by Theresa Miller
Honored by horror nerds as the Father of Splatterpunk, John Skipp is the New York Times best-selling author of the horror classic “The Light at the End” and co-author of the fifth installment of Nightmare on Elm Street, arguably the bloodiest in the series. His 1989 anthology “Book of the Dead” ushered in the beginning of modern post-Romero zombie literature.
Fascinated with Norman Bates? Prefer scary writing prompts? Can’t wait ’till they make another Child’s Play? Then this horror writing course is for you! In John’s one-day class From Slashers to Body Snatchers: Writing the Horror Screenplay, you’ll learn how to set up a terrifying premise, insert hair raising scares, and pay it off with a heart-pounding conclusion. By the end you’ll have a fleshed out concept and will be ready to write your script with purpose!
John gave us his philosophical take on horror as a genre, and gives young horror writers some good advice.
1. You’ve been named the “Father of Splatterpunk” by many horror aficionados. What do you think is so appealing about all-out gore?
All kids like to make a mess! (laughs) But here’s the thing. Folks these days seem to focus on the splatter, but they forget the punk. Which was the subversive element, the engaged cultural criticism. Splatterpunk was a no-holds-barred response to the tight-assed, bullshit-spouting Reagan/Thatcher-era 80s. As such, the war cry (as coined by fellow troublemaker Clive Barker) was “There are no limits”. The sex, the violence, the street-level authenticity and psychological probity, the sneakily-subversive and in-your-face angles of attack were all in our toolbox. Otherwise, it really is just pointless gore.
2. Do you think that horror influences society in any way or is it merely cathartic?
That’s the ol’ chicken-and-the-egg debate. Clearly, if the real world weren’t already crawling with unspeakable horror, artists wouldn’t be compelled to go there. We respond to the horror that exists, and extrapolate from there. And yes, that can be really cathartic. But does horror fiction cause people to do horrible things? Only if they’re sick fucks to begin with.
3. What attracted you and still attracts you to the genre?
I was a very haunted young man, so the cathartic element was huge. There’s an honesty and power in facing down the darkness. And the metaphors are juicy. Now, as a much older and more relaxed guy, I’m more interested in the tragically hilarious side of horror, though I’ve always been in it for the laughs. And I just really like the mirror it holds up to the world. Think it’s a useful human tool.
4. How did you get your start in horror writing?
Professionally? I made my first sales to Twilight Zone magazine, when I first moved to New York City. A rash of cabbie killings — drivers murdered in their cars — led to my first sale, “The Long Ride”. Watching homeless people freeze to death on the streets led to my second, “Go To Sleep”. And my first published novel, “The Light at the End,” is soaking in the real-life details of NYC life (even though it’s about a punk vampire in the subways). That was the book that lifted Craig Spector and I from lowly street messengers to the New York Times bestseller list. And also inspired the character of “Spike” in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” So that’s pretty cool!
5. It would have been any horror fan’s dream to write Nightmare on Elm Street: 5. How did you get that opportunity?
A young producer named Mike DeLuca was a fan of “The Light At The End,” and the emerging splatpunk lit in general. So New Line conducted a splatterpunk casting call for “Nightmare 5,” and Craig and I won. So we wrote an original script, while one of the other producers brought in a friend of hers to write another. New Line loved ours and hated the other. So they fired us, and hired the other guy to rewrite our script. Six writers and thirteen drafts later, they got the piece-of-shit movie they evidently wanted. And we had to threaten legal action to retain our story credit. In other words: “Welcome To Showbiz” (laughs) I speak about this at length in the excellent documentary “Never Sleep Again: The Elm St. Legacy” which was co-directed by Andrew Kasch, who I now direct films with. And which is the best thing I got from the whole experience.
6. You’ve been in this genre for years and have seen in change. What’s next for horror, in your opinion?
Well, I’ll tell ya. I’m very excited by much of the new horror short fiction I’ve been reading. I think the short story’s in a new golden age. So whatever happens to horror film, I hope the filmmakers are reading these people. This is where the truly fresh ideas are springing.
7. What current projects are you working on?
Andrew Kasch and I are prepping our first feature film. That’s all I can tell you right now. But it’s a doozy. Hardcore and funny and out of its mind, and we can’t wait to start shooting!
8. You wrote the award winning screenplay and songs for “Misty Beethoven: The Musical,” a remake of the original adult film “The Opening of Misty Beethoven.” Horror and sex seem to be constant companions on screen. Why do you think that is?
Actually, “Misty” won two naked Oscars (otherwise known as AVN Awards) for “Best Sex Comedy” and “Most Outrageous Sex Scene” (featuring a singing penis). So it’s very cheerful and non-horrific, except for some of the singing. (laughs) But to your actual question: I think sex connects with horror because a) we’re at our most vulnerable during sex, b) sex is exciting, and c) it’s the commingling of two of our deepest taboos. Plus, sexual violence is some of the worst, most horrific violence there is.
9. With the “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity” franchise gaining so much popularity over the last few years, do you think this is a prime time to get into horror?
You would think so! But actually, I think it’s always a good time for horror. The problem with bandwagons is that they’re always packed by the time you get there. But if you can find a fresh angle of attack, and bring genuine entertainment value, it can work out very well.
10. What horror writing advice can you give fans of the genre?
Read and screen widely and promiscuously. Not just horror, but across all genres. Remember that horror, at heart, is an emotion, not a genre. And it works best when surrounded by the full range of emotions. Which includes loving and caring. Because if you don’t love and care about your characters, then why the hell should I?
11. What should I bring to your class?
An excited mind, a story you’re dying to tell, a shitload of file cards, and at least one black Sharpie! Hope I see you there!
Thank you so much, John. That was really helpful!
If you’re interested in learning John’s tips on crafting a terrifying movie, check out his class, coming up March 25th!