When I first began reading horror fiction, most of it was populated by educated, successful characters. Writers were a popular choice. I was fine with it, and I still am, but by the mid-eighties the genre needed a jolt from a different demographic. John Skipp and Craig Spector gave it to us.
With the publication of The Light at the End we had characters from another class and fiction designated for a different demographic. Those who barely made it through high school. Or didn’t get a diploma at all. The disenfranchised, the ones who were dealt a bad hand from the start. People like me and my friends, in other words.
Many of the people I grew up with had ideals, but most lost sight of them. Bitter disappointment after disappointment hardened our hearts. We partied to celebrate our youth and to be free of the constraints of society, but the partying quickly began to take a toll, and burnout set in. We were more concerned with the next beer, the next gore movie, the next gorge-out buffet than bettering the world or ourselves.
It’s in vogue for horror novels to take place in the 1980s. Fans rightly revere it as the Golden Age of the genre, both for film and fiction. The genre has a long history, but the building blocks of modern horror were laid in the eighties.
Naturally I am fond of the trend. I was an unabashed fan then as I am now. However I am all-too-often disappointed in current horror fiction set in the ’80s.Continue Reading
Tobe Hooper was not a man. He was a God who walked the Earth for too few years.
Hooper did a lot of things in his time here, but he will always be remembered, be cherished, for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. TCM is a strong candidate for the greatest horror movie ever made. It’s the Crown Jewel of the 70’s exploitation era. No other film can touch it.Continue Reading
Richard Laymon is one of the most controversial authors in the horror genre. I don’t see him discussed so much anymore, but at one time his work was hotly debated.
Many called Laymon one of the greatest writers we had. Others derided him as a hack and a sexist. Me, I think it’s just as ludicrous to cite Richard Laymon as one of the best as it is to claim he was a bad writer. He knew how to pace a novel, and his plots are always complicated and surprising. Laymon spent time developing his characters before he threw them into the maelstrom.Continue Reading
Horror was in a time of transformation in 1994. John Skipp and Craig Spector’s final novel, Animals, had been published the previous year. The original Splatterpunk era was over. Necro Publications and the underground hardcore horror fiction wave was a couple of years ahead. Cemetery Dance had spearheaded the small press revolution, but it was still gaining momentum. The biggest thing in the genre, other than King and Barker of course, was the Dell/Abyss line of postmodern horror paperbacks.
I liked some of the Abyss titles and authors. Poppy Z. Brite and Kathe Koja were and are favorites. I liked Brian Hodge and Dennis Etchison. However, the books began to wear on me after a while. It seemed like some of the writers were trying too hard to be hip. I didn’t care for novels by Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, and Jessica Amanda Salmonson. I lost faith in the Dell/Abyss brand and stopped buying the books.Continue Reading
Enter the Wayback Machine and go back to 1984. I was still shrugging off the science fiction habit I had all my life and becoming a full-fledged horror fan. I read authors like Grant, Straub, Wilson, Etchison, Campbell. And of course Stephen King. When I finally got around to reading him, my reading life changed forever. Pet Sematary had just been released in paperback. Ahead were wonders like The Talisman, Thinner, Skeleton Crew, and It.
Horror was in a state of flux. In the movies, the slasher era was cycling down. In ’84 we had The Mutilator, Splatter University, The Initiation, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. A Nightmare on Elm Street was ushering in a new breed of horror. Stephen King adaptations were in a bit of a lull, as disappointing productions like Children of the Corn and Firestarter hit the screens. Bigger and better things were ahead.Continue Reading
To say that Robert McCammon is one of the best living storytellers is to belabor the obvious. I’m sure there are a few unfortunates who dislike his work, but nearly everyone I’ve ever met has practically worshiped it.Continue Reading
The obvious, and most popular answer, is of course Stephen King. I almost agree, but King has done too many different types of fiction to be stigmatized as merely a horror writer. A lot of it can even be construed as science fiction. Especially when one considers how psi talents were an SF staple for years and years.
