Film studies, News

The Horrible History of Devil’s Advocates

By John Atkinson

The origin of the Devil’s Advocates series lies in an editorial hunch. I had been running Auteur for about 10 years, mainly publishing for the pre-HE Film and Media studies audience. I was becoming aware that the horror film was dramatically increasing in popularity as an option in HE, and even at A-level in the UK, often as a result of people of my vintage, who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s, becoming responsible for designing courses. Yet the available critical literature hadn’t really moved on much beyond the 1980s, aside from a few brave souls like Mark Jancovich. This was especially the case for horror cinema since the ‘splatter’ boom of the early ‘80s – entire decades of innovative, and highly lucrative, films and filmmakers were being studied, if at all, in the context of critical writing that was 20- or 30-years old. And if you could find more modern material, it was almost always at one of two extremes – non-critical fan journalism or virtually impenetrable academic discourse; both of which have their uses, but not for the majority of students who might be encountering horror for the first time in an educational context.

Also, outside of formal education, horror fans are really smart, despite what their representation in the mass media might have you believe. There is an in-built receptiveness to sophisticated ideas, perhaps because so much of horror in all its forms is inherently allegorical. So it was a calculated gamble to initiate a series of long-form writing that tried to meet the needs of those engaged in the formal study of horror cinema, while making it sufficiently accessible to, for want of a better description, fans – but, being horror fans, they’d already be predisposed to engage with intelligent writing on the subject.

I had some ideas about films I wanted to see on the list, and also a few writers I thought it worth approaching. Very occasionally there’s a film I know I want to place with a particular writer, and that was the case with Let the Right One In and Anne Billson, one of our best film critics. I was acquainted with Anne and approached her. She’s a full-time writer and could have been working on any number of other projects – but she really wanted to write at length on this extraordinary film, and she had some free time. So Devil’s Advocates had its first contracted author.

Let the Right One In by Anne Billson (Auteur, 2011)

That was in 2010, and since then I’ve been privileged to attract writers from a variety of professional backgrounds; other critics, but also early career academics, more established scholars, librarians, poets, screenwriters, film-makers… The result is a series that is perhaps even more diverse than I first envisaged, encompassing a multitude of authorial approaches, from impressionistic textual analyses to historical accounts to pretty rigorous theoretical case studies.

I’m particularly delighted that the series is a home for many first-time authors. By this time next year there will be 50+ titles available, which by any standard is a pretty substantial series. I hope that Devil’s Advocates is making a small contribution to establishing Horror Studies as an exciting area of study and, if nothing else, is perceived as a reliable source of engaging writing on an inexhaustibly interesting subject.

John Atkinson is Senior Commissioning Editor, Auteur, and the Devil’s Advocates series editor. He can be reached at

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