Thursday, July 29, 2010
Yes, my pretties, it's that time again! Time for another creepy correspondence with other obsessed chroniclers of the horror genre! I hope you've got your plastic fangs at the ready, because this juicy little morsel is sure to get your black hearts thumping and your bloody mouth slobbering!
Our ghoulish guest for the day is one Will Errickson, a man about town who enjoys his literature the way he enjoys his women... reanimated, multi-tentacled, and with many, many pointy teeth.* He is a purveyor of those molding terrors of the fleshy paperback persuasion that line the shelves of the most arcane and forbidden of bookstores. Yes, Will is a lover of terror literature, and through his blog seeks to inform the masses on all the quiet shudders and slithering abominations that lie there within.
Too Much Horror Fiction was one of the very first blogs I ardently followed and I continue to gush over it to this day. Will's passion and biblio-sleuthing abilities are enough to make any Lovecraftian or Jamesian antiquarian blush in shame. So it was with great excitement that I received Will's request to go through a session of Demented Dialogues which I most graciously accepted! Be sure to read this interview as you would an ancient tome of the damned, the crackling pages making the sounds of the shadows' whispers...
*Joe Monster did not bother to check the validity of this statement.
Q: Yes, we have to suffer through the prerequisite question that I put everyone through. As a fan, lover, and chronicler of horror, what would you say is the attracting force behind the genre? Why do so many people like it even at its creepiest and grossest?
The old answers are still the best: people have always loved the sensation of fear. The love of the creepy gross-out factor is also like teenage rebellion, antisocial but social at the same time. Mainstream hit movies like Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Scream or Psycho show that virtually everyone loves that frisson of terror, if only a little bit. I just like it a lot. And honestly I don’t really get scared by horror; I just love the aesthetics of it, plus the humanizing factor of violence and how we cope with it.
Q: What was it that first attracted you to horror? Did you instantly realize that it was going to be a lifelong love of yours?
As far back as I can remember, it was there, that love, whether it was Jaws or King Kong or dinosaurs or the old Universal movie monsters when I was 4, 5, 6 years old. Then as a teenager in the ’80s, movies like Re-Animator, Evil Dead II and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, hit hard, as well as reading King, Lovecraft, and Barker: that all cemented my passion for the genre. Plus I loved its outsider status; very metal, very punk, of course.
Q: Were there any occasions, in either reading a book or watching a film, that you were positive that you were going to need a change of pants?
TV commercials for movies like The Shining or Bigfoot stuff really scared me. Later, books like the original Dracula and some early Stephen King got me good. I read Dracula in 8th grade study hall and the scene where he climbs down the castle wall head-first completely freaked me out. It was so wrong it gave me chills in the middle of a sunny classroom filled with classmates at 11 a.m.
Q: If you could be any character from horror literature or cinema, who would it be and why?
Boone from Nightbreed, based on Clive Barker’s short novel “Cabal.” The monster as hero! As it said on the book’s dustjacket, “Finally, the Night has found its hero.” Or maybe Johnny Depp in The Ninth Gate, trailing old antique occult books only to discover the Devil is Emmanuelle Seigner.
Q: Your blog is unique in that it focuses solely on horror literature. Do you like the reading experience more than the viewing experience?
Well, you never have to worry about bad FX in books. Even if it’s bad writing you can still imagine it something amazing in your head. But I couldn’t say I seriously prefer one experience over the other. I’m a bibliophile as much as a cineaste. He said, consulting his thesaurus.
Q: In your opinion, is what you imagine in your mind while reading a book more frightening than what any filmmaker can depict on screen?
Usually yes, but “frightening” is subjective; a filmmaker doesn’t need millions of dollars to make a scary movie, as I’m no Blair Witch hater. Of course I’d love to see Del Toro pull off At the Mountains of Madness, but it still probably won’t be as astonishingly full of dread as what I see when I read the book. Preferably to Iron Maiden’s song “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.”
Q: What are some of the better book-to-film adaptations that you’ve seen?
