5 Questions With Horror Writer Michelle Mellon
But expect variety in Down by the Sea of the many forms of evil. This Germany dwelling expat has a lot to say about the concept of choice, how Black women can use horror as an exercise in unraveling fear, and the exciting new renaissance of speculative work.
What was the first horror film or television series you remember watching?
The first horror film I remember watching was Psycho. I was around 8 or 9 and somehow managed to watch it on late-night TV without my parents finding out. I was instantly, forever in love with horror.
Do you have any observations about horror films and the consumption of them from living in different parts of the world? What’s it like watching foreign horror films and having lived in the particular country of its origin? Do you see the merge of a film with the community’s anxieties?
My only first-hand knowledge as an adult expat is with Germany, and it has a complex relationship with horror. After silent film classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu (which I was fortunate enough to see here in a theatre with a live musical performance and choral accompaniment of the original score), Germany slipped out of the horror mainstream. Since nothing onscreen can match the real horrors of a Holocaust, there was an understandably long drought.
For the past 30 years there’s been an annual Fantasy Filmfest which celebrates horror, science fiction, and animation, but none of the movies on this year’s schedule come from Germany. Maybe the Netflix series Dark will revive an interest in producing original German thrillers and horror. I think in terms of cultural anxieties, horror here reflects a fear of loss of control, which is universal, but particularly troubling in a society that is so structured on process and order.
Specifically with Down by the Sea and Other Tales of Dark Destiny, what’s the scariest thing about making life changing decisions for you? What was the process of writing this anthology with this theme?
I’ll start by saying I did not sit down and intentionally write Down by the Sea and Other Tales of Dark Destiny as it currently exists. Three of the four previously published stories first appeared in 2005, and the fourth in 2012. It wasn’t until 2013 that I saw the potential for a collection. Even though the stories represent different fears and influences at different turning points in my life, once I began examining newer stories I’d written, and looked back on some of my older stories, a common theme emerged.
So, I think the scariest thing about making life-changing decisions for me is this idea of destiny. On the one hand, there’s a fear that it’s all chaos and no plan. On the other hand, you know how people say, “things happen for a reason”? Well, of course they do, but what if you’ve chosen wrong, and the reason (bad) things are happening is because, even though you’ll end up in the same destination, the horrible choice you’ve made is taking you down the dark forested path with blood and monsters instead of across the sunlit field of flowers? I think the weight of that sadness and uncertainty is reflected in many of the stories in this collection.
How do you feel about Black women presenting both alternative and universal fears into the horror canon? Do they expand and diversify the genre?
I think any time there are different voices in a genre, readers and other writers benefit from those perspectives. Horror speaks to universal fears we have as humans, but there are other fears I think are crucial for us to hear. Sometimes men are criticized for writing from a female point of view, because people feel it continues to promote patriarchal dominance and marginalize women who would speak in their own voice. My feeling is that men just don’t have the same fears women do, and black women carry an additional burden of stereotypes of their sexuality, maternal nature, anger, etc. So, I strongly believe that black women deserve their catharsis, and horror needs that infusion of new takes on old fears as well as the introduction of alternative fears that represent the full spectrum of experience.
What do you watch and/or read during your downtime?
In my downtime I enjoy reading and watching horror, science fiction, and sometimes fantasy and mystery. Over the past few years I’ve been concentrating on reading short stories, both to see what’s out there and to continue to get inspiration to hone my own writing. There was a period of several years where I was continually disappointed in film and TV offerings, but things like Train to Busan, 3% and Get Out are giving me hope that speculative fiction is reinvigorating itself.