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For a long time I've wanted to set up an online repository of my interviews, reviews and other writings ... and here it is! Use the Subject List to the right to select an author/topic and you will get all the entries which relate to the selected subject. Have fun browsing through!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Author Influences

For issue 200 of STARBURST I asked a number of authors to list their influences in under 100 words ... 

Fantasy novelist

My influences are clear because they consist of the small library my father left behind when he fled the domestic hearth – Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edwin Lester Arnold, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Anon (author of Timothy Tatters) – and books I enjoyed as a kid – Richmal Crompton, P. G. Wodehouse, the Sexton Blake Library and Frank Richards’ school stories, Planet Stories, The Tempest and most important of all John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Visionary fiction, rather than science fiction or fantasy, has always appealed to me (I’ve read very little genre sf) and I still find a lot more pleasure in Milton and Melville than in the prosaic predictions of Heinlein & Co.

Horror novelist

Alright, I admit it. I have all of the Starburst magazines, going back to Issue No 1. Some of them are even in (gasp) binders. Back then, in 1978, it seemed that high quality magazines dealing with all aspects of ‘fantastic’ cinema and related matters were very few and far between. As an avid fan, I eagerly awaited each issue and its excellent interviews with genre luminaries, together with insightful reviews. Many things ‘fanned the flame’ of my enthusiasm back then. My first novel was published seven years later and when I look back on the various aspects that helped keep the flame alive I’m quite convinced that Starburst magazine was one of them. Thanks to you all.

Science Fiction novelist and genre columnist

Reality is becoming science fiction. And it’s science fiction that’s doing it.
Okay: inter alia. But what started with garish paperbacks under the school desk now looks like the best education for slamming into futurity. Bring on the visionaries, romantics, utopians. Give me daydreams and nightmares, fantasy and fancies, speculation and scaremongering. What if the critlit establishment’s sneers rise in direct proportion to the level of imagination displayed? Who wanted to go to their hard cheese and whine party anyway?
You can keep Virginia Woolf’s Collected Shopping Lists.
Just leave me the key to the FTL drive in my head.

Horror and fantasy artist

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw and I’ve been influenced by so many artists along the way that it seems invidious to choose just one. However, if you tie me down and beat me, I will confess to being much affected by a particular comic strip. It was drawn by Frank Bellamy and it appeared in the centre pages of the Eagle. It chronicled the adventures of a Roman centurion and is perhaps best described as ‘proto-sword and sorcery’. The strip was called Heros the Spartan and I wish someone would reprint it.

Horror novelist

My earliest warp in the direction of horror may have been a bedtime reading of Ali Baba and the Seven Thieves by Daisy, my great aunt Emma’s companion, who was babysitting for my brother and I. A toddler at the time, I was so terrified by the story that I cried. I’ve never fully recovered. The story creeped me out badly – especially the beheading scene. (Oddly enough, decapitation rears its ugly head in nearly all of my novels.)
Later, television gave me the old Universal monster movies. Other major early influences were shows such as Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller and Twilight Zone.
The Hardy Boys books introduced me to the thrills of reading. My idol, in my early teens, was Robert Bloch. I liked the simplicity, scares, humour and tricky plots of his stories.

Dark Fantasy novelist and editor

The 1968 Huckleberry Hound Annual contained a Pixie, Dixie and Mr Jinks picture story entitled The Frightful Night. Pixie and Dixie were two mice, Mr Jinks the big cat which used to terrorise them. In this tale, Mr Jinks puts a paper bag on his head, attaches bolts either side and comes on like a monster to the mice. Unmoved, however, they retaliate with a dressmaker’s dummy kitted out with similar bag and a fur-lined coat. Now this was frightening, both for Mr Jinks and for the five-year-old boy sitting reading it next to the central heating vent in the dining room of his parents’ house in Whitley Bay.
If any reader has a copy of the 1968 annual for sale that would make me very happy.

Horror novelist

The first influence, as far as horror is concerned, was the mentally generated creature, the Id of Dr Morbius in Forbidden Planet. I was six years old and the sudden appearance on screen of this monster, visible only as pulses of electricity, absolutely terrified me. I had nightmares for weeks. It scared me because I could not comprehend its existence.
I’ve had the same occult unease ever since, the shiver at what cannot easily be explained, the dread of the creature under the bed and its relative who makes the floorboards creak in the dark. I write about them to keep them at bay.
Also, in childhood, I discovered Celtic mythology, full of supernatural and terrifying tales. Most of my stories have a hint of the old weird ways.

Fantasy novelist

Influences? Me? Definitely. Four people figure large: Gerry Anderson – a man who proved spaceships, Martians and dramatic disasters are real; Oliver Postgate – who showed that a small furry animal called Tog, a saggy old cloth cat called Bagpuss and little knitted creatures whistling in outer space are all very real; then there’s Mum and Dad who encouraged me to build Lego Thunderbird 2s, Meccano iron chickens and to search for Pogles in the wood.
Others include: Brian Aldiss, J. R. R. Tolkien, Messrs Asimov, Clarke, Harrison and Bear, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Monty Python and, of course, a certain Mr P…

Horror and fantasy author and editor

When I watched, in terror and wonder, the original Quatermass and the Pit serial on BBC Television (1958/9), little did I know by how much my future life would be influenced. I was eleven years old. After Quatermass’ warning to the world in the final episode, I was left stunned and deeply moved. Looking back, I can see with clarity how Nigel Kneale’s blend of science fiction, ancient mysteries, ghosts, magic and mind control would later merge me perfectly into the interdisciplinary thinking that has shaped my life and interests. I am essentially a Fortean and Kneale’s serial had those elements which suggest it is at our peril that we narrowly pigeonhole life and our thought processes … and since the renegade professor haunted the TV screens those many years ago, I have gone on to work widely within the genre, editing and publishing magazines and books, and writing fiction. But the doing of all that was largely given impetus by that thrilling and wonderful serial.

Horror novelist and screenwriter

Along with my generation’s usual suspects (Famous Monsters, TV screenings of Universal movies, Moorcock’s New Worlds, etc), the real guilty party in the corruption of eight-year old Pete was a Liverpool newsagent. Mr Ford (I still don’t know his first name) was one of a vanished breed of port-city entrepreneurs, relying for his stock on grey marketeering, merchant seamen bearing back Treasures from the New World – comics, monster movie mags, horror paperbacks. I was to be the first of my family to go to University and my father no doubt had his own dreams for me. But it was no use. From the moment I saw Dwight Frye’s painted nightmare face staring out of the cover of FM 18, I was lost to the world of realism and middle-management. Thanks, Mr Ford.

Horror novelist

As a boy, I was strongly influenced by Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe, but also by more whimsical writers like Lewis Carroll. The idea of parallel and alternative worlds constantly fascinates me – whether these worlds exist inside mirrors (as in my novel Mirror), or dreams (Night Warriors) or even within solid walls (Walkers). In my latest novel Spirit, much of the action takes place inside storybooks. Horror is a difficult and challenging medium because you are creating a ‘reality’ which can defy all the laws of sanity and logic. Have you looked into your wallpaper lately?

Horror novelist

While the influences of Lovecraft and M. R. James are easily found in my stuff, the writer who showed me the route I was to follow was Fritz Leiber. For me he’s still the greatest master of the tale of the urban supernatural, in which the terror doesn’t invade the big city but is part of it. It was an honour for me to know him and once to read alongside him in New York, and his criticisms in Fantastic showed me how to improve. He believed that the best horror fiction involved both wonder and terror, and so it should. Read him and see.

Horror and thriller novelist

I think I’m part of a generation of British writers who, whether they realise it or not, owe a lot to Nigel Kneale. One of my earliest memories is of being at a big family party and seeing everything stop while the TV set – this being the time when most people didn’t have one, but everyone knew someone who did – was trundled out so that the grownups could watch Quatermass and the Pit.
Can’t remember a damn thing about what I saw, but the room’s awed atmosphere is with me still. I’ve a suspicion that I’ve been subconsciously trying to recreate it for others ever since.
Kneale’s great achievement was to stake out a territory that was confident, contemporary, and ours. Suddenly the call of the Weird was coming from somewhere much closer to home.

Horror novelist

One summer Saturday afternoon, as a boy of ten living in a Welsh mining village, I walked to the local coal tip to go fossil hunting. In my dufflebag; sandwiches, hammer, chisel and a copy of the first ever Doctor Who annual. Having dug a haul of fossil ferns and leaves, I sat to eat my tea and read of The Lair of the Zarbi Supremo and The Sons of the Crab until evening.
The twilight deepened. Lights came on in the valley below and the stars appeared above. Horizons of time, space and possibility were opened up for me then. I’ve been exploring ever since.

