Re: RARA-AVIS: Noir Horror?

From: Bob Toomey (
Date: 08 Feb 2000

Doug Bassett wrote:
> I strongly disagree with the notion that a
> hardboiled/horror marriage is impossible. In my life
> I've stumbled across all sorts of hardboiled
> marriages: hb westerns, hb SF tales, hb poetry
> (Bukowski), hb memoirs (Burrough's JUNKY), etc. Since
> "hardboiled" is a perspective, a way of looking at the
> world, it can be applied, I think, to any literary
> genre. Why not hardboiled horror?

I'm not saying the hardboiled/horror marriage is impossible, just rarely successful. The HB attitude goes very nicely with westerns, which were the precursor of HB, as well as with SF and comedy, all sorts of genres, because they're not antithetical to HB. But the goals of horror are completely different from the goals of hardboiled. Hardboiled is grounded in a skeptical, cynical, unsentimental view of the world. Horror is the polar opposite -- romantic, sentimental, emotional. So if the story is successful as HB, it undercuts the horror, and vice versa. There are exceptions, like Joe R. Landsale's hilarious and disgusting
"On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks," which manages to be a hardboiled western SF horror comedy, all in one twisted package. But most of the attempts to mix and match HB and horror fail.

> One obvious indication that such a marriage might be
> successful is the large number of people who like both
> genres. This suggests, to me at least, that people are
> responding to something similar in both. Another is
> the many, many writers who've tried to blend the two
> genres already.

First, and again, HB isn't a genre, damn it, it's an attitude, an attack. Second, I like Gilbert & Sullivan, and Louis Jordan's jump blues, but I don't see much being accomplished by trying to blend the two, just because I happen to like both styles of music.
> I quite agree with you, though, that recent attempts
> to blend the two have been unsuccessful. That doesn't
> mean that it's not worth trying, especially if you're
> interested in horror (a genre that, in my opinion, has
> managed to back itself into an aesthetic dead-end). It
> may mean redefining the nature of "horror" in horror
> fiction, but, well, the genre could use the jumpstart.

I'm not sure horror has reached an aesthetic dead end. I do think it's been oversold and most of it is the usual imitative crap (Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap) being put out by untalented hacks to make a quick buck from an unsophisticated audience. Same as with SF and the endless movie and TV tie-ins that groan on the shelves; same as with the endless bloated fantasy trilogies; etc. That doesn't mean good, innovative work isn't being done. It's just that one gets tired of pulling on the hip boots and wading in there looking for it. Just pray that HB doesn't suddenly become popular...

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