Welcome back to the Losers' Club, our bi-weekly hang out about horror and film and books and writing.
What have you been up to? You know how some weeks I message and I'm like, "well all I really did was some knitting and I watched a few slasher films" and don't actually have STUFF to announce?
Well this week is all NEWS NEWS NEWS and ANNOUNCING STUFF!
First, I'm very happy to share with you the latest episode of The Mental Health Monsters podcast. I guested on 'The She Creature' episode with host and psychotherapist Katie Evans about why - precisely - I am so into horror film.
Next, since we last spoke I've been working on werewolves, specifically the British film Dog Soldiers. I've long harboured a love of this film, and first published an essay on it 13 years ago.
I've now written a new essay, "When the Walls Collapse", and recorded an audio commentary for Second Sight's 4K restoration, which is coming in June.
I've never done an audio commentary before which I found very weird: recording on my own in my living room, laptop propped up on a pile of post-punk books, surrounded by an explosion of werewolf reference books, with four pages of felt tip notes blu-tacked to the wall for guidance, while also trying to lock the oldest of my three cats out of the room, because she was very determined she wanted to be next to me and yowl...
and when I think back, I can't really recall anything I talked about.
It was like when I do public lectures and am aware of beginning, and speaking, and then seem to ascend into some white noise realm until the end, when I return to earth and have no idea what happened.
I've submitted both the essay and audio commentary now anyway, and so far Second Sight haven't got back and gone 'wtf is this Alison have you lost your mind?' so hopefully that means it is all OK.
I've also included my bibliography for the audio commentary at the end of the newsletter, in the reading recs, in case you are interested.
Next, my essay film, Three Ways to Dine Well, has been nominated for an award at the Haunted House FearFest. Yay! It's screening next month online at the festival, so when links go live I'll let you know in case you fancy watching.
If there is good news following the award nomination, you'll be the first to know.
Now, to some bigger bits of news that you might be interested in, and may even want to get involved with, I hope.
I have finally started my AHRC Fellowship on Feminist Horror Cinema which basically means I am on research leave for the next year.
During leave, I have three main things to crack on with:
1. Write and submit Her Chainsaw Heart: The Women Filmmakers, Theorists and Critics Who Redefined the Genre. This will be my next book, and unlike Women Make Horror (an essay collection with contributions from lots of amazing women), I am going to write the whole book myself
(you may think this is a good thing, or a bad thing, I don't know).
Last year, I wrote 140,000 words of fragments and drivel and huge chunks of chapters that went nowhere, but I seemed to have to do all that, with a million false starts, to work out what I am actually going to do with this book, and what I want it to do.
(I don't recommend writing 140,000 words to work out what you want to do by the way, it was quite stressful).
Now I am fairly confident I know where I am going with it, and I am going start work on it again in a couple of weeks, when I've cleared a few other things off my desk.
I think I'll probably start with the book proposal. You know, the one I said somewhere around last September that I'd have done in the next month or two?
Yeah, that thing.
Is my book writing something you are interested in hearing about? If so, in a month or so I can start giving you some updates on what is working, what is not, what I'm writing about, what ideas I'm having - if that's of interest? Can even talk about how I approach writing a book proposal?
I'm not sure if that is boring or not. Let me know what you think.
2. I am going to create a brand new podcast with Anna Bogutskaya of The Final Girls. This will be an all-singing, all-dancing, scripted, narrative nonfiction podcast on women filmmakers in horror.
Anna is thinking of it as like You Must Remember This but for horror.
I am thinking that pitch sounds awesome.
At the moment, we're in the early stages but thinking about covering that transitional period from the late 1970s - up to 2010 - the time when everything changed for women horror filmmakers.
Are there any particular films or filmmakers you'd be really keen for us to cover? Any specific guests - filmmakers, critics, theorists - you'd be MADE UP for us to talk to?
We are fully and generously funded by the AHRC and have a brilliant team behind us - the best sound designer, illustrator, editor etc. I'm going to co-write and co-present, and Anna is going to do the same, plus produce the whole danged thing as well, which l am very happy about because I don't have the bandwidth to learn all that too.
We've had a quick chat since I started the fellowship, but will start developing it more from next month and I am very much hoping we will release it as a limited series at the back end of this year. I will keep you posted.
3. And I've saved for last the thing that I think - for my lovely Losers Club members - is the thing that you'll be most interested in.
The third big 'output' from my fellowship is a special issue of the open-access journal MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture.
I am editing a special issue entitled 'Doing Women's (Global) (Horror) Film History' and I am on the lookout for contributors.
This is a super-exciting project that goes beyond simply submitting something to a journal and being in a special issue.
First, I am looking to broaden out work on women horror filmmakers beyond white anglophone contexts, and - as you'll see in the call - to move beyond the director as the main case study of choice for work in this area.
I can't wait to see what people pitch.
Then, the contributors are not going to write traditional essays - they're going to make video essays and then do a short piece of reflective writing about the process.
So, I think this, in itself, is interesting.
But the best bit is, I am working on the basis that my chosen contributors have absolutely no knowledge or experience in making video essays and are up for it but at the same time totally terrified by the prospect and actually feel much safer with a pen and paper or, at a push, Microsoft Word
(not just talking about myself here and the first two decades of my academic career oh no).
If you are chosen to contribute to this special issue, you will be offered a place on a free, eight-month mentoring scheme on thinking about, making, developing and publishing video essays.
We've got video essay supremo Catherine Grant delivering the masterclasses and 1-2-1 tutorials, Miriam Kent delivering all the technical training (which is all done online, so you can access anywhere in the world, using only free software and basic equipment e.g. laptop and smartphone), and me running the whole show and generally being loud and over-enthusiastic.
