Saturday, 6 December 2014

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No 1

And so we come to the end of Digital Front's countdown of his Top Ten werewolf films, and the end of #lycanthrovember. I hope you've enjoyed this Top Ten - and leave your comments below if you disagree with any of the choices!

All that remains is to reveal Digital Front's selection for the No. 1 slot - the best werewolf film of all time. To be honest, if you've been reading this countdown from No. 10 and you still need me to reveal the film that came in at No. 1, then I'm going to have to sentence you to watch all 5 Twilight films (that's right - both parts of Breaking Dawn) as a punishment. And maybe Red Riding Hood too - it depends how cruel I'm feeling.

Digital Front's No. 1 werewolf film is (of course)...

An American Werewolf in London (1981)






Director: John Landis
Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, John Woodvine
Tagline: Beware the Moon

Summary:
Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.

Digital Front's Review:
An American Werewolf in London was released the same year as The Howling, but somehow has fared much better against the ravages of time than its rival.

Two American students are backpacking around Europe and find themselves in the Yorkshire Dales. They come across a remote village where the locals are inhospitable to say the least, not taking kindly to a couple of strangers in their midst. After being made aware they're really not welcome, they head back out into the night with a few words of advice: "Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors." Advice that they accidentally ignore, resulting with one of them dead and the other seriously injured.

The surviving tourist, David Kessler (David Naughton), awakes in a London hospital under the care of Dr Hirsch (John Woodvine) and Nurse Price (Jenny Agutter), who inform him of his friend's demise and David's lucky escape from an attack by "a madman". But David insists they were attacked by an animal, not a man.

David eventually leaves the hospital under the care of Nurse Price who offers him a place to stay for a few days. David is plagued by horrific dreams and thinks he's losing his mind as he is also visited by his dead friend who informs him that he is now a werewolf and should kill himself before he hurts anyone. What soon follows is one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, as David does indeed transform into a werewolf, just as his friend Jack had warned.

There aren't many films that have successfully combined horror and comedy. An American Werewolf in London achieves this with perfect precision - at its heart is a horror with enough blood and gore to satisfy any fan, while the constant undercurrent of humour provides enough charm and relief to prevent the darker elements from becoming exhausting.

Incidentally, this film did lead to a sequel (An American Werewolf in Paris), but it's certainly one to avoid in my opinion.

Though it's probably no surprise to find this film happily sitting at the top of the pile in the No. 1 slot, it's No. 1 for many people for a very good reason. It's the perfect werewolf film.

***

So... I hope you've enjoyed this countdown of werewolf cinema, brought to you by my lovely husband. I'm now off to go through his choices and completely disagree with them in the comments section. If you've liked this Top Ten, I'm planning on posting a countdown of my own shortly - this time, the Top Ten werewolf novels. Watch this space! Awwwooooooo!

Go on... you know you want to listen to this song right now...


Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 2

And so we near the end of Digital Front's lycanthropic countdown. Time to announce the runner-up...

Drum roll please...

In second place, it's...

Dog Soldiers (2002)






Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby
Tagline: Six soldiers. Full moon. No chance.

Summary:
A routine military exercise in the highlands of Scotland turns very bloody very quickly.

Digital Front's Review:
A squad of British soldiers lead by Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) are on a training exercise in Scotland only to discover the massacred remains of the special forces squad they have been pitted against. It's not long before they encounter what was behind the brutal slayings and, as they're only armed with blanks, decide to get the hell out of there.

They're saved by Megan (Emma Cleasby) who takes them to a nearby farmhouse and fills them in on the local wildlife - werewolves as it happens. The same werewolves that soon lay siege to the farmhouse leaving the weaponless soldiers and Megan completely stranded and battling for their lives.

This is not a complicated film by any stretch. It's a 'cabin in the woods' scenario with a group of people stranded and fighting for their lives by whatever means necessary - but it's a formula that has worked to great effect for countless classics and Dog Soldiers is no exception. There's plenty of humour, horror, action, a revelation (fair enough it could be seen from miles away but the film is too enjoyable for that to be a negative point), a noble sacrifice, and a satisfying resolution. Spoiler alert - the dog makes it out unscathed too, so gets to join the likes of Jones the Cat in the Horror Film Pet Survivors Hall of Fame.

Another aspect of the film I've always loved is the werewolves themselves. There's no crazy CGI effects on show... instead the filmmakers opted for brief glimpses of the creatures and that's always far more effective in my view.

The soldiers rendered impotent by their absence of firepower are entirely believable and serve as an interesting contrast to Megan, the only female in the film, who is much stronger and collected throughout. Then again, perhaps she knows something that they don't.

All in all, a fantastic werewolf romp that hits all the right notes for me.

Click here to find out what's at No. 1!

Or go back to No. 3!

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 3

So we enter the Top Three of Digital Front's Top Ten werewolf films... so let's find out which lycanthropic gem scooped the bronze medal...

Ginger Snaps (2000)





Director: John Fawcett
Stars: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche
Tagline: She's got the curse.

Summary:
Two sisters must deal with the tragic consequences when one of them is bitten by a werewolf.

Digital Front's Review:
In stark contrast to many of the films in this werewolf Top Ten, Ginger Snaps is quite a dark, sombre and gory film.

The story centres around two sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigette (Emily Perkins), whose hobby is photographing death scenes that they've staged and making pacts about dying together. This idyllic existence isn't to last though, as Ginger is bitten one night by a werewolf that has been terrorizing the local canine population. This life changing event also happens on the same day as Ginger gets her first period.

Ginger then starts to gradually change, both physically and in terms of temperament, and Brigette is locked in a race against time to save her sister.

Ginger Snaps is similar to The Company of Wolves in terms of the underlying narrative focusing on the transformation to womanhood, but takes a slightly different direction by drawing reasonably blunt but not overstated direct comparisons to werewolves rather than helpless innocent women being preyed upon.

It's a welcome change watching a werewolf film that isn't dominated by big beastly hirsute men and helpless weak women, but sadly Ginger Snaps falls into a minority in that respect.

The film has spawned two sequels (Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back) but sadly they are considerably weaker than the original. I'm undecided if that's because they are genuinely just not up to par or that Ginger Snaps was just too damned good to follow up. This film is one of a kind and just has to be in any serious werewolf fan's collection.

Click here for No. 2!

Or go back to No. 4!

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 4

We're counting down the Top Ten werewolf films (according to the lovely Digital Front). In fourth place, it's...

Wolf (1994)






Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader
Tagline: The animal is out.

Summary:
An ageing publisher is down on his luck, until he is bitten by a wolf and suddenly finds himself rejuvenated.

Digital Front's Review:
Wolf is a bit difficult to categorize - it's not a traditional horror, drama or thriller... it's an off-beat combination of the three.

Will Randall (Nicholson) is a meek and mild-mannered literary editor who loses his job, his wife, and to top it all off is bitten by a wolf. To rub his nose in it a little further, he also discovers that Stewart Swinton (Spader) has not only taken Will's job, but is also the man that has been having an affair with his wife.

However, it's not all doom and gloom for Will as he discovers that since being bitten by the wolf, his senses are starting to get much stronger. And he has so much more energy too. Actually I lied, it is still a bit doom and gloom because all this power comes at a price - Will has also started to have blackouts which always coincide with a tragedy (for example, his wife's murder). And Will also comes to realize he's actually starting to look more and more like a wolf...

Will meets his former boss's daughter, Laura (Pfeiffer), and amid their burgeoning relationship he turns to her for help fearing the worst about his blackouts and growing animalistic urges.

And I'm going to leave it there, because otherwise I'll ruin the film for anyone who hasn't seen it.

The reason Wolf ranks so highly in this list is because it just has a real charm about it. As I mentioned at the beginning, this isn't a standard werewolf film. It's very tongue-in-cheek, and as you'd expect with the calibre of talent on show the performances by the cast are absolutely top notch. Highly recommended.

Click here for No. 3!

Or go back to No. 5!

