The Horror Bust (That Didn’t Seem Like a Bust)

We were talking about the great horror boom of the 1980s at the Horror Drive-In message boards the other day. Most seem to think that it was the greatest era in the history of the genre. I happen to agree. I was there, and as big a fan of all things horror as you’d have been likely to find. It was an exciting time, for movies and for horror fiction. I could go on about it indefinitely, but I have something else on my mind today.

Our discussion turned to the inevitable bust that followed the boom. Many consider the Nineties to be a stagnant period for the genre, but I’m not so sure.

Granted, for those attempting to break into horror publishing, I know it was much more difficult. But for fans such as myself?

I can’t remember a single point in the Nineties where I didn’t have something good to read. Perhaps there wasn’t as much as today, or in the Eighties, but remember the old saying about how anything bigger than a mouthful is wasted?

A boom can also be looked upon as a glut, and for sure there were trashy books cluttering the bookstore shelves back then.  The good stuff, however, was never far away from my grasp.

The Nineties roared upon us as an extension of the Eighties. Splatterpunk was still going fairly strong, and Skipp and Spector were still pumping out the books in the wee years of the decade.

Robert McCammon took a long sabbatical by the middle of the decade, but he was still publishing in the early Nineties.

Stephen King, of course, has never slowed down, even if I don’t feel that the era was indicative of his best work. I did love a few of the books that came out, espcially Gerald’s Game and The Green Mile.

King’s more literary counterpart, Peter Straub, explored complexities of the human mind and crime with the Blue Rose cycle, but he ended the decade with a balls-out supernatural novel called Mr. X.

The Nineties saw the birth of what I consider to be the modern era of the small horror press. Cemetery Dance Publications had been around for a couple of years, but they really kicked into gear in 1990. At least that’s when I first saw the magazine grace the shelves of the horror section of the book and comics shop I haunted in  those days. Subterranean Press and Gauntlet Press, as well as other smaller outlets, soon followed.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that great things happened in the grunge decade. We had Dell/Abyss. That imprint sort of ushered in the transgressive horror trend, and I liked it at first, but I quickly wearied of all the trappings associated with it.

Some writers put their toes in the dark sea of horror in the Eighties, but emerged into the Nineties as some of the most important names in the field. I’m thinking of Bentley Little, Poppy Z. Brite, Norman Partridge, Nancy A. Collins, Kim Newman, Edward Lee, Douglas Clegg, Brian Hodge.

We had new writers like Jay Bonansinga, Kathe Koja, Lucy Taylor, Tom Piccirilli, Caitlín R Kiernan, Greg Kihn, Preston and Child.

Jeff Gelb and Michael Garrett kept the wheels of the genre greased with cool anthologies, most notably the erotic horror Hot Blood books.

HellnotesHellnotes! I loved that newsletter. I was slower than some to get online, so I was a hardcopy subscriber for a couple of years. Dave Silva (always better weird than plastic) and his team kept lovers of the horror world abreast of new developments on a weekly basis. I miss getting the cool little zine in my mailbox.

I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface. Horror was, as far as I am concerned, going strong in the Nineties. Yeah, some writers whose work I liked in the Eighties started to lose my interest, like Clive Barker and Dean Koontz, but these guys continued to have their legions of rabid fans.

And some writers didn’t make the cut. Times do change, and there are those who are left behind. It happens in just about any industry. It’s sad, but that’s life.

The more I contemplate it, the more I think that a bust isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s kind of like scorching the Earth to begin anew.

They say that we are in a boom right now, or that we are approaching one. If we have learned anything from history, we can expect a bust to follow. But maybe a bust might end up being a boon. It seems to me that there is more product out there than there is demand. Of course things are different now with things like CreateSpace and the ease of independent publishing. Which is, to me, are a very mixed blessing.

If there is a crash, people would suffer, and that would suck. The strong, however, will survive, and I think it might be good in the long run for horror. Just as I believe that, as much as I will always treasure my memories of the Golden Age of the 1980s, we benefited from the changes brought on by the Nineties.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of Terror, Sir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at [email protected], and at

1 thought on “The Horror Bust (That Didn’t Seem Like a Bust)”

  1. I discovered the joys of reading thanks to Horror of the early 90s. Though I didn’t have much to compare it to then, I’ve expanded my repertoire in recent years to the stuff that came before it. I agree: a boon may be great for authors & publishers, but it’s not always the best for readers. Quality over Quantity, amiright? Nice post. Thanks for voicing what I’ve been thinking for years.

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