The State of the Horror Address: October 2017

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Horror is having a stellar year in 2017. Last year, many prophesized the death of horror, the death of the horror novel, the death of the horror film, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes of all those burned dreams, we find that horror is not only alive and well, but kicking ass and taking names in ways we never expected. If my inbox is any indication of the state of the horror novel, then we’re in good shape. There are too many good books to review, and that’s not a complaint, it’s a good thing.

So many perspectives, so many voices, so many ways to be scared.

We’ve seen mid-list authors achieve critical acclaim with the big publishers. Names like Paul Tremblay, Ania Alhborn, Bracken McLeod, Stephen Graham Jones, and Jeremy Robert Johnson immediately spring to mind. We find their stories rich in character, strong in voice, and willing to take readers to the limits of their imagination to thrill them while tugging heart-strings with a relatable emotional core. As the last ten years have shown us, readers want more characters they find nuanced and complex, flawed yet realistic. We can expect to see more stories like this as writers find themselves inspired to dig deeper for characters that resonate with readers, and the larger publishers become more willing to take a chance on a fresh voice that can go the distance.

Small press continues to dominate the market with more variety and quality than ever before. If you’re looking for the newest voices in horror, look no further than JournalStone, Word Horde, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, and Grey Matter Press, just to name a few. The editors at these publishing houses have a keen eye for talent, and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries to deliver horror covering current topics with compelling characters we can’t get enough of. Here, story matters most, and they certainly “avoid what’s been done to death”, daring to navigate the dangerous landscapes of our nightmares.

Both the big 5 publishers and smaller presses are embracing diversity now more than ever before. Horror needs women writers like Priya Sharma, Nadia Bulkin, and Gemma Files; African-American writers like Victor LaValle, N.K. Jemisin, Chesya Burke; Hispanic writer’s such as David Bowles, Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Asian writers such as Han Kang, Kazuki Sakuraba, and Fuminori Nakamura.  Horror crosses all boundaries and territories; it is an emotion no one is immune to. For horror to thrive, we need story-tellers from all over the world, each offering a perspective we haven’t seen before, a unique voice that shatters our worldview and reveals reality in its most fragile and unstable state.

Film remains a tough arena, despite the recent success of Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. It’s been a long time since Tinsletown has seen a box-office record breaking horror film, so many studios will do their best to ride on the coat-tails of IT with varying results. For every horror film success, two horror films will bomb, as shown by the failings of Universal’s The Mummy, and Columbia’s Flatliners remake. Universal is not moving forward with their plans to revitalize their classic movie monsters, with production of Bride of Frankenstein scrapped for the time being. Recent offerings like Alien: Covenant and mother! polarized audiences, yet show a willingness of the studios to work with both old and new source material that can still draw in the star power. Premium networks like Netflix are embracing horror titles by the truck full, with Josh Malerman’s Bird Box green-lighted for adaptation with Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich, and recently acquiring the U.S. film rights to the adaptation of Adam Nevill’s The Ritual. Smaller studios like A24 continue to impress with their efforts, and much like their publishing counterparts, find that audiences still care about the story and the characters that inhabit those story worlds more than anything else.

Fortunately, there’s enough horror on television to last a lifetime. Oh wait, that’s the news channels. Sorry, I digress. The good news is horror on television is stronger than ever. AMC’s The Walking Dead has set the pace for networks to find their own series to adapt. The results vary, as one would expect, but there are distinctive successes like Supernatural, The Exorcist, Stranger Things, Channel Zero, Ash vs. The Evil Dead, and the upcoming season of The X-Files to keep us busy. Newer shows like David Fincher’s Mindhunter sound extremely hopeful, while other properties like AMC’s Preacher continue to pave the way for cross genre horror. This area is so successful, we can expect to see Hannibal returning in some form sooner rather than later, as well as newer series such as Joe Hill’s Locke and Key. Len Wiseman’s Underworld and David Cronenberg’s Scanners appear to be in the early planning stages. The one thing we can count on is television’s desire to explore horror in all forms. Despite the cancelation of the Stephen King’s The Mist series, the networks continue to invest deeply in the horror genre, drawing top-notch directors and A-list talent where film cannot.

With all these excellent arenas for writers to showcase their horror wares, we can expect to see familiar tropes returning in ways we haven’t seen before. Genre-mashups remain a good way to show the many faces of horror, throwing somewhat tired concepts such as the ‘coming-of-age/vampire story’ into a new light, occasionally revealing something imaginative and, dare we say, original. Current success stories show that readers and audiences are starved for original content, forcing writers to push their thinking caps down to bring the old horrors back to life. Let’s face it, there’s really nothing new under the sun except for the way the story is presented to us, and it’s fun to revisit the classic concepts with different perspectives and complicated story-lines that flirt with our comfort zones.

Creatives obviously aren’t threatened by the ‘horror is dead’ lament. Instead, we are challenged. Some might say it’s popular once again due to our current conservative political landscape, a general pushback to restriction and suppression of imagination. But is that really what’s happening? Writers and directors certainly aren’t dumbing horror down, and they aren’t catering to the average reader and theater audience mentality. On the contrary, they are clinging to intelligent storytelling, regardless of what the critics say. Horror cannot exist without characters making bad decisions, and it’s the outcome of those bad decision that truly scare us. By embracing the most open definition of horror, creatives are using every resource to explore our deepest, darkest fears. There will be missteps along the way, that’s inevitable, but those that truly care about horror will continue to pump more blood into the genre, keeping it alive to reign in our nightmares, hopefully for years to come.

 

BOB PASTORELLA


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