CULT FILM CONFERENCE: 

TRASH OR TREASURE? THE POLITICS OF GENRE CINEMA

21. 4. 2017 / 14:00 – 17:30 / Kinodvor

The existence and continued growth of festivals that focus upon the horror, sci-fi and fantasy film genres and cult cinema (what we might broadly term ‘genre film festivals’) has been particularly notable in Europe, demonstrating the vibrancy and diversity of genre fandom. At present there are over one hundred such events taking place in Europe alone on an annual basis. These are important sites for the exhibition, celebration and promotion of genre film production, allowing fans to come together as a community and engage not just with each other but to meet those involved in the films themselves. It is often easy to dismiss the cultural significance of ‘the popular’ and genre cinema has often been viewed as disposable escapism without any cultural importance. Its lowbrow status has often seen it positioned as, at best, superficial and ephemeral and at worst as trash. However, over the last two decades film scholars have increasingly argued that genre film production has a value beyond mere entertainment, suggesting it can have cultural, social and political meaning too. The talks in this one-day conference all engage with films that have, at various times, been viewed as lowbrow, problematic or disposable and argue that there is a greater significance to such films than is often assumed. – Dr Russ Hunter (Northumbria University, UK)

Free admission. Lectures will be conducted in English. The conference is open to the general public. Coffee breaks and refreshments will be provided for.

Countercultural Cult: Politics, Drugs, Freedom and Disillusionment in American Cinema 1967-75

Dr Jamie Sexton (Northumbria University, UK)

This talk will discuss a number of American counterculture cult films released in the late 1960s and 1970s. This was an era in which exploitation filmmaking, art cinema and Hollywood converged to an unprecedented extent, and in which youth cultures became increasingly politicized. A number of films attempting to appeal to countercultural audiences were subsequently released by independent companies, most prominently A.I.P., closely followed by Hollywood-produced counterculture films which reflected New Hollywood’s more radical aesthetic and political turn. These films linked to a number of prominent countercultural concerns and interests: political freedom from restrictive social structures; sexual liberation; drugs as an aid to mental freedom and exploration; generational tensions; rock music. Many of them became staples in exhibition circuits most linked to cult cinema throughout the 1970s: the midnight movie circuit and campus screenings. Film discussed include The Trip (Corman, 1967), Wild in the Streets (Shear, 1968), Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969), Gas-s-s-s (Corman, 1970), Medium Cool (Wexler, 1969), Zabriskie Point (Antonioni, 1970), Woodstock (Wadleigh, 1970), The Last Movie (Hopper, 1971), and Jodorowsky’s epic US-Mexican co-produced The Holy Mountain (1973). Chock full of clips from a period in which trippy idealism often vied with political disillusionment, I’ll also mention some of the odder countercultural productions such as Otto Preminger’s disastrous attempt to get down with youth culture, Skidoo (1968), and the dark, Manson-inspired trash horror I Drink Your Blood (Durston, 1970).

Dr Jamie Sexton is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at Northumbria University, UK. His research is mostly concerned with alternative forms of film and other media, particularly cult and independent cinema. He is the author of Alternative Film Culture in Inter-War Britain (2008), editor of Music, Sound and Multimedia: From the Live to the Virtual (2007), and co-editor (with Laura Mulvey) of Experimental British Television (2007). Together with Dr Ernest Mathijs he co-authored Cult Cinema (2011), an in-depth academic examination of all aspects of the field of cult cinema, including audiences, genres, and theoretical perspectives. Sexton and Mathijs are also co-editors of the book series Cultographies (http://www.cultographies.com).

Previously Banned: The ‘Video Nasties’ and Moral Panic as Marketing Strategy on DVD

Dr Kate Egan (Aberystwyth University, UK)

For writers on film censorship like Annette Kuhn, censorship can, however inadvertently, be productive, in terms of its social and cultural consequences.  This talk will explore this claim through the case study of the ‘video nasties’ – a group of horror films, from different national contexts (primarily the USA, Canada, Italy, Germany, and Spain), that were the target of a press-fuelled moral panic from 1982-4, were then banned on video in Britain under the 1984 Video Recordings Act, but which then, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, began to re-emerge on DVD in British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) approved and certified versions.  By focusing on and analysing the DVD packaging and marketing strategies that accompanied the re-release of some of these titles (including The Driller Killer, Cannibal Holocaust and Zombie Flesh Eaters), this talk will explore how a film’s relations to a past, politically-fuelled moral panic held the potential to be used as a commercial selling point for DVD distributors.

Dr Kate Egan is a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies at Aberystwyth University, UK. Her main research interests are in the areas of historical reception studies, horror and genre study, film censorship, and media collecting. She is the author of Trash or Treasure?: Censorship and the Changing Meanings of the Video Nasties (2007) and The Evil Dead (2011), co-editor (with Sarah Thomas) of Cult Film Stardom (2012) and co-author (with Martin Barker, Tom Phillips and Sarah Ralph) of Alien Audiences: Understanding the Pleasures of Ridley Scott’s Film (2016).

Torture Porn as Political Allegory

Dr Steve Jones (Northumbria University, UK)

Horror films are often dismissed by critics, who presume that fans mainly watch horror films for physical thrills (shocks, jumps, excitement), rather than intellectual stimulation. One common way of defending horror against such accusations is to suggest that beneath the gore, the filmmakers have something serious to say about the real-world; that some horror films have political allegorical subtexts. That defence has been presented in relation to torture porn; a cycle of horror films that focuses on the abduction and torment of the protagonists. Numerous press critics, film-makers, and academics have sought to defend films such as Saw and Hostel by suggesting that torture porn movies pass comment on the War on Terror, encompassing 21st century terrorism, 9/11, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and the Bush Administration’s torture sanctions. However, there are a number of problems with this defence. First, this political allegorical reading has been repeated so often that it has become the single answer as to why torture porn is significant, meaning that little attention has been paid to the wide diversity of torture porn films and the variety of reasons that they are interesting. Second, many of the published political readings are far too blunt, making crass comparisons between the films and real-world events that do not reveal anything significant about either the films or the political situation. These scholars have also routinely ignored the fact that sadistic, intentional violence is one of horror’s staple themes; torture is not what makes “torture porn” unique. This presentation argues that although political allegorical readings of films can be interesting and valuable, unless the technique is approached with care, it can also lead to self-fulfilling, superficial interpretations.

Dr Steve Jones is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University, UK. His teaching interests are based in cultural politics, moral philosophy, the philosophy of self, and identity (particularly gender). His work mainly centres on horror, pornography, and representations of violence. He is the author of Torture Porn: Popular Horror after Saw (2013) and co-editor (with Shaka McGlotten) of Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead (2014). His published articles can be accessed for free at http://www.drstevejones.co.uk/publications.html.