Posts filed under 'The Function of Fear'

Micro-review of Banquet for the Damned + Macro-interview with Adam LG Nevill by JD’L

banquet of the damned_AW.indd

Banquet for the Damned combines several very real elements – night terrors, shamanism, anthropology, witchcraft and heavy metal – in a very real location; St. Andrews. It’s one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. I had shivers across my skin as I discovered within its pages the histories of the covens of Europe and the studies of evil spirits and familiars in the shamanic traditions of South America and Africa.

Into this world of student revelry and stuffy intellectualism, comes a renegade writer and explorer of altered realities, Eliot Coldwell. And he’s brought something nasty with him. Something hungry. Students begin to disappear from the campus.

At the same time, following the break up of their band, guitarists Dante Shaw and his best friend Tom travel to St. Andrews. They plan to meet Eliot Coldwell, Dante’s spiritual hero and author of the notorious cult novel, Banquet for the Damned. Dante intends to make a concept album using Eliot and his work as the theme.

But instead of finding inspiration in St. Andrews, Dante discovers nightmares stalking the town’s ancient streets…

*

It’s no secret that Bloody Books and Virgin Horror were in direct competition for the same share of the genre market. When the Virgin line folded, we were kind of pleased to be left in the game.

Horror Reanimated seeks the best in the genre and, as time went by, we featured Virgin titles and talked to their authors. (See our posts on Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell and Conrad Williams). Having read plenty of Virgin Horror, it now strikes me as tragic that such high quality fiction will no longer issue forth from that elegantly twisted horn of plenty.

My most recent read was ‘Banquet for the Damned’ by Adam L G Nevill. Originally published by PS Publishing, this title gripped me as hard as any supernatural tale ever has. It is a superbly crafted, beautifully told and genuinely frightening novel. As a final tribute to a noble and prematurely buried imprint, I bring you a candid interview with Adam L G Nevill, author of Banquet and editor of the Virgin Horror line.

We honour the genre’s slain; enemy and friend alike, generals and foot soldiers equally. Why? Because when you throw the festering undead into a pit, they stick together!

But that’s not all. Adam has recently proved himself truly undead having risen again with a major two-book deal…

Joseph D’Lacey: Adam, I’m going to thank you in advance for agreeing to what I realise may be an uncomfortable interview for you following the termination of your horror list.

But I’d like to talk to you first about Banquet for the Damned. This novel came right out of leftfield and slammed me hard upside the head. I’d long believed my supernatural ‘fear’ nerve to be burned out through overuse. Apparently not. What chilled me about the story was the depth of research the characters had done on witchcraft, familiars and evil spirits. It was all too real. What can you say to reassure me that you made it all up?

Adam L G Nevill: Thanks for the really kind words JD’L, and for reading it so carefully. There is nothing more satisfying than finding an ideal reader.

As for reassurance that it’s all fiction, who can say … Night terrors are an absolutely real and universal form of sleep disturbance long associated with witchcraft. My story is inspired by the many actual histories of witchcraft and demonology that I read and researched. And the authors of those tomes were pretty convincing …incubus

While I was based in St Andrews and matriculated at the university, I discovered the most incredible archive of old books on the occult bequeathed to the university library by a former rector. And the university also has a world class anthropology department, with some terrific sources on the occult and superstition in the developing world too. I remember having 40 books on witchcraft and the supernatural on my post-grad library card, when a curious librarian finally asked me what I was doing at the university. It was Lovecraftian – some of the books had not been borrowed since the sixties and I would scurry back to my room and pore over them. I had a year up there and had the time to read dozens of secondary texts on the subject of the unworldly. From that I took great creative license with specific histories and idioms to create the sense that my fictional scholars were authorities in order to make the supernatural element seem authentic. I blended bits and pieces from many documented stories and phenomenon to create my own history of a forgotten pagan god/witch’s familiar that had been called by many different names and moved through the ages, worshipped by one cult or another. I wanted its origins and long story to reflect the patterns of how real history is interpreted and revised, so that even the documentation and sources seemed authentic.

Making the supernatural believable in a modern setting is no easy task, so the carefully wrought history, the scholars, the academic environment, are designed to add credence to a preposterous notion I want a reader to accept. I lose interest in so much horror fiction because of its errant silliness from the beginning, but well-researched books like Matheson’s Hell House, Blatty’s Exorcist and Legion, or most recently Simmon’s The Terror and Brookes’s World War Z unsettle you far more because of that sense of authenticity and plausibility. Place the unrecognisable subtly amongst the recognisable and it’s easier for a reader to lose themselves in a story.

JD’L: Great. Like I’ll sleep a wink tonight knowing all that.

Our resident supernatural horror author, Bill Hussey, doesn’t believe in ghosts, spirits or the afterlife. Aside from the research angle, how much actual experience of the supernatural do you have? Do you think there’s a world we can’t see, a world where dark forces conspire to enter ours?

ALGN: I suffered dreadful night terrors while writing the book. I’d never had them before. Bizarrely, two readers have emailed me to declare the same while reading it. Which would suggest we all induced them subconsciously while either writing or reading a book featuring vivid night terrors. Or, I do wonder, did I make myself receptive to a phenomenon that was actually there anyway? I began the book in St Andrews, but continued writing the novel’s first draft for 18 months in Kent, when these experiences occurred. I would awake periodically to see the outline of a very tall and thin figure standing before the curtains of my room, silhouetted by both the ambient light passing through the curtains and by a thin line of red light, like fire, around its shape. I would sit up, pinch myself, blink, make certain I was fully awake, but the figure would remain there, more or less at the foot of my bed, staring. You can imagine the terror. I even called out and challenged it on a number of occasions, but received no response. It would eventually walk the length of the room, then turn and vanish through the door. I base one scene in Banquet on what I experienced. My landlord in Kent was deeply uncomfortable with such talk, and his girlfriend told me of a family tragedy involving fire which explained his reticence. I said no more about it, but she also pointed out to me how a second shadow would follow my landlord from room to room in this lovely old house we lived in. And sure enough, it did. The second shadow was a different size.

real-ghostAdd to that, as an undergraduate, while billeted in halls that were once part of a military hospital, I would often wake because someone was standing beside my bed and leaning over me, with their face close to mine. It used to scare me witless. Door handles would also turn, doors would open, no one would come through, though other residents at the end of the corridor featuring the affected rooms would see a woman in a white uniform entering or leaving.

On holiday, in an old cottage in Dorset, we would sit in the living room and hear footsteps walk the length of the rooms upstairs. It was terrifying at first, but by the end of the week we became accustomed to the walking figure (though no one would go to the toilet alone). The owners of the cottage informed me that nearly every visitor experiences a haunting there and someone even took a photo of the ghost, looking through a window. Needless to say, we never went back, and I am relieved it was not me that saw that face at the window.

Add a whole raft of inexplicable sixth sense experiences to these brushes with the uncanny, as well as the fact that everyone has a ghost story, so I don’t rule out ‘activity’ after death. Both positive and negative activity (most of our family hauntings were positive farewells from the recently departed, and I have two relatives with psychic tendencies). I may revile religious fundamentalism, and am no fan of most organised religion either, but I do find the current atheistic lobby tedious. And believing in nothing but status and money seems to be a modern dilemma.

I think the very act of writing has an element of mysticism involved too, and I have sympathies with Machen and Blackwood’s creative visions, who were both mystical writers. A deep involvement in fiction, both reading and writing, has also given me transcendent experiences and I wouldn’t be without them.

JD’L: Banquet is set in locations that are very well known to you. Dante and Tom set off from Birmingham and spend standrews-catchedralmost of the novel in St. Andrews. To begin with, I thought these real locations were going to kill my suspension of disbelief. In the end the effect was the opposite. Such was the power of the writing that I could see the streets of St Andrews and its old buildings and dark alleyways – even though I’ve never been there. How important do you think the setting was to the success of the novel?

ALGN: Thanks again JD’L. St Andrews is pretty much a character in the novel. I drove up there knowing I wanted to write a novel of supernatural horror, with a vague idea of the story featuring a notorious but nearly forgotten book and occult scholar. But when I received my first sighting of the town, I knew I had found my setting. The town was such a tremendous inspiration – it is one of those places that make the supernatural seem possible. The wealth of history, the architecture, the tributes to martyrs, the shadowy courts, the very age of the place, just conjured macabre fantasies. I was absurdly terrified of doing it an injustice, and was so enthusiastic about the town, I did my absolute best to recreate it in language as precisely as I was able at the time. Again, I do think a detailed sense of place and conjuring of atmosphere through specific details lays the ground for the insertion of the implausible, the impossible, and aids the suspension of disbelief. The very physical presence of the ancient town, twinned with extensive reading, allowed the story to write itself. So without St st-andrews-abbey-1Andrews, there would have been no Banquet.

JD’L: There are so many passages in Banquet that are a delight to read. The story is magnetic but the way you tell it is reminiscent of the literary styles of bygone horror authors. It put me very much in mind of M. R. James. Was that a deliberate ‘one-off’ or is this the voice of Adam L G Nevill that we can expect to hear again? I’m particularly interested in your answer because I know you’ve had some good news recently…

We’ll get to that soon…

ALGN: I do wear my influences on my sleeve in Banquet. And M R James was the chief mentor that guided my hand. My dad read many of the classic supernatural writers to my brother and I when we were boys: James, Poe, Mare, Collier, and his shelves were groaning with Lovecraft and Blackwood, which I then explored on my own. Such dark matter had a deep impact on my imagination at that age – I truly experienced what one critic called “the sublime of terror” – and I was pretty much destined to try and recreate it in my own fiction at some point. So my reading of the canon of the supernatural in fiction will always be apparent, and I’m deeply in debt to the classic masters. As I also am to the modern masters in the field. Robert Aickman, Thomas Ligotti, and Ramsey Campbell have taken the weird tale to the mountain, not only in terms of their actual bodies of work, but in a mastery of language and style that few can be consistently compared to in any genre. All three of those writers have given me wonderful examples of introducing more speculative and surreal elements to a treatment of the supernatural in fiction. I think this is evident in my second novel. I also think it’s worth mentioning that your development as a writer is in tune with your development as a reader. I was never sophisticated enough as a reader mr-jameswhen I first began writing seriously, but by reading great writers patiently, pennies began to drop. So often these days I’ll pick up a book and think, this writer hasn’t read enough.

JD’L: Banquet is a brilliant example of the triumph of style over gratuity. It’s tense and claustrophobic and the exact nature of the evil remains veiled even when you describe it directly. When violence and malevolence occur, when blood is spilled, it’s done with great delicacy and poetry. How did you manage this?

ALGN: When describing the supernatural, producing risible descriptions is probably the easiest thing to do. And it is the bane of the field. Fear is also difficult to describe. Producing clarity and impact, is bloody hard. I doubt there are many books as bad as bad horror novels, nor films for that matter as bad as bad horror films, but there are few books or films as powerful as great horror novels and films. I aspired to, and looked to, the best in the genre. I pretty much took two years out from work and lived on about three grand a year, in the late nineties, to deliberately hone the craft and improve as a writer. I paid a lot of attention to cultivating subtlety through glimpses and suggestions, as opposed to full reveals. There are no better examples of this style in the field than in the fiction of M R James, who only wrote fiction with the full intention of frightening and disturbing a reader. It was my goal to combine the stylistic traits of the better late Victorian and the Edwardian authors, like James, within a thoroughly modern multi-plot structure that Stephen King and Dan Simmons made their own, and to also write in the present tense to emulate a cinematic feel. If a reader could accept that immediate-tense narration, I hoped the actual appearances of the supernatural in the novel might take on a more vivid nature within the reader’s imagination. Perhaps in a personal film. I also wanted the power of a short story to endure throughout a long novel. What was I thinking? In hindsight, I realise many seem to believe that it cannot be achieved in a horror novel. Stylistically, it was a bloody ambitious book to write, though the occult element may appear conservative and ‘old school’ to many as it deals with possession and witchcraft. So, Banquet was every bit as much of an example of a new writer trying to achieve a particular set of criteria within a novel, and also hoping that it would be a good story for an average reader who would be unaware of the scaffolding.

Did it work? It took three years of constant revision to complete the book, and I remember being profoundly disappointed when I finished it. Looking back, and reading generous praise from readers, I feel much happier with that debut.

