Franchising Horror for Television
Garret Castleberry / Oklahoma City University

Poster for NBC's Hannibal

Poster for NBC’s Hannibal

This essay concludes the third part in a series of reflections on the role(s) horror plays within the televisual medium. I shape(shift) analysis to imitate Jonathan Gray and Amanda Lotz’s Television Studies method by surveying four intertwined tiers or tenets: content, contexts, audiences, and industries. Given Flow Journal’s brevity model, I formulate an incredibly shrunken micro television studies prototype.

As a rhetorical recap, Part I examines previous horror film franchise design and Hammer Horror in particular. Part II investigates the visual discourse Hammer Horror holds with period horror television drama Penny Dreadful. Whereas horror film sequels have always attracted attention—whether for lessening audience impact or B-movie production values or the diminishing returns of both—the televisual medium is relatively nubile in this way. Comparable to horror comics of the 1950s, early TV horror resembles kitschy material like Tales from the Crypt or mystery/sci-fi genre admixtures with mainstream appeal (e. g. Twilight Zone or The X-Files). While 70s cinema pushed boundaries in the social establishment with horror fare like The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween, television remained oppositionally upright due to FCC regulations and such cultural interpretations of prime time as the “family hour.”

Elvira’s Movie Macabre and Joe Bob Briggs’s TNT MonsterVision helped bridge the horror TV gap by destabilizing the horror aesthetic through comedic satire and fandom meta-commentaries on censorship in a pre-Internet, pre-Twitter, pre-streaming era of cable television broadcasting.

As numerous scholars and critics note, HBO helped innovate (and renovate) television from the inside out. Not constricted by traditional boundaries, HBO and other pay-cable options adopted unfiltered models that prove titillating for audiences and profitable for artists and stakeholders.

Just as genre theorists investigate textual happenings from invention to convention, with conventions becoming so commonplace as to lose their rhetorical power, the natural progress of titillation (as an aesthetic affect) can lead to the dulling of senses or the rebirth of new ways to stimulate aesthetic experience. Arguably, one of the cheapest [production] and fastest [response] methods to produce audience affect is through shock. And a bankable model from the film industry, the horror genre, proved an enticing and mostly untapped resource at the dawn of the “Prestige TV” or “Quality TV” era.

The Trans-Genre Function of a Rotten Aesthetic

Given traditional ideological strongholds among producers, consumers, industry standards, audience expectations, and the economic entanglements between each, television (as a ubiquitous personified entity, a la The Thing) required a liminal conduit in order to successfully re-introduce the horror genre to audiences. Enter a term I’ve elsewhere introduced in the rotten aesthetic. The rotten aesthetic engrosses the lush production values, high definition cinematic artistry, and dark-themed subject matter prevalent among much “Prestige” programming and transfers those qualities into televisual modes of shock and horror: severed heads and appendages, quick and violent character deaths as narrative cliffhanger devices, recurring motifs implying if not depicting incest and rape. Prestige programming often trudges through “adult” themes with graphic detail in ways that function like dropping candy in the forest to lead those with a sweet tooth down to the witch’s cottage. Once audiences adapt to grim and gritty standards and the aesthetic shocks of liminal appetizers like a Criminal Minds or Dexter, unsuspecting crime shows like The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy, until the path narrows in horror specificity in later programming like True Detective, Hannibal, or the postmodern fragmentation (narrative and temporal) haunting American Horror Story. It is a looking glass effect that draws audiences deeper down the aesthetic rabbit hole into warped worlds and macabre monstrosities. Ironically for industry producers, the next cause for concern might be whether or not viewers’ senses turn too numb to scare.

Screen shot of True Detective and poster for American Horror Story

True Detective’s genre-mixes the detective mystery, the mythological abyss, and the psychological-fantasy metaphor of being drawn into the proverbial rabbit hole, whereas American Horror Story just mixes…everything…into a grotesque horror cocktail.

