Folk horror as speculative sociology

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From Modern Mythology:

Folk horror is having a Renaissance, as the novelty cycle revisits the seventies at two iterations’ remove & the SF community starts again to seriously analyze the dialogue between the weird and the hauntological. The spring season, with Easter, Walpurgisnacht, and May Day, is a good time to revisit this, and, as expected, various publications have — not just the usual suspects like Scarfolk, but also The Guardian, which published a piece whose analysis I’d like to pick apart a bit.

Newton’s analysis suggests a rural versus urban dimension (and, by extension, a modernity versus tradition dimension), and while this exists in the text, I consider it shallow. I’d like instead to argue that, rather than being in the tradition of gothic and romantic horror, folk horror has more in common with the point at which weird fiction intersects with science fiction.

We could choose no better an entry point than H. P. Lovecraft, whose horror stories are best seen as science fiction whose science is ‘anthropology’ (the same way J. G. Ballard is a science fiction author whose science is ‘psychology’).* Nobody really considers Lovecraft to write folk horror, but Lovecraft’s formula — similar across much of his work to the point of bordering on self-parody — is very similar to how Newton describes folk horror’s core narrative:

The films feature a recurring archetype: the arrival of a stranger, the discovery of a secret cult, then a vicious murder, perhaps a sacrifice, designed to propitiate pagan gods. The metropolitan visitor, the outsider from the mainland, comes into a situation strange to them and to us. Here the enlightened laws of the nation do not pertain. In these forgotten spaces, there are other laws: rules and rituals that are both familiar remnants of some tribal memory yet utterly strange. The locals understand, while we do not.

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