Fantasy novelist

As a child I was influenced by the myths of ancient cultures – Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece – and wrote lots of rambling stories about gods and pharaohs. Later, I discovered those writers who redefined fantastic literature in the ‘70s – mainly, for me, Mike Moorcock, Tanith Lee and Jane Gaskell. Reading their work inspired me to invent my own strange worlds and cultures. My most recent source of inspiration is the work of animators like the Brothers Quay and Jan Svenkmajer. Watching one of their weirdly, discomfortingly beautiful films ensures the removal of writer’s block! My ambition is to have one of my stories animated by the Brothers Quay, so if they’re reading this …

Horror novelist

London at night, Pan Books of Horror, The Exorcist, Evelyn Waugh, Dickens, Joe Orton, Witchfinder General, J. G. Ballard, Barbarella, Ray Bradbury, grotesque Victorian children’s books, my mother, Mervyn Peake, M. R. James, Michael Nyman, Hammer, Greek myths, Peter Cushing, John Barry, Conan Doyle, the Thames, Lucifer, Edmund Crispin, Tony Hancock, Ray Harryhausen, The Beano, Aurora model kits, Greenwich library, E. M. Forster, Gilbert and Sullivan, Stephen Sondheim, Monty Python, Shakespeare, Marvel Comics, Quatermass, Famous Monsters of Filmland, pre-Raphaelites, Woolwich Odeon, Playboy, Boileau and Narcejec, St Trinians, Norman Wisdom, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, Carry On films, the Bible, Soho, sex and … death.

Science Fiction and fantasy novelist

Writing is a hereditary disease for which there is no cure. However, one cannot refute the influence of environment. I learned about graphic violence and horror where one should … in the home. Working as a psychiatric nurse completed my education. Experience taught me that truth, even more than beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and the murky depths of subconscious, a much safer place to be than reality. Hence, I set about to create my own verity. Since sadism is the inevitable twin of masochism, I chose to inflict this truth on others while the genre generally reflects my mood. Since I’ve switched from horror to sf and fantasy, I must deduce my mental health is improving.

Fantasy novelist

Holt aged twelve was stunted, sullen and fat; accordingly, much kicked by his peers; tried kicking back – mug’s game, legs too short; adopted pose of intellectual superiority (even wrote poetry; book of same published at age twelve) led to further, now thoroughly-deserved mayhem. By-product; at age twelve, read plays of Aristophanes (earliest surviving intentionally funny Western literature), which are what’s now termed comic fantasy – dazzling leaps of imagination undercut at every turn by awareness of own ludicrousness; late seventies (still stunted, fat; less sullen), recognises Hitch-Hikers’ Guide is basically the same thing and people seem to like it, decides to have a go. The rest is – well, scarcely history; let’s call it bibliography.

Science Fiction novelist

What if Dorian Gray had paused for reflection after picking up the knife? What if he had put it down again, realising that the monstrousness of the painting changed nothing except for its genre? What if he had understood that by virtue of his magnificent excesses Basil Hallward’s exercise in old-fashioned representative realism had metamorphosed into a masterpiece of modern impressionism? What if he had said to himself: “This is not the end, but the beginning”…?
What if Oscar Wilde, inspired by his character’s great leap of the imagination, had challenged the Marquess of Queensberry to a duel instead of a lawsuit, and had shot the foul-mouthed bully dead, thus avoiding crucifixion by the moronic moralists of his day and extending his glittering career…?
The possibilities are endless – but then, they always are. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Horror novelist

As a child, clambering like a monkey on my father’s floor to ceiling bookshelves, I read whatever appealed to me, which was mostly the weird or fantastic. Omnibus collections of great supernatural and ghost stories, the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe and Ambrose Bierce mingled strangely in my mind with gleanings from the selected works of Sigmund Freud. Also there was a book called Bikey the Skycycle about a bicycle capable of interplanetary journeys. Ray Bradbury was my greatest discovery at the public library; for a long time he and E. Nesbit were my chief literary idols.

Horror novelist

Compressing my influences into one hundred words is almost impossible, but Rupert Bear, Doctor Who, the Pan/Fontana Horror/Ghost collections, and punk rock comes pretty close. I still recall the frisson of fear I felt reading the story Rupert and Ragetty, in which a spiny, root-like creature crawls from beneath a felled tree during a storm, my awe and terror as the Autons – living mannequins – jerked to life and crashed through shop windows in Doctor Who. I recall reading horror stories under the bedclothes, then lying awake, convinced that every sound was a horrible something coming to get me. And punk rock? Well, that made a rebel of me, gave me the pig-headedness to stick with what I wanted to do, no matter how discouraging people were.

Science fiction novelist and editor

My biggest influence? Short stories.
The first sf book I ever read was More Penguin Science Fiction, edited by Brian Aldiss. That was what hooked me on science fiction. I read every anthology I could find, then went onto the magazines. New Worlds was always my favourite. When I began writing short stories, that was where I sent them. Michael Moorcock was the editor – and he sent them all back!
That was all a long time ago, and I’m still hooked on short sf. Reading it, writing it. But I still haven’t had a story in New Worlds. Instead, I’m the editor. Which is nearly as good.

Horror novelist

My earliest influence into writing came from my mother (E. M. Weale), a pre-war historical writer who encourage me to write. At the age of twelve I was having short stories published in the children’s page of a local newspaper. Many of these were horror and sf. I read Weird Tales as soon as I was old enough but my greatest influence in the genre was Badger Books (Spencer) and particularly R. Lionel Fanthorpe who wrote most of these novels under a variety of pseudonyms. Much later I was to form a close friendship with Fanthorpe. I have always liked pulp fiction and I think that the best of this was to be found in the New English Library horror list of the early seventies. The covers were superb, the stories basic but very readable. I have always been an advocate of simplicity; I think that today there is too much emphasis on length and complicated psychological plots.

Horror and fantasy editor and columnist

100 words to list my influences? If I had ten times that many, I couldn’t do justice to all those people, publications and pictures that helped meld my malleable young mind: Walt Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, which was the first movie I ever saw in the cinema … Stan Lee’s new age of Marvel Comics … anything illustrated by Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino or Neal Adams for DC Comics … Willis O’Brien’s mighty King Kong … the Weird Tales circle of writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith … and of course, Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine … Without any of the above, I would not be having such fun writing and editing today!

Horror novelist and genre critic

In the horror field, fear is overrated. I’m often asked if I’m scared by what I write (sometimes, but not in the way they mean) or what scares me (the usual things). Actually, I’m far more likely to write about what angers me than what frightens me. The central nugget of many of my stories and novels is something momentous or trivial that prompts me to foaming fury: resurgent fascism, the tabloid press, queue-jumpers, colorisation of old movies, the Government. A graphologist once examined my handwriting and told me I had a wild temper. As a child, I was a tantrum freak, but in my personal life it’s been a long time since I screamed and shouted and hit someone with a chair. It doesn’t all go into the work, but a great deal of it does. There you have it: why I write – rage.

Science Fiction novelist

When I was at school I bought a battered American paperback called Sorcerer’s Amulet by Michael Moorcock. The exotic hybrid of sword and sorcery in a dizzyingly decadent far future looked irresistible in a remainder shop in Folkestone. It wasn’t until I got the book home that I realised it was volume two of four. After a mighty quest for the other three mystic tomes, I read the whole story over and over again, mesmerised. The horned horses of the Kamarg! The Silver Bridge at Deau-Vere! The brazen ornithopters!
I see that in April 1988, in some access of nostalgia, I got Mike to autograph Sorcerer’s Amulet for me. ‘To Colin,’ he wrote. ‘How long can this last then?’
25 years so far, Mike.

Horror novelist

Back in 1970 when I was 22 and writing a series on computers for Channel 19 TV in Toronto, I went to MIT in Boston and met Marvyn Minsky. During an informal conversation he told me he believed that by the year 2000 man would have successfully replicated human consciousness in a computer – and proved by definition that God does not exist.
This one statement fired my imagination more than any other single remark I have ever heard in my life and it made me realise what I really wanted to do, which was to explore through writing the (sometimes very blurred) boundaries between science, medicine and the supernatural.
What I find enormously exciting as we move towards the end of this century is that we are beginning to see a new openness in scientists prepared to admit that in many cases the more they learn, the more they realise how little they know, together with a growing consensus among scientists that it is highly improbable that we are alone in universe.
Horror and science fiction gives writers a genre in which they can probe the unknown in all its forms, and if we look back in history, it is startling and enormously exciting to see how many immovable tenets of the scientific establishment have been ultimately disproved by writers as visionary as Jules Verne and Arthur C. Clarke. And we are seeing some of our own generation's tenets beginning to look less solid: Darwinism, The Big Bang Theory and the Speed of Light are all under challenge right now, in ways that could eventually lead to us having to rewrite not only the past, but the future. I can't think of a more exciting field for a writer to work in than this genre and I feel very lucky to be a part of it.

