Weird Fiction/ Weird Film

Module code: EN3035

The first decades of the twentieth century saw rapid upheaval in several disciplines of knowledge –Howard Carter’s excavations in Egypt, Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto, and the work of Freud and Einstein, radically rewrote conceptions of history, space, and even human identity. The best-known literary response to these shifts is that of high Modernism, which saw them as a fertile resource to exploit, seeking ‘new possibilities of expression’ in a world of ‘machinery, trains, steam-ships, all that distinguishes externally our time’ as Wyndham Lewis wrote in 1914. Yet beyond this enthusiasm, other, darker responses are perceptible. In the monthlies and pulp magazines, writers of weird fiction regarded these same developments as a source of dread and disquiet. Writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard in the US, and Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen in the UK, saw a disorienting collapse of old certainties in Lewis’ ‘possibilities’, one that would bring the human world into confrontation with terrifying and uncontrollable forces.

While their work has never been treated as canonical, the fears these writers expressed have cast a long shadow, especially over the cinema of the 1970s and 80s. Through direct adaptation and loose inspiration, a series of important directors have revisited the central concerns of weird writers, from John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon in the US, to Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento in Italy, to Robin Hardy and Clive Barker in the UK; taking a longer view, their influence has become discernible again in recent years with the rising popularity of ‘art-house’ horror films, such as The Cabin in the Woods (2011) by Drew Goddard, The Witch (2015) by Robert Eggers, and Midsommar (2019) by Ari Aster. This interdisciplinary module will look at these two sets of texts and the relationship between them. It will lead students through five thematic categories, each pairing an example of short fiction with a related film: cosmic horror, folk horror, body horror, psychological horror, and occult horror. As a whole they will provide a broad introduction to a fascinating group of neglected authors and their legacy in film.

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