She said, He said: Horror

Red Tash and Jack Wallen battle it out on the topic of Horror. Let’s drop the gauntlets of doom and see who comes up breathing.

1. With regards to fiction, what makes good horror?

She Said: Such a great question. What is great horror? Something that keeps you awake at night, something you can’t stop reading, and even though it disturbs you. When I think of the scariest book I’ve ever read, I immediate name “IT” by Stephen King. I was really busy with my first semester of college when I read that. Totally challenging workload, but I could not tear myself away from IT to read anything else. And that is one humdinger of a book.

A lot of new horror repulses me. Anything about sawing off parts or sewing them back together, I ain’t up for. And the visuals can be overwhelming in movies, too. I think really good horror–great horror, even–isn’t obvious whatsoever. It’s more subtle. It’s more grounded in reality. White Noise, about EVPs, for instance? That topic still reduces me to my bare neuroses. So does the Bell Witch. Stuff like that paired with fantastic writing is a win/win.

He Said: Great horror, to me, makes me rethink how I’ve felt about the world around me and how fragile the human condition is. The mind, the heart, and the human body can so easily be shattered — no matter how strong and resilient it is. If I’ve read a good horror tale and I leave it thinking “What in the fuck just happened to me?”, that is the sign of a great scare. I want horror to change me, to redraw reality in ways no one has ever thought of before.

2. What draws you to horror?

She Said: Growing up, I never turned to horror with the kind of consistency that I turned to fantasy. I simply would fall into it, read the premise of a book, and give it a go. Stephen King was one of my favorite writers (and still is), and I would go on a tear and read King book after King book after King book. I’m so glad Uncle Steve blessed us with such prolific writing sprees. Not all his books were “great,” but they’re all really good storytelling.

And that’s what draws me to any book. Great storytelling.

He Said: I have been a fan of horror since I was a child. It all started with Nightmare Theatre and Sammy Terry. I was around ten years old and realized that fear was a really amazing emotion that could elicit other, deep-seeded emotions. Even at that early age I knew horror was cathartic for me. Horror also reminds me there are bad things out there within every single layer of humanity.

3. Who makes a better leading character in horror — hunky man or beautiful woman?

She Said: Great question. I can’t say as I ever think of it in those terms. I only have eyes, even in a literary sense, for my husband.

But I will say that in The Stand, I had a huge crush on Stu Redman. So, when they made that awful TV movie, I had many grins over Gary Sinise being cast. Hot-cha-cha!

He Said: This is a loaded question. Obviously the tradition horror movie almost requires a beautiful woman to scream and strip her way through the story….

Oh wait, I kid!

I’m the wrong person to answer this one. I can watch a film like Nightbreed and see beauty in the monsters. There is a true in beasts that is so often over looked. And the average “beautiful” person Hollywood casts tend to be so vapid and talentless. I’d much rather have average looking heros if they are going to be smarter, more real, and can better connect to the story.

4. Monster or mad human? Which is the better killer and why?

She Said: Monster. You can feel for a monster. I mean, they’re the product of their environment, lab experiment, whatever. They’re so sympathetic. A madman…well, you could argue that a madman is damaged, sick, and deserves our sympathy…but more often than not, when we’re given a glimpse inside the mind of a madman, I think we find ourselves thinking “But, Dude! If you just got to know Mary Sue, you wouldn’t want to slice her open! You’d discover she’s a really nice lady, and she’d probably even be your friend!” See, we don’t really feel that way toward a monster. Monsters are just repulsive, even if they are damaged on the inside. We can see the tragic fate of a monster. Madmen make us angrier.

He Said: Another tough one. There’s such an elegance to madness. Take Hannibal Lechter for instance. Granted that was so much more Anthony Hopkins than the actual written word — but with madness comes a level of brilliance that is so appealing to me. But you’re right about the sympathy. Even with a character like Pinhead (Hellraiser), you learn the backstory of how desire brought them to their current state and you feel for them. Of course Pinhead straddles a line between madness and monster.

5. Bella Lugosi or Gary Oldman. Which was the better Dracula and why?

She Said: Oh, damn. This is a hard question.

When I was a child, I would often wake in the middle of the night to nightmares. I had vampire nightmares pretty much 365 days out of the year. Whether it was the chicken or the egg, the fact remained that I’d wake and find my mother up watching late night horror movies. She was an insomniac and not a terribly nurturing person. I remember crawling up next to her and watching Bella Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr…all these guys haunted my dreams.

On the other hand, I love Gary Oldman. I think he’s an amazing actor, and he’ll always have a place in my heart for his dashing portrayal of Sirius Black. I could not be more in awe of his talents as an actor. I just think Legosi owns the genre, and there’s no getting around it.

Christopher Lee, on the other hand–there’s a very strong argument for his ownership, as well!

He Said: I have such a soft spot in my heart for the classics. There was such a delicateness to those films modern horror can’t touch — almost an innocence. But even with the charm that still holds sway over me, I have to go with Oldman. Oldman’s Dracula revealed the true torment that haunted the creature of the night. It wasn’t just all hands and capes. When an actor can dig in and tap into a breadth of emotion for such a character — magic ensues.

6. What is your take on the “Twilight Effect” within the horror genre?

She Said: I love this take on it, actually:

As far as what my actual opinions are on paranormal romance, which is really what I think this question is about…I feel it was only a matter of time. Ghosts and monsters have always held a certain amount of romance because they’re different, and compelled to follow their natures (or ghostly whims) by virtue of the fact they have no other choice. If you think of how romance works from the aspect of story, you realize the heroine almost always falls for a bad boy before ending up with Mr. Right. Monsters, vampires, werewolves, etc. are the ultimate bad boys!