Fantasy novelist

In everyone’s life there is a moment, an incident, that sparks a major change. In the case of Jonathan Wylie, this was when ‘he’ fell in love with his other half. Jonathan Wylie is in fact the pseudonym of Mark and Julia Smith, who met while working in publishing.
Having sparked each other into creative life, it seemed natural to work in the fantasy genre – a genre we had both loved since childhood (formative influences being Mervyn Peake, Zenna Henderson and John Wyndham), and had been involved with professionally.
Thirteen books later, we can’t imagine a more fulfilling way of life.

Horror novelist

In the sun-filled 1960s when my days were packed with American comic books and bubblegum cards, a little darkness entered my life – a film with the cheesy but irresistible title Night of the Demon. From the eerie opening shots of Jacques Tourneur’s classy little world of shadows and light to the terrifying final scene of demonic retribution, I sat frozen with my first experience of fear. Ancient evil, runes and curses, a heart-pounding chase through night-dark woods and one of the most unnerving scores ever. I was hooked. Call me perverse, but from that first viewing I knew that creepy world was the one I wanted to inhabit.

Fantasy artist

H. G. Wells and Jules Verne (such a kind man!) were early influences. Film makers plundered their books for subject matter and Saturday morning pictures acted like a magnet to me. I jostled amongst crowds of excited kids, eagerly waiting to see what happened to Flash Gordon in this week’s episode.
A boys’ paper, Modern World, combined a bit of science, some technical future-gazing and short stories – one about a valley of giant insects after a botched experiment.
Science fiction played with ideas and possibilities in a way that allowed the imagination time and space in which to roam.
It seemed to me a way of thinking that set in motion atrophied areas of the brain, long neglected in benighted times.

Fantasy novelist

In the course of a less than happy youth, I discovered an escape in escape literature, which I suspect helped save my sanity. I later fled my less than ideal working environment by writing fiction about familiar things: space travel, weird alien worlds, monsters, and magic. When I managed to sell some, so much the better. I love being paid for having fun! Now I am returning to the real world to explore a subject of some ambition: the entire evolution and geography of humankind, with warnings for the future, presented as historical fiction. What better pursuit can there be?

Horror novelist

The blame for my presence in this field falls squarely on the shoulders of two guys named Philip and one named Stephen. The first is Phil Painting, like myself, a left-handed Libran. One day long ago, when everyone had long hair and an interest in mind-expanding substances, Phil comes over to me in a bar, thrusts a book into my hand and demands I read it. The book is called Eye in the Sky and is written by the second Phil: Philip K. Dick. I fall in love. Times passes. I pick up a Stephen King and fall in love again. Time passes. I finally realise that when I grow up I want to be a writer.

Fantasy artist

Some of the people, books and films which have influenced me: James Ensor, Rupert Bear, Albrecht Dürer, the original Flash Gordon, The Wizard of Oz, Goya, Bosch, Mr Sharp, Moebius, Kubin, Tiger Tiger, The Demolished Man, Blade Runner, Night of the Hunter, The Gormenghast trilogy, Treasure Island, The Green Child, Small Creeps Day, Lord of the Rings, Kandinsky, Bonnard, The Railway Accident & Other Stories, the Eagle & Lion comic, Ralph Bakshi, The Times, cinema and deck chairs and brass bands in St James Park.

Horror novelist

Somehow I was hardwired for the weird and fantastic. Can't explain how or why. Nothing ever even remotely monsterish in my staid, middle-class, church-going, three-child, two-parent, one-dog, Scotch-Irish, Roman Catholic American household.
Until TV brought The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms into my living room in June of 1953.
Remember the face-hugger in Alien, the way it came out of the egg and into John Hurt's visor? If so, you've got some idea of the sudden intimacy between my face and the family TV when I first saw the Beast trailer.
I think it was love. I was only six, but something in me responded to Harryhausen's monster stomping through Manhattan's financial district with all these screaming, terrified New Yorkers tripping and falling over each other in their panicked flight from it.
Like coming home … and I hadn't even known I'd been away.

Fantasy novelist

If I had to name one major influence on my work it would have to be the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire where I was brought up. I love the bracken-covered slopes, gnarled oaks and ancient rocks of Bradgate Park; the sweeping views and mysterious rhododendron groves of Beacon Hill; the cathedral vaults and bluebell carpets of Swithland Woods; the lovely villages of granite and thatch. Their influence on me can be summed up in one word: atmosphere. Charnwood has an other-worldly feel in which anything seems possible; you feel you might have stepped into another world in which characters from fantasy could come to life. It’s this atmosphere, a unique eerie ambience, that also attracts me to my favourite books, and which I try to recreate in my own writing.

Fantasy novelist

I always wanted to write, because I’ve always loved reading. A childhood illness stopped me leading an active life, so I got my adventures from books instead. Having discovered C. S. Lewis, I took off into the realms of the fantastic with Tolkien, Bradbury, Sturgeon, McCaffrey and many others. I then found myself mentally rewriting plots - this started because there were no good female roles in Lord of the Rings - and decided to write Aurian after losing my job. I owe a great debt to Miss Dixon my English teacher, who always encouraged me, and to my erstwhile employers, for obvious reasons!

Horror novelist, film scriptwriter and television produced/scriptwriter

The facts of backwards; the chill illogic of paradox. In the upside-down terrain of irony, the cruel-hearted find joy and giggling children murder. Significance is empty. The apparent elusive. Words play tricks, faces mislead, things fall upward. As a rudiment of fantasy, irony has few rivals.
The subversion of overt definitions has always appealed to me, in my writing. What could be better? Meanings within meanings; the quiet, vile truth masquerading as mannerly and safe. Or the benign cloaked in cruelty. Yet, however expected, it’s not simply the reverse of something which makes it interesting to me.
There’s a secondary dimension I’m fascinated by: the hidden core so totally undermining the surface that a kind of macabre poetry arises. When it works, nothing remains trustworthy; the reader loses control.
And the fun really begins.


Well, there was M.R. James and P.M. Hubbard and Enid Blyton, of course, but the real inspiration was a seminal work of non-fiction. The View Over Atlantis by Earth Mysteries guru John Michell, opened up a new Britain for me. OK, some of the book’s ideas have been knocked down over the years, but it still brings me out in a warm, mystical glow. And I still can’t look at an unfamiliar slice of countryside without zooming in on anomalous bumps and mounds and linear patterns, indicating the presence of … er … unknown energies

Author and genre columnist

What got me into this field? Discovering that my local newsagent for whom I delivered papers had copies of MonsterMag on the top shelves … watching my first horror film, Taste the Blood of Dracula, on television … being scared witless by the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors on Doctor Who … discovering horror novels through Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining … attending special screenings of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and thinking it was rubbish, and Alfred Soles’ Communion and quite enjoying it … ‘variety bags’ with trading cards from The Outer Limits inside … building Aurora glow-in-the-dark model kits but using the non-glowing parts as they could be painted to look more realistic … seeing penny-arcades for the first time at London Zoo and being fascinated by the mechanics behind the little horror scenarios that were played out in miniature … late night horror double bills on BBC 2 … all these and more affected and shaped the young Howe. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.


David Howe talks to editor Kim Newman about an impressive new guide to the horror genre

There have been many books written about horror films. The first appears to have been a general overview of the genre by Michael Laclos called Le fantastique au cinema in 1958 but since then a countless number of works have been produced. The quality of these ‘guides’ has varied from photo-packed works which barely scratch the surface of the subject to Stephen Jones’ exhaustively compiled and beautifully presented Illustrated Movie Guides.

What has been missing, however, has been a good encyclopaedic view of the genre. Something that takes in not only the films – which tend to form the backbone of the genre – but also the film makers: directors, producers, stars, visual effects designers, make-up artistes; authors: of films and screenplays through to horror fiction; and also the themes: everything from ‘the old dark house’ to ‘witchcraft’ and ‘serial killers’.

The BFI Companion to Horror (Cassell, £19.99 lfp/b) sets out to redress the balance by providing just this sort of genre overview. Overseeing this massive task of chronicling over a century of horror is journalist, novelist and broadcaster Kim Newman. Newman has been influential in the genre for many years and has several previous works of non-fiction to his credit (including the seminal Nightmare Movies, first published in 1985 and re-issued in a substantially revised edition in 1988).

The story of the Companion to Horror started several years ago, when Newman was contributing material to The BFI Companion to the Western. ‘At the time,’ he explained, ‘I told the editor that if they were ever in the market for a horror volume, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring as a possible editor. We had lunch, agreed that it was a good idea, and then everything went quiet for several years while the deal was put together. I wanted to create a reference book that would give me a chance to encompass the whole genre rather than just pick at segments of it. This sort of book tends to be known by their editor rather than by title, and I quite liked the idea of there being a big book out there known as “Newman’s” alongside “Maltin’s” or “Halliwell’s”.

