Sunday, 13 December 2015

Snuff Collection: Update

SnuffThe collection Snuff: Real Death and Screen Media (edited by Neil Jackson, Shaun Kimber, Johnny Walker, & Tom Watson) is due for publication by Bloomsbury at the end of January next year.

The book is based on a conference that was held at Bournemouth University in November 2012. It features a foreword from David Kerekes (co-author of Killing for Culture) and wide variety of essays on the subgenre. My chapter "A View to a Kill: Perspectives on Faux-Snuff and Self" is based around the Amateur Porn Star Killer movies.

The book can now be pre-ordered from Bloomsbury, Amazon and other retailers. The Amazon link provides a preview of the content.

A book launch will be held on 12th February in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: details can be found here: http://snuffmovie.weebly.com/
I hope to see some of you there


Table of Contents: 
Foreword: A Culture of Change
David Kerekes 

Introduction: Shot, Cut and Slaughtered
Neil Jackson (University of Lincoln, UK)

Part I – The Changing Meaning of "Snuff"

Chapter 1: The Way to Digital Death
Julian Petley (Brunel University, UK)

Chapter 2: The Affective Reality of Snuff
Misha Kavka (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

Chapter 3: Animal Snuff
Simon Hobbs (University of Portsmouth, UK)

Chapter 4: Breathing New Life into Old Fears: Extreme Pornogrpahy and the Wider Politics of Snuff
Clarissa Smith (University of Sunderland, UK)

Chapter 5: From Snuff to the South: The Global Reception of Cannibal Holocaust
Nicolo Gallio (University of Bologna, Italy) and Xavier Mendik (University of Brighton, UK)

Chapter 6: A Murder Mystery in Black and Blue: The Marketing, Distribution and Cult Mythology of Snuff in the UK
Mark McKenna (University of Sunderland, UK)

Chapter 7: Traces of Snuff: Black Markets, Fan Subcultures and Underground Horror in the 90s
Johnny Walker (Northumbria University, UK)

Chapter 8: SNuff 2.0: Real Death Goes HD Ready
Mark Astley (Independent Scholar, UK)

Part II – "Snuff" Across Film and Television

Chapter 9: Unfound Footage and Unfounded Rumours: The Manson Family Murders and the Persistence of Snuff
Mark Jones & Gerry Carlin (University of Wolverhampton, UK)

Chapter 10: Wild Eyes, Dead Ladies: The Snuff Filmmaker in Realist Horror
Neil Jackson (University of Lincoln, UK)

Chapter 11: The Mediation of Death in Fictional Snuff: Reflexivity, Viewer Interpellation and Ethical Implication
Xavier Aldana Reyes (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)

Chatper 12: "Why Would you Film It?" Snuff, Sinister and Contemporary US Horror Cinema
Shaun Kimber (Bournemouth University, UK)

Chapter 13: Cinema as Snuff: From Pre-Cinema to Shadow of the Vampire
Linda Badley (Middle Tennessee State University, USA)

Chapter 14: Affect
Tina Kendall (Anglia Ruskin University, UK)

Chapter 15: A View to Kill: Perspectives on Faux-Snuff and Self
Steve Jones (Northumbria University, UK)

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Money Off Digital Horror Book

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, I have a chapter in the new collection Digital Horror: Haunted Technologies, Network Panic and the Found Footage Phenomenon, edited by Linnie Blake and Xavier Aldana Reyes, which is published by I.B. Tauris
If you order the book from I.B. Tauris before 30th April 2016 using the discount code AN2, you can get the book for the discounted price of £41.65.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Amazon Recommends...

This week, Amazon recommends that I buy these movies, each of which makes an original contribution to the genre.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

15 Second Review: American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore (2014)

With American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore, Unearthed Films' founder Stephen Biro has created a faux-snuff film that looks authentically amateur. I don't mean that it looks like footage shot by killers. Rather, it looks like the kind of film schoolkids would make if they were given some prosthetics, a few cameras, and no training. No matter how one feels about the 1980s Guinea Pig series Biro is emulating, Flowers of Flesh and Blood at least boasted some undeniably fantastic effects work. American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore disappoints on that front: no amount of shaking the camera and adding coloured filters in post-production can mask how unconvincing the effects are. The core failure however, is allowing the cast to speak. Films like this do not require Academy Award winning performers, but neither do they require dialogue per se. Indeed, my only recommendation here is that if you really must watch American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore, do so on mute: it is a much more unsettling experience. Anyone lucky enough to buy the three-disc version can indulge in hours of extra material. What exactly that consists of, I will never know: sitting through the 73 minute film - with its pathetic attempts to shock, its annoying insistence on framing everything in extreme close-up, and its atmosphere-sucking extra-diegetic white noise soundtrack - was more than enough torture for me. I hear that the second film in the series (Bloodshock) is currently in post-production. I can only hope that Biro et al put more effort into the sequel than they did this damp squib. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

New Chapter: Torture Pornopticon: (In)security Cameras, Self-Governance and Autonomy

I have a chapter in the new collection Digital Horror: Haunted Technologies, Network Panic and the Found Footage Phenomenon, edited by Linnie Blake and Xavier Aldana Reyes, which has just been published by I.B. Tauris.

More info about the book is available here.

To read a draft, click here.

