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Dr. Syn: Scarecrow of Romney Marsh items

Disney was a formative influence growing up, especially the dark aspects that would come out of his imagination at times. One item that I still appreciate was his film released on television in installments as Scarecrow of Romney Marsh in the U.S., but with a different title as a film in the UK. Above is a good documentary on the Scarecrow that I assume is a part of the release as part of the Disney classics on DVD but which is very expensive to purchase these days.

One of those featured in the documentary is Bret Blevins, a comic artist, who was associated with the Disney comic book series based on the program. I've copied some of his great Scarecrow art below.

 

 

"The Autopsy of Jane Doe" - Surprised by Witchcraft

I'd heard quite a lot of positive buzz about The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Since I added it to my Blu-ray collection I watched it Saturday. I don't have much to say about it other than it was a satisfying horror film that focuses more on suspense and the creep factor than gore. Even the nudity of the main autopsy victim isn't gratuitous. One surprising aspect of it, however, (spoiler alert) is the inclusion of a variation on the evil witch trope. I didn't see the witchcraft angle coming, and I'm surprised this hasn't been featured more, either in interviews with the director or in commentary related to the film.

Synopsis

It’s just another night at the morgue for a father (Brian Cox) and son (Emile Hirsch) team of coroners, until an unidentified, highly unusual corpse comes in. Discovered buried in the basement of the home of a brutally murdered family, the young Jane Doe—eerily well preserved and with no visible signs of trauma—is shrouded in mystery. As they work into the night to piece together the cause of her death, the two men begin to uncover the disturbing secrets of her life. Soon, a series of terrifying events make it clear: this Jane Doe may not be dead. The latest from Trollhunter director Andre Ovredal is a scarily unpredictable, supernatural shocker that never lets up.

"The Girl With All the Gifts" - Interesting Variation on the Zombie Film

I had seen advertisements for the film The Girl With All the Gifts (2016), and after almost buying it at my local Walmart over the weekend, I found it for video on demand through internet streaming and decided to give it a viewing. I'm glad I did. It presents an interesting variation on the zombie film and can be understood almost like a hybrid of Night of the Living Dead meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic UK, where presumably the entire world has been overrun by "Hungries," human beings who are under the control of a fungal infection that destroys their free will and gives them insatiable hunger for the living. The film focuses on children of the Hungries, in particular one girl named Melanie. These children have free will, for the most part, and may hold the key to the development of a vaccine that can save humanity. The Girl With All the Gifts, like the film Maggie, is a part of small number of zombie films that seek to explore aspects of humanity by rehumanizing the zombie monster.

The IMDB storyline summary and film trailer are below.

In a dystopian near future, humanity has been ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease. The afflicted are robbed of all free will and turned into flesh-eating 'hungries'. Humankind's only hope is a small group of hybrid children who crave human flesh but retain the ability to think and feel. The children go to school at an army base in rural Britain, where they're subjected to cruel experiments by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close). School teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) grows particularly close to an exceptional girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), thus forming a special bond. But when the base is invaded, the trio escape with the assistance of Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) and embark on a perilous journey of survival, during which Melanie must come to terms with who she is.

Call for Papers - AI and Apocalypse

Call for Papers
AI and Apocalypse
Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM)
April 5 - 6, 2018. Inside the Big Top at the Panacea Charitable Trust gardens, Bedford, United Kingdom
CenSAMM Symposia Series 2018 / www.censamm.org

Abstracts are due by December 31, 2017.
We invite papers from those working across disciplines to contribute to a two-day symposium on the subject of AI and Apocalypse.

Recently ‘AlphaGo’, a Google/Deepmind programme, defeated the two most elite players at the Chinese game ‘Go’. These victories were, by current understandings of AI, a vast leap forward towards a future that could contain human-like technological entities, technology-like humans, and embodied machines. As corporations like Google invest heavily in technological and theoretical developments leading towards further, effective advances – a new ‘AI Summer’ - we can also see that hopes, and fears, about what AI and robotics will bring humanity are gaining pace, leading to new speculations and expectations, even amidst those who would position themselves as non-religious.

