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Topic: "Because These are Horror Times" by John Skipp

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Subject: "Because These are Horror Times" by John Skipp
Date Posted: 6/10/2009 6:30 PM ET
Member Since: 6/7/2009
Posts: 12
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John Skipp is one of the fathers of splatterpunk horror -- ultra violent, gory stuff. He semi-recently posted a blog about horror which I think is really cool. I though you'all might like to read it. Here it is.

BECAUSE THESE ARE HORROR TIMES

 

(A PERSONAL MANTRA THAT WORKS FOR ME, AND WHICH YOU ARE MORE THAN WELCOME TO SHARE)

by John Skipp

Ever since my return to active duty in the horror field – after nearly a dozen years gone – one of the biggest questions people keep asking me is:

“So… how has it changed?” (By which they mean the business, and the genre as a whole.)

It’s almost like I’m some fantastical ancient wise man – from a golden, distant, fabled land (as it turns out, the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s) – who could somehow fill in all the disparate, desperate blanks. And maybe tell us where we’ve gone wrong.

For the first year or so, my basic answer was, “Well, you tell me! Cuz, frankly, I was away, and you probably know better than I do.”

In the many moons since, I’ve been filled in on the business transitions. The big press. The small press. The dollars, and such. And yes, those things have changed.

I’ve been wading through the new contestants, sussing out the vets who hung in there, swingin’.

I’ve taken notes, and taken names. The study remains ongoing.

But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed that is glaringly different from my previous heyday, it is this:

A CONFIDENT CULTURAL SENSE OF PURPOSE.

And this strikes me as incredibly strange.

Please allow me to explain.

When I go to conventions – even really FUN conventions, full of energy and enthusiasm and awesome people, everywhere – there is a weird sense of meandering, amongst both creators and fans. Like we don’t know where we’re going, with this. All we know is that we like it.

It’s like the classic bit from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, where Flygirl asks, “Why do they keep coming here?” (Here being the mall.)

And Flyboy answers, “They don’t know. Memory. Instinct. All they know is that it used to be a very important part of their lives.”

Wow.

Online, it’s the very same thing: even here, and on my dearly beloved Shocklines.

A great enthusiasm, but no real sense of purpose (unless you count BECOMING SUCCESSFUL, which is everybody’s aim).

But, friends?

That just ain’t good enough.

You know why?

BECAUSE THESE ARE HORROR TIMES.

Have you looked around lately? People are scared out of their minds. And with fairly good reason, by and large. Because life on Earth keeps getting scarier and scarier.

And the only people who haven’t noticed the difference are the ones who were ALREADY scared out of their minds.

Do I really have to mention Iraq, Katrina, avian flu, the hilariously-named “war on terror”, and a couple other thousand fucking things that I could name?

In the face of all this, my question becomes: “Whaddaya mean, horror is dead?”

I mean, are you kidding me?

Horror is everywhere we look. There seems to be more of it all the time. Turn on the news for one quick millisecond. What are you looking at?

More horror.

Which begs the question: Why isn’t horror the most popular genre on Earth, at this moment?

Hollywood is responding, in its Hollywood way: largely through remakes of films that were important back when horror films were important. Like, say, the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

Or, on the other hand, by remaking recent Asian films (which had their own heyday of wild originality, before succumbing to their own fresh slew of clichés).

Or just making movies out of video games. Or killing teenagers and nice families some more. And yadda yadda yadda.

That said: they are enjoying considerable success, even despite their considerable lameness.

Why?

BECAUSE THESE ARE HORROR TIMES.

Meanwhile, New York publishing strikes me as stunningly out-of-whack. They are not riding this same whirlwind of human terror into bestselling box-office bonanza-ness. Despite the considerable writerly talent at play.

And they should be. Oh, yes, they should.

Why?

BECAUSE THESE ARE FUCKING HORROR TIMES.

God damn it, people! In my nearly 50 years on Earth, I have NEVER seen America so scared.

And if America is this scared, just imagine how it feels to be ALMOST ANYWHERE ELSE.

Which is why I would urge all serious proponents of horror fiction, and horror film, to rise to the occasion.

In other words: CREATE HORROR THAT MATTERS.

That addresses these times.

That is maybe even USEFUL, in terms of processing all this horrifying data.

And maybe even finding ways out of this mess.

If you can make yourself useful, as well as ornamental, you might just have something to offer.

It’s something to shoot for.

I swear to God.

Insofar as I can tell, horror is coolest when it tells the truth, so straight up that there’s no way to dodge it.

Horror is coolest when it shakes us out of our zombie-like somnambulance, and takes us to a deeper place.

There will certainly always be a demand for dumb escapist horror. I used to call it “candy-ass horror”, but I’m a lot less judgemental now.

Now I just call it “comfort food horror”. And leave it at that.

“Comfort food horror” is zombies and vampires and werewolves and ghosts and whatnot, pretty much divorced from deeper metaphorical resonance (pretty much divorced, in fact, from anything but “Omigod! How will our hero, Dan, escape the basement full of mummies who seek to wrap him up, and turn him into a mummy, and stuff?”).

It’s fun, but it’s a Chef Boyardee kind of fun. It’s like trying to be eight years old again, and going, “WOOO! That monster SURE WAS SCARY!”

That said: it’s cheap and plentiful, and always an option.

But if you want to light a fire under horror’s ass that illuminates the world – and lifts this field into a new glory day – then I recommend that you put your pedal to the metal.

BECAUSE THESE ARE HORROR TIMES.

And if we don’t play ‘em right, then we have screwed the pooch, and have no one to blame but ourselves.

You want horror fiction to lift itself out of the ghetto, and turn into something that’s both respected and financially viable?

Then ADDRESS THE HORROR OF THESE TIMES. Address the living shit out of it. Tell truths so hard, and so true, and so accurate, that people don’t roll their eyes in dismissal.

Instead, they say, “THANK YOU! Thanks for telling the truth. Thanks for making sense of the terror I feel every day. Thanks for putting this shit in perspective.

“Thanks for making me strong.”

And that’s the bottom line, boys and girls. Horror fiction is survivalist fiction. Whether it’s showing you a doomsday scenario from which there is no escape, and therefore laying the blame squarely at your feet — or encouraging you to cultivate personal bravery in the face of horror, in order to somehow transcend it – the ultimate aim of the best horror fiction is to MAKE YOU COME TO GRIPS WITH THIS SHIT.

Everything else is a pat on the head, or a goose on the buttocks. A scream of useless rage, or a bland sugar coating.

You know why most horror isn’t scary any more? Because that shit ain’t scary. If you walk up to a victim of Katrina or 9/11, tap them on the shoulder, put on a plastic monster mask, and say “Boo!”, do you think they will scream in terror?

No. They’ll probably punch you in the fucking head, and ask you why you’re wasting their time.

Because that’s not scary. THIS is scary. REAL LIFE is scary.

Do the math.

If you can put the two together, you just might bust into the goldmine. Because if you tap the fears of this age, and turn ‘em into genuine entertainment, you are preaching to a choir so huge that everybody’s singin’.

Why? Say it loud, say it proud, boys and girls:

BECAUSE THESE ARE HORROR TIMES.

This is as close to a rallying cry as you are apt to get from me, at this juncture.

So why do I write horror?

I am here to try to help make some sense of all this.

You know why?

BECAUSE THESE ARE HORROR TIMES.

And that is my humble recommendation for the night.

Hope you take it to heart.

Yer good pal,
Skipp