Four Reasons Why 1970s/80s Horror Fiction Is So Cool

Well, although my next book review will be of a more modern horror novel (“Empire Of Salt” by Weston Ochse), one of the cool things that I’ve re-discovered after getting back into reading regularly are 1970s/80s horror novels (like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, Richard Lewis’ “Devil’s Coach-Horse” etc..).

Back when I was a teenager during the 2000s, I absolutely loved reading second-hand copies of novels like these and I considered them to be the coolest genre of fiction in the world. And, even as a slightly more jaded and cynical adult, I still think that these novels are pretty cool. But, why are they so cool? Here are a few reasons:

1) The cover art: One of the awesome things about old 1970s/80s horror novels is that you can always tell when you’ve found one. Why? Because they have some of the coolest and most distinctive cover art that I’ve ever seen. They look like this:

And, yes, the Shaun Hutson cover is a 2000s reprint. And I haven’t reviewed “Cabal” yet – mostly since I already read it twice when I was younger [Edit: Expect a review of “Cabal” in mid-August].

Not only do these novel covers understand the value of good visual storytelling (seriously, something dramatic is happening in each of them!) but they also use lighting in a really cool way too.

If you’ve done any reading into art history, you’ve probably heard of Tenebrism before – this is a historical style of art (used by artists like Caravaggio and Joseph Wright Of Derby), milder forms of this style also are often called “chiaroscuro”.

Anyway, this is where an artist deliberately adds lots of darkness and shadows to their art in order to make the light/lighting stand out much more boldly by contrast. You can also see this technique on some old heavy metal album covers too. And it looks amazing 🙂

As a side note, although I’m painting realistic landscapes at the moment [Edit: Expect ordinary paintings to start returning more regularly from mid-June onwards], if you ever want to know where I learnt my approach to lighting in most of the art I’ve posted here during the past couple of years, then one of the major influences has been old horror novel covers. So, yes, the cover art from these awesome books can be very inspirational:

“Metal Returns” By C. A. Brown

“Haunted Mansion” By C. A. Brown

2) Splatterpunk: I’ve talked a lot about the splatterpunk genre recently and it never gets old. If you’ve never heard about splatterpunk before, it is a term for a trend within horror fiction during the 1970s-90s that involved moving away from leaving stuff to the reader’s imaginations and towards describing all of the gory details instead.

And, yes, these 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels are gruesome. Seriously, some of them make the “Saw” movies look like Disney films by comparison. But, why is splatterpunk fiction so cool?

There are a few reasons. The first is that it was a brilliantly rebellious reaction to the stricter film censorship of the 1980s (eg: the “Video Nasties” moral panic in the UK). The second reason is because this emphasis on gruesome horror often lends the stories a surprisingly timeless quality (again, modern horror movies seem fairly tame in comparison to some splatterpunk novels).

The third reason is because splatterpunk fiction had an influence on the horror genre as a whole. The fourth reason is because they often had a rather rebellious/subversive attitude towards authority. Finally, they combine the atmospheric narration of traditional horror fiction with the slightly more fast-paced storytelling of an old-school thriller novel.

3) Their popularity: If you’ve done any online reading into the history of horror fiction, you’ll have probably heard of the “horror boom” of the 1970s-90s. This was a time when horror fiction was actually a popular genre of fiction.

And, if you ever saw the woefully slender “horror” shelf of a major UK bookshop during the 2000s/early 2010s (or the way it is sometimes lumped in with “sci-fi & fantasy” – both of which should also get their own dedicated shelves- these days, if it even appears at all), then this history will fill you with both sorrow at the current state of the genre and the hope that one day it will return to it’s former popularity, like a zombie rising from the grave.

Plus, it’s just cool to read horror novels from a time when they were almost mainstream literature 🙂 Seriously, I still can’t get over how cool this is 🙂

4) They’re still very readable: Although some 1970s/80s horror novels haven’t aged well, most of them have aged surprisingly well. One of the really interesting things about a lot of old horror novels is that they rarely seem that “retro”. They often read like more modern stories that just don’t include modern technology.

