‘Pure, uncut reality so terrifying it makes Cthulhu look like a limp garden hose’: reality TV as gothic technique

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaper


Gothic tales from Carmilla to Edgar Allen Poe stories often make use of first person narrators and direct address to the reader to present their horrors as personally experienced and immediate. This paper examines one common strategy for achieving this in twenty-first century TV horror terms. The now-notorious BBC pseudo-documentary Ghostwatch (1992) achieved its horror effect by capitalizing on the inherent immediacy and ‘liveness’ of TV broadcast and on the apparent authenticity of the events it purported to document. Subsequently, TV shows from Psychoville (2009-2011) to Supernatural (2005-) have similarly engaged with the formats and style of reality TV. Miniseries Dead Set (2008) even used the set, talent and familiar dynamics of Endemol’s Big Brother as part of its satirical take on a zombie apocalypse. Just as Poe’s often disturbed narrators offer a sense of intimate closeness to Gothic terror, the observational documentary style of much reality TV apparently allows viewers up-close and personal access to unfolding drama and participants’ often emotional responses to it. Successful horror cinema like The Blair Witch Project, REC, or the Paranormal Activity series exploit the sense of visceral immediacy that comes with handheld cameras and observational ‘raw footage’ to create both tension and scares, mobilising the promise of unmediated access to the real to offer an apparently more authentic sense of ‘uncut’ horror. TV horror engages more directly with the debates about authenticity and constructedness that are inherent in our understanding of ‘reality’ as a TV genre. This paper examines how contemporary TV horror series (especially Dead Set, Supernatural and The Fades, 2010) mobilise this form of story-telling as a twenty-first century Gothic technique that makes full use of reality TV’s formats, visual style, and engagement with negative emotions (in participants and viewers alike) to navigate between reality and the fantastic, and to produce particularly televisual forms of horror
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2013
EventInternational Gothic Association (IGA) Conference 2013 - University of Surrey
Duration: 8 Aug 2013 → …


ConferenceInternational Gothic Association (IGA) Conference 2013
Period8/08/13 → …


  • Gothic television
  • reality television
  • genre
  • authenticity


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