The Ghoulish Times | 9/25/21
Stephen King's Birthday - Video Nasties - Clive Barker Talk Show
Hello and welcome to the 2nd issue of The Ghoulish Times.
This is a pretty long newsletter (which I feel might be the typical length for The Ghoulish Times, if we’re being honest here), so before I get into the main topic of the week, I want to quickly share some important upcoming events.
Tonight, on September 25th, I am attending the FILDI Film Fest in San Antonio for a Q&A. The fest begins at 6:00PM and ends at 10:30PM. My Q&A will begin around 8:15PM, I believe. Tickets are available HERE or also at the door. It’s located at the Brick Art Gallery (Brick | 108 Blue Star | #1773 | San Antonio, TX 78204).
Then, on October 6th, I will be doing another Q&A at the Alamo Drafthouse in Katy, TX for a special screening of the movie I wrote: We Need to Do Something. Tickets can be purchased HERE.
Happy Birthday, Stephen King
Last Tuesday was the birthday of Stephen Edwin King. He turned 74 years old, which is 46 years older than I currently am. Like many writers who dabble in the horror genre, King is one of my heroes and should be considered largely responsible for inspiring my own desires to write fiction. Back in 2016, I wrote an article for LitReactor titled “Happy Birthday, Stephen King”, which went into great detail about how Stand By Me / The Body and The Talisman influenced my career ambitions1.
Here is how I ended the LitReactor article I linked above. I want to share it here because I still stand by every word. I don’t think King will ever read this, but I don’t think it matters. Somehow, I think he already knows.
Stories matter more than some people think. Stories are the structures that keep us sane. They help us survive in our darkest times. They stand us up and push us through the fire. Sometimes, books are all you need. For me, growing up, Stephen King kept me alive with his fiction. Not only was it a source of entertainment and wonder, it was also an inspiration for my own literary aspirations in life. Would I want to be a writer if I hadn’t discovered King at such an early age? There’s really no way to tell. I have always lived in a world with Stephen King, and I hope this never changes.
Today is Mr. King’s birthday, but it feels like my own. There’s a reason so many people love this man and his work. How long has he kept us all company? How many hours has he been by our sides, keeping us awake, keeping us going?
I’m not the only writer who owes their soul to Stephen King, and I hope he realizes how much he’s inspired this world with his words. I hope he realizes that he will live forever, thanks to the impact he’s left on so many.
My love for King should be no surprise to anybody who has kept up with my own (small) career. From 2017 - 2020, I co-hosted a Stephen King-themed comedy podcast called CASTLE ROCK RADIO with my partner Lori Michelle. We lasted 109 episodes before deciding to throw in the towel due to a lack of time and a general disinterest in continuing it. Sorry to break the news to you if you’re just now learning the podcast no longer exists. I do not, however, apologize for cancelling the show in the middle of a summer-long read-along of The Stand. Have you ever tried to read The Stand? Okay, sure, but have you ever tried to read The Stand while also recording/editing/uploading comedic analyses of each chapter on a weekly basis? It’s just as easy as it sounds.
I’ve also written numerous articles about King’s work, in addition to the “happy birthday” post I previously linked. I thought it would be a good time to share some of the articles here:
Wow, holy shit. Turns out I’ve written a lot about Stephen King over the years. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise. Of all the writers out there, he’s managed to maintain the longest relevancy in my life. He wasn’t the first writer who I found myself latching onto—before King, there were people like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike—but he’s the first writer to continuously hold my interest. Like many of his fans, I started reading his work at a very young age, and I just…never stopped.
Which brings me to this week’s primary topic of The Ghoulish Times.