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 5

We're currently counting down Digital Front's Top Ten werewolf films, to celebrate the last day of #lycanthrovember. And at No. 5...

Silver Bullet (1985)






Director: Daniel Attias
Stars: Gary Busey, Megan Follows, Corey Haim
Tagline: When darkness falls, terror rises.

Summary:
A werewolf terrorizes a small town where only a young paralytic boy knows the truth behind the spate of killings.

Digital Front's Review: Based on a Stephen King novella called Cycle of the Werewolf, Silver Bullet takes place in Tarker's Mills - a trademark King sleepy New England town. Well, not such a sleepy town anymore. Someone is stalking Tarker's Mills every full moon and ripping people to pieces...

Naturally, all the inhabitants of this small town believe a serial killer is on the loose. All except Marty (Corey Haim), a young disabled boy. He believes a werewolf is to blame.

Cue an expected turn of events - the townsfolk form vigilante groups and hunt the killer, only to be picked off in the process, and Marty's sceptical sister Jane (Megan Follows) accepts his werewolf theory after the two have a run-in with the beast. The pair then hunt down the man behind the furry transformations.

Silver Bullet isn't original, it's not groundbreaking, it's not cerebral in any way. But it is a lot of fun, and that's an element I find missing from many werewolf films.

Click here for No. 4!

Or go back to No. 6!

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 6

And at No. 6 in Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films...

The Howling (1981)






Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan
Tagline: Imagine your worst fear a reality.

Summary:
After a near fatal encounter with a serial killer, a television reporter is sent to a remote mountain resort whose residents may not be what they seem.

Digital Front's Review:
This is one of the bigger werewolf films of our time. After a near death experience at the hands of a notorious murderer, reporter Karen undertakes a course of therapy at a secluded retreat called The Colony.

Predictably, this gives plenty of opportunity for howls from the forest at night, mutilated animals in the forest, and strange inhabitants at The Colony. This also gives rise (no pun intended) to a fair amount of carnal activity, which does underline the animalistic nature of Karen's newly acquired co-inhabitants but also feels a little gratuitous.

Although the film hasn't aged particularly well, The Howling marries a decent storyline and horror in an almost perfect ratio, producing a classic and watchable werewolf flick.

Click here for No. 5!

Or go back to No. 7!

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 7

We're now at No. 7 in Digital Front's top ten werewolf films... and in at seventh place, we have...

Bad Moon (1996)






Director: Eric Red
Stars: Mariel Hemingway, Michael Paré, Mason Gamble
Tagline: Half man. Half wolf. Total terror.

Summary:
While on assignment in a remote jungle, an American photojournalist is attacked by a fearsome werewolf. He survives the encounter with only a nasty bite, but becomes a werewolf himself. Appalled by his bloodthirst, Ted goes to stay with his sister in the hope that she can stop him, but her dog knows his secret.

Digital Front's Review:
Bad Moon is one of those hidden gems. You'd be forgiven for never having heard of this film, and if that's the case you're really missing out.

Distilled to its basic elements, Bad Moon could have been called "Werewolf Versus German Shepherd". A photographer (Ted) is bitten by a werewolf while on assignment. Disgusted by what he's become, Ted goes to stay with his sister (Janet), her son (Brett), and their pet dog (Thor). And Thor is really not happy about having a werewolf living under the same roof.

Don't misunderstand me, Bad Moon is not a flawless masterpiece of cinema by any stretch. It's clearly low budget, and some of the acting really grates (particularly Brett). The werewolf itself isn't exactly convincing either and everything is a bit rough round the edges, but none of these things derail a very decent film.

Where Bad Moon shines (no pun intended) is with a slight departure from the standard werewolf fare but also the real star of the film. Thor. Trust me, you'll be rooting for that fella.

Click here for No. 6!

Or go back to No. 8!

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 8

And at No. 8 in Digital Front's Top Ten werewolf films, we have...

The Company of Wolves (1984)






Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner
Tagline: The desire... the fantasy... the nightmare.

Summary:
After hearing her grandmother's stories about dangerous men, a 13-year-old girl has nightmares that transform her into Little Red Riding Hood.

Digital Front's Review:
Based on Angela Carter's short story of the same name, and co-written by Carter and director Neil Jordan, The Company of Wolves is a fantasy dream world containing dreams within that dream. Rosaleen is a young girl haunted by her grandmother's stories that serve as a warning to be wary of men, particularly those whose eyebrows meet in the middle.

It's quite a difficult film to make sense of at times, and its highly stylized macabre tone can be quite unsettling. Littered with coming of age sexual undertones, The Company of Wolves is a metaphor whereby the innocent Little Red Riding Hood is suddenly exposed to a world where werewolves, or beastly men, prey upon women.

Essentially, if you're looking to rip open the popcorn and enjoy some mindless gruesome werewolf action then you will be sorely disappointed.

Moving along from the cerebral aspect however, on another level this is a beautiful film. The production is as clever as the narrative, and although it's now 30 years old the imagery is really quite breathtaking at times, shunning creepy forests for obvious sets that somehow really add to the viewers immersion into the dream world on show.

Yes, it's weird. Yes, it's occasionally difficult to follow. But this film has charm, originality, and vivid visuals that take it to a whole new level and hopefully may inspire more werewolf films to take a path lesser travelled.

Click here for No. 7!

Or go back to No. 9!

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 9

Continuing Digital Front's countdown of the Top Ten Werewolf films... in 9th place we have...

The Wolfman (2010)





Director: Joe Johnston
Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
Tagline: The legend is alive.

Summary:
A practical man returns to his homeland, is attacked by a creature of folklore, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him can not possibly exist.

Digital Front's Review:
A remake of the 1941 film starring Lon Chaney Jr., The Wolfman boasts a healthy cast of big names, big production values, and beautifully captures a dark and foreboding Victorian gothic atmosphere. Everything is dark and subdued - not only the visuals, but (on the whole) the performances as well.

As a horror fan, the addition of gore to the remake is also very welcome, updating the more family friendly format of the original. Anthony Hopkins is, as you'd expect, thoroughly dark and turns in a great turn as Lord Talbot.

There are disappointments however. The eponymous wolfman, in being faithful to the original, doesn't really fit with the polished visuals of the 2010 version. I appreciate the decision to not rely on CG and stick with prosthetics, but it never really hits the mark. And Del Toro, while arguably a great actor, for me is miscast in this film.

On the whole, The Wolfman is a little too subdued and in places really drags its heels. At times it feels like there was never a definitive vision that would add to the original, but it's definitely worth taking a peek at.

Click here for No. 8!

Or go back to No. 10!

Digital Front's Top Ten Werewolf Films: No. 10

To celebrate the end of #lycanthrovember (which, admittedly, seems to have run slightly longer than November as originally planned), I asked independent musician and husband-of-me, Digital Front to come up with his top ten werewolf films. Let's see how many you agree with!

And so... in 10th place...

Underworld (2003)





Director: Len Wiseman
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen
Tagline: An immortal battle for supremacy.

Summary:
Vampires and Lycans have been warring for centuries. Vampire Selene wonders why the enemy are interested in a particular human, Michael, but when she discovers a conspiracy between a Vampire traitor and a Lycan leader, she is forced to question her own origins.

Digital Front's review:
Underworld has all the ingredients for an amazing film - vampires and werewolves have been at war for centuries, beating the stuffing out of each other on a regular basis in a battle for supremacy and world domination. It's stylish, dark, and I really want to love the film.

And that's why it's in this list, albeit at the very bottom. Underworld should be a fantastic action fantasy exploring a power struggle between legendary monsters... but what we get is essentially a visually stunning but hollow film, trading an amazing plot opportunity for countless fight scenes that rapidly become dull carbon copies of each other.

There are a few sequels to the film, but Underworld is by far the better of the franchise. That isn't really saying much, sadly.

If you like your films to look nice, dish out lots of fight scenes, and have Kate Beckinsale in a tight leather fetish catsuit - Underworld will certainly keep you entertained. If however you like a substantial plot tying everything together, then Underworld is really not for you.

