By Josh Lee
Darkness fell across the land last week, or, to be more specific, across Manchester Metropolitan University, when the 2015 Gothic Manchester Festival took possession of venues across the city.
Now in its third year, the Festival took place between the 22nd – 31st of October and included, amongst other things, a showcase of exhibitions on gothic art and an exploration into the darker sides of literature. The central symposium, entitled ‘What Lies Beneath’, explored the uncanny, the unsaid, and the unseen. In other words, the horrors that lurk in the very depths of the genre.
So, what is gothic? Dr Linnie Blake, Head of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, claimed that ‘gothic’ is not simply a genre, but also a mode of being. Dr Blake, who described herself as “superstitious” following an incident with an astral spirit and a table with one leg shorter than the others, described the ‘gothic’ as an expression of society; a form which acts almost as a social commentary to express the fears and anxieties of contemporary society.
At the event, Dr Sarah A. Winter from the University of Northumbria, MMU Associate Lecturer, Richard Gough Thomas, and Morag Rose from the University of Sheffield chaired a panel to talk about ‘The Weird’.
Dr Winter’s talk focused predominantly on Contemporary Horror in the theatre, such as the screen-to-stage adaptions of Let The Right One In, and London’s Almeida Theatre production of American Psycho, starring Matt Smith.
However, is modern life particularly horrific? Dr Blake, who insists that the modern world is closer to horror than ever before, seems to think so. There is the sense that what Dr Blake is referring to is the ever dwindling privacy we are currently experiencing. With found-footage films and films such as Chatroom and Dot.Kill, it seems the digital turn in cinema has allowed the producers to tap into this current fear- and profit from it.
Richard Gough Thomas’ talk paid particular attention to American writer, H. P. Lovecraft, considered by some as one of the 20th century’s most influential writers in the horror genre. The day included a screening of iconic movies Reanimator (1985), and From Beyond (1986), both based on Lovecraft’s work. Self-confessed Lovecraft enthusiast, and producer of the two films, Brian Yuzna, was also present for the rare screening and an extensive Q&A, presented in conjunction with Grimm Up North.
To say that the ‘gothic’ is synonymous with ‘fictitious’ is somewhat restrictive, an issue that Morag Rose discussed when speaking about Manchester in relation to the genre. Manchester, structurally, does have a gothic air about it and although not home to ‘Jack the Ripper’, isn’t without its own myths; the most recent being about ‘The Pusher’. One theory suggests that ‘The Pusher’ is a serial killer, responsible for over 60 deaths in Manchester’s waterways over the past decade. Morag, however, was quick to question the sensitivity of such myths, especially when it comes to the memory of the victims involved.
Horror often resembles an amusement park; people are attracted to the buzz it provides and the thrill of being scared without the threat of immediate danger. The gothic/horror genre is the only genre which seems to evolve as consistently as fashion, and stories are continuously being revised and exaggerated, be they true or false.
However, can the classic images of gothic fiction, Frankenstein, Dracula, Mr. Hyde etc. still be considered scary today? Dr Blake asserts so, referring to successful shows like American Horror Story, and ITV’s new drama Jekyll and Hyde as examples of how reinvented stories can maintain the dread attached to the originals.
“However, if you’re looking for something new,” finished Dr Blake, “read Joe Hill.” The author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns is apparently the next best thing in horror. And it is merely a footnote to mention that he just happens to be the son of a certain Stephen King.
To find out more about all things gothic, have a look at the 2015 Gothic Manchester Festival website as it returns to its tomb for another twelve months.