Women in Horror 2019: Gemma Files

Award-winning horror author Gemma Files is also a film critic, teacher, screenwriter, Writer’s Guild of Canada member, wife and mother. In 1999, her story “The Emperor’s Old Bones” won an International Horror Guild award for Best Short Fiction. She sold five of her stories to erotic horror anthology TV series The Hunger, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free production company. She wrote the Series Two episodes “Bottle of Smoke” and “The Diarist” herself. Her first novel, A Book of Tongues, is available right now from ChiZine Publications. It will be followed by two sequels, A Rope of Thorns (2011) and A Tree of Bones (2012). 

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1) what is horror?

For me, horror always starts with a sense of wrongness. It challenges your own personal notions of what should be allowable, in a social, moral, even physical sense. And that wrongness, that deviation, then spurs a spectrum of reactions ranging through dread, despair, bafflement, terror, immediate fear of pain, fear of existential erasure, fear of cosmic collapse and straight on into moments of awe, to cosmic transfiguration, to a strange sort of numinous ecstasy. You don’t have to span the whole range of effects for something to be “horror,” but all horror includes at least a portion of this movement, this energy.

2) why horror?

Because horror underlies everything, so my deliberate consumption and production of “horror” constitutes a feeble hope of perhaps eventually vaccinating myself against that fact. It gives me an illusion of control in the midst of complete lack of control. I mean, let’s face it–I can’t control other people (politics, war, hunger, etc.); I can’t control the universe (entropy, heat death, weather, decay, etc.). I can’t even really control myself, considering my personal “reality” is an illusion I dream from inside a meat-suit full of processes I barely understand which could cease at any moment, blinking me out of existence. I ride horror like a roller-coaster, pay my money, take my chances. Eventually it ends, like everything else, but at least this way, for this long, I know why, when and how it will end. Sometimes that’s enough.

3) where do you see horror going?

In the most immediate sense, I see horror becoming far less of a ghetto inside a ghetto inside a ghetto, just like I see more non-default people seizing on horror as something they have as much right to as any cis, white, dead old guy. But I also seen a whole lot more useless argument over what horror’s ‘good” for, what it “should” be, who should and should not be allowed to participate on grounds of being a big boogerhead who isn’t all that anyhow. And though I absolutely sympathize with those impulses, I also find them essentially hilarious because (and here we come looping back to the beginning) horror starts with wrongness, which means that no matter how much positivity you can get out of it (monster pride, norm as monstrosity, wound as super-power, etc.), eventually you’ll still be left with the fact that all horror draws from the same well of uncontrollable, unresolvable fear we all share, whether we want to or not. Because we are all the same, shivering in the dark, and though surely that should bring us together, it never, ever will. Which is, in itself, horror.

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