Fear of Ageing: Old Age in Horror Fiction and Film

July 17


July, 17th 2021

In her 2017 book Forgotten, Marlene Goldman notes that the media often adopts a Gothic register and use apocalyptic language to describe the rise in dementia cases across the west in recent decades. The disease is figured as a “silent killer” that threatens to erase our identities, turning us and our loved ones into a faceless zombie mob. But horror is a genre that is often deployed to depict old people more generally, not just those debilitated by disease. One has only to think of the witches that populate cultural texts of all sorts, from Hamlet and “Snow White” to Game of Thrones. In such instances, horror is used to evoke not just a fear of death but a fear of aging, old age being equated with bodily, mental, and social decline.

On the other hand, the idea of the unnatural extension of the lifespan has also generated its own brand of horror. Immortality may be something humans, at least since the time of Gilgamesh, have always sought to attain, but its pursuit has invariably entailed some sort of retribution. For vampires, eternal life is a curse that forces them feed on the blood of the young to maintain their decrepit existence (a trope that is eerily evocative of the unfortunate stereotype of the present-day pensioner). Movies like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (which highlights the risks and implications of plastic surgery) also express the reservations many have about the powers of technology to unnaturally prolong youth.

In this symposium we will investigate what exactly we are afraid of when we posit old age as a source of horror. We will attempt to identify and examine the different kinds of fear associated with aging and assess if and how these fears can be allayed. We thus invite scholars across the humanities to submit their reflections on films and/or literary works that regard aging and old age through the lens of horror. Our ultimate aim is to harness the thrills and pleasures of horror to think about how quality of life can be improved in old age and how older people can be better integrated in our ever fearful and suspicious societies.

Download the program here.

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