(Sub)Liminal Thresholds and Child Cross-Demographic Audiences

Just as B-movie horror aligned with youth appeal in the 1950s—invoking new waves every generation or so since—monster movies appeal to even younger audiences as well. The line between “kid friendly” thrills and exploitative schlock traditionally kept between boundaries determined by the MPAA and the general guidance of parents and adults. And yet as the boundary for authentic shocks transitioned to more general audience appeal with mainstream success for films like Psycho, The Exorcist, and Alien, genre films like John Carpenter’s film canon generate massive cult followings that continue to mutate. For example, consider Nickelodeon’s most recent animated (re)incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Like the original 80s/90s cartoon, numerous plots borrow quite liberally from B-movie sci-fi and horror, while as a brand rooted in nostalgic simulacrum, TMNT must also navigate its own self-aware cycle of animated programs, live-action features, comic book origins and extensions, toy lines, and the postmodern eras and consumerism admixtures that interconnect the text’s synergistic spreadability. Where the 80s version drew from obscurity in the Roger Corman B-movie tradition, Nickelodeon’s revision exploits iconicity from mainstream blockbusters alongside the cult classics taught in film major seminars today. Indeed, the front half of TMNT’s third season regurgitates a pantheon of horror tropes and grotesque cinematic signifiers [examples below].

TMNT's references to classic horror films

Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only offers homage to gross out horror like Carpenter’s The Thing and Raimi’s The Evil Dead in the episode “Buried Secrets” but also diabolically genre-mixes horror references like Friday the 13th boogey man Jason Voorhees as “The Creep” in  “Within the Woods”; an episode that shares the same name (and sub-theme) as Raimi’s unreleased short film.

Franchising the Familiar – Rotten Repetition

If anything, the Nickelodeon TMNT example communicates that horror, like all veritable properties within Western capitalism, is now part of the Peak TV franchising boom. Whereas the horror genre once hinged upon the narrative rule of sequence [exposition–>tension–>horror–>climax–>denouement(–>twist?)], televisual scares must be serialized. Accompanying the complexities of horror serialization, diminishing returns remain problematic for film and TV, along creative and profiteering fronts. Televisual productions must innovate narrative frameworks that sustain and build audiences in order for the model to continue. Streaming service industry models and emergent fan cultures have shown producers that nichification is big business. Thus, the horror model becomes both an old and new siphoning well for source material. Each of the leading horror series in recent years regurgitates known properties in name, concept, or both. The Walking Dead derives from the graphic novel boon of the early 2000s, Hannibal cannibalizes the character/narrative/visual canon of Thomas Harris’s books and movie adaptations, and American Horror Story stilts scares when the text’s patchwork template veers closer to overt horror genre-mixing. TV horror borrows and remixes recent literary adaptations with sultry camp and melodrama (see True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and The Strain).

Posters for The Bates Motel and Damien

A&E hopes to double its “classic” horror film tele-franchise with Damien joining Bates Motel on the Monday primetime programming block.

Ultimately, industry equals competition. Don’t just give the masses what they want, give them more than they have time or money to consume. Create a panic, mass hysteria toward your product. Scare them into choosing between and abandoning other genres by flooding the market with your genre product. Shiver in horror at the invisible hand of the free market as it knives through culture, sub-dividing into niche demographics with grotesque persuasive appeal.

TV LIVES! or Invasion of the [Televisual Media] Snatchers

No matter the trope or convention, the invention or repetition, context matters. Stories depicting the horrors of evolution gone wrong share a rich history within the macabre genre. Television, as a medium, experienced a kind of arrested development early on before evolutionary shifts in the monstrous rise of cable and satellite television. Not wanting to fall victim to the Internet the way the film industry or print journalism struggled to adapt, television found new shelf life [or host body?] amidst DVD boxed set popularity in the late 90s and early 2000s. In a fight or flight scenario with the Internet’s invasive omnipresence, television exhibits a kind of last girl resilience, adapting its strategy by adopting multi-modal experimentations across various streaming services. It hasn’t captured one body so much as it inhabits the hive mind, the zeitgeist.

