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The Wicker Man

two dolls sit on swings in the middle of a desolate town
Posted on June 19, 2022

10 Scary Small Towns in US Horror

Guest Post

The culture wars in US politics have become fixated on the rural-urban divide ever since rural voters in just the right mix of states elected Donald Trump to the Presidency in 2016, launching a thousand ethnographic think-pieces in big city news outlets about the worldview of small-town white folks who had long been overlooked by mainstream media.

But anxieties about rural America have long animated a certain corner of the US horror tradition, in stories about seemingly wholesome small towns hiding dark secrets behind their façade of normalcy. Or stories of decrepit small towns where the people and communities left behind by globalization and urbanization have turned monstrous and vengeful, at least in horror films. Read more

Posted on May 1, 2022

Hollow Wicker Tree

Guest Post

Horror movie makers sometimes consider religion as a cheap add-on to a plot. Little do they realize that a carefully constructed religion can convey very real fear. The Wicker Tree (2011), spiritual successor to The Wicker Man (1973), demonstrates this distinction clearly.

The Wicker Man, released the same year as The Exorcist, had something in common with that vastly more successful movie. The main theme of both is based on religion out of time. Father Karras doesn’t believe in demons, not in the modern 1970s! Meanwhile, on the island of Summerisle, Sergeant Neil Howie is confronting revivalist pagans who will eventually kill him as a sacrifice to their old gods. Such people hadn’t existed, he assumed, since the days of the Venerable Bede. The seventies were part of the pivot period for religion in horror. Certainly, religion has been part of horror from the very beginning (Dracula and his crucifix, Henry Frankenstein knowing what it feels like to be God), but it was brought to the foreground beginning in 1968 with Rosemary’s Baby.  Then The Wicker Man showed that religious plots could be transatlantic. The movie, however, had greater success in the United States than in the United Kingdom.

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Posted on June 23, 2020

Horror Fans, Don’t Call the Cops!

Sara McCartney

What do you think of when you think of the police? Do you think of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many more Black people who should be alive today? Do you think of the brutal police responses that have interrupted peaceful protests around the nation?[1] Do you think of your favorite television show? Entertainment, from buddy cop movies to gritty thrillers to police procedurals to detective dramas, have shaped our perception of law enforcement, sometimes under the direction of actual precincts.[2] And if you’re following the news, the incongruency between the real-life police and their fictional equivalents is impossible to ignore.

One of the reasons I love horror is because it’s very good at not taking the status quo for granted. The best horror unmoors us from our assumptions about the world. As calls to abolish the police enter the American mainstream, it’s time for us to rethink our familiar narratives about cops, and that’s where horror comes in, because the cops you’ll find in horror movies aren’t quite what you’ll see in Law and Order.

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passing the torch
Posted on June 20, 2020

Midsommar and Cross-Quarter Day Horror

Guest Post

Halloween has long been the basis for horror celebrations, but it was made canonical for horror films with John Carpenter’s debut film, Halloween (1978), which uses the holiday as the basis for a supernatural Michael Myers to take vengeance on naughty teenagers. The origin of Halloween is Samhain, one of four Celtic cross-quarter days. The other three, one of which already has an iconic horror film associated with it, are Imbolc (February 2), Beltane (May 1), and Lughnasadh (August 1). Cross-quarter days fall roughly midway between the solstices and equinoxes, each of which also has ancient religious celebrations. The iconic cross-quarter horror film mentioned is, of course, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), and it is set during the time of Beltane.


Apart from seventies styles, The Wicker Man has held up remarkably well. Sergeant Howie, a Scottish police officer, is lured to Summerisle, a remote Hebridean island, to investigate a missing child. He’s been set up, however, by the islanders who need an outsider to sacrifice on their May Day celebrations. Although they never call the holiday Beltane, that is the title of the Gaelic spring festival that dates back to the tenth century. The Wicker Man has received accolades that have grown over the years. It’s been a kind of gold standard for intelligent horror.

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Posted on September 13, 2019

Doomwatch: Hybrid Folk Horror

Dawn Keetley

Doomwatch (1972) is infrequently cited in the burgeoning scholarly and popular conversations on folk horror, and yet I would argue that it is in fact a key text.[i] Its hybrid generic form manifests both what is and what is not folk horror; it exemplifies folk horror, in other words, both positively and negatively. Indeed, the Doomwatch’s shift toward the end is a brilliant illustration of how the trajectory of the folk horror plot can be negated.

The 1972 Doomwatch (called Island of the Ghouls in the US, emphasizing its ‘horror’) was directed by Peter Sasdy, who also directed 1972’s The Stone Tape (written by Nigel Kneale), a staple of the folk horror canon. The screenplay was written by Clive Exton, and the film was produced by Tigon British Film Productions, the company behind such folk horror classics as Witchfinder General (1968) and The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971). Doomwatch is based on the BBC series of the same name, which ran between 1970 and 1972. Both film and TV series feature a government agency called the Department for the Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work, dedicated to tracking down unethical and dangerous scientific research.

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