Kurja polt 2018: Contamination, Ruination And Damnation! Cult Cinema And The Nation
Cult cinema is notoriously difficult to define. Films as diverse and as far apart in time as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), El Topo (1970) and Mamma Mia! (2008) have all, at one time or another, been embraced as examples of cult. The differences in the subjects these films address – and the ways in which they do so – point to the slippery nature of the concept. What does one look for in attempting to pin-down the wriggling cinematic beast that is cult cinema? One approach is to think about cult as the expression of particularly national forms of filmmaking. Is there something about the way different countries approach genre cinema that means they produce a certain kind of cult cinema? Contamination, ruination and damnation! Cult cinema and the nation offers three talks that look at three very different national contexts: the piggy-back, exploitation led genre cinema of Italy in the 1970s and early 1980s; the uniquely exaggerated landscapes and flora and fauna of Australia and how its cinema has responded to the character of ‘the outback’;the very different ways of thinking about revenge within contemporary American cinema and what the cultural obsession with revenge suggests about the nation and its values. The Cult Film Conference is presented in collaboration with Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK), and chaired by Dr Russ Hunter, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at Northumbria.
One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Once I caught a zombie alive: The Italian zombie craze
Dr Russ Hunter (Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK)
The Italian film industry has always had a Jekyll and Hyde quality: the same country that produced La Dolce Vita (1960), L’Avventura (1960) and Il Conformista (1970) also created Alien 2 Sulla Terra (1980), Cannibal Ferrox (1981) and, notoriously, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979). Critic, writer and director Luigi Cozzi famously noted that the Italian genre film industry was one that was marked by its exploitation film qualities. In his words, Italian film producers would never ask what your film was like – they would only ask what film is your film like? It was an industry characterised by its parasitic qualities, with genre cinema usually piggy-backing on the success of films from other parts of the globe. After the success in Italy of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), Lucio Fulci quickly released Zombie Flesh Eaters and a new national sub-genre was born: the Italian zombie film. Marked by its high gore content, international casts and often outrageous, credulity-stretching narratives, the Italian zombie film has since become a cult phenomenon in its own right. This talk traces the development of the zombie film in Italy, arguing that that despite their often highly derivative qualities these films were nonetheless important and, at times, even offered socio-political critiques.
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 Italian Horror: A History, which will be published in 2019 by Edinburgh University Press. He has published in numerous film encyclopedias and reference guides and works closely with a number of European genre film festivals.
That infernal rock: Australian horror cinema’s monstrous landscape
Dr Alexia Kannas (RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Malevolent primordial rock formations, haunted dried-up lakes, giant killer crocodiles and feral razorback boars are all features of the “monstrous landscape” that has become a defining characteristic of Australian horror cinema. After the critical and commercial success of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir’s 1975 cult classic in which a group of Victorian-era schoolgirls and their teacher disappear whilst out on a Valentine’s Day picnic, the monstrous landscape becomes a recurring trope in Australian horror films, where its inhospitable and alien qualities make it a distinctly active narrative force. As Australian horror scholar Mark Ryan writes, in Australian horror cinema “the landscape functions not just as a setting for action, but at a character in its own right” (2015). This talk traces the popularisation of the monstrous landscape through a diverse range of Australian horror films, including Colin Eggleston’s eco-horror beach film Long Weekend (1978), Greg McLean’s 2005 neo-slasher Wolf Creek and Joel Anderson’s ghost mockumentary, Lake Mungo (2008), and considers the cultural context that produces a particular tension between urban and rural space in Australian horror.
Dr Alexia Kannas is a Lecturer in Media and Cinema Studies in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research concerns topics in cult cinema, film genre, film sound and cinematic modernism. She is the author of Deep Red (Columbia University Press/Wallflower, 2017) and is currently completing a monograph on the Italian giallo film for SUNY Press.
Wild Justice: Revenge in Contemporary American Film
Dr Steve Jones (Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK)
Frequently, fictional heroes are violent, angry characters. Nowhere is that clearer than in revenge films. However, revenge is typically presented in several very different ways in fiction. In some revenge films, violent action is presented as a way of upholding justice. If that is the case, revenge is morally virtuous. Sometimes revenge is associated with retaliation; a kind of unthinking, angry “lashing out”. If that is the case, revenge is a sign that when it really matters, we are not moral creatures; we cannot control our animal natures. Elsewhere, revenge is presented as an intricately planned activity. Where that is the case, revenge is a sign that humans are rational creatures who don’t simply lash out; however, we use intelligence in malicious immoral ways. This talk will explore these different ways of thinking about revenge by focusing on contemporary American revenge films such as Crank (2006), Reservation Road (2007), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), and I Am Wrath (2016). America is supposedly founded on moral values; leading the “free world” towards betterment by upholding “liberty and justice for all”. Those values do not seem to fit well the sheer volume of revenge films coming out of the US. This talk will ask what the cultural obsession with revenge suggests about the nation and its values.