Abstract: ‘Torture porn’ films centre on themes of abduction, imprisonment and suffering. Within the subgenre, protagonists are typically placed under relentless surveillance by their captors. CCTV features in more than 45 contemporary torture-themed films (including Captivity, Hunger, and Torture Room). Security cameras signify a bridging point between the captors’ ability to observe and to control their prey. Founded on power-imbalance, torture porn’s prison-spaces are panoptical. Despite failing to encapsulate contemporary surveillance’s complexities (see Haggerty, 2011), the panopticon remains a dominant paradigm within surveillance studies because it captures essential truths about the psychologies of self-governance and interdependency. This chapter will use torture porn’s panoptical spaces and captor-captive relationships as a springboard into examining those broader philosophical issues regarding selfhood. In the torture-space, cameras signify the control to which captives must submit. Since they are threatened with death, the surveillance dynamic appears to entirely subjugate these prisoners. However, the captive must undertake some agency in the oppression. Much of the captor’s implied threat is enacted by the captives, who brutalise one another to save themselves. The captor’s apparent omniscience is translated into omnipotence only because the captives forsake self-control – opting to engage in violent, contra-social behaviours – out of fear. Thus, it is implied that self-ownership is the bedrock of stable, interdependent sociality. To inspire horror, the opposite is depicted: fractured groups comprised of paranoid, self-invested individuals. By submitting to external pressure, these “weak” individuals empower their tormentor. Captives are not only encouraged to enact their own suppression, but also to internalise culpability for the suffering they undergo. Despite being threatened with erasure, torture porn’s protagonists are spotlighted in these films. Abductees dominate the screen-time, and their suffering drives the narrative forward. Torturers are often motivated solely by their victims’ agony. In many cases, torture is designed specifically for each hyper-individualised captive. These forms of emphasis imply that captives are the stimulus for their own victimisation. The captor’s exaggerated interest in the prisoners is perversely flattering: captives are implied to be worthy of the captor’s maniacal attention, which is reified by the CCTV cameras. In torture porn’s scenarios, it is not immediately clear who has greater control over the individual: the captor or the captive themselves. By dissecting how self-preservation, self-governance, and self-centredness manifest in torture porn, this chapter seeks to examine the dialectical qualities of liberty, interdependency and autonomy.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Scream, Queen! Elm Street Kickstarter

Update: target reached! Still 10 hours to go if you want to get in on this

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1832830591/scream-queen-my-nightmare-on-elm-street/

34 hours to go, and the target has nearly been met for Scream, Queen! Mark Patton's documentary about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Less than $4000 left to raise - anyone else willing to show this doc some love?


"This is not your typical Nightmare On Elm Street documentary. Whether you're a horror fan or a gay advocate, Scream, Queen! has something to offer to everyone. We delve into a deeper subject of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 that has been at the forefront for years, yet no one has fully explored. This is a story not just about Mark Patton, the star of A Nightmare On Elm Street 2, but about Hollywood's gay subculture in the 1980s. For months we have been following Mark Patton around getting intimate accounts of how the backlash of NOES2 has deeply affected his life. From its release in 1985, fans and critics have raised an eyebrow at the not-so-subtle hints of Jesse Walsh's sexuality. Did this create the whirlwind of questions that set the film so far apart from all the others in its series? Village Voice publication was the first to officially comment on the film's gay subtext, releasing a landslide of both good and bad commentary from fans and critics worldwide. In 1985 being gay in Hollywood could cost you your career. Now 30 years later, Scream, Queen! is asking why?"

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Talk in Coventry

On Friday, I gave a talk entitled "Women in Horror: Moving Beyond Misogyny" at Coventry University as part of their Femininity in Film series. It was great to meet the staff and students there. Thanks to everyone who came - the turn-out was fantastic.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Myles Jackman Patreon Page

https://www.patreon.com/MylesJackman?ty=h

From the site:

"As an award-winning lawyer I am an expert at advising clients accused of sexual offences. I also provide a unique advisory service for clients in the arts and media; the adult industry; as well as offering pro bono advice for campaigns, organisations and activists. I have dedicated my career to challenging the legal framework by which sexual morality is constrained through my activism, campaigning, litigation and advocacy.

Please help Me to help You by becoming my Patron.

A donation of just $1 US Dollar a month will allow me to work pro bono on legal challenges like Judicially Reviewing the Extreme Pornography legislation under which Tiger Porn defendant Andrew Holland was prosecuted. I can also continue my cutting-edge work representing criminal defendants charged with consensual adult pornography offences and advocate for privacy and freedom of expression issues for members of the BDSM, LGBTQ, Adult-Industry and Sex-Work communities."

https://www.patreon.com/MylesJackman?ty=h

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Torture Porn - as Recommended by the Culture Secretary

With thanks to Johnny Walker (via Stewart Lee): who would have guessed that the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale would be a fan of Torture Porn?
John Whittingdale'The Conservative MP is also a horror fan including the so-called “torture porn” of Hostel director Eli Roth. “I quite like really nasty films,” Whittingdale once told journalists. “Hostel is undoubtedly the most unpleasant film I have ever seen,” he said, while Roth’s Netflix series Hemlock Grove “made An American Werewolf in London look like Mary Poppins”.'

Maybe the Tories will stop trying to dismantle the university system and see the value of the humanities if Whittingdale reads Torture Porn: Popular Horror after Saw? Maybe I'll post him a copy...

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Pig Child Screening in Newcastle (5/10/2015)

Unsettling bioethics horror film The Pig Child is screening in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne next month as part of a programme of shorts. Tyneside Cinema, 5th October, 7pm. See you there.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Torture Born Article in Print

My article "Torture Born: Representing Pregnancy and Abortion in Contemporary Survival-Horror" is now in print in the latest issue of Sexuality and Culture (19:3, 2015)
Access the article here. If you do not have a subscription (or an institutional subscription) to the journal, a pre-print version of the article is available here.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Congratulations Doctor Taylor

I have just returned form Loughborough University where I had the pleasure of acting as external examiner for Tosha Taylor's viva. Tosha successfully defend her thesis 'American Captivity in Contemporary Horror Cinema’, passing with minor corrections. Congratulations Tosha.
More information on Tosha's research, see her Academia.edu page here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Call for Book Proposals: Global Exploitation Cinemas

Series editors: 
Dr Johnny Walker (Northumbria, UK) / Dr Austin Fisher (Bournemouth, UK)