Rosemary’s Baby is still the most faithful adaptation I’ve ever seen, horror or not. David Cronenberg always does a great job, as in Crash, Naked Lunch, (two non-horror books every horror fiction fan should read) and The Dead Zone. I did like Dagon, too. The BBC version of Dracula from 1977, Count Dracula, is often regarded as the best adaptation of Stoker’s novel. The image in my blog header is from that film. And I think the people who wrote the Karloff Frankenstein movies were brilliant in taking away the monster’s ability to speak. How about book-to-song adaptation? The Ramones did a pretty amazing job with “Pet Sematary.”
Q: Your blog hones in on horror literature released during the 60’s through the 90’s. Is there any particular reason for this?
That’s the golden age of paperback horror, there was the most outrageous cover art, and the authors were putting out cool books at a fast clip. Obviously I have an inordinate fondness for it. I read so much of that stuff as a teenager, and it’s been fun revisiting those books, and finding new stuff I missed the first time around. Everybody else who blogs about vintage paperbacks covers crime/pulp fiction or erotica or romance or science fiction. Gilligan at Retrospace wondered in a post why no one covered vintage horror fiction, and that was what set me off. It was a niche waiting to be filled. I’ve even had a couple authors find my blog and comment on it, which is pretty cool.
Q: What elements make for the “perfect” cover of a horror novel?
Don’t be too obvious; try to have something to do with the story itself. I love the paperback ’Salem’s Lot and Lansdale’s Drive-In covers. The UK covers for Barker’s books are usually stellar. The old Gothic stuff, dark ladies in flowing nightgowns, Barbara Steele-style, are great too. Nothing Photoshopped, creepy kids are a horrible cliché now, no author’s name in foil-stamped lettering, no eyes staring over a forest or a lake, or vampires in high heels, which is all you see these days. It’s all so over-determined and unimaginative. Blech.
Q: Based solely on the quality of frightening output, what decade would you say had the best to offer in horror fiction?
From 1975 or so until 1985 or so, you had King at his peak, lesser-known writers like Karl Edward Wagner and Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub was putting out big novels, Barker was just starting out. The short story anthologies and magazines were incredibly prominent too. After the Dell/Abyss line folded in about 1993, I really lost interest in new horror fiction.
Q: Do you have a favorite subgenre within horror fiction?
I love novels/stories that deal with horror writers, or professors or literary types, like in most of Lovecraft’s stories; sort of self-referential horror, as in Lieber’s Our Lady of Darkness. Thomas Ligotti does it, and it’s in some of TED Klein’s stuff. There’s a novel called The City of Dreadful Night by Lee Siegel that’s a meta-novel about a professor who goes to India to study vampire lore. Michael Chabon’s mainstream novel Wonder Boys touches on this too, right in the very first paragraphs. Bill Denbrough from King’s It is probably the most obvious character of that type, though honestly I’m not a big fan of that book. He said, looking around furtively.
Q: There are some that argue that horror fiction is at its strongest in the short form. Do you agree or disagree?
Usually I agree but one of the most popular novels of the 20th century is without a doubt King’s The Stand; the exception that proves the rule. The sequence in which Larry Underwood tries to navigate the Lincoln Tunnel… 28 Days Later copped that completely. But you don’t need fully-drawn characters in horror; you just need fully-drawn horror. The reader/viewer will fill in the rest. Short stories can build to a single crescendo of horror but a novel has to sustain that, and that can be difficult.
Q: Do you typically enjoy it more when a book is out-and-out horror or when it’s a little bit more ambiguous in its classification?
I love an unapologetically full-on horror novel like Song of Kali by Dan Simmons or Live Girls by Ray Garton, but I’m a pretty big reader so I like horror that isn’t horror too. Lots of J.G. Ballard’s fiction could be classified as horror, as well as writers like Georges Bataille and the poet Charles Baudelaire. The House Next Door, by mainstream Southern fiction author Anne Rivers Siddons, is fantastic. As horror critic Douglas E. Winter put it, horror is not a genre, it’s an emotion; and it’s an emotion in everyone from Melville to Hemingway, Borges to Dostoevsky, Patricia Highsmith to Daphne Du Maurier. Horror isn’t just Jason and Freddy and the latest vampire romance at a Walmart checkout; horror can be found everywhere.
