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12 - Gothic Science Fiction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2020

Richard J. Hand
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
McRoy Jay
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
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Summary

In the late 1950s Richard Hodgens lamented that Science Fiction (SF)1 films had come close to ‘ruining the reputation of the category of [literary] fiction from which they have malignantly sprouted’ (1959: 30), citing films like Destination Moon (Irving Pichel, 1950) or The Thing from Another World (Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby, 1951) as ‘strange throwback(s) of taste to something moldier and more “Gothic” than the Gothic Novel’ (30). Hodgens's increasingly savage attack on Science Fiction film finds him dissatisfied with cinematic versions of a genre that he considers ‘the only kind of writing today that offers much surprise’ (31). Hodgens is frustrated in particular with the horror elements of what he appears to categorise as some kind of arch-Gothic (no pun) present in the Gothic tradition, but not in the literary Gothic. Ostensibly Hodgens's issue was with the apparent ‘cheapness’ of Science Fiction cinema at that time where not only did the ‘special effects … not deceive a myopic child in the back of the theatre’ (38), but where the producers were deliberately hybridising the worst parts of each genre to make money: making horror films with a Science Fiction skin. Hodgens ends his criticism on a positive but defeatist note though, stating that ‘an audience for good Science Fiction probably exists, but it is unlikely that producers will take that chance now’ (38).

Present a text and say ‘that is a Gothic Science Fiction film’ or ‘a Science Fiction Gothic film’ and watch the academy roll its eyes. It should be nigh on impossible to take a ‘highly unstable genre’ with many different ‘scattered ingredients’ (Hogle, 2010: 1) and marry it to another genre, where attempts to define it are anything but conclusive (Evnine 2015: 1), in order to simply respond to ‘the nagging conviction …’ that one ‘… ought to define (a genre) before describing it’ (Sobchack, 1998: 17). The Gothic is hard enough to cleanly identify as a mode, let alone a genre and Science Fiction is equally awkward academically. So, to bring two ‘contested concepts’ (Evnine, 2015: 16) together for the academic purpose of furthering the discussion of both fields seems like a futile task.

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Gothic Film
An Edinburgh Companion
, pp. 170 - 193
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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