-genre, the metamodern slasher. Johnny Walker (Northumbria University) unpicks horror’s claims to being an area of activist potential by examining the short film The Herd (2014) and focusing on the politically engaged drive of its filmmakers. All talks that address very different aspects of the genre cinema that we love and, perhaps, their wide-ranging nature speaks nicely to the offbeat, disconcerting and dizzying year we have all faced.
Of course, being online means we won’t be able to do our favourite things for at least another year: we look forward to enjoying the festival in Ljubljana with you all next year and, of course, eating excessive amounts of čevapi, drinking beer at the Kinodvor and, most importantly, getting to hang out with the wonderful audience at Kurja Polt. So, save us some seats and, more importantly, keep my Laško on ice.
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 a book on Italian giallo and horror director Dario Argento. He has published in numerous film encyclopaedias and reference guides and works closely with a number of European genre film festivals.
June 8 / 14:00 CEST
Presentation by Dr Shellie McMurdo and Dr Laura Mee
The horror genre and video culture have long been intertwined. In contemporary horror media however, video is utilised in various ways: as an object of nostalgia to be collected, as a reverent nod to the genre’s past, to foreground a gritty analogue aesthetic, or to engage with the horror of repetition, recycling, and recording – areas which are ever more relevant in our hypermediated world. This talk will explore how video is used as an object of terror in recent horror films, and how video aesthetics enhance the horrifying elements of genre texts, for example through the use of glitches, static or other forms of analogue decay. Through analysis of a range of case studies including Videomannen (Kristian A. Söderström, 2018), Beyond the Gates (Jackson Stewart, 2016), Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998) and V/H/S (David Bruckner et al, 2012), we will show how contemporary horror remains attached to a spectral past full of fading memories of VHS rental stores and 1980s horror, while underlining the malevolent possibilities of dead media in our digital world.
Dr Shellie McMurdo is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Roehampton. She is the author of Blood on the Lens: North American Found Footage Horror Cinema and Cultural Trauma (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming) and Pet Sematary for the Devil’s Advocate series (Liverpool University Press). She has previously published on American Horror Story and serial killer fandoms, post-peak torture horror, and has a forthcoming chapter on Blumhouse Productions. Shellie is a co-convenor for the BAFTSS Horror Studies subject interest group, and her research interests are contemporary American horror cinema, dead media, and cultural trauma.
Dr Laura Mee is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at the University of Hertfordshire, UK, where she also leads the Media Research Group in the School of Creative Arts. She is co-convenor of the BAFTSS Horror Studies SIG. Her research focuses on horror cinema, adaptation, and seriality. She is the author of Reanimated: The Contemporary American Horror Film Remake (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming) and Devil’s Advocates: The Shining (Auteur, 2017), and has published on rape-revenge remakes, the critical reception of horror remakes, Room 237 and cinephilia, and American Psycho and gender.
June 9 / 14:00 CEST
Presentation by Dr Alexia Kannas
The Melbourne post-punk scene of the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s has developed an international reputation as an important and vital moment, yet it is curiously absent from many “official” cultural histories produced in Australia. Initiating the careers of renowned figures such as Nick Cave, Lisa Gerrard and Rowland S. Howard, the scene was a melting pot of ideologically-charged musical and visual arts experimentation that was, as scholar Darren Tofts has pointed out, “hostile to memorialization and longevity, to making history”. This talk will explore the ways film has worked as medium for the returning spectre of the Melbourne post-punk scene, helping to frame the subculture as one which “haunts” the contemporary. It will consider how Richard Lowenstein’s cult feature film Dogs in Space (1986) and his documentaries We’re Livin’ on Dog Food (2009) and Autoluminescent (2012), as well as Donna McRae’s film Johnny Ghost (2012), draw on the figure of the ghost and the notion of spectrality in order to recuperate and make visible this intangible cultural history.
Dr Alexia Kannas is Lecturer in Media & Cinema Studies at RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia). Her research interests lie in the areas of cult cinema; acting and performance; film music; and the representation of place and landscape. She is the author of two books: Deep Red (Columbia University Press/Wallflower, 2017) and Giallo!: Genre, Modernity and Detection in the Italian Horror Film (State University of New York Press, 2020). She is currently writing a monograph on haunting, place and performance in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. (1950).
June 10 / 14:00 CEST
Presentation by Dr Steve Jones
The slasher – also known as the ‘stalk and slash’ or ‘slice and dice’ movie – is a staple horror subgenre. The slasher film has developed through different phases since the late 1970s, including the period of supernatural slashers and sequels in the 1980s, and the Scream-inspired postmodern slasher era of the mid-1990s. This talk will focus on a more recent trend: the metamodern slasher phase, which began in the mid-00s. A comparison with the postmodern slasher will help to explain what distinguishes the metamodern slasher from its predecessors. The postmodern slasher tends to be cynical, flippant or even nihilistic in tone, playing games with the viewer. It also snarkily points out the subgenre’s “rules”, suggesting that conventions are permanent, and that originality is no longer possible. In contrast, the metamodern slasher attempts to innovate within the subgenre. Metamodern slasher films also use ironic humour to make sincere points about the subgenre. These filmmakers take the same approach used by meme creators who respond to political crises: employing ironic humour to make serious points about events that genuinely matter. This talk will examine films such as Triangle (2009), Axe Murdering with Hackley (2016), and Getting Schooled (2017) to demonstrate how the metamodern slasher film works, and why it is significant.
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.
June 11 / 14:00 CEST
Presentation by Dr Johnny Walker
It is increasingly common for scholars and journalists to make claims of horror cinema’s potential to engage with socio-political realities and, in so doing, identify grave social injustices. This presentation argues that, if one is to make a true assessment of the extent to which horror films might effect social change, one needs to look towards activist communities within which filmmakers are using the genre as part of a broader effort to do precisely that. In so doing, I theorize ‘Activist Horror Film’ in relation to a British short film, The Herd; a film cultivated as part of the vegan-feminist protest movement. The talk begins by situating The Herd within the context of scholarship about socially-charged horror films, before moving to consider the film’s broader activist context and that of its production, the crowd-funding campaign that led to its completion, the film’s content, the movie’s presence at film festivals and online, and its afterlife within circles of vegan/animal welfare activism. One contends that The Herd, as the first Activist Horror Film, is easily distinguished from other socially-aware horror films of the contemporary moment, for the activism of its makers is what drives it, the context that birthed it, and the context within which it continues to be shown.
Dr Johnny Walker is Senior Lecturer in Media at Northumbria University. His books include, as author, Contemporary British Horror Cinema: Industry, Genre and Society (2015), and, as co-editor, Grindhouse: Cultural Exchange on 42nd Street, and Beyond (2016). He is founding co-editor of Bloomsbury’s Global Exploitation Cinemas book series, sits on the editorial board of the Horror Studies series published by the University of Wales Press, and is soon to be Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded project “Raising Hell: British Horror Film in the 1980s and 1990s”.