Global Exploitation Cinemas is a new book series from Bloomsbury Academic which publishes original monographs and edited volumes of around 80-100,000 words that explore the highly dynamic area of international "exploitation" film production. Encompassing a broad range of contexts, from industry to audiences to cultural history, it considers filmic trends and traditions, the work of specific directors, producers, stars and audiences.
Until relatively recently, the academic study of global exploitation cinemas often analysed films, not in light of their historical/social contexts or their contexts of production, reception and cultural afterlife but rather in (ahistorical) theoretical vacuums. And, while it would be unfair to claim that this approach characterises all research in this area, there is yet to be a book series dedicated to advancing the field of exploitation cinema studies in a way that contributes new and original knowledge.
Global Exploitation Cinemas, thus, seeks to a fill a void in the academic study of film history and provide a forum for the empirically-informed study of the exploitation film in all its guises. We welcome proposals from new and established scholars (we are currently prioritising monographs, but will gladly discuss edited volumes, too).
The series will formally launch in 2016 with Grindhouse: Cultural Exchange on 42nd Street, and Beyond (edited by Austin Fisher and Johnny Walker) and Disposable Passions: Vintage Pornography and the Material Legacies of Adult Cinema (by David Church).
Global Exploitation Cinemas also boasts an international editorial board:
·      Tejaswini Ganti (New York)
·      Joan Hawkins (Indiana)
·      Kevin Heffernan (Southern Methodist)
·      I. Q. Hunter (De Montfort)
·      Peter Hutchings (Northumbria)
·      Ernest Mathijs (British Columbia)
·      Constance Penley (UC Santa Barbara)
·      Eric Schaefer (Emerson College)
·      Dolores Tierney (Sussex)
·      Valerie Wee (National University of Singapore).
Please send full proposals (download the form at http://globalexploitationcinemas.weebly.com) and informal inquiries to bothjohnny.walker@northumbria.ac.uk and afisher@bournemouth.ac.uk.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Remote Control: Adventures with a DVD Player

I wrote the following in 2009 with the intention of developing it into something more substantial (obviously that never happened). I print it here as a mournful response to recent proclamations that “DVD is dead” (see here, for example). Additionally, my DVD player has just died, so I'm lamenting. Here is the take-away for anyone already thinking ‘TL:DR’: don’t throw away your DVDs yet.

