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Nightmare Royale #12: Where The Literary Shit Hits the Motion Picture Fan (A World Horror Convention Suggestion)

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Well, it’s time once again for the World Horror Convention, when hordes of creatives from the lit’ry end of our field convene for shop talk, networking, and (for many of us) a whooooole lotta gettin’ loaded till the wee hours with buddies you maybe get to see once or twice a year, if you’re lucky.

This year’s special guests include authors Brian Keene, John Shirley, Norman Partridge, and Jack Ketchum, as well as two of the finest editors in the genre, Stephen Jones and Ellen Datlow. Other writers you may recognize include F. Paul Wilson, Nancy Holder, William F. Nolan, Weston Ochse, Yvonne Navarro, Shane McKenzie, Cody Goodfellow, Carlton Mellick III, Mary SanGiovanni, Wrath James White, Joe McKinney,  Lisa Mannetti, Lisa Morton, Stephen Graham Jones, Michael Marshall Smith, Steve Rasnic Tem, Robert Devereaux and David Gerrold, just off the tip of the iceberg.

Both editors Jeff Burk of Deadite Press and Don D’Auria of Samhain will be present, taking pitches for their horror lines, which will doubtless be the focus of keen attention for hungry newcomers, of which there are liable to be a handful with serious talent. I almost always meet a couple or three and go, “I’ll be watching that kid. They got something goin’ on.” It’s a genuine pleasure to see someone who walks in the place on fire from within, with something they’re burning to get out. It’s something you learn to pick out from the crowd, even if they’re the shy one in the corner (which they are, as often as not).

But this year – as my focus moves from making books to making films – I’m gonna be thinking extra-hard about how to connect these people (both emerging and established) with the indie horror film community I’m coming to know: another tight-knit, far-flung group of talented scrappers trying to make or extend their names, in an even-harder end of the horror playing field.

I keep thinking these people need to get to know each other. That these groups need to cross-pollinate. That they might have a lot to offer each other, if they hung out for a couple of days of drinking and talking and igniting what sparks they may.

A couple of top-flight prose veterans are starting to make filmic inroads. Joe R. Lansdale’s got BUBBA HO-TEP as a classic already, COLD IN JULY ready to pop, and THE BOTTOMS coming up, with serious talent attached both behind and before the lens. Jack Ketchum’s been on a fascinating run, with the scarred-everyone-who-ever-watched-it THE GIRL NEXT DOOR opening said door to the terrific THE LOST, the magnificent RED, the woefully unfortunate OFFSPRING, and his ultimate teaming with phenomenal director Lucky McKee on THE WOMAN and beyond. (The Ketchum/ McKee nexus is a model of the kind of team-ups I’d love to see more of.)

On the down side, the film version of Brian Keene’s GHOUL is but a flicker of how good it should have been, which still makes it  roughly 30%  better than the heinous adaptation of my own book ANIMALS (the last of the Skipp & Spector run, and a movie I swear to God I had nothing to do with), which I recommend highly to people who want to have a really empty, stupid time, watching a movie that isn’t remotely competent enough to like yet barely interesting enough to hate. A black hole of anti-entertainment.

That’s the dark side of the dream.

But then on the flip side is Shane McKenzie, who teamed up with director Gigi Saul Guerrero and the team at Luchagore Productions, and together just raised enough Kickstarter cash to shoot the sizzle trailer for EL GIGANTE (based on his insane book MUERTE CON CARNE). They’ll be shooting it this very weekend, while we party in Portland. And I betcha 10-to-1 that they get to make their Tex-Mex Chainsaw Massacre, on a lean-ass budget, with enormous heart, and create some horror history.

This is a situation where I read what Shane was writing, saw what Gigi and Luchagore were shooting, and went, “You guys gotta talk.” And they did. And have been having fun making crazy shit together ever since. An educated guess that paid off.

I just have a funny feeling that there’s more of that kismet floating around out there. Connections, just waiting to be made.

To that end, there’s a panel I’m hosting on Saturday at 5:00, where writer/director Billy Hanson will be  screening his insanely powerful adaptation of Stephen King’s SURVIVOR TYPE. It’s a perfect example of a bootstrap director taking excellent material – King’s gnarliest fucking story – and rendering it expertly. It’s what all adaptations should aspire to, and kicks the shit out of 80% of the mainstream King films, in terms of veracity and audience impact.

Shane will be there to introduce M IS FOR MATADOR, his first Luchagore collaboration, which made it into the DVD extras of THE ABC’S OF DEATH 2 anthology, coming up soon. And is probably better than half of the finalists: tight, horrific, crazy, and really fucking good.

And Lori Bowen will be there to present I AM MONSTER, an amazingly alarming, soulful,  and horny short she co-directed the shit out of with star Shannon Lark, former head of the Viscera Film Festival. Between they and Gigi, they are totally representing what women bring to the filmic horror game.

(Along those gender lines, I’m also thrilled to point out that program director Rose O’Keefe has pulled off the seemingly-previously-unattempted miracle of putting women on every single panel at the convention. This may not seem like much, but it’s actually a radically long-overdue move, answering the need for a “Where Are Women In Horror?” panel with the delightful recognition that WOMEN ARE EVERYWHERE IN HORROR. And thank God for that!)

So, in summation: I’m just basically trying to connect a whole lotta dots that are just sitting there, waiting to be connected. If I can help, I will. But it’s way beyond me.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that all of us want horror to flourish as a genre to be reckoned with. We know how much we love it. We know the wonderful audience that exists. We want to connect with it, as artists and audience. We want the greatest shit imaginable to come rearing up and blow our minds.

And we want to help each other achieve those levels of mind-blowingness, cutting through the tedious numb-o-sphere to actually kick ass. Which is where talent-meeting-talent comes in.

At the very least, we inspire each other.

And the very best, we work together. Creating a scene so exciting that everyone wants to tune in. Not just the insular hardcore, but the hundreds of thousands of millions who want that kind of powerful, personal art-o-tainment.

All this said: books don’t need movies to be great books, any more than movies need books to be great movies. It’s a dance that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t.

But neither Stephen King nor Brian De Palma would be who they are today if a little confluence of fate called CARRIE hadn’t somehow brought them together.

Just sayin’.

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About the author
John Skipp
John Skipp is a New York Times bestselling author/editor/filmmaker, zombie godfather, compulsive collaborator, musical pornographer, black-humored optimist and all-around Renaissance mutant. His early novels from the 1980s and 90s pioneered the graphic, subversive, high-energy form known as splatterpunk. His anthology Book of the Dead was the beginning of modern post-Romero zombie literature. His work ranges from hardcore horror to whacked-out Bizarro to scathing social satire, all brought together with his trademark cinematic pace and intimate, unflinching, unmistakable voice. From young agitator to hilarious elder statesman, Skipp remains one of genre fiction's most colorful characters. Visit him at Facebook, or on Twitter @YerPalSkipp
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