I also read a terrific thesis by Peter Penzholdt, in which he identified and explored various treatments of the supernatural in fiction, including M R James. His study identified techniques that I was only occasionally stumbling across, on an instinctive level as a writer, and wondering afterwards how I’d achieved a certain affect. His study helped me find more consistency. My tutors at St Andrews were also poets, and poets are masters of language, which is why I chose St Andrews in the first place to study writing formally. I never doubted my ideas, but I was right to doubt my ability at expressing them. I desperately needed a mentor – someone who could look at my actual writing and tell me what was wrong with it. Get the actual writing right first, is the best advice I can give anyone. At times the criticism was crushing and I doubted whether I should even continue writing. I’d go back to my room after a tutorial, deflated. But by the end of the year, I’d experienced nothing short of a personal renaissance. I learnt how the use of simple, innocent diction, in a calculated and coercive fashion, can build and build, and prove more powerful than the use of language that on its own, in isolation from the rest of a sentence, carries an unpleasant meaning. I eschewed the latter, and used the former. M R James preferred “wet” to “slimy” and I do too. Good poets and short story writers consider the music and image of every descriptive word to create the desired effect. I’ll approach every scene in that way, then look at how these scenes are attached to the one preceding and following, and then rework to maintain fluency and pace without losing descriptive power in the set-pieces. Above all I learned that good writing is all about rewriting. Draft after draft with long breaks in between each draft. Eventually when the removal of one comma will cause a total collapse, it’s as good as it will get.

JD’L: When readers see a book on a shelf and the name on its spine they rarely understand the time and effort that put it there. I’m not just talking about the novel they’re actually looking at either. So much more has to have already happened for the miracle of publication to occur. At times, I even think other authors believe those with bigger, better deals or greater sales figures have somehow lucked into it overnight. Can you tell us a little about the crests and troughs you’ve ridden from dream to publication?

ALGN: Banquet was complete in 2000. I began it in late 1997. But by 2002 every agent who accepted fiction in the Writers and Artists Yearbook had eventually turned down my letter of introduction. I don’t think anyone ever read a word of the actual book. “No horror” being the usual refrain, or “too many authors already”. And as no publisher took unsolicited manuscripts, that was that. Game over. By then, I’d forsaken a career in television a second time. I was living on a shoe-string (again) and enduring an existence above an old pub in East London and working nights as a security guard. And going mad with sleep deprivation and a sense of despair. Only my erotica novels kept me afloat.

From 1997 onwards, I was lucky enough to be published as an author of erotica. I wrote nine novels in total, for Virgin Books’s Nexus imprint (which I was asked to edit in late 2004). Approximately one each year, so I carried on cutting my teeth in another genre that was box-office back in the nineties, while horror seemed all but dead as a mainstream publishing concern. My Nexus books kept me going. Built morale. It was pulp fiction under a pseudonym, but it was the ultimate confirmation of publication and a great education in novel-writing. I even wrote one erotica novel in the second person, several from first person female POVs – with each novel I attempted a different approach to narration.

Then my editor at Virgin, James Marriott, showed one of my horror stories to John Couthard, who recommended me to Ramsey Campbell. Ramsey was putting together a collection called Gathering The Bones and took my story, Mother’s Milk. I was amazed. My first publication under my actual name and the rite-of-passage horror story that I wrote at the end of my masters in St Andrews. Being a cheeky blighter I then asked Ramsey in 2003 for advice with the novel Banquet for the Damned, which I had revisited and rewritten again in 2002, and Ramsey recommended me to Peter Crowther at PS. I was unaware of small presses at the time, but Peter read and accepted Banquet within a week. Without Ramsey and Peter, Banquet would have remained an uneaten meal, mouldering in the pantry of my hard drive. Peter then championed the book for years and it started to develop a modest reputation among other writers and critics who said some very kind things. Had it been the eighties, the story may have been different, but I’d written a big supernatural horror novel in a publishing climate that had no interest in horror. I was bloody lucky to find a sympathetic writer of considerable reputation, and a sympathetic publisher in Peter Crowther. They brought me into print as a writer of supernatural horror.

JD’L: Having been through all this yourself, it must have been tough notifying your Virgin Horror authors that the imprint had reached the end of the road. Was the imprint doomed from the word go or do you think, if certain things had been different, the line might still be going?

ALGN: We’d been taken over by a big international corporate publisher in 2007, but were still working under the existing Virgin management and I was asked to create new fiction lines. I immediately put horror forward as one idea. Everyone was excited, we had big plans, the critical path was set, so it certainly wasn’t doomed from the get go. On the contrary. But during the first year in 2008, despite how promising the line was, the company’s strategy began moving in a non-fiction direction. New management, new staff, more changes, new focuses, and I was kind of left alone in fiction on the sidelines, but without any real resources to publish the 2009 list. Then cutbacks and title-count reductions hit with the recession, people started losing their jobs etc. Fiction was wound right back to the erotica I had been editing since 2005, plus the cult fiction reprints I was producing for Bukowski. The editorial strategy had moved almost exclusively to non-fiction, leaving horror, erotica and me, high and dry. But the list was acclaimed, it was successful at the level it was published, and may well have continued at a better level had the company’s publishing strategy not changed. So it was deeply disappointing having to tell the authors of the end after such an exciting start. Nine months later I was delivering the same message to a hundred erotica authors too. Again, not something I chose to do nor enjoyed doing. Considering the re-emergence of horror – one of the only good pieces of news in fiction publishing these days – it now looks horribly premature to have buried us thus and so quickly. Ironically, The Birthing House was the first book I tried to buy for the list and that went on to sell 150K copies for Sphere, who published it so well. I’d even say, we were ahead of our time. As I said to the authors too, we may not have swung wide the gates of hell, but we certainly took the catch of the porch door. Having Bloody Books up and dancing at the same time as the Virgin horror line, it was an exciting time to see the underground – the punks – looking to the mainstream again. We raised consciousness and published some fine books. Can’t believe I got Thomas Ligotti into Smiths Travel too – I mark that as an editorial achievement. And if you look at the breadth and quality on those two horror lists, in an age of mediocre thrillers, predictable post-colonial literary fiction, ghost-written celeb fiction, and Vatican conspiracy nonsense, I think we can hold our grizzled, lipless and mottled heads up high.

JD’L: It’s been my experience of publishing that you never know what’s round the next corner. Your personal story seems to fit with this. After all you’ve put up with, suddenly there’s some real sunshine brightening the next part of your writing journey. A two book deal, no less! How did it come about and what was your reaction?

ALGN: To quote Chevy Chase in Caddyshack, “Cinderella Story, boy from nowhere.” When my agent John Jarrold called me to tell me the results of the auction, as I held the phone, my hand shook. Pretty much waited my entire life as a writer for an opportunity like this. I started writing seriously, with it being the major focus of my every day, and as a purpose for life, in 1995. So after fifteen years, I do feel like I have spent a long time in an apprenticeship.

I finished my second novel of supernatural horror at Xmas – another ambitious three year epic, this time written around a very busy fulltime job in publishing. One publisher expressed firm interest in late May of this year, then another and another … And John set an auction date. The very word “auction” in relation to me is hard to even say, and the enthusiasm from the editors was overwhelming. And that’s not false modesty. I vividly remember 40 plus rejections to my introductory letter for Banquet in 2000. They took two years to come in, and by the time the final one had landed on the mat, my head was down. Having worked in publishing I also know how hard it is for editors to pitch and get enough positive feedback from sales, publicity, export, rights, marketing, and management about a proposal. But my second book seemed to generate that at the appropriate levels, and as I’m 50K words into the first draft of a third novel, we submitted a partial of that too. So it became a two-book deal.

JD’L: Any chance of a whisper of what your next novels are about?

ALGN: The second novel is haunted building story spanning generations, my London novel; the third a ‘great outdoors’ novel of psychic terror.

JD’L: Time for the awards ceremony, Adam…

You have honour of making two nominations. First is the Sword of the Ultimate Darkness which goes to the work of horror in any medium which, in your opinion, is a timeless classic.

Second, you may banish to the Plague Pits the worst example of our beloved genre in any medium.

Please make your nominations.

ALGN: I consider this a real honour. For the Sword of Ultimate Darkness, I’d like to mention a book that may have slipped under the radar for many, but it’s a magnificent second horror novel by an American writer called David Searcy, whom I know almost nothing about, but the book needs its profile raised and I treasure it. I found it in a bookshop in New York in 2004. The cover caught my eye. I read the back, checked the first few pages and bought it. It’s one of those books that both made me want to write and also to give up writing because it is so good. It’s a terrific amalgam of M R James and William Faulkner, of Daniel Woodrell and Algernon Blackwood. American noir, scarecrow horror. I read it in one sitting in Hyde Park under a tree, and found myself glancing over my shoulder as the end drew near. It’s called Last Things by David Searcy.

The Plague Pits are overflowing, but I’d like to cast the remake of The Haunting, starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones, into the pit, along with the entire cast and crew for taking part in such a sham, plus the studio that probably ruined what was originally an honest endeavour. If anyone else was unlucky enough to pay to see this film, they’ll know why it belongs at the bottom of the pit.

JD’L: Lovely choices!

It only remains for me to say a heartfelt thanks on behalf of all at Horror Reanimated for joining us here in the rotting colon of purgatory. And to apologise for the smell, of course. We wish you the very best of luck for all your future projects.

It was a pleasure, thanks very much for the kind words and for having me. And also for giving me an opportunity to leave the indistinct bone-thing, that has been following me, with you. The runes are cast…


12 comments August 17th, 2009

Interview with Conrad Williams by JD’L

oneI know nothing about Conrad Williams and I knew nothing about his latest novel ONE until I started reading it – coming to a book cold is the best way, I find. At its core, ONE is a story about the nature of hope and it got right under my skin. It moved me. It also scared me. That doesn’t happen very often and ONE has become my favourite book of the year.

So, it was with a good deal of pleasurable excitement that I wrote my questions for Conrad…

Joseph D’Lacey: When I was halfway through ONE, I knew we had to have you on Horror Reanimated so I’m delighted to be talking to you. What aspect of you was it that brought forth this novel – if that isn’t too odd a question? Was it something you’d planned over some time or did the story simply demand to be told? Perhaps all your tales come in the same way – could you tell us a little about what happens to you when you’re working?

conrad-williams1Conrad Williams: Thanks for inviting me, Joseph. ONE came about principally because I’d always wanted to write an ‘end-of-the-world’ novel. I think every horror writer has one simmering away on the back burner. I have notes from years ago for a novel that was meant to be called DARK MATTER (a title snaffled by Peter Straub now, curse him) in which the surface of the Earth is fried by a massive solar flare. In ONE, a gamma ray burst from the death of a nearby star is to blame, although this is never mentioned explicitly. Once I had the event, and the explanation for my protagonist’s avoidance of it, the rest of the story was pretty much nailed on. I had to write about a father and son. I have three of my own; the book could not have been written without them.

JD’L: ONE’s themes have been explored in other post-apocalyptic tales. I’m thinking of Stephen King’s The Stand, for one. However, the closest and most obvious parallel is with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; another of my favourite books from the last couple of years.cmtheroad

thestandWere you touched by these or other eschatological tales or did ONE feel like something new for you, something without a particular precursor?

CW: THE ROAD changed my life. I’ve never read another novel like it. I read it every year and it takes me a day and it always makes me cry. It is at once the most perfect horror story and the most perfect love story I know. I wanted to write a UK version. The States seems to have a monopoly on this kind of thing. I wanted to claim a bit of misery for Blighty.

It’s always going to be hard to write a post-apocalyptic novel without these huge shadows at your shoulder. THE STAND and I AM LEGEND are also very precious to me. But you can’t really avoid writing an extinction level event story, if you’re a horror writer.iamlegend

JD’L: I love post-apocalyptic stories – both the reading and the writing of. It seems like there’s a lot of them about right now. Is all this Armageddon fiction arising from a common psychic weather pattern, a kind of morphic resonance that writers everywhere are picking up on? Are we feeling our planetary mortality more acutely than ever before?

Hey, maybe the world really is about to end…

CW: I think there’s probably something in this theory about horror becoming more popular when there’s something laying waste to the population, be it economic meltdown, terrorism, disease or war. And apocalyptic fiction, or survival horror, has a special impact because it is an everyman story. You survive the warheads raining down, you prove to be immune to the aggressive strain of flu, you happen to be working on the seabed when the ozone layer is roasted off the face of the Earth, then this will be you. This is your story. It’s a constant, worming fear that this will happen to us all one day. All apocalypse fiction is prophetic, in a way.

JD’L: In terms of genre, ONE could be survival horror. Some people will call it science fiction. Certainly, both elements are present. The theme, however, struck me as being about hope and how it sustains people – how it can even twist them.

Do you think horror writers have a greater thematic scope than writers of mainstream fiction? I suspect the genre allows us to go much deeper into the core of what it means to be human.

Do you agree or am I full of it?