Once the green light was given for the project, Newman started defining what the book would cover.

‘The initial outlining was probably the most conceptually difficult bit of the book,’ said Newman. ‘I had to decide what the entries should be, how long they should run, and who should write them. Philip Strick and Phil Hardy were working in parallel on BFI Companions to Science Fiction and Crime, so I tried to avoid too much overlap with their areas.

‘The brief was to deliver around 200,000 words. Of course, this wasn’t long enough – it would have been easier to produce a book twice the size, and there are a great many pieces contained within the book I wish could have been longer. However, I worked very hard at the editing stage to keep it to length (it came in about 4000 words over).

‘In choosing the contributors, I decided who I wanted to work with – both established names in the field and newer, underexposed folks – and tried to give out batches of entries to people who were especially qualified – Tom Hutchinson did all the horror stars, for example. Steve Jones handled the character actors, Tony Mechele the TV series, Christopher Frayling the major themes, David McGillivray the animal entries, Mark Ashworth the starlets and so on. Some people – Alan Jones, David Prothero – were useful all-rounders. I personally tried to stay away from writing about people or themes I’d written about before, and I also did a lot of sweep-up work on those entries which were so brief that it was not worth commissioning them out.

‘In choosing what to cover, I decided that at least half of the entries would be mandatory – those on certain characters, actors, sub-genres, directors, writers. On top of all the people known for their horror work, I wanted to spotlight areas that impinged on the genre, and include entries on Ingmar Bergman and Franz Kafka as well as Wes Craven and Stephen King.

‘The main surprise once the book started to take shape was how complex and inter-connected everything turned out to be. There’s a difference between knowing a lot of facts and seeing them all assembled together, so you can cross-reference them.’

What marks the Companion to Horror out is the attention to detail that is contained within its pages. There are lengthy pieces, as you might expect, on Dracula and Frankenstein, but there are also significant articles on numerous directors including George A Romero, Roman Polanski and David Cronenberg. Horror authors are well catered for with entries on popular wordsmiths like James Herbert, Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe as well as many lesser known talents like Ray Russell, Gary Brandner and Harry Adam Knight. Horror on television is also covered, with entries including Doctor Who, Ace of Wands and Chiller as well as Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

The book is wonderful to dip into, with articles on over 500 films, 500 figures associated with the industry and 100 television series as well as numerous thematic entries. The entries range from a few lines to a couple of pages in length. Perhaps the only disappointment is that the book does not claim to be ‘complete’. Films have, on the whole, been omitted in favour of presenting previously unknown information on the genre, but this was a deliberate policy and allows the lesser known information to shine.

At a penny short of twenty pounds, the book is not cheap, but it is by far the best chronicle of the horror genre available. Newman, however, smiles when asked if he is pleased with the end result. ‘I’m just pleased that it got finished! Seriously, I hope it functions genuinely as a companion to the genre, and also that it fits in with the BFI’s publishing program. I assumed all along that people who buy it will already have a couple of books on the subject, and so I deliberately didn’t duplicate the efforts of previous authoritative works by including hundreds of capsule reviews of specific films. What this book does is try to make out the patterns that are larger than specific films – the themes, careers, ideas and recurrences that tie the genre together.’

The BFI Companion to Horror is arguably the most important genre book to be published so far this decade. Newman is already hopeful of being able to expand any future editions and with the groundwork already set, this can only cement this publication’s place as one of the most interesting, readable and accessible guides to the genre yet published.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

SHADOWMAN by Dennis Etchison

Although Dennis Etchison has been writing professionally for thirty-four years, his name is not well known in England. That is to soon change as Raven Books, an imprint of Robinson Publishing, bring out some of his new novels, starting with Shadowman.

Shadowman is essentially a prequel to my short story The Dark Country, which won both the British and World Fantasy Awards back in 1981,’ explains Etchison. ‘Over the years I found myself wondering what happened to the Jack Martin character to lead into The Dark Country. Because these people that I write about seem very real to me, they don’t seem like characters in a book. What happens in Shadowman causes him to want to get away from it all and to recover from the events of the novel. Unfortunately what happens in The Dark Country is the same sort of touble again. The point is that there are some archetypal problems that we have to work out in our lives. We don’t necessarily know what the cause is but they keep following us around. We’ve all had that experience in life. As you look back you see certain familiar patterns, certain sorts of trouble repeating themselves. Martin is very much a passive victim in these two tales but that is the nature of this sort of problem. You think your life is going along perfectly, you’re not worried about anything, and all of a sudden from nowhere something presents itself and you have to try to solve it and survive.’

Etchison confirms that his books are very much character led, and that in the case of Shadowman, he actually had a different ending in mind from the one he eventually wrote. ‘When I started writing the novel I thought the ending was going to be different and I was rather surprised to find out what the real explanations were. It’s not because I’m mindless when I write, but it’s because the people in the books become very real to me and it’s a question of being honest and letting them go and do whatever they would do. If you can’t predict what’s going to happen in the novel when reading it, it’s because I didn’t know either.

‘As I look back over my short stories I see that they tend to come in threes and sometimes the three are spread out over several years because I keep returning to subjects because I haven’t worked them out yet. Usually by the third time that’s the end of it. Shadowman features Jack Martin for the second time, so although I may think I’ve finished with him for the moment, I expect that another story will come along at some point.’

Etchison’s next two novels to be published by Raven are California Gothic and Double Edge, and he is currently developing an original Evil Dead novel with Sam Raimi, the director of the cult horror films.

‘It’s like a film that never was and the only way I would do it was if I had complete freedom to create a new story. I met with Sam and his people and they’ve pretty much given me carte blanche although I’m continuing to tell them my ideas to be sure I’m not going off in the wrong direction. Are you aware that The Evil Dead had a different ending in America than it did in the rest of the world? I saw both versions and they are entirely different, and I have to somehow reconcile both of those endings, I feel responsible. The end of the third film, or at least the American ending, makes it very clear to me that these adventures that Ash has been having are fantasies in his mind. In the American ending he returns, not to a bleak, post-Apocalypse world of the future, but to the store where he works and you see that he’s just a nerdy clerk who tells these stories to the people around him. He shifts between two realities: what’s in his mind and what’s going on around him, and that’s the tack that I’m taking.’

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Chasing the Wulf - Steve Harris

Interview by David Howe

I cited Steve Harris as ‘a name to watch for the ‘90s’ following the release of his debut novel, Adventureland, and he has consolidated that position with his second novel, Wulf, now available in paperback.

Steve hails from Basingstoke in the south of England, and I met up with him recently for lunch and a chat about his current and future plans. No sooner had we settled down with a large plate of sandwiches and a bottle of fizzy wine than Steve proclaimed: ‘I love interviews! I love the way you can find out stuff for books by going up to complete strangers and asking them the most absurd questions. When I was writing Wulf, I wanted to find out what would happen if you tried to kill someone with a combine harvester, so I wrote to a manufacturing company and asked if anyone there could tell me what would happen and in what sequence. I ended up talking to one of their sales directors and he was really helpful, told me what would happen and gave me lots of leaflets.

‘I also went to a police station and asked what would happen if someone sawed down a tree and blocked off a village, sat up on the tree with a high-powered deer rifle and took shots at people, maybe a village bobby was killed as well - with a chainsaw! They looked at me a bit suspiciously at first but eventually they told me all sorts of things; I thought they’d politely ask me to leave, but they explained that if someone did do what I had outlined, they’d probably send out an Instant Response Unit, which is a couple of guys in a car and in the boot they’ve got a locked safe containing a rifle, which they can use if they think the situation needs it. They even went and asked the Chief Constable what size bullets they used for these rifles, detail like that was really helpful.’

Steve had to pause to munch on his chicken, grape and lemon mayonnaise sandwich so I took the opportunity to ask if he had done much research for his next novel, The Hoodoo Man.

‘Not really. I did do quite a lot for Wulf, but I didn’t really do any for The Hoodoo Man as far as going and actually talking to people. I had read a lot previously about out of body experiences and so on and also some of those quasi-religious books which purport to explain life, the universe and everything else you can possibly think of. I liked the way that their explanations and advice all hang together: basic common sense really.

‘That’s part of the basis for The Hoodoo Man and another aspect is to do with changing the future,  but not in a time-travel sense. If you can see into the future, and you’re seeing say one future out of three, then perhaps if you’re clever enough you can make one of the other two futures happen. You may be able to manipulate what happens in the future by something you do now, simply by having that knowledge. For example, if you look into the future and see that you’re going to fall under a bus the next day, then you obviously wouldn’t go anywhere near a bus and the future you saw would not happen. I wanted to look quite closely at how things like that might happen and what the consequences might be. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, nothing’s simple or easy.

