Finding Truth in Horror

The horror genre is currently in a state of deterioration. Horror has entered a new phase, a phase marked by buckets of blood and entrails, watered down, sexualized monsters that are more arousing than terrifying (think Twilight), and commercialized fear.

All mediums of entertainment, be it film, television, or literature, have essentially sold out, embracing these two factions of the horror genre and refusing to go anywhere else with their work. It is the demise of horror, and Brian David Bruns, a highly acclaimed, best-selling horror author, is not going to take it lying down.

“With the way Hollywood is going…they’re focusing more heavily on [blockbuster] style movies, with bigger budgets, the ones they know are going to make money,” Bruns said. “So they’re not as adventurous anymore, they don’t take risks anymore, they keep coming out with more of what they know is going to make money. That’s why there is not a whole lot of originality anymore in movies and TV.  That’s why there’s 500 million vampire spinoffs of Twilight and zombies. Oh my god, can you think of anything that hasn’t been zombie-fide?”

Bruns asserts that the root of horror can be found among the works of the original greats: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the innumerable works of Stephen King, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Having lived in Romania just feet away from the former home of Vlad the Impaler, the man who inspired the character of Dracula, Bruns has an inherent connection with Stoker’s approach to horror.

“It was fresh, it was new, it was creepy,” said Bruns. “And the reason it struck a cord was the fear of the unknown. Nobody knew what the hell this thing was and in the book, Dracula was a ‘thing’, he wasn’t suave, sexy, seducing, handsome. He was described as a fiend, a creature, some nasty thing that we don’t get. The rules were thrown right out of the window. That’s why it was scary.”

In terms of the grotesque side of horror, many people believe that gore and horror are synonymous. However, when you look at some of horror’s classic works, Frankenstein and Misery, it wasn’t blood and guts that made them scary. In fact, gore was largely absent from these works—be it book or film. It was the classic human fear of the unknown that makes these films so truly horrifying.

“99.9 percent of [the people I talk to say] ‘Oh I don’t like horror,’” said Bruns. “And when I ask them why they always say, ‘Blood and guts, I don’t like blood and guts….When I think of a scary movie…Poltergeist, that’s scary stuff. No one really knew what was going on; it was a fear of the unknown…When I ask people if they like it they always say yes… ‘That’s not horror,’ they say, ‘because it’s not blood and guts.’”

The modern horror genre has strayed from what it was intended to be: a psychological mind game, preying on primal fears and propelling you into the unknown. Today’s horror is more about the financials, rather than the fear. “It’s become a cash cow, and that’s what got me mad because the sense of adventure is just gone and real horror…is about fear. And the greatest type of fear is the fear of the unknown. And that’s my point, no one goes there anymore,” Bruns said.

Bruns is determined to do it differently. He is adamant about returning to the basic principals of the genre in a way that readers have never seen before. His latest work, In The House of Leviathan, does just that.

Bruns was inspired by his time spent on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, during which he visited a paper-manufacturing mill turned museum. A fusion of historical fiction and supernatural, the novel tells the story of Giuseppe, a humble man working in the mill who witnesses an elderly villager summoning the devil. Set in 1860s Italy, the deeply religious villagers harbor an intense fear of the Leviathan, a biblical sea creature from the Old Testament. Omens from the sea threaten the village and bizarre, violent happenings at the mill threaten Giuseppe’s family.

Recalling the paper mill that gave life to In The House of Leviathan, Bruns states, “This paper mill, it had aqueducts to bring water in and all this funky machinery, and these shredders, and it looked dangerous to me. I was looking at this shredder, and it looked like a giant wooden octopus…and I was thinking to myself, ‘This place is so dangerous, what would happen if it was haunted?’ And that’s what started the whole idea of, ‘I should write about this place.’”

Bruns find a great deal of fulfillment in his work. Not only does his writing allow him to pay homage to a genre that he is immensely passionate about, by writing his novels in exotic settings, he is able to transport his audience. “[Readers] are able to travel to these places through my eyes and through my words…This is a great opportunity for people to learn about a corner of the world that they know nothing about and get swept up in a good story,” said Bruns.

Exotic locations and seaside settings are common threads throughout Bruns’ novels. Having dreamed of becoming a writer since the age of 15, the 42-year-old author began his career writing narrative nonfiction about his various travels. Bruns has visited over 50 countries, and holds the record, he says, as the only American to successfully fulfill his contract as a waiter aboard the Carnival Cruise Line during his four-year aquatic career. (“It was essentially a sweatshop,” Bruns recalls.) These international treks inspired his first novel, Cruise Confidential. Since his first literary endeavor, Bruns has written half a dozen novels and has received 20 international and national book awards. In The House of Leviathan marks a seamless transition into the horror genre, fusing his passion for travel with his connection to horror. “This is a good book to bridge what I used to do with what I’m going to do,” said Bruns.

As the mainstream horror genre clings to sexy vampires and pools of blood, Bruns is devoted to remaining true to the core pillars of horror. “People want their monsters to be easy to swallow and easy to understand,” said Bruns. “I try to create something that you have never seen before.”

[Excerpted from Downtown Magazine]

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