Click here for No. 9!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

#lycanthrovember

As some of you might have seen, Hic Dragones have been talking a bit about #lycanthrovember, so I thought I'd do a quick blog post about it. #lycanthrovember was my idea, as basically a month-long version of #WerewolfWednesday. (And yes, I did come up with the name. And no, it's not my best work.) It's shaping up to be quite a werewolf-y month for me, so I thought it would be cool to share the lycanthropic love on social media - if you have any werewolf related projects, artwork, books or films, feel free to add the hashtag so we can share them.

To kick off, then, at Hic Dragones are running a November-long offer on K Bannerman's wonderful Canadian werewolf novel The Tattooed Wolf: order the paperback or eBook from the Hic Dragones website and get our short collection Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny absolutely free!


Also from Hic Dragones, if you fancy a bit of Victorian Gothic werewolf fiction, Digital Periodicals is currently serializing George Reynolds' Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf. New instalments are published every fortnight in eBook formats, and are available for the princely sum of £1.


On a personal note, I have a werewolf short story entitled 'Nimby' coming out in the Fox Spirit Books' European Monsters anthology. I'll be blogging a bit more about that as the publication date gets closer. And my academic book on female werewolves (with Manchester University Press) finally has a wonderful cover and a publication date: She-Wolf: a Cultural History of Female Werewolves will be out in April 2015.

Now it's over to you... what werewolf-y things would you like to plug this month?

Happy #lycanthrovember!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2014 - Friday

Whitby, 23-27 October 2014

This is part two of a multi-part review. You can read part one here. Part three coming soon!

For more information about the Bram Stoker International Film Festival, please visit the festival website.

Content warning: this is a review of a horror film festival, and I will be talking in some detail about the content of the films we watched. In some places, this includes discussion of graphic depictions of sexual violence.

Our Friday began, again, with the second screening of the day: Stuart Gordon’s 2001 Lovecraft adaptation Dagon (based on the short stories ‘Dagon’ and ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’). A group of friends are stranded at sea during a frightening storm and race to a nearby town (Imboca) to get help – with disastrous (and eldritch) consequences.

The film starts off well, and the first landing at Imboca is really promising. As Paul (Ezra Godden) and Bárbara (Raquel Meroño) attempt to find some sign of life in the seemingly abandoned town, hints at the danger lurking behind the closed doors begin to emerge. The ever-present storm and torrential rain, which soaks the protagonists to the skin, adds an imposing and threatening backdrop that is almost tangible – the viewer begins to feel drenched by the town as Paul navigates Imboca’s twisted and unfriendly streets. As the inhabitants begin to show themselves, the glimpses of their ‘wrongness’ are suitably disturbing; Ferran Lahoz is particularly creepy as the town’s priest, a man who manages to be both friendly and menacing at the same time.

Unfortunately, Dagon soon begins to fall into the same trap as many other Lovecraft adaptations – when the horror is finally revealed, it actually looks rather ridiculous. At the risk of annoying the entire internet, I have to say: tentacles just aren’t scary, and neither are fish-people. The early glimpses (a gill here, an unblinking eye there) of the horror of Imboca eventually give way to hordes of fish-men chasing the protagonist from one deserted house to another, and the arrival of the half-woman, half-squid Princess Uxía (Macarena Gómez) is more absurd than horrific (especially when she dons her ceremonial headdress). That’s not to say that there isn’t any merit in the later sections of the film – I enjoyed Francisco Rabal’s performance as Ezequiel, the traumatized token non-fish resident of Imboca – but the film is much stronger at building up, rather than revealing, its horror.

Dagon was also the second film of the festival to use the grotesque violation of the female body as a vehicle for horror. The character of Bárbara is woefully underdeveloped, and she serves more as the object of Paul’s frantic search, rather than as a person in her own right. After the initial arrival at Imboca and the interaction with the priest, Bárbara fades into the background as Paul races around trying to discover her fate – before she is eventually raped to death by Dagon. Bárbara and Paul’s female friend Vicki (Birgit Bofarull) had earlier suffered a similar violation by tentacle, but, despite the fact that the woman is clearly traumatized by this event, Vicki’s rape is played almost for laughs (as Ezequiel struggles to think of the right words to explain it) and serves mainly to advance the ‘I can’t let this happen to my woman’ motivation of Paul. Dagon’s treatment of sexual violence – albeit penetration by a supernatural being, rather than rape by a human man – is not unique, but it feels disappointing, particularly as the early part of the film sets up Bárbara as more of a protagonist than she turns out to be.

After Dagon was a double bill that made for somewhat odd mix. The first film was a short film called Border Patrol (dir. Peter Baumann, 2013). Two German guards at the Austrian border find a body hanging from a tree, but they are not particularly keen to have this discovery prevent them from watching the big football match. This award-winning short film was really enjoyable – it was well shot and well acted, with just the right level of off-beat creepiness. Narrative can be difficult to handle in short films, but Border Patrol managed to balance characterization and atmosphere with a satisfying story arc that suited the form. I’ll admit, I did see the ending coming, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film. Apparently, despite being filmed in Germany, this short was an MA graduation project for students at Leeds Beckett University and it has been shown at a fair few festivals over the past year. We were definitely pleased to have caught it in Whitby.

The feature film in this double bill was Insectula! (dir. Michael Peterson, 2014), which was quite a dramatic change of pace. Inspired by creature-feature B-movies and The Twilight Zone, Insectula! is an in-your-face homage to schlock, with (deliberately) lurid Technicolor, gruesome visual effects and hammed-up acting. The film’s strengths are its obvious affection for its cinematic inspiration and its privileging of physical effects over CGI (this is particularly evident when a decomposing head is fished out of a river and dissected – not for the squeamish, but an impressive attempt at recreating the physicality of pre-CGI horror effects). I can see Insectula! going down well with fans of Troma films, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me; it isn’t my sense of humour, and it’s the sort of film that you either ‘get’ or you don’t.

Speaking of Troma, the next film on the schedule sounded an awful lot like it was going to be something along the lines of Troma’s 1984 film The Toxic Avenger. The blurb for Septic Man (dir. Jesse Thomas Cook, 2013) (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2574666/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1) reads:
“A sewage worker gets trapped inside a septic tank during a water contamination crisis and undergoes a hideous transformation. To escape, he must team up with a docile Giant and confront the murdering madman known as Lord Auch.”
As you can imagine, we were expecting another comedy horror with a sewage-contaminated superhero and a larger-than-life cast of supporting characters. But no. Far, far from it.



Septic Man is a dark and disturbing Canadian horror, carried almost entirely by Jason David Brown’s excellent performance as Jack (the eponymous Septic Man), a sewage worker who is asked by the shadowy Phil Prosser (Julian Richings) to assist with the aforementioned contamination crisis that has caused an entire town to be evacuated. As Jack investigates the source of the contamination, he becomes trapped in the sewers, and his ‘hideous transformation’ begins. The film is, at heart, a psychological horror – though there is a fair amount of bodyshock thrown in for good measure. It is, by turns, claustrophobic, grotesque, menacing and surreal. As Jack’s physical and mental wellbeing disintegrates, he is both threatened and rejected by the various people who become aware of his presence in the sewers (including the Giant (Robert Maillet) and Lord Auch (Tim Burd), but also Prosser and Jack’s wife Shelley (Molly Dunsworth)). Towards the end of the film, the line between reality and hallucination begins to blur, until it’s not quite clear what the reality beyond the sewer really is, and Jack becomes a sort of embodiment of the disavowed effluence in which he is imprisoned.

You definitely need a strong stomach for Septic Man, but I would highly recommend it. As a sustained exploration of the abjectification of the male body and the concomitant disintegration of masculine identity, it has few rivals. It’s quite simply the classiest and most intelligent film about poo that I’ve seen.