Q: Hot button! Stephen King: overrated?
It’s funny to me how King’s reputation today seems to rest more on his Dark Tower series than his horror fiction. I haven’t read a new King work since 1989 (although I liked On Writing and his son’s short stories), a couple short stories here and there but I wasn’t overly impressed. However his early novels are in my DNA now and his influence on the field is inestimable. I find it hard to be objective about writers like King, or Harlan Ellison or Clive Barker or Lovecraft, because they are so personal to me. Those guys are in my head and in my heart.
Q: Who are some of the less-than-famous writers you’ve stumbled upon that deserve more attention than they get?
I don’t read current horror but ’80s and early ’90s writers like Thomas Ligotti, Kathe Koja, and Thomas Tessier are still favorites and I don’t think modern readers would be disappointed with them. I’m glad Joe Lansdale has been getting more and more popular over the years, and most of his stuff is back in print today, although mostly he works in crime fiction today.
Q: Have any horror fiction pet peeves?
Overly happy endings, terrible covers by artists who never read the book (although that’s probably the publisher’s fault), horror that seeks to comfort people by killing off the monster, fonts that are too large (you wouldn’t believe how often I see that), writers who try too hard to sound cool or edgy, or ones who sound too stodgy. And anything with a Twilight Zone twist at the end.
Q: At times it appears that horror books contain more grisly and horrific elements than some of the “extreme” films that are currently released. Why do you think books can get away with this? Does this brutal content necessarily make for a better reading experience?
There’s no MPAA rating system for books. Reading American Psycho in 1991 is still one of the more disturbing reading experiences I’ve ever had but it was leavened with black humor. Honestly, horror isn’t even the most brutal genre going; James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia are some of the darkest books I’ve ever read. Every horror fan should read those. But if the writer can depict awful violence with skill and oddly, good taste, then I’m all for it and yes, that makes for a better reading experience.
Q: In a similar vein, horror authors tend to think outside the box, coming up with new, fresh, and terrifying ideas that serve as reminders that the genre still has massive amounts of potential. Do you think filmmakers are less willing to take these kinds of chances? Would that explain why horror films based on books are only made when the source novel has proven to be at least somewhat successful?
Movies cost too much money to be truly innovative. I don’t think horror filmmakers have utilized the literature enough. Although I just heard Koja’s The Cipher is being adapted into a movie, 20 years after publication.
Q: Let’s be honest. Horror still has its haters. Do you think the general public will ever fully accept the genre or is it simply one of those things that weren’t meant to be?
In a way I myself hate horror because it often is reduced to lowest common denominator junk. But when it works, as in Bride of Frankenstein, At the Mountains of Madness, Pet Sematary, The Birds, or Haunting of Hill House, it has an illicit power and strange beauty no other genre can touch. Elsa Lanchester as the Bride is as graceful and feline and alluring and mysterious as Audrey Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman, and I mean it.
Okay, now it’s time to get funky. And by funky I mean I’m going to ask you some really weird questions.
Q: Has there ever been a book so terrible that you couldn’t finish it?
No, a bad book almost begs me to finish it, or at least skim through it, but a lot of books cause me a vast indifference, which is worse in its way. Still the worst book that I’ve skimmed just because it boggled my mind in its terribleness was R.L. Stine’s 1995 novel, Superstitious. I couldn’t believe that an adult man could try to pass that off as “writing.”
Q: Horror film aficionados typically have a list of movies that are so-bad-they’re good. Have you ever encountered that type of thing in any of the fiction you’ve read?
A lot of the splatterpunk fiction has dated poorly, mainly because the writers were trying to be so au courant and blasé and bad-ass about extreme violence and making a “statement.” But there’s an energy and courage there you can’t deny. I’m enjoying rereading those books but it’s not fair to say they’re so bad they’re good. Bad writing is just bad writing and I take no real pleasure in that.
Q: While we’re on the subject, got any cinematic guilty pleasures as well?