Exhibiting spreadability, the horror franchise model extends its textual, contextual, and audience awareness. Conscious of traditional TV models blocking similar products, A&E follows the Pscyho prequel (or “preboot”) Bates Motel with Damien, an antichrist adaptation of Richard Donner’s horror film (turned franchise) The Omen. As a theoretical mode of commoditization, repetition rebrands itself under the (dis)guise of “nostalgia” with reanimated seasons of cancelled series The X-Files and Twin Peaks. On an industry level, this society of the spectacle has not forsaken sequelization or prequelization with Starz revamping Ash vs. The Evil Dead. AMC extends the most popular horror franchise with the West Coast same-universe Fear The Walking Dead.

Two posters for Ash vs. Evil Dead

Starz resurrects the original creative team for Ash vs. The Evil Dead, promising viewers a sense of horror authenticity, continuity, and temporal elasticity.

With The Exorcist television event in the works, and more horrific content conjured, industry intent becomes a name game cash grab with nearly every recognizable horror brand in some stage of re-development, stretching the elasticity of cinematic style and sequence (talk about a blood spatter metaphor). With the post-apocalyptic and superhero zeitgeists fully saturated, TV’s horror cycle becomes highly mimetic and may prove one of the quickest TV genres to exhaust. In (a)ffect, horror’s occupational explosion of recent televisual output might best function metaphorically for TV’s spectral psyche, as the medium morphs into its next host form.

TV invaders

Friend or Foe: Television’s ubiquitous power as an invasive medium.

Image Credits:

1. Hannibal poster
2. True Detective rabbit hole
3. American Horror Story poster
4. TMNT episode “Buried Secrets”
5. Norris on the ceiling from The Thing
6. TMNT episode “Within the Woods”
7. Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th
8. Poster for Bates Motel
9. Poster for Damien
10. Character poster for Ash vs. Evil Dead
11. Graphic poster for Ash vs. Evil Dead
12. TV invaders

Please feel free to comment.

The Visual Discourse between Hammer Horror and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful
Garret Castleberry / Oklahoma City University

Logos for Penny Dreadful and Hammer Productions

Logos for Penny Dreadful and Hammer Productions

The Horror-Drama TV hybrid has emerged as a culturally resonant television sub-genre in recent years. From Fear The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and Bates Motel to Hannibal, The Following, and Scream Queens, the televisual landscape now produces a year-round horror-programming continuum that stretches from traditional networks to cable. While HBO’s Oz arguably originated authentic body horror for subscription TV audiences, with plenty of spooky from The Twilight Zone to Twin Peaks preceding, Showtime entered the competitive fray with the sub-genre period horror drama Penny Dreadful (2014-present). While not the first horror series to embrace temporality as an invisible horror convention, Penny Dreadful revisits modernity’s mythologized decade of transition, the 1890s. This period of Western history is quintessential to gothic horror conventions and cultural anxieties aplenty, mythologizing the final years of Victorian era London at the dawn of the twentieth century. Narratives of this time often visualize Western history as encapsulated by themes of British Imperialism and London, still the apex global city renowned for its high- and low-culture. Deep-seeded sociological and intercultural themes conflict beneath London’s surface, including empires in twilight and the stress-and-strain of prolonged hegemonic control over industry and trade. The new century will inevitably bring about great change while the past cannot stay buried forever. Such was a time when sensationalized mysteries and salacious murders and serialized storytelling captivated the collective consciousness and drove society’s social discourse…does this turn of the century description evoke familiarity?

floating eyes and lamps

Floating Eyes suggest Detachment, Searching, Wonderment, an Ontology of Visuality