Another double bill followed Septic Man, kicking off with a Japanese short film, Bandaged (dir. Takashi Hirose, 2011). This was not a highpoint of the day for us. Hirose’s short film aims to shock, but falls rather flat. A young couple (played by Hiroshi Sekine and Ayano) spend their nights attacking and mutilating one another – and their days walking the streets swathed in bandages – as a way of feeling ‘connected’ and overcoming their existential despair. It was very hard to identify with these characters, as their alienation and angst was both pretentious and juvenile – not that juvenile alienation isn’t a serious matter, but more that this film presented it in a rather clichéd and two-dimensional manner. Additionally, cheap effects (including that pink-tinged fake blood that ruins horror films) and a predictable ending made this a somewhat disappointing addition to the schedule.

However, our disappointment didn’t last long, as the feature film in this double was another good one. Treehouse (dir. Michael Bartlett, 2014) seems to have had a few negative reviews from people who’ve seen it at other festivals, but we really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it.



Treehouse tells the story of Killian (J. Michael Trautmann) who stumbles upon the aftermath of a violent kidnapping in his American home town. Ascending into the treehouse of the title, while he and his brother Crawford (Daniel Frederick) are trying to find a party, Killian discovers Elizabeth (Dana Melanie) hiding from the abductors of her younger brother. Together, the two teens try to evade the kidnappers and find Little Bob (Elizabeth’s brother). One of the film’s main strengths lies in characterization, and I enjoyed the development of Elizabeth and Killian, as well as their relationship with one another.

One of the criticisms of the film appears to revolve around the reveal of the perpetrators of the kidnapping; some viewers seem to have found this unsatisfying. I have to say I’m struggling to understand this criticism, as I thought the revelations were handled very well and were completely right for the tone and setting of the film. I also thought that the amount of information and backstory provided for the kidnappers was well-handled, with the film going for suggestion and implication rather than in-your-face shock. The pace of the film isn’t slow, by any means, but it has a measured feel to it, which allows for more character development (but less high-energy action). The use of flashbacks to intercut the main narrative heightens this focus on character, which adds depth to the protagonists’ flight from their aggressive foes.

All-in-all, Treehouse is a recommendation. It might not be the most original narrative ever, but was an engaging and well-made film that offered an interesting take on well-trodden ground. The screening was followed by a Q+A with executive producer Steve Weston, who talked a bit about the reasons for a UK production company making a film in the US, as well as some of the ups and downs of casting and producing the film. This session was interesting, but I was surprised to see that – unlike in previous years – the Q+A sessions weren’t chaired by one of the festival organizing team. A student volunteer introduced various filmmakers throughout the festival (though not always by name), but they were then left to field their own questions and moderate the sessions themselves. This didn’t seem like the best way to introduce a guest speaker, and a return to the more structured sessions of previous years would be advisable.

After a short break, we returned for the next double bill of the day, beginning with the Japanese short film Anemia (dir. Maya Kato, 2013). Anemia is the story of a female vampire who can only survive on the blood of male virgins. It’s a rather amateurish affair, with unconvincing acting and cinematography. Not our favourite short film by a long way, and definitely not a recommendation.

The feature film following Anemia was another Japanese offering. Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (dir. Takayuki Hirao, 2012) is an anime adaptation of the manga Gyo by Junji Ito. I’m not familiar with the manga, so I couldn’t say how well the film works as an adaptation. I’m also not particularly well-versed in anime, so I struggled a little to get my head into the right frame of mind to watch this after a day of horror films. Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack is about a sudden infestation of biomechanical walking fish that carry ‘the stench of death’ with them. A group of friends discover that it is possible to become infected and devolve (evolve?) into a green, bloated fish monster, and so try to escape the infestation. I’m not sure if this film carried a deeper message or meaning, but it hasn’t converted me to anime. There were also a couple of scenes involving the forcible violation of the female body by a monstrous non-human that reminded me of the gratuitous tentacle rape of Dagon earlier in the day – as a result Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack left me rather cold.

On to the final film of the day…

At last year’s festival, we watched a short film called Dollboy by director Billy Pon (and you can read my review of that piece here, which was prefaced by what we thought were two Grindhouse-style fake trailers for films called Circus of the Dead and Mister Fister (which was as horrible and misogynist as it sounds). However, it turns out that these were actually trailers for upcoming feature films by Pon. The final film of the day was Pon’s Circus of the Dead (2014), starring Bill Oberst Jr. as a sociopathic and brutal clown named Papa Corn, who kidnaps and tortures family man Donald Johnson (Parrish Randall).

Hmmm… what to say about Circus of the Dead? Initially, I was very much inclined to like it. The circus (and its clowns) are simultaneously malevolent and squalid, and there is a feeling of griminess that pervades the carnival. Papa Corn begins as a sublimely menacing and unsettling figure (heightened by the fact that we never see him out of costume or make-up), who gets some really quite funny one-liners. However, the film soon descends into a rather childish attempt to pile up the most shocking and distasteful imagery possible, simply for the sake of it. Once Papa Corn begins his night of tormenting Donald Johnson, the film really has nowhere to go, and it becomes just one vicious attack after another with escalating levels of shock and diminishing levels of menace. The levels of gratuitous sexual violence in Circus of the Dead were also off-putting. There are no female characters in this film, only female bodies to be violated by male characters. Rape is lazily played for laughs – it is part of the ‘black humour’ that Papa Corn is a ‘serial rapist’ – or for the purposes of torturing a male character. Women are dehumanized to the point of objectification, and we see both the rape of a dead woman’s severed head (as a way of tormenting her husband) and the violent removal of a foetus from a woman’s uterus, as well as a number of other attempted rapes. This was all utterly unnecessary and added absolutely nothing to the film or to the characterization of the male characters. Perhaps this is my personal taste, but I generally don’t enjoy films that set out so blatantly to exceed previous levels of violence and violation simply for the purposes of shock and titillation. I felt rather let down by Circus of the Dead, as it started out with so much promise, and I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be watching a feature-length version of Mister Fister.

While I enjoyed a lot about the films on Friday – with Border Patrol, Septic Man and Treehouse being my favourites of the day – I left a little disturbed by the prevalence of sexual violence and violation of the female body in the day’s schedule. It seemed a worrying trend, particularly the way in which rape of the female body was being used as a punishment for men (with little to no attention given to its impact on the actual victim).

That’s it for the Friday films. I’ll be posting my review of the Saturday screenings shortly…

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2014 - Thursday

Whitby, 23-27 October 2014

This is part one of a multi-part review. Part two coming soon!

Content warning: this is a review of a horror film festival, and I will be talking in some detail about the content of the films we watched. In some places, this includes discussion of graphic depictions of sexual violence.

In October, my partner (RS) and I went to Whitby for the annual Bram Stoker International Film Festival. The festival is now in its sixth year, and this year it ran over five days. As well as a selection of independent horror films, the festival programme included evening events aimed at the pre-Whitby Goth Weekend Goth crowd – including the Vampires Ball, Children of the Night and 1880s Night music events, and a ‘Dark Arts’ exhibition). I’ve been to five out of the six festivals now, and you can read my review of last year’s festival here.

This year’s festival included 48 screenings over five days, so I’m going to jump right in and start talking about the films that we watched…

As RS and I always stay in a (lovely) B+B that’s about half an hour’s walk away from the festival venue – Whitby’s Spa Pavilion – and as we aren’t morning people by any stretch of the imagination, we missed a few of the morning screenings this year. Thursday kicked off for us with the second film of the day, a UK short film called The Dark Hours (dir. Daniel Smith, 2014).