Speculations include Transhumanist and Singularitarian teleological and eschatological schemes, assumptions about the theistic inclinations of thinking machines, the impact of the non-human on our conception of the uniqueness of human life and consciousness, representations in popular culture and science fiction, and the moral boundary work of secular technologists in relation to their construct, ‘religion’. Novel religious impulses in the face of advancing technology have been largely ignored by the institutions founded to consider the philosophical, ethical and societal meanings of AI and robotics.

This symposium seeks to explore the realities and possibilities of this unprecedented apocalypse in human history.
We welcome papers in any disciplinary field including, but not limited to Religious Studies, the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences that contribute to understanding and promote discussion and debate on this topic. Approaches could include interdisciplinary scholarship, cross-cultural and inter-religious engagement in literature and theology, history, exegesis, anthropology, social sciences, cultural studies, political theory or theology and so on.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be emailed to simonrobinson@panaceatrust.org no later than December 31, 2018. In the body of your email, please include your name, institution if applicable, contact information, and the title of your abstract.

Accepted abstracts will appear in the conference programme. It is the lead author’s responsibility to ensure their abstract is accurate and ready for publication at the time of submission.

Papers should be no longer than 20 minutes in length in order to accommodate questions.

Presentations and subsequent discussions will be livestreamed via the internet and will be digitally archived and made available for future reference.

We encourage the use of accessible language and approaches to communicate concepts and ideas to a broad public audience.

Applications for accommodation and travel cost reimbursements may be considered.

Find our conference archives and 2018 calls for papers at www.censamm.org

Dr Beth Singler is the conference advisor for AI and Apocalypse, she is a Research Associate on the Human Identity in an age of Nearly-Human Machines project. She is working with Professor John Wyatt and Professor Peter Robinson to explore the social and religious implications of technological advances in AI and robotics at the Faraday Institute for Religion and Science. She is also an associate fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.

About CenSAMM
CenSAMM is a new initiative of the Panacea Charitable Trust in Bedford, UK and is led by Panacea trustees, Justin Meggitt (University Senior Lecturer in the Critical Study of Religion, University of Cambridge and Visiting Researcher at the Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender studies, Stockholm University), Naomi Hilton (has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and has taught at the University of Cambridge and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She is a former Research Associate at Victoria University of Wellington and is a researcher in early apocalyptic texts and movements), and Christopher Rowland (who retired in 2014 as Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford, after teaching at the Universities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Cambridge).

Its vision is to ensure that anyone will have access to quality resources to enable education, and understanding about apocalyptic and millenarian movements. It will realise this vision by developing and maintaining a world centre of excellence in the critical study of apocalyptic and millenarian movements and aid the public understanding of the legacies and future possibilities of these crucial, creative and often misunderstood forms of human culture.

Titles of Interest - Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History

Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History
by David Frankfurter
Princeton University Press, 2008

In the 1980s, America was gripped by widespread panics about Satanic cults. Conspiracy theories abounded about groups who were allegedly abusing children in day-care centers, impregnating girls for infant sacrifice, brainwashing adults, and even controlling the highest levels of government. As historian of religions David Frankfurter listened to these sinister theories, it occurred to him how strikingly similar they were to those that swept parts of the early Christian world, early modern Europe, and postcolonial Africa. He began to investigate the social and psychological patterns that give rise to these myths. Thus was born Evil Incarnate, a riveting analysis of the mythology of evilconspiracy.

The first work to provide an in-depth analysis of the topic, the book uses anthropology, the history of religion, sociology, and psychoanalytic theory, to answer the questions "What causes people collectively to envision evil and seek to exterminate it?" and "Why does the representation of evil recur in such typical patterns?"

Frankfurter guides the reader through such diverse subjects as witch-hunting, the origins of demonology, cannibalism, and the rumors of Jewish ritual murder, demonstrating how societies have long expanded upon their fears of such atrocities to address a collective anxiety. Thus, he maintains, panics over modern-day infant sacrifice are really not so different from rumors about early Christians engaging in infant feasts during the second and third centuries in Rome.