‘There are situations in The Hoodoo Man that are not terribly pleasant for the main character. I won’t tell you too much about it, but he finds himself faced with an impossible dilemma at one point, by being able to see into the future, and what he has to do to deal with it.’

While Steve ploughed into the tuna mayonnaise sandwiches, I asked what made him start writing in the first place.

‘Basically I was after a free lunch! I’d only ever written a couple of very short, one page, silly pieces of fiction, rather influenced by Spike Milligan I suppose, that kind of daftness, which I admire. And I’d also been playing in a band from my late teens to mid-twenties and writing some of the songs, which is very very difficult to do. I wanted to do something creative, something that might end up in me not having to go to work. This was because when I left school I was on the dole for six months or so, because there weren’t any jobs, and I eventually started working in an ammunition depot taking apart shells and stuff. The week after I started the job, I decided that the sooner I could do something I liked doing and not have to go to work, the better. This was why I took up with the band as it looked like a way out of having to go to work but it was dreadful, it was worse than having two jobs!

‘Anyway, the band eventually fell apart and I decided to write a book as I thought it would probably be easier! So I sat down with a large exercise book and a biro and wrote my first novel. I didn’t write it seriously at first, I just wrote when I could and built it up gradually. Then I was off sick for nearly two months with glandular fever, and towards the end of that I started feeling a bit better so I got the book out again and finished the manuscript. It was a real hand-written manuscript, not a typescript, so I asked people how much they would charge to type it, and after I found out how much they wanted, I bought myself an electric typewriter and taught myself to type. This wasn’t Adventureland and I won’t embarrass myself by telling you the title of it. I thought it was a fairly good kind of horror thriller thing, and in fact I think I’ve read worse since, but nobody was the faintest bit interested. Headline didn’t exist then, nobody was doing horror, there was nothing about - this was around 1979. There was the odd Guy N Smith book, but nobody was interested in publishing any fresh horror at all. I even tried some American publishers and they weren’t interested either. So, unperturbed, I  started on another book.

‘Three novels and a volume of short stories later, I  wrote Adventureland. By this time I knew the names of some of the people who had thought favourably of my previous stuff, and I sent Adventureland to them. One of them was Richard Evans, who was then at Futura. What I didn’t know was that he had left, and that someone else was there. I eventually got a note from Richard who was now at Headline saying that they would buy the book. He invited me up to talk about it and when I arrived he said ‘I’ve got some news for you which you’re not going to like very much’, so I said ‘What’s that then?’ and he said ‘I’m leaving!’. Luckily he was able to get the book through before he left.

Adventureland seemed to be very well received, and by then I was well into the next one, Wulf. Wulf started when I was driving along one day and there was this thing about BSE - mad cow disease - on the radio. There was a woman who had worked with people who had died from a brain disease called kuru, prevalent in the natives of New Guinea who ate the brains of their dead. No-one knew what it was, how it got there, where it came from or how to get rid of it. They were saying that it was closely related to scrapies, which is a brain disease in sheep, and that cow feed is made from dead sheep, the cows contracted BSE and then the meat from them went into meat pies for human consumption. All the experts on the radio said that humans could not get it, except for this one woman who said they could, citing the New Guinea natives as an example.

‘So I thought it would be good fun to give a whole village BSE. One of the symptoms in cows is that they become terrified - not that it takes much to frighten a cow anyway - and I wondered what they were frightened of. If they were hallucinating, what were they seeing? I thought it might be some sort of race memory of wolves, so that’s where the wolf idea came in. I basically decided to do a werewolf novel that didn’t involve any werewolves and progressed from there. I think I must be lucky as the whole process of writing seems to come really easily to me, it’s hardly ever a chore.

‘The greatest love of my life is sleeping, sex is next and third is writing. Those are the only things that I’d rather be doing than writing - except talking to you of course!’

And with that, the remaining sandwiches were devoured, the wine quaffed and Steve and I made our respective ways home. It was back to work for me, but I suspect that Steve had some serious sleeping to catch up on.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Bob Keen Interview


This is an example of a transcription before I write up the interview for publication. Elements of this piece are probably elsewhere, in a longer piece about the films ... but this is an interesting chat with Bob Keen, presented with mis-spellings and question marks where I wasn't sure what he had said - all things cleaned up and sorted out for the final version. DJH

DJH: We’ll start with Hellraiser I, how did you become involved with it?

BK: Somebody reccomended me after I’d done Highlander. Clive was going to go with the people who did Rawhead Rex but he wasn’t overhappy with them. I got to meet him in the Ritz in London, and Chris Seaton [?] was there as well, and we hit it off. We were as sick as each other; I hadn’t actually read, at the time, I must confess, any of his stuff, I wasn’t aware of who he was but at the time he’d only released the Books of Blood. I immediately went out and read them and really got into his work. We then met again at his house which at the time was in Hampstead and we found that we really could, we had a common ground and could work with each other, and our imaginations really bounced [?] each other, that’s where the basis of our relationship and still our relationship to this day, probably our strongest point is the fact that our imaginations are very easily intertwined.

DJH: Clive does give a lot of input into his films.

CB: Bigger and better than any other director I can think of that I’ve worked with. That’s not to say that any other director I’ve worked with hasn’t been imaginative, it’s just really to say that Clive’s imagination is out on his sleeve. He’s an artist so he can draw, he can articulate as well, he’s incredibly good at describing something and it really becomes like mental ping-pong, you bat the idea over and it’s batted back very fast and you have to bat it back, and he’s one of these people that you have to run to keep up with. He’s incredible, his imagination; I thought I had a good imagination until [I met him ?]. He’s a joy to work with as well.

DJH: The first Hellraiser film was obviously very much setting the scene. Were you in charge of all of it?

BK: It was the whole look of the thing we were interested in and Clive had a lot of that, he had a feel that he wanted, and I think the chains, the lights and the slits and all that kind of stuff grew out of concepts and conversations. In fact, Pinhead’s design grew out of a very interesting conversation. We started off with something that was much more similar to Shinashasi [?] in design, where it was quills and it was very quill-like in design, and it sort of honed down to being simpler. So what happened is we started off with a grid, drawing a grid onto the head and Clive looked at that and went God, that’s it, that’s it! So the grid then became self-imposed markings and the quills got replaced with the nails or the pins. So eighty per cent of what Pinhead is is Clive’s imagination and I think fifteen per cent is what Doug brought to the table and I think five per cent is what we stuck on top of his face. I think an awful lot of Pinhead’s charm, beauty is in Doug’s voice, performance and I think the look is something that Clive had, he saw one we [?] unfold in front of him, it was a joy for him to see that creation come along.

DJH: You’ve got a sketch there, is this an along the way one?

BK: It’s along the way. Clive’s greatest gift I think is the fact that he can see something and instantly know in which direction he wants it to go. The original concept was not like that, it was much more quill-like but he instantly steered it towards that. We were working out for ourselves, in fact that is it, that was the first one, and I think he could see that the self-imposed almost discipline that someone would have to have to sit there and produce this shape was much more appealing, and also he had a great phrase on the film, and that was less is more, and I think that’s very true. It would have been very easy to have put in lots of folds, do the normal monster stuff, but it isn’t, it’s a very simplistic, the colour is very simple, I think that’s why it’s such a striking image that has lasted so long. It’s still on every single poster for a Hellraiser film. It is the image of the pictures.

DJH: The film evolved conceptually, is that the right term? You were doing the visual effects but from the way you talk it’s almost as if you were doing the art direction and the lighting…

BK: I think it was, there was an awful lot of what I like to call pizza and beer conversations where the two of us or sometimes there would be four of us from the group all sitting down and just talking constantly and talking the thing through, I think that was useful for Clive to use us as a sounding board and like I say mental ping-pong table it would be knocked over and knocked back. And there are some aspects of it which were my idea, there are a lot of aspects which were Clive’s idea and there were some aspects of it which were other people on the team’s idea. Again I think it’s Clive’s ability to a) interpret what you’re saying to him and then see how he wants that to run; probably his immense imagination is his true genius.

DJH: How was the original Pinhead done? Because I believe it’s changed slightly with each film.

BK: Yes, only very slightly. On the first film we thought we were going to have major problems holding all these pins out right and perfectly straight So what we did is we built, a really laborious process, we had a little tiny piece of brass with a little tiny piece of rubber underneath so it wouldn’t mark Doug’s face, and that was pushed through, on top of the brass there was a pin, and it was pushed through, then each and every pin on the first film was actually a hollow piece of brass with a head made to look like a nail, so they were very light, and they would then sit [fit?] over the pin going through. That’s the main difference, also the number of prosthetic pieces, the first film had probably about five pieces at least to make, which took a long time. We also pre-coloured to an extent but nowhere as much as by the time we did III and IV when the pieces were very pre-coloured.

