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The brainchild of author Robert McCammon, the Horror Writers Association was founded in 1985 and boasts a membership of over 600. Yet it is unable to provide a clear answer to the question: “What is horror fiction? On the face of it, any fiction that elicits feelings of fear, dread and dismay qualifies. This covers a lot of ground, from the true account of a rape and its aftermath in Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones, to classics such as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.

In the 1970s, with the tremendous success of Stephen King’s “Carrie and the “Halloween and “Friday the 13th franchises, the scope of horror shrank almost overnight. It became formulaic and safe, featuring almost exclusively stories of revenge by social outcasts or of unprovoked mayhem by mass murderers equipped with implausible superpowers, with the odd vampire tale thrown in for good measures. Horror came increasingly into disrepute, and writers previously identified with the genre sought to dissociate themselves from it by calling their works “thrillers. Robert McCammon even retired in 1998, but made a comeback in 2005 with “Speaks the Nightbird.

Since the 1970s, publishers have continued to apply the label “horror to predictable stories that have lost their power to startle, let alone frighten. In 1996, Wes Craven spoofed the conventions of the genre in the film “Scream. But the writer, Kevin Williamson, went on to pen conventional thrillers such as “I Know What You Did Last Summer. Frightening books and movies continue to be produced, because the genre, as Douglas Winter stated in the introduction to a 1997 anthology titled “Revelations, caters to “our relentless need to confront the unknown and the emotion we experience when in its thrall. The unknown can be new technology, different cultures, or changed circumstances, it does not need to have anything to do with serial killers or the supernatural. And the Horror Writers Association’s Web site is a good place to start if you want to give yourself some non-formulaic goosebumps.

So much for readers. As for film and television viewers, they might drop in on The Terror Trap, self-described as “a museum for horror and thriller films from 1925 to 1987, with such subcategories as slasher and ghost films, creature features and killer thrillers. The listings are idiosyncratic but reflect a real affection for the genre on the part of the site’s founders, Jason Knowles and Dan Hunter. And the 1987 cut-off date effectively eliminates a lot of dross. For instance, the mediocre 2000 remake of “The Turn of the Screw is not listed among ghost movies, but Robert Wise’s excellent original from 1961 is (it’s titled “The Innocents and stars Deborah Kerr). Much has been written about this Henry James novella, and it is certainly open to a non-supernatural reading (the ghost exists only in the governess’s imagination, and her young charge Miles dies in her arms from a smothering hug as she hallucinates). Also listed is Wise’s interpretation of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House, another ambiguous and intriguing classic. Simply titled “The Haunting, it stars Julie Harris as a brittle spinster who may have extra-sensory perception or may just be deranged.

In addition to opinionated and well-written reviews, the Terror Trap features several interviews with obscure actors and directors (obscure to the general public, that is) and a very comprehensive links page. My favorites among the linked pages are two hilarious webzines: Horror Wood and Bloody Disgusting. Both feature the usual reviews and interviews and editorials, such as an interesting examination by screenwriter Lisa Morton of the role of special effects in horror (http://www.horror-wood.com/sfx.htm). And both are interactive, with a forum moderated at Horror Wood by “Renfield (the bug-eating lunatic from “Dracula ). Renfield, alas, is neither funny nor informative. So if you have a question about horror movies, past and present, you’re better off asking fellow fans at Bloody Digusting.



One doesn’t need a Ph.D in semiotics to know that toys are socialization tools. When you buy your daughter a Barbie doll and your son a baseball bat or a soccer ball, you are teaching them something about gender roles and about their proper place in the world. And when you give chubby plastic cherubs to little girls who are themselves little more than babies, you are telling them that their main purpose in life is to breed.

Jeremi Rimel resents this, and expresses his resentment with savage glee through his Autopsy Zombie Staple Babies. These one of a kind items start out as your average plump plastic infant, then, with the help of some staples, a soldering iron and some paint, they become nightmarish creatures that could give the killer doll of the “Chucky franchise a run for his money. Each terrifying tot is auctioned on eBay when it’s finished. Get yours today. Warning: Not for the faint of heart.

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