Readers should note that in my right hand columns for this blog I include a number of helpful links in two categories, those that provide an opportunity to enjoy the fantastic, and those that help explore the fantastic in greater depth. In the latter category, one of the sites I especially enjoy is The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies. Not long ago Darryl Jones introduced me to the co-editors of the journal, Elizabeth McCarthy and Bernice Murphy. Following is an interview with the editors as they discuss various aspects of the journal.
TheoFantastique: Bernice and Elizabeth thank you for making some time to talk about the journal. Can you sketch a little of the history of how the journal came into being and how you both personally became involved with it?
Elizabeth McCarthy: Our pleasure TheoFantastique, thanks for inviting us!
One of my earliest memories is the absolute fear and thrill I felt after seeing Hammer’s Dracula on the TV. I was about five years old and my poor sister had to construct makeshift crucifixes (out of hairbrushes and the like) all over the bedroom before I could even begin to think about closing my eyes and going to sleep. I suppose that set the template and I’ve been drawn to the subject ever since… minus the religious paraphernalia. Well, over two decades later I did a PhD on the subject of serial murder at Trinity College Dublin. That’s where I met Bernice… a fellow horror-academic-person-with-red-hair. We’d both discussed the shameful lack of any ongoing Irish academic publications devoted to the subject of horror (literature, film and anything else you care to mention) and after a bit of a preamble we decided to do something about it ourselves. We knew that in Trinity we’d have a very able crew of fellow academics well versed in many different aspects of the genre who would get behind the idea. And so on October 2006 we launched the first issue. Bernice and I decided to go for an on-line open-access format because we felt it would give us the most freedom as editors and publishers and it would of course get out there to a far greater audience than any hardcopy publication could ever hope to do.
Bernice Murphy: Well, I did my PhD on Shirley Jackson here at Trinity College, and have been fascinated by horror and the Gothic in all its manifestations since I was a (particularly morbid) small child. I never had to festoon my bedroom with crucifixes though, so maybe I got off lightly in comparison to my co-editor. It seemed surprising to me that given Ireland’s huge contribution to the genre (particularly during the nineteenth century), no Irish-based publication featuring commentary on Gothicand horror texts existed. It was also the case that I happened to meet many good friends and colleagues here who also had a strong interest in the subject area, and as time went on it seemed logical that we pool our talents and try to set up a journal. In many ways, the journal is an evolving reflection of our own interests and enthusiasms, and those of our colleagues. Elizabeth and I are at almost complete odds when it comes to evaluating horror cinema, for example, so we’re a study in contrasts at times, but it’s worked so far… It’s also been great to get more and more outside contributors for our review sections as time passes, and it’s always very interesting to go through each issue’s submissions. It’s funny how often you’ll get four articles on the same thing sent in one issue, and then none on the same topic the next time round: you never know what’s going to arrive in the next batch of emails, and that’s part of what keeps the whole enterprise interesting.
TheoFantastique: Why an academic journal and the emphasis in it on the Gothic in horror, particularly when much of horror cinema, at least in America, seems to have moved far beyond this interesting expression of the genre?
Bernice Murphy: I know what you mean: commercial American horror cinema has come to complete dead end artistically in the past two decades, and if I see an ad for one more 1970s remake, I might go to Hollywood and murder Michael Bay or Rob Zombie myself… (maybe that’s a good idea for a film). But as I think the journal reflects, horror and the Gothic at the moment thrive in places other than the US, and in media other than film. For instance, it’s something of a golden age for horror and Gothic-themed video games, as one could argue that the horror genre has been represented much more admirably on television in recent years than on the silver screen. And you only have to look at films like the remarkable French film Martyrs or Spanish hits The Orphanage and [Rec] to see that fascinating movies are being made in Europe. Even the Swedes are getting in on the act: Let The Right One In is one of the best genre films in years, and miles above the sheer crap being pumped out by the studio system in the States. So, even if American horror is relatively moribund and the Asian horror boom seems to have collapsed under the weight of all those creepy dead girls, there’s still lots of interesting stuff out there which isn’t generally being covered by the more traditional academic journals. We like to think that in our own small way we’re helping to bring recognition to trends, tropes and texts which might otherwise be overlooked, as well as serving as a repository for commentary on more obviously mainstream manifestations of the genre.
