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Blood, Guts and Brains!

There's a strange assumption floating around out there that fans of the horror genre are a bunch of ghoulish sadomasochists who thrill to the sight of gushing blood.

But there's so much more to us than that. Immaturity is closely associated with the terror mode of storytelling, and the avalanche of crappy scare flicks that Hollywood churns out like shavings from a wood carver's knife doesn't help our case. But I still lay the lion's share of blame on the shoulders of the critics who refuse to look any deeper into the world of artistic fright mongering than the latest "Saw" film.

In fact, I'm not sure some people realize that horror is a literary genre with a distinguished pedigree, and those who do, tend to forget that it didn't die in the gutters of Baltimore along with Edgar Allan Poe. A notable exception is the attention Stephen King's work has garnered in literary circles (finally). But he's just that: an exception. He's not really a horror writer, according to those who feel the need to justify their appreciation for his work. His novels have depth. They're not just all blood and vomit. I'd actually read a novel called "Blood and Vomit," so I may not be representative here, but come on! Anyone who writes something like "Pet Sematary" is a horror writer with a capital H. Are we eye to eye? Excellent.

Some of the most highly regarded writers to put pen to paper have tried their hand (or proven themselves masterful) at the tale of terror, of course: Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare (in more than one of his tragedies), Ambrose Bierce ... It's been a difficult form for serious writers to ignore, if it's a form at all. Douglas E. Winter has been quoted as saying that horror isn't even a genre, but an emotion (most recently in Cemetery Dance #58 if you must know). Not what the marketing department at Barnes and Noble wants to hear, but it's got pizzazz.

I generally come at it from the other side of the property. Instead of denying that horror is a definable genre, I tend to think that all fiction falls, at least loosely, into one genre or another, but I've covered that topic elsewhere in the digital annals of Fearfodder, so let's get back on track before I seal the crypt door on this thing.

Orson Welles once called "Dracula" the best novel of its kind. When he said that, in preface to the Mercury Theater's 1938 radio performance of the story, he may have been right. And the book remains a powerful religious work with flashes of real poetry. But unlike the majority of domestic British novels from the 19th century, "Dracula" has actually been outdone. An offhanded short list of writers who have one-upped Mr. Stoker's master work on one chilling level or another might include such names as Richard Matheson, Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, Shirley Jackson, Clive Barker, and yes, Stephen King.

This, I hope, has taken us a long way from the one-note thrills of Jason Voorhees and Madman Marz. These gentlemen have their place, don't get me wrong. Their bloody exploits are appetizers and snacks for the horror aficionado, buckets of fun for the casual moviegoer. But they no more reflect horror's literary side than Coppola's embarrassing adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula." And the movies are never as scary as the books anyway, because—to paraphrase something Clive Barker said a long time ago—in a theater you're with your fellow man, no matter how bad things get. Writers get you when you're alone.

Rest in peace. I'm outta here.—Pete Mesling

Posted by Pete on May 9, 2008 1:32 AM
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