Saturday, 2 September 2017

15 Second Review: Malady (2015)

Malady is a tricky film to review for several reasons. First, it is a slow burning mystery film, and so revealing too much about the plot – which is fairly sparse in terms of story “events” – would ruin the movie. Second, Malady is intentionally enigmatic. It is built on concepts and fleeting impressions more than hard plot-points. The characters project their desires onto substitutes (such as a ring, a lock of hair, or even another person), and so those symbols carry much of Malady’s meaning. To pin-down what happens in Malady is akin to describing a dream; a description would sound vague and it would do no justice to the richness of experiencing it first-hand.
There is little dialogue particularly in the first third of Malady (my favourite part of the film), precisely because words fail to capture experiences such as grief and desire. Throughout, back-story events and motivations are hinted at without being laid out. The narrative is comprised of echoes such as, for instance, an equivalence between lead protagonists Holly and Matthew’s situations vis-à-vis devotion to their ailing mothers. There are dozens of such strands woven into Malady, but they are indirect and therefore somewhat indistinct. This is not a complaint; the movie has been edited into its leanest possible form (both at script and post-production stages), and that  only benefits the final product. The viewer is left with gaps to fill, but that technique develops the atmosphere and focuses one’s attention. The filmmakers and cast provide sufficient detail so that one can always at least sense what had happened prior to the narrative present. Malady seeks to form a pact with its audience based on trust; the viewer’s trust in the filmmakers’ judgement, and the filmmakers’ trust in the viewer’s intelligence. That pact parallels the film’s themes insofar as Holly’s wholesale commitment to Matthew – her trust in someone she hardly knows – leads her (and the audience) into dark territory.
I presume the film was shot on a micro-budget; the credits make reference to crowd-funding, and a small crew were responsible for the production. However, the film itself bears little evidence of its financial origins. I sincerely doubt that a higher budget would have enhanced the content. The movie boasts an assured aesthetic that matches its patient pace. There is a maturity and confidence to the proceedings that are vital to selling what could have easily come off as pretentious, boring or frustrating in lesser hands. The production undoubtedly benefitted from writer/director/producer/editor (…and so forth) Jack James’s evident control over the project at all levels. It feels like an intimate project from the ground up, and the cast give appropriately assured performances as a result.
I have no doubt that Malady will struggle commercially because it does not neatly fit into a genre category. Its pacing (and some of its more controversial themes) will undoubtedly alienate some viewers. However, those who do discover this gem will be rewarded with an involving, impressive and haunting feature that certainly ranks among the best indie movies in recent memory, and which holds its own against its higher-budget brethren.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Horror Lab Episode 3: Women in Horror and Prevenge

Episode 3 of the Horror Lab podcast is now available

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In this episode we discuss women in horror with our in-studio guest Dr Alison Peirse (University of York) and our interview guest Kat Ellinger (Editor-in-Chief of Diabolique magazine). We also consider the film Prevenge (Alice Lowe, 2016).

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

New chapter

The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality is out now, edited by Feona Atwood and Clarissa Smith with Brian McNair. The enormous volume contains new work by (among many others) Feona Attwood, Adrienne Evans, Neil Jackson, Misha Kavka, Gareth Longstaff, Alan McKee, John Mercer, Sharif Mowlabocus, Susanna Paasonen, Niall Richardson… it also contains a chapter on "Sex and Horror" by me (which can be accessed here).

To buy and to see a preview, click here

Here is the full Table of Contents: 

PART I: Representing sexualities 

1 The normal body on display: public exhibitions of the Normaand Normman statues Elizabeth Stephens

2 Asexualities and media Kristina Gupta and Karli June Cerankowski

3 Representing trans sexualities Eliza Steinbock

4 Representing lesbians in film and television Rebecca Beirne

5 Representing gay sexualities Sharif Mowlabocus

6 Fifty shades of ambivalence: BDSM representation in pop culture Ummni Khan

7 The politics of fluidity: representing bisexualities intwenty-first-century screen media Maria San Filippo

8 Heterosexual casual sex: from free love to Tinder Kath Albury

9 Representing queer sexualities Dion Kagan

PART II: Sex genres 

10 Erotica Catherine M. Roach

11 A history of slash sexualities: debating queer sex, gay politicsand media fan cultures Kristina Busse and Alexis Lothian