As an avid consumer of horror, I am regularly faced with a (probably familiar) problem. Having purchased, rented or borrowed a DVD, I am confronted by the disappointment of a dull movie, founded on a clich├ęd, predictable plot. Distributors frequently cash-in on established or previously successful movies, or make promises in advertising material that are so lurid that the film in question cannot live up to the hype. Such are the perils of investing time into a particular genre. After all, in order to be identified as belonging to a genre, films have to be at least in some sense generic.
When faced with such efforts in the age of the VHS, one had three options; 1) sit through the offending film, 2) turn it off, or 3) watch it at double-speed. My personal favourite was the latter: if a film is boring, increase the frequency of apparent action by speeding it up, and slow down for the “interesting” bits. Such viewer interventions are significant, at least inasmuch as they are an important part of how viewers engage with films.
In the home-viewing context, audiences are not passive recipients who attentively watch films from start to finish in one sitting. While Klinger notes that ‘non-theatrical exhibition is little explored in the field of Film Studies’ (Klinger, 2008: 20) it is in this environment that I spend most of my time engaging with film. While VHS offered home viewers a degree of editorial control (Michelson, 1999: 22) – much to the dismay of BBFC director James Ferman (see his interview comments in Ban the Sadist Videos! Part 2 (2006)) – the DVD is a more flexible and durable medium than VHS. That is, DVD provided viewers with greater ability to manipulate films while watching them. It also provided film scholars with a host of new tools, which can  deepen our understanding of narrative and form. They can also enhance the pleasures we gain from film. My concern here is not so much about the philosophic implications or stilling images out of time (as I have discussed elsewhere [click for PDF]), but with viewing strategies; specifically the ability to partially “reinvent” a given film ad-hoc. Our remote controls give us more options than fast-forwarding, slow-motion viewing and pausing, and those options can have a radical impact on a film’s tone.
I discovered the delights of my remote control while watching the A Nightmare on Elm Street (USA, 1984, Wes Craven) knock-off Sleepstalker (USA, 1995, dir. Turi Meyer). After persisting for over thirty minutes of meandering wooden dialogue, I became restless and decided to play around with some of the options I had yet to explore on my remote control. Admittedly, turning my attention to a lump of plastic is itself a damning evaluation of Sleepstalker. Yet, I want to make it clear that I am not a film snob; I am not asserting that I am “above” the b-movie, or that I am only intellectually stimulated by French New Wave cinema, for instance. One aspect of Sleepstalker that attracted me to it is that it took the plot device of my favourite piece of cinema; the aforementioned A Nightmare on Elm Street. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Sleepstalker simply failed to engage me.
On pressing the ‘zoom’ function on my remote however, the film became much more intriguing. My zoom function is not as sophisticated as some available on the market. It simply enlarges the centre of the screen by a different percentage each time the button is depressed. Yet, doing so made the image grainier, and altered the framing. Most figures onscreen became obscured, commonly having their faces removed from the shot. The effect was astounding. Sleepstalker had almost sent me to sleep (on reflection, maybe this was the meta-function of the text). After zooming, Sleepstalker suddenly  became fascinating and downright creepy. The now faceless characters were hard to connect to. The film’s world-view became notably solipsistic and alienating. Moreover, the grainy picture and what would now be considered inadequate framing according to standard film-making conventions (excluding the faces of central protagonists from shot, for example) meant that the film seemed as if it were shot on hidden camera: it was reminiscent of undercover investigative journalism footage. This verite aesthetic was at odds with the laboured, unnatural and scarcely believable acting. With one button press, Sleepstalker had become a film about distrust, paranoia and suspicion, where all the characters appeared to be compulsive liars claiming to be plagued by a supernatural killer, all caught on surveillance camera. Sure, this may require some suspension of disbelief, but no more than Sleepstalker’s unaltered narrative or all supernaturally-themed found-footage films require.
I pursued this avenue of enquiry to what else my amateur improvised editing methodology could offer in increasing my spectatorial pleasure. In the case of hackneyed slasher My Bloody Valentine 3D (USA, 2009, dir. Patrick Lussier), pressing the “shuffle” function meant that what would have been a narrative hinging on an insultingly obvious ‘whodunit’ plot-twist and a series of unoriginal set-pieces became a kind of fun horror variant on Last Year in Marienbad (France, 1961, dir. Alain Resnais). By re-ordering the DVD chapters, the film became an imbricated web of disrupted temporalities, repeated moments, flashbacks and unexpected cut-aways. What is more, the shuffle, being randomised, means that any given repeat-viewing of the film offers a unique experience; the twist may be revealed in the opening scene, the end credits may roll twenty minutes into the film, and so forth. The function’s unpredictability works particularly well with horror films, which commonly build narratives on elements of suspense and surprise, tension and release. By disrupting the intended ebb and flow of the narrative, moments that would otherwise function as downtime in-between scares are often accidentally amplified, while climatic moments of trauma take on new meanings.
The result of the experiment was a disorientating, but I believe valuable one; and I mean that more than just in terms of entertaining people (such as myself) who have short attention spans or have invested in a genre to the point that they have little time to waste on what they  individually consider inadequate. In saying this, I do not wish to belittle the work of intentionally experimental film-makers. My use of the DVD shuffle function is not meant to suggest that a formally experimental narrative such as Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (France, 2002) should be considered the work of a filmmaker who wishes to obscure his inability to make an interesting film by randomly adopting the type of formal technique I am discussing here. I also do not wish to overlook the narrative experimentation undertaken by artists such as Margi Spzerling, whose Uncompressed (2004) encourages the viewer to move between the multiple perspectives via which narrative events are portrayed. Spzerling’s agenda in fact is similar to my own; she declares that ‘[t]he public needs to come to an understanding of what is possible with their media...to learn the capabilities of non-linear language’ (Filmmaker, 2001). I am primarily interested in what we might learn from employing such viewing strategies, by interacting with what is presented as finished, ordered and final.
The idea to play with form came from watching two horror films, and I want to acknowledge my debt to those films before discussing the implications of using one’s remote to gain control over the text. The first was Cheerleader Massacre (USA, 2003, dir. Jim Wynorski) which is a profoundly unoriginal horror sequel (see my review here). In fact, Wynorski’s willingness to present old-as-new gives rise to the most intriguing elements of the film. Cheerleader Massacre is shot on digital camera, yet it contains inserts from other film sources: an extract from Slumber Party Massacre (USA, 1982, dir. Amy Holden Jones) is inserted as a flashback, while an explosion is culled from stock footage (which has apparently also been used in Humanoids from the Deep (USA, 1980, dir. Barbara Peters)). In both instances, the shift to film-stock  is jarring, and draws attention to how cold and cheap the digital footage looks in comparison. In this sense, Cheerleader Massacre’s visual hybridity underscores how digital filmmaking and distribution have impacted upon the genre. What may have been considered cheap or independent in previous decades (the earlier Massacre films) now seems to be somewhat aesthetically and economically lavish in the context of the new digital situ (Cheerleader Massacre). The former (flashback) sequence can be explained by its narrative position; framed as a memory within Cheerleader Massacre, it is apposite that the footage from Slumber Party Massacre is marked as visually “different” from the narrative present. In fact, the use of film footage here may be read as a comment on how ‘cinematic’ imaginations of the past can be (see Bulkeley, 1999: 101). In both cases, the motivation for using shot-on-film footage is clear; the first instance ties Cheerleader Massacre into an existing franchise, and the second avoids the cost of blowing up a building. However, the film’s willingness to remix existing elements in such a manner highlights the product’s inadequacies and Wynorski’s lack of confidence in Cheerleader Massacre as a standalone movie. The trailer for Cheerleader Massacre continues this logic, containing a plethora of shots and sequences that are nowhere to be found in the film it allegedly advertises, and placing a great deal of weight on making the connection between the standalone title Cheerleader Massacre and preceding Slumber Party Massacre and Sorority House Massacre films.
With this spirit of remixing in mind, the second film that motivated the present article is Death Screams (USA, 1982, dir. David Nelson), a standard Friday the 13th (USA, 1980, dir. Sean Cunningham) influenced “teens in the woods” slasher affair. The teens in question are introduced through their interactions at a summer carnival, then they party in the woods at night, and then a masked maniac begins to kill the teens. So far, so familiar. Yet, as soon as Sheila and Walker are killed there is a sudden jump; we see the teens in the afternoon organising their trip into the woods. ‘How clever’, I thought: ‘having set the murder-spree in motion, we are going to see flashbacks of the teens earlier in the day, and this will help us to work out who the killer is, what their motivations are and so forth. What an interesting embellishment’. While I was busy musing over the filmmaker’s commentary about viewers privileging violence “as” meaning and murder set-pieces as points of sadistic pleasure (when viewers should really be paying attention to character’s interactions so as to increase empathy for the victims), the film suddenly jumped straight back into the throes of murder. By the time the film reached its conclusion, I was reasonably certain that the jump was not evidence that the author was intentionally bucking genre conventions. Instead, I was pretty sure that the film had been transferred to DVD in the wrong order: the second and third reels had been swapped, and because the film was considered to be so poor, no-one had noticed before releasing it. I am unaware if this problem affects all versions of Death Screams, but it made my Vipco edition (released 2004) much more entertaining than it otherwise would have been.
Moreover, the odd  (albeit accidental) narrative construction accentuated underlying problems with the plot. Throughout Death Screams, a bumbling sheriff remains many steps behind the killer (and the action); he spends the majority of the film eating, being generally sleazy, blaming Ramona for the death of his son (which is never expanded upon), and entering empty houses. When the killer and his motivations are revealed (SPOILER: it has something to do with his mother being a prostitute… or at least this is what I assume from the three brief shots that constitute the backstory), the sheriff is nowhere to be seen. The killer falls out of a window, and the sheriff arrives to shoot him. But wait…we know who did it and why (just about), but the sheriff could not: he did not even discover any of the dead bodies, such was his obsession with vacant cabins and reading Hustler magazine. Not only is Death Screams’ sheriff inept, he is in the habit of turning up when someone has fallen out of a window, only to shoot them in the face. This dubious morality is underlined by the involuntary reorganisation of the narrative that returns the viewer to the plot build (reel two) instead of letting the viewer forget such details by sweeping the viewer along in escalating violence (reels three and four).
What both examples highlighted for me was how Barthes’ ‘Death of the Author’ may be usefully employed in the contemporary viewing context to improve our engagements with film. I am not suggesting that scholars should entirely forsake a mode of film analysis that attends to narrative structure: indeed, were each viewer to only watch a film using the shuffle function, it would lead to numerous incompatible and incomprehensible analyses. Yet remixing a given film may valuable in terms of enhancing viewing pleasure, and also in highlighting visual and thematic connections across the text that might not otherwise be apparent. In the case of Death Screams, the haphazardly reordered text led me ruminate on character motivations and the pleasures of violent spectacle in a manner that I would not have considered if the film had played out according to the author’s objectives. Purposely imposing such accidents via the DVD remote control frees the viewer from authorial intention in a liberating, Barthesian fashion.
The interactive aspect of DVD was one of its most appealing commercial features: as Taylor (2001: 3) observes, ‘DVD has many tricks to woo the weary couch potato and the multi-media junkie alike’. However, far from being sales gimmicks, I contend that we stand to benefit from taking these interactive ‘tricks’ seriously, and acknowledge the potential these interactive abilities affords for film analysis. Even though Taylor recognises that DVD does not close ‘the door on beginning-to-end storytelling, only that it opens new doors for different approaches’, when he does mention creative control he refers to producers, not participatory viewers (Taylor: 2001: 4 and 161-2). Laidler’s vision of the ‘independence and power for the consumer’ presented by video is more optimistic, focusing on the viewer’s ‘power over time’, and a ‘freedom of use  which was previously only available in print’ (Laidler, 1998: 51). My stance is somewhere in-between these two. I am cautious about the radical potentials of interactivity inasmuch as I am not proposing that established roles (creator and interpreter) should be abandoned altogether. However, I am interested in investigating the push-and-pull of that relationship. For instance, why is it typical to watch a film in the linear sequence that it is presented, when technology so easily provides alternatives? Partially, this is due to cinematic history: habits and established routines of watching films from beginning to end, following the path set by the author (see Williams, 2000: 363).
Those conventions are bolstered by a host of commercial pressures that implicitly ask us to think of the sequential, presented order as the “correct” one. Some of these are programmed into DVDs. For example, the 2002 Universal Pictures Region 2 release of Mulholland Drive (USA, 2001. Dir. David Lynch) contains no chapter breaks, thus hindering the viewer’s ability to skip  through the film. Even when a host of options such as audio commentaries and ‘making of’ featurettes are included as part of the DVD, these arguably add to the overall sense that the creator/producers’ designs are paramount. Catherine Grant argues that the DVD functions in this sense as a means of bolstering the auteurist paradigm, which is ‘interrelated film production, marketing, and reception practices and discourses which are all underpinned by a shared belief in the specific capability of an individual agent – the director – to marshal and synthesize the multiple, and usually collective, elements of filmmaking for the purposes of individual expression’ (Grant, 2008: 101).
While Grant recognizes that ephemeral material explicitly allows viewers to interact with the materials supplied, she is primarily interested in how those materials shape our reception of film texts as cultural objects. Similarly, Klinger asserts that DVD acts as an ‘ambassador of context, entering the home complete with its own armada of discourses meant to influence reception’ (Klinger, 2008: 21). Both Grant and Klinger identify ways in which these interactive features support conventional attitudes towards authorial control. In turn, that implicit pressure occludes the disruptive potentials DVD offers. Yet while the message of DVD “special features” might be that the author has control, it is notable that in order to access such materials viewers must navigate the DVD’s geography. The content may bolster preconceptions about authorial control, but accessing those messages first requires viewer agency: (inter)action is primary. The interactive possibilities offered by DVD fly in the face of the medium’s expected use.
Viewers are rarely permitted absolute control over the DVD content, however. Interactivity is limited at the point of design in the interests of commercial control. Jim Taylor observes that region locking and copy protection are built in to DVD technology to provide production companies with a means of limiting the product’s distributional flow (Taylor, 2001: 157). Supported by copyright law, such restrictions seek to impede a viewer’s ability to consume DVDs from other commercial regions. These systems also ensure that viewers cannot readily or legally use mainstream video editing software to deconstruct and reconstitute film texts contained on DVDs. Moreover, DVD design is such that ‘[a]lmost every button on the remote control can be blocked at any point on the disc’ (Taylor, 2001: 164), meaning that production companies can easily restrict the viewer’s ability to disturb the intended usage. Most commonly, this means viewers cannot easily skip past copyright notices and trailers.[1]
Pace the autuerist paradigm, these same commercial and industrial pressures undercut the notion that filmmakers have complete control over their narratives. While Benjamin (2000: 59) unfairly characterised commercial cinema as ‘films devoid of the slightest interest – when they are not, frankly, odious and stupid – films that skilfully and purposefully set out to anaesthetize the public’, he also noted that ‘the scriptwriter and director…always come up against capital’. Those commercial considerations limit creative freedom. Production studios place filmmakers under (implicit and explicit) pressure to make films that fit into intelligible commercial categories, and genre categorisation also limits the shape and tone of a given narrative. Genre pictures make a return on investment by playing on audiences’ familiarity with convention. Genre is an integral aspect of pre-selling the narrative to an interested audience. However, conformity to genre conventions can also dissatisfy a audiences who crave innovation while also not wanting a film to be so new as to become unrecognizable as part of a genre. This is an extraordinarily fine line, and thus studios and filmmakers are required to second-guess their target-audiences micro-preferences. Audiences should thus take some responsibility for their own entertainment. If a film’s adherence to genre tropes is limiting (if the film is deemed boring), viewers have various options – including those I outlined in my response to Sleepstalker – to increase their enjoyment. It might not always work, by experimenting with one’s DVD remote is surely more satisfying than whining on IMDB.com?
Despite the medium’s more general aims (which emphasise authorial intent), DVD provides viewers with various ways to collaborate in the organisation, meanings and textual pleasures of film, even if those are limited at present. Although I advocate increased flexibility (the ability to insert randomised chapter markers, to recolour sequences, to play in reverse slow-motion with sound and so forth), some are incredulous about viewers’ desire for such facilities. Taylor suggests that even though ‘DVD brings a new level of personal control to video programs...it is not apparent just how much control the average couch potato is interested in having’ (Taylor, 2001: 163). Yet, this deferment to authorial control stems from the conventions and pressures outlined above. Were viewers primed and given opportunity to take greater creative control and responsibility, the ‘average couch potato’ (as Taylor envisages them) may make greater use of their remote to augment the pleasures on offer. Viewers already use their remotes to make editorial choices such as fast-forwarding through dull sequences, pausing on the best parts, stopping films for toilet breaks, and (r)ejecting films they consider to be unworthy of attention. These are not trivial interventions: they are core aspects of film viewing in the home context. Since these behaviours directly impact on how viewers interpret films and their meanings, they ought to be taken seriously rather than dismissed as habitual or trite. 
Part of what DVD achieves is to match the way in which other digital technologies[2] have placed ‘more and more control over viewing in the hands of the viewer’ (Barlow, 2005: 18). Yet, some critics have expressed doubt over the potentials of such interaction in allowing audiences to resist established, fixed or intended meanings (see Notaro, 2006: 95). That is not to say that creative responses to interactive ability cannot augment viewer-pleasure. In that sense, I concur with Klinger that ‘DVD has not revolutionised so much as reawakened, dramatically enhanced and/or broadly disseminated ways of watching and taking pleasure in movies’, especially ‘films that do not have wide distribution in the mainstream’ (Klinger, 2008: 21 and 27). Viewers may still be limited in various ways, but this does not mean that any attempt to use available options should be forsaken. Limitations can facilitate glorious accidents and present challenges to work around.

