In Haunt

The sixth in the series of ‘Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2’ interview articles on the HAUNT Manchester Blog – seeking to interview each of the members of the festival’s panel discussion, which has been organised by Julian Holloway (Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University) on behalf of HAUNT Manchester, and he will also be Panel Chair.

Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2 follows on from its 2018 debut, still continuing at the same venue of The Peer Hat, falling on the Saturday 2nd February 2019 (panel taking place 3pm - 4.30pm). Whilst the wider festival will explore Folk Horror culture and creativity of all kinds including performances, music and film, the panel discussion will be in front of an audience, with academics and experts discussing topical themes in the genre.

The panellists will be Julian Holloway himself (Manchester Metropolitan University) who is also Chair, Andrew Michael Hurley (novelist and author), Chloé Germaine Buckley (Manchester Metropolitan University), James Thurgill (University of Tokyo), Darren Charles (Folk Horror Revival) and Morag Rose (The Loiterer's Resistance Movement and University of Liverpool). This article features Chloé Germaine Buckley.

Profile Image of Chloe Germaine Buckley

Gothic Entanglement, Weird Fiction and horror-themed live-action role-playing – these are just some of the fascinating and varied research areas the work of Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley explores.

Chloé Germaine Buckley is Senior Lecturer in English and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she teaches on Gothic Cinema, Children's and Young Adult literature and supervises PhD research projects covering various aspects of Gothic culture. She is also a member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies and is the author of Twenty-First-Century Children's Gothic (with Edinburgh University Press).

Folk Horror is a field in which the Gothic intersects and resonates. The representation of witches in folk horror is one example of this crossover. Chloe’s lecture titled Witches, ‘Bitches’ or Feminist Trailblazers? The Witch in Popular Culture at The British Library explores the ambiguity and ambivalence the folk-horror witch often evokes onscreen. Is she a feminist heroine of the counter-culture or a figure confirming misogynist ideas about dangerous female power and sexuality?

Chloe argues that folk horror is a particularly tricky genre to pin down politically because it is where the counter culture meets pop-culture. Chloe’s recent work explores this ambiguity of the witch in relation to ecological themes, exploring the resurgence of folk horror in contemporary literature in works such as Melvin Burgess’ The Lost Witch, published last year.

Unusual community traditions and aspects of the weird are also prevalent themes in Folk Horror, and explored further by Chloé through her interest and involvement in horror-themed live-action role-playing (LARP) events; many of which she has organised. This has included a public participation horror LARP as part of the sixth annual Gothic Manchester Festival.

She is also a member of the Manchester Game Studies Network, and in partnership with The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, organised a Halloween Board Game Café – taking place in the evocative surroundings of The Royal Exchange Theatre foyer - as part of Halloween in the City 2018.

Ahead of her appearance at Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2, HAUNT Manchester decided to speak to Chloé to find out more about weird and wonderful folk horror…

Hello Chloé. How it did it feel to be asked to be part of the panel – and did that come as a surprise considering that much of your work explores The Gothic?

“It was really exciting to be invited – and increasingly there’s an awareness that the Gothic encompasses all sorts of subgenres and modes… including what’s come to be known as Folk Horror. Really since about 2010 that term has been used, and I think the festival is a great opportunity as there has been a fair bit of work on what folk horror is and what it might mean, what it might do in terms of serving a cultural function. In academia, there have been conferences and journal articles also. Yet within popular culture it is still is a bit of fuzzily-defined genre… so it is great to see it being picked up as the theme for a festival that includes musicians, writers, film directors , as well as academics talking about it.”

LARP gameplay

Why do you think it is significant that the festival is being held in Manchester?

“Folk horror is really interesting because it often evokes a very local or particular landscape. Adam Scovell wrote a really interesting book about folk horror a few years ago, and he defines it as a genre that is made up of three factors; the stories involved take place in some kind of isolated area, they often deal with the resurgence of some kind of skewed or long since discredited belief system… and then that’s mixed up with a landscape which at first looks pastoral and rural, but it turns out to be hiding some kind of terrifying secret.

