Day Outline

Don’t Look: Representations of Horror in the 21st Century, Room 3.24, St Leonard’s Land, University of Edinburgh 

08:30am-09:00am: Registration (Moray House)

09:00am-09:10am: Opening Remarks

09:10am-10:00am: Panel 1: Horror and the Body

  1. Sara Petrucci -University of Neuchâtel:

Weightless Bodies and Geographies of Horror: Visions of Liminal Spaces in the Internet Age

This paper examines selected contemporary artworks, whose visual narratives articulate bodies constrained by paradoxical gravity and states of altered consciousness. It aims to understand to what extent these representations of weightless bodies, transformed by new means of information and technology, are key in the building of new fantasized geographies anchored on ancient fears.

In Stranger Things (2017), Will’s unconscious body is at the interplay between his familiar world and the “upside down”, a possible dark allusion to the real Web. In the film Get Out (2017), the images of the protagonist’s body floating into the void provide a striking metaphor of his progressive loss of identity. My assumption is that images of gravity-free bodies reveal the fear of being possessed by occult entities, technological ghosts or other forms of zombifying power. The dread of being trapped in a hostile reality was already at the core of horror films such as The Exorcist (1973), Poltergeist (1982) and Videodrome (1983). Building on the horror genre, the work of the visual artist Lauren Huret (b. 1984) draws on cyber anxiety to emphasise the danger of a performative vision. The Lithuanian artist and designer Julijonas Urbonas engages pleasure and horror through his concept of gravitational sublime. Tony Oursler (b. 1957) has created an uncanny aesthetic of the imponderable by reloading images of past séances and ancient occult beliefs. Centred on the treatment of weightless bodies by these artists, my paper will discuss how new media allows them to elaborate new forms of fictions as well as offer new perceptions of horror to the viewer.

  1. Edward Falvey – University of Exeter:

Mediating Monstrosity: The Human Body as Metatext in Contemporary Horror

Historically, the human body has primarily been employed by horror filmmakers in one of two ways: either, the horror body functions as a site of exploitation which capitalises on cultural prejudices towards various embodiments of otherness; or, otherwise, the body figures as a platform to make covert points about otherness, and the process of othering, that is usually denied space in fringe genres such as horror. It is the position of this paper to argue that the shift from the former to latter – that is, the body’s representative capacity to critique systems of othering – has characterised some of the more significant recent horror texts. Indeed, much has been written on the historical trajectory of body horror from Tod Browning’s carnivalesque Freaks to the acclaimed body horror tradition of the 1970s and 80s, best represented by the works of David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Fly) and others. Rather than merely offer a systematic comparison of recent body horrors to the ones that preceded them, I will claim that the films I will be discussing here make use of the tropes and aesthetics of the genre while providing metatextual critical examinations of the ways in which the human body has functioned, and can function, as a structure upon which anxieties surrounding otherness are hung. Over the course of this paper I will explore the ways in which the body functions as a metatext, a highly visible if highly ambiguous site and source of meaning. Looking primarily at contemporary horror films such as Get Out, Raw, and Don’t Breathe, this paper will treat the body as a primary locus from which meaning is generated to argue that contemporary horror mediates pertinent discussions regarding identity, privilege, monstrosity, and the genre itself. As clearly politicised and culturally coded signifiers, bodies determined by difference provide more than just the site of “horror” in such films, they go further to provide evidence of the ever-shifting way in which the body, and those represented by such bodies, figure discursively

10:00am-11:20am: Panel 2: Horror Across Media

  1. Barbara Chamberlin – University of Sussex

Revive, Reuse and Recycle: Revisiting Sabrina

The first ten years of the twenty-first century has been dubbed the ‘Re’-decade (Reynolds, 2011: xx) due to the profusion of ‘revivals, reissues, remakes, re-enactments’ (ibid). Whilst Reynolds specifically explores this in relation to music, the same can be said of other media texts, genres and disciplines. Horror is no exception; examples include successful horror texts such as the 2017 remake of IT and the TV series Stranger Things which deliberately echo the eighties or the sixties technicolour retro-fantasy pastiche of 2016’s The Love Witch. As overtly nostalgic texts, these can be critiqued for lacking wholly original material yet originality may lie in the juxtaposition of existing material and ideas. In turn, this may offer the reader a certain jouissance in the pleasures afforded by both a, albeit potentially narcissistic, trip down memory lane as well as a playful spotting of the intertextual references used.