References:
Barlow, Aaron (2005) The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture and Technology. Westport: Praeger.
Benjamin, Peret (2000) “Against Commercial Cinema”, in Paul Hammond (ed.) The Shadow and its Shadow. London: BFI.
Bulkeley, Kelly (1999) “Touring the Dream Factory”. Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams, 9:1.
Filmmaker (2001) “Reports, Summer 2001: Interactive”.  http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/summer2001/reports/interactive.php.
Flint, David (1999) Babylon Blue. London: Creation Books.
Grant, Catherine (2008) “Auteur Machines? Auteurism and the DVD”, in James Bennett and Tom Brown (eds.) Film and Television After DVD. London: Taylor and Francis.
Kerekes, David and Slater, David (2001) See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy. Surrey: FAB Press.
Klinger, Barbara (2008) “Viewing Heritages and Home Film cultures”, in James Bennett and Tom Brown (eds.) Film and Television after DVD. London: Taylor and Francis.
Laidler, Mark (1998) “Zapping Freddy Krueger: Children’s Use of Disapproved Video Texts”, in Sue Howrad (ed.) Wired Up: Young People and the Electronic Media. London: UCL Press.
Michelson, Annette (1990) “The Kinetic Icon in the Work of Mourning: Prolegomena to the Analysis of a Textual System”, October, 52, pp. 16-39.
Notaro, Anna (2006) “Technology in Search of an Artist: Questions of Auteurism/Authorship and the Contemporary Cinematic Experience”, The Velvet Light Trap, 57.
Szperling, Margi (2004) “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Moviemaker, 44. http://www.moviemaker.com/issues/44/cinevation.html.
Taylor, Jim (2001) DVD Demystified. Second edition. London: McGraw Hill.
Thompson, David (2007) Black and White and Blue: Adult Cinema from the Victorian Age to the VCR. Toronto: ECW Press.
Williams, Linda (2000) “Discipline and Fun” in Christine Gledhilll and Linda Williams (eds) Reinventing Film Studies. London: Arnold.
Ban the Sadist Videos! Part 2. USA, 2006. Dir. David Gregory.