The Dark Hours is a post-apocalyptic survivor tale about Richard (Simon Cotton), a man who is determined to do anything to protect his infected wife Catherine (Anna Skellern). Things take a dark turn when Richard meets another survivor, Cliff (Morgan Jones), and is forced (of course!) to make some difficult decisions. In some ways, the film is a fairly standard apocalypse story, relying on the usual trope of ‘don’t fear the infected, fear the other survivors’. Though we’re only given glimpses of the circumstances of the apocalypse, this also seems fairly standard fare – a worldwide plague of zombie/vampire infection leaving an embattled and disparate group of survivors to fight over dwindling resources and safe areas. However, the film has some pleasing elements that make it rather enjoyable. At the moment, I’m enjoying the current trend in zombie cinema of survivors battling to preserve their relationships with infected loved ones (Dominic Brunt’s 2012 Before Dawn has a nice treatment of this), as it makes a change from the ‘I don’t care who you were when you were alive, I’m going to blow your head off with a shotgun if you come within six feet of this shopping mall’ feel of earlier films. I like the humanization of the survivor/zombie relationship that is becoming more common, and this is very much at the heart of The Dark Hours. I also thought that Smith conjures up a great portrait of (post-)apocalyptic London – the scenes in the post-curfew tube station are particularly well done. Finally, the film has Morgan Jones doing an off-kilter turn as a threatening fellow survivor; I’ll always have a soft spot for Morgan Jones, because he was (and always will be, to me) Archer’s Goon.

Next up, we had our first feature film: Dracula in Pakistan (aka The Living Corpse or Zinda Laash, dir. Khwaja Sarfraz, 1967). To say this was a surprise is something of an understatement! To my shame, I’d never heard of Dracula in Pakistan before, and had no idea what to expect from the film known as ‘Pakistan’s first horror film’ (I don’t know if this claim is true, but it does appear to have been the first X-rated film produced in Pakistan). The film is an adaptation of Dracula, but with some interesting deviations from Stoker’s novel and the roughly contemporaneous Western adaptations typified by Hammer studios. The film tells the story of Professor Tabani (Rehan), a man who uses ‘evil scientist’ bubbling beakers to create a potion bestowing eternal life – and thus a new Prince of Darkness is born. When Dr Aqil (Asad Bukhari) visits the professor’s mysterious home, the vampire’s reign of terror really begins. This film is an absolute gem – the soundtrack and dance routines are just wonderful (although Wikipedia tells me that the dances were cut from the original cinematic release, as they were deemed too provocative). Dracula in Pakistan is kitsch, over-the-top and occasionally absurd – and we absolutely loved it.



After Dracula in Pakistan was another double bill, beginning with Dans L’Ombre [In the Shadows] (dir. Fabrice Mathieu, 2014). This short film is an interesting little piece, in which scenes from around fifty films featuring shadows are edited together and narrated by a shadow. Despite very much being an exercise in editing and research, this is quite an engaging short as the narrative that emerges from the montage (and is told by the shadow’s voiceover narration) is quite compelling.

The feature film in this double bill was Mount Nabi (dir. Seiji Chiba, 2014), which was the first disappointment of the festival. A Japanese found footage film, Mount Nabi is about a group of filmmakers who visit the eponymous mountain to make a horror film – but discover something far more horrific than they could have imagined. I’ll hold my hands up straightaway and admit that I can’t stand found footage films. I hated The Blair Witch Project, and I’ve pretty much hated every film that has mimicked that format since (the only exception being Carlo Ledesma’s 2011 The Tunnel, which I actually did enjoy). Mount Nabi does nothing new with the form, and, in fact, feels far closer to The Blair Witch Project than a lot of other recent found footage films. The screaming (and there is a lot of screaming), the motion-sickness-inducing camera angles, the up-nose snot shots, the inexplicable continuation of filming even after people start dying – all present in Mount Nabi. As an example of this type of horror film, sadly, Mount Nabi feels rather hackneyed. Worse still, the climax of the film’s horror is a lurid and deeply unsettling rape of a female character by a grotesque supernatural creature (and the subsequent rape and impregnation of another woman). There is something rather unsavoury about the way in which this sequence was filmed – particularly in the use of sound – and the narrative focus on the male characters and their respective proprietorial relationships to the raped women. There is little humanization of the violated women (before or after), and female bodies become (literally, in one case) vessels for the horror that faces the men. As we were to discover, this was to be a trend that was repeated throughout a number of the festival screenings.

The next film after Mount Nabi was Hansel and Gretel and the 420 Witch (aka Hansel and Gretel Get Baked, dir. Duane Journey, 2013). In case you can’t work it out from the title, this is a stoner comedy horror take on Hansel and Gretel – as if there haven’t been enough modern takes on that particular fairy tale already. RS and I aren’t huge fans of comedy horror, and the premise of this film really didn’t appeal… but it turned out to be really rather enjoyable. Lara Flynn Boyle plays Agnes, an old woman who is selling her home-grown pot (called Black Forest) to the local stoners. When her boyfriend goes missing after a visit to Agnes’s house, Gretel (Molly Quinn) decides to investigate – accompanied by brother Hansel (Michael Welch), of course. The eponymous siblings are joined by a cast of supporting characters including a local dealer, his Skittles-obsessed girlfriend, and some angry gang members. There’s also a ‘was that really him?’ cameo from Cary Elwes in the opening sequence.



Hansel and Gretel and the 420 Witch is one of those odd films that are much better than they should be. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is that stops this film being as groan-worthy as it sounds, but the way the humour is handled probably has a lot to do with it. On the whole, the jokes aren’t as obvious and crude as you might expect, and in some places the cheap gag is rejected for a slightly more subtle one. The horror, too, is done with a little more intelligence than you might expect. Though there is plenty of gore, the film doesn’t descend to crude buckets-of-blood set-pieces – and, although the film is fairly predictable on the whole, there are a couple of surprises that I didn’t see coming. Overall, this film proves that solid execution can redeem even the silliest of premises.

We had to end our Thursday viewing here, as we’d got plans to meet up with family, and so we didn’t get to see the last three films of the evening.

I’ll be posting my review of Friday’s films shortly…

Friday, 31 October 2014

Victorian Gothic Treats for Halloween

It's Halloween, and what better way to celebrate than with a bit of Victorian Gothic?



Hic Dragones is having a one-day sale of complete collections of 3 excellent penny dreadfuls, perfect reading for a stormy winter's night.

The String of Pearls, a Romance is perhaps one of the best-known of the penny dreadfuls, though it's probably now more famous for the adaptations that have followed. It's the story of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. But it's also the story of Johanna Oakley, a feisty young woman determined to unravel the mystery of her lover's disappearance. As Johanna's investigation moves her into the path of the demon barber, we are also introduced to Mrs Lovett, proprietor of the local pie shop. Lovett's pies are the talk of the town - but just what is the secret to their delicious flavour?

The String of Pearls is probably best known to modern audiences from the Tim Burton musical Sweeney Todd (starring Johnny Depp as the demon barber himself). While Burton's film captures much of the macabre humour and gruesome fun of the original story, much of the story has been altered. The cinematic Sweeney Todd is something of a sympathetic character - extracting revenge for the loss of his family. The barber that stalks the pages of the penny dreadful is a different sort of creature altogether. Gloriously unrepentant and bad to the bone, the literary Todd is a wonderfully awful creation and highly recommended. And the scenes in Lovett's kitchen rank among the creepiest to be found in Victorian popular fiction.

The complete eBook collection of The String of Pearls, a Romance contains all 39 chapters of the original serial, plus bonus Gothic short stories ('The Evil Guest' by J Sheridan LeFanu and 'The Last House in C-- Street' by Mrs Craik). For today only, it's just £2.50 from the Hic Dragones' website.



By contrast, Vileroy; or the Horrors of Zindorf Castle is not particularly well-known to modern audiences (maybe Tim Burton should do a film version...) But it's absolutely classic Victorian Gothic. As you can probably tell from the title, Vileroy is set in a castle - and a horrific one at that. Our heroine is Caroline Mecklenburg, a young woman seeking refuge from sad circumstances at the home of her aunt. But her aunt is married to Baron Zindorf, and he isn't the sort of host Caroline was hoping for. The baron is grappling with his own demons, and things are set to get worse with the arrival of his dodgy friend Count Durlack. Add to this some spooky noises, terrifying storms, a lost heir, a hidden dungeon and some sinister banditti, and you've got everything you need for Halloween. Oh... and there's a cup made out of a human skull. Obviously.

