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When nature attacks! Pulp horror covers from the 1970s & ‘80s
05.02.2014
11:26 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
Horror Fiction

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Tales of nature taking bloody revenge on humans have been a staple for writers and film-makers over the years. In cinema there have been mutated ants invading Los Angeles in the first monster bug movie Them! in 1954, cute rabbits leaving a trail of death and destruction in Night of the Lepus, and even amphibians taking monstrous revenge on a poisonous patriarch in Frogs. In the 1970s, growing fears of ecological disaster inspired a whole menagerie of animals gone bad.

These fictions usually featured nerdy heroes taking on swarms of bees, plagues of rats, or shoals of man-eating fish, and often had an underlying critique of poverty caused by an indifferent consumerist society, as in James Herbert’s The Rats, or the political corruption of a small town as in Peter Benchley’s Jaws. Herbert’s Rats offered a template for Guy N. Smith’s The Night of the Crabs, Richard Lewis’s Devil’s Coach Horse, and Shaun Hutson’s Slugs. While Benchley and Spielberg’s great white shark saw John Sayles’ Piranha (novelization by Leo Callan), Dino De Laurentiis’s Orca, novelization by Arthur Herzog, “author of The Swarm” and the lesser Croc—a giant hungry reptile terrorizing New York’s sewer system “in the tradition of Night of the Crabs ” as the blurb reads—by David James.

Croc being tagged with Smith’s Night of the Crabs is just some lazy PR-man looking for a quick buck. Croc is about a pet reptile, which grows too big and is flushed down the lavatory. Somehow it survives living-off human refuse and the occasional down-and-out, and slowly grows to incredible size. When sewage workers Peter Boggs and Marian Fascetti investigate a blocked sewer, our story really begins. There’s a sub-plot about Mafia connections, but the main thrust is the politicians don’t want to know there’s a crocodile on the loose under New York City. And yes, there’s the team-up where Boggs is helped by policeman Glen Stapleton, who goes up against the beast.

Smith’s Crabs has monster-sized crabs (up to sixteen feet across, if memory serves, with shels that can withstand armor-piercing missiles—the possible mutations of underwater nuclear testing), attacking the Welsh coastline. Like Herbert’s The Rats, Crabs’ mutant creatures have a taste for human flesh. This book spawned a series of six, finishing with Crabs Moon-The Human Sacrifice.

Of course, we can trace giant creatures back to fairy tales and writers like H. G. Wells, whose Food of the Gods had an idle couple of hired hands accidentally introducing the growth chemical “Herakleophorbia IV” into the food chain leading to giant chickens, wasps, rats and eventually human mutations. Wells also wrote the short story Empire of the Ants which featured a plague of giant ants attacking villages in the Upper Amazon, which foreshadows Them!.

Wells undoubtedly had an major influence, but the rapacious insects of seventies pulp horror tended to be average size, and were only marked by their lust for human flesh. These insects were usually the by-product of scientific meddling or pesticides. Richard Lewis churned out a half-dozen of such books most notably Spiders and Devil’s Coach Horse, in which mutated earwigs devastate southern England. Guy N. Smith produced the insect horror of all horrors with Abomination in 1987, where pesticide causes every insect, worm, slug etc attack man. Smith more than any other author produced several “Nature Gone Bad” books with Snakes, Alligators, Locusts, the rather enjoyable Slime Beast, which may have come from another world, or may have been an evolutionary mutation created by man-made poisons, and The Throwback, where evolution goes wild.

The structure of these books is usually the same. The opening has some poor unfortunate, often a down-and-out or a lonely alcoholic, sometimes a misguided scientist, as first victim. Their body goes undiscovered allowing the rats, slugs, crabs, spiders, etc. to go unnoticed. There usually follows a series of tableaux where couples making out, small children and mothers, sad loners, and ambitious yuppies are killed with ever increasing violence. This leads to our hero, often a teacher (Herbert), a pipe smoking expert (Smith), or a disgruntled government employee (Hutson), who notes the pattern of deaths, the tell-tale markings or slime trails, and commences the creatures’ downfall.