This paper looks at The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a recent comic series within the Archie universe that has been explicitly (and lucratively) re-located and revived within the horror genre through seemingly intentional intertextual references and aesthetics, creating a highly retro and restorative feel. The ‘bricolage’ of these influences also builds on (often highly mediated) associations of character representations, in this case of the witch and the kinds of narratives in which this archetype often appears. By weaving together the ways in which the texts draws on previous incarnations, horror texts, aesthetics and representations, I hope to illustrate how Sabrina both reflects both the critical aspects of retro and nostalgia as well as responds to the playful possibilities this offers, which can be seen as reflective of wider trends in twenty-first century horror.

  1. Alison Bainbridge – Northumbria University

Desert Bluffs, StrexCorp and Postmodern Capitalist Anxieties in Welcome to Night Vale

The hit podcast Welcome to Night Vale (2012-) provides listeners with an insight into the lives of everyday citizens in a town where every conspiracy theory – no matter how absurd – is real. By bridging the gap between comedy and horror, Welcome to Night Vale uses nihilistic humour to broach topics which reflect the fears and anxieties of contemporary Western culture. Not least among these are the postmodern capitalist concerns of today’s increasingly consumer-orientated society. These concerns are represented by the “messages from our sponsors” that are interspersed throughout the show’s dramatic news updates and take the form of sinister advertisements for corporations both real and fictitious. This includes marketing for big-name brands such as Coca-Cola and Subway, as well as the insidious StrexCorp Synernists Incorporated: a fictional company behind which hides a cult and the universe-devouring Lovecraftian entity it worships.

By examining the various types of advertising used in the show, as well as the role StrexCorp plays in the larger plot, this paper will situate Welcome to Night Vale as a text not only relevant to contemporary capitalist concerns, but one which uses parody alongside more traditional horror tropes in order to underline those anxieties in addition to making them more relatable and memorable for their typically millennial audience.

  1. Katrina Heljakka – University of Turku

Don’t Look at the Dolly! Toying with Representation of Horror in the 21st Century

The toys of today have come to communicate attitude, spunk and subcultural styles of a darker, morbid nature. Skulls, dark tones and gothic attributes familiar from the horror genre have found their permanent way to Toyland. Both toy-based horror and stories based on other supernatural narratives – what has previously terrified audiences and fans of screen-based entertainment – are now being toyified – i.e. turned into multifaceted, three-dimensional playthings to generate visual and tactile pleasure in the object players of today.

This presentation focuses on how contemporary horror in television series, films and visuallyrepresented social media phenomena is used to inspire current toy design. In the study I askhow representations of horror are being materialized in toy design and how this genre ofplaythings has developed during the 2000s. Examples of character toys, i.e. toys with a facesuch as action figures, dolls and plush are given to demonstrate, how the horrifying is nowbeing transformed on the one hand to hyperreal versions of the popular characters and on theother hand into ‘tamed’ and playable objects.

The toy industry with its novelties and collectable items directs these products primarily toadults. Mature audiences are expected to cope with toy-types such as Living Dead Dolls’ Chucky and Hot Toys’ Slenderman. Yet counter-trends to the nightmarish and grotesque may be detected in contemporary toy cultures: As horror is becoming increasingly toyified, it is simultaneously cutified as well. Therefore, the toyification of horror with its cute toy-types of vampires, werewolves, Voodoo dolls and most recently Stranger Things’ Demogorgon as cutified by Funko Pop, continue to blur the boundaries between what is commonly addressed as ‘sick’ and ‘evil’ and the common idea of character toys as cute and approachable, child-friendly objects.

11:20am-11:40am: Coffee/Tea (Moray House) 

11:40am-12:30pm: Panel 3: Contemporary Approaches to Horror Cinema 

  1. Nuno Barradas Jorge – University of Nottingham

‘Let’s call it post-horror?’ Genre-bending in Contemporary American Independent Cinema

In a recent article for The Guardian, Steve Rose opines on a ‘new breed’ of horror film ‘creeping into the multiplex, replacing jump-scares with existential dread’(2017). Rose proposes the term ‘post-horror’ to classify films such as It Comes at Night or A Ghost Story (both 2017) that simultaneously engage with horror archetypes and iconography, yet defy a genre tied to what he understands as ‘cast-iron conventions’. The article immediately generated criticism on-line among horror film aficionados, who accused him of snobbery and ignorance about film genre.