If you talk to a horror fan long enough, odds are you’ll eventually get to the subject of their childhood. Specifically, what kind of horror they were allowed to digest at what ages. It’s certainly something that keeps getting brought up when I interview guests on my GHOULISH podcast. Frequent listeners of the show will already know my own background here, but for those who don’t, allow me to briefly fill you in:
I was born in 1993, in a small Northern Indiana town. I have three older half-brothers. One of them was already out of the house by the time I came along, but the other two are only 11 and 12 years older than I am, meaning they stuck around through most of my early childhood. Both of them were3 huge fans of horror, although they preferred different kinds of horror. James loved mainstream slashers—specifically the Halloween franchise—while Jeremy drifted toward weirder, more obscure titles like Dead Alive (aka Braindead) and The Gate. I benefited directly from these split preferences, as it allowed me to consume a vast collection of horror rather than one small niche. I was like 5 years old and obsessed with the Evil Dead trilogy, which made me the coolest goddamn kid in the world.
I must also give credit to my mother’s best friend, Teenie, who I grew up calling my aunt, as she would often download every horror movie she could find on Limewire and burn them onto discs for me. Every time we visited, she had a new sleeve of bootleg horror to let me borrow—the kind of low-budget stuff most video stores would never bother stocking on their shelves. She passed away a couple years ago and I regret never having a chance to thank her for changing my life for the better.
The movie my mother and I rewatched together more than anything else was True Romance. Imagine a tiny child obsessively watching True Romance. Nobody else in my school even knew who Quentin Tarantino was. They were all too busy watching shit like Scary Movie and all of those resulting sequels and spinoffs4. Remember the parody plague that hit us in the early 2000s? What a truly horrendous time to be alive.
With my family, the topic of censorship only came up during nudity scenes, which—in retrospect—is kind of hilarious and only further proves the hypocrisy of America. The example I like to bring up the most is From Dusk till Dawn, which is a movie we frequently watched, yet for most of my childhood I was forced to cover my eyes for the entire second half of the film, since it takes place in a strip club and there’s b-b-b-boobies visible. What were my parents afraid of, exactly? That I’d get an erection while we watched the movie and start jerking off on the couch? I mean, to be fair, that sounds like a legitimate concern. At a certain age, children become dangerously horny5.
Talking to other fans of the genre, I’ve encountered similar childhood stories, sure, but also extremely different ones. One of my best friends grew up not even being allowed to watch The Simpsons. It’s a small miracle some of us still managed to find horror later on in life and learn to appreciate it.
I bring all of this up because recently I recorded an episode of my GHOULISH podcast about the video nasty controversy of the 1980s. My guest was George Daniel Lea, who had a lot of smart, insightful things to say about the topic.
For those unaware of what video nasties exactly are, here’s how Meagan Navarro broke it down in an excellent Bloody Disgusting article from 2018:
Video Nasties is a term associated with a period of panic and censorship in the UK during the rise of popularity of the video cassette. […] Articles about morally bankrupt horror began to spread, setting the wheels in motion for the authorities to step in and search for videos deemed in breach of the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. With varying opinion among the police force on what did or didn’t classify as obscene, the Department of Public Prosecutions drew up a list of 72 films deemed worthy of prosecution.
I don’t want to provide a historical breakdown of the controversy, since Kim Newman already did a wonderful job doing exactly that over at BFI. I highly recommend you give it a read if you want to learn more about the controversy’s history. I also, of course, recommend you listen to the latest episode of GHOULISH.
Some of the original video nasties include Possession, The Evil Dead, The Driller Killer, Faces of Death, Cannibal Holocaust, Death Trap, I Spit on Your Grave, The Beyond, The Last House on the Left, and so many others. The Bloody Disgusting article I linked above digs deeper into the complete list, if you’re interested in seeking out the rest of the titles (I suspect they would make a fun month-long movie marathon).