In Evil Incarnate, Frankfurter deepens historical awareness that stories of Satanic atrocities are both inventions of the mind and perennial phenomena, not authentic criminal events. True evil, as he so artfully demonstrates, is not something organized and corrupting, but rather a social construction that inspires people to brutal acts in the name of moral order.

Chapter 1: Introduction
Sorting Out Resemblances
Circumstances for Imagining Evil
Evil in the Perspective of This Book

Chapter 2: An Architecture for Chaos: The Nature and Function of Demonology
Thinking with Demons
Demonology, Lists, and Temples
Beyond the Temple: Demonology among Scribes and Ritual Experts
Conclusions

Chapter 3: Experts in the Identification of Evil
Prophets, Exorcists, and the Popular Reception of Demonology
Witch-Finders: Charisma in the Discernment of Evil
The Possessed as Discerners of Evil
Contemporary Forms of Expertise in the Discernment of Evil: Secular and Religious
Conclusions: Expertise and the Depiction of Satanic Conspiracy

Chapter 4: Rites of Evil: Constructions of Maleficent Religion and Ritual
Ritual as a Point of Otherness
Ritual and the Monstrous Realm
Ritual as a Point of Danger
The Implications of Evil Rites

Chapter 5: Imputations of Perversion
The Imaginative Resources of the Monstrous
Constructing the Monstrous
Conclusions

Chapter 6: The Performance of Evil
Performance and Demonic Realms
Direct Mimetic Performance
Indirect Mimetic Performance
Direct Mimetic Parody
Conclusions

Chapter 7: Mobilizing against Evil
Contemplating Evil, Chasing Evil
Matters of Fact and Fantasy

Titles of Interest - Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange

Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange
Adam Scovell
Columbia University Press, 2017

Interest in the ancient, the occult, and the "wyrd" is on the rise. The furrows of Robin Hardy (The Wicker Man), Piers Haggard (Blood on Satan's Claw), and Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General) have arisen again, most notably in the films of Ben Wheatley (Kill List), as has the Spirit of Dark of Lonely Water, Juganets, cursed Saxon crowns, spaceships hidden under ancient barrows, owls and flowers, time-warping stone circles, wicker men, the goat of Mendes, and malicious stone tapes.

Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful And Things Strange charts the summoning of these esoteric arts within the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond, using theories of psychogeography, hauntology, and topography to delve into the genre's output in film, television, and multimedia as its "sacred demon of ungovernableness" rises yet again in the twenty-first century.

Adam Scovell is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Liverpool, a short film-maker, and an authority in the field of folk horror. He blogs at celluloidwickerman.com.

Titles of Interest - Monstrous Progeny: A History of the Frankenstein Narratives

Monstrous Progeny: A History of the Frankenstein Narratives
Lester D. Friedman and Allison B. Kavey
Rutgers University Press, 2016

Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is its own type of monster mythos that will not die, a corpus whose parts keep getting harvested to animate new artistic creations. What makes this tale so adaptable and so resilient that, nearly 200 years later, it remains vitally relevant in a culture radically different from the one that spawned its birth?

Monstrous Progeny takes readers on a fascinating exploration of the Frankenstein family tree, tracing the literary and intellectual roots of Shelley’s novel from the sixteenth century and analyzing the evolution of the book’s figures and themes into modern productions that range from children’s cartoons to pornography. Along the way, media scholar Lester D. Friedman and historian Allison B. Kavey examine the adaptation and evolution of Victor Frankenstein and his monster across different genres and in different eras. In doing so, they demonstrate how Shelley’s tale and its characters continue to provide crucial reference points for current debates about bioethics, artificial intelligence, cyborg lifeforms, and the limits of scientific progress.

