Hallowe’en Gothic

For a change, something approaching a normal blog article. Slightly tardy but better late than never.

Hallowe’en Gothic was a mini-film festival held at the MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling between 31st October and 2nd November. Organised by the International Gothic Association it featured a variety of full-length gothic films from around the world, along with two programs of short films – one of Scottish gothic shorts and the other of New Zealand gothic shorts – and a panel discussion on the state of Contemporary Horror Film. Due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances I was only able to attend the short film programs and the discussion panel so this article must necessarily focus on those sections.

Scottish Gothic Shorts

First up was a program of Scottish short films, introduced by co-organiser Sarah Neely (Stirling University) and covering some fifty years of Scottish film. Beginning with the early experimental work of Enrico Cocozza from the 1950s, through the mid-nineties with Joyride, a slickly made little calling card for director Jim Gillespie who would go on to make the disappointing I Know What You Did Last Summer, to the supernatural tinged world of the heavily gothic Contorted Hazel and the more subtle time dilations of Rose both of which are in the process of being remade as feature films.

Kiwi Gothic Shorts

Introduced by co-organiser Ian Conrich (Birkbeck, University of London) and presenting a program of short films originally shown as part of a major retrospective on New Zealand film at the Era New Horizons festival in Wroclaw, Poland back in July, this was the most thematically consistent of the two short film programs. Although late starters to the world of international cinema, the quality of the shorts included makes a strong argument in favour a healthy Short Film Fund. As a sound designer the sound quality and usage is always my first priority and the whole program proved a delight on that front. Having grown used to the majority of film-makers largely ignoring what can be the low budget horror film-maker’s best friend, it was refreshing, if something of a culture-shock to see it foregrounded so much. The use of sound as almost another character in horror is a notion that I’m a vocal advocate of, and the way in which it was often used to emphasise, and in some cases personify the fractured and multi-layered relationship between New Zealanders and the land in which they live was particularly effective.

Discussion Panel: The State of the Contemporary Horror Film

Finally a panel discussion involving New Zealand director David Blyth (whose film Grampire was screened the previous day); Scottish screenwriter Sergio Casci (Rose was one of the shorts shown on Saturday) critic, novelist and screenwriter David Pirie (The Vampire Cinema, Murder Rooms) and Scottish author Louise Welsh (best known for The Cutting Room, though I know her as the woman who wrote the excellent Elizabethan thriller Tamberlaine Must Die). The discussion touched on a variety of issues from the importance of eliciting emotion in creating a good screen play – and how horror does this most reliably – to the notion of the visceral response, where even when we understand why and how we are being scared we still respond accordingly, from the childhood connection between fear, fantasy and horror and the notion of horror as adult fairytales, on to the unconscious and its role in horror, the unspoken and the transformative. There was much consideration of the proximity between cinema and dreams, the way that unconscious themes can become a cathartic force. Also discussed was the idea that one strange thing in a seemingly normal reality could be far scarier than a obviously ‘scary’ or ‘weird’ world in which equally strange events were unfolding. Unfortunately the time alloted for the discussion didn’t allow these ideas to be discussed fully, and given the amount of audience participation in the brief question time, clearly there could have been much more interesting mileage out of the subject had time not been as limited.

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