I was introduced to the term “video nasty” about seven years ago while sleepily browsing the Wikipedia pages for “missing people” and “children who have killed people”. I couldn’t possibly begin to explain my reasons for doing this, other than when you are sleep-deprived and stuck at a terrible job, sometimes your brain needs to find creative ways to stay awake. This led to me coming across the Murder of James Bulger (warning: graphic description of child death; do not read the linked article unless you want to spend the rest of your weekend severely depressed—or, I guess, if you’re sleep-deprived and stuck at a terrible job). Basically, two young 10-year-old boys abducted a two-year-old child (Jamie Bulger) from a shopping mall in England, led him several miles away, and proceeded to torture and murder him. The boys would go on to become the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history6.
During the trial, tabloid magazines pushed the “video nasty” angle hard, suggesting the children had been influenced by horror movies—specifically, Child’s Play 3, due to the family having recently rented it. Here’s another long, complex read about video nasties, which briefly mentions the Bulger case:
[I]n 1993, the papers were once again awash with stories blaming horror videos for these crimes. Indeed, so great was the renewed outcry against “nasties” in the aftermath of Bulger case that it led to the Video Recordings Act being tightened still further.
As you’ll read in the article linked above, and any other article discussing the video nasty moral panic, a conservative activist by the name of Mary Whitehouse was largely responsible for how popular the movement eventually became. George Daniel Lea and I also talked about her involvement at great length in the aforementioned episode of GHOULISH, so I won’t waste much space here repeating ourselves, but here’s a bit more about her from that last article:
Whitehouse, the head of the “clean up TV” campaigning body the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, was then given a great deal of largely uncontested space in the press to call for the resignation of the DPP, lambast the hearings as a «farce» and a «public scandal» and label the videos (which she admitted she hadn’t seen) as «appalling and utter filth». Whitehouse is the classic example of the kind of “moral entrepreneur” who plays a key role in driving moral panics forward, and, as we shall see below, performed this role to the hilt in helping to whip up the next stage of the “video nasty” panic, frequently in concert with the Mail. However, the DPP made it clear that now it had been established that violent videos could be classified as obscene under the OPA, which had hitherto been invoked mainly against pornography, future prosecutions would be brought under section 2. Police forces up and down the land then began raiding video distributors and seizing thousands of tapes which they claimed breached the OPA, a frightening process which is chillingly described by several of its victims in extras in the DVD sets Box of the Banned and Video Nasties : the Definitive Guide. Thus the final part of Cohen’s narrative fell into place : an extension of the law, specifically of the remit of the OPA.
And hell, while we’re at it, here’s another appropriate quote7 about the subject:
Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten, except in folk-lore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long-lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way the society conceives itself.
Which brings me to a video I’d like to share with you. It’s a video I’ve returned to numerous times whenever I want to hear a strong argument for why the horror genre is so important. The argument, of course, is being made by one of the best artists this genre’s ever been gifted: Clive Barker.
Open to Question, to quote the ever faithful Wikipedia, “was a British audience participation talk show which involved Scottish teenagers asking questions to celebrities about topical issues of the day.”
On December 8, 1987, Clive Barker was a guest on the show. He was deep into promo on his first film, Hellraiser, as well as his latest novel, Weaveworld (both had been released in the same year). For a little over a half hour, a very young, very handsome Clive Barker sat on stage and answered several questions from young Scottish teens and twentysomething-year-olds that sound sort of ridiculous today, but it’s important to note that these kids were coming of age in the Time of Mary Whitehouse, so if you keep that context in mind, their questions will make a little more sense. Questions that centered around horror fiction potentially influencing copycat violence, the importance of metaphors, and why anybody would ever want to attend an autopsy as a form of entertainment—and so on.
All of these questions, honestly, are all asking the same thing: “Why write horror?”
And Clive Barker, to his immense credit, remains cool and patient with these confused kids and answers this one question numerous times, in various interesting ways. I dare you to watch the below clip and not feel yourself getting excited about the genre. Yes, the questions are annoying8, but the answers? Holy shit. This interview should be mandatory viewing for everybody.
GHOULISH EPISODE #111
As I’ve mentioned numerous times already, the latest episode of GHOULISH is about video nasties.
