Screening the Contemporary Gothic

Sorcha Ni FhliannMMUf

This panel brings together three scholars working on the contemporary screen Gothic and its metaphorical horrors whose work individually and collectively draws upon postmodern slippages between the past and the present —through zombies, Satanic Panic and spectral horrors— in order to interrogate contemporary anxieties about precarity, prejudice, and socio-political nightmares onscreen.

‘I’ve Found the First Risen … He’s Beautiful’: Oppression, The Uncanny and Sympathetic Monstrosity in Dominic Mitchell’s In the Flesh (2013-2015) (Hayley Charlesworth)

Hayley Louise Charlesworth is a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University, researching depictions of bisexuality and concepts of bierasure and biphobia in post-millennial Gothic television.

This paper interrogates the depiction of the queer sympathetic zombie in In the Flesh. Through the relationship between the characters of Kieren Walker and Simon Monroe, I will show how the zombies here complicate notions of the undead as an example of the Uncanny, as the homophobic and religious prejudices they face both humanise the zombie and demonise the human characters. This will call upon a history of the zombie being used to represent oppressed minorities, from White Zombie to Night of the Living Dead, and will apply the notion of the sympathetic monster as detailed in Abbott and Jowett’s TV Horror (2013) to these protagonists, while also relating the different politics of Kieren and Simon to the assimilationist Gay Liberation movement and the radical Queer movement respectively. I will draw direct comparisons between the show’s radicalised human and zombie activist groups, focusing on how both groups manipulate the scripture to their own ends, and how each group ‘others’ their opposition. This will also require a line to be traced between Kieren and Simon and the Biblical figures of Jesus and Judas. Ultimately, the research will conclude in showing how the themes of religion, homophobia, and prejudice allow us to view the minority at its centre as sympathetic.

‘Devil’s Den’ in the Trump Era: American Gothic Masculinity and Satanic Panic in True Detective, Season 3 (2019) (Charlotte Gough)

Charlotte Gough is a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University funded by the NWCDTP. Her research examines the representation of, and relationship between, masculinity and Satanic Panic in American Gothic films of the 1980s and 1990s. She has been published in The Irish Journal for Gothic and Horror Studies and Fantastika Journal. 

This paper will examine how the third instalment of American seasonal anthology series, True Detective (2019)—centring on a macabre investigation involving missing children in Arkansas—engages with the real-life ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s and 1990s through the traumatic, transtemporal subjectivity of its central detective protagonist. Indeed, it is set within, and reflects upon, the period in which US society was permeated on a national scale by paranoiac claims of criminality and problematic ‘recovered memories’ surrounding Satanic worship and ‘Ritual Abuse’ of children; mobilised by the conservative rhetoric and New Right Christian Fundamentalism of the Reagan era. I will present how True Detective articulates this phenomenon as culturally-entwined with the then-contemporary issues of post-Vietnam trauma and related ‘crisis’ of masculinity (Faludi, 1999); interrogating the configuration of dominant (gendered) selfhood through national memory and racial discourse. Furthermore, with its significant broadcast in the Trump era, this season’s retroactive representation of such themes speaks not only to the current cultural conversation of toxic masculinity and populist paranoia—recalling Reagan’s ‘Make America Great Again’ philosophy—but more broadly evidences the distinctly Gothic repetition of ‘occult’ scapegoating in periods of conservative, patriarchal unrest throughout American history.

The Rift between Worlds, or the Gothic 1980s: Revisiting the Re-decade, Reagan’s America, and chasing our futures (again) in Stranger Things (2016 — ) (Sorcha Ní Fhlainn)

Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies and American Studies, and founding member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her recent books include Clive Barker: Dark imaginer (Manchester University Press, 2017), and Postmodern Vampires: Film, Fiction and Popular Culture (Palgrave, 2019). She is currently leading a project on the long 1980s onscreen and its cultural legacy. 

The Netflix series Stranger Things is one of a host of recent 1980s-set texts that returns to the 1980s as a site of significant relevance today, revisited through the lens of cultural nostalgia. Recalling and resituating its viewers into the Reagan-era, the series presents its narrative at a period of profound cultural importance, and setting its secondary space, the Upside Down, as a shadow world that conveys profound implications for a terrifying future. Examining the decade as a nexus point for socio-political change that is keenly felt today under President Trump, I argue that Stranger Things situates its characters at the precipice of a wrong turn in history, a period in which its protagonists, like so many 1980s heroes in its science fiction and fantasy cinema, are chasing their own futures in order to prevent a terrible fate that they have witnessed as a disjunction in space-time.

For the 1980s generation onscreen, the future has to be chased down in the face of the Cold War, generational doom and alienation, and economic precarity; today, we loop back to the 1980s nostalgic past to trace the moment of the rift, the inception of the nightmare, in order to find solutions to, or to escape from, our present horrors.

Sat 9:15 am - 10:30 am