(De)Coding Visual Discourse Analysis

In Visual Methodologies, Gillian Rose conjoins the language of Foucault, Freud, and others to present a model for discourse analysis. For Rose, discourse “refers to groups of statements which structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of that which shapes how the world is understood and how things are done in it.” [ (( Rose, Gillian. (2007). Visual methodologies: An introduction to the interpretation of visual materials, 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Sage. 142. ))] As a result, “Discourse also produces subjects,” which we might read in layers as viewers of a program or text, critics and bloggers that circulate paratexts, or fans and aca-fans that negotiate meanings across the bridges of various media(s) and mediums. For texts like serialized horror TV series or anthologies, their very postmodern ontologies toward attaining-retaining-building-sustaining audience circulation depends upon a certain amount of overt and covert intertextuality, or the ways texts reference former texts to greater and lesser degrees. Rose links the relationship between discourse and intertextuality, where “social production” also needs addressing “questions of power/knowledge” and “cultural significance.” [ (( Rose, 142, 147, 151. ))] Keeping these critical discourse themes in mind, I consider the conventional canon of Hammer’s gothic horror sub-genre and assess through comparison how these texts constitute a visual discourse that has been replicated and re-imagined, imitated and innovated in Showtime’s serialized televisual horror drama Penny Dreadful.

Visual Iconicity of Hammer Horror in Penny Dreadful

In Popular Culture, Marcel Danesi observes how, “In typical postmodern fashion, the [contemporary drama] series has a few good guys, a few bad guys, and in between a lot of question marks. The audience is suspended in the simulacrum,” [ (( Danesi, Marcel. (2012). Popular culture: Introductory perspectives, 2nd edition. New York: Roman & Littlefield. 188. ))] By simulacrum, Danesi refers to the number of texts that stretch back decades if not centuries or longer, from which audiences no longer recognize. This is important for understanding that viewers can still appreciate a series like Bates Motel or Penny Dreadful without even recognizing the source material it draws from. More than simply deepening an appreciation for core themes and conventions, borrowing from discourse analysis highlights ways in which intertextuality, social production, and assessing relationships between power/knowledge help elevate a text’s cultural timeliness or what I might call its ideological imprint.

Characters from The Mummy and Penny Dreadful with magnifying glasses

Magnifying glasses signifying unquenchable greed for knowledge and cultural imperialism

Several genre themes recurrent among Hammer’s gothic horror films include dramatic juxtapositions between large versus small exteriors and interiors, characters haunted by past actions, social situations of upright moral integrity versus uninhibited carnal instinct, tensions between sexual repression and metaphorical expression, and the occult actions of the socially privileged rooted in motivations toward greed and power. Hammer Films, when functioning in peek form within the Victorian gothic horror sub-genre, possess a liminal status between old-fashioned aesthetic (e.g. conservative ideals) with climactic moments of shock violence and visual sensuality (e.g. progressive politics).

Interviewing with The A.V. Club, showrunner Bryan Fuller talks at length about how Hannibal worked to evoke the “visual iconography” of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, not really functioning as “homage” so much as a conjuring of the visual iconicity of the films that inspire their series. Similarly, Penny Dreadful feels invested in Hammer Horror’s lush gothic visual history. While many Hammer films were not connected in terms of continuity and world-building, they share aesthetic production designs, suggesting each could occur within the same macabre universe. Frequent carryovers of stock character actors like a Peter Cushing or a Christopher Lee communicate a kind of iconic assurance that some mystical mayhem may soon unfold. Similarly, Penny Dreadful constructs a cast that gradually comes together just as their respective monstrous origins slowly reveal. Such gradual pacing suggests another unmistakable trademark genre convention with the Hammer Horror franchise.