DJH: So there was make-up that had to go on on top?

BK: Natural pigments, yeah. They were base coloured, but it was taking something like four hours to make you up. By the time we got to the second feature. For the first picture it didn’t matter so much, I think Doug’s days were quite few.

DJH: I think Gary said he was only on screen for about six minutes in the entire film.

BK: That’s exactly it, so the actual days was quite a short number, and really the story was about, it’s interesting that Pinhead emerged out of that because really the story initially was a love story, what someone will do for love. And the real monster was Julie, that she would do anything for love, or not depending on how you look at it. But I think that sort of evolved and I think the fans really latched onto Pinhead, in fact the whole Cenobite culture, much stronger than we probably intended them to. But that’s the way it goes, you can never tell what’s going to happen.

DJH: Because the whole concept of the Cenobites is the boundary between pleasure and pain.

BK: That was always said, that was always something we knew we were getting into with Hellraiser, that was there even in the first draft of the script. I think we always knew you were putting fingers into stuff that up until that time had not been touched in mainstream cinema.

DJH: More so that Pinhead, Pinhead looks very serene, almost regal…

BK: I always thought of him as at least a general.

DJH: I mean there’s no sense that he’s in any particular discomfort…

BK: Apart form having the strips torn out of his stomach…

DJH: I mean in terms of his bearing; but when you come to something like Chatterer…

BK: Chatterer wasn’t called Chatterer for a long time. Before he was actually named Chatterer he was known as Poor Bastard, and that probably was a better name for him. As a character, having your eyelids sewn up and pulled over and having your gums revealed and your head scraped [?] is probably not the most pleasant of things in the world. He seems so happy with it, you know. It’s very difficult to understand.

DJH: The pleasure through pain stuff was presumably influencing the design of this sort of thing.

BK: I think once we’d hit on the demons and the whole pain or pleasure concept that it really became very clear. I’ve said this before but I could probably sit here and design Cenobites for another ten years because the variation on a theme does become, you know what is a Cenobite and what is someone who is not a Cenobite. I think that’s a very interesting line, I think that’s also to do with purity of image. We were very, very careful about costume, about colouring, about all the aspects of all the Cenobites to start off with and that gave us a very strong look, it’s very stylised.

DJH: It’s almost ritual striation, there’s nothing random here, it’s all planned…

BK: That’s exactly it and I think that’s what we were looking for in our monsters, that we were looking for this strange ornament [aura], of almost like I said self-imposed discipline to it. Against that you’ve got the strange decayed order of the rebuilding of Frank which is something completely different.

DJH: I want to talk about the other elements and the strongest one is Frank. It is still extraordinary, the rebirth of Frank out of the floorboards.

BK: The birth is a very interesting thing. What happened with the birth was, we’d already shot if you like a dry version which was Frank’s remains breaking out of the wall.

DJH: You mean dry as in dust?

BK: Dust, all that sort of thing. And when New World saw the picture they realised that the potential for this film was a lot bigger than they originally planned. I think that no-one had realised or no-one believed that the concept was going to be as powerful. We knew it was special. So at the end of the picture they decided to flex in some more money. So the birth of Frank was actually done in a different studio to the rest of the film, on a different set because they’d already pulled down the set, afterwards we went back and did the birth of Frank. That was really a great opportunity for me to run with something. Clive said, a couple of paragraphs about making it visceral and I was allowed to really come up with the goods then. That was the great opportunity and we then bounced, I storyboarded that concept, which was very close to what we had, bounced around a few ideas, added a few things in and then we went for it in a big way. It was very gooey [?], we were using a lot of melt down effects and tons and tons of slime, you wouldn’t believe how much slime. What people don’t realise is that the holes in the floor, the way the set was built, meant that our slime was constantly running over all the operators underneath. Underneath the table you were sitting there with,

DJH: It was like a puppet stage almost?

BK: Exactly, it was a raised set and there were people underneath and no matter what you wore, all day long the slime would trickle down and it would get down your neck and down the back of your trousers, it was fairly gross to be underneath it. That really gave us, that imagery then gave us that strong start to Frank and I think that was a great creational moment.

DJH: Was it a rod puppet?

BK: It was a lot of different techniques. There was rod puppetry for sure for some of the arms stuff, table work for the fingers, there was radio control for the head…

DJH: I know it’s all in reverse but where the spinal column thrusts itself into the brain pan as it appeared on the floor.

BK: All of that stuff was, there was a lot more in fact shot, there’s a really weird sequence where these eyes merge out of the brain and solidify and stuff like that and there’s flesh running up the arms and all the rest of it. There’s only so much, if you actually look at it I think it’s as tight as you ever could want it as far as effects are concerned and if it gets any longer people will start losing interest so it was right to cut that.

DJH: How long did it take to do all that? How much time did they give you?

BK: Not enough, as I remember it was about four weeks to get everything together for that, which was very, very tight.

DJH: That sounds quite generous actually in film terms. Four weeks to do just one effect?!

BK: It wasn’t just one effect. There was an awful lot of other effects as well that were done at that time.

DJH: So it was a general beefing up but that was the main sequence?

BK: That was the main thing that they beefed up and there was several things with the boxed, doing more stuff. It was about half as much work again as we’d done on the picture so it was a lot of work, a lot of bits and pieces. It paid off, because there are moments I think everyone remembers. Everybody who’s seen Hellraiser remembers Frank and that’s a very good moment. Then after that we then realised that Frank needed to go through much more stages than we’d originally planned. We’d originally planned three make-up stages which went as I saw it, went from raw meat through to an underskeleton with flesh and bones. The process enlarged by the fact that we knew we’d seen the birth of Frank and then story-wise, just after that, we were going to see him crawling around. We actually had a child actor who was brilliant, in a miniature suit crawling around so we could get some idea of a feeling of growth of him. All the original mechanical stuff that was done with a puppet was all scrapped at that point, so there was a big chunk of work taken out as well, and then Frank sort of grew out of that, I mean his flesh, One of my proudest moments is where he’s still not dressed and the flesh is just, you really do feel

DJH: Just hanging off the bones almost.

BK: Yeah. A lot of it helped by the fact that…

DJH: Is this a puppet? How is he in there?

BK: No this is the real [actor]. The guy playing it, Oliver Smith, was thin to the point of [emaciation], this guy was a walking bag of bones, he still is. And consequently was great because you could put prosthetics all over him and it would build up and you would still feel that depth. It’s about an inch and a half [away from his chest], a lot of it is done with colour as well. There’s an awful lot of painting the darkness in but I feel very strongly that Frank was probably one of the best things we’ve done. It still stands up to this day. It’s a head to toe job. It is a full body suit with prosthetics on hand and head.

DJH: Did you see blood running through veins?

BK: You see goo moving. What we would do was just before the take we made this goo up which had like two or three different colours in it, stranded, and then we’d plonk a load of this onto the top of his head and then you’d see that move down all the time so you’ve got this constant feeling that the flesh is still moving, the flesh is still creeping and that’s the effect we were all after.

DJH: I think the final thing was this thing, this strange thing that suddenly appears out of nowhere.

BK: The Engineer. We wanted Hellraiser to be the ultimate thrill ride. The Engineer wasn’t in the original script and I think we wanted an opportunity to do a big creature and Clive was up for that and we felt that Hell could have other things in it and other creatures. I think it was a great opportunity for us to do a creature and it was a great opportunity for Clive to have another big scare, so it kind of grew.

DJH: There’s a big chase sequence in the middle where she’s after the box..

BK: She opens the box; it gave a good narrative to the film. I could have missed the Engineer I must admit, I wish that maybe on Hellraiser III and IV we had had a chance to do other creatures in Hell, it would have been nice.

DJH: So presumably when you did all this there wasn’t any particular thought of there being any sequels.

BK: I don’t think you ever sit there and work on a film and think well there’s going to be four sequels, it’s the start of a huge franchise. What we did know is that we were doing something special. I think we were all convinced that it wouldn’t be popular because we thought it was so different and I think that included Clive. We none of us knew that it was going to be as popular.

DJH: Or that it was going to be the horror icon of the eighties.

BK: Exactly, I don’t think any of us were aware of that. Probably that image has stalked Clive a little bit more than it has stalked us and I think he still feels fairly stalked by that image. He just recently did an interview where his main line was if there was never another Hellraiser film made I wouldn’t be an unhappy man, I think that’s probably the truth and I understand that. There’s an awful lot more to Clive than Hellraiser.

DJH: So Hellbound: Hellraiser II seemed to come round fairly quickly.

BK: I think what happened, obviously New Line realised they had a huge hit and consequently they thought let’s do another one and let’s go into Hell. I think it was remarkably quick. The film came out and within months we were actually in production and the schedule for it was nightmarishly difficult, very difficult indeed.

