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Thursday, March 21, 2024

The New British School of Weird Horror.

The history of horror and genre fiction is a tangled maze of history and influence. In tracing the roots of modern-day weird horror I think there is a point of genesis. The origins can be found in the speculative fiction and horror fiction from England in the 1970s, From the cold and transgressive novels by J.G. Ballard to the ambiguous and shadowy short fiction of Robert Aickman. The corrupted and malicious cityscapes of Campbell and the rural nightmares of Tuttle. The children of a generation torn apart by total war, where the local cinemas and churches have the scars of Nazi bombing runs. They were also the generation that first experienced the dislocating effects of mass media and entertainment technology. They established themselves as students of a deep and rich history of genre fiction. Writers like Wells and Bradbury and Poe and Sturgeon and Jackson provided a lineage for them to follow. And from the giants of the field, they took the genre into new and increasingly personal places. 

Surrealism, Decadence, New-Wave Science Fiction, the French new novel, Pornography, Lovecraft, and M.R. James all were incorporated into this new literature. These writers, which I shall call the New British School, influenced the trajectory of the current literature of Weird Horror. Writers like Brian Evenson, Thomas Ligotti, and Caitlin Kiernan are writers who are in the direct tradition of the New British School. The breakdown of a consensus on what we use to call reality. The overwhelming takeover of media and fantasy into our lives. These writers offer us a map, enabling us to navigate a strange new world that we seem to have found ourselves waking up into. In the best way, these are stories of confrontation and examination. They plunge you into what society wants to avoid looking at. Or maybe they find joy and a masochistic pleasure in celebrating our breakdown.

These writers created a literature of mental psychography. The use of fantasy and metaphor to openly explore your own perverse obsessions without self-censorship or a redeeming morality was new to literature. Literature traditionally was seen as an objective thing. A tool to offer commentary on current history or trends in society. With this new group of writers, they looked inward. Uncensored, their visions were disturbing, confusing, and sometimes even pornographic. The bringing of heavy erotic elements to horror fiction was one of the innovations of this new English horror. The influence of hallucinogenics and drug culture also first showed itself. A more honest yet more ambiguous literature emerged from the ashes of a bombed-out Britain. A society that always presumed it was safe from the atrocities of the world, now seeing itself devastated and humbled. Seeing dead bodies on the streets while trying to get supplies from the local food bank. A society scarred and traumatized. Safety can no longer be assumed. Their entire worldview shattered. So a literature of paranoia and trauma emerged. The dangers of the city. The horror of the other sex. Corruption and infection waited in the prettiest faces and safest homes.

A face scattered with shards of glass and semen. A porno store hiding a corrupting secret that you maybe actually desire. An impossible dead figure on the ceiling half seen in the flashes of the lights of a passing speeding train. A strange disgusting creature brought home that has replaced you as the loved one in your family and in your home. Visions of nightmare and obsession. Stories both surreal and realist at the same time. The British School were explorers of a new reality infected with self-destructiveness and knowledge that we as a society are gleefully falling into ruin. We were in full view willingly tearing apart the pillars that have held together society for centuries. Our most perverse and cherished fantasies are now all we have left.  

             A suggested reading list:

    J.G. Ballard: 

The Atrocity Exhibition


Concrete Island

Robert Aickman:

Dark Entries 

Cold Hand in Mine

The Unsettled Dust

Lisa Tuttle:

A Nest of Nightmares

The Dead Hours of Night

Riding the Nightmare

Ramsey Campbell:

Demons by Daylight

The Height of the Scream

Cold Print

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