So, yeah. Twilight was only a matter of time. Vampires, to me, see to represent a kind of longing and unspoken sexual desire, in literature. It was only a matter of time through the acceleration of pop culture that we’d have a teen story about longing and passion between a vampire and a human girl.

Real vampire horror is the Lost Boys. Not Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Real vampire horror is Underworld. Priest. Most definitely Priest. Real horror is when all options have been played, and it is us vs. them, and we’re not getting away.

There is nothing in Twilight that is really horror in my opinion. Stalking, killing–that’s not necessarily horror. Those books are love stories. Romance.

Real horror writers have always had relationships in their books. I read Jeff Mariotte’s The Slab earlier this year, and it had some great relationships in it–and it was still a horror novel. But I would not call it a romance, in a million years.

Come to think of it, aren’t all books about relationships? It just happens that paranormal romance concentrates on half of that relationship being a historical “horror” character. Most horror nowadays is about serial killers or mutants, anyway. When all the paranormal books are being outsold by Toxic Swamp Thing / Son of Sam romances, then I’d say we’re due for a cultural blitzkrieg, indeed.

He Said: My biggest fear with the “Twilight Effect” is that it is weening an entire generation on not just bad acting, but a bad portrayal of Vampires and Werewolves. These creatures are, at their heart, monsters — they aren’t sparkly teens with abs of steel and million dollar smiles. And yes, there is some romance to the idea of living eternally among the night — with little to no consequence or need for remorse. But when the vampire is whittled down to little more than teen angst, the element of fear is stripped away.

I don’t want the current crop of teens growing up thinking Twilight (and movies like it) is horror. It’s not. Even though one of the definitive creatures of the horror genre is central to the story, this is nothing more than teen angsty drama with the accidental inclusion of a few undead creatures.

7. When you write horror, where does the inspiration come from?

She Said: Total frustration. Angry revenge scenarios. Deep, dark places, inside.

I was raised to fear strangers, fear the woods, fear the unknown, fear making it out in the world on my own. I was told repeatedly that someone would molest me, cut my head off, leave me in a ditch…the list was endless of the things I would have happen to me, really. I was often told to sit and not make a sound, or move a muscle, just as part of my daily life. I had nightmares about vampires and werewolves and Frankenstein almost every night.

And those are just the rays of sunshine. I had a bout with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as an adult, that I’m probably not totally “healed” from, truth be told.

So, yeah, that’s where I go. I access all the broken, abusive, victimized places within, and I start turning it inside out.

When I first conceived of Greachin, the baddie from This Brilliant Darkness, I had a visual of a hulking black-winged monster hovering atop the filing cabinets in a round office, ringed with windows. Below him, this petite blonde in a Juan Valdez costume wielded a massive university-issued stainless steel three-hole punch. That pretty much sums up how I felt about the horrors of my life leading up to the point where I finally broke down and started the book. I felt like a ridiculous little girl overwhelmed with enormous scary monsters where everyone could look in and see what was happening, but no one could help.

Fortunately, the moment I started taking that scene seriously, realizing it was a story that needed to be told & not just a nightmare image, I started beating the crap out of my own demons. I am now a braver, more experienced, more honest person than I was before I let my fiction see the light of day.

So, in a way, everything that once had me locked up in a box is now my bitch, huh?

He Said: I’m a bit different with fear than many. I don’t fear the usual things. I should. I know this. But because of my upbringing, my fears center around loss and hopelessness. When I write horror, that’s my kick-off point. And for inspiration, I find it everywhere. When I was studying acting at Purdue University, my mentor, Rich Rand, held strong that inspiration for the artist should come from every thing and every moment in time. I try very hard to keep wide eyes in front of me so not to miss anything that might inspire a story, a character, a moment.

One of the joys of being a writer of horror is taking normal people, placing them in impossible circumstances, and try to keep them from getting out. THAT is fear. THAT is horror.

8. Heart break or mind fuck — which makes for better horror?

She Said: Mind fuck, all the way!

He Said: Mind fuck. The heart can break for so many reasons, and it almost always heals. The mind? Not so much. You twist your mind up enough and you’re gone.

9. Cage match time. Put your favorite horror character in and explain why they would win!

She Said: I think an inanimate object like King’s Christine tends to win in the end, because it holds evil inside its DNA. It can’t be killed, and it comes back again and keeps hooking new users.

But I wouldn’t say cars make for good characters, usually. You know what cage fight I’d like to see? Tow Mater from Cars, vs King’s Christine. I’d pay money to watch that one. I’m not sure who would win, honestly. I mean, Tow Mater rolls deep with that Radiator Springs mess.

He Said: I’m going to pit Pinhead against your Christine. Although a car couldn’t actually open the Lement Configuration, once Pinhead was unleashed his chains would easily tear into the metal machine and drag it, squealing into Hell. That car’s suffering will be legen…

wait for it!


Even in Hell.

10. What B Horror film do you hold dear to your heart and why?

She Said: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I had no idea movies could be that “out there,” and funny until I saw it.

He Said: Lost Skeleton of Cadavre. This is actually an homage to B-Sci Fi and B-Horror and is one of the most charming and funny movies I have ever seen. The film is produced, directed, and stars Larry Blamire. The man is a genius when it comes to the letter “B”.