12 Erotic manga: Boys’ Love, shonen-ai, yaoi and (MxM) shotacon Anna Madill

13 Ways of showing it: feature and gonzo in mainstreampornography Federico Zecca

14 From the scene, for the scene! Alternative pornographies in contemporary US production Giovanna Maina

15 ‘Not on public display’: the art/porn debate Gary Needham

16 User-generated pornography: amateurs and the ambiguity of authenticity Susanna Paasonen

17 Celebrity sex tapes Gareth Longstaff

18 The media panic about teen sexting Amy Adele Hasinoff

19 Sex advice books and self-help Meg-John Barker, Rosalind Gill and Laura Harvey

20 Social media platforms and sexual health Paul Byron

21 Young people, sexuality education and the media Anne-Frances Watson

PART III: Representing sex 

22 Videogames and sex Ashley M. L. Brown

23 Sex and celebrity media Adrienne Evans

24 Sex and music video Diane Railton

25 Debating representations of sexuality in advertising Despina Chronaki

26 Media representations of women in action sports: more than ‘sexy bad girls’ on boards Holly Thorpe

27 Sex and horrorSteve Jones

28 Sex in sitcoms: unravelling the discourses on sex in Friends Frederik Dhaenens and Sofie Van Bauwel

29 Sex and reality TV: the pornography of intimate exposure Misha Kavka

30 It’s all about your sex appeal: deconstructing the sexual content in women’s magazines Claire Moran

31 The Invisibles: disability, sexuality and new strategies of enfreakment Niall Richardson

PART IV: Deconstructing key figures 

32 The metrosexual John Mercer and Feona Attwood

33 The sex addict Barry Reay

34 The stripper Alison J. Carr

35 The pen is mightier than the whore: Victorian newspapersand the sex-work saviour complex Kate Lister

36 The pornography consumer as Other Alan McKee

37 The porn performer Angela Gabrielle White

38 The Dominatrix Danielle J. Lindemann

39 The pervert Lauren Rosewarne

40 The pornographer Neil Jackson

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Horror Lab Autopsy on "Post-Horror"

On 6th July 2017, The Guardian newspaper published an article entitled "How Post-Horror Movies are Taking Over Cinema". The article's author (Steve Rose) claimed that a new subgenre is forming: "post-horror". We discuss the notion of "post-horror" with Nia Edwards-Behi (@stonecypher) who is the co-director of the Abertoir Film Festival and a regular contributor to Warped Perspective.

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This is the first of a series of shorter episodes - Autopsies - in which we interview specialists about current events and issues in horror.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The Horror Lab Episode 2: Bride of Frankenstein and 'the Gothic'

Episode 2 of our podcast The Horror Lab is now live [..."it's ALIVE!!"] 

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In this episode, we discuss Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935), we interview Xavier Aldana Reyes (Manchester Metropolitan University) about "the Gothic", and Russ discusses his work on the Italian lost film The Monster of Frankenstein (Eugenio Testa, 1921).

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Digital Violence: A Symposium

Digital Violence: A Symposium
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Saturday, November 4th 2017

Keynote Speakers:
Caetlin Benson-Allott (Georgetown University)
Eugenia Siapera & Debbie Ging (Dublin City University)

We live in an age where images of violence and violent exchanges proliferate and spread with unprecedented speed across multiple platforms. Graphic and disturbing images of violence—from viral videos of rape exchanged on Whatsapp, to the live streaming of fatal shootings on Facebook and Periscope—have become a staple of our digital condition. Similarly, resurgent forms of racialized, misogynistic, and homophobic violence are routinely documented, decried, or simply shrugged off as the ‘new normal’ of contemporary media culture.

While much attention is paid to the content of such encounters, and alarms sounded about the nature of our access and exposure to them, less concerted critical effort has been directed towards thinking specifically about how the technological affordances of networked media feed into and amplify this culture of violence. And yet, as Lisa Nakamura reminds us in relation to the viral racism that abounds on post-digital platforms, digital violence is always both ‘a product and a process’: the very real impact of violence in a digital age needs therefore to be traced through the often obscure, invisible, or simply mundane operations that both produce and sustain it (Nakamura 2014: 260). Following on from Wendy Chun’s more recent contention that ‘our media matter most when they seem not to matter at all,’ how might we re-frame our understanding of violence as inhering in (banal and often unconscious) habits, in contrast to more common-sense notions of violence as a spectacular affective disruption of the status quo (Chun 2016: 1; 13)?

This one-day symposium on Digital Violence seeks to theorize both the concrete forms of violence that proliferate and spread through our networked screens, and the complex processesthat structure violence in a post-digital attention ecology. What are the social and cultural logics that underpin everyday instances of violence? In what specific ways have these cultural understandings been shaped by technological processes of mediation? Similarly, there is a vital need for scholars to identify uses of media, which might expose, critique, or appropriate violence in its various forms. What critical or creative practices of archiving, excavation, and uncovering are needed to unearth and engage violence in a digital age?

