The British are coming!
In closing his Oscar acceptance speech in 1982, the British writer Colin Welland warned the Academy: “You may have started something, the British are coming!” In March of 2016 the indomitable Maša Peče ‘started something’ when, in her delicate Slavic manner, she approached me at Offscreen Film Festival in Brussels and asked if a team from Northumbria University would like to come and speak at Kurja Polt Genre Film Festival. We were all intrigued. What was this festival and, more importantly, what the hell did Kurja Polt mean? Safe to say, we all fell in love with Ljubljana about 5 minutes after landing in April of 2017. The festival is so brilliantly created, the audience so welcoming and delights of Ljubljana so wonderful, it is – frankly – impossible not to. On a personal note, I have missed coming to the festival in what have been a difficult few years for all of us. Whilst we have all adapted to a cultural life on the other end of a laptop screen, nothing beats the excitement of being at Kurja Polt, of seeing films in the cinema or – my own personal favourite – of reading the fabulous festival fanzine Pullum Cutis hot off the press.
Whilst we don’t come with a prestigious film award in hand, I am delighted to say that – finally – Northumbria University is back in Ljubljana in person! We’ve missed the Kinodvor. We’ve missed the Kinoteka. And we’ve missed the fabulous team that puts such a diverse, brilliant and thoughtful festival together each year. But – most of all – we’ve missed you. We hope you can join us again this year for what promise to be two very different and two very insightful talks. Dr Kate Egan will examine the significance of the performance of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in shaping a truly iconic and rounded female horror character. Following Kate, Dr Johnny Walker will look at the global home video market boom of the 1980s to reassess the picture often created of British horror cinema in the period as moribund.
So, stock up on the čevapi (although not for Johnny, he’s a vegan) and loosen the beer-bottle tops: the British are coming!
– Dr Russ Hunter
Dr Russ Hunter is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television in the Department of Arts at Northumbria University. His research focuses on Italian genre cinema, European horror cinema and genre film festivals. He has published on a variety of aspects of Italian and European genre cinema and is the co-editor (with Stefano Baschiera) of Italian Horror Cinema (2016). He is currently writing a book on Italian giallo and horror director Dario Argento. He has published in numerous film encyclopaedias and reference guides and works closely with a number of European genre film festivals.
‘Do As I Say’: Horror, Performance, Laurie Strode and Jamie Lee Curtis
Dr Kate Egan, Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK)
In one of the few pieces of scholarship on horror film and performance, Peter Hutchings points to the lack of attention currently afforded to performance in film studies when thinking about the meanings and impact of popular horror cinema. As he argues, despite the sustained focus on the importance of the monster, the victim and their relations to gender in horror film studies, little attention has been paid to how ‘the process of acting’ and the ‘actor’s skills and abilities’ work to produce ‘expressions of fear and terror’ which are essential to the emotional impact of key characters and key films throughout the history of the horror genre (The Horror Film, 2004: 150). Furthermore, and as he notes, such consideration of acting is also key to establishing a more nuanced understanding and appreciation of the representation of female characters within horror, beyond simply equating them with passivity and activity. In order to build on Hutchings’ insightful arguments, this talk will consider the central importance of Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance to the Halloween franchise, and to the continued development of her character, Laurie Strode. It will map and explore Curtis’ performance across Halloween (1978), Halloween 2 (1981), Halloween H20 (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Halloween (2018) and Halloween Kills (2021). By doing this, it will illustrate how Curtis’ acting choices – relating, in particular, to her vocal delivery, gaze patterns, facial expression, and her sheer physicality – are absolutely central to Laurie Strode’s status as one of the richest and most fully-realised female characters in modern horror cinema.
Dr Kate Egan is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Media at Northumbria University. Prior to this, she taught at Aberystwyth University and Nottingham University, where she was awarded her PhD on the cultural history of the video nasties in 2005. She is the author of Trash or Treasure? Censorship and the Changing Meanings of the Video Nasties (2007) and Cultographies: The Evil Dead (2011), and co-author of Alien Audiences (2016). She is also the co-editor of Cult Film Stardom (2013), And Now for Something Completely Different: Critical Approaches to Monty Python (2020), and Researching Historical Screen Audiences (2022). She has also published on Japanese horror, Alien and its sequels, and audience memories of horror cinema, and is the co-founder of the BAFTSS Horror Studies subject interest group.
Cheap and Nasty? Home Video and the Global Distribution Trajectory of British Horror Films in the 1980s
Dr Johnny Walker, Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK)
Before its re-launch in the mid-2000s, Britain’s most iconic producer of horror movies, Hammer Films, ceased feature film production in 1979. For some, this sounded the death knell for domestic horror production, prior to the genre’s ‘rebirth’ in the early 2000s with mainstream hits such as 28 Days Later (2002). While little-acknowledged, the intervening two decades saw numerous domestic horror productions materialise, enjoying varying levels of success and international exposure, albeit rarely in cinemas. Indeed, British horror’s presence was most felt in the nascent video cassette market. This presentation, drawing from the AHRC-funded research project, Raising Hell: British Horror Film of the 1980s and 1990s, focuses on the beginnings and maturation of the global home-video market, and the role of British horror film within it. It argues that, whereas the infrastructure to sustain commercial filmmaking in Britain all but collapsed during the 1980s, a series of British films were subsidised by international exploitation film producers looking to use the UK as a base from which internationally exploitable horror films might emerge. Such producers included the Americans Dick Randall and Steve Minasian, whose British films, including the slashers Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) and Slaughter High (1986), were distributed on video throughout the world, and did good business relative to the climate. By focusing on the distribution trajectories on these films and others, this presentation revises the history of British horror cinema, arguing that the significance of domestic horror production to the period in question has been understated.
Dr Johnny Walker is Associate Professor in the Department of Arts at Northumbria University. His books include, as author Rewind, Replay: Britain and the Video Boom, 1978-92 (Edinburgh University Press, 2022), Contemporary British Horror Cinema: Industry, Genre and Society (Edinburgh University Press, 2015), and, as editor, a new edition of the late Peter Hutchings’ ground-breaking volume, Hammer and Beyond: The British Horror Film (Manchester University Press, 2021).