[1] That said, some DVDs suffer from an authoring flaw that allows viewers to skip past these restrictions. For example, the 2008 Region 2 Metrodrome release of The Counterfeiters (2006, Austria/Germany, dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky) is designed so that the viewer cannot fast-forward or chapter skip through the trailer reel that precedes the film. On DVD players with a ‘stop and resume’ feature, the viewers can press ‘stop’ then ‘play’, and the DVD skips straight to the movie because the movie is authored as a context menu. The same trick is useful in other contexts. For example, issue 52 of DVD World magazine came packaged with a free DVD containing two films. One film (Puppet Master: The Legacy (USA, 2003, dir. Charles Band)) was free, but the other (Dr. Moreau's House of Pain (USA, 2004, dir. Charles Band) was locked behind a pin-code which had to be entered via the DVD remote. In order to access the code, the reader had to call a premium-rate number. Pressing ‘stop’ then ‘play’ on the pin-code entry screen would cause the film to pay without entering the code.
[2] These include, for example, digital broadcast recording technology and ad-blocker plug-ins, which allow viewers to eliminate advertisements that would otherwise disrupt narrative flow.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Un/Certainty

A while back I posted this question on Aeon Ideas: 'Is there anything that we can have absolute certainty about?' Tushant Jha posted a response that is so elegant that I thought it worth sharing here too:

“Let us say that we are certain of proposition X. Then we are certain of the proposition “There exists a proposition we are certain about”. And also be certain about the proposition “There are at least two propositions we are certain about”. and Ad Infinitum.
However, let us say, that there is nothing we are certain about. Then, not strangely, we cannot even be certain about this assumption that “nothing is known certainly”. This is indeed getting caught up in a strange loop.

