DarkEcho Horror
Venus by Rick Berry

The Basics: A 2002 Update
by Paula Guran

Like sex, horror is seductive -- enticing the reader to accept the forbidden; allowing a fascination with the carnal, the forbidden; titillating the mind as sex does both the mind and senses. Reading horror is an act of consensual masochism: you willingly submit to the pleasures of fear -- "Scare me! Please?"

Sex has always been a constant in horror -- Frankenstein's metaphors and innuendo; the veiled gothic desire of Dracula; the pulps unquenchable lust for blood and bosoms; Shirley Jackson's repressed sexuality; Anne Rice's sensuous vampires; Clive Barker's sexual imagery. In our culture today, the traditional equation of sex with danger and death is not only metaphorical, but a reality we confront constantly. As an integral horror metaphor or as an explicit evocation -- sex may have become as important to horror as the supernatural.

(Although some "erotic horror" certainly can be considered as erotic, a more inclusive term for dark fiction with sex integral to it is "sexual horror" as not all the sex can be considered as sensual or erotically arousing.)

If the 80s gave us horror-fiction-as-a-genre then Clive Barker gave it a sex life. A new generation of writers -- influenced by film and rock'n'roll as much as Stoker and Poe as well as being beneficiaries of the pre-AIDS sexual revolution --began using sex more explicitly in their dark fiction. The specter of AIDS made the connection between sex and death even more apparent. By 1989, when the first of the mass market Hot Blood anthology series was published, "erotic horror" was a full-fledged subgenre.

cover cover cover cover
Luckily the highly uneven Hot Blood books (which lasted for ten volumes, the last out in 1998) were not the only generally available examples of erotic horror anthologies. Michelle Slung's anthologies I Shudder at Your Touch : Twenty Two Tales of Sex and Horror (1991) and Shudder Again: 23 Tales of Sex and Horror (1993) had a host of familiar writers with stories from the 1890s through the 1990s but even with the sexual theme, it was a PG-rated compilation. Ellen Datlow edited the more cerebrally and tastefully erotic Little Deaths (1994) and Poppy Z. Brite edited the thematic eroticism of Love In Vein 1 & 2 (1994 and 1997). Dark Love and Forbidden Acts (both 1995 and both edited by Ed Kramer and Nancy Collins) explored the dark undercurrents of love. Unearthly sex was the theme of anthos like Datlow's Off Limits: Alien Sex (1996) and Gardner Dozois'Dying For It(1997). Datlow and co-editor Terri Windling's Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers (1998) looked at mythic fantasy lovers

cover cover cover

Some sexual horror took dark fiction all the way during the 90s. If the more mainstream offerings were the literary equivalent of a first date or, at best, a lap dancer -- this stuff was sweaty, fleshly, arousing, in-your-face and at-your-crotch. Nancy Kilpatrick/Amarantha Knight re-wrote classics like Dracula erotica publisher Masquerade in a sizzling SM mode for the Darker Passions series. She and others edited dark erotica anthologies for masquerade, too. Cecelia Tan's Circlet Press did (and does) vampire erotica and sometimes dark fantasy/sf. (They just re-issued the Darker Passions version of Dracula.) Gay and lesbian small presses also got into the act with a plethora of primarily vampiric sex fiction.

coverDuring the 90s fairly explicit sex combined with horror -- subtle or sizzling -- became just another option for the horror novelist and it remains so. One novel area that started heating up around 1998 that should be mentioned is "paranormal romance" from publishers like Harlequin Temptation and Penguin's Topaz imprint. Leisure, Kensington, Harper, Berkley and Silhouette have published vampire romances and Jove has a Haunting Hearts imprint with ghostly characters. Is it horror? Is it erotic? Well, the monsters involved tend to be variations on the theme of dark, dangerous, and irresistible hero rather than symbols of terror, but authors like Christine Feehan and Amanda Ashley dish out dark erotic if not extreme scenes. Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake fights (and loves) vampires and shapechangers with plenty of steamy sex and graphic violence -- and has reached bestsellerdom to boot.

But, as a whole, hot horror as an identifiable boomlet was pretty frigid by 1998. Masquerade stopped publishing entirely in early 1999. Anthologies of dark erotica -- good or bad -- could be found only from small erotica publishers. The recent (2001 into 2002) slight upturn in horror has, so far, produced little of originality. Michelle Slung has returned with an anthology Stranger: Dark Tales of Eerie Encounters that offers eight decades of eerie if not very erotic fiction. Dark Seductions: Tales of Erotic Horror from Kensington is a 2002 reissue of a third-rate 1993 anthology . Jeff Gelb, who co-founded the Hot Blood series, is attempting a new antho series, Flesh and Blood, that combines "hot passion and cold blood" for an erotic noir theme. Most of the stories in Gelb and co-editor Max Alan Collins's first effort, Flesh and Blood: Erotic Tales of Crime and Passion, should be put away with no chance of parole. [They should have read the Noirotica series edited by Thomas S. Roche. (The first two of these were published by Masquerade and a third by small press Black Books.)] Kensington has picked up th Hot Blood series and an eleventh volume will be out early in 2003.

The 90s liberated sex from the confines of metaphor in horror and, for awhile, it became a perhaps too promiscuous theme. It's never going back in the closet, but you'll probably not find it standing on every street corner either.

[main] [about] [features] [reviews] [interviews] [link] [search]
Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.