Two red-eyed Draculas

Dracula’s eyes as irrepressible lust and visual de-consecration

In interviews, creator-writer John Logan and other production staffers articulate the necessity that Penny Dreadful closely align with Victorian environment and gothic literary conventions. Yet as a televisual medium with increased focus on visual storytelling, which holds greater potential to unlocking nontraditional and international viewers, what is onscreen before the eye yields optimum persuasive appeal and aesthetic allure. Consider how closely key visual “reveals” of monsters and macabre imagery recalls the lush Technicolor vibrancy of Hammer Horror. The Hammer brand, like the Dracula of legend, finds rebirth and renewed potential for new audiences, fan audiences. As with the pagan followers of folklore, fandom minions brandish cultish reverence and devotion to the circulation of pop culture artifacts like Hammer Horror and now Penny Dreadful.

A Dreadful Conclusion on the Haunting Performance between Fan and Text

Dueling library seances

Dueling library sanctuaries of “The Devil’s Bride” (e.g. Vanessa Ives) and The Devil’s Bride (aka The Devil Rides Out)

Showtime’s Penny Dreadful already boasts a prominent following with online devotees carrying the moniker “Dreadfuls.” In this new era of “Peek TV” where buzz carries cultural currency—which translates into economic currency in the form of life extension(s) for beloved televisual texts—followers perform ritual magic to ward off the plague of cancellation. Whedonites and Fannibals and Dreadfuls [Love]craft transmedia séances in the form of online petitions, polls, or Kickstarter-type funding apparatuses. The offering plate consists of Bitcoin and PayPal, the pagan temple only as large and as fast as a devotee’s high speed Internet can manifest. Indeed, the fan experience can become as performative as the text. Sensory data inspires feeling, which begets digitized social action. The ritual is not “going to the movies” and audiences assuredly no longer shriek in fear! at the horrors they see onscreen despite contemporary terrors having increased attention to detail with implausibly high production values. Genres are liminal creatures as well, morphed and hacked and reassembled Frankenstein monsters of their own creator’s making, abominations to Modernity’s laws of structure and order. Chaos is king and simulacrum is its business plan. But for Penny Dreadful at least, the past lies buried beneath the surface, bubbling up to rear its head and remind viewers of a previous cinematic, televisual, literary lifetime, haunting the text until its inevitable demise.

Two Frankensteins

Postmodern personification in Hammer/Dreadful’s Frankensteins (or fragmented fans made flesh?)

Danesi suggests, “The television text indeed developed into a simulacrum itself, indicating that it may have lost its cultural hegemony as a social text.” [ (( Danesi, 188. ))] Indeed, the fragmentation of channels, the modalities of viewing, and the temporalities of time-shifting reorganizes leisure culture that now extends outside of its formerly Westernized borders. This is a postmodern shift and a conflicted one at that. Technology, the historical boogey man of progress, in some ways function as a leveling of the cultural playing field on one hand while reinforcing cultural imperialist scripts on the other. Change can be horrific, traumatic even. It is no wonder our senses demand aversion through reanimations of the familiar and the foreign.

Image Credits:

1. Penny Dreadful logo
2. Hammer Productions logo
3. Floating eyes from The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
4. Penny Dreadful episode 4, “Demimonde” (author’s screen grab)
5. Peter Cushing in The Mummy (1959)
6. Penny Dreadful episode 3, “Resurrection” (author’s screen grab)
7. Christopher Lee in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1969)
8. Penny Dreadful episode 1, “Night Work” (author’s screen grab)
9. Library seance from The Devil Rides Out (1968)
10. Library seance from Penny Dreadful episode 1, “Night Work” (author’s screen grab)
11. Christopher Lee in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
12. Penny Dreadful episode 3, “Resurrection” (author’s screen grab)

Please feel free to comment.

