My conversation with Horror writer David Brown continues. An introduction to David can be found here:
I wanted to talk to him because I feel like Sandman 6 is the most effective horror issue in the entire series. I’m really not a huge horror aficionado, and am definitely not a horror writer, I wanted to talk to someone I consider an expert about this one (read his books which can be found at
and you will, too).
As always, Spoilers will be everywhere. Read at your own risk:
Kevin: I’ve thought back and forth on whether allowing you to go first or starting off myself is the proper choice since I’m hosting this little chat. And since I haven’t decided, I’m just going to barrel ahead. I noticed something as I read through this time. Neil seems to very subtly indict every character in this story as deserving their fate. The waitress is “nice,” but I have to put the word nice in quotes. She’s so “nice” that she erases the nature of the people she meets if it doesn’t fit her vision of “good.” She goes as far as marrying off the lesbian couple she serves to “fine young men” in the stories she writes every evening. The half of that couple lesbian couple we meet, Judy, admits to physically assaulting her girlfriend the night before. The young man waiting for the interview in this story has no other motivation than money. The married couple is revealed as a man who likes to assault hookers and a woman who once raped a corpse and whose dream is her husband’s head on a platter. Lastly the alcoholic not only beats the lesbian up for being gay in the story, he admits to leaving a case of vodka for his alcoholic wife to kill herself with.
Where do you fall on what I think of as “The Scream Theory” of horror. That bad behavior of a character justifies their eventual death, and that virginal behavior somehow shields you from that monster?
David: I think what you refer to as “The Scream Theory” is the natural inclination of a lot of horror writers. Showing your audience that the victims who die actually deserve it, keeps them more invested in the story than if the monster was just mowing down innocent people left and right.I certainly wouldn’t say that all of the shortcomings of the characters in this tale warrant a horrible death but I’m guessing Gaiman probably felt the entire thing was more interesting if the reader had a bone to pick with the victims.Kevin: Probably so. I certainly didn’t notice it any of the times I read it for enjoyment. But looking deeper this time it popped out to me. I’d love to know if it was a conscious decision on his part or he was just creating a creepy vibe and that all spewed out. I do agree by the way. None of these transgressions presented merit the ends of the characters. I do personally love the motif in horror of the group of people caught in a place without an actionable escape root. Reminds me of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Stephen King’s The Mist and so many other great stories. How often does the environment your characters find themselves in inform the horror of the story you tell? Specifically, do you ever think, I’d love to follow a character in a hedge maze (or some similar situation), or do your stories come to you in a different way?David: That’s an interesting question. For me, it’s almost always an idea of a situation rather than location. Using things like a single location and a countdown absolutely builds the feeling of claustrophobia and tension which was so smart of Gaiman’s part. I would definitely agree that a lot of the classic horror uses a similar motif to this story but for me personally, stories seem to come more out of a character’s personal shortcomings than from a setting.Kevin: I agree wholeheartedly about Claustrophobia. This entire story feels so boxed in. It’s also so chaotic because John Dee changes the torture up every hour or so. It’s a pretty weird line as he’s still so childlike at times. And then does something monstrous. The moment where he’s compelled everyone in the diner to join an orgy and looking in just smiles and says, “Neat” being the moment that sticks out to me the most. I feel like that keeps the audience guessing, which is huge for me in horror. So besides claustrophobia, what do you notice Gaiman really got right here?
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