I recently watched the remake of the “Evil dead” movie and it got me thinking about the state of the horror genre and how much it has changed over the course of the last three decades or so that I have been reading horror books and watching horror movies. You see, “Evil dead” was a classic horror film that scared me so badly that I could not sleep for days after watching it. While the remake does not come anywhere near the level of the original movie, it does bring back some fond memories of yesteryear as it was a movie made with one thing in mind: to completely and thoroughly terrify the viewer. When I was younger, this was the point of horror. The bad guys, or monsters, were absolutely terrifying and wanted nothing but to bring death and destruction to anyone that they happened to wander by. This is no longer the case as the genre finds itself filled with subtext and many authors unwilling to stretch the boundaries of the genre and explore new things to fill the shadows that lurk in the corners when we turn out the lights.
I started my foray into horror literature with many of the classics and in those classics one can find not just the good, old-fashioned horror that I loved when I was younger but also the origins of the current trends in the genre. Back when I was in my formative years, I delved into the worlds of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Allan Poe. These were masters of the genre who had crafted classics that had scared generations of readers. Stoker had crafted the ultimate vampire in Dracula who was a pure monster out to take what he wanted by whatever means necessary. Poe delved deep into the supernatural to craft dark tales of horror that made every shadow come alive with menace at what could be lying within. Even Shelley, who turned the genre on its ear by casting the true monster of her classic as the human rather than the actual monster that he created, set out to illuminate the dark side of humanity that has the power to destroy everything that we hold dear in our hearts. These were straightforward tales of terror that sent chills straight to the core of the reader’s soul and left him huddling beneath the covers while waiting for dawn to light the world once more.
Somewhere along the line, the genre took a turn for the worse. This is a genre that thrives on the new and unexplored and yet it was quickly becoming nothing more than an endless stream of books and movies that were essentially the same thing done over and over. With a few exceptions, the genre that I had enjoyed so much had, in the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s, turned into a genre that was stunningly uninspiring and lacked innovation and courage. With the exception of a few select authors such as Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, and Robert McCammon, it was almost impossible for a fan of the genre to find anything new and original in the standard bookstore. The genre had seemingly dried up. The question is why this happened.
What happened is the easy part. Two transcendent talents came along that changed the genre for good. While these two were, and still are, very different from each other, they gave the fans what they were looking for. One of these talented authors was Stephen King. King had the ability and the storytelling prowess to make horror popular again. He brought the genre out from the shadows and into the mainstream. King made horror popular again. The other was Anne Rice. Through her tightly spun tales and characters that the readers could relate to with ease, Rice gave fans a new viewpoint into the world of monsters and horror. While King made the genre popular, Rice made it relevant. King made monsters acceptable and accessible to mainstream readers. Rice made those monsters real.
Stephen King and Anne Rice helped raise the horror genre from the ashes of mediocrity. Gone were the days of nameless and faceless slashers hiding in the shadows. This was not just a good thing. It was a great thing. The genre became a major force in literature and popular culture and was, for a time, rejuvenated. These two authors are rightfully lauded for their works. But then came the fall.
To be continued shortly. Please follow me on Twitter at #josenher.