DJH: This is far more of a sequel than the others in the series.… this one is really picking up from the first film.

BK: Same characters; it’s to do with the fact that there are set characters that come over from the first picture into the second picture. I think there is a link with he third and fourth film but certainly by the time the fourth film comes round it’s a less obvious link. The third film does have elements and we find out more about who the character Pinhead was and stuff like that.

DJH: I’ve read somewhere the comment that they've become successively more Pinhead orientated.

BK: I think that’s obviously down to what the fans want. It’s a sort of direct statement.

DJH: For the second film we've got a skinless Julia.

BK: I think that was a continuation of a tradition. I’d hoped that we’d carry on doing that tradition down the line, a whole skinless family or a skinless horse or something like that. Julia was obviously a progression from what Frank was. We also wanted to make her very sexy and making her come over in such a way that she still is appealing but has no skin is obviously a challenge and a half and in fact it meant taking what was real and throwing it away. Because what was real with Frank worked.

DJH: Real in the sense that if you take a body apart that is the sort of thing you would see.

BK: You’d be pretty damn close. If you took the skin off someone like Julia it just really wouldn’t be the same thing. At least on number three you got to see how he does it! So it’s an interesting process. Julia was just an extension of what we’d learnt from Frank and then trying to keep the sexy aspect.

DJH: Again it’s a full suit?

BK: Full body suit. [It was another actress], The same as with Frank, it was easier to find somebody who was very thin, a dancer in fact [and then build up]. Little John did a superb job with the colour and painting and all of that, it’s a lovely job.

DJH: You can see here it’s all very slimy but presumably the colour is all there first.

BK: Yes, it’s very rich before the slime goes on. You have to be careful as well that you don’t lose everything, that it doesn’t become a red blob. We’d done a lot of research on colour tones and we were using a lot of pure black, although it doesn’t read as pure black, and pure white for highlighting. By the time you’ve put the bloody slime over the top, everything was mutated down. You need something that will kick through that.

DJH: Then there’s Channard of course.

BK: Yes, old Cheesegrater Face.

DJH: He was the first one we saw being made.

BK: Yes, I think he’s the most disappointing for me. We never really got a chance to go back as in detail to see a Cenobite being made and I think I would have liked to have gone back and work with Channard a little bit more.

DJH: I was never quite sure what this thing was supposed to be.

BK: I think it’s a giant prick that happens to be stuck into his head, I thought that was fairly obvious! I think Channard, it’s an interesting image.

DJH: Going into the internal logic of these things and talking about the first film being driven by this pleasure/pain barrier, then you come into the second film and I think in context there’s not much doubt that Channard is all but a Cenobite in person, he’s not a very nice person, he relishes this aspect of it.

BK: I think it’s a fascination for him, a fascination that has plagued his life since childhood. He’s collecting the boxes, the human brain and the whole fascination with the insides as well as the outsides.

DJH: So how much did this thematic aspect have on developing the look of Channard?

BK: None. Channard’s design was actually done as an alternative Cenobite design for the first film and when we came to do the second film, we picked up the two hundred drawings we had from the first film and looked through and found, and thought Ooh look, Cheesegrater, that’ll be great, and went with that. I think Channard could have done with a little bit more thought and a little bit more level that could have been placed on it. I think the imagery isn’t as pure as some of the other imagery. But it does have people wincing still.

DJH: Looking at the Cenobites in the first film and in some of the other films, you can see how people would say I’d quite like to be Pinhead…

BK: I’ve never actually thought that but it’s an interesting idea!

DJH: Neither have I, but I know some people do. But why would anyone want to have a cheesegrater slammed over their face?

BK: Maybe that’s my problem with it, I can’t actually put my finger on what’s wrong with Channard; It’s obviously about the constraints of bondage, it’s all to do with the freedom of constraint and everything else and my problem I think is… maybe it’s the fact we see Channard being made in front of us that it takes some of that magic away.

DJH: But you see Pinhead as well in three, and it doesn’t take it away.

BK: Yes you do; maybe that’s because you’ve already seen Pinhead and you already know Pinhead and you’re going back to the creation of Pinhead.

DJH: If you take it back again - you see pierced ears, no problem with that, most people have got pierced ears. You get pierced ears all the way round, you get people now with pierced noses, pierced eyebrows, nipples, belly buttons. The Cenobite type thing is almost an extension of this. It’s saying what can I do to my body that is going to be attractive?

BK: I think it’s exactly that, and individual. I think a very important point is the individuality of what people are willing to go through and put themselves up for.

DJH: And you show it with pride.

BK: Yes, I’ve changed my body, I’m no longer a human as you can see them.

DJH: And again I find that hard to apply to Channard.

BK: I think that’s probably true.

DJH: He didn’t change his body, it was done for him, he had no say in this.

BK: I think you’re absolutely right, that is some of the problem with Channard. But you work on these things and you work through, it’s only insight afterwards that you can actually … Channard is a disappointment for me but for a lot of people he fulfilled what they were after.

DJH: Frank was in the second film as well.

BK: Yes, Frank was back.

DJH: This was obviously a new costume.

BK: At the end of the day they’re pretty much hanging around, nearly everything was new for the second film.

DJH: Coming back to Pinhead again, how did this then change?

BK: Just the number of pieces was reduced, the technique was still the same by the second film, [the plates with the pins pushed through], that was still the same. What we did was reduce the number of pieces down to three, I believe. That speeded the process up drastically. We had to speed it up even further by the time we got to three, being on for even more number of days, he was suffering even more. It’s just how far can you go with this.

DJH: The female one.

BK: Right. Which was actually in the first film and reprised in the second one. She’s a very elegant creature, the female Cenobite. This idea that she has this piece of metal which runs through her face and it opens the wound and keeps the wound open in her throat, is much more in keeping with that special individuality maybe than I think Channard is. Technically it was an interesting one. To get the wire running through the face we went up and round the top of the head, so she had a piece of metal that went up and round the top of her head [following the line of the skull], and we connect to that the wires that link up through. She’s a very elegant beast and shows again that purity of image.

DJH: This is carried forward to the fourth film with Anglique.

BK: The same idea, but slightly different. You know that Angelique is a Cenobite when you look at a photograph, you don’t need to know which film she’s from. But I think that’s why I’m talking about purity of image.

DJH: Butterball was the other one.

BK: Or Fat Bastard… Sad Bastard and Fat Bastard as they were known. Butterball was an interesting idea, he’s almost baby-like in his grossness and the idea that they’d sewn his eyes up and filed his teeth down didn’t seem to make a great deal of problems for him. A very popular image, for us a very simple one, an overhead mask, as was Chatterer. Very quick to apply. Necessity slightly drove the machine on the first one. With the female Cenobite and Pinhead being prosthetics, we knew we wouldn’t have enough time or enough crew to have the others as prosthetics so they were overhead masks.

DJH: They’ve all got mutilated flesh type bits in the costume, are they literally part of the costume?

BK: Yes they are. That’s practically the only way of doing it because of the time factor. Having so many on the screen at the same time. So all this is part of the costume. It did mean at the end of the day we ended up having to clean everything for a good hour, two hours after the make-up had come off to make sure everything was clean because that was the same piece you were going to use the next day. You had to take a lot more care of something than if we were throwing it away.

David J Howe

Barker, USA


A lot has happened since we last spoke to Clive Barker. Nightbreed has opened and closed in this country, and we have seen two large books published, The Great and Secret Show and the more recent Imajica . We caught up with Clive in America where he is hard at work on numerous projects, including the re-decoration of his new LA home.

The last time we spoke to Clive, he was bemoaning the treatment that Nightbreed had received on its American release, so how did he feel about the UK reaction to the film?

“It was good! I also went with the film to Europe and it won several prizes. It seems to have been a picture which has taken time for people to warm to but which has been eventually accepted. It’s clear now that Nightbreed is a difficult picture for people, particularly those involved in marketing, to embrace. The whole concept of monsters being good guys, the dark side being at least partially a force for good: these are not ideas which people find particularly conducive or easy, but those who love the movie love it with a rare passion.

“It’s been reviewed subsequently on video extremely favourably, far more favourably than it was theatrically. Interestingly, Entertainment Weekly ran a feature about four or five issues ago called ‘A Hundred Good Movies You Know Nothing About’, and it listed a whole bunch of good movies, and in the list were some that I love, like Cronenberg’s The Brood , which was almost totally passed over in America, and Nightbreed was in the list as well. It’s interesting that only a year after the movie had been released on video it’s become one which people rent a lot and talk about a lot. I’ve had a huge amount of fan mail about it, there are the comic books as well and finally it’s getting some belated critical plaudits! It was a very difficult movie to bring out, particularly because Hellraiser had been such a success. It’s something about second movies - everyone is watching to see you fall flat on your face.