“When you think of that definition, you may think: well, what does that have to do with Manchester? Quite a lot, in fact, as what Manchester is, is a really palimpsestic sort of city. It is famous for being the home of the cotton industry, we associate it commonly in popular culture with mills, millworkers, with the radical politics that came out of all of that.  But all of that in itself was layered on top of an already existing landscape, and in fact it came about because of the environment here: the rivers, the links to the coast, even the climate – perfect for working cotton. That industry kind of works hand-in-hand with the natural environment on top of which it is layered. What folk horror does is dig into those layers and to uncover, I suppose, what we don’t often think of in terms of place… it points us to those earlier histories.  Folk horror can be interesting in any locale, but Manchester in particular is a very layered city.”

Does Folk Horror have a contemporary relevance?

“Absolutely. In terms of thinking – ‘why folk horror and why now?’ – quite often horror scholars talk about horror as being in dialogue with social anxieties, with politics, with feminism, with these very social, very human, issues.

“Folk horror is more of an outlier… it seems to be more about the unhuman, the inhuman, the kind of power of a landscape that humans can’t quite control or harness. An example of an early folk horror text is The Blood on Satan’s Claw - where a plough digs up a strange kind of artefact, it starts to influence everyone in the village and they conjure up this demon from hell. What it shows  is that folk horror is interested in the land, the environment and the unhuman nature of that. And I think a problem we face now, particularly in our Western Culture, is that we can’t get our heads away from thinking about nature-culture divides, we seem to see nature as something separate, something that we’re in control of. That, I think, has had huge consequences in terms of ecological disaster – we’ve mined nature, we’ve farmed nature, we’ve used its resources on a massive scale – and now we are facing the consequences of that. So what folk horror does… is it takes our mastery of nature, and it flips that, making us at nature’s mercy and  reveals something about the land that we weren’t aware of.

“And that flip of perspective is a powerful thing that folk horror does, I think. It doesn’t have a didactic role… it’s not shouting out ecological propaganda… but it’s perhaps subtly suggesting that our relationship with nature isn’t exactly what we thought it was.”

The Manchester Centre For Gothic Studies

Can you tell us a little more about your work and links to Folk Horror?

“I started my work on folk horror in terms of looking at witchcraft and its representation in popular culture; focusing on children’s fiction and also some documentary programmes, like about The Pendle Witches. Then I went onto develop that a little bit more into a reading of some folk horror films – where I put the folk horror films in dialogue with history, with the early modern history of witchcraft trials.

“And I also tried to think about why everyone seemed to be suddenly saying ‘witches in film are super feminist!’. In 2016 a film called The Witch came out, and it really was an apotheosis of this resurgence of interest in folk horror which had started off around 2010. The film is set in New England in the 17th century, following the story of a group of Puritans who are menaced by a witch from the woods… I wanted to consider it alongside films such as The Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, which although flirted with countercultural ideas, weren’t outwardly feminist. I was really interested in the tension between a supposedly feminist politics and then also the resurgence of misogynistic ideas about Witchcraft which could still be seen in The Witch. I did some work for The British Library on that and I have some work coming out imminently about that in a journal.

“At the moment I am working on a piece which considers folk horror in children’s fiction and I’m looking at a book by Melvin Burgess that came out last year called The Lost Witch – thinking about the themes of ecology and animism in that and why it seems to be revisiting some of the countercultural ideas that first surfaced in the ‘70s.”

More of the interview with Chloé Germaine Buckley will be available as a RAH! Podcast.

By Emily Oldfield

Images

Photo 1: Chloé Germaine Buckley profile

Photo 2: A photo from a folk-horror inspired LARP, “The Black Goat” by The Dark Door. Photo Credit - Mark Wynn

Photo 3: Manchester Centre For Gothic Studies staff photo with Chloé in the centre

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