Lawrence Olivier (1948)
John Gielgud (1964)
Rodney Bennett (1980)
Franco Zeffirelli (1990)
Kenneth Branagh (1996)
Gregory Doran (2009)
Lawrence Olivier (1948)
John Gielgud (1964)
Rodney Bennett (1980)
Franco Zeffirelli (1990)
Kenneth Branagh (1996)
Gregory Doran (2009)
A side project that I have been working on for the past year or two has finally come to fruition! This book chapter is a study of monstrous children in the science fiction films of Ridley Scott, published in ‘Monstrous Children and Childish Monsters‘ by McFarland and edited by Markus P.J. Bohlmann and Sean Moreland.
With a focus on the genre of popular cinema, ‘Monstrous Children’ brings together a collection of scholars who interrogate ideas of monstrosity in association with the concept of ‘childness’ or the child. Karen J Renner, author of The Evil Child (2013) is one of the contributors. The collection also features forewords by Steven Bruhm and James R. Kincaid, and afterwords by Kathryn Bond Stockton and Harry M. Benshoff.
In this essay I analyse themes of patriarchy, the monstrous and the liminal in Scott’s films Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1983) and Prometheus (2012). I’ve always been a fan of those films, and having the opportunity to adopt a critical approach to them has been a great experience. Plot wise, I feel that Prometheus had a lot less to offer than Scott’s earlier efforts, but the representation of monstrous children seems to be a recurring theme in his science fiction films. The creation of artificial life is another theme that these films have in common. While the concept of creating artificial people might seem like an alien (excuse the pun) concept, recent advances in the development of artificial intelligence, as Stephen Hawking proposes, should be treated with caution. What is ‘science fiction’ in these films, might become an actual reality, as this clip from Prometheus’s viral campaign presupposes.
In addition to my interest in early modern English stuff, I also dabble in film criticism.
I recently went to a screening of Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman’ and loved it. I wrote a piece on metatextuality that has just been published by The Conversation! Check it out here.
Christmas – a time for one to celebrate with loved ones and friends, to celebrate the warmth of the ‘Christmas Spirit’. For those who work in the field of Gothic studies, Christmas Day is a special occasion. December 25th, 2014 marks the 250th year that Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto has been in print. His ‘Gothic Story’, published under a pseudonym of ‘William Marshall’ on Christmas Day in 1764, would become one of the most influential novels of the eighteenth century. As the ‘father’ of Gothic literature, The Castle Of Otranto is in this regard noteworthy for bringing into fashion a literary mode that exists in some form even today.
Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill
Walpole, the son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, was an antiquarian who had an obsession with artefacts and texts from the Middle Ages. At his behest, Walpole commissioned a Committee of Taste who worked on transforming his estate at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham into the likeness of a castle. The estate remains in the hands of a trust that keeps it maintained to this very day. In the warmer months, tours of the estate are made available for interested visitors.
Creating a Gothic Story
Made to look like a castle, Strawberry Hill was one of Walpole’s eccentric creations. But Walpole’s fascination for the Middle Ages extended into his literary interests as well. His ‘Gothic’, or medieval story was set in the Middle Ages, and has several recognisable archetypes of Gothic fiction: a tyrannical villain, damsels in distress, and a brooding, melancholic hero. Embracing ideas that came to him in a dream, Walpole’s novel is an important pre-Romantic text that celebrates the power of the literary imagination over literary realism and verisimilitude.
The Ghost of Christmas Past: From A Gothic Story to the Horror Film
The Castle of Otranto’s popularity elicited a string of imitators and others who drew on supernaturalism and terror as inspiration for their works. Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Matthew Lewis’s infamous text The Monk (1796) followed in the Gothic tradition. Lewis would have interactions with Mary Shelley in 1816, two years before the eventual publication of Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Post Modern Prometheus in 1818. Considered to be a pioneering work of Gothic science fiction, Shelley’s Frankenstein would take the Gothic novel away from its often medieval and early modern settings. Subsequently, the Brontes’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were both published in 1847. But of the Victorian Gothic novels published in the nineteenth century, it is perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case Of Jekyll and Hyde (1886) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) that are etched firmly in a twentieth century popular consciousness thanks to the representation of their eponymous characters in film and popular culture, particular in the Hammer Films adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula. The advent of cinema would be a fundamental game changer in the development of narratives of terror.
The Haunted House in the Twentieth Century
Just how different is Walpole’s haunted castle of Otranto from contemporary Gothic texts? Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien (1979) is in essence a haunted house narrative that takes place in space and in the future. The Overlook, the setting of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller The Shining is a haunted hotel. In Gothic fiction, the idea of a castle as a structure used to shield and protect individuals is subverted. Castles become threatening spaces – Walpole’s novel features a female character fleeing from a tyrannical villain. This trope persists in slasher films such A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). Despite changes in form, the DNA of contemporary Gothic texts and horror films have inherited the ‘spirit’ of Walpole’s novel in some way or another. Perhaps it is time for Hollywood to take up the challenge of adapting The Castle of Otranto for the big screen?
250 Years of Terror
On Christmas Day in 1764, when Horace Walpole published the first manuscript of The Castle of Otranto, he could hardly have guessed the impact that his novel would have on generations to come. Writing against a vein of Enlightenment rationalism, Walpole tapped into the essence of what makes us human – dreams and emotions – and delivered them in a tale of terror, a work that reverberates even till this day. We don’t even need to look to Walpole. Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmas reminds us that, while Christmas is traditionally filled with warmth and happiness, grief and sorrow are at the heart of the human condition. Our fears are what make us who we are, and it is this acknowledgement of this aspect of our humanity that Walpole was trying to present way back in the eighteenth century. While what made Walpole’s text ‘Gothic’ – his medievalist inclinations – is markedly absent from contemporary Gothic texts, his ‘principle engine’ of terror exists, in many shapes and forms, in all forms of culture today.