Elizabeth McCarthy: Well, first off, I would have to say, at the risk of sounding pedantic!, the journal is a “Gothic and Horror” publication not a “Gothic Horror” publication, so I think you can take it as read that both terms can be mutually exclusive and one is not being emphasized over the other. More importantly, as it stands, I think the content of the journal pretty much reflects what’s out there, whether it be termed Gothic or Horror or even (God forbid the confusion!), Gothic Horror. Having said that, I think Bernice’s point about the reemergence of a particularly Gothic mode of horror is an important observation. It would be folly to write off the influence of the Gothic on the horror genre, the imagery and the themes that can be found in, for example, the novels of Ann Radcliffe or the cobweb-festooned castles of Universal Studios can still be seen reviving themselves in contemporary literature, film, video games and graphic novels. I don’t think you can ever put a stake through the heart of the Gothic. Why an academic journal? Well, for better or for worse, I’m an academic, so it seemed the natural choice. I also think it acts as a nice comparative companion to other sites that are coming from more fan-based or journalistic backgrounds.
TheoFantastique: What has been some of the more interesting subject matters that your contributors have written about? I know I appreciated an article in your journal on “road horror” films that led to a post of mine that spawned some of the greatest numbers of comments on this blog, but what other interesting features strike you?
Elizabeth McCarthy: Oh, too many to mention! I really like the one’s that interrogate and challenge the limits of genre itself – from Jarlath Killeen’s article on Irish Gothic literature to Mark Jancovich’s exploration of the 1940s woman’s paranoid film. The reviews are always great fun too. I enjoy their eclecticism. Lost Souls is probably my favorite… not least of all because I’m such a fan of older somewhat obscure horror films and the Lost Souls section has proved a great way of paying tribute to the people who made them.
Bernice Murphy: Well, while we always try to pick interesting articles, and I hope we succeed, I think that at times some of our most lively features have been in the review sections, in which our contributors get a chance to riff on timely trends and topics. For instance, our books editor Dara Downey wrote a piece on Irish road safety adds in issue 5 which I thought was particularly interesting, because they’re incredibly over the top and violent, and whilst I’d heard many people complain about them, I’d never actually come across an analysis of them which quite rightly pointed out their weird similarity to slasher films. I really like the TV section myself, as I think that genre TV is oddly overlooked by academics, as are video games and comic books/graphic novels. We had a great article on Poltergeist by Murray Leeder in the last issue too, which I particularly liked because I’ve just finished a book on the Suburban Gothic, and we’ve had several interesting pieces on the Irish Gothic. We’ve also been very lucky to have Ramsey Campbell do a ‘Lost Soul’ for us, and featured an article by Kim Newman on Irish horror films in the first issue which I thought was great because a lot of people wouldn’t have even been aware that there were any Irish horror films… We’re also probably the only online journal ever to devote 20,000 words to the films of Jess Franco, as John Exshaw’s article in issue one did… I think the eclectic nature of the journal is our strongest point, because we aim to appeal to both an academic and to a more general, fan-based audience, so hopefully anyone with even a passing interest in the genre will find something to interest them in each issue.
TheoFantastique: How did the idea for your Lost Souls section come about, that section which focuses on neglected people in horror?
Bernice Murphy: There’s been some heated debate about that: a pub was definitely involved, and so far as I can remember, somebody mentioned the actress Una O’Connor, and suggested that we feature an article each issue on a person who’d made a contribution to the genre, but been sorely overlooked since… the rest is a bit of a blur, but I really like Lost Souls: I mean where else would you find articles on Fritz Leiber, Gregory of Tours and professional Gorilla Man Charles Gemora all in the one place?!
Elizabeth McCarthy: Right at the end of one of our editorial meetings, there was some faffing around and talking about this and that actor (I think Todd Slaughter and Rondo Hatton may have been mentioned). We all went for a well-deserved-end-of-meeting pint and the idea took off from there (ahem)! I ripped the idea for the name off of the 1932 film Island of Lost Souls.
TheoFantastique: Can you give us a sneak peak into the next issue?
Elizabeth McCarthy:Well, as of this date the submission deadline is still a month away so no final decisions have been made about articles. Our review sections normally have a little more shape to them at this stage though and I know I’m reviewing a recently released Roger Corman box set. Whenever we’ve just finished an issue Bernice invariably says “I think it’s our best one yet!” I’ve no reason to doubt she’ll have cause to say it this time around too!
Bernice Murphy: I hope so too…I think the relief of getting each issue online at last tends to make me a bit over enthusiastic…. The journal is always a work in progress up to the last minute, so who knows! We’re definitely reviewing the fantastically morbid Channel 4 film series Red Riding, and I’ll probably be looking at Joss Whedon’s flawed but interesting new TV series Dollhouse myself. We also have some good video game reviews lined up – that’s all I know for now. Check the website out in June and you’ll see for yourselves! We’re always looking for reviews and articles from new contributors, so if any of your readers would like to get in send us something for consideration, that would be great – our deadline for submissions this time round is May 1st.