Although a few of them seem either wonderfully retro or horribly dated when read these days, most of them stand the test of time surprisingly well. This is because, at their core, they are often timeless tales of human drama and/or survival. Likewise, they are often structured in a vaguely similar way to an old-style thriller novel (albeit with a few different narrative techniques) which really helps to keep these stories compelling.

In addition to this, the writing style used in many of these older horror novels is descriptive enough to be atmospheric but “matter of fact” enough to be read at a reasonable pace. Although this writing style is probably a little bit “formal” when compared to modern horror/thriller novels, it is still astonishingly readable even to this day.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting

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Three Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Horror Fiction

My first encounter with the wonderful world of 1980s horror fiction was during the early 2000s when, as a young teenager, I happened to find a copy of Shaun Hutson’s 1988 novel “Assassin” in the horror section of an indoor market book stall in Stafford.

When I read it, I was amazed that literature could be that gruesome, shocking and controversial. It showed me that books could be rebellious. Needless to say, I read lots of old 1980s horror novels (in addition to a few 1970s and 1990s ones) when I was a teenager. They were also the thing that first really made me interested in writing fiction.

And, when I briefly got back into writing short stories last year, I had a lot of fun writing stuff that involved this type of fiction. For example, this story includes an “extract” from a fictional 1980s horror novel.

As such, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for writing 1980s-style horror fiction. I’ll mostly be focusing on British-style horror fiction (eg: Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, Clive Barker, Graham Masterton, Guy N. Smith etc..) here, since I’ve had much more experience with reading this type of 1980s horror fiction.

1) Splatterpunk: It is impossible to talk about 1980s horror fiction without talking about splatterpunk.

In short, this is a cool-sounding term for horror fiction that is more gruesome than even the most extreme modern horror movies. Although 1980s Britain was notorious for strict film censorship (eg: the “video nasties” moral panic) – thanks to the Lady Chatterley trial, horror literature had none of these silly over-protective restrictions during the 1980s.

But, splatterpunk fiction is more than just page upon page of gory descriptions – it has a very distinctive style, atmosphere and set of narrative techniques that are worth learning.

One of these techniques is how the genre handles side-characters. In short, splatterpunk novels will often include a few chapters that introduce new background characters… only for each of them to die horribly at the end of their chapter.

Not only does this allow for more shockingly macabre moments, it also gives the story a greater degree of scope – since we get to see what is happening outside of the lives of the main characters. In addition to this, when these types of chapters are placed near the beginning of the book, it adds some suspenseful uncertainty about who will (and won’t) be a main character. It also creates an ominously chilling atmosphere where life is cheap and death can lurk anywhere.

In addition to this, 1980s splatterpunk novels are often written in a more descriptive, formal and slow-paced way than you might expect. For example, even though Shaun Hutson was considered a “low brow” horror author during the 1980s, his 1980s novels are often written in a way that would almost be considered “literary” these days. So, don’t try to write a 1980s-style splatterpunk story in the fast-paced style of a modern thriller novel. The descriptive, slightly formal style is there for a reason. It helps to add atmosphere, vividness and suspense to the story.

Since it includes the word “punk”, splatterpunk fiction also displays a gleeful contempt for authority too. Most of the time, this takes the form of shadowy government conspiracies (eg: the military sealing off a town is a favourite trope) but it is also shown through things like the police being useless at preventing horrific events and/or hindering the main characters in some way etc…

Finally, another defining feature of 1980s splatterpunk fiction is the choice of mundane – often rural- settings. Most classic British splatterpunk novels will be set in ordinary small towns and feature ordinary people. This is mostly because one of the defining types of horror in 1980s splatterpunk fiction is contrasting the ordinary with the grotesque.

2) Creatures and monsters: It is impossible to talk about 1980s-style horror fiction without talking about creatures and monsters. This trend started in 1974 when James Herbert’s “The Rats” was published, but it only reached peak popularity during the late 1970s and the 1980s.