Blending an extensive historical overview with a detailed analysis of key texts, the authors reveal how the Frankenstein legacy arose from a series of fluid intellectual contexts and continues to pulsate through an extraordinary body of media products. Both thought-provoking and entertaining, Monstrous Progeny offers a lively look at an undying and significant cultural phenomenon.

HBO's homage to the original "Westworld"

Previously I've commented on my appreciation for the 1973 science fiction film, Westworld, as well as how much I enjoyed the premiere episode for the HBO television series reimagining from 2016 (as well as some of my own theological reflections on it). Last weekend I added a subscription to HBO as another part of my streaming television package, and binge watched the 10 episodes of the series. I realize I'm a late comer to commentary, but I did notice an homage to the film in one of the episodes, I think it might have been episode six. One of the main characters, Bernard, goes deep into the facility to research some data, and in the darkness his flashlight illuminates a robotic figure out of focus in the background. The silhouette is that of "The Gunslinger" character played by Yul Brynner in the original film. Prior to the silhouette coming into view a musical element taken from the original film can also be heard, part of the theme for this character. You can listen to it in this YouTube clip. This musical element is used several times in the series, but it's unclear whether this is repeated as an ongoing homage, or whether this will serve as an important auditory cue as the series goes into it's second season in 2018.

For additional Eggs see this video.

"The Last Jedi" and Religious Disillusionment

There is an interesting essay by Britton Peele at GuideLive that connects dots between the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and contemporary dissatisfaction with institutional religion. The piece is titled "How Luke's words in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' mimic real-world disillusionment with religion." In the trailer Luke can be heard saying, "I only know one truth. It's time for the Jedi to end." An excerpt from Peele's piece:

To these people, the idea that "it's time for the Jedi to end" is relatable. If you associate religion not with love but with moments like the Crusades, then yeah, I can see why you might be anti-religion. If you look at the Jedi not as noble peacekeepers but as misguided zealots who were mostly wiped out in a war, then yeah, maybe the Jedi don't need to be around anymore.

The essay has things to say to those religious folks interested in keeping their connection of institutional religion and political and social power, particularly the religious right.

Saw Gerrera: patriots, terrorists, and perspectives

A quotation from the Star Wars franchise character Saw Gerra makes for an interesting reflection related to current events. For those that don't know about this character, here's some background from StarWars.Wikia.com:

Saw Gerrera was a human male resistance fighter who, as a leading member of the Onderon rebels, fought against the Confederacy of Independent Systems on Onderon during the Clone Wars. He and his sister, Steela Gerrera, were instrumental in the rebel liberation of their homeworld during the Onderonian Civil War. He later became a key member in the fight against the Galactic Empire and the formation of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. His tactics against the Empire led him to be seen as an extremist, one whose notoriety was recognized by the Empire and, many years later, the New Republic.

Here's the line from this character that I'd like to comment on in this post. It's found at the top of the StarWars.Wikia.com page in the entry quoted above:

"I'm not a terrorist. I'm a patriot. And resistance is not terrorism."

In consideration of this quote my two main areas of research come together. The first is pop culture and the fantastic, which is what TheoFantastique is all about, and the second is interreligious conflict. These two areas of research meet in this character and the quote. Here we have a science fiction character who fights as a rebel against the evil empire. But from his perspective, his self-identity is not one of terrorist. Instead, he sees himself as a patriot, a freedom fighter. What I find interesting about this is that this is exactly the same perspective of those involved in various forms of conflict over political (and somewhat religious) differences where the individual or a group of individuals are fighting a much larger and powerful force, usually a government. In our current context this is precisely the view of members of Boko Haram, al-Quaeda, and ISIS. But from the perspective of those in the receiving end of their violence they are seen as terrorists. Perspective is everything.

In offering this commentary I am not saying that terrorist violence is therefore justified. However, (contrary to conservatives who say there is nothing to be gained by trying to come to grips with the causes, and perhaps even our role in the construction of our enemies, I believe we must understand the perspective of those engaged in such violence if want to truly come to grips with what contributes to it. Only then will we be able to put together holistic strategies that may be effective in ending the violence.

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