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Over Halloween weekend I was at the Freemason’s Hall in Dublin’s fair city as one of the invited guests at the first Horror Expo Ireland, hosted by Dr Sarah Clearly, designed as a crossover event welcoming horror writers, film-makers, academics, and fans to a day of talks, panels and movies.
I enjoyed it immensely: it was illuminating, and great fun shooting the breeze with those who love the genre as much as I do – whether practitioners or professors. Here are a few of my hastily-scribbled notes, scrawled in the bar between glasses of Bushmill’s Black Bush …
1) M.R. James: “We are still in his shadow” – Stephen Jones
Whether through the original texts or, as many of us discovered him, via the immaculate and unforgettable TV adaptations by Lawrence Gordon Clark, James’s “repressed and intensely civilised works” live on. And when all is said and done, we can always learn tricks from the masters – and mistresses. Shirley Jackson penned the classic The Haunting of Hill House, but “never had to raise her voice”.
2) “Increasingly, the horror is here anyway” – Dr Dara Downey
The standard trope for horror was setting up a perfect place, a nice family, and the evil invades normality. But slowly that has changed (probably with Robert Bloch’s Psycho in 1959), to say: “Hang on, what if the monster isn’t out there in the woods, what if it’s here, sitting next to us round the camp fire?”
In Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, a young sniper, picking off random victims, meets his horror film hero (Boris Karloff) at a drive-in. That movie, in a way, represents a transition from the “old” monsters to the new. MORE: 8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Horror Screenplay DEAD
3) “People will always be saying there’s something in society that’s out to corrupt the young – and it’s usually art” – Maura McHugh
They tell us it’s bad for us but that only makes us seek it out. Yes, there’s the extreme violence of the controversial recent episode of The Walking Dead in which a member of the regular cast is killed in graphic detail. But this is far from new. In the opening of The Castle of Otranto, the first gothic novel, a character named Conrad is crushed to death by a falling helmet!
4) “In 1980s horror films parents were often neglectful – or vacant” – Sorcha Ni Fhlainn
In the eighties, Spielbergian children got to “chastise” their parents. Stephen King developed a child’s eye view of scary things. The danger of not listening to the children was all-pervasive. The young have a better idea of what is going on than those in authority because they are closer to their emotions. MORE: Top 5 Genre Mistakes
5) “Anything with a synth on is an abomination” – Kevin Corstorphine
Talking about Stranger Things: remember “to film and TV companies we (who remember the 80s) are first and foremost a demographic.” Yes, Stranger Things is a retro remake, but let’s not forget the great horror movies of the 80s – The Fly, The Thing – were also remakes.
6) “Oh my God, have you seen this?”
There’s always an element of self-testing in horror. How far can the director push it? How much can we take, watching it?… As such, far from being a corrupting influence, is the horror movie form a valuable source of development and identity? And now, as we slip into an ever more conservative era, will we see the banning of so-called “Video Nasties” come back in some different form, responsible for the ills of society as fear tightens its ugly grip?
7) “Horror has always been respectable” – Stephen Jones
… Or, it has been to fans. It’s only that other people – the mainstream – are now catching up with us, and realising what we’ve always known: that it’s a genre with great integrity and a unique ability to stretch the imagination that speaks (inevitably, even unintentionally sometimes, but always) about the anxieties of the times we live in. MORE: What’s the difference between Horror & Thriller: Case Study – WIND CHILL (2007)
BIO: Stephen Volk is probably best known as the BAFTA-winning writer of ITV’s paranormal drama series Afterlife starring Lesley Sharp and Andrew Lincoln, and the notorious (some say legendary) BBCTV “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch. He now lives in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, with his wife, the sculptor Patricia Volk, and a cat he doesn’t like. STEPHEN VOLK ON IMDB.