Like Benchley’s Jaws, which was inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, where four died and seven were injured, Arthur Herzog’s The Swarm was inspired by killer bee attacks in Africa, which he then transposed to South America and then the States. Herzog wrote the novelization of the vengeful killer whale film Orca. Herzog was an interetsing writer, his second book Earthsound tapped into shifting tectonics that meant earthquakes began to devastate the east coast of America. Herbert’s The Rats was also inspired by the author’s memories of post-war London infested by the vermin.

These books maybe poorly written, with often plodding lumpen prose, but they are incredibly addictive. I swallowed my way trough handfuls of these at a time during childhood, often reading two-a-day, and firmly believe such pulp fiction should be encouraged in school to help reluctant students read and get into the habit of books.

The flip-side to the rise to the disaster eco-horror in the 1970s was the comparable popularity of pulp sex books, whether Emmanuele, Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker or Timothy Lea’s (a pseudonym for screenwriter Christopher Wood) Confessions… series, which began with Confessions of a Window Cleaner. As Freud suggested, it seems that sex and death are inextricably linked.
 
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Via Strange Things Are Happening, Not Pulp Covers, Scary MF, Starlogged and The Black Glove.
 
More pulp creature fictions after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Beast With Five Fingers’: Vintage amateur ‘home movie’ version of the classic horror film, 1947
04.15.2014
08:07 am

Topics:
Amusing
Movies

Tags:
Horror Fiction
W. F. Harvey

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The amiable, Irish comedian Dave Allen had the top of his left forefinger missing. As part of his act, he would tell various amusing and often macabre tales as to how he came to lose it: his brother bit it off; it was dissolved by whisky; he cut it off to avoid conscription to the army; his father chopped it off with an ax. Of course, these stories were all untrue—Allen had lost the top of his finger when he was child playing with an old machine cog.

However, my favorite story that Allen told about his missing digit was the one he told on his hit TV show, in a darkened studio, with only a single light illuminating his face. Allen had been traveling by car across desolate moor in the north of England. A storm (thunder, lightning) had waylaid him en route to his destination, and he had to overnight at an old, rundown hotel, miles from anywhere.

Lightning had downed the power, and the hotel was lit by flickering candles. As he was shown to his room, his host asked the comedian if he believed in ghosts. Allen told him no, he was an atheist, thank God. The manager smiled, and replied that was all well and good, as sadly, the hotel rarely received any guests as the house was said to be haunted by an evil spirit.

Allen thought little more of the conversation, and prepared for bed. But as he slowly drifted off to sleep, he began to dream about an evil, brooding presence that lurked down in the basement. In his dream he could see the pitch black of the basement room, and in that darkness he saw something move, something slowly writhing towards him, a thick, oily darkness. Allen moved away, back up the stairs to his room. It followed.

The corridor was swallowed by damp, creeping shadows. The evil was moving nearer. Allen woke and found he was lying in bed. The room was silent. He felt the pin prick of sweat on his neck. He knew there something with him in the room, waiting.

Allen felt the evil move slowly up the bed covers. Its legs dimpling his flesh, dragging its body behind. As it crawled nearer, Allen knew he was going to die, would die, if he didn’t do something. The creature, heavier now, moved ever closer. One hard limb at a time, dragging its fleshy body nearer, nearer, until it would have him by the throat. That was when Allen struck. He grabbed the beast, and bit hard into what he thought was its neck and head. He tasted blood, felt pain. And then he screamed, spitting the top of his finger out of his mouth.

The idea of hands having an evil will of their own was first put to paper by author Maurice Renard in his novel Les Mains d’Orlac (The Hands of Orlac). This was later made into the German Expressionist film Orlac’s Hände starring Conrad Veidt, in 1924. A Hollywood version Mad Love, with Colin Clive and Peter Lorre, came along in 1935, and was remade again, this time as The Hands of Orlac with Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee in 1962.

Les Mains d’Orlac tells the story of a concert pianist, who loses his hands in an accident, and receives the transplanted hands of a murderer. These new hands possess him and he becomes a killer. It’s good story and the nearly forgotten Renard wrote some highly original and influential tales, which are well worth checking out.

