Conference report by Daisy Butcher, PhD candidate, University of Hertfordshire
On Friday the 28th of June I attended the Queer Fears Symposium run by my wonderful secondary PhD supervisor Dr Darren Elliott-Smith at the Odyssey Cinema in St Albans. The day consisted of academic papers on the topic of Queerness in Horror film and TV and also a film screening of Nightmare on Elm Street 2:Freddy’s Revenge in the evening. This article is a short review of the symposium’s presentations and the event as a whole.
The first panel, entitled ‘In and Out of the Closet’, included the University of Hertfordshire academics Chris Lloyd, Tim Stafford, and Ben Wheeler. The panel discussed American Horror Story, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,and The Lost Boys,which were favourites of mine as both a fan and researcher. Points of particular interest for myself included Chris Lloyd’s analysis across the seasons of American Horror Story, Tim Stafford’s argument surrounding the queerness of the Spellman family structure, and Ben Wheeler highlighting the inherent homoeroticism of The Lost Boys.
The second panel, on Queer Performative Horror, featured Valeria Lindvall, who explored the web series Dragula; Daniel Shepherd, who delivered his paper on the appropriation of the Babadook as a Queer icon; and Lexi Turner analysing Queer dance in the films Suspiria and Climax. Although I had not actually seen these films and webseries, the presentations were very engaging and effective in emphasising the unique queer elements.
After this panel we were treated to lunch. The catering at this conference was of excellent quality with plenty of vegetarian options for myself. We also had a pint-sized Freddie Kreuger serving us biscuits throughout the day, which was a fun touch!
The first afternoon panel was on ‘Consuming Queerness and other Gross Tales . . .’, where Robyn Ollett and Eddie Falvey both examined Julia Ducournau’s 2016 film RAW which explores university hazing culture and cannibalism. Robyn Ollett explored themes such as the self-destructive body horror of the film while Eddie Falvey opted for more of a survey approach to the female body in horror film, comparing Ducournau’s film to Teeth, which shows a vagina dentate body as a site of resistance, as well as Thanatomorphose and Contracted, which seemed more regressive in their representation of the female body as diseased after sex/rape. Lastly, the University of Hertfordshire academic Laura Mee rounded off the panel by discussing the films of Lucky McKee, which feature monstrous female forms such as hybridised bug-women who devour their mean landladies.
The final panel of the conference, entitled ‘Frightfully Problematic Queerness’, featured Sam Tabet and the University of Hertfordshire PhD candidate Siobhan O’Reilly. Unfortunately, Christopher Clark was unable to make it but on a positive note it meant we had more time for questions and discussion at the end of both papers. Siobhan O’Reilly’s paper was extremely enlightening on the reality of transphobia in horror film history. In fact, she had completed a comprehensive list of films which feature trans characters negatively, often as the killer of the stories. One film in particular that she used as a case study was Sleepaway Camp, where the film’s final twist is the revelation that Angela was in fact the murderer. Siobhan O’Reilly showed a clip of the final scenes which highlighted how the characters seem more shocked by her having a penis than the fact she is a serial killer. Sam Tabet analysed the more recent film What Keeps you Alive from 2018, which featured a lesbian couple where one of them was a psychotic killer. Sam went into detail about the film’s conception, as the director originally had the idea for a heterosexual couple and then opted to swap out the murderous husband for a lesbian wife instead. She highlighted the problematic nature of the film and its reinforcement of the link between lesbian desire and violence.
To end the symposium, Dr Darren Elliott-Smith delivered the keynote on the gay zombie: ‘”Unbury Your Gays”: Queer Zombies, Mental Illness and Assimilation Anxieties in Contemporary Film and TV’. In his presentation, he looked into contemporary zombie film and TV shows such as In the Flesh and Otto.
The attention to detail at the conference was first class, as the post-keynote wine reception and refreshments included rainbow drops served by Freddie and a magnificent rainbow cake with rainbow napkins. Moreover, the Odyssey as a venue was fantastic as all film clips and presentations took place on their professional cinema screen. Not to mention that the staff were very helpful and enthusiastic, even going as far as to put up themed horror film posters around the venue and hiding Freddie Kreuger gloves on their current film posters such as Spiderman: Far from Home and Rocketman. I did not attend the film screening in the evening but overall this one-day symposium was one of the best academic events I have ever attended. While Queer Theory had not been my specific research approach, it was a very thought-provoking conference and it was inspiring to see how academics approached Queerness as a topic more broadly than I first anticipated. The commitment and passion behind it was obvious as Dr Darren Elliott-Smith did a wonderful job in organising the event. It was certainly a worthy send-off and legacy for him to leave the University of Hertfordshire with as he moves on to pastures new at the University of Stirling. I would like to wish him the best of luck and am grateful to him for remaining my secondary PhD supervisor and staying attached to my project.
Darren Elliott-Smith, Queer Horror Film and Television: Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2016)
Daisy Butcher is a Gothic and horror PhD student at the University of Hertfordshire attached to the Open Graves Open Minds project. Her thesis focuses on the monstrous feminine, psychoanalysis, and body horror from the nineteenth-century Gothic short story to modern film and TV reincarnations. Her PhD project particularly analyses the female vampire, mummy, and the killer-plant monster. She is currently editing a publication with the British Library, Evil Roots: Killer Tales of the Botanical Gothic, which will be released in Autumn 2019.