And then, once you've made your video essay, and it is published, we are going to have an online festival launch event with The Final Girls Berlin Film Festival - live screening plus Q&As etc.
Weee! How good does this sound?
(again, all this is funded by the AHRC which shows that the fellowship really does have its uses beyond simply allowing me to live in Lucy & Yak fleeces and M&S thermal leggings and write in a shed all day with my hair in a messy bun).
So, please considering reading the Call for Proposals in the link. Do you think you might be interested - or do you know anyone else who might be? If so, please pass it on to them.
I want to get a real range of contributors and case studies and make this a Really Big Thing for horror studies.
I've got pretty good at shouting loudly about my own work -
("no shit Alison", you think)
even if it goes against my natural predilections -
("nobody likes a show-off" my internal monologue informs me, constantly)
and I really want to make a lot of noise about both the excellent people who will make the video essays, and about the filmmakers they analyse.
I think I am most excited about this out of all the things I have to do.
What have you been watching? Owt or nowt?
This week, I did a 1990s women-directed vampire double bill.
I started with Tale of a Vampire (1992), a UK / Japan co-production, co–written and directed by Shimako Sato. I've already seen her Japanese high school horror Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness (1995), but I was keen to see her directorial debut, shot and made in London while she was at film school.
It didn't blow me away but I don't know how much that was the fault of the film, to be fair. I was definitely watching a VHS pan and scan transfer, so I had little sense of the potential of the actual colours and with the truncated aspect ratio I didn't really get a sense of what we were supposed to be seeing on screen, plus the audio lost sync with the visuals an hour in...
It also definitely went for Proper Gothic Vampires which isn't really my bag.
I'm not the biggest fan of vamps, and when I do encounter them, I like them to be punky rather than in a starched white shirt and a pained expression.
Plus the main vampire dude is played by Julian Sands who I don't find at all appealing...
It's a slightly strange one, summarised best by Alexandra Heller–Nicholas I reckon, but if you like
a) women made horror
b) 90s horror or
c) both of these things combined with vampires
then it's probably worth a look.
You can always watch the same low-res version that I watched on Youtube if you are keen.
I also watched Pale Blood (1990), co–written and directed by V.V. Dachin Hsu. This was a straight to video release and I didn't have high hopes, but it turned out to be great, properly entertaining and fun - the same vibe as Def by Temptation, released the same year.
It follows the story of vampire Michael Fury (so you instantly know that with that character name this film is going to be awesome) who is is trying to hunt down the 'vampire killer', a serial killer preying on the young and nubile of LA.
He is ably assisted by researcher Lori (pictured above, top of the newsletter) who has the most amazing apartment ever.
In fact, two other key female roles - Jenny and Cherry - also have a brilliant apartment. I now totally want to write about single girl's apartments in 80s and 90s horror films. It makes me think of the women living alone feed.
Anyway, Pale Blood contains ALL of my favourite things about horror films in the 1980s and 1990s:
there are multiple scenes of a punk band playing in a nightclub (and the band is Agent Orange which isn't a requirement for my favourite things but works well here),
there are tons of moody shots of teens in clubs and bars,
a great record shop
the fashion is a fantastic mix of trends (80s stretch lurex mini dresses & cocktail dresses, proper punk, and post-punk moodiness)
Lori stops at a petrol station to fill up (I have a separate thing about petrol stations in horror films which may take years to come to anything lol)
there's loads of in-text nods to vampire films (like, literally, Lori is watching FW Murnau's Nosferatu)
Lori does research on an MS-DOS PC and uses a dot matrix printer,
there's a filmmaker character who is revealed (duh duh duh!) to be a total douche (although you know this from the start when he makes a case for a video art)....
the whole film has a neon punk rock vibe, really kinetic, which I enjoyed very much.
After watching I searched online for information about V.V. Dachin Hsu and discovered she was Hong Kong born and raised and moved to New York after school to study dance at the Juilliard, had a performing career on Broadway and when her show took her to LA she got interested in film and enrolled to study filmmaking at UCLA (as you do) and became a filmmaker.
I gleaned all this from the one interview on her I could find on YouTube, but then the trail went cold, until I discovered, through the Vinegar Syndrome 2K restoration Blu-ray that she has changed her name to Jenny Funkmeyer and I followed her on Instagram and she messaged me after I requested to follow her!
What a wonderful and strange world we live in.
Pale Blood is definitely going in Her Chainsaw Heart.
I have also watched Titane this week which I have a lot of thoughts about (and not all necessarily what you might expect) BUT I am aware that this has turned into another epic missive so...
I am going to tease you with this and save it for next time.
To the reading recs!
As promised, here is a selection of the books and journal articles I consulted to do my Dog Soldiers audio commentary:
Aviva Briefel, 'Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film’, Film Quarterly 58.3 (2005).
Chantal Bourgault Du Coudray, The Curse of the Werewolf: Fantasy, Horror and the Beast Within (2006)
Craig Ian Mann, Phases of the Moon: A Cultural History of the Werewolf Film (2020)
David Martin–Jones, 'National Symbols: Scottish Identity in Dog Soldiers', Symbolism (2007)
Jonathan Murray, 'Give a Dog a Bone: Representations of Scotland in the Popular Genre Cinema of Neil Marshall', Visual Studies (2013)
Alison Peirse, 'Destroying the Male Body in British Horror Cinema', in Mysterious Skin: Male Bodies in Contemporary Cinema (2009)
Hannah Priest (ed), She-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves (2017)
Right, that's all from me for today. Hope you have nice things planned for your Sunday and the week ahead.
Take care and speak soon, my lovely horror family.