I love Vileroy for its in-your-face Gothic style. It's like a distillation of every trope and motif that you expect to find in early Victorian Gothic. In many ways, it is reminiscent of earlier Gothic (like The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho), which is no bad thing. But Caroline Mecklenburg is to eighteenth-century heroines what Buffy is to final girls, and you have to admire her attempts to stand up for herself against two thoroughly unpleasant men.

The complete eBook collection of Vileroy; or the Horrors of Zindorf Castle contains all 62 chapters of the original serial, plus bonus Gothic short stories ('The Library Window' by Mrs Oliphant and 'The Doom of the Griffiths' by Elizabeth Gaskell). For today only, it's just £3.00 from the Hic Dragones' website.



My current favourite penny dreadful is definitely The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist. It's 100% bonkers and 100% Victorian - it's really hard not to get wrapped up in the weird little vignettes of Valentine's adventures in London. Valentine Vox is a young man blessed with an amazing gift of ventriloquism (and mimicry). Sent to London by his Uncle John, he experiences (and disrupts) all the entertainments the city has to offer. He is befriended by Uncle John's friend Grimwood Goodman and meets a lovely young woman called Louise Raven. Valentine's story is a cornucopia of Victorian oddities - from phrenology lectures to waxwork exhibitions, from Equal Rights marches to diving bells. And there isn't a single one that doesn't fall victim to Valentine's mischievous (and somewhat iconoclastic) sense of fun.

But the story has a dark heart, as Grimwood's family have their eyes on his money. Worried that Valentine might replace them in Grimwood's will, they decide to take measures into their own hands and get Grimwood out of the picture for good. To do this, they take advantage of the dubious practices of a private lunatic asylum and have the unsuspecting man incarcerated in a brutal and cruel institution. The 1840 edition of the serial included a polemical introduction by the author on the laws concerning private asylums. This seriousness undercuts Valentine's silliness, and forces the young man to consider the important things in life. In many ways, it's a bit of a coming-of-age story - but one with a talking skull and a steam packet! I love it.

The complete eBook collection of The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist contains all 69 chapters of the original serial, plus bonus Gothic short stories ('The Doll's Ghost' by F. Marion Crawford and 'The Lost Ghost' by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman). For today only, it's just £3.50 from the Hic Dragones' website.

If you'd like to know more about what to expect from reading Victorian penny dreadfuls, click here to read a recent blog post I wrote about them.



Happy Halloween!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

OUT NOW: Journal of Popular Romance Studies (Issue 4.2)

Contents:

Special Issue: The Popular Culture of Romantic Love in Australia (Editor’s Introduction)
by Hsu-Ming Teo

The Private and Public Life of Nellie Stewart’s Bangle
by Annita Boyd

“We have to learn to love imperially”: Love in Late Colonial and Federation Australian Romance Novels
by Hsu-Ming Teo

A Masculine Romance: The Sentimental Bloke and Australian Culture in the War- and Early Interwar Years
by Melissa Bellanta

Marriage, Romance and Mourning Movement in Cherie Nowlan’s Thank God He Met Lizzie
by Mark Nicholls

After Happy Ever: Tender Extremities and Tangled Selves in Three Australasian Bluebeard Tales
by Lucy Butler

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks?: Romance, Ethics and Human-Dog Relationships in a Rural Australian Novel
by Lauren O’Mahony

Writing the Happy Ever After: An Interview with Anne Gracie
by Lisa Fletcher

Editor’s Note: Issue 4.2

Genre, Author, Text, Reader: Teaching Nora Roberts’s Spellbound
by Beth Driscoll

“I’m a Feminist, But…” Popular Romance in the Women’s Literature Classroom
by Julie M. Dugger

Reading the Romance: A Thirtieth Anniversary Roundtable, Editor’s Introduction
by Eric Selinger


To My Mentor, Jan Radway, With Love
by Deborah Chappel Traylor

The Politics of Popular Romance Studies
by Lynn S. Neal

Radway Roundtable Remarks
by Katherine Larsen

Studying the Romance Reader, Then and Now: Rereading Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance
by Jessica Matthews

Love’s Laborers Lost: Radway, Romance Writers, and Recuperating Our Past
by Heather Schell

From Reading the Romance to Grappling with Genre
by Stephanie Moody

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby: Reflecting Thirty Years after Reading the Romance
by Mallory Jagodzinski

Review: Deconstructing Twilight: Psychological and Feminist Perspectives on the Series, by Donna M. Ashcraft
Reviewed by Catherine Coker

Review: Happy Endings in Hollywood Cinema. Cliché, Convention and the Final Couple, by James MacDowell
Reviewed by Zorianna Zurba

Review: Romance: The History of a Genre, edited by Dana Percec
Reviewed by Hannah Priest

Review: The Princess Story: Modeling the Feminine in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film, by Sarah Rothschild
Erin E. Bell

Review: Getting Inside Your Head: What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Popular Culture, by Lisa Zunshine
Karen J. Renner

For more information, please visit the journal website.

CFP: Telling Tales: Manuscripts, Books and the Making of Narrative

The biennial conference of the Early Book Society 2015

The next biennial conference of the Early Book Society will take place at the University of Oxford, from lunchtime on Thursday 2 July 2015 to early afternoon on Sunday 5 July 2015. Abstracts of 300 words or fewer for 20-minute presentations should be sent to the organizers by 30 November 2014 to the conference e-mail address. Abstracts should include your name, affiliation (where relevant) and email address. Computers and data-projectors will be available for all sessions; speakers would need to bring presentations on a memory stick / USB plug-in device. People who have other AV needs should specify this on their abstract.

The theme, which may be interpreted narrowly or broadly, invites special attention to the material records of different genres of narrative, such as verse, romance, chronicle, biography or history. It might consider the ways that manuscripts, printed books and other media serve a narrative function: whether page layouts were modified for chronicles and annals, whether collections of documents were compiled to tell stories, whether images in books are important components of storytelling, whether poems on monuments recount lives.

The topic also invites participants to tell different kinds of stories about early books. In particular, we may reflect on our storytelling as scholars. What is the role of biography – of the author, of the ‘celebrity’ scribe, of the idiosyncratic reader – in the study of early books? How sure can we be of cause and effect, of chronology and dating, of different kinds of paleographical, codicological and bibliographical evidence, in studying these books? Are history and narrative the best models for ‘book history’ or might studies of manuscript and print serve literary criticism, linguistics or philology in other ways?

Finally, papers which concern books in or around Oxford are also encouraged. But, in general, proposals for papers on any aspect of the history of manuscripts and printed books from 1350 to 1550, including the copying and circulation of models and exemplars, style, illustration, and/or the influence of readers and patrons, artists, scribes, printers, are welcome.

Accommodation and most meals will be available at St Anne’s College, Oxford. Most lectures will take place there too, but part of the conference will take place in the newly renovated Weston Building of the Bodleian Library, which reopens officially in March 2015. There will be ‘masterclasses’ with manuscripts on show, a visit to the exhibition and some optional visits, on a first-come-first-served basis, ‘behind the scenes’ to departments of the library. We are grateful to the Centre for the Study of the Book in the Bodleian for co-hosting the conference and sponsoring these events.

The website with details of registration and accommodation will go live later this winter and will be announced on the EBS listserv, Facebook, and also on the EBS website.

For those making travel plans, there are some preliminary points to bear in mind.

Depending on availability, accommodation might be in St Anne’s or other Colleges for extra nights before or after the conference. Oxford is about an hour from central London by rail. The closest international airport is London Heathrow, and from there and from London Gatwick there is a convenient coach service, The Airline, which can be booked in advance. Birmingham International Airport is also close and has direct train connections to Oxford every half an hour.

