monograph// the ovidian locus terribilis in contemporary rural horror (Bloomsbury, 2020)

Why is contemporary rural horror so often filmed in lush settings? From the supernatural woodland of Twin Peaks and The Blair Witch Project, to the haunting bayous of True Detective, landscape takes a starring role. Lakes are particularly dangerous and recur time and again in rural horror, most notably in New Zealand’s eerie Top of the Lake, French psychological horror Stranger by the Lake, and British slasher, Eden Lake


The Ovidian Locus Terribilis in Contemporary Rural Horror asks what it is that draws our narrative imaginations so compellingly towards rural horror that takes place in unspoilt, sublime locations. How much does this owe to Ovid’s most striking poetic special effect, the locus terribilis, which uses stunning, natural locations as the setting for violence? We are at a moment of acute environmental horror, and the man-made invasive ecologies that have accompanied colonialism are coming to fruition in strange and unprecedented ways. Landscapes themselves are becoming deadly through the annihilation of existing ecosystems. How far can we align this moment of environmental disaster with the indexical rise of representations of extreme violence in sublime locations, and how far is this on a continuum with the European poetic tradition? This project will trace Ovid’s influence and asks what this particular contrast has to tell us about our relationship to our landscapes, our bloody colonial histories, and our current ecological fears.This book offers a fresh perspective on contemporary rural horror television and cinema using the lens of classical, and specifically Ovidian, reception. 



Once there was the body of a girl in the sunken garden. A dead blonde girl. She lay on her side, one arm missing. Bluish tangles of veins were exposed at the knotted edge of the butchered place. Blood seeped through, a milky red that furred the wound shut. Beneath her neck, a mess of blood pooled through the mossy ground. Maggots curled lazily though her pink flesh below, roiling, rolling, bloated with meat they slowed and stopped just short of the opened brain. Violet scum bubbled out and formed a hard shimmering caul like blown glass. The mess of maggots gave off a white heat that scorched her flesh. Her intestines were spilling out and plastic bullets shirred the rubbery meat. A man came, and turned her face to the dirt. He covered over all that rot. The harvest that year was spectacular. Ghost Fungus and Witches’ Butter, Vinegar Cups and False Deathcaps thrived where they should not have done: In basements, in attics, creeping up walls. They flourished that winter under neon skies, lit red by the northern lights, as the sunken garden pulsed underground.


'Laura Ellen Joyce's debut The Museum of Atheism transports us to a perverted fairytale landscape in which foxes roam and the snow falls ceaselessly, covering all traces.  Darkness seeps through the book like the fungus that interleaves its chapters, but at heart is the innocence and purity of a little girl lost.  A page-turning read, riddled with the stuff of nightmares; read it if you dare.' — Clare Wigfall'

The Museum of Atheism is an inviting and sinister affair, sweet and deadly as a thicket of mushrooms, their dear deadly anklets and caps of toxic spores.  It’s Christmas Eve; a chemical spill has coaxed a plague of foxes out of the hills surrounding a remote prison-town. Here everything and everyone seems to flush and propagate in the shadow of something else. A vulnerable kiddie beauty queen, a troupe of cash-strapped strippers, a sex-doll repairmen, and a prison guard with downward ambition all meet under a fox-furred, feverish sky. As the plot twists thick as a black and milky stalk, the darkness grows somehow darker.  The neon-pink fairy lights wink out.'  — Joyelle McSweeney

'A Lynchian detective novel set in small town America, which is teeming with toadstools. At the top of each of the book’s chapters, Joyce names and describes varieties of fungus called things like Slime Cap, Destroying Angel, Disco Cup, Midnight Bolette; the inclusion of fungi invariably portending some dead matter that the reader unearths beneath. This is more than just a clever ploy that sets an unsettling tone, it also hints at Joyce’s take on writing in general, and encourages us to consider the parallels between the written text and the mushrooms it describes. This is perhaps Joyce’s improvisation upon the deconstructionist adage that all writing is parasitical: for her, fiction writing may instead be fungal, nourished by the moldering work of dead and decaying authors, springing up threadlike and dangerous in the dark.' — Diarmuid Hester

Review at The Manchester Review

Review at 5cense

Interview at You, Me, and the Story