Archive for clive barker

Dark Musings: Queer Contributions in Horror Fiction (An Incomplete Thesis)

Posted in Dark Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

I’ve rattled this notion around in my head for some time, and though I don’t have a fully-formed argument yet, I have mused long enough to know that I’m not wrong. There is not enough conversation about queer contributions to the horror genre.

Perhaps because there isn’t a blatant, obvious, easy connection. But if one looks under the surface, there are lines drawn everywhere. Historically, an impressive number of contributions have been made to the horror genre by rumored or open queer people.

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Mary Shelley – with encouragement from her husband, known to be bisexual, and who may have been bisexual herself – wrote “Frankenstein,” the tale a repulsive creature who just wants love. Bram Stoker, rumored to be gay, brought “Dracula” – an undeniably sensual monster who sucks the blood (by penetrating their flesh! Come on!) of other men. Oscar Wilde created what must be the first openly bisexual devil, Dorian Gray, in a novel about the excess of desire. Even Henry James, long rumored to be bi- or even a-sexual, weaved the horrific story of a governess battling morally deviant spirits to save the innocence of her wards.

It doesn’t stop at classic literature. Two of the best horror films from the early days of cinema, “Frankenstein” and “Nosferatu,” were directed by gay men. Is it any coincidence that both films adapt works mentioned above? With one monster hunting blindly for love that is never returned, and the other a pestilential nightmare that sucks people’s vitality while they sleep (predating the terror of contaminated blood during the AIDs epidemic), I think it’s hard to deny the connection. The trend continues into modern culture – with Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood” and the revolutionary “Hellraiser,” which is a dark hymn to ‘unnatural’ sex; even to popular TV shows, like “Penny Dreadful” and “American Horror Story,” which explore queer identities in a much more open light.

These sexually ‘aberrant’ individuals, forced into hiding because of the prejudiced societies in which they find themselves, created works of fiction about beings seen as abject and dangerous, as freaks. In the confines of those stories, they are undoubtedly monsters. But the idea transfers to the way societies project gay identities. As unnatural, as other, and perhaps as deadly. In one way or another, gay people become monsters.

Authors and filmmakers tell stories for many reasons, but a major one is the need to purge emotions – often devastating, unstated. It makes sense that artists who grapple with identity would write about monsters. The ‘heroes’ who battle the beast are not created in the artist’s own image – it is the beast itself that becomes the mirror.

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Horror, too, is one of the most unconsciously cathartic genres in all of fiction. It engages a part of the brain that no one wants to activate in reality – primal instincts of terror, danger, and flight from death – but it does so in a controlled environment where no danger is actually present. Thus, it releases emotion that otherwise would boil and rage unchecked.

So, is it an accident that these queer artists gravitated toward horror? Of course it isn’t a universal trend. It is present enough, though, that I think it deserves recognition. In a community that struggles with self-loathing and self-disgust even today, in our supposedly liberated world, these releases of emotion are necessary. To see a monster on screen or in print and understand its origin, its heart, is to find a piece of one’s self, and give it a name.

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Forbidden Tomes: BOOKS OF BLOOD I-III by CLIVE BARKER

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Logic would never place horror and erotica in the same field. But history goes to show, these two genres often cross over, finding commonalities in each other that perhaps should not be uncovered. For the most part these crossovers are subtle and quiet. Not so with Clive Barker, who broke open the pairing with his debut work, the BOOKS OF BLOOD.

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First published in 1984, these stories combine two things that often go together – sex and death – but does so in such a blatant, shameless, and powerful way that is so rarely seen. Clive Barker is obsessed with flesh. His prose style is unflinching and brutal, often satirical, but always engrossing (emphasis on gross) in its exploration of the human body. It makes sense, then, that he would focus his stories on the most corporeal of all human acts: fornication and decay.

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The three-part collection is split into different forms of stories. There are traditional horror yarns – “The Midnight Meat Train,” “Rawhead Rex,” and “Scape-Goats,” et cetera – and more comical stories, like “Son of Celluloid,” “Sex, Death and Starshine,” and “The Yattering and Jack.” My favorites, however, occupy a bizarre in-between of philosophical fantasy and horror: “In the Hills, the Cities,” “Dread,” “The Skins of the Fathers” and “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament” are the best examples. Here, Barker creates a space in which reality bends, then shatters altogether, questioning the nature of humanity itself.

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In the latter stories especially, the human body becomes an almost celestial plane of horrors, a conduit for the supernatural and the surreal. It might be acceptable to say that the titular story – “The Book of Blood,” kicking off Volume 1 – lays out Barker’s thesis in this regard: “The dead have highways,” he begins, and ends by showing the dead breaking into our world through those highways, literally engraving their words into a boy’s skin. The flesh of his characters is always so vulnerable, yet powerful, too – Jacqueline Ess uses the power of her sexuality to actually alter men’s anatomies, and an entire town joins together to create a singular giant in “In the Hills.”

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What truly makes me love these stories is the sense of freakishness, of abnormality, that pervades the best of them. Barker infuses his protagonists with an aberrant streak that might make them frightening, but also makes them sympathetic, heartbreakingly so. Those of us who have felt like freaks can find voice in these monsters. It is the power of horror, to find a heart in the most horrific of things, and Barker understands this better than most. His stories find the purest core of horror – no trappings, no undue elegance, just raw blood, terror, and beauty.

Forbidden Tomes: BOOKS OF BLOOD by Clive Barker, an Introduction

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Yesterday, I found something miraculous: a used copy of Clive Barker’s BOOKS OF BLOOD, Vol. 1-3. I’ve been searching for this collection for an unseemly amount of time. And at last, I am able to explore Barker’s infamous world.

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I can’t do a full write-up of the Books of Blood yet because, clearly, I haven’t made it through the whole thing. Barker’s themes and ingenious writing style, however, are apparent from the first page. I hunted for this book for so long because I wanted to see how Barker handles queer theory and ideas within horror fiction. My expectations were met, then surpassed.

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Clive Barker is maybe the first mainstream author to include queer themes in his genre work without dressing them up or disguising them. He openly and brilliantly eviscerates the notions of sinful sex, otherness, and damnation that come along with queer identity. I can’t explain how happy it makes me to find an author who does this, because I still see it so rarely.

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Horror and Gothic are genres that have historically involved queer people – don’t even try to tell me “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” don’t have homoerotic subtexts – but rarely has this been talked about in the open. I believe it’s time to celebrate queer identity in horror. Clive Barker is certainly a way to start.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis of the Books of Blood, as well as the LGBT themes of horror.