Seasonal TV, Hammer Horror’s Cult History, and TCM’s Tele-Binging Convergence Model
Garret Castleberry / Oklahoma City University

Hammer Credits and TCM logo

Hammer Credits and TCM Logo

Each October, cable channel Turner Classic Movies (TCM) rotates a slew of vintage horror movies based upon available archives under contract. In 2010, TCM showcased former British film production company Hammer studios, complete with their eclectic horror movies of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Hammer horror films carry a unique look and subsequent aesthetic ambiance reflective of the studio’s pension for rich stagecraft planning and lush Victorian costuming despite razor thin budgets. As a benchmark industry innovation, Hammer horror boasts the first color horror films released for moviegoing audiences. In typical TCM fashion, pre-recorded bumpers prime viewers for these B-movie marathons, supplying industry tidbits and other arcane trivia. Since 2010, TCM continues to air Hammer horror films each October, albeit more scattered and with less showmanship. The packaging of related content, particularly the intertextual mise-en-scène representative of Hammer’s industrious studio history, functions as a visual spectacle for cinephiles familiar and foreign to their film canon.

Hammer’s recurring tropes possess textual and intertextual qualities, making these cult classics insightful to watch in conversation with one another. Hammer often redressed the same sets over and over, tweaking lighting design, costuming, and props to re-disguise scenes. The aesthetic effect conjoins visual distinction with resonant repetition. One unintentional impact is that many iconic scenes and settings conjure otherwise unrelated Hammer horror films. In a sense, the visual admixture thus haunts subsequent films in their gothic horror canon. In this essay, I consider the industry methods Hammer and TCM communicate in through their cyclical formulas of re-presentation.

The Cultural History of Hammer Horror

Posters for Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy

Posters for The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Mummy (1959)

Prior to their success within the horror genre, Hammer Films functioned as a low-budget British production company relatively unheard of to American audiences. In the 1950s Hammer Studios acquired the rights to Universal Studios’ once-lucrative marquee horror film monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein, the mummy, and the wolf man. Decades before, Universal Studios broke box office records and Hollywood taboos alike with cinematic introductions to these horror creations. Universal’s collective cinematic translation set supernatural monsters apart from their literary counterparts in large part due to the sheer [social] spectacle cinema provides. One contractual catch with the negotiated release of character rights stipulated newly produced versions bare no visual resemblance to the iconic look Universal once profited from. In short, visuality played a central role in processes of acquisition and translation, requiring an obscure production company inexperienced in horror cinema to reinvent a product long since saturated by conventional audiences.

By the late 1940s, American audiences grew tired of traditional monsters characterized in horror. Such a shift in audience taste can be assessed on a historical and theoretical trajectory. First, in part due to the real-world horrors experienced during and coming out of World War II, audiences rejected such fantastical creations as Dracula and Frankenstein in favor of more “resonant violations” with the onset of the Cold War. [ (( Phillips, Kendall. Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2005. 8-10. ))] These resonant violations coincided with ideological shifts in the collective American consciousness, and a general movement toward conservative perspectives in life and in art. Noting generational shifts is important to understanding a second theoretical claim, that the Universal monsters had reached a impasse in their genre lifecycle, to the point where Frankenstein and others were featured in crossovers like vaudevillian comedies alongside Abbott and Costello (think of this as generic precursors to the Hanna-Barbara Scooby Doo’s to come decades later). In effect, the affect was broken, and the medium’s genre cycle required an innovative reboot to remind audiences of the semiotic power these artifacts wield.

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in The Curse of Dracula

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in The Curse of Dracula (1958)

Starting in the mid-late 1950s through the early 1970s, Hammer Studios rewrote the script on the horror genre, challenging boundaries of moral decency through the subversive (and successful!) use of gothic horror as an ethical compromise between conservative mythologies and progressive textualities. Hammer horror constituted the first mainstream studio effort to translate horror pictures into glorious Technicolor, exciting audiences and censors with the canonization of onscreen gore. The results were monumental, leading Hammer to years of successful franchising and sequelizing in ways that ought ring familiar with contemporary Cineplex audiences. Film series starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Horror of Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959) became concomitantly associated with the career-defining works of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (no coincidence, George Lucas used both as a meta-fan homage within his Star Wars saga). Like the redressed sets, costumes, and props, Hammer exhausted recombinations of Hammer’s stock actors. Yet as time progresses, so do audience tastes, preferences produced by and reflected within popular culture. Indeed Hollywood film studios continue, often in vain, to exploit the pantheon of public domain characters for mass marketed simulacral commodification. But where does the line draw between film history fandom and industry commoditization?