Another author who wrote about disembodied hands was W. F. Harvey, who is one of my favorite horror writers and wrote “The Beast With Five Fingers.” This classic tale deals with the life and death of Adrian Borlsover who “was exceedingly clever with his hands.” When Borlsover goes blind, he adapts by using his supple fingers to read Braille, and explore the world by touch alone. His fingers are so delicate that he can identify flowers by just the feel of their petals.

Towards the close of his life Adrian Borlsover was credited with powers of touch that seemed almost uncanny. It had been said that he could tell at once the colour of ribbon placed between his fingers.

When he dies, Adrian apparently bequeaths his nephew Eustice a strange gift—his severed hand.

This story inspired Curt Siodmak to write a jumbled screenplay that mixed elements of Renard’s Orlac with Harvey’s Beast, for the movie version The Beast With Five Fingers, which starred Peter Lorre (again). Harvey was a much better writer than Siodmak, and his tale is far superior to the film, and more memorable.

However, the disembodied hand didn’t stop with The Beast With Five Fingers, it would reappear most successfully in Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors, where artist Michael Gough’s severed hand claims gory vengeance on Christopher Lee’s jealous critic; and then in Oliver Stone’s B-movie The Hand, starring Michael Caine, which is definitely one to miss.

An interesting addition to this collection is Ed Foley’s Super-8 home movie version, which he made in 1947 when he was an eighteen-year-old high school student. Foley’s film owes more to Siodmak’s screenplay, but it is a well-made, impressive and delightful short film for a kid to have made, especially at that time. Check out his amateur special effects!
 

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‘Tales from Beyond the Pale’: An interview with Glenn McQuaid & Larry Fessenden

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It’s near midnight when I make the conference call to Glenn McQuaid and Larry Fessenden. Outside I can hear early Halloween revelers making their way home - shouts, laughter, a distant scream. McQuaid is the writer and director of I Sell the Dead, which starred Indie King of Horror, Fessenden – who has been making horror films as an actor, writer, producer and director since 1985, when he set-up his company Glass Eye Pix.

The line crackles, then a faint casual tone. It’s answered, and there’s something of the séance about their voices – distant, ghostly, far off – as they come through. Eventually ‘Hello,’ Glenn’s soft Irish lilt, and we greet each other through a deafening roar. ‘Like a hurricane’ one of us says. ‘Better try again.’ This time we’re clear, and in the room.

Since 2010, McQuaid and Fessenden have been scaring the bejesus out of listeners, with their anthology radio series of top drawer horror stories called Tales from Beyond the Pale. Recorded live in front of an audience at a New York theater, Tales… brought the magnificent acting skills of Vincent D’Onofrio, Angus Scrimm, Ron Perlman, and James Le Gros, together with the writing talents of Fessenden (who also acted in certain shows), McQuaid, Graham Reznick, Ashley Thorpe, Paul Solet, J. T. Petty, Sarah Langan and Jeff Buhler. These tales of mystery and imagination varied from science fiction (“This Oracle Moon”) to fantasy and horror (“Trawler”, “Hole Digger”, “The Demon Huntsman”, “The Conformation”), and were an instant success.

The original idea for the series came to Glenn, when he and Larry were driving upstate, listening to an old Boris Karloff broadcast.

Glenn McQuaid: ‘Larry and I were driving up to the set of Jim Nichols’ movie, which Larry produced, and we were listening to an old Boris Karloff radio play. The rain started down and we found we were enrapt by this old time radio drama. And I just turned to Larry and started proposing the idea - that this was something that Glass Eye Pix could get behind, and we both talked about it.

‘A coupe of months later, we started to take the idea seriously. It came out of a desire to get a lot more of our own content out there. Initially we had treatments and outlines for projects that had been sitting around too long, and we thought this would be a good platform to get our own work out there, as well as the work of all our friends and collaborators - people like Paul Solet and Jeff Buhler. It was a desire to keep working to keep getting ideas out there, and I think it was very tempting for Larry and I to try something, which was essentially new for us at the time.

‘Basically, the project grew out of a desire to get stuff out there from ourselves, but almost more importantly from other people and step in as curators in a way, and design the anthologies. We reached out to people we’ve either worked with before, or had met and have enjoyed their work.