Rose’s article clearly reflects problematic (and still prevalent) assumptions about ‘genre fixity’ in horror films (Altman, 1999). Yet, it also unveils the challenges posed to those attempting to articulate genre categories in contemporary cinema. The films mentioned above are only a small part of an emerging group of new American independent horror films currently thriving on the film festival and art-house circuits. I Can See You (2008), Silver Bullets (2011), I Am a Ghost (2012), Mother Nature (2013), Faults (2014), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), and Buzzard (2014), to name just a few, similarly carry the stylistic tropes of horror films into (perhaps) new and genre-bending territories.

This paper analyses the ongoing negotiations on the limits of the horror film genre that can be seen in this trend. Considering terms such as ‘post-modern horror’ (Pinedo, 2004) and ‘horrality’ (Brophy, 1986), the paper firstly examines how these films respond to existing conceptions of the horror film genre and its role in contemporary culture. Secondly, considering Bourdieu’s conception of cultural capital (1980, 2010 [1979]), the paper analyses how these films negotiate a cultural status that positions them outside discrete film genre formulas and between different subgenres.

  1. Roos Fopma – University of Groningen

Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide: Watching Horror Films at Home

This paper investigates the home as a film viewing location and the ways in which it affects the experience of fear while watching a movie. Using a phenomenological approach to analyse the experience of fear evoked by a film that is watched alone, in a dark bedroom, on a laptop screen, can help achieve a better understanding of what it means to be afraid during a film. Analysing personal experiences with being scared in this specific viewing situation, and relating these to previous phenomenologies that are relevant to this paper’s topic, the aim of this paper is to shed new light on the experience of fear as a cinematic emotion. The analysis reveals that when a movie is watched alone at home, the horror of the film invades the private space, thereby destabilizing the safety and familiarity of the home. The impact of the film’s threat is amplified by this experience of the home as unfamiliar and intensifies the viewer’s fear. Some of the aspects explored in the paper are viewers’ responses to experiencing fear when watching a movie at home in solitude, the ways in which viewers attempt to escape fear in this particular viewing setting, and how they try to regain a sense of belongingness to overcome their anxieties.

12:30pm-13:20pm: Panel 4: Horror and Gender

  1. Charlotte Gough – University of Manchester

Ballerinas, Babymakers and Body-Horror: Female Subjectivity and Physical Spectatorship in Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2011) and Mother! (2017)

This paper identifies a notable trend in Aronofsky’s contemporary oeuvre to conflate themes of mental and physical trauma with a female protagonist unable to fulfil an imposed ‘ideal’ of feminine bodily performance. In feminist and psychoanalytic film theory, conventional spectatorship of popular cinema is constructed to legitimate the hierarchical, gendered dynamic of active-subject/passive-object; distancing and denying the selfhood of the ‘clean and proper’ female image-body for male viewing-power (Mulvey, 1975; Creed, 1993 et al). However, through comparative close analysis of the self-mutilating prima ballerina in Black Swan (2011), and the tortured pregnant housewife inside her disintegrating home in Mother! (2017), I argue that the films’ use of body-horror features and fragmented female subjectivity encourages physical spectatorship. Drawing upon concepts of Kristeva’s ‘abject’ (1982) and Marks’ ‘haptic visuality’ (2000), this potentialises multiple and multi-sensory embodiment and engagement beyond the image. Not only is the theoretical opposition between viewer and film undermined here through the audio-visual assertion of inner-bodily presence, but ultimately represents the central female’s alienation from her othered corporeality, and consequent disintegration of selfhood, within a patriarchally-sanctioned environment; as she ‘splits up into multiple parts she cannot contain or possess’ (Wilson, 2015). Rather than reflecting a ‘masculine-panic’ – as noted in Kristeva and Creed’s seminal body-horror criticism – I propose that these texts in fact demonstrate a radical articulation of, and response to, the young woman’s contemporary struggle to establish an individual identity, as well as the (re)definition of feminine physical ‘perfection’, within a hegemonic and social media obsessed image-culture.