Possible topics and questions may include (but are not limited to):

·      How are specific instances of violence captured, made visible, and/or obscured through the use of hashtags, such as #black lives matter, #notaskingforit, #WhyIStayed?
·      What is the relationship between race, new technologies and violence? What critical methodologies might enable us to evaluate ‘how racism and antiblackness undergird and sustain the intersecting surveillances of our present order’ (Browne 2015: 9)? 
·      How has the emergent affect and attention ecology of social media impacted on the ‘resurgent forms of political violence’ in the era of Trump? (Andrejevic 2016).
·      In what ways do social media platforms encourage ‘digital complicity’ with institutionalized forms of violence? (Kuntsman and Stein 2015).

·      What role do social media and other digital platforms play in extending, countering, or buffering the ‘violent or negative affective states produced by an ever-threatening world’ (Grusin 2010: 112).

·      What impact do the micro-temporalities and speeds of digital technologies and infrastructures have on the ways in which we understand and respond to violence and its relation to both human and non-human agents? (Nixon 2011; Parikka 2016).

·      How do users of key platforms engage with and respond to images of violence? How are affective responses to violence solicited and conditioned by the affordances of such platforms? And what is the potential ‘political utility’ of a ‘social media novelty’ such as Facebook Live (Benson-Allott 2016)? 

·      How has digital feminist activism sought to challenge dominant cultural beliefs about violence and rape culture as ‘a fact of life’ (Phipps et al. 2017)? What ‘new connections’ might be enabled by particular uses of social media platforms and other examples of digital mediation (Keller, Mendes & Ringrose 2016)? 

Conference Organisers: Tanya Horeck and Tina Kendall
Please send a 300-word abstract and a brief bio to
by 31 July 2017.

Sponsored by the Anglia Research Centre in Media & Culture

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Horror Lab Episode 1: Candyman and 90s Horror

The first episode of our new podcast - The Horror Lab -  is available to stream/download

Download directly in MP3 format here (right click>'save as').

Also available on iTunes here

The Horror Lab is a podcast recorded at Northumbria University, hosted by myself, Johnny Walker and Russ Hunter. The podcast explores key moments in horror, past and present. 

In this episode, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992), examining the film's representations of race and place, before  discussing 90s horror more broadly.

On the next episode, we will be discussing Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935) and the relationship between horror and the Gothic. 

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions about the show, get in touch with us on Twitter @The_HorrorLab 

We are going to include interviews in future episodes, so if you are a researcher working in the area and would like to participate in the show, drop us a line.

The RSS feed for the podcast is available here.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Kurja Polt 2017

I recently returned from Kurja Polt festival (Slovenia), where I had the opportunity to present on my research (as part of their Cult Film conference), introduce two films (Addio Zio Tom [1971] and Thriller: a Cruel Picture [1973]), and conduct a masterclass with Christina Lindberg. Information about the festival is available here, photographs are available here, and Kurja Polt Facebook page is available here.

A full video of my talk is posted below:

A video of my discussion with Christina Lindberg is here:

Thanks so much to Maša Peče and the Kurja Polt team. 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Interviews for iNews

Recently I have been interviewed several times for articles on iNews. 
Here are links to the interviews about Stephen King (article author Mark Butler), space-based horror (article author Finlay Greig), and racism and horror (article author Mark Butler).

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

15 Second Review: The Dark Tapes

The Dark Tapes is a horror anthology film, and as with any compendium, the segments that comprise the whole are somewhat hit-and-miss. “The Hunters and the Hunted” is the most complete story, and certainly boasts some of the best performances; “Amanda’s Revenge” has a neat structure that initially misdirects the viewer in a highly effective way; “Cam Girls” is the weakest section, featuring some unconvincing acting and the least satisfying plot overall. Nevertheless, each section is efficient, which will surely please viewers who are bored by the protracted establishing sequences that bog down so many full-length found-footage movies. The Dark Tapes has been edited with care, giving enough information to guide the viewer, but refraining from bloating the script with needless exposition. My main problem with the film is that the stories include various plot holes and logical inconsistencies (which I cannot explain here without spoiling each segment), which detracts from the realism that found-footage relies upon. Still, the film is ambitious, and although the wrap-around story does not connect the others together in a literal fashion, it does offer a set of conceptual, thematic links that are intriguing. The opening declaration that ‘humanity is getting closer to the truth’ frames the film’s events as if they are genuine, or at least as if the footage reveals some kind of authenticity. Yet, the film also wears its artifice on its sleeve, flagging that its apparent veracity is entirely fabricated. In that sense, it could be argued that the logical inconsistencies buried within the individual stories enhance the film’s dualistic approach to found-footage. On one hand, The Dark Tapes typifies the found-footage subgenre, replicating the visual tropes – such as ‘digital glitches’ – that have become synonymous with such movies (even though these glitches are unrealistic, inasmuch as they are incredibly rare outside of the subgenre). The film also recalls established found-footage touchstones, including overt nods to V/H/S (in terms of its multiple story structure), and echoing Paranormal Activity in the segment “The Hunters and the Hunted”. However, not only is that parallel to Paranormal Activity undercut in the story itself (I will not say any more so as not to spoil), but it is notable that the makers of The Dark Tapes are just as comfortable citing other horror influences, including Poltergeist (in the “The Hunters and the Hunted”), and even A Nightmare on Elm Street (in the segment “Amanda’s Revenge” via the refrain ‘Don’t fall asleep’). These references root the movie in a broader canon of horror history that extends beyond the recent trend for found-footage indie-flicks. In sum, although The Dark Tapes has its flaws, it is an intriguing film that seeks to rise above the crowd, and I would much rather watch an imperfect movie that attempts to do something interesting than a technically exquisite but banal one.  

