Faces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror

November 10, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, )

facesFaces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror, edited by Douglas E. Winter

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The main reason I wanted to read this book is because I had recently finished Blackwater by Michael McDowell, and I saw he was featured as one of the authors interviewed for the book. McDowell wasn’t a public figure during his lifetime, and what I found about him online was slim, so I thought this would give me better insight into his life and his writing. Sure, there were other authors in there I’ve read, but it was McDowell who was the anchor for me.

Winter interviewed seventeen authors for the book, ranging from the masters (Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson) to the new kings (Stephen King and Clive Barker) to the popular (V.C. Andrews and William Peter Blatty). The interviews provide some insight, but, similar to any other anthology, the result is a mixed bag of personalities, some of whom are more interesting than others.

The book was published over thirty years ago, so almost half of the authors profiled here are dead, and the other half are made up of authors who even at the time didn’t write horror anymore (Blatty and John Coyne). When I think of who I was thirty years ago, I’m embarrassed, and I wonder if the still-living authors look back at these interviews without cringing.

Clive Barker’s interview struck me as the most removed. He exudes this kind of excitement over the perverse, giddily showing Winter a book of autopsy and medical photos and reveling over Winter’s disgust. Barker’s fiction at the time reflected that excitement, but his later and more recent fiction is a departure from that kind of splatterpunk. I’m not sure if he wishes to distance himself from who he was then, but I’ve seen him in interviews where he’s more constrained and less effusive about the dark, so it’s interesting to see him that way.

Conversely, I found myself annoyed at the authors who spoke negatively about horror and tried to distance themselves from the genre. Andrews, Coyne, Blatty, and Dennis Etchison all wanted to paint themselves as above the juvenelia of horror, even though their success depended on it. Even now, I look at what horror was and is, and find myself wanting more than just graphic violence, so I get it, but it put me off that in a book about horror, they want to wave their hands and present themselves as being too good for it.

Winter noted in his foreword that he didn’t ask a pat set of questions of the authors, but he did seem to want to learn more about the authors’ childhoods and their views on religion. Some of them, if you know the authors, is expected (Matheson’s revealed his woo-woo beliefs, and Whitley Strieber’s were such that it’s no surprise he went on to believe he was abducted by aliens), but others downplayed the role either play in their fiction. Ramsey Campbell’s story, though, is a clear influence on his fiction; his foreword to The Doll Who Ate His Mother would make an outstanding horror novel all on its own.

The big stars (Barker, King, and Peter Straub) were likely the draw for most readers, but even by the time the book was published, King was a huge public figure. He had filmed his American Express commercial, directed Maximum Overdrive, and starred in Creepshow by then, so most people already knew his story. Winter’s interview seems superfluous and redundant, but at the same time, he couldn’t have done this book without including him. The most telling part of the interview, though, is when he jokes about taking cocaine, since we now know that this era was when he was almost constantly coked up and drunk.

Another highlight for me was Charles L. Grant, who I’ve rediscovered and appreciate. It’s sad, though, to realize how much of a lech he was. I had an idea he was like that through his stories, but a large part of his interview is a rant against feminism where he embraces his own sexism without recognizing it as such. Yes, it’s partly the era and time of the interview, but it was held at the Playboy Club, and he even notes how other people will criticize him for going in just to look at the pictures and the women. It’s even more disappointing when you look at his fiction and see all the strong women there.

I can appreciate this book for giving me more of an insight into the authors I admire, but it still serves as a reminder to never meet your heroes. Few of the authors in the book are ones I would consider heroes (only one, Alan Ryan, was a complete unknown to me), but the arrogance and dismissals I found in a lot of the interviews put me off. This is an important book for fans of ’80s horror, but it should be read with a grain of salt. At the very least, readers should look at the interviews as products of their time.

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