  1. Valeria Villegas Lindval – University of Gothenburg

Crimson Red in The Book of Birdie 

In accounts by theorists like Kristeva (1982), Creed (1993) or Stamp Lindsey (1996), menstrual blood has been largely connected to abjection; and thus, menarche, as anultimate event, underlines the nature of womanhood as inherently impure. Present in films such as The Exorcist (1973), Carrie (1976), Ginger Snaps (2000) and Excision (2012) –all of them directed by men– monstrosity takes over pubescent girls as they transition to womanhood, triggered by the realization of fertility brought about by menstruation. Yet, the element of empowerment that menstruation can provide, as both marker of sexual maturity and fertility, raises a thought-provoking approach to blood in horror films made by women. Elizabeth E. Schuch’s The Book of Birdie (2017), with an all-female cast, an unapologetic queer romance and an adolescent main character fascinated with her bloody flow, takes the central drive of crimson red to another level. I argue that, by flirting with sainthood and profanity alike, Schuch offers a provocative view of blood as simultaneously abject and purifying, with a profound element of transgression towards the taboo of menstruation in Christian belief. Schuch toys with the creation of a form of inherently female ritual behaviour opposed to traditional displays of purification and defilement, such as those discussed in Douglas’ seminal historical account (2002). This can allow for a unique opportunity to dig deeper into the connection between menstruation, womanhood and horror/fantasy as subverted and rewritten in comparison to classical horror film features, re-exploring the female body by reclaiming what has previously been constructed as outspokenly abject.


13:20pm-14:00pm: Lunch (Moray House)

14:00pm-14:50pm: Panel 5: Trauma and Representation 

  1. Ekaterina Vinogradova – Grenoble Alps University

Fear as Artistic Foundation in the Construction of Post-Soviet National Identities

Post-Soviet states have been participating in the Venice Biennial of Contemporary Art since the 1990s. They have shown, in the national pavilions, throughout their participation and in a recurring way, images of physical suffering, social anxieties and of political trauma. I propose to analyze in my communication the possible causes of such an insistence on the representation of the fear of the people by linking them to the political, economic and artistic stakes, which determine, for these states, their participation in the international artistic fairs.
In these post-Soviet countries lives, in the first place, a general phenomenon, which in political science has been called the conflict or the competition of the victims. Victims are competing for a bigger place and role in social memory. The historian Martin Sabrov asserts that a radical transformation of modern political culture took place: within a few decades, the ideal oriented towards a future of progress and freedom has been replaced by the painful celebration of a past declined under a victim form. Such a transformation has been accompanied by a change in certain social ideals characteristic of communist mythology: “At the center of modern historical culture is no longer the ideal of the hero, but the ideal of the victim”. The privileged status of the victim in the 1990s then created new forms of self-representation and identity politics: Armenia, a country with a long history of suffering since the genocide of the turn of the century, or the Baltic countries, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, built their identity on the role of victim, transforming the traumatic history of Stalinist repression and the Soviet occupation into a collective glorification of the miserable past of their people … exhibitions for the Biennale illustrate visually, and with almost religious fervor, this sacrificial history, representing the resistance to violence and the fear of the people as the heroic origin of the birth of nations. Sonya Balasanyan, through video art, and David Kareyan, through his performances, illustrated the traumas endured by the Armenians. The pavilions of Ukraine have almost always exposed the revolutionary events of their recent history (the fight for the freedom of the Orange Revolution in 2005, the war of Donbass in 2015 and in 2017). The celebration of the heroic and miserable victims is the foundation of a new conception of national identity. Traumatic history, still actively present in the living memory of contemporaries, is transformed into an aesthetic object and included in the international system of artistic manifestations.

My paper will therefore deal with the aesthetic instrumentation of suffering and fear celebrating national unity, with commercial, political and artistic objectives, and its possible overtaking.

  1. Simon Crosbie – Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

The House of Horror: Images of Sites of Child Abuse in Contemporary Media

Media coverage of institutional child abuse, particularly in the Catholic Church, has often used buildings such as churches and orphanages as visual reference. In many cases, trauma becomes manifest in images of these buildings and their associated Catholic iconography, such as the crucifix. These institutions are represented through the aesthetic of containment and fear, elements that point towards transgressions being committed under the pretence of protection. Some of the visual tropes adopted in media representations of the Catholic Church within this context include intentional parallax and keystone distortion; “dutch angles” that exclude points of dispersal; environmental cues such as dark clouds, heavy shadows, bare trees and physical decay; and composite images of individuals superimposed over buildings. These tropes aim to activate a pre-existing sense of horror which touches on notions of the unheimlich. This paper argues that the representation of the institution as a site of evil follows, in part, the tradition of the horror house in cinema and art, but is also informed by other factors, specifically within the context of reportage in areas like the caption and headline, and distortion as ‘special effect’. Such representations also resonate with the architectural notion of facadism: the disconnect between pre-existing ideas of horror intended for immediate public consumption and the slow grind of memory and affect that follow the lived experience of institutional abuse victims. The paper also discusses the repurposing of some of these buildings and how images can be an integral part of the “detoxification” process.