CW: I do agree. I think that it’s only in extremis that we discover who we really are, what we’re really like. Every day we wear masks. We spend so much time projecting the image of ourselves that we wish to be acknowledged that we end up strangers to ourselves. If you crash in a jet about to take off from a runway, and survive impact only to see a wall of fire rising up the aisles behind you, will you be one of those people who politely queues up for the exits and waits for instructions, or will you be clambering over the seats, mashing old people and children back into their chairs in a bid to be out of the fuselage first. I’d like to think I’d be a hero. Last off the plane. But I just don’t know myself well enough – nobody does – until you’re in the moment. Stripping those false identities away and presenting our crude, fundamental structure is what interests me about horror fiction. Ordinary people trying to cope with extraordinary events, sometimes succeeding, often failing.

JD’L: I don’t want to say too much about the novel because almost any information will spoil the freshness of the story. However, I do want to discuss the protagonist, if that’s alright.

Richard Jane, the ‘one’ of the novel’s title, begins the tale as a chance survivor and then becomes a traveller as he searches for his son. There’s an ‘averageness’ about Jane, as evidenced, for example, by his choice of weapon – he’s not some military demi-god, just an ordinary man. What makes him extraordinary is his love for his boy, a love which becomes more idealistic as the novel unfolds. And yet this love and the hope that he’ll see his son again become Jane’s own high-octane fuel, allowing him to search ever-onward.

I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a character who is so physically and psychically dismantled by the end of a tale.

How did it feel to be the master of Jane’s destiny, of his dissolution?

CW: It was hard, because of course, he is, to some extent, me. I consciously wanted to write a third person novel, but from one point of view. He’s in every scene. He’s the filter for what is experienced throughout the book. So I got very close to him and there was much hand-wringing about what would happen to him and his son.

Initially he was the ‘one’ of the title. I intended to write a novel with one character. One story. But it’s impossible. You need someone else to bounce off. My old creative writing tutor at Lancaster University, Alan Burns, said that it was impossible to write an OMOHO (one man on his own). At the time I thought, bollocks. But he was right. There’s no story if there’s only one person. So the ONE of the title is him, but it’s also about something else: the title is explained in the novel.

Jane’s choice of weapon is interesting, and it caused some debate between me and my editor. I didn’t want him to become some tooled-up Rambo swaggering down the A1 with an arsenal hanging off his greased muscles. It wasn’t about weaponry. He really didn’t care about defence. So he clung to the first weapon he came across, an air rifle. A powerful one, mind. Not one of these pump-up pellet puffers we had when we were kids.

JD’L: Not only did you reduce Richard Jane as the story progressed, you also did a good job of mutating our country and capital city. You made the familiar unrecognisable and that’s probably what scared me the most – the idea that the future might somehow alter the very fabric of our world. Possibly to a point beyond which we cannot, as a species, adapt.

I have chills just thinking about it. Did you, or was it just a bit of fun?

CW: We’re a pretty hardy species, but there’s fragility there too. We’re having any rough edges sanded off us by a fondness – not a need – for convenience. We’re not hunter-gatherers any more. We’re docile animals grazing on a constant drip-feed of vacuum-packed meals from Tesco. We drive to the corner shop for the newspapers. We have umpteen remote controls to tune in to channels none of us want to watch. We have satnav and wifi and Twitter. People are getting older and people are getting more sedentary. Come the apocalypse I can see an awful lot of folk shambling outside to watch it kick off, desperate to check out immediately, because surviving will be no picnic. It will be just too much like hard work.

JD’L: Are you widely knowledgeable, Conrad? There were many occasions in the novel where I was thinking, how does he know all this stuff?! Did you have to do much research and, if so, is that a process you enjoy?

cwheadinjuriesCW: My dad always said to me that it’s better to know a little about a lot than a lot about a little. I actually think it’s better to know a little about a lot as well as a lot about a little – especially if you’re an airline pilot or a surgeon. I’m curious, which is a good thing in a novelist. And there was a lot of research, especially for the opening couple of chapters. I did enjoy it, yes. I like to learn new things. I used to spend a lot of time at the British Library when I was living in London and miss the place terribly. I’m glad if all that stuff about diving and oil platforms came over without looking as if it was researched. I think it’s best to ration that kind of information rather than clout readers over the head with pages of look at all the work I did!

JD’L: As I mentioned in the intro, I know nothing about you. Could you tell me a little about your writing history – where has your fiction appeared in the past, when was your first novel published, that kind of thing?darkdreams7

CW: I’ve been around for a while, but I’m no longer the enfant terrible of British horror. Graham Joyce no longer refers to me as ‘Young Conrad’. I published my first short story, ‘Dirty Water’, in a small press publication called Dark Dreams when I was 18. Since then I’ve had around 80 stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. My first novel, HEAD INJURIES, came out in 1998. It was optioned by Michael Winterbottom’s production company, Revolution Films. Four novels since then (DECAY INEVITABLE is published by Solaris Books this summer) and hopefully many more to come.

JD’L: Your writing style, use of language and descriptive power made ONE a very rich experience. It’s a lot more than just a great story; it’s exceptionally well-executed. The blend of beauty and pace makes the tale magnetic.

You appear to love language itself – I’m guessing you’ll have written poetry at some point. How much notice do you think publishers take of writing style when considering submissions?

decayinevitablecwCW: I do love language, and I have written poetry, but only the kind of juvenilia that ought to be shredded and used as hamster mattresses. A love of lyrical writing remains, however. Trying to describe the most horrifying things with beautiful imagery is a real challenge, but I think it can add impact. Clive Barker knows about the beauty of an opened body, for example. In such circumstances, the writing, as well as what’s being written about, can add to the power of a scene. I want people to recoil, but be unable to look away. I love that paradox.

I don’t know if publishers pay much attention to writing style. Maybe they do. But I suspect, for many of them, it gets in the way. They want stories. You only have to look at the way Jeffrey Archer or Dan Brown write to see that the quality of the writing is secondary. I’m as interested in the craft as I am in the story, possibly to the detriment of story in some cases, certainly when I was younger. Which is bad too. There’s only so much pretty writing you can get away with before someone says, ‘well, that was beautifully written, but what happened?’ Graham Greene, Jim Crace, Rupert Thomson, these are the writers I turn to for great writing. Writers who care as much about the how as well as the what.

JD’L: The genre fiction marketplace, especially for horror, is a tough one right now – the ‘hiatus’ at your own publisher, Virgin Horror, is an example of how things can go wrong. Would you consider writing in other genres if the money was right or do you write dark, bizarre tales for their own sake?

CW: It’s extremely disappointing. Adam Nevill, who launched that list at Virgin, had assembled a superb stable of writers. I was stunned to discover that I’d be sharing a publisher with Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Gregory and Thomas Ligotti, among others. The problem is that publishing is an industry, not a crucible for experiments, and the bean counters want to see wide profit margins. You can’t build a reputation any more. There is no midlist. There has to be a big spike on the sales graph, right now. What’s encouraging is the rise of the small presses, although I’d hesitate to refer to PS Publishing, for example, as a small press any more.

I have written, pseudonymously, a crime thriller with an intended series character, and that has found favour with a New York editor who is working with me on the novel in the hope that he can convince his bosses that it’s a goer. But even that has a supremely dark spine to it. It’s still, recognisably, my stuff. I don’t think I could turn my hand to lad-lit, or romantic fiction, nor would I want to. I’m not interested in trying to surf the wave of the next big thing, like the writers who spewed out novels with ‘code’ or ‘cypher’ in the title once Dan Brown’s THE DA VINCI CODE found its way on to every beach in the world. You have to have faith in what you’re doing, try to bend everyone’s way of thinking your way. There’s nothing I’d like more than to be a full-time writer, but I’m not going to become a hack to do that.

JD’L: Whilst some imprints are shutting down or not buying new horror, others are stepping in to fill their shoes – HarperCollins’s Angry Robot line, for example. We’ve all got this feeling here at Horror Reanimated that the genre is on the rise, both in quality and popularity. What are your thoughts?

CW: I’d like to think so, despite my unhappy experience with Virgin. There’s definitely an appetite for horror, especially on screen. I hope that this gradual opening of arms we’re currently seeing among a number of publishers is indicative of a new age of horror fiction. There are a bunch of hot, hungry young authors out there. All it needs is a hot, hungry young editor to tap into it.

JD’L: Traditionally (it’s still a rather short tradition as traditions go…) our interviewees are given the power to make two awards.

The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness goes to the work in any medium that will remain a horror classic forever. Well, until the end of the world at least.

The Plague Pits are where the worst examples of horror in any medium end up.

Please make your nominations…

CW: Sword of Ultimate Darkness – I’ll go for T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies. Absorbing, beautifully paced and written, and very, very creepy.

As for the Plague Pits… any of the Hollywood remakes of what ought to be untouchable classics. I’m thinking of Psycho and The Haunting, but there are and will be many more. Leave them alone, FFS…

JD’L: It’s been my great pleasure to chat to you.

I usually write a creepy intro for these interviews but ONE was so disturbing, I didn’t feel you required it. From all of us here at Horror Reanimated, I’d just like to say, Mr. Conrad Williams, you are one scary motherfucker and we love you!

Keep up the great work and let us know how you’re doing from time to time.

CW: It’s been a pleasure and a privilege. Best of luck with your own work too.


3 comments June 17th, 2009

The long-awaited Ramsey Campbell interview by all of us

Following our enforced ‘holiday’ on the shores of Lake Hades, Bill, Mathew and I returned to Horror Reanimated to discover the refurbishments unfinished. In an attempt to save money, Bloody Books had hired a firm of zombie builders to do the work. One might say they aren’t the sharpest tools in the box…rcface

So, for our chat with the classic British horror author Ramsey Campbell, we once again found ourselves off the premises. Mr. Campbell suggested we meet in an old Liverpool theatre. On arrival we discovered the venue to be not only deserted but also in a state of decay. The lights didn’t work and by the time we’d found the entrance to the stalls, our torches had grown dim. Snow fell through the holes in the ceiling high above. Many of the seats appeared to be occupied by silent, unmoving figures whose bodies were lumpy and white under the failing torch beams.

We found Mr. Campbell in a front row seat looking quite at home and sipping Chardonnay…

Bill Hussey: Many horror writers are able to pinpoint some traumatic episode or event in their childhood that influences their work – anything you’d like to share?

Ramsey Campbell: Rupert Bear, for a start – specifically “Rupert’s Christmas Tree”, in which Rupert acquires a magical tree that decamps after the festivities and returns to its home in the woods. Perhaps this is meant as a charming fantasy for children, but the details – the small high voice from the tree, the creaking that Rupert hears in the night, the trail of earth he follows from the tub in his house, above all the prancing silhouette that inclines towards him the star it has in place of a head – are surely the stuff of adult supernatural fiction. I read it when I was getting on for two years old and lay awake for nights in utter dread. I think I got my start in the field right there, and many of my preoccupations must derive from my early childhood. Our son’s partner Sharika recently reprinted the story in Rupert: A Collection of Favourite Stories (Egmont, 2007), and so you can see for yourselves how unnerving it is.

Then there was my everyday life. My parents were estranged when I was very young but continued to live in the same cramped house (just two rooms downstairs). My mother was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who believed (for instance) that radio programmes contained coded messages about her. She led me to believe that my father was in many ways a monster, and I almost never saw him face to face throughout my childhood and adolescence. I used to hear his footsteps on the stairs as I lay in bed, terrified that he might come into my room. Sometimes I heard arguments downstairs as my mother waylaid him when he came home, her voice shrill and clear, his blurred and incomprehensible, hardly a voice, which filled me with a terror I couldn’t define. (Being a spectator to arguments made me deeply nervous for decades, though since becoming a parent I’m much more likely to intervene or take sides.) If he was still in the kitchen when it was time for her to make my breakfast she would drive him out of the house; presumably it was unthinkable that I should share the table with him. Once I found I’d broken a lens of my glasses as I’d put them down by the bed the previous night, and was convinced by my mother that he had sneaked into the room to break it. Worst of all was Christmas, when my mother would send me to knock on his bedroom door and invite him down, as a mark of seasonal goodwill, for Christmas dinner. I would go upstairs in a panic, but there was never any response beyond a mutter of refusal. I don’t believe any of this necessarily led me to write horror – I did that because I’d fallen in love with the terror the genre conveyed – but I’m sure my early years influenced the psychological preoccupations of my stuff.

Joseph D’Lacey: Your influences appear to be from a time when the genre had a more literary feel to it. I’m thinking of writers like Le Fanu, of course, but also Blackwood and M.R. James. Are there storytellers outside the genre who you’ve found inspirational too? Would you say you’re ever influenced in new ways by newer writers or is your MO quite crystallised these days?

