If you look at the books which can be can be considered as being foundation of modern horror, then you come up with perhaps a handful of titles and authors. One of which has to be The Manitou by Graham Masterton.
Graham Masterton is one of the greatest writers of horror fiction alive today. His work epitomises the genre, with good, interesting characters faced with horrific and plausable horrors all set in the real world. The Manitou was Graham Masterton's first horror novel and involved demonic possession in downtown New York.
'In the space of literally a week I wrote The Manitou, which was based partly on an old legend I'd read in a Buffalo Bill Annual of 1955 and partly on the fact that my wife was pregnant with our first child. So that's where the idea of an Indian medicine man being reborn in the modern day to take his revenge on the Paleface came from. The book actually had two endings. In the original version, which was published in hardback by Lindel and Spearman in America, the medicine man - Misquamacus - was killed by Vietnam Rose - a particularly nasty form of venereal disease - passed on to him by his 'mother'. When the American paperback came to be published by Pinnacle, the editor asked if the ending could be changed and so I changed it.'
The Manitou established a loose theme for Masterton's work; that of ancient evils revisited on the modern day. 'You find that so many of these old myths and legends very succinctly sum up some very basic fears. I was up in Glasgow doing a promotional tour a couple of years ago and I was talking to some old ladies at Ibrox Park Library and they told me about some horrible witches - the Glaistigs. These creatures always used to have a little companion with them, called Little Plug. They'd visit your house at night, suck your cows dry, and then kill your youngest born child and bathe their Little Plug in the blood. When you actually look at what that myth is about, first of all there's the very basic fear of losing your livelihood by them coming and draining your cow; then there's a Fatal Attraction kind of fear where another woman takes over the household and finally there's the fear of injury happening to your child. A lot of these old legends personify people's fundamental fears. On top of that you then have the fun of visiting them on the present day. It also makes the book work on several levels. For instance in Mirror I was able to use Alice Through the Looking Glass as a springboard, and in Family Portrait it was The Picture of Dorian Grey. These literary reference points give the books a kind of spurious authenticity which people enjoy.'
Shortly after publication, The Manitou was made into a film starring Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg. 'Bill Girdler, the exploitation movie maker, had picked the book up at an airport. He rang me up and said 'We've written a screenplay of your book, do you mind if we buy it?' So I said 'No, I don't mind.' They made the film virtually within six months.
'I felt that the film was quite good of its type. It was just at the time that Star Wars came out so it had a sort of Star Wars-y type ending. I was pleased that the dry humour was retained and I thought the casting wasn't bad. We were sketching out the plans for making The Djinn into a movie when Bill was killed in a helicopter accident. That really stopped any further film projects at that time.'
After completing The Manitou, Masterton carried straight on writing. 'I just write all the time. Having been used to working on magazines where I was writing continuously, I write continuously now. If I'm not doing horror novels I'm working on something else. I'm still writing sex instruction How To... books for Penguin USA. They apparently sell in their millions. The incredible thing is that new generations of people are still growing up more sexually ignorant than they ought to be and the problem pages in newspapers and magazines are full. People still find it difficult to communicate on sexual matters so if you can reassure them, you're doing something worthwhile and, because of the sales, it's certainly profitable for a writer.'
Graham Masterton has always wanted diversity in his work. 'I like writing about anything that interests me, I don't like to feel confined. If you look at other writers who have been really prominent, they always seem to write virtually the same book over and over again. In some ways they are right to do it and I envy them that ability because a lot of readers do want to be back in familiar territory with each successive book. I don't knock them at all, they are obviously being very business-wise and very sensible and have done very well, but if you're not happy doing that, you can't do it.'
More recently, Masterton has returned to the success of his debut horror novel with Burial, the third of his books to pit our hero Harry Erskine against Misquamacus. 'Revenge of the Manitou was the second book, and I just liked the idea of looking back at the same characters in a different setting and reworking them. Burial is set twenty years later. Interestingly enough, there was a French edition of Burial and the publisher pointed out that there were two people in the novel who were killed in The Manitou: the girl who runs the occult shop, Amelia Crusoe, and her boyfriend MacArthur. In The Manitou they were burned alive in their apartment. Whoops! Of course it was twenty years since I'd written it and in the film they don't die, so my memory of it was always that they hadn't died. So I wrote a little introduction for the French edition explaining that people who live in novels are different from the rest of us and I'd decided that I still liked them so they could come alive again. In any case, if you read The Manitou carefully, you find that their bodies were burnt beyond recognition so the police could have made a mistake.'
One of the more refreshing aspects of Masterton's writing is that his characters are always very well defined. 'I think a book is useless without that and I think that's where a lot of horror books fall down. They might have a very, very good idea as far as the plot goes but if the characters don't live and you don't really care what happens to them or how they deal with it, then the whole thing is pointless. I also think it's important to realize the fundamental absurdity of these books and to try and come to terms with that in your story. The reaction, for instance, for most people if something really horrific and monstrous appeared at the window would be to go 'oh shit!' and then burst out laughing.
'I write very conversationally. When I'm writing, I'm in the book. You can read an awful lot of books where it's obviously just happening in front of the writer on the page or on the screen, whereas I'm aware of the wind blowing on my back and the noises coming from over there and the smell coming from the fire lit beyond the trees and so on. That's why a lot of things happen in my books behind people or in the distance, there's a sort of stereophonic or quadraphonic effect. Although it's absurd in principle to postulate, the ideal book would be one where when you stop reading it, you're still in it. To give that feeling of actually being there. There are a lot of normal, day to day techniques that I use. If people are having a big, expressive argument in a book I'll have the argument on my own, think about the gestures they'd make and try to minimize the language. An awful lot of people's feelings are put over in endless tracts of conversation and dialogue and I try to keep these to a minimum because people don't normally speak like that. An awful lot is done through gesture and the trick is to put that in a book instead.'
Recently published in the UK was Night Plague (Warner p/b), the third book in a trilogy concerning a group of people who take on the persona of the Night Warriors in their dreams and do battle against evil. 'I liked the idea of something happening in your dreams, that idea that you could be somebody else, somebody far beyond your normal capabilities. It turned out to be more of a fantasy than I thought it would be when I first started writing it. It was going to merely be just people living another, quite ordinary, life in their dreams but it got a bit bombastic and out of control, everybody started getting these wonderful uniforms and things like that. But I enjoyed doing that. The second novel in the trilogy was Death Dream.'
The next novel to be published is called Flesh & Blood (Heinmann, h/b, July). 'This is a book which concerns the insertion of human genes into a very large and malevolent pig. At the same time it's also tied up with the ancient European legends of the mummers and Jack in the Green and that sort of thing. It's a very long book and it starts off with three poor little children having their heads cut off by their father. That's a fairly up to date theme and there's a lot of moralizing about genetics. You don't realize that in almost all the food we eat there are distorted animal genes, even vegetables have been converted by genetics. If we are what we eat, what the hell are we?
'I've just finished a book called Spirit, which is a horror ghost story, and I'm about to start another one and I'm also due to write another sex book. On top of all that, there's two magazine columns monthly for Men Only. I write the restaurant column for Men Only! Not many people know that.'
With several horror novels coming up, together with a collection of short stories called Fortnight of Fear due from Severn House shortly it seems that Graham Masterton is, for the moment at least, concentrating on chilling our bones.