14:50pm-15:40pm: Panel 6: Horror and Marginality

  1. Monica Szanyi – Penn State University

Zombies on the Reservation: Examining the Role of Native Americans in Twenty-First Century Zombie Television Shows

The zombie genre of popular culture can serve as a vehicle through which creative expression can channel the frustrations about contemporary society. The zombie is often an allegory for infection and take over: the infection of a zombie “virus” and take-over of society by the apocalypse and the collapse of order and civilization. A preoccupation with post-apocalyptic movies, comic books, and television shows, especially those featuring zombies, has been enjoying increasing popularity since the start of the new millennium. The zombie genre is often a platform through which contemporary issues of society can be explored in a hypothetical post-apocalyptic scenario.

Two of the most popular zombie themed television shows, Fear the Walking Dead (2015-present) and Z Nation (2014-present), have addressed the issue of Native American land rights in a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested United States in different ways. Each show illustrates that the longstanding battle for Native American land rights between various indigenous groups and Anglo-Americans does not cease in the event of a zombie apocalypse but in fact becomes more complicated with the introduction of hordes of the undead. This paper addresses the plight of the characters in the Z Nation episode “We Were Nowhere Near the Grand Canyon” and the story arc of season three of FTWD, wherein Native American characters are introduced. It also examines responses of indigenous actors portraying the characters and the Native American community in the United States to finally seeing Native Americans introduced to the zombie genre, wherefrom there are often notably absent.

  1. Tracy Mollet – University of Leeds

“Do you seriously want to fight the Demogorgon with your wrist rocket?”: Stranger Things, Geeks, Horror and (hyper) Postmodernism

In an acceptance speech at the SAG Awards, Stranger Things actor David Harbour announced the importance of sheltering ‘freaks and outcasts!’ The speech was read in light of Trump’s ban on citizens from Muslim countries from entering the US. Butler has argued convincingly for the ways in which Stranger Things’ 1980s aesthetic allows it to speak to the present in its abhorration of government forces (2018: 200). However, Harbour’s speech is evocative of a wider theme within Stranger Things: the celebration of ‘freaks’ within society and their power in hunting monsters. I will argue that this is achieved in the show through an embrace of what Kaveney has termed ‘geek’ culture: ‘art that people not only love, but think about and through’ (2005:6).

Taking on Valerie Wee’s concept of hyper-postmodernism, I will argue that Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2 are distinctive in the ways in which inter-textuality is used in and around the show to celebrate ‘geek’ culture. Both series celebrate their antecedents in horror in a way that often ‘emerges as the actual text’ (2005:44) allowing pop culture savvy audiences to be rewarded in spotting these intertextual references. This transpires at the level of promotion (for example, the hype around Stranger Things 2’s ‘Thriller’ trailer) and also within the text itself.

They also ignore medium specific boundaries by ‘actively referencing and borrowing the formats of other media forms’ (ibid). However, we see this function not only through media forms, but through cultural forms more generally. The characters (sometimes unknowingly) reference and apply horror knowledge from a range of different cultural platforms to solve the show’s principal mysteries, including television, literature and gaming, elevating their importance as a weapon against the horrors of society. Outside of the show’s obvious criminalisation of the state, this evokes a celebration of social ‘outcasts’ following Trump’s policies against minorities on a global scale. 

15:40-16:00: Coffee/Tea

16:00-17:20 Work in Progress Session

  1. Melissa Marceo – University of Illinois

Purging the Surplus: Precarity in Contemporary Body Horror

This work in progress will focus on the rise of body horror, or “torture porn”, in recent years and how two of its most popular film series, Saw and The Purge, present the working class as the victims of larger governmental or societal structures, such as the annual Purge initiated by the New Founding Fathers or the health care system that is vilified in Saw VI. I will argue that precarity is not only a central component of the content of these films, but is also formalized through their use of torture porn, particularly the expectation of what may happen next to the physical bodies on the screen. These bodies may be maimed or murdered at any moment, just as those precariously employed may endure physical and psychological harm through a lack of health insurance, of proper food and shelter, and of the ability to save for an emergency.

