Urban legends and their adaptation in horror cinema
Mikel J. Koven
Urban legends, those apocryphal stories told in university dormitories and around campfires about hook-handed psycho-killers and boyfriends discovered hanging above the parked cars, are a form of oral literature. This chapter explores the adaptive processes these largely formless narratives have undergone to be made into mainstream cinematic horror narratives. It expands on Paul Smith's typology by considering some of the structural issues of the urban legend film, that is, films based primarily or largely on orally circulated belief narratives. The chapter defines some of the more textual dimensions to the urban legend horror film in an effort to expand on what Smith began. It identifies four main narrative strategies that filmmakers avail themselves to within Smith's 'complete plot' category: extended, resultant, structuring and fusion narratives. The chapter summarises two multi-strand narratives: fusion narratives and anthologies.
Horror and the avant-garde in the cinema of Ken Jacobs
This chapter examines how the contemporary experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs adapts the legacy of magic. His work might seem a bit out of place in the context of the horror genre. Jacobs' work, like much of the American avant-garde, rages against the commodification of the image and its seemingly passive consumption. With his seminal film Tom Tom the Piper's Son, Jacobs rescues a 1905 Biograph slapstick movie of the same name from cinematic oblivion. Cinema emerged in the late nineteenth century, accompanying capitalism's monstrous progeny: alienated production and the fetishised commodity. Jacobs' 'Nervous Magic Lantern' apparatus is similar to his 'Nervous System' performances, but it pares the cinematic experience down to even more primitive elements. Adapting the lens of the horror genre to Jacobs' 'Nervous Magic Lantern' and 'Nervous System' performances is particularly apt.
Australian Gothic represents a mode, a stance and an atmosphere, after the fashion of American Film Noir, with the appellation suggesting the inclusion of horrific and fantastic materials comparable to those of Gothic literature. The perversity of rural townships and their residents forms the basis of Gothic texts which in other respects reflect debts to generic entertainment, social polemics, fantasy and allegory. Peter Weir's first feature production The Cars That Ate Paris portrays the Outback town as the seat of deranged authority. The considerable commercial success of Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 (1981) both at home and abroad is attributable to the strong generic basis for their narratives, characterisation and iconography. Max's heroic tasks grow in stature and destructiveness as the cycle progresses. In the cases of Walkabout and Shame, a significant part of the horror resides in the defamiliarisation of natural and human landscapes away from urbanisation.
The contrasting fortunes of Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh television drama in the 1990s
This chapter looks at popular television drama from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the 1990s. It suggests that the BBC's faith in the need for a broader, more flexible idea of Britishness does not yet extend to its commissioning of programmes that they hope will have genuinely broad appeal. Ballykissangel was made for BBC Northern Ireland by Tony Garnett's Island World Productions. In terms of commissioning and popularity, BBC Scotland's biggest success by far in the 1990s was Hamish Macbeth. Tiger Bay was probably BBC Wales's biggest play for a genuinely mass appeal popular drama in the 1990s, though it was by no means the only one. Unlike either Wales or Northern Ireland, BBC Scotland's drama department entered the 1990s in a position of some strength. The BBC remains, in a sense, a major instrument of what some would see as enduring colonial power.
Some reflections on the relationship between television and theatre
This chapter traces some of the relationships between the theatre of the late 1950s and 1960s and television drama of the 1960s and 1970s. Bertolt Brecht casts a long shadow across the theatre of the late 1950s and 1960s, although his work was appropriated in particular and idiosyncratic ways. Like sitcom, Theatre Workshop's productions reworked the familiar devices and routines of the music hall, such as the double-act, within the framework of a more traditional extended narrative. Theatre Workshop's productions were resolutely anti-naturalistic, in ways that loosely paralleled the 'non-naturalism' called for by Troy Kennedy Martin and others working in television at the time. The idea of a canon of television drama is contestable, and is best thought of as a set of overlapping definitions that describe different kinds of texts and practices from different viewpoints.
This chapter begins by examining the effects-laden anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s which, in their heyday, offered original and adapted teleplays that pushed the boundaries of television production through the visualisation of the supernatural and the grotesque. It turns towards the moment in which grand guignol Gothic was no longer confined to a dim and distant past but was brought up to date, with a shift towards a more quotidian kind of horror. The sense of innovation and experimentation in Harry Moore's instruction is very clearly coupled with the explicit portrayal of gory horror in Late Night Horror, emphasising both the need to display the possibilities of the new technology and the desire to place blood and gore on show in close-up. By comparison television horror is authenticated through its representation of the everyday life of the composer within a recognisable domestic space.
Queer As Folk and the geo-ideological inscription of gay sexuality
This chapter explores the ways in which, within a geo-ideological analysis of the controversial Channel 4 drama series Queer As Folk, one may view fundamental issues regarding the politics of the representation of gay sexuality. Queer As Folk had its first broadcast in 1999-2000 on Channel 4 television, screened in eight hour-long episodes. A crucial incident in the exploration of the tensions between confrontational and assimilationist strategies comes in the penultimate episode of the second series relating to a secondary character called Alexander. Alexander is constructed in such a way that he embodies the stereotypical attributes of camp, 'feminised' homosexuality. The use of a popular cultural colloquialism, 'kinky sex', is deliberately, ironically provocative. From a dominant reactionary, heterosexual viewing position, homosexuality in and of itself may be viewed as a profoundly disturbing 'kink' or deviation of sexual imagination, conduct and practice.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in this book. The book examines Terence Fisher as a director dependent on and at ease with the industrial and collaborative nature of film-making. Praised by David Pirie in the early 1970s as a Gothic auteur, he has since come to be seen as the reactionary face of British horror against which more radical and innovative approaches can be defined. The book presents Fisher as a more complex figure than this, as not entirely the auteur identified by Pirie but neither the wholly reactionary film-maker imagined by others. Isabel Cristina Pinedo has suggested that Hammer horror forms a transitional stage between 'classical horror' and more modern forms of horror. Fisher's horror films perhaps represent more clearly than other Hammer horrors some of the tensions and uncertainties involved in this transition.
The recreation of the Australian film industry in the 1970s and its subsequent survival on economic and aesthetic terms have been inseparable from debate over sources of finance. The reception and encouragement of the period film cycle has been taken as evidence of a regimentation of treatment in the service of a primary political objective. This is to define and broadcast an expedient, respectable and marketable form of Australian identity at a crucial moment in the development of national consciousness. The groups of films addressed in this book have been categorised by critics or have aligned themselves with generic patterns, in response to their maker's intentions and their audience's expectations. Stereotypical representations of Australian masculinity are found in The Overlanders, They're A Weird Mob and Crocodile Dundee. These representations strive to designate the white, classless, individualistic male as the archetypal Australian, defined strictly by or in relation to outsiders.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts covered in this book. The book examines the dialogue between the textual domestic spaces of Gothic television and the extra-textual domestic spaces of the medium. In doing so, it argues that structures of identification are laid in place which render the Gothic on television as one of the most affective of genres. It is possible to look to the very fabric of the programmes in question to create a picture of the 'model viewer', who is 'recorded into' the texts of Gothic television. The recent bevy of supernatural serials on US television discussed in the book have a certain self-regenerative quality, guaranteeing that innovation and formal experimentation soon become repetitive and mundane. The anxieties surrounding the broadcast of Gothic television identified in the book might be seen as indicative of broader concerns around the propriety of television viewing as a whole.