That’s Garth Marenghi above, responding to a question about whether the horror genre is dead. I did a spit take when I watched this (as I did with the rest of the DVD).
It’s a childish response (“you are!”) from a faux has-been in the genre. I love it. And yet there’s some nugget of truth here, some wisdom to the comedy. Genre critics have suggested that genres go through stages of evolution, with parody becoming the zenith of a genre (and a sign of its impending doom). Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace television series is to horror what Blazing Saddles was to the Western. And yet horror, I think, challenges the concept of genre evolution…because it never quite goes away.
For one thing, stories about “returns” (from the dead, of the repressed, etc.) are always framed differently than others — they are “from another time” and it is usually one that is a headspace, a dreamspace, more than a social time. Take Night of the Living Dead. It is creepier BECAUSE it is shot using shoddy technology from the 1960s. More akin to nightmare in our brains than high gloss HD special effect films today.
For another, there is always a darkside, a taboo, an alterverse that demands exploration by creative artists. This means that there are emergent forms of fear that artists and writers are exploring and even if we don’t label them as “horror” they are doing what horror creators have done all along anyway: exploring territories that many fear to tread.
So my theory here is that genres don’t die…they just change in ways that sometimes feel, well, scary.
Not dead…just different.
It is also true that sometimes audiences simply turn too cynical to engage or suspend disbelief, but I’m not convinced that has happened to the horror genre — maybe to splatter films, but not to horror stories themselves. In fact cutting through this cynicism is precisely what horror authors must persistently do, and the best ones suprise us by shattering the “safe” protective bubble that such cynical worldviews try to construct. Satires like Marenghi affirms this cynicism, but deconstructs their potency and perhaps simultaneously affirms the nostalgia for genre forms of the past. Usually following a period of fun-making, we get some very serious films and stories in genre. I’m sure you can think of a few…
Snippets of Marenghi are available on adult swim’s website. But as funny as they are, they’re probably not the best. If you can view region 2 dvds, hunt the complete series down (maybe through ebay) to enjoy the entire opus of this dreamweaver. A must-see for genre writers like me.
Garth’s alter-ego is the actor/author Matthew Holness, who has the weirdest (if not the best!) story in an anthology I’ve recommend before, called The New Uncanny.
Pleased to see Holness is now doing another nostalgic love letter to a dead genre comedy soon, The Reprizalizer. Can’t wait to see where it goes…
And here’s a link to my favorite posed photo of Matthew Holness turning the tarot…
If you’re a writer trying to work in popular fiction genres, you’ll like the book I edited last year, Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction. It includes a lengthy essay by me called “Genre Unleashed” that explores these kinds of issues.