However, while The Purge trilogy presents a more liberal account of precarity via its progression from the ideal neoliberal subject (Ethan Hawke) in The Purge, to the working-class victims of Anarchy and Election Year, Saw’s focus on the ability of Jigsaw’s victims to choose their own fate through some inane survival instinct aligns with the conservative narrative of how an inherent “culture of poverty” keeps people within precarious employment positions. The body horror of these franchises, then, illuminates competing views of precarity in our current moment by thematising and formalising the uncertainty and terror of unstable employment, as well as the roles of individual subjects and larger systems.

  1. Jeanne Ferrier – Paris Diderot University

The “Zombie Renaissance” of the 2000s: The Contagious Spread of “Disease Horror” Across Genres

The 2000s saw a resurgence of the figure of the zombie in mainstream horror films. New techniques, but also new expectations from the spectators, allowed for the development of more strikingly horrifying zombies, and 28 Days Later (dir. Danny Boyle, 2002) replaced the Frankenstein’s-creature-like shuffling corpses with fast predators sometimes able to outrun their victims. Their origin was also more clearly connected to the issue of contagion, a topic of worldwide paranoia illustrated by films such as Blindness (dir. Fernando Meirelles, 2008) or the aptly-named Contagion (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2011): zombification became a disease, a microscopic threat to a world governed by the macroscopic scale.

But the contagion also spread extra-diegetically, as zombies effectively contaminated other genres. Their new medical dimension turned them into creatures of science-fiction (I Am Legend, dir. Francis Lawrence, 2007), and they also appeared in comedies such as Shaun of the Dead (dir. Edgar Wright, 2004) or Zombieland (dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2009), and in the romantic comedy Warm Bodies (dir. Jonathan Levine, 2013). Zombies even planted their rotting teeth in classic literature, through Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, adapted to the screen by Burr Steers in 2016.

These fictions are all characterized by a series of codes, which not only determine the appearance and behavior of the undead creatures themselves, but also that of the characters fighting them, and the situations in which they find themselves. Therefore, in this paper, I will argue that zombies are a symptom of the birth of a new subgenre, that of “disease horror”.

  1. Matteo Valentini – University of Genoa

Violence as “image act” from Wiener Aktionismus to Isis’videos

In Image and Violence (2002, English ed.2005) Jean-Luc Nancy states: ‘If what matters in the exercise of a force is the production of the effects that one expects from it (the triggering of a mechanism or the carrying out of an order), then what matters for the violent person is that the production of the effect is indissociable from the manifestation of violence’. Following this assumption, image and violence become unavoidable to each other: the violent act is carried out with the precise purpose of being shown and the image is no longer something simply decorative or documental, but a subject acting in reality. Horst Bredekamp reinforces this consideration in Image Acts a Systematic Approach to Visual Agency (2010, English ed. 2018), in which he structures the concept of “image act”. In my project I intend to consider the image as the engine of a violent action, the primary cause of torture or killing carried out for the purpose of being photographed or shot and then submitted to an audience.

As Bredekamp states: ‘Bodies, even when themselves a concrete presence, can already be images […]. Bodies can be destroyed in the name of images: in this there lies the reciprocal perversion’. Violence on bodies is an act that creates images and is accomplished through images, it is an “iconic act”, and my project aims to apply this theory both to the most violent actions of performance art – considering the performers’ bodies as simulacra – and to the images of torture and death connected to the war or terrorist sphere which represent for most of us the incarnation of horror in our present time.

  1. Ralph Dorey – Northumbria University

Smeared into The Environment: Queer Horror games and The Ahuman

Philosopher Patricia MacCormack identifies in the experience of art and particularly horror cinema, the becoming “Ahuman” which is the ecstatic encounter with an “asignified world” (MacCormack, 2012).

Through MacCormack’s concept of the Ahuman, as well as her writing on H.P. Lovecraft (MacCormack, 2010, 2016), post-structuralist thinkers Luce Irigaray (Irigaray, 1993), Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (Deleuze & Guattari, 1986, 1987), post-human feminist philosophy (Braidotti, 1994) and trans readings of the above (Chu, 2017; Poe, 2011), I examine a use of horror particular to the politics and technology of the 21st century. This use of horror is found in the overlapping hybrid art forms of fan-fiction, fan-art and indie games. It is expressed primarily through free-to-use software on free online platforms, shared and remixed across networks, and détourns horror content into something which speaks from the position of love, anxiety, and queerness. An ethical shift on the abject or monstrous leads to privileging of different bodies, minds, subjectivities and genders.

