Raising Hell: British Horror Cinema in the 1980s and 1990s

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University

Abstract

Before its re-launch in the mid-2000s, Britain's most iconic producer of horror movies, Hammer Films, ceased feature film production in 1979. For some, this sounded the death knell for domestic horror production, prior to the genre's "rebirth" in the early 2000s with mainstream hits such as 28 Days Later (2002). While little-acknowledged, the intervening two decades saw numerous domestic horror productions materialise, enjoying varying levels of success and international exposure, albeit rarely in cinemas. Indeed, British horror's presence was most felt in the nascent video cassette market.

This project, "Raising Hell: British Horror Film in the 1980s and 1990s", aims to explore what British horror film production of the 1980s and 1990s reveals about contemporaneous film culture and society in Britain. It seeks to plug gaps in dominant scholarly and popular narratives regarding commercial filmmaking, and argue that the significance of the genre to the period in question has been understated. The project argues that past histories of British film take too much for granted regarding British horror's non-/marginal presence in cinemas during the 1980s and 1990s and that judgments as to the quality (or lack thereof) of the films produced typically precludes meaningful analysis.

By locating British horror films within an industrial and socio-cultural context, the project seeks to identify the key players in horror film production, the resources that were available to them, how they navigated the tumultuous climate of increased film censorship and new legislation pertaining to video, and the extent to which their films are socially engaged. It will show that "British horror" during the period under scrutiny was a broad church straddling various budgets and distribution trajectories, from mainstream money-spinners (e.g. The Shining and Hellraiser) to amateur works (e.g. Invitation to Hell and Bad Karma). A more nuanced examination of domestic horror film production during the 1980s and 1990s will enable a greater understanding of the history of popular British cinema, and the lasting impact of this period on the present.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Almost all that was promised in the original proposal has been delivered or is in development. Thus far, the most significant achievements from the award pertain to dissemination, the recovery of lost films, and the location and utilisation of new primary research materials.

First, the PI has presented findings to key stakeholders, including at the University of Pittsburgh (the leading University for research into horror media in the US), scholars and the general public at a film festival in Europe, on Slovenian television, through the Miskatonic Institute in London, and via a conference appearance. Two of these examples, Pittsburgh and Miskatonic, demonstrate successful partnerships through which further collaborations will grow, including collaborative research (Pittsburgh) and, potentially, further bridge-building between academia and the general public (Miskatonic).

Second, funding from the project, and knowledge accrued by the PI through research supported by the project, has led to the rediscovery and restoration of two films by Britain's most prolific amateur horror filmmaker, Michael J Murphy. The boxset within which these films feature place Murphy's work in the eyeline of publics for the first time since the 1980s, and the PI's research is developing a counter history of popular British horror cinema which accounts for Murphy and his peers.

Third, funding from the project has enabled the PI to acquire and employ primary materials hitherto unavailable elsewhere, including industry documentation pertaining to a number of the films under scrutiny. These materials originate from various national contexts (including Germany, Italy, Japan) and include, among other things, promotional materials and correspondence from distributors to exhibitors (i.e. cinema owners) about specific British horror films and their potential life in international markets. These materials have helped guide the focus of the research, and constitute materials unavailable from other archives such as the BFI.
Exploitation Route As mentioned above, the chief scholarly output from this research, the monograph and two articles, are forthcoming, so their impact is unknown. However, given that the findings from this research dramatically alter dominant narratives of both horror film history in Britain and those pertaining to "the British film industry" broadly defined, the impact on scholarship will in all likelihood be varied. The findings can be taken forwards by scholars of British cinema, cultural historians, scholars of film and film-adjacent technologies, economics and legal scholars, and, of course, those working at the vanguard of Horror Studies. When I next report, as the monograph and articles take shape, I will be better-positioned to comment on the outcomes and their prospective impact.
Sectors Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Global Horror Studies and Archival Research Network 
Organisation University of Pittsburgh
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I delivered a research seminar to faculty and graduate students as part of a colloquium series, in addition to participating in a round table/workshop. I also sat in on a class about horror studies and archival research.
Collaborator Contribution Pitt provided me with the physical space to present this work, and handled the organisational arrangements pertaining to the aforementioned events.
Impact Adam Lowenstein of the University of Pitt and director of the GHSARN is flying over to Northumbria in May to discuss further funding projects to enable the network and its impact to grow.
Start Year 2022
 
Description Interview on Slovenian TV about research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed for Slovenia's news channel about my AHRC research, following a public lecture delivered at the Kurja Polt Film Festival.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Presentation delivered at SCMS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Delivered a presentation about the future of British horror historiography at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference (online), which led to a debate surrounding the future of empirical, archival-based scholarship, in the area of horror studies and adjacent fields.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Presentation/discussion at Miskatonic Institute for Horror Studies, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk delivered as part of a popular lecture series aimed at a general public. This led to a length Q&A and discussion about the importance of challenging dominating narratives which cloud nuanced understanding of British cinema history and the horror film's place within it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
 
Description Public lecture at Slovenian film festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public lecture delivered as part of the programme of the Kurja Polt Cult Film Festival. Audience comprised festival goers and local media. I was interviewed for Slovenia's news channel about the project, and a video of my lecture was uploaded to the Kurja Polt YouTube channel.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://youtu.be/WAQ9F2zb0BU
 
Description Vist to the University of Pittsburgh 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Two events took place.

1. A roundtable about "international folk horror" featuring myself and Cüneyt Çakirlar (Nottingham Trent University) in the presence, and with involvement from undergraduate, postgraduates and Faculty members.

2. A lecture delivered about the funded research to undergraduate, postgraduates and Faculty members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022