What is the state of contemporary horror?
It’s been a long and winding road from the pages of classic horror penned by the likes of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and H.P. Lovecraft to the adaptations of silver screen and television. In the 20th century, horror proved an enduring genre that artfully made the transition from written word to performance art as technology advanced.
From the horrific imagery of Edison’s first silent films to “Nosferatu” in the 20’s to the piercing eyes of Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” in the 30’s to the dark old world charm of Barnabus Collins in the 60’s, classic horror captured the hearts and minds of generations. That was horror’s age of ghosts and shadows and creaking doors.
As the times grew more complex, social conflict and advancing technology more confusing and frightening, horror took on a more apocalyptic bent with Romero’s visions of society collapsing as scores of the walking dead rise from their graves to feed on the living. A nightmare vision of end times that continues to captivate audiences today. (A dark reflection of our growing paranoia?)
In the 70’s, Stephen King took psychological horror to a new level with “Carrie” a book adapted to film that joined the horror of the paranormal to the everyday horror of teenage life seen through the eyes of a disturbed and psychologically abused girl. The kind of horror that turns the mirror inward, forcing us to confront our inner demons is perhaps the most captivating and memorable of all. Proving horror’s potency as a visceral cinematic experience as never before, Ridley Scott gave us “Alien,” which took horror to its very roots: a dark primal scream of animal survival.
The 80’s languished through the endless parade of garish slash-and-hack horror films, following a tired formula of rehashed 1950’s urban legends coming to life on screen to auditoriums filled with screaming teenagers. This, I think, was the point at which commercial cinema geared to a young audience finally (though not irrevocably) squashed the power of the written word in modern horror. Who needed carefully crafted scenes that built suspense one pulse-pounding moment after another when you could simply immerse yourself in one 2-hour gore fest after another?
And, after all this…where now is the horror? Where now the great novels and short stories finding their way from page to film? Lost in the commercial grind of Hollywood, I fear. Repetitive demonic possession tales and generic ghost stories endlessly imitated and quickly forgotten. Even Japanese imports couldn’t help for long.
So, what is the modern horror fan to do?
A good way to find fresh meat in the realm of horror and to re-capture the power of the written word is the horror short story anthology. A good way to market collections of chilling and potent short stories by talented authors whose work might not circulate as widely as it should. Definitely a good way to get more chill for the buck. Twenty of so encapsulated short shockers to keep you awake and jumping at every creaking floorboard on one dark night after another. A horror anthology is like a dark tome that brings together many dark, twisted perspectives on a common theme. The publishers of an anthology have a vision they want to get across, and they present a thematic goal to all interested authors. It can be a welcome challenge to an author to craft a tale on demand that fits a publisher’s vision. And, a welcome parade of individual nightmares to every fan of horror.
The horror anthology can cover many kinds of horror, from the subtle and psychological to the unbridled, viscerally shocking variety that can still find far greater potency in the written word than through screaming Hollywood starlets.
And some anthologies are more unusual, like “Fading Light” whose stories all follow an apocalyptic theme of a world dying under an ebbing sun. A time in which long-forgotten or unknown horrors have risen from the remote regions of the world, no longer fearing the light of day. A time in which humanity’s days are numbered and the ancient evils have risen. The idea conjures an atmosphere of Lovecraftian horror (at least it did for me; that’s why I jumped aboard) – but, that’s the kind of anthology theme that allows authors to run the full gamut from the supernatural horror of ages past to science fiction and all things in between.
If there’s anything that can revive horror in the modern realm, it is the anthology, since it injects into the genre what Hollywood’s merciless, money-driven sausage grinder would remove: variety. Nightmares, after all, are individual. And horror, like comedy, depends for its effectiveness on the element of surprise. So, bless the unconventional authors, and bless the anthologies that give them a home.
Tom Olbert lives in Cambridge, MA. He writes science fiction and paranormal with a slant towards the dark side. Tom has been published by Eternal Press, Lillibridge Press, Mocha Memoirs Press, and most recently has contributed his short story They Wait Below to the Fading Light horror anthology from Angelic Knight Press.
Titles to look for on Amazon.com: For lovers of dark vampire fiction: “Unholy Alliance” and “Desert Flower.” For lovers of action-packed and offbeat sci-fi: “Meeting”, “Flags” and “Venus Loop.” And, at Barns and Noble: For lovers of high-octane, wacky, irreverent sci-fi action/adventure: “Long Haul.”
For more info on Tom Olbert and his latest projects, check out Tom’s blog at: http://tomolbert.blogspot.com