A “distorted fantasy world of transgender catgirls, robots, and rolling ecological disasters” (Muncy,2017), the recent game series “No World Dreamers: Sticky Zeitgeist” (Heartscape & Rook, 2017) by artist and coder Porpentine Charity Heartscape and musician and game designer Rook is the primary subject of this paper. This game is considered in terms of the Ahuman, and posthuman feminism more broadly, as well as establishing the ecology of such artworks within contemporary discourse, politics and technology. Finally, I speculate on the radical potential of such Ahuman queer horror games for escaping a dialectic relationshipwith dominant power.

17:20-18:20: Keynote:

Dr. Sorcha Ní Fhlainn – Manchester Metropolitan University

‘Don’t F*ck with the Original’: Postmodernity, Feedback loops, and new horizons in horror cinema from Wes Craven to Blumhouse

18:20-18:30: Closing Remarks


Call for Papers

CFP: Don’t Look: Representations of Horror in the 21st Century

One Day Symposium

 28th April 2018

University of Edinburgh

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Sorcha Ní Fhlainn (Manchester Metropolitan University)

We live in scary, uncertain times. In recent years, we have witnessed the rise of hard-line nationalism, the ascendency of racist alt-right politics and attacks on the increasingly fragile-looking institution of democracy. We contend, daily, with the threat of seemingly inevitable ecological catastrophe. The Horror genre has always been understood as a potent mirror and bellwether, able to digest the socio-cultural and political currents of a given moment and feed them back to us in uncompromising and disturbing ways. This conference seeks to consider how representations of horror are changing in our own contemporary moment, where the line between fiction and reality, truth and lies appears to be fraying beyond recognition.

Recent academic scholarship on horror has diverged towards topics such as: fear and the appearance of reality within found footage horror; the multisensory perception of horror in video games, television and theme parks; and the rise of concepts such as ‘The Horror of Philosophy’. There has also been a focus towards contemporary studies of Queer Horror and appropriation, audience participation, and changing tastes in horror fandom. This one-day multidisciplinary conference seeks to analyse representations of horror since 2000, with particular emphasis on current trends and cycles, and the ways in which horror can be said to reflect contemporary anxieties and fears.  We are specifically interested in determining some of the ways in which these aesthetics have changed and why. We would especially welcome research that addresses the causes of some of these changes in representations of horror across media and academic disciplines.


(for 20-minute presentations)

Topics might include (but are not limited to):

  • Contemporary Representations of Body Horror
  • Generic Mutations
  • New Horror Television (American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Hannibal, etc.)
  • Abjection and Transgression
  • Horror and Trauma
  • Experimental/Avant-Garde/Underground Horror: Film, Art and Literature
  • Horror and Nostalgia
  • Transmutation/Metamorphosis
  • News Media Representations of Horror
  • Virtual Reality (VR) horror
  • Horror and Disability
  • Contemporary Cult Horror
  • New Genres, Subgenres and Hybrids
  • Horror and the Senses
  • Queer Horror and Performance
  • Horror Fandom and Audiences
  • Literary Horror Adaptations
  • Shudder, Chiller and Contemporary Horror Networks and Viewing Platforms


As a postgraduate led conference, we also welcome submissions from Masters and PhD students to present work-in-progress papers, which will be 15 minutes in length (as opposed to the usual 20 minutes). We believe these work-in-progress panels will be useful for gaining helpful feedback from peers on ongoing research.


  • Please submit proposals of 200-250 words, along with a short biographical note (100 words) to by Wednesday 7th February 2018. Accepted presentations should be 20 minutes in length (15 min for work in progress).
  • We also welcome video essay proposals. Contributors should upload their video to Vimeo, preferably to a password protected page, then email the relevant URL and password, along with a 200-word proposal and a short biographical note (100 words) to by Wednesday 7th February 2018. PLEASE NOTE: We ask that video essays be no longer than 10 minutes in length, to allow sufficient time to make a formal presentation after the video is screened.

Applicants will be notified of the outcome by Monday 19th February 2018.