Master Of Horror: Kim Newman

Interviewer/Writer/Photographer: Dan Marner, Sound Recordist: Kevin Behan

Horror is everywhere. It’s in the details of rolling news extravaganzas about destabilised financial systems, about dead and maimed youth returning from foreign climes with a different end to their stories than they’d anticipated, about children brutalised by adults and by each other. It’s on the faces of people on public transport, either disconnected from the life in front of them the better to connect with tiny bits of pocket-sized technology, or gazing into a vacuum, avoiding the gaze and touch of others. It’s in the dozens of little moments where it could all go wrong for us, in our jobs, in our homes, in our relationships. We pass through and skirt around horror 101 times a day, maybe more: that distant blue flashing light at the junction that you’ll completely forget about in 30 seconds is a signal of someone else’s very own horror movie, happening to them in gory, gruesome detail, in widescreen, Technicolour and THX Surround. They’re the hero, or more specifically, the victim in a story of unspooling chaos that they never saw coming, something we automatically never think about moment to moment. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose to dwell on the horrors of life: why do it at all?

PART 1: The Roots of Horror
Kim Newman discusses the Vampire Archives, the ongoing Anno Dracula series and the omnipresent archetypes of gothic horror which have informed today’s new crop of supernatural chillers.

Even when we try to escape the petty horrors of our day to day lives we take refuge in dark places. Stephen King remains one of the most widely-read and most-frequently-adapted authors alive today, and there’s a film industry truism that no-one ever lost a buck making a horror movie. Horror has been one of the hardiest staples of the cinematic canon : the earliest version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a silent, filmed in 1910. There seems to be an underlying need for us as an audience to witness suffering and grotesquery and darkness. Horror films fulfil that basic urge with gusto and abandon, perhaps allowing us to rehearse those moments where we become victims in a safe, comfortable environment that we can leave whenever it becomes too real for us. The most popular films and television shows of our era are resurrections and re-imaginings of classic gothic tropes: True Blood and Twilight re-model the vampire as the ultimate bad-boy outsider, Dead Snow and Zombieland re-configure the walking dead as flesh-and-blood obstacles in a macabre human theme park. Trite and trivial as these updates may be to some, they reach back and draw from the same well as the most aggressive and abrasive of our collective nightmares: the gory, unvarnished shockfests of Romero, Hooper and Craven, the slick, relentless death trips of Carpenter and Argento, the smart-but-sickening body-horror of Cronenberg.

PART 2: Nightmare Movies
What led Kim Newman to take on the daunting task of writing the definitive critical history of horror post-1968, the pains and pleasures of being a fan and critic in the pre-digital age, new trends in horror post-Hostel.

Someone who has spent a great deal of his time documenting, dissecting and explicating the cinema of our nightmares is Kim Newman, the quintessential gentleman scholar of screaming, red-eyed chaos. He is both observer and practitioner, a renowned and respected critic and journalist who literally wrote the book on horror films, 1988’s Nightmare Movies, which remains over 20 years later the definitive volume on horror cinema post-Night of the Living Dead. He has also written equally authoritative tomes on the Western (Wild West Movies) and the end-of-the-world movie (Apocalypse Movies AKA Millennium Movies) as well as contributing regular reviews for Empire and Sight and Sound magazines, among many others. Concurrent to his non-fiction work he has created a fascinating alternate history of the world in the intriguing, gripping Anno Dracula novels, in which Bram Stoker’s ageing, old-world monster survives the outcome of the classic novel and spreads vampirism like typhoid throughout the British Isles and further afield. Like James Ellroy’s Underworld USA Trilogy, Newman’s vampire novels utilise real history and the lives of people who actually lived in witty, surprising, potentially libellous ways and expands out beyond the basic horror narrative to paint a rich, detailed picture of life in Victorian England and beyond. Most recently he contributed a foreword to Otto Penzler’s mammoth vampire anthology The Vampire Archives, almost certainly the most comprehensive collection of short vampire fiction in the history of the genre. Opening the door of his surprisingly un-peculiar North London flat, flowing reddish hair, neatly-trimmed moustache, cravat and waistcoat all present and correct, he is charm and hospitality personified. In the comfy surroundings of his living-room-cum-workspace, lined with shelves which positively groan with all manner of books, toys and assorted genre-related bric-a-brac we sit down to sip tea (off of Dalek coasters….nice) and spend the best part of an hour covering his career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, the fluctuations in theme of various genres, the present state of horror cinema and television, and some exciting projects that he has lined up for the very near future...

PART 3: The Future of Horror
What may lie ahead for the genre, personal favourites in the new landscape, horror movies that lie outside the genre.