‘For instance, I met Paul Solet while I was showing I Sell the Dead and he was showing Grace at Fright Fest Presents… in Glasgow, and we just got on well together. When we started shifting gears with Tales from Beyond the Pale, I started reaching out to Paul Solet, Jeff Buhler - he’s another film-maker that I like, and similarly Larry reached out to a few folks he was intrigued by.’

Larry Fessenden: ‘Yeah, we hooked up with Simon Lumley, who I’d never met, I think you met him. Simon Barrett as well, who Glenn and I have both worked with, I was in Simon’s film You’re Next, and Glenn worked with him on V/H/S.

‘It’s really expanding the community, which is the other agenda, something I’ve always tried to do. It’s my theory that if there is enough of us in the same boat, then maybe we can all rise up together and take over Tinsel Town.’
 
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More tales from Glenn McQuaid and Larry Fessenden, after the jump…
 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Rising Star: An interview with Glenn McQuaid


 

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Christopher Lee: A brief history of ‘Dracula’ from book to film

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Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula has never been out-of-print, since it was first published in 1897.

Stoker spent 7 years researching vampire tales from European folklore, including some of the myths and history surrounding Vlad Tepes Dracul, the infamous Prince of of Wallachia, who impaled his enemies on stakes and allegedly drank their blood.

As for the character of Dracula, Stoker captured much of his friend, the actor Henry Irving, in his description of the Count. Later, it was thought Irving would make the perfect stage Dracula, but when asked to read an extract form the book, Irving pronounced it, “Dreadful!”

Since then, there have been many great actors who have portrayed the Count, most notably Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman and Louis Jourdan - who made a memorble TV version back in the 1970s.

Dracula is the most portrayed literary character on film, with 272 films, as of May 2012. The closest rival is Sherlock Holmes with 254 films.

Christopher Lee regarded the character of Dracula as “heroic, romantic, erotic. Irresistible to women. Unstoppable by men.” When cast as the vampire, Lee “played him as a malevolent hero.”

“I decided to play him as a man of immense dignity, immense strength, immense power, immense brain…he’s a kind of a superman really.”

Dracula, and vampires, are re-interpreted by every generation. These days, the vampire is a hormonal bad boy who wants a suburban life. But when I was child, I used to ponder: can vampires lose their fangs? And if they did, what happened?

To which I responded (in my best Bela Lugosi):

‘It is often believed that a vampire cannot lose his or her fangs, but I can assure you vampires can, and often do, lose their fangs.

‘The loss of such essential teeth leads the vampire to use various utensils to start the flow of blood: a knife, a cutthroat razor, a bottle opener. Unfortunately, this means the death of the victim, which is generally to be avoided, as the last thing a vampire wants is to attract any unnecessary attention.

‘Such toothless vampires are messy eaters, and are rarely invited to dinner parties, as they waste more than they can drink.

‘Another misconception about us nightwalkers is our fear of garlic. We love garlic – well, most of us do – as it adds flavor to our diet. This is quite understandable when you consider our native homeland is Transylvania, where the local diet is rich in garlic that infuses the blood with a very delicious tang. It also purifies, lowers cholesterol and aids digestion.

‘It is a commonly held superstition that vampires are terrified of the crucifix. Well, while some vampires are Christian and some Jewish, most are agnostic. This is because we are the living dead, or undead. We are the creatures of the night, the residents of limbo, who have not quite died and have not gone to wherever-it-may-be. If at all. We therefore find it hard to believe in an after-life, unless it is this one. Which I suppose means, we are more like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

‘You may be surprise to hear that vampires do date and have various courtship rituals, just like you day-walkers. I can still recall my first date with my dear wife – we dined out on some winos, and got pleasantly drunk. As you can imagine, my future father-in-law was not best pleased when I returned his tipsy, giggling daughter back to their crypt.

‘And let me be clear, once and for all – no we cannot turn into giant bats, dogs or any sort of ethereal mists. Which is a pity, I know. No, sadly, we have to get around on foot or by car. In fact, it was another creation of the industrial revolution, trains that allowed vampires to move away from our overcrowded homeland.

‘As for sleeping in coffins, there is much conjecture about this. Some vampire historians believe we may have slept in coffins, mainly to escape detection. Remember it would have been rather strange in the olden days to get up at night and sleep during the day. Therefore, sleeping in a graveyard became the ideal place to hide out.

‘Or, perhaps, living and sleeping in a coffin is much cheaper than maintaining a house, a castle or a condo on the upper-eastside.

‘Yes, daylight is bad for us, just as it can be for you – it gives us skin cancer, something we are highly susceptible to, as our flesh is undead and has no elasticity or protection from the sun’s harmful rays. But, thanks again to changes in society, we have been able to find work as night watchmen, town criers, long distance lorry drivers, sewer workers, or just generally the night shift workers, who stack shelves or keep garages open, you know the sort. These days, most of us are in IT, where we can work to our own flexi hours.

‘As soon as we started working we made money. And as we made money, we found that we were buying houses, moving into nice neighborhoods, raising our families.

‘Oh yes, we do have families with all that this entails. We start junior off on mother’s blood before weaning them onto small insects, rodents, then medium sized animals.

‘And as for drinking blood, well it is the world’s fast food, a kind-of McDonald’s. Just as easy to pick up, but more filling, and nutritious, and there’s always plenty of it to go round. What amazes vampires is why humans waste so much of it – murder, suicide-bombers, muggings, knifings, gunshots, slaughterhouses, funeral homes, and war.

‘Of course, our kids do all the rebellious - feasting on winos blood, or sucking on a junkie to get high.

‘As for disease, we try to be careful about this, as too often you can catch a dose from some late night snack. That’s why we tend to stick to nice, clean, straight people, middle class people, who go to church, say their prayers, look after their health and work hard for a living. And yes, stakes can kill us. As can silver bullets, regular bullets, knives, and lots of other things too. That’s because we are not, as you say, immortal, we are the Undead.

‘We live to about one-hundred-and fifty or two hundred years of age, but that’s only because our metabolism is slower than yours. Our heartbeats approximately at one beat an hour. As for reflections – you can see us, we’re physical after all not ethereal.

‘So, how can you recognize a vampire?

‘We look like you. A bit pale, maybe. A bit more lethargic. The best way to recognize us is to look out of your window tonight, some time long after dark, and just see how many people are up and about. You can take my word for it, that at least one in ten or one in twenty of the people you can see is a vampire.

‘And don’t be fooled, not all of them have fangs - some of them wear dentures.’

A fine selection of false teeth are on display here, in this short video history of Dracula. Presented by Christopher Lee, who tells Dracula‘s history from novel, to the first theatrical productions and on to the Count’s life on film. With contributions from Bela Lugosi jnr, Peter Cushing, Jimmy Sangster, Freddie Francis and Caroline Munro.
 

 

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Anne Billson: A Few Words with the New Queen of Horror

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It was at a funfair, early one summer evening, amongst the lights and music, the calls to “Try your strength and win a prize”, the coconut shies, and bird-like squeals of laughter and fear, that my love for horror began.

The sign read: “Do You Dare To Enter The Corridor of Fear?!?!” I was 6 and perhaps too young to have blagged my way into this gruesome diversion. Taller than my years, I knew confidence paid out more than acquiescence. I also had an older brother as surety. We bought our tickets and made our way to the short flight of stairs up to a drab, curtained door, beyond which was an unimaginable world of terror. Or, so I hoped.

Inside was a long a darkened, corridor, its metal walls glistening with luminous paintings of vampires, werewolves, unholy creatures, and living dead. Hidden in the walls were a series of sliding panels from whence malevolent-masked carnies pounced, to grab and grope, prod and tickle, the unsuspecting marks.