People planning to combine the conference with a research trip might be reminded that the Special Collections department at the Bodleian Library and the Colleges’ libraries tend to be busy with visitors in the summer months, so planning is advised, given that dozens of early book enthusiasts will be in town!

Also, Leeds International Medieval Congress begins the day after our conference, on Monday 6 July 2015. Travel from Oxford to Leeds on Sunday evenings takes three and a half hours by rail, direct or with one change, and if booked far enough in advance (up to three months in advance) can cost (at this year’s rates) as little as £45.

Friday, 17 October 2014

CFP: Crossing Borders in the Insular Middle Ages, c. 900-1500

Keltologie, Philipps-Universität Marburg
8-10 April 2015

Keynote speakers: Prof. Helen Fulton (University of York), Prof. Dr. Erich Poppe (Philipps-Universität Marburg) and Dr Sif Rikhardsdottir (University of Iceland)

We are delighted to announce a symposium at Philipps-Universität Marburg on the role of cross-border literary borrowings in the construction of political, national, regional and cultural identities in the British Isles, Ireland and Iceland across the long period c. 900-1500. Proposals for papers are invited on processes of translation and adaptation across insular vernacular languages and/or Latin; discussions of broader cross-border thematic influences and correspondences; lines of transmission and textual distribution; the role of ecclesiastical and secular institutions in cross-border insular literary contact; perceptions of other insular peoples and constructions of otherness/ similitude; cross-border manuscript and book circulation; literary engagements and intersections with cross-border material and visual culture; linguistic borrowings across insular languages.

This is intended to foster discussion about contemporary methodologies in comparative literary studies by international scholars working in Celtic Studies, English and Norse. We hope that these conversations will make an important contribution to a growing field of research into the shape of pre-modern cultural and political mentalities.

Proposals are also welcomed from doctoral students and early career scholars, and we hope to have small subsidies available for accommodation costs.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words by 2 January 2015 to Dr Victoria Flood.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Some Historical Female Werewolves

I don't think it'll come as much of a surprise if I say that I enjoy writing and reading about female werewolves. However, every so often something gives you a moment of pause. I sometimes get asked by people if I can tell them anything about 'real' or 'historical' female werewolves. I think they probably want me to tell them an exciting story about a renegade wildwoman, running with the wolves and sticking it to the man. In truth, I don't know any stories like that.

What I do know is that, for a brief period of history, an accusation of lycanthropy carried a death sentence for some women. Though not as widespread as witchcraft, lycanthropy was one of the crimes investigated by the Inquisition and records survive of men and women who were tried for this crime.

Here are some of the historical 'female werewolves' who faced trial in Europe:

Marie Barnagoz (burnt at the stake in 1551)
Perrenette Tornier (burnt at the stake in 1551, head displayed on a stake as a deterrent to others)
Jeanne Guyenot (burnt at the stake in 1551)
Appoline Garnier (interrogated as an accomplice to her husband's lycanthropy, released from custody in 1573)
Perrenette Gandillon (lynched in 1598)
Clauda Jeanprost (burnt at the stake in 1598)
Françoise Sécretain (died in prison in 1598)
Clauda Guillaume (burnt at the stake in 1598)
Thivienne Paget (burnt at the stake in 1598)
Clauda Gaillard (burnt at the stake in 1598)
Guillauma Frayre (executed in c.1605)
Guillemette Barnard (found innocent of lycanthropy but guilty of witchcraft, sentenced to banishment in 1605)
Perrenette Glaon (burnt at the stake in 1611)
Jeanne Horriel (refused to confess under torture, found innocent of lycanthropy but guilty of blasphemy, fined in 1611)
Oudette Champon (paid for a lawyer to mount a defence, acquitted in 1629)
Pierrette Vichard (refused to confess under torture, acquitted in 1657)
Renoberte Simon (acquitted in 1660)

Information about these women and the circumstances of their interrogation, trial and punishment can be found in Rolf Schulte's contribution to my book on the cultural history of female werewolves, which will be published by Manchester University Press in 2015.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

WIN 4 Books, including SIGNED books by Ramsey Campbell and Douglas Thompson (International Entry Allowed)

Another Hic Dragones giveaway... this time with 4 fantastic books as a prize. Entry via the Rafflecopter widget below.



Impossible Spaces, edited by Hannah Kate (published by Hic Dragones)

Sometimes the rules can change. Sometimes things aren’t how they appear. Sometimes you can just slip through the cracks and end up… somewhere else. What else is there? Is there somewhere else, right beside you, if you could only reach out and touch it? Or is it waiting to reach out and touch you?

Don’t trust what you see. Don’t trust what you hear. Don’t trust what you remember. It isn’t what you think.

A new collection of twenty-one dark, unsettling and weird short stories that explore the spaces at the edge of possibility. Stories by: Ramsey Campbell, Simon Bestwick, Hannah Kate, Jeanette Greaves, Richard Freeman, Almira Holmes, Arpa Mukhopadhyay, Chris Galvin Nguyen, Christos Callow Jr., Daisy Black, Douglas Thompson, Jessica George, Keris McDonald, Laura Brown, Maree Kimberley, Margrét Helgadóttir, Nancy Schumann, Rachel Yelding, Steven K. Beattie, Tej Turner, Tracy Fahey

Obsession, by Ramsey Campbell (SIGNED COPY) (published by Samhain Publishing)

The deal seemed too good to be true. Until it came time to pay.

The letters said, “Whatever you most need, I do. The price is something that you do not value and which you may regain.” To four teenagers, it seemed an offer too good to pass up. They filled out the enclosed forms. Indeed, they soon got what they needed most, but in shocking ways they never imagined. Twenty-five years later, they have never been able to forget the horror. But it’s not over yet. In fact, it’s about to get much worse. Now it’s time to pay the price.



The Seven Days of Cain, by Ramsey Campbell (SIGNED COPY) (published by Samhain Publishing)

Is anyone really innocent?

On two continents, weeks apart, two people are brutally murdered: a Barcelona street performer and a New York playwright are each gruesomely tortured to death. In Britain, photographer Andy Bentley begins receiving mysterious emails. The messages refer to the killings and contain hints that the murderer has a personal connection to Andy. But what is it? Are the emails coming from the killer himself? And what, if anything, does Andy’s past have to do with the deaths? As the answers begin to take shape Andy will be forced to confront not only the consequences of his actions, but also the uncertainty of reality itself. Before that happens, how much that he loves will be destroyed?

Entanglement, by Douglas Thompson (SIGNED COPY) (published by Elsewhen Press)

In 2180, travel to neighbouring star systems has been mastered thanks to quantum teleportation using the 'entanglement' of sub-atomic matter; astronauts on earth can be duplicated on a remote world once the dupliport chamber has arrived there. In this way a variety of worlds can be explored, but what humanity discovers is both surprising and disturbing, enlightening and shocking. Each alternative to mankind that the astronauts find, sheds light on human shortcomings and potential while offering fresh perspectives of life on Earth. Entanglement is simultaneously a novel and a series of short stories: multiple worlds, each explored in a separate chapter, a separate story; every one another step on mankind's journey outwards to the stars and inwards to our own psyche.

Enter now to win this fantastic prize...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CFP: Masculinities in the British Landscape

14-17 May 2015

A multi-disciplinary, multi-period conference to be held at Harlaxton College, the British Campus of the University of Evansville, outside of Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Keynote Speaker: Professor Howard Williams (Chester): ‘From Stonehenge to the National Memorial Arboretum: Megaliths and Martial Masculinity in the British Landscape’

This conference seeks to explore current and historical concepts of masculinities in the British landscapes. From depictions of masculine control to landscapes of masculine employment, the conference wishes to explore the ways masculinity has been marked on the landscape and expressed in landscape terms.

Proposals will be accepted from all eras from the prehistoric to the contemporary. The geographic area covered will be not only England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but also the historic scope of ‘Britishness,’ including former British Empire states in their colonial and post-colonial periods.