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Offscreen 2017: Stephen Sayadian

I have just returned from Offscreen (Brussels) where I had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Sayadian about his career in film-making (Cafe Flesh, Dr Caligari, Nightdreams) and as Art Director for Hustler.

During the Q&A/Masterclass session with Stephen, I got the opportunity to ask him a question that I have been wondering about since 2004 (when I was researching about HIV, sex, and horror fiction in the early stages of my PhD...which ended up having nothing to do with HIV). Cafe Flesh is based within a post-apocalyptic landscape where half of the populace becomes deathly ill if they engage in sex. Given that the movie was shot in 1981/released in 1982, and (what would eventually become known as) AIDS was first clinically observed in 1981, I have always wondered whether Cafe Flesh was an immediate response to the medical context, or whether the film's language of 'sex positives', 'sex negatives', and sickness was coincidental. For anyone who is curious, Stephen confirmed that the former is the case. It was also interesting to hear Stephen refer to Cafe Flesh as 'anti-erotic'; I have always described it as one of the least titillating "porn" films I have seen (which is one of the reasons I was initially intrigued by it). Stephen told me that the film was originally supposed to depict a castration and was meant to end with Max being hanged. Those additions would have further augmented the horror embedded in the film's tone.  
I was also unaware that many of the images from Hustler magazine (particularly the parody adverts), which I have used countless times in lectures about porn, were created by Stephen. Given how thematically dark some of that material is, I am now considering writing a piece about the coalescence of sex and horror in his work. 
The Offscreen festival continues until 26th March. For more information, please visit

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Call for Presentations: Researching Horror, Cult and Exploitation Cinema

Call for Presentations:

Researching Horror, Cult and Exploitation Cinema

A Workshop for PhD Students and Early Career Researchers

Friday 5 May 2017, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne

PhD students and Early Career Researchers working in the field(s) of “horror, cult and exploitation cinema” are invited to submit abstracts about their research to deliver at a workshop at Northumbria University on Friday 5 May 2017. The workshop will take the format of a mini-symposium and consist of three sessions, each made up of three speakers. Speakers will each deliver a 5-10 minute talk about their research to their peers and to a panel of academic experts from Northumbria’s Film and Television Research Group, providing a short introduction to their current project and identifying several questions for discussion. After each presentation, there will be an opportunity for the academic panel and other workshop participants to feedback to each speaker, and to ask follow-up questions.

The workshop is intended to be a small scale networking opportunity for scholars with shared research interests, and to provide a relatively informal, and supportive, opportunity for those newer to academia to engage in dialogue with more established researchers.

The event will close with a short presentation from Gillian Leslie <> , the Commissioning Editor for Film Studies at Edinburgh University Press, who will give advice about academic publishing (including converting PhD theses into monographs).

The academic panel will comprise:

·         Professor Peter Hutchings (Professor of Film Studies, author of The Horror Film and The Historical Dictionary of Horror Cinema)

·         Dr Russ Hunter (Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, co-editor of Italian Horror Cinema, author of A History of European Horror Cinema)

·         Dr Steve Jones (Senior Lecturer in Media, author of Torture Porn: Popular Horror After Saw, co-editor of Zombies and Sexuality)

·         Dr James Leggott (Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, author of Contemporary British Cinema: From Heritage to Horror)

·         Dr Sarah Ralph (Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies, co-author of Alien Audiences: Remembering and Evaluating a Classic Movie)

·         Dr Jamie Sexton (Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, co-author of Cult Film: An Introduction, founding series co-editor of Cultographies)

·         Dr Johnny Walker (author of Contemporary British Horror Cinema: Industry, Genre and Society and co-editor of the Global Exploitation Cinemas book series)

Applicants are reminded that there are only nine spaces available.

Lunch and light refreshments will be provided throughout the day.

Please submit a 250 word summary of your project, and a 50-100 word bio to the organiser, Dr Johnny Walker ( <> ), by Friday 31 March 2017. Applicants will be notified of the outcome the following week. 

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Interview on Racism and Horror

Recently I was interviewed by Mark Butler on the subject of racism in horror movies.
Read the article here: