Bookends Article - September 23, 1998

People keep telling me there's a link between horror and heavy metal. There must be, people keep telling me. All my writing life publishers have said to me, 'you like heavy metal and you write horror books, why not write a book combining the two.' Jesus, how original! Books have been written trying to combine the two and they've failed miserably. Films have been made trying to combine the two and they've failed miserably. Examples, I hear you bellow. Well, not being a great reader I'm the wrong one to ask when it comes to books but as far as films go we've had to suffer the dubious delights of Wes Craven's 'Shocker' (well, it had heavy metal on the soundtrack!) and 'Maximum Overdrive' in which Stephen King proved that, as a director he's a very good writer (no offense). It had a soundtrack by AC/DC though which was very good. Books like the long forgotten 'Kill Riff' and 'Ghoul' (whose chief claim to fame was that it's original cover artwork was a complete rip-off from a Bebop Deluxe album cover... There you go, there's a link...)

In short, the only link between the two is that they are both outcast from their own industries. The literary mainstream sneers at horror, the musical mainstream sneers at heavy metal. Sticking a skull on an album cover doesn't mean a band are fans of horror, trust me, I've been fortunate enough to meet quite a few rock bands over the past fifteen years. Some like horror films because they're the best kind of video to watch when you're bored out of your head on a tour bus. Reason? Ninety nine per cent of them are garbage only worth laughing at. Despite the imagery associated with rock bands, very few of them have ever delved into horror from a lyric writing point of view. And I'm now talking BIG name bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, AC/DC, Queensryche etc. not 'Death Metal' bands like Cannibal Corpse (I kid you not). Check out the lyrics from these BIG bands and you'll be surprised at how few links with horror there actually are.

There's another more interesting reason for this and that is the decline of the horror novel and film over the last seven or eight years. And with good reason. The last nail in the coffin of the horror novel was struck by a book many readers considered to be a horror novel. I'm speaking of course of 'The Silence of the Lambs'. How many people did you hear say 'I don't usually read horror novels but I read that.' Sorry to upset those good people but Thomas Harris' novel wasn't a horror novel. It was horrific but not horror. There is a subtle but very important difference. 'Misery' was not a horror novel. Neither was 'Delores Claiborne', or 'Gerald's Game' or 'Bag of Bones'. Sorry folks but the biggest selling horror writer in the world doesn't write horror! Unless of course you define it. Or unless I give you my definition of it.

A newspaper once rang me and asked me to name the greatest horror writer ever, I said Ruth Rendell. They were somewhat perplexed until I explained that the horror of mental disintegration, of violence, of loss, of betrayal, of paranoia and revenge were more terrifying than things lurking in attics, zombies, vampires or werewolves. Take films for instance. I'll name you some horror films: 'Taxi Driver' (the mental disintegration of a man unable to relate to other people), 'The Wild Bunch' (men realizing that they no longer belong in a world that has passed them by), 'Raging Bull' (a man able to function only when he hurts himself and those closest to him). To me, those things are infinitely more horrifying than anything ever served up by good old Hammer films, or by any of the other numerous and easily forgotten makers of 'real' horror films. There are exceptions obviously. 'The Exorcist' is still a stunning and absolutely terrifying film as is 'Alien'. 'Seven' was a masterpiece that crossed the line between thriller and horror only in so far as its serial killer was without doubt one of the most disturbingly terrifying nutters ever to grace the screen. Surpassed only by Andy Robinson's psycho killer in 'Dirty Harry'. 'Manhunter', so much superior to its overrated sequel and containing a performance of incredible malevolence from Brian Cox as Doctor Hannibal Lector. None of Anthony Hopkins irritating 'charm' for him. Horror is in the eye of the beholder.

I made my name as a horror writer and I have no wish to deny that (unlike some who seem ashamed of their blood spattered roots and would rather be called things like 'fantasists'). I haven't written a horror novel for about six years. I've written 'horrific' stuff but not necessarily horror books. Judge for yourselves. 'Deadhead' a novel about a man dying of cancer trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter from gangsters. 'Knife Edge', a novel about a man who knows only violence being forced to confront a world where he is no longer needed. 'Purity', a murderer seeks to rid the world of disease by murdering those who are ill. Horror novels? No. Horrific? Yes. And not a slug or vampire to be seen...

The simple fact is that real life offers us more terrifying horrors than the minds of even the most warped horror writers (trust me, I know, a critic once called me the most depraved man on earth...A nice enough compliment if your shoulders are broad enough!). Horror writers have been overtaken by reality. How can anyone in fiction, match the monstrous exploits of Charles Manson, Denis Nilsen, Jeffrey Dahmer or Albert Fish? They can't, it's as simple as that. The most terrifying monster in films in recent years? Amon Goeth (played by Ralph Fiennes) in 'Schindler's List'. The worst horror being he was real. This human monster existed. All the werewolves, zombies and ghosts in hell are small fry compared to this maniac.

So, as I said, horror is in the eye of the beholder. And, just to bring me back to rock music and horror, I'll further illustrate that point. Some recent rock songs will serve my purpose. Megadeth's 'My Secret Place' (it's about child molesting), Metallica's 'Mama Said' (a song about the realization that it's too late to forge a relationship with a parent), Queensryche's 'Bridge' (another song about the inability to form a relationship with a loved one) and Iron Maiden's '2 a.m.' (a song that questions the very meaning of existance and whether it's worthwhile continuing). Horror? No. Horrific? Yes. But there's not a skull in sight...

© Shaun Hutson 1998