This was when novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Slugs” novels, Michael R. Linaker’s “Scorpion“, Guy N. Smith’s so-bad-that-they’re-good “Crabs” novels and Richard Lewis’ “Devil’s Coach-Horse” (which is on my “to read” list) were published.

I’ve written a more detailed article about this genre. But, in short, these types of stories typically involve some kind of animal, crustacean or insect that becomes mutated and attacks the population a small town.

Usually, the government’s response is to cover up the incident and/or obliterate the town. This genre also overlaps quite heavily with the splatterpunk genre, with the mutated creatures often devouring or killing many characters in a variety of inventively grotesque ways.

From all of the background reading I’ve done online, some theories as to the popularity of this type of horror fiction include things like it being an expression of Cold War anxieties about nuclear war (James Herbert’s “Domain” is a genuinely chilling exploration of this theme) or possibly a hangover from the “invasion literature” genre that was popular here in Britain during the early 20th century.

But, regardless, if you want to write a “1980s Britain” horror story, then including mutated creatures is one way to do it.

3) Don’t be too “retro”: One of the surprising things about 1980s horror fiction is just how… ordinary… it is. Yes, it often doesn’t age well. But, for the most part, there’s very little of the modern, stylised “nostalgic” version of the 1980s that you might expect when you think about this genre.

In short, 1980s horror fiction is just like ordinary literature – but without smartphones, the internet or stuff like that. So, if you’re writing “1980s” horror fiction, then don’t go overboard with the retro nostalgia.

For example, if your character is watching a VHS tape on a CRT television – then just write something like “she turned on the TV and played the video” rather than including a long description of the old TV and the VCR.

Remember that these novels were originally meant to be current novels about horrible things happening to ordinary people in ordinary places. As such, they don’t focus obsessively on anything that is distinctively “80s”. They just tell stories about ordinary people in ordinary places in an ordinary way. They weren’t written for nostalgia.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (18th December 2018)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was an inspired one 🙂 Basically, whilst re-reading an old horror novel from the 1980s called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson, the novel’s rural settings evoked a very particular emotion in me. A kind of part-memory, part-imagined nostalgia for a very particular type of gloomy, dingy “amazing crappiness” that is associated with 1980s-early 2000s Britain.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“A Daydream Of Dismal Delights” By C. A. Brown

Three Shocking Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Splatterpunk Horror Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about 1980s splatterpunk fiction today. This is mostly because I’m re-reading an old 1980s horror novel called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson that I first discovered when I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s. Back then, old second-hand splatterpunk novels from the 1980s (or, more accurately, the mid-late 1970s to the early-mid 1990s) were the coolest thing in the world. Or at least I thought that they were. Alas, I was a little late to the party.

But, having refreshed my memory about this awesome historical genre (which, for some reason, I lost interest in a few years ago), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write 1980s-style splatterpunk fiction. And, yes, some of these might shock you. Because…. *organ trill*… old splatterpunk fiction has more in common with high-brow literary fiction than anything else. Allow me to explain…

1) Characterisation!: Whether it is more visceral “video nasty”-style stories by Shaun Hutson, poetic and sophisticated splatterpunk stories by Clive Barker, the supernatural drama of Graham Masterton or the classic stories of James Herbert, old splatterpunk novels had one thing in common – Characterisation!

A classic splatterpunk technique is to start a chapter by introducing a new character. The writer will then spend a couple of pages showing the character going about their daily life, whilst also giving the reader a bit of information about their backstory and personality. Usually, the character’s life will be slightly mundane, unusual and/or miserable. The audience is given a while to get to know this character. Then the character dies horribly in some kind of ultra-grisly way.

This technique works because of the characterisation. Because we get to see the ordinary life of the character and learn a bit about them, their inevitable grisly demise is more dramatic and shocking. They aren’t some generic background character, they’re an actual, relatable character. This technique is especially effective in the early parts of a splatterpunk story, when the audience can’t quite be certain which characters will be the main characters and which characters won’t survive to the next chapter.

