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Behind The Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Michael G'Francisco


During the Second World War, Hollywood, California studios lost a great many writers to the patriotic urge to enlist or to the draft. To overcome the shortage, they began re-distributing, throughout their network of small theaters in the United States, the original adaptations of the classic horror films of the 1930ís and early 1940ís.

I can still remember closing my eyes during the scary parts of the monster movies on Saturday afternoons. Oh, as a point of interest, movies in neighborhood theaters were five cents during the mid-forties. My weekly reward for not getting into trouble, during or after school, gained me ten cents on Saturday, a nickel for the show and a nickel for the candy machine.

Now that weíre past my reflection of those by-gone days, letís quick forward to the mid 70ís. Writers like Stephen King broke the horror mold with his blood and gore novel, Carrie. When Hollywood adapted the book to film they gave audiences a new "finger biting" fear and created a "gorier genre" of horror.

But, for a few more moments, letís stay focused of the horror movies of yesteryear. Not all of the 30ís and 40ís horror film adaptations were from authorís books.

Dracula (1931) featuring the Hungarian stage actor Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) was taken from Bram Stokerís literary work.

Frankenstein (1931) written by the brilliant English novelist Mary Shelley (1797-1851), introduced the English actor Boris Karloff.

The Mummy (1932) also featuring Karloff was written by Hollywood scriptwriter John L. Balderston.

White Zombie (1932) Bela Lugosi starred in this Voodoo horror film. It was written by screenwriter Garnett Weston.

The Invisible Man (1933) starred the British actor Claude Rains (1889-1967), and was taken from H. G. Wells's 1897 Sci Fi novel of the same name.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) featuring Elsa Lanchester (1902-1986), the wife of British actor Charles Laughton, was the work of screenwriters, John L.Balderston, William J. Hurlbut and Edmund Pearson

The Wolfman (1941), written by scriptwriter and SF author Curt Siodmak, starred the young American actor Lon Chaney Jr. (1906-1973).

These are just a few of the great horror classic movies, but they werenít the first horror films, although they still remain quite popular, even to this day.

In the 1820ís Washington Irving (1783-1859) wrote the short story "The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow", a frightening story about a man named Ichabod Crane being chased by a headless ghost on horseback.

What would horror be without the master of terror, Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)? His horror stories include "The House of Usher" (published in 1839), "The Cask of Amontillado" (1846) and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), which is actually considered to be the first detective story.

The horror films of the 30ís and 40ís introduced glued to your seat "FEAR". The kind of terror that makes most moviegoers skulk back in their seats and bite their fingernails during the movie.

Fear about the uncanny creates uncertainty. It leaves thoughts for dreams of things that go bump-in-the-night or the sheer terror of: Is someone hiding under the bed?

The difference between the old and new genre created by King with his Carrie is that you get to see the terror under the bed and the blood on the walls. Carrie and the films that followed are types of horror movies that leave audiences with images of blood spurting out of headless bodies and zombies eating people.

Now, letís take a look across the pond to England. When one takes note of the long list of Nineteenth Century horror writers (Poe and Irving), itís found that the English really opened the door to the written world of fear and the weird.

Twentieth Century British writers: Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker, also contributed their works of Metaphysical and Dark Fantasy.

Of course, many American writers like John Saul and David Koontz, who wrote thrillers, Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy Horror stories, did everything possible to avid being type-cast. They didnít want to be classified as horror writers even though their combined stories are defined as quintessential essence of horror.

As a matter of fact, David Koontz became the first president of the Horror Writersí Association founded by renowned fantasy writer, Robert McCammon. To avoid the horror stigma McCammon stopped writing. His real passion was in writing historical novels.

Latter day writersí works include:

The Rats (1974) and The Fog (1975) by James Herbert are gruesome tales that define what fear is all about.

Bring Me Children (1995) by David L. Martin presents his brand of torture that is truly horrifying in its portrayal of evil form.

Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman (1998) by Edward Lee and Elizabeth Steffen provides a description of body mutilation that is not for the faint hearted.

Their work isnít about fairy tales or witches and goblins, but true terror from the darker side of humanity.

So, what does all of the above mean to the genre of "HORROR"?

To spell it out pure and simple, itís a multibillion-dollar business and the industry is starving for something new and sensational from authors. Publishers are tired of the trend for using vampires, werewolves and other clichťs of horror.

They want something fresh and original. Current dayís endless repetition of scenes of blood and gore has been worked and re-worked. The use of snakes, crocodiles, monkeys and other animals has been exhausted.

It only takes a brief look at the SCI-FI channels to see the amateurish attempts to create horror. These low-budget films are so bad they reek with an odor of bad taste rather spreading the atmosphere of fear of "true" horror.

True horror or "Horror Fiction" is defined as the intention to scare, unsettle or create fear in the minds of the audience, whether it is by word or sight. Two of the most important characteristics of the horror genre are shock and terror, which are intended to be "nightmare causers".

Horror is really all about "FEAR". It goes beyond monsters under the bed, ghosts, dead people walking and even vampires. Horror is meant to push fact beyond reality and reason and cause an uncanny, eerie feeling within the mind. It must leave a mental image that makes a person cringe when conjured-up.

Some writers have said horror is ambivalently human, meaning to embrace it and fear it at the same time.

Stephen King broke the old mold of 1930ís horror and now someone else will have to do the same with the current trend, using all sorts of animals being chased by women in tank-tops and a band of untalented male actors, in atrocious story plots.

Hypothetically, the secret of becoming a successful horror writer is realizing that great horror happens in the human mind. To achieve this a writer must create uncanny and unbelievable characters, have originality with a compelling plot and set the stage in a psychological landscape, which becomes one of the storyís most important characters.

In essence, today a writer must go beyond the morbid works of Poe or even King to become known in the literary arena of "Horror".


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