In Britain, the books of horror novelist, Shaun Hutson, were at one time outsold only by those of Stephen King. Yet despite his success, Hutson’s work has never been subject to extensive scholarly appraisal. This is due, at least in part, to the literary value Hutson’s work is said to lack, and the disdain directed towards him by his (critically revered) contemporaries. Clive Barker, for example, is alleged to have referred to Hutson’s work as “irresponsible”, while Ramsey Campbell has accused Hutson on more than one occasion of “dragging horror into the gutter”. Politically ambivalent and morally conservative, Hutson’s writing also lacks the socially-charged impulse and cultural nuance characteristic of acclaimed authors such as James Herbert. So what, then, is interesting about Shaun Hutson’s oeuvre, if, by the author's own admission, “greed is [his] main motivator” and his books aren’t “about anything”?
This illustrated lecture explores this question and others, offering an assessment of Hutson’s novels during his most prolific decade, the 1980s. It will offer an overview of the “literary nasties” phenomenon sparked by the publication of Herbert’s The Rats – and imitators such as Guy N. Smith’s Night of the Crabs – to establish the context from which Hutson’s writing emerged. It will be argued that novels such as Slugs (1982), Spawn (1983), Erebus (1984), Chainsaw Terror (1984), Relics (1986) and others operate as pop-culture barometers that are reinforced by Hutson’s cult celebrity status in the contemporaneous horror and rock music press. A self-confessed super fan of the band Iron Maiden and avid cinemagoer, one finds in Hutson’s work epigraphs from hard rock acts such as Saxon, Dio, Queensrÿche and of course Maiden itself, juxtaposed against writers as diverse as Nietzsche and Lovecraft, while his books are said to read “as screenplays” and are indebted to popular cinema in numerous ways. The talk maintains that Hutson’s novels and celebrity function in a similar matter to “shock rock” acts such as Kiss and video nasties – whereby style is said to prevail over substance, and therein lies the appeal.
The talk will be lavishly illustrated, feature extended quotations, clips from interviews, as well as contemporaneous horror films to assess the lasting significance of – as Kerrang magazine had it – “The Shakespeare of Gore”.
Johnny Walker is Senior Lecturer in Media at Northumbria University. His books include, as author, Contemporary British Horror Cinema: Industry, Genre and Society (2015), and, as co-editor, Snuff: Real Death and Screen Media (2016) and Grindhouse: Cultural Exchange on 42nd Street, and Beyond (2016). He is founding co-editor of Bloomsbury’s Global Exploitation Cinemas book series, sits on the editorial board of the Horror Studies series published by the University of Wales Press, and is soon to be Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded project “Raising Hell: British Horror Film in the 1980s and 1990s”.
About the Miskatonic Institute:
Founded by Film writer/programmer Kier-La Janisse in 2010, The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies offers classes in horror history, theory and production, with branches in London, New York and Los Angeles, as well as hosting special events worldwide.