Ramsey Campbell: Outside it – lord, yes. I hadn’t even finished writing my first published book when I began to read a great deal outside the field. Graham Greene, early Iris Murdoch, Joyce’s Ulysses, Lawrence Darrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs (whose books had to be smuggled into the country from Paris)… Greene was certainly an influence, but above all Nabokov. Lolita was an absolute revelation to me when I read it at seventeen – the lyricism, the joy in language and all that you can do with it, the black comedy brought to bear on a theme you wouldn’t expect to support it. I read everything else I could find by him – Bend Sinister, Pale Fire and Laughter in the Dark were particular favourites.

I’m not conscious of being influenced by other writers these days, but who’s to say I just don’t notice? One way I try to keep developing as a writer is to identify some technique or element I depend on and then see what happens if I do without it. I actually began that in my first book – there’s a tale in there (“The Will of Stanley Brooke”) told largely in dialogue, with only neutral adjectives, no Lovecraftian language at all. It isn’t very good – I didn’t have the grasp of character it needed – but it was a start.

Bill Hussey: Your career as a horror writer has spanned decades. In that time what are the biggest changes that have taken place in the form?

Ramsey Campbell: I’d say the growth of the horror novel. The old wisdom persists that the short story or the novella is the ideal form for horror fiction, but I do think the novel has developed considerably since Steve King and others started to work at it. That’s not to say there weren’t great earlier examples – Matheson, Bradbury, Shirley Jackson come to mind, not to mention Frankenstein and Dracula. But as a vehicle for expression the horror novel can incorporate satire, comedy of various shades, social comment, psychological enquiry and much else, and since the seventies there have been quite a few impressive explorations of its possibilities.

I don’t find other developments as significant. The face-off between subtlety and splatter has been going on at least since M. R. James and Montague Summers condemned American gruesomeness as represented by the Not at Night anthologies, and I suspect it’ll continue for as long as we have horror fiction. I’ve nothing against either – just against lack of imagination. Clive Barker and David Schow and others have all written highly explicit fiction that enriches the imagination rather than trying to take its place. That’s my criterion.

Mathew F. Riley: You follow your own path when creating stories of unease, but do you take an interest in current trends in the horror genre? What are you thoughts on the popularity of the zombie as a horror sub-genre; and your thoughts on the increasingly-seen doom-laden scenarios of the apocalypse and the post-apocalypse?influence

Ramsey Campbell: To be honest, I’m not very interested in the conventional monsters. That isn’t to say nothing new can be done with them, but probably not by me. I’m interested in getting inside their minds, but you can’t have much from a zombie’s viewpoint, it seems to me. As for the explosion of apocalypses – well, I imagine it expresses many people’s sense of the precariousness of their existence. Better an apocalypse in fiction than in religious fanaticism, anyway. Mind you, Ballard was creating superb examples decades ago.

Joseph D’Lacey: We recently posted a review of Thomas Ligotti’s ‘My Work is not yet Done’. I was delighted by his use of language and the subtlety of his exposition. What’s your impression of this man’s work?

Ramsey Campbell: I think he’s a remarkable writer – not just one of the best in the field today but in the field ever. He has a unique vision and has crafted a style that expresses it perfectly. I’d place him alongside Machen and Lovecraft and a very few others who have managed to create something profoundly personal (not to say disturbing) in the tale of supernatural terror.

Mathew F. Riley: As a postscript to your entry in The Book of Horror Lists, and your editorial in the latest Prism, please can you list 5 UK horror writers that you consider to be ‘expanding the genre’; and in what ways are they doing so?

Ramsey Campbell: M. John Harrison has been doing it for decades and still is – treating occult themes with a remarkably bleak contemporary vision that’s inextricable from his observation of life. Joel Lane is equally keen-eyed and uses the fantastic to illuminate social and political issues that beset us. Mark Samuels is Britain’s master of urban weirdness (difficult to differentiate from urban horror, and there’s some of that in his work, but he often uses mundane life as the seed of a decidedly personal, though by no means unpersuasive, view of the world).  Gary Fry uses his considerable knowledge of psychology and philosophy to produce horror fiction that’s intellectually very stimulating. And if I may claim her as British – she’s certainly graced these isles for quite a time – Lisa Tuttle may be too original and intelligent and literate to have any obvious imitators, but besides having all those qualities and a highly individual vision she does what all good horror should do, however you define it: disturb.

Joseph D’Lacey: What are your feelings about the current Horror renaissance taking place in the UK? Perhaps you feel that Horror never died in the first place…

Ramsey Campbell: That’s right, Joseph, I don’t! But I’m delighted to see that it’s creeping back into the public consciousness. I think the genre goes through various phases that keep coming back. When I started reading in it in the fifties very little new horror was being published as horror. Small presses (in particular Arkham House, as significant back then as PS Publishing is now) were keeping it alive. There was the odd short-lived magazine, the occasional anthology, the infrequent popular success. Sound familiar? Eventually we had the boom of the seventies, followed by the inevitable eventual implosion. (The same thing befell science fiction in the fifties.) At my great age I tend to take the long view. Write the best you can and, if it doesn’t achieve much immediate success, hope that it lasts.

Bill Hussey: Being a writer now extends far beyond the word processor. It seems that, to be successful writer, you now have to engage more directly with your readership – setting up an online presence, attending conventions etc. Is this a healthy development and what is your general attitude to the ‘business’ side of writing?

Ramsey Campbell: I’m a bit wary of blogging, though I do it now and then. I think it can too easily become a substitute for real writing – an excuse not to write, something writers are prone to try and find. Convention-going isn’t new by any means – me, I was attending them before I’d written anything worth reading. If you regard them as a way of having a good time with your friends as well as meeting your readership or doing business, they should be fun – they certainly are for me. I actually love reading my stuff to audiences – I can’t ordinarily judge how people will react to what I write, and I enjoy seeing or hearing it for a change. If they laugh that’s best of all.

Mathew F. Riley: Your novel ‘Pact of the Fathers’ was filmed as ‘El Segundo Nombre (2002)‘; and ‘The Nameless’ as ‘Los Sin Nombre (1999)’ – the films appear to have gathered a cult following over the years, justifiably so. Looking back, how involved were you in the process if at all, and what did you think of the finished articles? Did these adaptations provide beneficial for your writing career? And have you other stories under option?

Ramsey Campbell: I wasn’t involved in the process, but the folk at Filmax flew me over to Spain to help promote both films. I liked them, especially Los Sin Nombre, which I think has a real sense of dread – I particularly liked the use of actual derelict locations, Spanish equivalents of the kind I used in the book and elsewhere in my stuff. To be honest, I don’t think they had any particular effect on my career, except that Pact of the Fathers saw a Spanish edition. I hope the films helped the two directors to get to the decidedly frightening Rec, which they co-directed. Nothing is optioned right now – “The Seductress” was done years ago as a rather faithful episode of The Hunger, though.

Joseph D’Lacey: My publisher once asked my wife if she worried about what was going on in my mind. Before that, I don’t think she’d ever thought about it…How does your wife cope with your dark side?

Ramsey Campbell: It’s one of many reasons we got together in the first place (in the late sixties, at Eastercon in Oxford). She has always shared my tastes – she’s a great fan of Val Lewton and David Lynch, for instance. She’s also my first editor, and reads my novels in first draft as the chapters are finished – she often makes useful comments. She and our daughter and son are the best things that have ever happened to me.

Joseph D’Lacey: Having discussed this with many writers, it seems the majority of us – whether consciously or not – revisit certain themes and ideas. Ideas that won’t leave us in peace. Which terrors do you find yourself unearthing like this, in some kind of subconscious cycle?

thievingfearRamsey Campbell: You know, I try not to be aware of them in case I start consciously repeating them. But the vulnerability of children often turns up, and also the notion that deep down we’re still the vulnerable children we were. Other recurring themes: the human tendency to find scapegoats, fundamentalism in various forms (political as well as religious), the ghost or monster as something we deny about ourselves (that is, a character in the story does), the willingness to embrace belief systems that will answer all your questions so long as you give up the right to question, the banality of evil (my killers tend to be pretty pathetic, as real ones surely are)…

Joseph D’Lacey: What interests do you have beyond creating within this noble genre? Do you ever wonder what you might have done if you hadn’t achieved success as an author?

Ramsey Campbell: I’d have liked to be a stand-up comedian.

Joseph D’Lacey: What’s the most unsettling work of fiction you’ve ever read and why?

Ramsey Campbell: Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves is certainly a recent candidate – in all sorts of ways, including how it’s set out on the page, it both puts you through the experiences of the characters and undermines your certainty in what exactly you’re reading. I also loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, which is gentler but more like experiencing someone else’s prolonged dream than any other novel I can think of. Paul Ableman’s I Hear Voices is a brilliant immersion in the experience of a schizophrenic. But I think I’d finally go for Beckett’s The Unnameable, though his How It Is would be another strong candidate. Both immerse you (me, anyway) in an experience of intense spiritual disorientation that’s especially disconcerting for its boundlessness.

Mathew F. Riley: Your thoughts on Virgin Books’ decision to put its horror line on hiatus after only 8 releases?grin_dark_pb_uk

Ramsey Campbell: Alas! A pity. Still, it’s one of the ways the field often works or doesn’t work.

Joseph D’Lacey: All our guests are given the power to make two nominations. The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness goes to the outstanding, all time work of horror in any medium. You may also banish to the Plague Pits forever, the worst example of horror in any medium. Please make your nominations…

Ramsey Campbell: I’ll give the Sword to the first horror film I fell in love with, Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon. I saw it at the cinema when I was fourteen and looked old enough to bluff my way into X (that’s to say, for people of 16 or over) films. It was playing second feature to The Tingler, which I quite liked. The Tourneur came on second – in those days the supporting film played once in the middle of the show while the main feature was shown twice. Before the opening credits of Night of the Demon were over I was enthralled by the introductory voice-over accompanied by Clifton Parker’s great score over shots of Stonehenge. I still think Maurice Denham’s drive through the spectral night is one of the greatest first scenes in all horror film, and by the time he encountered the demon I knew it was a classic (even if the first appearance of the demon is a bit too explicit so early on). I must have watched the film perhaps a dozen times by now, and I’ll watch it again. There’s a very useful book about it by Tony Earnshaw.

As for the worst, lord knows there’s plenty of competition. There has always been a good deal of semi-literate trash in the field, and there’s certainly no shortage of it now. I think I’ll go for someone with a certain reputation rather than lesser lights. I nominate Dennis Wheatley and in particular The Devil Rides Out. It isn’t just reactionary – it seems as if Wheatley regarded everything that threatened his way of life as the work of the devil. It’s nakedly racist – told “He reminded me in a most unpleasant way of the Bogey Man” someone immediately responds “Why, is he a black?” Most of the characters are caricatures if even that, some of them equipped with pantomime accents. At times the book reads like a synopsis of itself – one bizarre chapter precedes most of its telegrammatic paragraphs with the time in hours and minutes in a woeful attempt to generate suspense. Throughout the book characters lecture each other (hence the reader) rather than talk like any kind of human being I’ve ever met – maybe people spoke like that in Wheatley’s day or in his circle. It’s also often bathetic: watching a Black Mass, one of our heroes cries “Phew! This is a ghastly business. I can’t stand much more of it.” That’s what really sinks the book: the clumping prose. It was adapted as a musical – http://www.thedevilridesoutmusical.com/index.htm , and it obviously influenced the inadvertently comic writing of Sean Manchester (the Highgate Vampire man). However, it was the basis of a good film, skilfully written by the great Richard Matheson.

Mathew F. Riley: Are you a book geek?

Ramsey Campbell: Put it this way. One room in our house is a library. And the guest room is more of it. And so is the front room, and my workroom, and the room next to that… I used to collect editions – I had almost the entire Arkham House list up to the early seventies – but when I had to sell most of those to pay for work on our first house I settled for just owning the text instead. I still want books, though – not the text online.

Joseph D’Lacey: Never have I found a cold, dark abandoned theatre so entertaining. I must say I am slightly concerned about all the ghostly white figures who have gathered round to listen while we’ve talked. I think perhaps it’s time we left. Bill? Mathew?

Er, Mr. Campbell?

My God! Something spongy but very strong just grabbed hold of my ankle. Can’t seem to wrench it free. Hold on, some sort of powdery white fungus is growing across my lap and arms. I can’t move.

Hey! Guys? Anyone?

I do hate this job sometimes…

[A note to the uninitiated and some publishing news:

Ramsey Campbell is the author of dozens of horror novels and countless short stories. Among his accolades are British Fantasy, World Fantasy and Bram Stoker Awards as well as The Horror Writers' Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. He is considered Britain's most respected living horror writer.

His most recent novels are The Grin of The Dark and Thieving Fear. Forthcoming in September is Creatures of the Pool - set in the cellars and tunnels under Liverpool - and a collection titled Just Behind You, both from PS Publishing. The first draft of a brand new novel - The Seven Days of Cain - has just been completed and available right now is a new edition of The Influence.]