My girlfriend, who was a great help in this interview, says I have a fetish for movies, and things in general, that I hate. I refuse to feel guilty about loving horror, so my guilty pleasures are elsewhere. The worst movie I’ve seen is Smokey and the Bandit III. But I will watch it every time it’s on and lately HBO has been playing it a lot. That is some cringe-inducing shit. Most bad horror movies are just difficult and boring to sit through.
Q: As far as you can remember, what was the worst/most embarrassing Halloween of your life?
I’ve missed a few Halloweens because I was too lazy to dress up, missed a few parties I heard about later, even one at an old house of mine where a Bettie Page got a spanking by a priest in front of the entire party. Also, one year I dressed up as K-Fed. Oh, yeah, and another year within recent memory I dressed up as Dracula, fake fangs and fancy cape, and felt like the dorkiest dude at the bar. Don’t believe True Blood or Anne Rice, fangs just give you a doofy smile all the time and you don’t feel hot or sexy at all.
Q: You’ve lost your tickets to the Adrienne Barbeau Vs. Jamie Lee Curtis Cage Match! What do you do, bro?
Something like this really happened to me in 1989: my friends and I had tickets to see the Ramones in Philly but the club wouldn’t let us in because we were underage. We were hanging out looking despondent when these guys came out of a pizza shop and told us to go around back and bang on the fire exit. Sure enough, it worked; somebody opened the door without the alarm going off. A well-known locals trick, apparently. But we’d scalped the tickets before we got in so we actually made money! So I would just try that again.
Q: If I could strand you in the snowy wastelands of the Arctic (and don’t think I can’t), what would be the one horror novel/collection that you would request to bring with you?
Something I could read over and over again, horror but with a real human element; let’s say King’s Different Seasons, or Barker’s Imajica.
Q: What is with your unhealthy Jaws obsession?
My girlfriend said it’s a healthy obsession! It’s a nightmare thing, of course, shark attacks and all that, but come on, that is one incredibly well-made film, easily one of the greatest of all time. Of. All. Time. And while it’s an adventure movie too, at its base it is about the most primal of human fears: that we are not special, that we are not made by a god that cares for us; no, we are only meat to be eaten by other creatures and nothing besides. I find that empowering and humbling all at once.
Q: Have you ever considered writing fiction yourself?
I have, and have done so, but I think I mentioned in a post that I was a better reader than writer. I’m not a bad writer; I just can’t finish a story. Unless somebody out there is interested in a screenplay based on Gilles de Rais.
Q: It’s the end of the movie and Haley Joel has just told you that you’ve been dead this entire time. Have any words for our viewers?
I guess no one who ever saw that movie watched an episode of the Twilight Zone. Although it fooled me because I first saw just the middle of it on cable and thought the wife was really dead, so when I watched it all the way through I was concentrating on that.
Q: The chef has informed you that the stripper was accidentally baked into the cake. Do you keep eating?
But of course! But watch out for silicone.
Q: The climax of King Kong vs. Godzilla kind of upset me. What should I do to ease my depression?
Watch the 1933 original.
Q: Was it these same emotional issues that drove me to actually pay to see The Ring 2 in theaters?
Well, look, watching Naomi Watts explains a lot. I’ll give you a pass.
Q: If you had ONE chance to shout ONE sentence to ONE horror personality, what would all those ONE’s be?
To Clive Barker: “Please get back to writing epic horror/fantastique novels that only you can do!”
Q: What the hell ARE you talking about, Willis?
Arnold Jackson, master of rhetoric. I think of that as a Zen koan.
Q: Do you have any last words for our readers regarding the horror genre or other related insanity?
There’s too much good stuff out there to waste time with the bad. He said, turning on Smokey and the Bandit III again. Just kidding. I love horror and I love introducing people to stuff they might’ve missed, or reintroducing them to stuff they’d long forgotten about. That’s the main point of my blog, I think, for me and for anyone reading it.
More wonderful words from another avid fan! Let's all thank Will for spending his time with us and filling us all in on the awesome world of horror fiction. Be sure to stop by his site; any fan of horror and literature will be introduced to a darkly fantastic world that they may have never known before. Be sure to tell Will that I sent ya! If you would like to participate in an episode of Demented Dialogues, be sure to email me at joemonster25 [AT] yahoo [dot] com. And as always, stay depraved.