But, regardless, characterisation is more important than you might think in 1980s-style splatterpunk stories.

2) Eloquence: 1980s splatterpunk fiction is more sophisticated than you think! In order for the genre to evoke the emotions of foreboding, disgust, suspense and/or horror that it is known for, it has to be well-written. In other words, splatterpunk fiction is a genre that involves painting with words, poetic descriptions and all sorts of sophisticated stuff that you might not expect.

For example, whilst you might not think of him as a “high-brow” writer, Shaun Hutson’s narration is often a lot more eloquent and complex than you might initially think.

To show you what I mean, here’s a quote from Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus”: ‘In the high street, one or two half-timbered houses sat almost reluctantly alongside red brick shops and small offices.‘ This sounds a lot like something from a literary novel. Not exactly what you’d expect from a novel that looks like this

This is the cover of the 2002 Time Warner (UK) paperback reprint of “Erebus” (1984).

…And contains more blood & guts than ten horror movies. But, why do 1980s splatterpunk novels include such eloquent language?

Simply put, it has to do with the contrast between beauty and ugliness. A lot of what makes 1980s splatterpunk fiction such a distinctive genre is because it describes ugly things (eg: death, decay, violence etc..) in beautiful ways. Classic splatterpunk fiction renders grisly scenes of horror with the skill and finesse of a poet describing a beautiful sunset. If you don’t believe me, then read Clive Barker’s “Books Of Blood” for some expert examples of this.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel, then you need to paint with words. You need to be eloquent. Your writing needs to be sophisticated.

3) The mundane: Like with “high brow” literary fiction, splatterpunk stories will often focus heavily on ordinary, mundane, dreary everyday life. The characters will be ordinary people. The locations will often be ordinary towns, suburbs and cities. But, why?

Aside from making the settings and characters more relatable to the audience, and contrasting the ordinary and the grotesque for dramatic effect, the main reason why old splatterpunk writers do this is because of the “punk” part of the splatterpunk genre.

In short, the crappiness of grinding, dull, mundane everyday life is part of the horror. It is shown to be something inherently oppressive, bleak and menacing. The world isn’t shown in some stylised, idealised way – but with the bleak cynical clarity of a nihilistic punk song. The world is shown warts and all. And this is before the giant rats, zombie vampires, deranged serial killers etc… begin to appear.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk story, then focus on the mundane.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (8th November 2018)

Well, although I was feeling slightly uninspired, I quite like how today’s digitally-edited painting turned out. Interestingly, it was originally supposed to have more of a 1990s-style look, but it ended up going in more of a 1980s-style direction instead (mostly since I had to adjust the hue levels quite heavily whilst editing it, which gave it more of an “80s” look).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Retro Resort” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (3rd August 2018)

Although today’s digitally-edited painting was originally going to be a much more elaborate 1980s/90s-style painting, it ended up being a somewhat minimalist greyscale painting for time reasons. Even so, I really like how it turned out (not to mention that I haven’t made any proper greyscale art in a while).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Spotlights” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (4th June 2018)

Woo hoo! There are multiple versions of today’s digitally-edited painting: The line art, the unprocessed version, the rain-free version, the “gothic” version (that is more accurate to the original daydream), the “standard size” letterboxed version and, of course, the final version (at the end of this post).

As you can guess, this painting was one of the most inspired paintings I’ve made in a while. In fact, if you look at the line art, you can see that it quickly ended up overstepping the usual sizing guidelines I draw in my sketchbook.

It was mostly based on a visually-striking moment from daydream I’d had the evening before about what Aberystwyth would have been like during the 1980s (although I used some artistic licence when depicting the promenade). The main musical inspiration for this painting was probably the song/music video for “Promised Land” By Skeletal Family.

As usual, this painting (and all the other versions of it in this post) are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“And A Daydream Of The 80s” By C. A. Brown