Transnational Horror, Folklore, and Cultural Politics
Unit(s) of assessment: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management
Research theme: Global Heritage
School: School of Arts and Humanities
This academic research project is part of the Centre for the Study of Inequality, Culture and Difference.
The study of horror media has become increasingly established in recent years. Yet, the study of the transnationalism of horror cinema, and its revival in non-Western national contexts is relatively limited. While the transnational approaches are discussed in key anthologies on international horror (2002; 2005), and a handful of later collections devoted to particular national horror traditions, including East Asian and European national contexts, there is still much to be said about the specifically transnational dynamics of horror filmmaking and its circulation. This project builds on a small pilot study funded by NTU, which proposed a theoretical and methodological framework to account for the post-millennial revival of horror movies in popular Turkish cinema. The framework involved (i) a critical engagement with the revival of Islam and new familialism in contemporary Turkish politics, (ii) an investigation into the discursive construction of the djinn in Islamic literature, Turkic shamanism, and Anatolian folklore, and (iii) a transnational exploration of the paranormal horror genre (and its uses of folkloric demons and spirits) in contemporary cinema. Expanding its corpus and theoretical insights, this project seeks to further develop the pilot framework and carry out an inquiry that unpacks social, cultural and political meanings behind this new formation of the horror genre, and locates these meanings in local, national, regional and transnational settings of cultural production.
This project focuses on the post-millennial emergence of the horror genre in Turkish cinema. Investing in the djinn, one of the key figures in Anatolian folklore, Turkic/Turkish shamanism and Islamic mythology, Turkish horror films tell paranormal stories of witchcraft, black magic, demonic possession and exorcism. Adopting a transnational style that appropriates various aesthetic modes from Asian and American horror, the Turkish horror genre uses djinns to narrate stories that represent conflicted relations of gender, kinship and property in contemporary Turkey. Ranging, thematically and stylistically, from found-footage “techno-horror” to “horror dramas” of grief, revenge, jealousy and class conflict, Turkish horror movies cite folklore and religion to represent the contemporary crises of gender politics and kinship relations in post-secular Turkey. This project explores this genre formation by locating it within a critical framework informed by both the national political context, and the international mobility of paranormal horror narratives in world cinema.
Addressing the Challenge
Anglophone academic literature that critically explores the emerging representations of religion and folklore in popular culture, particularly in popular cinema and television, is considerably underdeveloped. Emergent uses of paranormal imagery in popular culture, that are informed by religion and folklore, often demonstrate crises in hegemonic scripts of national identity and belonging. In this sense, representations of paranormal phenomena in Islamicate national contexts such as Turkey provide a fertile ground to critically examine the ways in which the secular-religious divides and ethnic conflicts in national politics inform cultural representations. This emergent popularisation of the paranormal imagery in Turkey has not been previously addressed by an academic framework that brings together national and transnational aspects of contemporary cultural production. Historically, the “Turkish” encounter with Islam has syncretised with various local folkloric traditions. The project’s engagement with the djinn as an ethnoreligious figure of syncretism will demonstrate diverse and non-hegemonic belongings to Islam and Muslimness, which the Anglophone humanities scholarship on Islam and Turkish Studies does not effectively address.
This project is funded by the British Academy – Leverhulme Small Research Grants scheme. The principal investigator is Dr Cüneyt Çakırlar.
Making a Difference
The post-millennial revival of paranormal horror genre is a global phenomenon. Methodological and theoretical approaches that examine these genre formations either invest in national frameworks or locate these productions within a context of transnational cinema. Through its proposed case study on Turkish horror, this project will bring together both national and transnational perspectives on genre studies. The archive visit to Turkey aims to facilitate a conversation between practitioners and film scholars to collectively explore the under-represented field of folklore and religion in the study of Turkish visual culture. Following this trip, the project will build from a predominantly national framework to a transnational and comparative one. The trip to the University of Pittsburgh (under the mentorship of Professor Adam Lowenstein, and in collaboration with the prestigious international networks of horror scholars) will facilitate peer feedback on the project’s methodological engagement with folklore and religion. Bringing together practitioners, festival programmers, and film scholars of diverse regional specialisms, the symposium (to take place in June 2022) will mobilise a collaborative platform where the participants share their specialist experiences in horror media through national and transnational perspectives.