Despite my love of his work my answer is not Stephen King. I’d have to go with the inimitable Ramsey Campbell.Continue Reading
I read all kinds of fiction. Horror new and old, classic science fiction, modern domestic suspense, mainstream, whatever suits my fancy. There’s a special place in my heart of hearts for small town horror. The good stuff from the late seventies and early eighties. Charles L. Grant and his Oxrun Station stories come most immediately to mind. There’s Rick Hautala’s Maine. Matthew J. Costello and his early paperbacks. Peter Straub and the Chowder Society. Alan Ryan, Lisa Tuttle, Chet Williamson, A.R. Morlan, Al Sarrantonio, and T.M. Wright all set stories in cozy small towns. Let’s not forget Mr. King and his Castle Rock fiction.Continue Reading
I like a lot of new horror fiction. I just recently read one of the best, if not the best, novel in years: The Last House on Needless Street.
I never want to stop reading current writers, but I spend a lot of time back in my roots. I’m talking about the early 1980s. Post Stephen King, but pre-Splatterpunk. A time of small towns, ancient evil, diabolical children, delightfully garish paperback covers, and bookstores everywhere that still had horror sections.
It didn’t take a lot to please me. I trusted blurbs from other writers! That alone shows how different a time it was.Continue Reading
No one — no one — has ever done it better than Peter Straub. I admit that some of his work leaves me a little bit cold, but when Straub is on, he is on.
Not everyone agrees. I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t read Peter Straub, or that he simply isn’t for them. The thing about his writing is, it takes effort. Most worthwhile things do require determination and patience, but the effort pays off. He isn’t an easy writer, but the rewards are well worth the investment.Continue Reading
I first heard of and begin reading fiction from John Skipp and Craig Spector in the mid-1980s. That era is still my favorite period of the horror genre. Thanks to Stephen King, horror had been doing pretty big business, but by 1986 things were really getting wild. For most people it all started with Skipp and Spector’s The Light at the End, a new kind of horror novel, and a vampire story for a hip young readership.
The Light at the End was a radical departure from the horror fiction that came before it. Skipp and Spector’s characters were people I knew. People I partied with. There was influence from classic horror, to be sure, but these were people who listened to punk and metal. They were weaned on midnight movies, Frank Zappa, William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson.Continue Reading
I first saw Joe Bob Briggs when he was on The Movie Channel. This was in 1986, before he even had his own weekly show on the network. My initial impression was something like, “Who is this chicken-fried cornball?” I was not much of a fan of redneck humor.
I didn’t give JBB a chance until I stayed up late one Friday to watch David Cronenberg’s The Brood. It was on The Movie Channel, and at first I was disappointed to see that hillbilly hayseed doing an introduction. I watched, not wishing to miss the opening credits of The Brood. I was taken aback when Joe Bob said some fairly astute things about David Cronenberg. He obviously wasn’t another braindead movie host going through the paces.Continue Reading
2020. As I write this, the new year and new decade are seven hours away. I think back to the years and years I have spent as a horror reader, and I am reflecting on the one moment when it all crystallized and became embedded into my soul.
I’d have to say the year was 1984. Thirty-six long years ago. Years that brought joy beyond belief, heartbreak, laughs, fun, agony, laughs, tears. All of this and lots more.Continue Reading
I’ve read a lot of books. Some have been modest little stories; entertaining, but slight. And that’s fine. Others are written by craftspeople. Meticulous prose with riveting plots. Then there are writers who elevate fiction into works of art. Elizabeth Engstrom falls into the latter category.
I first encountered the work of Elizabeth Engstrom in a book called When Darkness Loves Us. I heard that Engstom had been mentored by the great Theodore Sturgeon, and that alone was enough to convince me to give it a try. When Darkness Loves Us is a collection of two novellas. That’s common today, but back in 1985 it was nearly unthinkable. Especially for a virtually unknown author.
Both stories in When Darkness Loves Us are excellent, but the title piece is more than that. It is a masterpiece.
As much as I love When Darkness Loves Us, it isn’t my favorite Engstrom. One of her novels hit me harder, in the places that really count. That novel is called Lizard Wine.Continue Reading