Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Top 5 British Horror Writers:

Reginald Easton's miniature of Mary Shelley
is allegedly drawn from her death mask (c. 1857)
5. Mary Shelley
Frankenstein: Grandmother of the horror genre.  Written at the tender age of 18 as part of a friendly competition between herself, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley to write a "ghost story" during a rainy weekend in the country. Unfortunately her story which is based on what it means to be truly human, with the Monster being literate, reading Paradise Lost and sympathizing with Milton's heroic Satan figure, becoming eloquent, kind, and well-mannered, has been reduced in film after film to a shambolic monstrosity.  Still, its impact cannot be denied, as evidenced by refernces in Eando Bender's I Robot short story (not to be confused with the Asimov anthology of the same name, or the Will Smith blockbuster), in which the humanoid robot reads Frankenstein (mirroring The Monster's reading of Paradise Lost) during his own existential search for meaning and humanity.  The story has such staying power that modern horror writer Dean Koontz has even penned a quadrilogy of "sequels" set in modern times in which Victor Frankenstein is alive and well, as is his famous creation.  Shelley has left such an impact on the modern psyche that to this day many educated people continue to refer to The Monster as simply "Frankenstein."

Abraham "Bram" Stoker,
born in Ireland (1847-1912),
author of "Dracula"
4. Bram Stoker
Dracula: This book put vampires on the map, and they've been here to stay ever since.  Like Shelley's Frankenstein, Stoker used the technique of multiple narratorive perspectives to craft a masterpiece.  In a preview of how popular and enduring the story would be, the first film adaptation, Nosferatu, was produced during the lifetime of Stoker's widow, and was such a blatant rip-off that it prompted a court case which was eventually resolved in Stoker's favour. Though Stoker's Count Dracula is a far cry from the sexy vampires of today (we forget the long nails and hairy palms), Stoker's work was seminal in establishing vampire writing as a horror genre unto itself. Without Dracula, it is arguable that we would have no Lestat, no Angel, no Blade, no Lost Boys, and no Edward (though that last would not have been much of a loss.)

3. Shaun Hutson
My all time fave Horror novel.
Best known for the book Slugs, which was made into the film of the same name, in my opinion far and away Hutson's best work is his Nemesis.  It features the classic horror trope of a small town with an old, dark secret, yet what Hutson does with this meme is incredibly and irrevecably his own.  Hutson's work is not for the squeamish, Hutson deals in so-called "body horror," involving parasitism and mutilation. It may be that I read this book at an impressionable age, which makes it stand out in my mind as such a masterpiece.  However, what impresses me most is that it not only deals with classic horror themes, but it's also a well thought out novel in its own right.  Many horror stories use plot as merely a vehicle for unsettling or disturbing scenes (something Hutson himself is not above as evidenced in Slugs), but Nemesis is a brilliant novel which transcends the conventions of horror, a genre which is all too often written off as mere pulp.

2. James Herbert
Portent a shinning
example of Herbert's 
fascination with the  
Herbert's body of work has a much larger scale than many other writers, with an apocalyptic bent.  Herbert often kills off scores, if not hundreds of people in the first few pages of his books, swiftly hooking the reader and pulling them into the tale.  His magnum opus is the Rats trilogy (Rats, Lair, Domain).  Herbert's work evidences a soaring scope, much in line with stories such as Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, in which a small band of people are caught up in world-changing events.

1. Clive Barker
When you mention Barker, most people immediately think Pinhead.  Described as one of the leading horror writers, Barker's incredible body of work includes The Damnation Game, The Books of Blood (1-3 and 4-6), Cabal, (adapted to film as Nightbreed), Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show, and of course, The Hellbound Heart, which Barker himself adapted and directed in the classic Hellraiser film.  Barker describes his own work as "dark fantasy," though horror elements are front and center in most of his writings.  Barker deftly constructs entire other worlds alongside our own, and deals with questions of sexuality and the supernatural in a compelling yet disturbing fashion.  No less than Stephen King said, "I have seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker."  He is also a skilled visual artist, as I mentioned in a previous post.  Other of Barker's works adapted to the silver screen include Lord of Illusions, Midnight Meat Train, Dread, The Forbidden (released as Candyman), and "Clive Barker's Books of Blood."

Here's a great Barker interview with Craig Ferguson.  Bear with the slight video glitch at 3:44 just as Barker mentions Hellraiser.  I blame Pinhead.  Jesus Wept!

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