Thus, without answering the question, one could really remark at the philosophical beauty of this query, of which on one side lies an unending staircase of infinite regress, and on other a self-referential strange loop. Truly remarkable.”

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Congratulations Dr Watson

My PhD student Tom Watson passed his viva today. His thesis is entitled 'Audiovisual Violence and Editorial Manipulation: The Relationship Between Violent Image-Content and Violent Image-Form'. Congratulations Tom!
Tom's Academia.edu profile can be found here

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Reviews of Torture Porn and Saw Chapter

I've just found two reviews of my Torture Porn-era work in academic journals: 




Many thanks to both Erica and Dawn for their very kind words

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Kung Fury



I am usually dubious about hype, but this really is amazing. The filmmakers were wise to keep this nostalgia bomb to 30 minutes rather than trying to pad it out to feature length; the result is a movie that is watchable and inventive. The most remarkable aspect is that it is free to watch. I'll be stunned if this doesn't lead to bigger things for David Sandberg. Heartily recommended. Check out the Laser Unicorns YouTube page for a host of appropriately rad extras.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Global Exploitation Cinemas Conference

Picture

I've just arrived back after attending the 2015 Global Exploitation Cinemas conference in Lincoln where I presented a paper (title and abstract below). The venue (The Ritz cinema) was fantastic, and the event ran really smoothly. It was great to catch up with colleagues and to meet some new faces. Hopefully the conference will run again next year.


My paper was based on a chapter in the forthcoming collection Grindhouse: Cultural Exchange on 42nd Street and Beyond (eds. Austin Fisher and Johnny Walker, 2016)

Here is the abstract:


Grindigital: The Ghost of Grindhouse Present
Despite the closure of virtually all original grindhouse cinemas, the 21st Century is hardly a ‘post-grindhouse’ era. As a concept, ‘grindhouse’ lives on, transcending the American cultural context out of which the term arose. The films once shown in grindhouses continue to find new audiences and ‘Grindhouse’ movies’ formal properties and themes have been emulated in contemporary films. However, tensions arise out of the transference from 42nd Street’s flea-pit cinemas to the consumption of ‘grindhouse’ – movies, associated paraphernalia, and literature about the era in which grindhouse cinemas flourished – in the home. As this paper will contend, the prevailing conceptualization of ‘grindhouse’ as a discourse about the past is problematized by the present confluence of ‘grindhouse films’ and ‘home-cinema’ technology (mainly oriented around DVD). In this context of a widening gap between the grindhouse context (‘past’) and the DVD/home-viewing context (present), fans and filmmakers have increasingly sought to preserve the ‘grindhouse.’ However, the world of the grindhouse is fast slipping away, becoming little more than a blurry set of tall-tales and faded phenomenal experiences. The prevailing reputation of ‘grindhouse’ as a discourse about the past omits the extent to which our understanding of grindhouse is subject to present-bias. The continuing usefulness of grindhouse-qua-concept requires that we pay more heed to the contemporary contexts in which ‘grindhouse films’ are consumed.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Are We Really More Moral than Einstein and Virginia Woolf?

Over on Aeon Ideas, Nigel Warburton posted a link to an interesting article from Salon entitled "You would’ve hated your heroes: Why history’s great people seem so morally deficient". Drawing on a combination of Steven Pinker’s and Peter Singer’s work, the article proposes that we are getting morally better. It is an interesting proposal, but I have a few reservations with the notion that we are becoming more moral per se.
First, when famous people act in im/moral ways, their behaviours are highly visible. Since they are well known, their im/moral acts are of public interest, and frequently they are presented as im/moral exemplars. Accordingly, aspects of their im/morality may be hyperbolised to make the case. I have my doubts regarding the proposal that we draw direct correlations between those high-profile, possibly exaggerated incidents and the attitudes held by the populace more broadly.
Second, political correctness is the cultural norm (certainly in the UK), so it might be the case that our current generation of famous "heroes" – and the populace in general – harbour morally offensive attitudes, but simply know better than to express those attitudes publicly. That is, there is a difference between being moral and being seen to be moral.
Third, it might be the case that our cultural “heroes” are those who are (or are seen to) conform to the norm of politically correctness; i.e. we might reward individuals who are moral exemplars (with our attention), and punish those who fail to conform to the norm. Yet, that might not mean that the populace generally are morally good themselves. I suppose it could be argued that if the public acknowledge that the values represented by “heroes” are good, then members of the public hold those values themselves (or something to that effect). Yet, it could be the case that: i) a member of the public recognises that being morally good is praiseworthy; ii) he/she feels more morally good her/himself because he/she holds those values; but iii) he/she fails to perceive that her/his own behaviour is immoral because he/she thinks of her/himself as a “good person”, or iv) the individual does not feel pressure to be good at a personal level because the hero does the “being good” on his/her behalf, and so forth
Fourth, is it always so easy to spot when we are behaving immorally? I like to tell myself that I am not a moral “jerk”, but it is not clear to me that I can make an objective judgement about my “jerkdom”. Let us say that in the year 2050, I will look back on the attitudes I held, the expressions I used and so forth in the 2010s. Surely it is likely that in 2050 I will find at least some of the attitudes I held in 2015 to be questionable, if not morally suspect. The cultural climate may shift in ways that expose to me problems with some aspects of my current thinking.  That kind of shift seems inevitable to me. To mock past heroes for their moral failings while proclaiming that we are getting morally “better” strikes me as being arrogant at best, if not outright deluded about the impact ideology has on our ability to self-evaluate
One of the problems here is with the comparison between moral betterment and Pinker’s work on the decline of violence. Moral attitudes are not as easy to measure as violence insofar as Pinker can at least point to crime statistics, the number of deaths resulting from war and so forth to substantiate the argument that violence has declined. Moral attitudes cannot be recorded in the same ways. The article’s comparison highlights one of the flaws in Pinker’s argument; Pinker necessarily relies on recorded statistics, which themselves may be inaccurate estimations, doctored in the name of contemporaneous political spin, and so forth. Such evidence cannot capture private and unreported acts of violence. That is, the argument relies on visibility. Like morality then, perhaps it is the case that presently we are better at hiding (or worse at recognising) that which we find disquieting: we might be living in an era where we are so focused on visible violence and visible moral failings that we fail to spot systemic, invisible, private acts of violence or moral failures. This scenario might arise out of our current uses of technology, which have led to a state in which we expect that data about our indiscretions to be recorded, and in which we routinely expose ourselves to scrutiny.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

