Given what’s going on in the world lately, you might think this isn’t a good time for some tales of horror. But the new anthology Evil In Technicolor (paperback, Kindle) isn’t just a collection of; instead, it’s an anthology of novelettes inspired by the iconic (and distinctive) horror films made by Hammer Studios in the 1960s and ’70s. In the following email interview, editor Joe M. McDermott discusses how this collection came together.
Evil In Technicolor is a collection of horror novelettes. In the intro, you write that, “The many authors I brought in on this project agreed the kind of horror story they wanted to do was the sort of thing that one would expect from old Hammer Horror movies…” How did you come to put this collection together?
The anthology did not begin with this idea. It began with me noticing that some really fantastic writers I knew were furloughed or laid off or experiencing unexpected expenses as it related to the initial quarantine order. I was going to send some money to one of them, but realized I was an editor of a small press and there was a better way of doing this. As I gathered a core team of six or seven authors who were impacted, in different ways, I noticed they were mostly dark fantasy and horror specialists, and that really set the tone for the anthology. In collaboration with that initial circle, I sent along three ideas I had for an anthology that I thought would be fun and do well, and the unanimous response from them all was Hammer Horror, often with many exclamation points. It really inspired the authors and excited them, so the theme was really about finding something that excited the authors.
With my editor hat firmly in place, I reached out to some other authors I knew who excelled at exactly this sort of fiction, and built a dream team of amazing authors. With this kind of talent, all excited by an idea, there’s very little for me to do but try to make sure no one writes the same sort of thing twice. I just wanted a heads up to make sure that even if I had two authors writing vampire stories, for instance, that I didn’t have the same vampire story the same way. I told the contributors to take inspiration from old black and white and technicolor horror movies, and Hammer Horror, and write something new that takes the influence of those films into a new place. My general advice was to try and write something set in the same era of technicolor or black and white, or something that could have been filmed the same way, if more modern. What I love about Hammer Horror was how wide-ranging in tone and theme they were. They did Lovecraft, and vampires, and taut psychological thrillers, and gore, and everything else.
For people unfamiliar with Hammer’s movies, what qualities distinguish them from other horror films?
There’s a certain style or flair to them that’s hard to pin down, but as a film studio, what I really loved was how they didn’t just play one song over and over. They made a lot of movies, and rethought the way old monsters worked for the ’60s and ’70s, They were often quite sexist, but the women were given power and agency unheard of in previous decades. Vampires were often women in their best vampire films, and that power and style really influenced the genre trope towards a more feminist vision. Carmilla was a much more feminist vampire, where Sapphic themes are extremely overt. Yes, still sexist, and yes, the monstrous lesbian would not be a good look today, but at the time it was uncommon to see any representation of a powerful woman seducing other women, anywhere else. Hammer was a bit shameless in their depiction of sensuality most of the time, and it’s easy to laugh it off or call it corny, but they portrayed a vision of the monstrous that often played with outsider subcultures and alternative lifestyles in an era when no one else was really taking that subject matter seriously. It has a Gothic style all its own. The film crews worked with a lot of the same folks over and over again to form a kind of style that still feels unique, even when the film is a flop.
So why do you think so many of the writers wanted to do something Hammer-esque?
I think to fans of horror, Hammer’s cinematic style paints a clear and unique picture in the mind, which helps form the core of a new work of fiction. But beyond that I assume watching a bunch of old horror movies for research was a nifty distraction during the early stages of the pandemic. That’s what the authors communicated to me, anyway.
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Photo Credit: Tony Najera)
Aside from horror, are any other genres are represented by the stories in Evil In Technicolor?
Horror is not a genre in the same sense as fantasy and science fiction. Romance and horror are unique because the focus in what defines the story is an emotional reaction. Unlike romance, in horror, the reaction is intended to be one nominally that is a bad feeling. So, everything in the anthology is horror in that sense, but sometimes it’s more a psychological thriller, and sometimes it’s a monster, and sometimes it’s just an unsettled, uncanny feeling that some ancient rite is being evoked unawares to those performing them. That unsettled, unsteady feeling of something strange or miserable or disgusting or frightening comes and it’s called a genre. There’s only horror, but it is a wide range of horror.
You also say in the intro that, “I thought it important to do novelettes in this anthology.” Why did you feel it was better to have stories that were a bit long, but not so long that this would be a collection of novellas?
Especially when the inspiration is cinematic, something that takes a little more time to read is better. It’s something anthologies can do really well that other forms cannot do as successfully as often, due to the many limitations of writing for the web, or for space considerations in bound magazines. Novelette’s a form really well suited to the anthology, where ideas and themes can settle in and really start to breathe. They can walk past just the one moment of artful epiphany or impact into something else, entirely.
So, aside from fitting the theme, and being novelettes, what other parameters did the stories have to follow?
As I said, I was not here to ride anyone too hard. When you have talented authors of this caliber, most of my work is just making sure everyone is beginning in the right place and turning things in on time. The beginning place was just asking authors to talk to me before they started writing to make sure they weren’t doubling up with someone else. I also asked that writers try to set their stories before about 1960-ish. A couple were more modern, and that was fine because they were still exactly the sort of story one would expect from films of the previous era, just with cellphones and websites. It still really fit with the tone of the pieces, and provided some sense of pacing between the stories. The setting is very occasionally more modern, but the concerns of the fiction were not, if that makes sense?
E. Catherine Tobler
As you mentioned, you started putting Evil In Technicolor together at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. How, if at all, did that impact the stories in this collection?
I really don’t know. This is a question for the authors, not me. The stories were written rather quickly, at least, in about six- or eight-weeks’ time, so that probably kept people on their toes and sticking to what they’re good at. I assume so because the stories are extremely good, and true to the authors involved.
Evil In Technicolor is the second anthology you’re releasing through your publishing company, Vernacular Books; the first being the sci-fi crime short story collection The Way Of The Laser [which you can read about here]. Is this indicative of what you and your partner in Vernacular, Eric M. Bosarge, are planning for this company?
I am enjoying the anthology process, but we’re actually doing two novels this year, as well. Marie Vibbert’s Galactic Hellcats [due out in December] is a biker gang in space story that’s lots of fun. Natania Barron’s Queen Of None [due out in November] is an Arthurian fantasy romance set in a world reminiscent of pre-Raphaelite paintings. The only thing I can say beyond that is we will do what interests us. We’re a small press. We both have day jobs and small children and writing careers of our own to manage. We’re going to focus on just putting out books we really love.
Earlier we talked about how many of the writers went for a Hammer films kind of approach. Do you think any of the stories would work as a Hammer horror movie?
I think they would all make excellent films, especially today, and any film studio interested in that excellent plan of making one or all of these fine stories into film should certainly talk to the authors about doing just that.
A.C Wise (Photo Credit: Steve Schultz)
Finally, if someone enjoys Evil In Technicolor, which of the classic Hammer horror films would you suggest they watch and why that one?
Oh, definitely Brides Of Dracula. It’s the most iconic Hammer Horror film, for my take. It has so many of the themes and elements that one thinks of when one thinks of the best parts of the classic Hammer films. It’s a Dracula movie without a Dracula in it, so you know it must be interesting.