4 comments May 20th, 2009

Interview with Suzanne McLeod by JD’L

Suzanne McLeod is the author of The Sweet Scent of Blood and The Cold Kiss of Death, both published by Gollancz. The novels follow the exploits of Genevieve Taylor and her magic-busting investigations around London. The company she works for is called Spellcrackers.com and her duties include removal of magic spells. So far, so Hogwarts. But the London of the novel is peopled not only by witches and goblins but also vampires. Vamprirism has become a kind of fashion accessory and when the sun goes down, the sickest place to be is in a vampire nightclub getting bitten by the tattooed, leather-clad undead. In The Sweet Scent of Blood, Genny Taylor is sent into the midst of vampire gangland to investigate a murder in which the use of magic is suspected. And the blood begins to flow…ssobcover

We invited Suzanne McLeod to join us on the shores of Lake Hades where Bill and I have been sent during the remodelling of our pokey torture basement below the Bloody Books offices. It’s the first holiday we’ve had since we signed our souls over to our publisher.

We had to travel light so the only thing available for making Suzanne comfy is a rusty hospital gurney and some bacteria-slicked medical instruments. We strapped her down nice and tight the moment she stepped out of the Hell-evator…

Joseph D’Lacey: Hi, Suzanne, and welcome to Horror Reanimated where being interviewed is a bit like having your eyeballs pulled out with fish hooks while rats eat your tongue. It’s very popular – the queues are around the block and up the high street. Some bloody holiday.

Anyway, we’re glad you’re here – hope those straps aren’t too tight. We usually offer a little refreshment before the torture begins but Bill forgot to pack the snacks. I found this old thighbone down by the molten sulphur shoreline. Want to chew on it while we ‘talk’?

Suzanne McLeod: Thanks so much for inviting me, and I think it’s great you take the trouble to make your victims guests feel *so* secure . . . and while I appreciate the offer of the thigh bone, I’d actually prefer a nice juicy humerus, the one on your left arm doesn’t look too bad . . .

JD’L: Well, it’s an unusual request but…I’ll have Bill remove it. Wouldn’t want you to go hungry!

Now, first of all, I was surprised by the blend of mythical/supernatural content in The Sweet Scent of Blood – also that the combination worked. What made you decide to mix creatures of myth like satyrs, trolls, witches and goblins with blood-sucking creatures of the night?

SM: I’ve always been fascinated with all the different myths and legends that populate the world, whether it’s Greek Gods, Celtic faeries or Chinese dragons. A lot of the stories stem from our ancestors’ way of trying to explain away/understand those fears that appear universal: fear of the dark, fear of not being in control, fear of illness and death [all fears that a lot of world-wide vampire mythology feeds into]. Then there’s also the flip side; a lot of myths have been used to abdicate responsibility in socially unacceptable situations: crops destroyed by angry goblins, beautiful fairy men who [supposedly] seduce unmarried girls and leave them pregnant, and the more horrific stories of disabled/sickly babies being named changelings and abandoned or in some cases killed.

And these myths all exist cheek-by-jowl in our world, [and many are similar despite originating from different geographical areas and cultures] so bringing them together on the page was logical – for me anyway – I also felt that if all these divergent beings have always co-existed, [as they do in the alternative history of Genny’s world] they would be used to interacting with each other either for mutual benefit, or not! A concept that has led me to some interesting plot ramifications.

JD’L: I alluded to the work of a well-known fantasy author in the intro. To what extent has her work influenced yours?

SM: My nephew introduced me to Harry and Hogwarts and I’ve spent many happy hours with all three. I love JKR’s way of making you care about her characters, so you’re rooting for them all the way as well as her wonderful imagination. Has she influenced me? Probably, but then I think that every author I’ve read [and will read] has influenced my writing to some degree, if only through the process of osmosis.

JD’L: The Sweet Scent of Blood has a decent helping of violence and bloodletting, including craniectomies and cardiectomies. When did this dark streak originate in you?

SM: Umm … I think it started with Alice in Wonderland – with doormice being stuffed into teapots and the Queen shouting ‘off with her head’ . . . or maybe it was when I read Roald Dahl, Alan Garner, or Dennis Wheatley . . . or it could have been the bloodsplattered pulp horror books I found in the bargain bin at Woolies (now sadly no longer with us) when I was eleven. Ahh, no I remember now . . . It was when the head fell of my Barbie doll and I thought– oh, cool *g*

JD’L: When it comes to creating horror, where do you draw the line in terms of extremity? What’s acceptable in your view and what isn’t?

SM: Good question. In a way my characters dictate the level of violence in my books – and I have no doubt that some of the baddies can be very inventive *g* – but I would only write something that I would be comfortable reading and to a degree my comfort level comes not from the extremity of the violence but from the way it’s portrayed and on whom the violence is inflicted. Personally I’m not a fan of reading about violence from a victim’s viewpoint unless I have a good idea that the victim is going to be able to turn the tables, or at least escape. [frex; some crime novels can have an anonymous murderer/victim scene in which you, the reader *know* the outcome is *not* going to be good!] And violence against animals and children is a straight NO for me – doormice excepted, of course.

JD’L: For a UK writer of Fantasy, Science Fiction or Horror, being published by Gollancz is pretty close to finding the Holy Grail. Can you tell us how you achieved it?

SM: The market for dark/urban fantasy has become very popular in the US over the last few years, and is becoming more so in the UK. So I’ve been incredibly lucky – in that I followed the standard writing advice of ‘write what you love to read’ – that when my book landed on Jo Fletcher’s desk at Gollancz [via John Jarrold, my agent] it was just what she was looking for :-) .

JD’L: My favourite creatures in your portrayal of a darkly fantastic London were the goblins – bureaucrats with baseball bats! Aside from vampires, which of your mythical creatures has the most potential to elicit feelings of horror in a reader?

SM: Ahh, yes, I love my goblins, and don’t all bureaucrats hanker for a tin-foil coated baseball bat? *g* But Goblins and vamps aside, I think that probably the fae are the ones to watch out for. They are less obviously predators than the vampires, but in fact they do prey on both each other and humans. And they tend to have tricky natures as well, so are more unpredictable in how they might behave. One particular fae character in The Cold Kiss of Death is a phouka [a shapeshifting faerie who takes either the guise of a woman or a large, silver-coated dog] and as a carnivore, she has a preference for her food to be überfresh! *Shudders*

JD’L: What’s the next Spellcrackers.com novel going to deal with?

SM: In The Cold Kiss of Death, Genny’s got a whole heap of problems to deal with; she’s being haunted by an abused ghost, her witch neighbour wants her evicted, and her sort-of-Ex – and now her new boss – can’t decide whether he wants their relationship to be business or pleasure, not to mention the queue of vamps all inviting her to paint the town red! But then her problems take an even worse turn when one of her human friends is murdered using sidhe magic. Not only is she determined to hunt down the killer before they kill again, but she ends being hunted herself, and not just by the police, but by some of London’s most dangerous and powerful supernaturals.

JD’L: Living or dead, which author would you most like to have a long boozy lunch with?

SM: To be honest, I’m happy to have a long boozy lunch with any other author :-) . They’re my favourite people; I mean who else will spend hours discussing writing, creating characters and plot, and reading books, all of which I love.

JD’L: As a victim…er…guest of Horror Reanimated you have the power to make two nominations. First, The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness for the work of horror in any medium that you consider to be a timeless classic. Second, you may banish to the Plague Pits the worst work of horror in any medium.

SM: Umm *ponders* okay, well the thing I hate most and would want to banish to the Plague Pits [which strangely enough are mentioned (the ones under London Bridge) in The Cold Kiss of Death, which of course, does not deserve to be banished anywhere *g*] is the way a lot of cinematic vamps end up doing this whole cheesy, cringe-worthy fang-snarl straight into the camera lens, I mean okay, they’ve got fangs, we know that, so they should just go and bite someone! And for The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness I’m going to nominate Dr Who as the original ‘hiding behind the cushions’ scary programme.

JD’L: Excellent choices. Well, thank you, Suzanne. It’s been a pleasure removing your toenails and drilling out your kneecaps. Bill will wheel you to the Hell-evator on the gurney. I forgot to ask if you have a medical insurance…

In the meantime, we wish you the very best of luck with your forthcoming work.

SM: Thank you, Joseph and Bill for your wonderful hospitalisation hospitality, it’s been a lot of fun and it was really, really great to meet you both! Err . . . one last thing, is it alright if I take my toenails with me? It’s just that nail polish was rather expensive and maybe I can get them re-attached when they’re working on my kneecaps…

Add comment March 25th, 2009

Special Feature: Matt Ficner, creator of the Creepy Puppet Project by JD’L

Matt Ficner is a creative genius.

I heard about him completely by chance during a phone call to family in Toronto. We were discussing art, horror, blogging, internet publishing and many other topics when Matt’s name came up. I checked out his youtube profile, friended him on Facebook and set up an interview as soon as I could.

You can now find out all about him, with me, as I throw open the curtains on Matt Ficner, creator of the Creepy Puppet Project.


Joseph D’Lacey: Hi, Matt! Thanks for agreeing to talk to this tormented soul, slaving under the lash for Horror Reanimated. I’d shake your hand but mine’s leaking pus following my weekly interview (inquisition) with Simon Petherick, my publisher (personal demon) and his poisoned thumb-screw. My other hand is in a jar in his office following an ‘interview’ about a missed deadline.

If I need to relieve myself before the interview is complete, I may require your assistance…

Meanwhile, there’s a razor-wire armchair in the corner – best seat in the office. Take a load off.

Matt Ficner: Thank you! It is nice to be here – and if you need a new hand fabricated, I’m sure I could create something for you. Something with a lot of sharp and pointy bits … perhaps?

JD’L: Prosthesis? Damn, why did I never think of that before? Yes, I want a fiendish spiky hand. With mini circular saws. And a grenade launcher…

Now then, what’s your background, Matt? How did you become involved with puppets?

MF: Puppets have always been a factor in my life. My first toy was a hand puppet. But it wasn’t until I was in high school that my interest with puppetry truly began to evolve.

I had initially been focusing on a career in mechanical engineering and robotics. Even though I was doing very well with those studies, my creative and artistic drives were not being fulfilled. I had then started to revisit some of my interests in theatre and I started creating some short puppet theatre shows. That was when I truly discovered the many aspects of puppet production… and I was hooked.

Shortly thereafter, I connected with Noreen Young Productions (producer of C.B.C’s Under the Umbrella Tree)… and while I was finishing high school I was beginning my career in the strange world of puppetry.

JD’L: And what about your interest in the darker genres – very obvious in your presentation of the Creepy Puppet Project?

MF: I have always loved monsters along with Sci-Fi and horror movies. My appreciation for the dark genres has always been there.

I believe my “Creepy Puppets” evolved out of a number of my creative desires. For the most part, when I’m hired by a client to design and create a puppet character, it’s usually of the “cute and fluffy” variety. I simply wanted to make some cool puppets that were the furthest thing from cute.

I was also working on a zombie movie script with some of my creative partners and we were going through the challenges of securing a production deal. I was really keen to just start making some gory monsters. So, I decided to simply use the resources I had at hand … a puppet studio… and make some short horror movies. Thus the Creepy Puppet Project began.

JD’L: There’s something inherently disturbing about puppets, don’t you think? They challenge the living/dead rules we’re used to. On a very instinctive level, people equate movement with life. Puppetry messes with that rule, doesn’t it?

MF: Puppets are capable of distorting reality in so many ways. I think that is also just another reason why I like the medium so much. Yes, there is something “ethereal” about a puppet that is performed well. And yes, I do believe it does mess with people’s perceptions and it also twists people’s logic.

My favourite example of how “reality distorting” puppets can be has happened to me on more than one occasion. It would usually happen while I was doing some “walk around” performance work at an event. I would have a puppet on my arm and casually making conversation with the crowd.

Inevitably, someone would come up to the puppet, look the puppet in the eye (or plastic ping-pong ball) and proceed to tell the puppet “You’re not real!”. The conversation would continue with this person having an all out argument about the “reality” and “existence” of the puppet. All the while, the person never acknowledges the fact that I’m the one manipulating the puppet…and making the puppet continue the argument. People can be quite entertaining.

JD’L: That’s a worrying tale! When I saw your zombie puppets, they made me laugh. Checking out more of your videos and characters I found them increasingly disturbing.

Not all puppets are funny, are they? I’m thinking about the movie ‘Magic’ in which Anthony Hopkins becomes controlled by his own ventriloquist’s dummy. Very unsettling stuff. Then in Child’s Play, years later, a puppet becomes possessed and takes on its own life. How much do you want to amuse your audience and how much do you want to scare them?