“Just because we had more money on Nightbreed than Hellraiser doesn’t presuppose that reviewers are going to be more sympathetic, quite the reverse. There’s a sort of critical pleasure which can be taken in watching something which has been made with a very low budget and which comes off, whereas a picture that has more money behind it almost offers a challenge to the reviewer, an ‘okay, let’s see what you can do chum’ attitude.

“I remain firm, though. I’ve not for a moment doubted that it was a movie that should have been made, that I was pleased to have made. You certainly can’t look over your shoulder and think boy, I wish I’d never done that. I’m really pleased to have done the picture.”

Currently Clive is involved in a number of other film projects in the States, one of which is an adaptation of one of his short stories.

“I’m executive producing a picture for Propaganda, from a short story of mine called 'The Forbidden' (from The Books of Blood volume 5), that movie’s called Candyman , and Bernard Rose, who made Paper House , is directing. You’ll be pleased to hear that Bernard has kept the rather bleak and nasty ending intact. Good for him!

“My role on the film was to work with Bernard while he was developing and writing the script. There were creative decisions being made all along the line; how it would be reshaped for an American setting; how the more cinematic moments could be developed and made even more cinematic. Bernard has done a very fine job with the adaptation, it’ll be an eight or nine million dollar picture - not cheap - and Bob Keen is handling the special effects. Filming is in October/November this year. It will definitely be Bernard’s movie but I would like to think that it will be true to the spirit of the Clive Barker movement.

“Other film projects ... The Mummy is on hold at the moment because Mick Garrard who was writing that with me is finishing a picture for Columbia called Sleepwalkers , which is from a Stephen King script; he’s finishing up on that at the moment, so I guess we’ll get back to The Mummy when he’s free, and in the meantime I have just finished the second draft of a science fiction movie for Universal which they are extremely keen on. That’s called Eden, USA , and I’ll be directing.”

With so much film-work going on, I wondered if Clive’s move to the USA had facilitated the work?

“Yes, absolutely. For lots of reasons. Firstly you’re just around the corner from all these people, you can go and visit them in their offices, talk to them, have a drink with them ... you’re not some foreign species which flies in on the red-eye for a bleary meeting over a power breakfast, and then leaves to go back and write a book in London. I think there are certainly psychological advantages from my point of view, just understanding the way the community works, maybe not liking all the elements of its workings but at least understanding them. It puts you in a much weaker frame of mind in relation to the powerbrokers in this town if you’re having conversations with them when your time-frame is eight hours different. Classically, I wouldn’t begin to talk to people in Los Angeles until about nine at night, and by the end of the day you’re kind of weary and washed out, and it’s not a great time to be sitting down and talking detailed plot points. There’s also the fact that the studios are very responsive to people coming in to do a pitch, to be there to explain and hopefully entertain them with a story...”

Was that how the science fiction film project came about?

“No, Universal came to me and said we want to be in business with you. I explained that I didn’t want to go on making horror movies, I wanted to make science fiction ones and they liked the idea.
“The main reason behind that was because I had been moving into areas of fantasy and dark fantasy in my written work and it had met with even greater commercial and critical success than the horror work; I mean The Great and Secret Show outsold Weaveworld, and Weaveworld in turn outsold The Damnation Game. Imajica was published here yesterday and it’s been reprinted already. I wanted to see that fantasy identity, as opposed to the hard-core horror, reflected in the cinematic work as well.”

So what is Eden, USA all about?

“Actually, it’s better if I don’t tell you - Universal would get upset! I would call it a science fiction/fantasy ... It’s an adventure, and it’s very much the kind of movie that I might have wanted to see. I want it to be the kind of movie which makes your pulse rush and stimulates your imagination at the same time. More than that ... you’ll have to wait!”

Moving from the film projects on to the book projects, and the last two novels have been large block-busting sagas. The first, The Great and Secret Show , is also the first in a trilogy, and is set, unlike all of Clive’s other work, in America.

“That was because I’d spent a lot of time there during the filming of Nightbreed and a lot of the strangeness I encountered was ideal material for a novel. There are a lot of weird little towns over there which are exactly alike - like Wimpy or Barratt homes - remember the town in Poltergeist ? They are all built, as The Great and Secret Show's Palomo Grove is, on a system of several little villages with the mall, this shopping centre, in the middle. They are horrible, godless little places and are really eerie. They’ve actually got three Szechuan restaurants and a place which just looks after your nails - one had a karate school for children, purely for children. I think you could only learn karate if you were under ten or something. Surreal.

“They’re entirely designed to be dormitory towns for Los Angeles. They’re all built on the fault line and are full of these banal, grinning, cheery people who have got this fixed smile plastered across their faces. I found them all kind of spooky.

“There were two things I tried to do with the book that were different from my previous work. The first was that the very heavy visceral horror had been replaced by a more fantastical outlook - what the Jaff gets up to is weird but not visceral. I wanted there to be a lightness to the touch of the thing. I did a first draft which was much more in the aphoristic style of Weaveworld and it felt wrong, because the culture that I was describing was so completely in contrast to the language I was describing it in. It felt phoney and fake and so I went back again and changed sentence structures and turns of phrase and tried to approach the book not with an American point of view, because I could never have an American point of view, but using a vocabulary that was slightly less literary.

“Another aspect of writing the book was to concentrate on plot rather than character, rather like the Irwin Allen disaster movies of the seventies. When they did those films they used to put on the poster lots of photographs of the characters, with‘The Architect’ and ‘The Fireman’ under them. It didn’t matter whether these were personalities or not, what mattered was that they had a function in the narrative. In The Great and Secret Show I’ve got ‘The Lovers’ and that’s what they function as. There’s also ‘The Bad Guy’ and so on.

“I have much more of a passion for story than for character. The fact is that in certain places in every project you make a choice to go in one direction or another and each choice is a different book. I don’t have patience with giving paragraphs over to describe everything and everyone. Whether that’s a bad thing or a good thing is neither here nor there, the fact is that I don’t- it’s not my nature. I write a fiction of ideas as much as of narrative and the two things are at their best when pulled together into a single unit. The convolutions of narrative fascinate me more than the convolutions of character.”

This fascination with narrative also spills over into Clive’s newest novel, Imajica , but here the convolutions are rather deeper than in The Great and Secret Show. I wondered what had formed the background to Imajica .

“Imajica started with my thinking about the images which appear in the great paintings of Christian mythology. Whether or not they’re true, they seemed to me to be extremely potent, powerful and important cyphers of image and meaning, so I considered writing a book which would be a fantasy but which would also be about God, about belief, about a man who discovers that all his life he has been prepared for an act of massive consequence but didn’t realise it. What would happen if you, David Howe, woke up one morning and realised that all your life to this date had been a subtle preparation for a metaphysical journey, and that everything that you had so far believed about the way the world worked was irrelevant and that there was a deeper agenda which had shaped your life without you even realising it? That is the feeling I was aiming for.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but in Imajica we have someone who is like the half-brother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but who is completely unaware of the fact. Not only this but he had a massive past responsibility which he has screwed up and forgotten. A lot of this came from the feeling that there is so much more in us than we completely comprehend, that our day today lives with their petty annoyances perhaps shouldn’t distract us from a grander and deeper perception of ourselves. In America and to a lesser extent in England, the notion of the shaman, and the shamanistic journey, has more credence now than it had ten years ago.”

This all sounds a little heavy, so how did Clive turn a fairly difficult subject into a novel?

“I am aware that this is a difficult subject, but I am also aware that over the years my readers have come with me on very strenuous adventures in one way and another, and I have been extremely voluble in my belief that fantasy fiction and horror fiction can carry a weight of meaning which they are very often denied. Now it’s no use my saying that I think fantasy fiction can be very profound unless I actually try it. I believe in the weight of metaphysical, social and philosophical meaning that this genre can carry, and it’s always been part of what I’ve done, but perhaps in Imajica more than ever, it’s the core, the centrepiece of the whole book.”

Clive’s next novel is striking out once more into new territories. This time he is attempting a book for children.

“It’s called Everville and I’m about halfway through at the moment. It comes out of my enthusiasm for C S Lewis’ Narnia books and Ray Bradbury’s work - Something Wicked this Way Comes and The October Country. I still enjoy those kinds of fiction, and I had an idea which I thought I could do something with. A book for and about children. Something Wicked this Way Comes is both for and about, but it’s also for adults. I think that like all great fantasy, Bradbury’s books grow with you and you find more things in them as your life experience accrues. The best children’s fiction speaks to adults and I’m not saying I’ll be able to achieve it without a struggle but it’s certainly a high ambition to go in there with.”

With thanks to Clive, and Laura Jennings at Harper Collins.

David J Howe