Based on the short story by Clive Barker, the film Hellraiser contains a simple enough premise that has spawned countless, albeit tiresome sequels. What if one could open a gateway to Hell itself by solving a puzzle? The franchise features a puzzle box that, if solved, will open a gateway to a realm of infinite terror. This is implied to be Hell in the films, though in the short story, the box simply opens a gateway to a different dimension of experience. In the films, the box is made by a toymaker in the eighteenth century. The graphic novels establish a different, and more horrific premise. in the graphic novels, the boxes made by Lemarchand are made with human body parts – fat and bone.
But is the premise of boxes made from the parts of human bodies that horrifying? In this article, researchers from Harvard discuss the creation of a book from human skin. In fact, the concept of using skin to make books is a very old one, this paper proposes. Interestingly enough, it is in the eighteenth and nineteenth century that we really witness the ‘vogue’ (for lack of a better word) for human skin bindings, despite the fact that the idea itself is an old one.
And if we take the idea of making books from human skin, why can’t we make other things out of human body parts? :
The rafters of my body. bone,
Being still with you, the muscle, sinew, vein,
Which tile this house, will come again
– John Donne , A Valediction of My Name, In The Window
Came across this trailer yesterday:
With recognisable set designs, blades, flying monsters and Bill Nighy (why, Bill why?), the film looks every bit like an Underworld clone. And Aaron Eckhart? He excels in roles where he plays smooth talkers (Thank You For Smoking, The Dark Knight), and as his performance in TDK shows, he is also capable of a lot more than exuding suave charm in a suit. But action/horror? Interestingly, I Frankenstein is actually based on a graphic novel from Darkstorm Comics, and the screenwriter is Kevin Grevioux, the bloke who played one of the werewolves in Underworld. Kevin’s actually written quite a few comic book titles of his own.
Seeing the trailer for the film, I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers are trying to start a new ‘monster’ trend. The mid-noughties saw an explosion of vampire-themed films – the Underworld franchise (2003-2012), 30 Days of Night (2007), Let The Right One In (2008), Twilight (2008-2012), Daybreakers (2009), Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012). Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (2012) looks interesting, and can be added to the list too. From vampires, we then had a zombie renaissance: The Walking Dead TV series, I Am Legend (2007), Quarantine (2008), Zombieland (2009), Para Norman (2012), Warm Bodies (2013), World War Z (2013), and Raimi’s Evil Dead remake (2013). Perhaps, with I Frankenstein – the creators of the film are attempting to make homunculi popular in the same way that vampire and zombies are/were?
I prefaced this post with a quote from philosopher Bruno Latour. In We Have Never Been Modern, Latour comments on the concept of modernity:
No one has ever been modern. Modernity has never begun. There has never been a modern world. The use of the past perfect tense is important here, for it is a matter of retrospective sentiment, of a rereading of our history. (p.47)
In thinking about shifting cultural trends such as the vampire and zombie film, I can’t help but meditate on this concept of ‘modernity’. The vampire flick might be a ‘modern’ product of the 21st century cultural industry, but in relation to the zombie film, can it still be considered ‘modern’? If we flip the coin and look at the zombie film, what if I, Frankenstein sets off a new trend? Should a ‘homunculi’ trend be kickstarted by this film, films like WWZ and Warm Bodies will undoubtedly be, as a consequence, seen as products of a particular zeitgeist, one that is dated. If we think of vampire and zombie films as repeated iterations of a singular theme, are these any different from the predictable plots of the eighteenth century Gothic novel? A satirical poem from 1810 pokes fun at how predictable the plots of Gothic texts are, proposing that the ‘apparatus’ for a Gothic novel can be swapped with that of a sentimental novel:
Take the following, which may, like machinery in factories, accelerate the progress of the divine art. Where you find——
A castle……….put a house
A giant………..a father
A bloodstained dagger…………..a fan
Skeletons and skulls……………compliments and sentiments
A gliding ghost…………….a usurer or an attorney
A midnight murder……………a marriage
As is evident from this satirical poem, popular Gothic novels were awfully predictable. In this,the craze for Gothic novels in England in the eighteenth century mirrors the popularity of vampire and zombie films in the 21st century. Many popular Gothic novels of that period did not become literary classics in the way Shelley or Stoker’s novels did. The same goes for vampire and zombie films. Maybe there is something more to be said about universality, predictability and popular appeal.
But for me the real question, the biggest question of all is: If we have vampire/zombie films in the 21st century, and Gothic novels in the 18th/19th century, what about the time period before the ‘invention’ of the English novel? What were the ‘people’s monsters’, so to speak, of earlier cultures?
That is a question I hope to answer in time.
Just came across this on the interwebs. Had to re-post! This opening to The Simpsons references so many horror/gothic/pop culture texts that reads as a great homage to the genre. Embedded are references to Del Toro’s films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Mimic, Blade II, and a blink-and-you’ll miss reference to Pacific Rim. There are also explicit nods to authors such as Poe, Stephen King, and Hitchcock. Great Cthulhu also makes a cameo appearance.
About time someone got together an edited volume on del Toro and the Gothic! Any takers?
'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.
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