MF: The way I look at it, it’s really about telling stories and making the types of programs that I myself would want to watch as a spectator. I know that there are a lot of people who like to be scared…or will laugh at how silly some horror films will get in order to try and scare you. What I’m trying to do with the Creepy Puppet Project is experiment and explore the many aspects of the horror/ Sci-Fi/ dark fantasy genres.

Some projects are simply fun and somewhat silly, while others are meant to be frightening. Ultimately, I really just want to create a new experience for an audience.

JD’L: Like cartoon characters, puppets can become clowns. They can take a hammering and get over it in pursuit of a gag or satirical statement. They can be political or they can just be slapstick. What else can you do with puppets that you can’t do with real actors (apart from fisting them daily and never paying them)?

MF: Yes, puppets take many forms of abuse and tend not to complain…What I like about a puppet’s resilience is that you can also dismember them, wound them, rip them open all without having to use extensive prosthetics… they ARE prosthetics.

JD’L: Have you seen Fur TV? What do you think of it?

MF: Yes, I have seen Fur TV. I like it and see it as part of the evolution of puppet entertainment. There are a number of “adult” puppet productions out there. Shows like “Puppets Who Kill” , “Wonder Showzen” and “Crank Yankers” are representative of what usually goes on when the cameras AREN’T rolling on most puppet productions. When you let puppeteers “play” you usually end up with foul language and to all kinds of rude behaviour. I’m glad to see that there are shows out there that are showcasing that aspect of puppetry to a broader audience.

JD’L: Puppet shows are labour intensive, I’m guessing. Can you tell us who else works with you on CPP and a little about what they do?

MF: I am very fortunate to have a handful of skilled individuals who help me with these productions.

Bea Demarce is a very talented costume maker. She usually helps with the character wardrobes during the pre-production phase while I’m building the puppets.

Ralph Gethings has been my cameraman from the start. He has made some wonderful short horror films of his own. I have known him since high school. I was one of those geeky kids who used to hang around the comic book shop he owned

I’ve had the great pleasure of having some fantastic puppeteers donate their time and skills to bring some of my creations to life. Steve Brathwaite, Mike Petersen , Vicki Veenstra, Nicholas Lemon, Allan Martin and Jamie Douglas are some of the puppeteers who have lent me their hands… literally.

To round out the crew, John McLenachan , Chris McKenzie and Gail Chiu McKenzie have helped with whatever help is needed like lighting, P.A. work and set dressing.

I may do all the preparation work myself. Building the puppets, writing the scripts, setting the storyboards… and many other things are all organized first. But, on our shoot days, these folks show up and help make it all possible.

JD’L: What’s the situation with CPP right now? Are you on TV anywhere? What are your hopes for the show?

MF: Right now I’m still producing the CPP out of my own pocket. I’ve got a number of short stories and scripts I’m currently building the puppets for.

Aside from some quick mentions on “Attack of the Show”, the CPP has not been on TV. But I have shown some of my shorts at local film festivals and received fantastic reviews.

With exposure, like this interview (thank you very much for this by the way) … I am hoping to get attention from networks, investors and businesspersons alike. I have some plans and proposals to either create a TV series or a direct to DVD special with the CPP.

I have been inspired and motivated by the growing fan base that the CPP has been building on our Youtube site and I’ve been further motivated by the positive feedback I’ve been getting on the CPP Fan Club site on Facebook.

People are finding my work and really enjoying it…so I’m working at creating a situation that will allow me to continue to create and expand this crazy idea.

JD’L: We have a tradition of asking our interviewees to present two awards while they’re here, Matt. First, The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness for the best work of horror in any media. Second, you may banish to the Plague Pits the worst work of horror in any media.

MF: Oh boy, picking a favourite “best”…there are so many to pick from!! I guess I will have to go with a horror flick I recently saw and thought was a great mixture of an original concept, great performance, and some great “WTF” moments… “THE COTTAGE”

And…oh…to banish something to the Plague Pits… AGAIN, almost too much to choose from!

Tell you what, if you can spin my prosthetic Rolodex… the knob is just behind my right ear. That’s the index that has the “I can’t believe I spent time watching this” files.

Okay, still spinning… still spinning…and it stops at … “Rising Dead” yeah…an unfortunate end product of a movie. I don’t normally like to put down other people’s work because I know how challenging it is to make a movie, but, yeah, this one was very disappointing. Not to be confused with “Dead Rising” the great videogame.

JD’L: Well, Matt, thank you very much for joining us in blog purgatory. I’ve enjoyed watching you try to get comfy in that razor-wire chair. I’m sure you can get a transfusion once you’re back on the Earth plane. Not sure you’ll father many kids now, though, judging by what you’ve left on the seat…

MF: Ah, it’s nothing some super glue and well placed ping-pong balls can’t fix.

JD’L: Hmmm. It’s fortunate you have the necessary skills to repair yourself. Good luck with the Creepy Puppet Project, Matt, and do keep us up to date with your news!

MF: Thank you for a chance to spread some Creepy Puppet Love… and spread some fluids over your nice hardwood floors…. Is that my spleen.. or yours?

 

Add comment February 17th, 2009

Interview with Frazer Lee by JD’L

After months of wheedling, the odd bribe and the performing of certain unmentionable household chores that finally secured it for us, here, at last, is our moment of intimacy with independent film maker, writer and script doctor Frazer Lee.

Joseph D’Lacey Hi, Frazer and welcome to Horror Reanimated. May I offer you a goblet of goat’s blood? Some spider caviar, perhaps?

Frazer Lee I’ve already eaten thanks. They don’t call me redbeard for nothing. It’s a pleasure to be here, it smells funny!

JD’L You stop noticing that after a while, sadly. Now, we’ve said a little bit about you in the intro but that’s just pigeon-holing really. How would you describe yourself and what you do?

FL I’m a hack director and writer with an obsessive-compulsive disorder that leads me to tell horror stories at any given opportunity. Now wash your hands.

JD’L Appreciation of the moving image and the creation of it seems to be your driving force but what about the horror element in your concepts? Where did the fascination arise? Do you, Satan forbid, enjoy any other genres?

FL I first became horror-fixated as a kid, around ten years old, watching Hammer and Universal horror double bills on the tellybox. We only had three channels back then, so watching Frankenstein(‘s Monster) meet The Wolfman, or Captain Kronos staking vampires (and snogging Caroline Munro), was far more exciting than whatever was on the other two! I spent my childhood in a series of dour Midlands towns, so I really had my fill of reality every time I went to school, popped to the shops or looked out the window. Horror provided the most imaginative and visually stimulating escape route I could find, whether in books, on TV or the radio. The fascination persists to this day, it’s the most potent of genres. I can be telling the most innocuous of stories, a family picnic – bunnies hopping through the tall sun-kissed grass – and ten minutes later, people start to bleed. I just can’t help it. Yes, I do enjoy other genres though, especially science fiction. I like any story when it is compelling enough I guess, whatever the genre. But I always feel dirty enjoying other stuff and go back to my beloved horrors with a bunch of flowers and an apology.

JD’L Glad to hear it, you splitter! Which film discipline are you most at home with – screenwriting, producing or directing?

FL I don’t feel that I’m at home with any of them yet, which is partly what keeps me interested in doing them. I haven’t directed for a while, so that’s giving me the biggest gut-ache right now – I’m ravenous to do it again, it’s like having a constant raging hard-on and not having any… you get the picture I’m sure! Whether I’m screenwriting, or involved in a directing task, or playing the producer at a meeting it always strikes me how the different functions bleed into one another – I’m so immersed in my projects there’s no dividing line. But I do try to just focus on the job in hand (ahem), to keep a semblance of sanity and to, hopefully, do the job well.

JD’L When we met at Gamefest III earlier this year you were promoting a number of projects. Can you tell us which are your favourites, how they’re going and what you’re working on right now?

FL I just finished a new draft of a supernatural horror screenplay ‘Grey Girls’ and I’m excited about that – it is very cruel and could be quite chilling, disturbing if I got it right. It has a lot of bodily fluids in it – I’ve become quite obsessed by the amount of weird and wonderful fluids in daily human life – and it has schoolgirls, plenty of schoolgirls. The screenplay is under the noses of a couple of producers and I’ve tried a few funding avenues myself, but I’m realistic that it may never come off. My beautiful little bastard ‘Urbane’ is a project that refuses to die, but as yet doesn’t have the backing to live – and may never do so. A shame if it doesn’t because it’s a fun slice of demonic surgical horror, but hey the world has lived without it just fine so far. I’m still working on my first horror novel, which is progressing in fits and starts – paid screenwriting work takes precedent of course. Talking of which, I was just hired to write a trilogy of horror movies back-to-back, and just completed the first draft of movie number one – but my contract means I can’t say any more than that about them!

JD’L Bollocks. Perhaps you’ll spill a little news our way when the contract permits…

Fitting creativity into real life is a difficulty many of us face (see my blog post ‘To edit, change nappies or clean house? That is the question by JD’L’) how do manage your time, Frazer?

FL Hee, time management goes really well some days, and… not so well other days. I enjoyed your blog post and don’t envy your position, looking after your kid and trying to get through rewrites and such. I have it pretty easy really by comparison! Of course I have to pay the bills so I can’t be too picky about taking on work assignments, and I don’t have an agent so I have to negotiate my own terms and that can be tricksy sometimes. My wife is very supportive of my efforts and I truly appreciate that. If I don’t do the washing up though, I will be out on my ear…

JD’L I know EXACTLY what you’re saying.

Here at Horror Reanimated we entertain the delusion that horror is on the rise as a genre in all media. Lots of new horror on TV at the moment – and more to come – strikes me as a sure sign of the genre’s increasing popularity. But new horror publishers are also springing up and zombies, in film particularly, seem more celebrated now than ever. What are your thoughts on the trends?

FL It is encouraging that telly programming is promoting new horror stuff. To me, it’s at least an acknowledgement that there is an audience that would rather watch something ‘other’ rather than all this fucking lazy and tedious ‘reality’ programming. Here’s some reality for you, you bastards – tons of people are dying from the effects of disease epidemics and warfare while the ‘developed’ world obsesses over the latest perfumes, watches, cars – now use your bloody imaginations and tell me a fucking STORY, perhaps a horror story, to illustrate that. No? Okay, human Tetris it is then… No wonder zombies are more popular than ever, we’re surrounded by them.

There are reality/horror crossovers too of course – I’ll never forget ‘Ghostwatch’ with Mister Pipes, hee what fun! And Charlie Brooker had a decent crack at it with his Big Brother zombie thang (too much ‘shakycam’ for my taste though). The more the merrier really, because I truly believe the genre never went away, and will never go away. As long as there are compelling horror stories being told and horror fans to enjoy them, the horror genre is an infinite Halloween-love-fest!

One plea though, to all the short film makers out there – enough zombie/vampire movies already! WE GET IT, YOU LOVE GEORGE A. ROMERO! And we love him too, we do! It’s just… PLEASE try something more original.

JD’L If money were no object, which horror film would you remake and why? What would you do differently?

FL Ooh, if money were honestly no object?

I’d honestly be spending it on making new films, striving to tell original stories, shiny and new! I like those films they already made just the way they are, warts and all, thanks.

JD’L Which horror novel would you be most keen to adapt for the big screen?

FL The one I’m writing :-)

JD’L As you know, Horror Reanimated gives you the power to present the Sword of the Ultimate Darkness to the all-time best work of Horror in any medium and consign the all-time worst work of horror in any medium to the Plague Pits. Please make your nominations.

FL I’d have to pull out that sword and thrust it into the warped hands of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. It describes the horror of being alive, the horror of being dead, everything that lies between those two states and beyond into new, utterly corrupt forms. It is, my dears, more than just a ‘page turner’ – it is the all-time best work of horror in any medium.

And the worst? I’m going to break a golden rule of mine and pass judgement on a movie I haven’t actually seen – only a few brief clips, and that was enough. But I have this Sword of the Ultimate Darkness, see? I can do whatsoever I wants to do my precioussss…. So, into the Plague Pits you go, Neil LaBute’s ‘reimagining’ of The Wicker Man, and not a moment too soon! You are a sad illustration of the vapid, barren cunt that is the Hollywood remake system, sucking what little talent is out there into your pestilent maw and shitting out endlessly foul stinking little bum nuggets of WRONG.

JD’L Master of understatement, you are, Frazer! Apart from waaaay too much housework to ever catch up with, what’s next for Frazer Lee?

FL Who knows? Meetings, writings, rewritings. A series of elations and disappointments. That’s for certain. But whatever else comes my way, don’t think I’m not going to sniff it, because I shall. Oh yes I shall.

JD’L Frazer, thank you very much for sharing some of your precious washing-up time with us. I do hope you’ll keep us informed of your developments.

FL I will indeed! Thanks for indulging me! Now where’d I put those marigolds….?

