In Haunt

By Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley

(Manchester Metropolitan University and The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies)

Manchester’s Folk Horror Festival returned for a second year to The Peer Hat in the city’s Northern Quarter on the 2nd February 2019. An afternoon and evening of discussion, film screenings and music performances, the festival celebrated that strange and evocative cultural mode academics and fans call “folk horror”.

Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2 Panel

 Folk Horror emerged onto film and television screens in the late 1960s and early 1970s with cult classics such as The Wicker Man (1973) and Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), but it has enjoyed a revival since 2010 when a BBC documentary on horror film brought the term into general use. Folk Horror culture both old and new continues to attract audiences. For example, the “Folk Horror Revival” Facebook group has over 23,000 members who discuss everything from creepy childhood classics, such as Children of the Stones to contemporary cinema from directors like Ben Wheatley.

 Typically associated with folklore, the resurgence of pre-Christian beliefs, the rural landscape, isolation and eeriness, folk horror proliferates across art forms. It has also spawned its own subgenre - the Urban Wyrd - which evokes the strangeness of city life. Recent examples include The Ghoul (2016) set in London. Manchester, too, is ripe for exploitation by the Urban Wyrd thanks to its layered histories and unique urban folk mythology. Our students at Manchester Metropolitan University study Alistair McDowell’s stage play, Pomona, which explores the liminal and forgotten topographies of the city. In real life, Manchester’s Loiterers Resistance Movement – founded by Dr Morag Rose - a collective of artists, activists and ‘urban wanderers’, trace the hidden stories of the city in regular psychogeographical walks.

 As part of the Manchester Folk Horror festival, Dr Julian Holloway (Manchester Metropolitan University), on behalf of HAUNT Manchester, invited academics, creative writers, and psychogeographers to discuss what folk horror means and, crucially, why it has become so important in recent years. Julian chaired contributions from the novelist and Manchester Metropolitan University academic Andrew Michael Hurley (author of The Loney and Devil’s Day), Chloé Germaine Buckley (Manchester Metropolitan University and the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies), James Thurgill (University of Tokyo), Darren Charles (Folk Horror Revival) and Morag Rose (The Loiterer's Resistance Movement and University of Liverpool). We discussed our different definitions of folk horror that, although broad, tended to come back to certain key texts from our childhoods, to the books, television shows and films that had spooked us as kids.

 My research traces this crucial connection between childhood and horror in various ways, including how the notion of a haunted childhood lies behind contemporary horror fiction and film. We also discussed how the “occult” (meaning “hidden” as well as magical) nature of the landscape (both urban and rural) is often a theme in children’s fiction – something I’m researching at the moment in the work of writers like Susan Cooper and Alan Garner. Another topic that came up was the strange use of nostalgia in folk horror: it plays on a desire to go back (perhaps to an earlier or simpler time?) but often such desire leads to darkness and claustrophobia. Panellists commented on the political implications of this ambivalence, especially for “Brexit” Britain and wondered whether this was part of the reason folk horror was enjoying such a revival. However, we all agreed that folk horror is never straightforwardly political: it endorses neither the right nor the left, neither a liberal nor conservative agenda. In fact, it has an uneasy relationship with the counter-culture and with radical politics as my own research on witches in folk horror shows. The discussion was wide-ranging and thought-provoking, and a great way to set the tone for the festival. Afterwards, discussions continued in the bar as we enjoyed some evocative and eclectic music.

Judging by the crowd at The Peer Hat it seems likely that Manchester’s Folk Horror Festival will return again next year. In the meanwhile, you can get your folk horror fix by joining the Loiterers Resistance Movement on one of their monthly walks around the margins of Manchester, or heading over to the Folk Horror Revival Facebook page for some recommendations. Academic debates will continue at the Folk Horror Conference, hosted at Falmouth University this coming September.

Image of The panel discussion at Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2 (With thanks to Dominic at Studio Bee) - exploring themes of Folk Horror in front of an audience at The Peer Hat. Chloé is second on the left.




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