George Daniel Lea (author of Born in Blood) is the antithesis to everything the infamous conservative activist Mary Whitehouse represented. In today’s episode of GHOULISH, we do a deep dive into the video nasty controversy of the 1980s, analyzing the true intentions of censorship and how such a moral outrage might have impacted the horror genre overall. Stay tuned for the end of the podcast, where we play the full audio from an episode of OPEN TO QUESTION, featuring Clive Barker answering several bizarre questions from Scottish teens.
George Daniel Lea has written two story collections for our small press, Born in Blood Volume One and Volume Two. Nick Hardy’s cover art for both volumes, when pushed together, form one complete image.
Purchase Born in Blood: Volume One
Purchase Born in Blood: Volume Two
Purchase Born in Blood: Book Bundle
MEDIA RECENTLY EXPERIENCED
I have not had much time to read this week as I’ve been incredibly busy catching up on various editing projects, but I did watch two movies.
I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia on 35mm at the South Lamar Drafthouse in Austin. It’s a 3+ hr long movie and I’ve seen it probably five times now. It’s not a perfect movie by any means; it’s messy and chaotic, but it’s also beautiful and leaking with ambition. I love it so much. A bonus treat: the Drafthouse played the trailer for PTA’s upcoming film, Licorice Pizza, which looks…amazing. They haven’t released the trailer online yet, so I won’t spoiler what I saw, but needless to say I am stoked to watch the full movie.
I also watched Nightbooks on Netflix, which I thought was excellent. It felt like a young adult Misery with Evil Dead-inspired effects. Go watch it! Especially if you have kids. But also even if you don’t. Spooky stories forever!
See you next Saturday, ghouls.
In retrospect, Misery is probably more responsible than anything else Stephen King has written for planting the “writing seed” in me (I promise that isn’t as disgusting as it sounds). As a child, I skipped school more than any other student in my class. Which meant I had a lot of time to hang out at home watching DVDs. One of the movies I revisited the most was Misery. Something about being held prisoner in a room and forced to do nothing but write fiction all day sounded like the most romantic thing in the entire world. I still feel this way. I’m not actively encouraging anybody to abduct me, but I am severely behind on deadlines right now, so let’s just say I probably wouldn’t press charges.
Fun fact about this article: within mere hours of going live, it went viral on the internet, racking up 100,000+ views. Due to a not-very-funny joke I added implying Stephen King wrote Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, I found myself receiving numerous tweets and DMs calling me an asshole. The comment section on the article is also a goldmine. I don’t think a lot of the humor in that article actually holds up, but I don’t think it’s terrible, either. Oh, and one more thing! A couple days after the article was published, I received an email from someone working at The Queen Latifah Show. They wanted to adapt my article into a “comedy skit” on their show. What the fuck did that mean? No idea! The show was cancelled before they ever had a chance to do anything with it.
I speak of their interests in the past tense because, honestly, I haven’t really hung out or spoken much with either of them in ten years now. I think James mostly just plays MLB The Show while Jeremy plays whatever the latest wrestling video game is titled. I suspect their interest in horror subtly faded with age, which I personally consider kind of terrifying.
Scary Movie 1-4, Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, Vampires Suck, Superhero Movie…all of these combined would do significantly more damage than whatever Alex DeLarge is actually subjected to in A Clockwork Orange.
Jesus christ I hope this sentence doesn’t get my substack banned.
The whole thing just fucking sucks and I’m sorry to even bring it up, but I can’t not talk about this story when discussing video nasties. When I first learned about this case, I spent the next week obsessed with it, reading every article available, completely devastated—which eventually led to me writing what would become my second professional short story sale, appropriately titled “Video Nasties”. It was originally published in the debut issue of Jamais Vu (now out of print), but if you’re interested in checking it out, I have it available over on my Patreon.
Stanley Cohen (Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (London, 1972), 9).
I also suspect some (if not all) of these questions were written by the show’s production staff and submitted to the kids to read on air.