1 comment December 15th, 2008

Interview with Sarah Pinborough

taken_us_150x240Sarah Pinborough is a horror and thriller writer with a string of successful novels.

Her titles include The Taken (‘Her writing is full of dread and passion’, Christopher Golden) and Breeding Ground (‘… beautifully wrought by an author with an unflinching eye and a steady hand. This is scary stuff’, Creature Feature). Seek Sarah out at her website… 

BILL HUSSEY:     So, Sarah, it seems to me that horror writers, perhaps more than any other genre practitioners, are heavily influenced by their early exposure to the form. What are your earliest memories of horror fiction?

SARAH PINBOROUGH:      When I was at boarding school there were lots of tatty 70s Pan style horror anthologies on the shelves of the boarding house and I read a lot of those. My first real horror memory though, and I do think this really did unlock that part of my imagination, was of going to see Dracula as a school play when I was five…

SP (cont.):      I was at an American School in Damascus and it was probably a pretty average High School play, but all I remember is seeing French windows blowing open, a red light glowing, and a shadowy man on the other side spreading his cloak wide. I don’t remember a single thing else from the play apart from that image, but I didn’t sleep with a window open from then until I was about 22. Honest. I was completely terrified. Admittedly, it still doesn’t take much to scare me..I watched the Doctor Who episode ‘Blink’ last year and had to sleep with the hall light on.

BH:      Which new writers push your horror button?

SP:       I have to give it up for the girls here, I think. Alexandra Sokoloff and Sarah Langan both rock. Also, although he’s not really a “new” writer per se, Mark Samuels’ collection really blew me away as did Paul Meloy’s ‘Islington Crocodiles.’ If I’m honest, as a reader I prefer horror in short story form rather than novels. Which is odd, because I find writing short stories really, really hard.

BH:      How did you start writing, and did you begin with dark fiction?

SP:       I started writing- like most people that grow up to be writers -at some ridiculously young age and spent my teens churning out 40 pages or so of various ‘other book’ rip-offs. I took creative writing as a module of my English degree but my late-teens and early-twenties were far too exciting to really do any writing (I think I wrote maybe for or five bad short stories in that time) and then when I hit about 28 I started having a go at short stories more seriously. I always veered towards dark fiction (whether horror, sci-fi or fantasy) because I’d grown up on a diet of King and Herbert who I devoured – much the same as any other horror fan of my age, and I was always scared of what might be behind the shower curtain or what might come in through the open window…and in my imagination they were rarely ordinary burglars or murderers!

BH:      Give us an outline of your typical writing day.

SP:       My writing day has changed since I’ve started my year out of teaching. I used to get up at half-five and do an hour before school, then try and do a thousand words in the evening. This wasn’t always successful!! Now, I get up about 8, grab a cup of tea, check my emails and potter till about 8.45. Then I’ll do 2 hours writing before going to the gym, walking the dog and then back for lunch and 2 more hours. I might do more in the evening or plan out where I’m going next with the story etc. I’m still finding my full-time feet really. But ideally, I am at 2,000 words a day. Sometimes its more, and sometimes life gets in the way and its less. But if I do less I try and make it up the next day.

BH:      How important do you think discipline is for a successful writer?

SP:       If you mean successful as in making a career out of writing then discipline, along with a thick skin, is about the most important thing. I’d put it above talent in many ways. If you sit around waiting for a muse to tap on your shoulder, then you can sit around for an awfully long time, especially as writing is hard work and there are always more interesting things to do, like drink tea, make toast, watch rubbish TV. There are days when the words just flow, and there are others when it’s like drawing teeth and I seem to be constantly checking my word count to see if I’m nearly at 2,000 words. There are a lot of people that ‘talk’ about being writers. Writers write. End of. And that takes discipline. But its like most jobs, once you sit down and get started it’s never so bad.

BH:      Joseph and I have recently blogged about ‘The Idea’. I know from my own experience how irritating it is to be asked this question, but I’m going to pose it anyway: where do you get your ideas? 

SP:       God knows. Can anybody answer this one? The only thing I would say about it, is that the more you write, the more you train your mind to keep an eye and ear open for ‘interesting’ things, either on the news, or something you overhear etc. I constantly jot things down that I may never use, but they always come in handy for pushing the ‘what if..’ button in my head when someone emails and asks for a short story or something.

BH:      Do you plan your novels out before you start writing or do you begin with the germ of an idea and see where it takes you?

SP:       Unfortunately, I’m at the stage in my career where you have to plan them out to some degree, because the publisher wants to know what they’re paying you for. I’ve always been a bit of a planner in that I know where I’m starting and where I’m ending and the rest is normally a lot of squiggled notes with question marks next to them that get added to or crossed off as I go. Now that I have to submit outlines, I try and stay close to them. Feeding Ground is so far on plan, although when I wrote Tower Hill, my editor emailed me to say they were doing the cover art, and were there any changes he should know about. I said, no, very casually, then went back to the outline that I hadn’t looked at in months to discover that a) the book was no longer set in the UK but in America b) half the characters had changed completely and c) there were no aliens…..

My editor was slightly apoplectic but luckily was very happy with the final book…phew…I now keep the outline close by when I’m writing! 

BH:      I would say that one of your strengths as a writer is your ability to write a well-rounded, multi-layered character. It certainly adds to the horror when something nasty happens to a character that we have come to care about. How do you go about building up a character?

SP:       Honestly? I don’t really think about it. I have a vague idea of what they’re like when I start out, probably more so now that I write to a one or two page plan so I can see where they’re ending up, but I just see where it goes..One of the characters in Feeding Ground just became gay. I mean, he didn’t just leap out of the closet or anything, but I suddenly realised that it made perfect sense for him and the way he felt about another character. I just let them be themselves and see where that goes. I know some people spend ages sketching out their characters and creating character files etc or collages, but frankly I’m too lazy for that. I just ‘see’ them in my head, chuck them into a situation and see what happens.

BH:      Ghost stories are often a metaphor for the sins of the past coming back to haunt the present. This is certainly the case in your excellent novel ‘The Taken’. I’ve also noticed the themes of collective guilt and folklore running through your work. Is this correct, and what other themes do you notice cropping up in your writing?

SP:       I think there are also a lot of ‘loss of innocence’ or the power of your childhood themes in some of my books. I hadn’t even realised it until a reader mentioned it in a forum. The Reckoning is about how the events of our childhood shape our future – even if our understanding of them is skewed. The Hidden has a damaged child grown into a damaged adult, The Taken has a ghostly child, and even in Breeding Ground a little girl dies quite nastily.  I think though, that using children in horror is pretty commonplace – we’re most afraid of the supernatural when we’re children so it makes it easy to tap into that if you can take the reader back through the eyes of a young character. Guilt and folklore too, yes. I think that in the main (and I exclude Breeding Ground and Feeding Ground from this because I intended both those to be just a good fun, slightly squeamish creature feature romp) I like to have some mystery at the heart of the story. I don’t think horror is enough in itself.

BH:      Your books have a variety of settings. You seem equally comfortable in the rural England of ‘The Taken’ as in the New England small town of ‘Tower Hill’? How do you go about researching books set in foreign locales?

SP:       My editor did freak when he realised I’d set Tower Hill in America and it took a lot of convincing to let me run with it. I had to promise him that I’d let Chris Golden scan it for any dodgy non-americanisms. And I can understand his concern, but I think that in the UK we’re so over-dosed with American TV and movies, on top of the books that I read that are predominantly set in America that it makes it easy for us to slip into their  writing style. Probably much easier than for an American writer trying to set a story in the UK with British characters. Also, there is the beauty of the internet for researching store names and food brands etc. I think I did okay..But my next few books are all planned to be set in the UK. Unless I feel inspired during my 6 weeks in North Carolina in the New Year.

BH:      What demands are made on English writers writing for a US market? Keeping your American reader in mind, have you ever needed to adapt/change something so that it is more US-friendly?

SP:       When I first started writing I didn’t think about it at all, but now, if I’m writing for Leisure I might think about the odd phrase and whether Americans are going to get it. They change ‘gots’ to ‘gottens’ which I’m never sure about because I think it then jars slightly if the rest of the book is very English. I used the phrase ‘This is a turn up for the books’ once..that totally flummoxed them. I don’t think about it too much, though. Feeding Ground takes places mainly in a Newham estate in London with a lot of very East End gansta types. There’s only so much you can change their speech patterns without making it sound stupid. Although I am rather concerned that while writing the book I’ve watched all five series of The Wire, so they may sound a little more Baltimore than Newham in places! You feel me?

BH:      We’ve spoken before about the misconception many people have about published novelists. They think that when you get a publishing deal you can chuck in your job and devote yourself to writing. The reality is most published writers need to work and write. I know that you’ve recently gone ‘full time’. Was that a difficult decision to make? What sacrifices and what freedoms does such a step entail?

SP:       I don’t even think of it as full-time… more a sabbatical. I saved up, marked a lot of exams papers, signed up for some writing for hire, and more importantly made sure I had ‘a plan.’ A lot of writers don’t have career plans, but I figure if you don’t have a good idea of where you want to get to, it’s too easy to get distracted. Luckily, it seems my plan is working out..for now. It’s great that I now have time to see my friends and have more of a social life etc, but it is very strange with writing now my actual job. I miss the salary coming in, but since going full time (Aug) I’ve written a Torchwood novel and I’m over half-way through Feeding Ground. I’d never have got so much done with teaching as well. It’s great having nothing else to think about but story etc, but it’s also strange stepping outside of the normal world. I’m enjoying it, but I’m sure that I’ll have to go back to doing occassional supply at some point!

BH:      You’re a female writer working in a genre that many ‘outsiders’ would imagine to be pretty male dominated. My own opinion is that this is something of a misrepresentation of horror – we’ve got brilliant female horror writers like Shirley Jackson and, more recently, Sarah Langan. What have been your experiences when you tell people you write horror?

SP:       It’s quite strange, I very rarely tell people I write at all. If people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a teacher. I don’t know why, but talking about writing with people outside the community brings me out in hives. I suppose its because it’s a bit like talking about your feelings to people that matter to you, and I just don’t do that either! I blame something in my childhood..;-). However, if it does come up in conversation with relative strangers then they normally look shocked and ask why I’m not writing chick lit. I smile sweetly and then lace their drink with crushed glass..they don’t ask again..

Seriously, I think it says more about how horror is perceived than women. Horror’s booming in the cinema, but less so in books.

BH:      Horror has had a bit of a rough ride over the past few years. Many are now saying that we are on the cusp of a renaissance in the form, especially with new UK imprints coming out all the time. What are your thoughts?

SP:       I think things are looking positive, but it’s still early days. I’m sure horror will have it’s day again, and I think with the global recession horror is more likely to fill up a little more space on the book shelves, but I think we’re a long way from the glory days of the eighties and nineties. But we’ll see! Things are looking up a bit, and lets hope they keep going in that direction.

BH:      Writers these days have to do so much more than simply get a publishing deal. I know you are heavily involved in promoting your books at fantasy conventions etc. Do you enjoy the actual business side of writing?

SP:       Actually, I’m completely rubbish at promoting my books. I tend to go to conventions and not talk about writing at all, but focus instead on meeting people who may then, when everyone’s home and settled, lead into some possible work. I hate the business side of writing, but then I think that’s a British thing. We pour scorn on people that say ‘I’ve worked really hard on this and I think it’s brill. You should too!’ I think all Brits should go to an American convention to see how celebratory they are of their work and how they’re not ashamed to self-promote. It’s a tough business, publishing, and if you don’t push yourself then no one else will. But I prefer the softly, softly approach of just making contacts and friends and then seeing where they will lead rather than sticking an A-board on and saying ‘Read my Book!’. However, that’s not to say the second way is wrong. It’s just not in my make-up.

BH:      Tell us something about your future projects.

SP:       I’ve got a novella coming out from PS Publishing in July called ‘The Language of Dying’ which isn’t a horror story – more magical realism, and is the closest to ‘literature’ that I’ve ever written. ‘Feeding Ground’ is out in October, and my agent is just finalising a three book supernatural thriller trilogy deal with on of the UK’s leading publishing houses – which is a massive step up for me and I’m very excited about it. I’ve also just given my agent a children’s fantasy novel, so I’m hoping that she sells that too. I’d like to write one adult novel and one children’s novel a year, ideally. But that could still be a long way off…

BH:      There are a lot of writers out there trying to get a publishing deal. What single piece of advice would you give them?

SP:       Learn to take criticism and develop a thick skin. This business is all about constantly being told you’re not good enough. Number one: you have to believe you are, or will be, good enough. Number two: a rejection (or in fact a bad review)is professional – nothing worse than a writer who takes it personally. Number three: if enough rejections make the same criticisms of your work then take them on board. Don’t be too proud to change your manuscript. It might make it better.