15 Second Review: Five Across the Eyes (2006)

With a budget of only $4000 I was not expecting a great deal in terms of production value, but I am still struggling to work out why Five Across the Eyes cost even that much to make. The film genuinely looks like it was shot on a smartphone. Virtually every shot is framed far too close to its object. The camerawork is so unstable that it is virtually unwatchable: there is a difference between a "movie" and a "shaky". Frequently, it is impossible to tell what is supposed to be happening to the "characters". In sum, the shooting technique alone renders Five Across the Eyes devoid of purpose since it actively obstructs the viewer's ability to see the action. The characters are also so poorly established that the movie is a real test of compassion. Given how little interest the filmmakers have in encouraging the audience to develop any emotional connection with the characters, the ninety minutes we spend watching them scream and cry is a marathon. I only paid 50 pence for the DVD, and I still feel ripped off. This is the kind of film that gives microbudget horror a bad name. I'll give it this much: the cover art captured how I felt by the end of the film.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Offscreen Festival



I've been quiet on here recently, mainly because teaching has been hectic but also because I have been involved in various scholarly activities (such as reviewing manuscripts). One such activity that is worth documenting is my recent trip to the Offscreen Festival in Brussels. I presented a paper entitled "Hard Body, Cold Heart: The Body in 80s Cinema" as part of the festival's symposium on Reaganite Cinema. 


Here I am outside the Cinema Nova with fellow speakers Alison Peirse, Russ Hunter and Jonathan Mack. The photo was taken by Sarah Ralph who was presenting on female action stars (including one of my favourites, Cynthia Rothrock).


The Cinema Nova is a fantastic location, and the organisers (most of whom are volunteers) were so welcoming and knowledgeable. Many thanks to everyone who attended and offered us such thoughtful questions on our papers. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

PhD Studentship Opportunity: Extreme Media

The Department of Media and Communication Design at Northumbria University is currently advertising PhD studentships in the following areas:

  • African social media
  • Extreme media
  • Gender and media
  • Industrial contexts of horror cinema
  • Italian film genres

Details are available at: https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/research/postgraduate-research-degrees/research-degrees/

The extreme media scholarship is begin offered by me - see advert below:

Dept / School / Faculty:
Department of Media and Communication Design | Northumbria University

Project Title:
New Theoretical Approaches to “Extreme” Media (ADSS/DRFMED7P/61878)
Project Supervisor(s):
Dr S Jones  (email: steve.jones@unn.ac.uk)  


Application Deadline:
31 March 2015




A growing number of scholars have addressed the notion of “extremity” in recent years, leading to exciting new developments in the fields of film studies and cultural studies. However, there is still much work to be done not only in developing our understanding of “extremity” as a concept, but also in critically engaging with the enormous variety of media texts that have been commonly understood as “extreme”. This PhD project will contribute to this emergent area of scholarship by developing new theoretical approaches to the examination of “extreme” media texts and/or the concept of “extremity” itself. Applications are invited on any aspect related to the topic, including (but not limited to) the following indicative themes: 

• Representations of violence in, for example, contemporary action or horror film 

• Moral/ethical theory and controversial subject matters 

• Taboo subject matter in, for example, “gross-out” comedy 
• “Extreme” bodies 
• Atrocity imagery 
• Genre-blurring and extremity 
• Issues relating to offence and regulating taste in the social sphere 
• Legislating and censoring “extreme” media 

Enquiries regarding this studentship should be made to: Dr Steve Jones, Steve.jones@northumbria.ac.uk, 0191 227 4036 

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 
Please ensure you quote the advert reference above on your application form.


Funding Notes:
The full-time studentship provides full support for tuition fees, and an annual tax-free stipend at RCUK rates (for 2015/16 this is £14,057 p.a.)

Relevant publications by Steve Jones: 

  • Torture Porn: Popular Horror after Saw. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013 
  • Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead. Jefferson: McFarland, 2014 
  • “Gender Monstrosity: Deadgirl and the Sexual Politics of Zombie-Rape”, Feminist Media Studies, 13:4, 2013 
  • “No Pain, No Gain: Strategic Repulsion and The Human Centipede”, Cine-Excess Journal Launch Issue - Subverting the Senses: The Politics and Poetics of Excess, 2013 
  • “Torture Born: Representing Pregnancy and Abortion in Contemporary Survival-Horror”, Sexuality & Culture., 2015

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Presentation at University of Sunderland, 9th February


I will be presenting a paper based on my recent Sexuality and Culture journal article at the University of Sunderland on 9th February.

Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies
The Barbour Room (233)
The Media Centre St Peter's Campus
5.30-7.00pm

Here is the abstract for the paper:

Torture Born: Representing Pregnancy and Abortion in Contemporary Survival-Horror

In proportion to the increased emphasis placed on abortion in partisan political debate since the early 2000s, there has been a noticeable upsurge in cultural representations of abortion. This paper charts ways in which that increase manifests in contemporary survival-horror. This paper contends that numerous contemporary survival-horror films foreground pregnancy. These representations of pregnancy reify the pressures that moralistic, partisan political campaigning places on individuals who consider terminating a pregnancy. These films contribute to public discourse by engaging with abortion as an individual, emotional matter, rather than treating abortion solely as a matter of political principle. This paper will posit that survival-horror—a genre that has been roundly disparaged by critics—makes an important contribution to sexual-political discourse: these films use horror to articulate “the things we cannot say” about abortion.