Proposals are encouraged from any discipline, including (but not limited to) archaeology, art history, criminology, folklore studies, history, literature, philosophy, sociology and theology. Topics might include:

- The naval seascape
- Sculpted and symbolic landscapes
- Agricultural landscapes
- Ritualized landscapes
- Gender, crime and urban topography
- Employment and land
- Geographic concepts of masculinity
- Masculinity, empire and the landscape
- Religious masculinity and the monastic landscape
- Landscapes of masculinity through war, rebellion and protest
- Textual depictions of masculinities and landscapes

Please send 200-word proposals for 20-minute papers or 600-word proposals for 3-paper panels to the conference convenors by 1 December 2015. Informal queries can be made to Dr Edward Bujak or Dr Katherine Weikert.

Please click here for the conference website.

The Conference is generously supported by the Economic History Society.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

OUT NOW: Sexual Culture in the Literature of Medieval Britain (D.S. Brewer, 2014)

Edited by Amanda Hopkins, Robert Allen Rouse and Cory James Rushton



It is often said that the past is a foreign country where they do things differently, and perhaps no type of "doing" is more fascinating than sexual desires and behaviours. Our modern view of medieval sexuality is characterised by a polarising dichotomy between the swooning love-struck knights and ladies of romance on one hand, and the darkly imagined and misogyny of an unenlightened "medieval" sexuality on the other. British medieval sexual culture also exhibits such dualities through the influential paradigms of sinner or saint, virgin or whore, and protector or defiler of women. However, such sexual identities are rarely coherent or stable, and it is in the grey areas, the interstices between normative modes of sexuality, that we find the most compelling instances of erotic frisson and sexual expression.

This collection of essays brings together a wide-ranging discussion of the sexual possibilities and fantasies of medieval Britain as they manifest themselves in the literature of the period. Taking as their matter texts and authors as diverse as Chaucer, Gower, Dunbar, Malory, alchemical treatises, and romances, the contributions reveal a surprising variety of attitudes, strategies and sexual subject positions.

About the Editors:

Amanda Hopkins teaches in English and French at the University of Warwick; Robert Allen Rouse is Associate Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Cory James Rushton is Associate Professor of English at St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Contents:

Introduction: A Light Thrown upon Darkness: Writing about Medieval British Sexuality
Robert Allen Rouse and Cory James Rushton

1. ‘Open manslaughter and bold bawdry’: Male Sexuality as a Cause of Disruption in Malory’s Morte Darthur
Kristina Hildebrand

2. Erotic (Subject) Positions in Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale
Amy S. Kaufman

3. Enter the Bedroom: Managing Space for the Erotic in Middle English Romance
Megan G. Leitch

4. ‘Naked as a nedyll’: The Eroticism of Malory’s Elaine
Yvette Kisor

5. ‘How love and I togedre met’: Gower, Amans and the Lessons of Venus in the Confessio Amantis
Samantha J. Rayner

6. ‘Bogeysliche as a boye’: Performing Sexuality in William of Palerne
Hannah Priest

7. Fairy Lovers: Sexuality, Order and Narrative in Medieval Romance
Aisling Byrne

8. Text as Stone: Desire, Sex, and the Figurative Hermaphrodite in the Ordinal and Compound of Alchemy
Cynthea Masson

9. Animality, Sexuality and the Abject in Three of Dunbar’s Satirical Poems
Anna Caughey

10. The Awful Passion of Pandarus
Cory James Rushton

11. Invisible Woman: Rape as a Chivalric Necessity in Medieval Romance
Amy N. Vines

For more information, please visit the publisher's website.

Friday, 1 August 2014

CFP: Literary Margins and Digital Media

Seminar of the Academia Europaea and the University of Wrocław
15–17 April 2015

The Academia Europaea Knowledge Hub Wrocław and the University of Wrocław invite young scholars (PhD candidates and postdocs), to take part in the Seminar Literary margins and digital media, to be held in Wrocław (Poland) on 15–17 April 2015.

Context and rationale

Traditional elite culture is becoming increasingly marginalized, while forms of cultural expression which were seen as marginal during the first half of the twentieth century, or which, in the terminology of Bourdieu and Even-Zohar, were located at the periphery of the cultural field, have been gaining a more prominent place. The three vital factors that have played a crucial role in this phenomenon are the commercialisation of cultural life, democratic access to culture, and the development of the Internet and new media. The aim of this conference is to discuss the implications of these shifts for European literatures, and particularly for those of Central and Eastern Europe.

First, special consideration will be given to the evolution of literary genres which were until recently deemed marginal from the perspective of the traditional cultural centre, such as children’s and young adult literature, popular literature and, in recent times, electronic literature. Second, a related issue to be discussed will be ways in which literature repositions itself with regard to contemporary technological and social developments. Of interest here is not so much the question whether traditional literary culture will be displaced by new media, but rather in what manner literature reacts to these developments and retains its significance either through a symbiosis with other modes of cultural expression or by generating new genres.

Tracks

Terminology and concepts
- Do the existing terminology and traditional methods of literary analysis apply to analyzing electronic literature? Is there a need for developing new approaches?
- How does the transition from the book as an art object (‘liberature’) to electronic literature occur?
- What new genres have emerged in cyberspace?
Crossing boundaries
- Is the division into high and low culture relevant in cyberspace? What are processes involved in textualisation of visual signs and visualisation of the text?
- How does literature exists in the nonlinguistic realm? How are the limits of language challenged?
- How do elements of subcultures move to the mainstream in the context of new media?
Ethics
- Stealing or recycling? How to define the use of traditional literature for digital purposes?
- What is the status of the author in cyberspace?
- What is the role of digital culture and new media in the preservation and dissemination of national cultural heritage?
Age and media
- How does age affect media preferences and use?
- Is the distinction between children’s literature and adult literature still valid in the context of new media?
- What forms of cultural convergence are emerging within children’s culture?
Readers and consumers of popular culture
- How does the evolution from the reader (of traditional print literature) to the active performer or player proceed?
- What alternative forms of sharing cultural experiences have emerged thanks to social media and participatory culture?
- What are possible methods of empirical research into readers and popular culture audiences?
Games
- Are computer games a literary genre?
- What processes are involved in turning literature into games and games into literature?
- What is the aesthetics of alternative and artistic games?
Future: dangers & possibilities
- What is the future of translation in view of instant translation available on the Internet?
- How to promote new media literacies among children and adults?
- What may be potential applications of popular culture and media convergence in education?
- What are possible uses of games in developing media literacies?
- Remediation – a new life for historical texts?
- How is children’s publishing in Central and Eastern Europe being affected by multimedia?
- What is the influence of new media on the development and status of popular literature?

APPLICATION: For registration, click here. Submit a 300-word proposal, a curriculum vitae with a list of publications by October 5, 2014. All applicants will be notified about the selection of participants before October 31, 2014.

REQUIREMENTS: Presenters are required to submit a 3,000-5,000 word description or excerpt (i.e., chapter, article, etc.) to be circulated among participants by March 1, 2015. All workshop participants are asked to read these submissions prior to the workshop. The paper should be an unpublished one. Presenters who do not meet the submission deadline will not be able to present their work.

SEMINAR LANGUAGE will be English.

FINANCIAL ARRANGEMENTS: The organizers will cover the conference fee and the costs of accommodation*, travel**, insurance and publication.

SCIENTIFIC AND ORGANISING COMMITTEE
Irena Barbara Kalla (University of Wrocław)
Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak (University of Wrocław)
Dorota Michułka (University of Wrocław)
Bogumiła Staniów (University of Wrocław)
Bożena Czarnecka (University of Wrocław)
Pieter Emmer (Academia Europaea)
Siegfried Huigen (University of Wrocław)
Stefan Kiedroo (University of Wrocław)
Aleksandra Nowak (Academia Europaea)

All correspondence, including submission of proposals and final papers, must be addressed to Aleksandra Nowak or via the website.

*up to 4 nights
** up to certain maximum: Western Europe – up to 100 EUR, Central and Eastern Europe – up to 150 EUR