Oh – and if you’re writing for the money, then get out now. You have to be writing because the idea of not writing doesn’t compute.

BH:      Okay, stock Horror Reanimated question time: it is within your power to award the Sword of Ultimate Darkness to one piece of outstanding horror fiction, be it film, TV, a book or short story.

SP:       The Mist by Stephen King. Not the film with crass ending but the original novella.

BH:      Now you must consign the worst example of horror you have ever come across to the accursed Plague Pits where it will fester for all eternity!  

SP:       Now this is where I get shot down in flames… The Wicker Man. Yes, the original… I’ve watched it four times now because people keep telling me its a classic. It just makes me giggle…

Sorry.

You can see why I’m moving into dark thrillers…

BH:      Sacrilege! I can’t believe I’m about to put the official HR stamp on this application, but Sarah’s the boss. Into the Plague Pits goes… The Wicker Man! (not even the Neil LaBute remake, but the original! G’ah!). I’d like to thank the lovely (and very twisted) Miss Pinborough for taking the time to visit us at HR HQ and we wish her well with her exciting future projects. Don’t forget to keep checking back – other interviews are in the works…

Add comment November 20th, 2008

Rules of the Living Dead (or should zombies run?) by Bill Hussey

dawnofthedead_zombies_10797160002A fascinating and entertaining article has appeared on the Guardian website. Penned by comedy actor and writer Simon Pegg - of Shaun of the Dead fame - it is, in part, a review of last week’s E4 zom-com Dead Set.

As evidenced by his and Jessica Stevenson’s superlative sitcom Spaced, Pegg is a geek of many colours; a lover of comic books and Playstation games, horror and sci-fi movies (just don’t mention those Star Wars prequels! Even though long-time collaborator Peter Serafinowicz provided the voice for Darth Maul, Pegg is not exactly a fan of ‘Vader: the early years’). Pegg’s passion for zombie films is obvious from his work on the lovingly-crafted homage that is Shaun. I’ll never forget laughing like a nitrous oxide doped hyena during the scene in which Nick Frost’s Ed shouts down the phone ‘We’re coming to get you, Barbara!’ – a wicked little Romero in-joke. Pegg has also written a cover quote for Max Brooks’ excellent zombie holocaust novel World War Z . I was interested, then, to read his take on Dead Set.   

I won’t reprint Pegg’s views here but let’s just say he liked Charlie Brooker’s series. Liked it to the point of loving it. What stuck in Pegg’s craw was the fact that, as with many recent takes on the zombie mythos, these shambling cadavers did not… well… shamble. They ran. Not just ran, but belted about like Paula Radcliffe in search of the nearest kerb-side drain. My own view of Dead Set is that it was good – very good – but somehow lacking. I couldn’t quite place my finger on exactly what was wrong with it – Brooker is a brilliant and witty writer – until I read Pegg’s article. The problem was with the running. For a zombie movie, a running corpse destroys so much of what is special about the entire concept . Put simply, shambling = pathos and heart. Read Pegg’s article for a more eloquent explanation of what I mean.

Dead Set didn’t quite work because a primary rule had been broken. That got me thinking. Are there any other monster rules that should never be overthrown? In the article, Pegg states that werewolves shouldn’t fly. I think we can all agree on that, but should our hairy, toothsome friends always be vulnerable to silver bullets? Should they be slaves to the cycles of the moon or be free to transform at will? Can we have werewolves that don’t transform at all, but become hairy only on the inside? Are these facets of the myth so central that to write a story or produce a film without them somehow detracts from the entire exercise? (As a side note, I for one am really looking forward to Benicio Del Toro’s forthcoming Wolf Man, in which all the old rules will surely be obeyed). 

The vampire has a been a prime candidate for rule revision. That’s possibly because there is such an abundance of mythos that has been attached to the creature over the years: the stake through the heart, the trouble with mirrors, the necessity to sleep upon a layer of its native soil, the ability to turn into a bat, a wolf, mist etc, aversion to sunlight, garlic, holy water, the crucifix and, like its hirsute cousin the werewolf, silver. In some legends we have the vampire unable to cross running water or to enter a house uninvited. Sometimes he’s obsessive-compulsive when it comes to counting pebbles or grains of rice. Occasionally he doesn’t even have fangs and seems to have forgotten his lust for blood. Lots of these bits and pieces have been discarded, adapted and even added to by writers. But again I ask, are there some elements of the vampire myth that should never be tampered with? I remember watching some Eddie Izzard stand-up a few years back in which the comic was appalled by the fact that, in Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Dracula, the Count was allowed to roam around in daylight. Actually Bram Stoker does allow Dracula to walk about during the day, but in the public consciousness, as well as in most pre-Stoker myths, the vampire is vulnerable to sunlight. Although I’m an atheist through-and-through, I’m also a little dismayed by this modern trend of having vampires sneering at the cross and idly tossing crucifixes into corners. It’s always struck me that a creature so encompassed by death should be a little afraid of the possibility of judgment and damnation. As I say, I’m an atheist, and that possibility still scares the be-jesus out of me!

So, over to you: any vampire/werewolf/zombie rules you think ought to be sacrosanct? What other monsters have inviolable rules? Most importantly, should zombies run?

10 comments November 12th, 2008

The Chronic Rift by JD’L

On Saturday morning I was participating in the Chronic Rift’s latest podcast. It couldn’t have been a more appropriate activity – a roundtable discussion on the evolution of horror.

I felt sorry for those New Yorkers – it was 6 am for them! That said, they all seemed far more lucid than I. You can judge for yourselves…

http://thechronicrift.podomatic.com/player/web/2008-10-19T16_28_26-07_00

The horror chat kicks off around minute 38 but the whole podcast is great and I really enjoyed the experience.

Add comment October 23rd, 2008

THE BLOG THAT DRIPPED BLOOD BY BILL HUSSEY

I recently wrote a blog about those films that have, over the years, ‘pushed my horror button’, and it got me thinking: why not tell the good people that visit Horror Reanimated about my secret movie passion?

Don’t worry, I’m not about to delve into the darkest reaches of my twisted movie psyche. I am fully aware that the world is not yet prepared for my idea of a remake of Night of the Living Dead starring the cast of Sesame Street (‘They’re coming to get you, Big Bird!’). No, what I’m talking about is a bunch of horror movies that don’t quite make the grade as far as influencing my writing or plaguing my dreams. In short, they don’t push my horror button, baby. Instead, they dance around me wearing cheap, garish clothes and doing their best to pull scary faces. They are as camp as a Butlin’s holiday, with plots so laughable dear old William Castle would have turned his nose up at them. But, in the process of trying their very best to horrify, they show so much darn heart that you end up loving them anyway.

My passion for these poorly stitched monstrosities really began in the summer of 1999. I had been working in London throughout ’98 – long hours in a miserable little office in Whitehall. By Christmas I was starting to feel unwell. Early in the New Year, en route home on the tube, I collapsed. My opinion of Londoners was not improved by the fact that, although the carriage was crowded and I was neatly attired in suit and necktie, I hit the deck at London Bridge and wasn’t helped until we pulled into Clapham North. Cut a long story short, a nice doctor at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases on Tottenham Court Road told me that I probably had malaria. I’d picked it up while traveling through Peru a year or so back and it had incubated in my system. Those Murderous Mozzies of Machu Picchu had come back to haunt me.

After the malaria my immune system was so worn down that I suffered from ME, or post-viral fatigue syndrome, for the next six months. Aside from my mum’s battle with cancer, this experience is just about the worst thing that has ever happened to me. My decline from a relatively healthy lad of twenty to an emaciated invalid was swift. Within weeks of diagnosis, I was so physically drained that shuffling from my bed to the bathroom became impossible. I couldn’t even be carried to the toilet because, if I was touched, every muscle screamed. Eventually I couldn’t even make it to the commode positioned at the end of the bed and was forced to wear a kind of adult nappy. The muscles in my arms and legs atrophied. I lost over two stone in weight, and I was pretty skinny in those days anyway. In later years, my mum admitted that she thought I would be bedridden for the rest of my life. Worse, due to the continued wasting, she didn’t think I would live that long. Her concerns were overly gloomy – I was never in that much danger – but she was terrified. After three months, I was skeletal: a tiny form barely able to move, always cold, always shivering, never hungry, and so confused I couldn’t remember what day of the week it was. Couldn’t even remember the names of friends and family. I hardly noticed this morbid deterioration – my mind just wasn’t playing ball – but when my mum described it to me in later months, it made a big impact. I could then recall bits of it, and I think the experience found echoes in the demise of Peter Malahyde in Through A Glass, Darkly.

I was, in the end, very lucky. ME is a terrible illness which can last a lifetime. I had a course of homeopathic medication prescribed by my doctor and, whether it was due to this or my system finally rallying after the malaria, I began to get better. It took a while though and, due to the over-sleeping induced by the ME, I now found myself awake at all hours of the night. Still not strong enough to concentrate on reading, I watched a horrible amount of late night TV. It was during this time that the BBC started showing a selection of old portmanteau horror movies…

Virtually all of these films came from the 60s and 70s and were produced by Hammer-a-like studio Amicus. The portmanteau horror films of Amicus all followed a similar pattern: there would be a framing story around which five or six tales were incorporated. For example, in Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, directed by genre stalwart Freddie Francis, five men share a railway carriage from London to Bradley. They are joined by Peter Cushing’s Dr Schreck (that’s ‘terror’ in German, get it?), a man promising dark mystery and sporting a pair of unlikely eyebrows. Anyway, ol’ Doc Schreck proceeds to lay out a set of Tarot cards and, in reading the destinies of his fellow passengers, the stories are told. This was the first of a series of movies shown by the Beeb over the summer of ’99, and I was hooked from the get-go. The tales had a wonderful old world charm to them that I found absolutely spellbinding. Sure, even in 1964, stories about deadly trailing plants and voodoo curses were probably old hat, but there was real pleasure to be had in the hammy commitment of the actors (including Roy Castle and, bizarrely, DJ Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman!) and the leisurely pace of the storytelling.

The actors of Amicus were a weird bunch. In the same movie, you could get a clutch of real thesps like Denholm Elliott, Joss Ackland and Charlotte Rampling rubbing shoulders with such familiar genre faces as Cushing, Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt. Admittedly, a few of those, shall we say, better-regarded actors were past their prime and slumming it for the pay cheque. Having said that, there are some strong performances throughout. Those that spring to mind include a wonderfully ethereal Rampling in Lucy Comes To Stay, and a creepy turn from Herbert Lom in Mannequins of Horror, both from 1972′s Asylum. That film also boasts a brilliant, if barking, framing device: in order to become the titular asylum’s new head doctor (hee-hee) newcomer Robert Powell must guess which of the inmates is Dr B Starr, the former director of the asylum. The resulting interviews make up the portmanteau’s stories. Although there were a few standout performances throughout the Amicus period, one or two leave something to be desired. Case in point: a woefully miscast Jon Pertwee in The Cloak from The House That Dripped Blood. It’s true to say that Pertwee was not helped by a weak story but, by God, those fangs made him look about as scary as a headless Worzel Gummidge… Wait a minute, that was always scary!

It could be argued that these movies are too cosy to scare anyway. That age has withered and customs staled their potential to horrify. Not true, say I. After all, some of these films were scripted by none other than Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame. Sure, their taglines and posters were ludicrous – Terror Waits For You In Every Room In The House That Dripped Blood! - Death Lives In The Vault Of Horror!  - and my personal favourite – Come To The Asylum… To Get Killed! Erm, no thanks – but a few of the tales were genuinely disturbing. The aforementioned Lucy Comes To Stay is a hauntingly-told story of split personality. …And All Through The House is adapted from my beloved Vault of Horror comics and does a fine job of telling a gruesome and ironic tale of a murderous housewife (Joan Collins) getting her just deserts. In Method For Murder, Denholm Elliott is a writer plagued by visions of the psychopathic anti-hero of his latest novel. Wonderful stuff.

Night after night, I devoured these movies. I found them strangely comforting for, although they claimed to be horror stories, they came from a world both predictable and innocent. A world quite like that of childhood, in fact. At the age of twenty, having gone through a crippling illness, I took solace from anything that reminded me of more carefree days.

And so I’d like to thank Amicus. Despite their shoestring budgets, hammy acting, appalling dubbing and dire effects, they really work. Why? Maybe because they show the proper Blitz spirit. Do they grumble about the occasional bad script? Not a bit of it. Do they bemoan the fact that some of their actors are quite obviously phoning-in their performances? Do they heck. They get on with the job and they make do. That’s British horror for you, folks: sometimes unpolished, occasionally risible, but most of the time bloody brilliant!

1 comment October 16th, 2008

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