Cult Ritualism in TCM’s Convergence Model

Despite the epic run of sensation horror films, Hammer met a tragic end by end of the 1970s. A short-lived horror anthology series did not resuscitate the studio. Ultimately Hammer closed its doors just as slasher franchises took hold of teens in the 1980s. Hammer largely remained dormant, a relic in cinema history, until its resurrection by TCM. As previously noted, TCM offered red-carpet treatment (and cult-like devotion) in 2010 with a weekly spotlight complete with the cabler’s iconic brand of paratextual discourse. In subsequent years since, Robert Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz, and even comedian Bill Hader hosted some of TCM’s signature vignette bumpers, transforming Hammer horror marathons from cinematic aesthetic to something resembling binge-watching in its televisual form.

Vignettes exude a performative value in their own right that adds an informational aesthetic value to the screen text, particularly former B-movies traditionally relegated to follow-up feature status at drive-ins (another ghostly paratextual communal experience altogether). Uniquely, this informational aesthetic value functions as paratextual discourse through further intertextual referencing. The combined efforts situate a context for viewers familiar and foreign to Hammer. For repeat viewers, the ritualistic repetition of insider information blankets the text in a refurbished reassurance that becomes appointment viewing, marked by TCM’s bookend intros and outros and pseudo-celebrity hosts.

Give-and-Take in TCM and Hammer Horror: The Women in Nightgowns Trope

Women in nightgowns trope

TCM’s self-referentiality as an “archive” legitimates their status (in audiences minds) as a premiere cable channel. At the same time, the programming function promotes access to hard to find (e.g. “sacred”) cultural texts while also practicing exclusivity by withholding particular features until certain seasons or rotational themes circulate again. Such give-and-take tension performs a kind of televisual burlesque show akin to Hammer’s gothic horror tropes; for example, the Victorian tension between sexual repression and expression, visualized onscreen through claustrophobic multi-layered full body suits and dresses juxtaposed against strategic cleavage and recurring nightgown tiptoeing throughout drafty castles. Thus, the product becomes transformative, as the texts reinforce the channel while the channel’s programmers purport a unique access portal for viewers.

Osborne & Mankiewitcz and TCM Presents Psycho

Robert Osborne & Ben Mankiewitcz and TCM Presents Psycho Poster

TCM’s October strategy, along with other campaigns like their routine Summer under the Stars “festival,” suggests a seasonal approach to programming not unlike traditional networks with contemporary scripted shows. This affords TCM the luxury of blurring lines between viewing and screening, including infrequent and thus exclusive habits like advertising TCM Presents theatrical specials, including a two-date rerelease of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in conjunction with Fathom Events in fall 2015. Bringing the public/private, inclusive/exclusive cycle full-circle, Psycho’s theatrical mini-release features vignette bumpers from TCM’s second-most recognizable host, Ben Mankiewicz. This synergistic strategy communicates telling insight into the state of the film and cable television industries and the effect Internet and streaming services have on both. In the Hammer horror tradition, what emerges is an amalgamation of the former two, a multi-modal monstrosity uncanny in its convergence culture communiqué.

Discussion to be continued in Flow 22.03.

Image Credits:

1. Hammer Credits
2. TCM Logo
3. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) Poster
4. The Mummy (1959) Poster
5. Peter Cushing in The Horror of Dracula (1958)
6. Christopher Lee in The Horror of Dracula (1958)
7. Nightgown vampire from The Horror of Dracula (1958)
8. Robert Osborne & Ben Mankiewitcz
9. TCM Presents Psycho Poster
10. Graham Humphries Hammer Horror Compilation

Please feel free to comment.