Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror (LA online)

Date(s) - Thu. Dec. 3, 2020
7:30 pm PST - 8:45 pm PST

W. Scott Poole

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“It was a corpse factory,” left wing political theorist Rosa Luxemburg said about the Great War, what we generally call today World War I. The corpse factory also brought the dead to life in ways that still cause us to shiver. The Great War is the mother of horror.

We will, for example, meet an infantry officer fighting in the Carpathians (Dracula country), named Bela Lugosi. We will discuss not only how his experience of exile following the failed Hungarian revolution affected his long-running identification with Dracula (one that began before 1931).

We also will meet some lesser known grandparents of horror like French director Abel Gance whose 1919 film J’Accuse arguably represents the first zombie film. In his climatic scene, armies rise from the dead and move en masse against a world that betrayed them. But Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero did not fashion these images of the undead. Gance used veterans, scarred, bandaged and mutilated, as his extras…most of which would return from the film set to their very real deaths at Verdun.

Can we say the Great War created the horror film? In many respects yes. The idea of the terrifying supernatural, of course, has its roots in the earliest human civilizations and probably back to the first ceremonial burials. But we will learn how modern horror received a special impetus from what happened to the human body, what could be done to the human body, by the terrifying tech introduced in the Great War.

Film clips from Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, along with lesser known works like The Unholy Three and Warning Shadows, will be discussed as the new form of horror. We’ll see, in fact, that the Great War even changed our language for talking about these films as. By the 1930s, the idea of the “horror film” enters several languages and replaces the “weird mystery” description of films dealing with the supernatural.

Finally, we’ll see the growth of what we’ll call horror culture and how the Great War shaped it. We’ll learn about Lovecraft and Machen’s fascination with the war and how surrealism and horror joined common cause.

The Great War transformed the modern world. The Great War also filled that world with nightmares, some old as time but made new in the ghastly aftermath of the conflict. Join us in exploring the wasteland.

Please note these are live events – they cannot be downloaded and watched later, so please be sure you are available at the time and timezone the classes are being offered in before registering.