See how the golden era of horror fiction came to its downfall, leaving us with poor attempts to outdo The Silence of the Lambs.
WW spoke with Grady Hendrix about the significant shift that horror fiction underwent from the '70s to the end of the '80s, moving from tailored horror stories for adults into a genre that focused on a more youthful audience.
Author Grady Hendrix has written horror fiction novels like Horrorstör and My Best Friend's Exorcism. He has also done reviews of horror novels for Tor and has been an avid fan of horror films. But for his latest project, Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction, he read more than 300 horror novels to chart the history of the most dense era of horror fiction.
Before he comes to Portland on his tour, Hendrix shares his knowledge with WW, as to where he felt the horror genre is heading, and allowed us to see a peak into the horror revival.
Willamette Week: Why did you write Paperbacks from Hell?
Grady Hendricks: I'm a film guy first and foremost and in film there's a long tradition of finding really obscure movies and to champion them and show them to other people, and I didn't see that quite so much in books. And yet were all surrounded by these monstrous, enormous, labyrinth-themed used books stores. You guys have Powell's, but there's even more than that, there's Half Price Books and thousands of paperback flop shops all across the country. And there's really no way to understand what's in there. These authors have disappeared. They may have been best-sellers in their day, but they aren't known now. So I had started reading these to figure out what's out there. I mainly concentrated on horror because that is mainly what I write, and it was a place to start. I was writing columns for each one for Tor, [An online science fiction magazine published by Tor books]..My editor called and he really liked the columns, and proposed writing a full book of these. And to me it sounded like a big mound of cocaine. They didn't have to ask me twice.
How did you and Portland horror fiction blogger Will Errickson get connected?
I actually knew of him through his blog. I got him some work with Tor because I thought he would be a great person to also be writing about this stuff. The columns I had written had a huge readership so they were really happy to bring him on board… We've known each other for years, but only by email and phone… [This will be] The first time Will and I have met face to face.
What's significant about the '70s and '80s horror genre?
It's weird, horror kind of mutated. In the '70s horror was super adult; it was for grown ups. It was The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, The Amityville Horror. As the '80s came in, horror movies got younger. It stopped being The Exorcist movies and they started being movies for kids, like flashers, Like Friday the 13th and stuff. Those films were about teenagers, and you had authors start writing more about kids, like VC Andrews writing her Flowers in the Attic books where the main characters are kids. Stephen King writes about kids a ton. You had horror getting less serious and more self-referential in the '80s. At the same time it was getting gorier and sort of funnier. At the end of the decade, after The Silence of the Lambs came out and it was such a huge hit, everyone started doing serial killers and unfortunately what that did is that you had a ton of books about mostly women being raped and murdered in really disgusting ways. There was too many books coming out that were kind of sloppy, they were being written really fast to hit the shelves quickly with less editorial oversight. They were gorier and gorier as people tried to out-shock each other. The violence got really sexual and just creepy.
Where is horror fiction heading?
One thing that is happening is that it's getting a lot more diverse. You have a lot more women writing horror now. Although there have always been women writing horror, like horror I think—especially horror fiction—is a woman's genre. The person who basically founded it was Mary Shelly.. A lot of the big names in horror have always been women. But now you are having a lot more women come into it…Horror really did in the mid-'80s start to become the province of white dudes. You always had some women in there, and very few African American authors back then and you are seeing more now.
Is there a horror fiction revival occurring?
Absolutely. I do think it all started because of money, it's one of those genres that survives because you can do it with a very low budget. But if you look at the big horror movies of the last 20 years, obviously horror fiction and horror movies are very different, they are made on a very low budget that really resonate with people, you know: Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Saw, for better or for worse, Insidious. I think people realize that horror is really about digging into what scares people and horror movie makers and horror novelists have to deal with that…Horror gets no proposition, it's either scary or it's not. You're either going to scare people, which is really a personal thing, you have to sit and think, 'What scares people, and what scares me.' I think you do see a lot of garbage, but you do see when it actually works, like Get Out. Because [Get Out] was spoken so personally and because it was something that wasn't being said in general, it resonates with people on this huge level.
GO: Grady Hendrix will speaking at Powell's at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton. October 12, 7 pm. Grady will be joined by Portland blogger Will Errickson.