At the top of the stairs, two teenagers who laughed nervously and shoved each other, too scared to enter inside. I pushed forward and saw the cause of their concern- a panel slid open and a skull-headed figure reached out. I held back, and once the panel closed, the youths ran into the darkness. My brother and I followed. Adjusting to the dark, I saw limned ahead the youths being goosed by a green glowing monster. There was a feeling of dread, of terror, and now anger as hard fists hit flesh. The mood had changed from panic to anger. I turned, there was no curtained exit, instead a wall had opened and partitioned us in. From inside this wall, a leering skull, its boney hands reached out towards me. I ducked the embrace, and crawled on hands and knees through the legs in front. Above, the struggle seemed no longer a game – harsh, menacing voices, breathless pleas. My brother followed and we escaped into daylight - heart racing, weak-limbed, face drained of color, I’d never felt more alive.

My love of horror started then, and still continues today, looking for that great sense of exhilaration and fun.

One writer who certainly knows how to mix the best of horror with a deliciously wicked sense of fun is Anne Billson, who has 3 superb novels, The Ex, Stiff Lips, and Suckers, just released as e-books.

Billson knows her genre better than most, and is a highly respected film critic, writing for the Guardian and Sunday Telegraph, who has specialized in writing definitive critiques on Let the Right One In, John Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

In her fictions, Billson confounds all expectations by re-inventing the accepted traditions of the Horror genre, creating her own distinct and authorative voice.

When her first novel Suckers was originally published in1993, it was hailed as a startling and original debut, which contained “one of the most chilling moments in all Vampire Literature.” It was also highly praised by Salman Rushdie, who described the novel as a witty assault on 1980’s Thatcherite greed. The books success led to Billson being named as one of Granta’s prestigious “Best Young British Novelists”.

In 1997, Anne wrote the chilling and darkly comic ghost story Stiff Lips, which led to even better reviews and greater praise. Both of these novels are being re-released along with Anne’s latest horror, a ghost story The Ex, which is set to build upon the success of the first two.

I contacted Anne at her home in Brussels, to ask what attracted her to Horror fiction?

“I don’t think I’ve ever grown out of fairytales; the best fairytales are already quite dark, and horror just takes it further. I like stories where anything can happen, and which appeal to the subconscious as much as to the intellect.”

Do you think that where once it was Science-Fiction, it is now Horror that offers the best way to comment on the contemporary world?

“I think so. Horror provides us with a way of reflecting on subjects which in their unadulterated form would probably be too vast, distressing or embarrassing to contemplate - and which could be boring or pretentious in a more realist or self-consciously literary genre. But horror increasingly overlaps with SF, as well as with crime and other genres - particularly in this era of mash-ups. It’s getting harder to slot things easily into distinct categories.”

How do you define yourself as a novelist?

“I write a kind of horror comedy, though I’m reluctant to use the word comedy because I certainly don’t set out to be funny, which would be the kiss of death. Maybe it’s my worldview, which is a little odd, I don’t know.

“Publishers in the past have tried to pigeonhole what I write as satire or chick-lit - and I don’t think it’s either of those. Maybe a new term is needed.

“I feel very in tune with that streak of British comedy which is often more scary or surreal than funny - The League of Gentlemen, Shaun of the Dead, Spaced, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and so on. It might be presumptuous on my part, but I think we have something in common.”

What are your influences?

“How much time have you got? The usual suspects - MR James, Robert Aickman, The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories (of which Aickman used to be an editor), Fritz Leiber, Philip K Dick, Nigel Kneale. And films, of course - Night of the Demon, The Innocents, The Haunting, Cronenberg, Romero… as well as Vincent Price films like Theatre of Blood and The Abominable Dr Phibes, and Amicus portmanteau horror films like The Vault of Horror and Asylum. Plus I’ve stolen ideas from Conrad and Balzac. Astute readers can probably spot the more blatant borrowings.”

Where some writers fight shy of their association with the Horror genre, Anne has no such qualms:

“If I had to choose between being categorized as a Horror writer or a Literary author, I would opt for Horror writer every time.

“Horror writers seem to be nicer, more generous and more convivial than Literary authors. Perhaps it’s because they direct all their fears and insecurities into their work, which makes them better company.”

The Ex, Stiff Lips, and Suckers are available here.

Anne is on twitter and her blog site Multiglom is always worth reading as are her Guardian columns.

Spoliers a collection of Anne Billson’s film writing is also available.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment