Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Camp Travesty Revisited

Here's another blog repost. This time it's from last month - and for Catherine Spooner. It was all to do with my reaction to some of the negative comments I'd seen regarding the Tim Burton 'Dark Shadows' trailers. It sent me off on a think about horror, darkness and camp.

I still haven't seen the movie, but I've carried on thinking about it all - through the Bram Stoker conference at Keats' House ('Open Graves, Open Minds') at the end of last month, when Catherine actually quoted bits of my rambling blogpost in her talk. Also I've been thinking about all this business of being a 'camp, Gothic travesty', through a period when i've received various suggestions that my own novels should become *less* camp and cosy and *more* dark and 'serious'. (See? I even place 'serious' inside inverted commas, as if I can't help it...)

Anyhow - here's the post (I'll put it all in italics for extra pertinence. I wish I could make the words pink for you.)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul Magrs @ 12:45 pm
Since before the weekend i’ve been mulling over a couple of things where my reaction has been completely different to others’. In both cases i’ve been surprised by the outrage and vitriol sprayed in the general direction of the artefact in question.
Firstly, my current read is ‘Dracula: the Un-dead’, which is the apparently ‘official’ sequel to Bram Stoker’s vamp classic, written by descendent Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt. I’m about halfway through and thoroughly enjoying this livid and vivid romp; finding out what became of the various characters from the original, and revelling in the acrid, vintage cheesiness of it all. However, browsing idly through online reviews – notably Amazon – I’m not finding a lot of love for the book. There was one review in particular, in which a rather stuffy-sounding Amazon customer berated the book for how unlike its predecessor it was. How tacky it was, to include prolonged scenes of sadomasochistic lesbian sex, and how Bram would never dream of such a thing! (Really..?)
Lots of umbrage was seemingly taken, anyway, when Dracula rose again back in 2009. It struck me that people were slagging the sequel for what it *wasn’t* and not what it was. This seems to be a problem with reviewers of certain books and films. They have an idea in their head of what the thing should be like; they invent it for themselves, and of course, the thing as it is can never live up to that. I really think it’s best to take on board these things for everything they *are*, instead. Much better to see Dacre Stoker and Ian holt’s novel as a rollicking good adventure story – shot through with a modern horror sensibility, though set back in the nineteenth century. I think it’s a very clever weaving-together of the imagined future lives of these haunted characters – and (so far!) it’s doing all sorts of interesting stuff, such as bringing in Bram Stoker himself as a character, which adds an almost metafictional tinge to the bloody proceedings.
Another thing that’s been getting old-time fans online worked up is the newly-released trailer for Tim Burton’s upcoming a’Dark Shadows’ feature. I was agog with delight when I first saw it. I was cockahoop to discover that he’s camped it up to a dizzying degree – with a T Rex soundtrack and a blissfully breezy rewriting of the solemnity (the ‘failed seriousness’) of the original. Again, i was amazed at some of the vitriol dished out – hearing this ‘campery’ dismissed as ’snide’ and ‘vile.’ To me it just looked like a lot of fun. Why does camping something up necessarily mean it’s being disrespectful? As Susan Sontag told us in her 1966 essay, ‘Notes of Camp’ – camping something up is a way of venerating it; of lavishing it with love and breathless praise.
Various fandoms have a hard time with camp. They view it very distrustfully. Goodness knows, I’ve had enough flack myself from some quarters, because of pink poodles and Iris Wildthyme and Mrs Wibbsey in Doctor Who. I wonder why camp is something to get so fretful about…
One more thing. I've refound something on the internet. It's a personal essay by the late Craig Hamrick, from 2005. I never met him, but I read this lovely memoir piece back then, and I thought it was lovely. It's about growing up gay and a fan of the Dark Shadows novelisations by Marilyn Ross - and, in later life, writing Dark Shadows-related books himself, coming out, and taking part in fandom. 
And Nick Campbell's 'A Pile of Leaves' today is about reading an extremely camp-sounding non-Dark Shadows Gothic Romance novel by Marilyn Ross - http://leaf-pile.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/dream-of-book-brides-of-saturn-by.html


  1. I saw the Dark Shadows movie and I thought it was delightful. And actually very creepy. I don't understand people's outcry. If people remember some of Tim Burton's best films like Beetlejuice, Ed Wood and Nightmare Before Christmas, despite being creepy there was also a huge element of campy humor in them. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which people consider Burton's best, has a huge amount of camp in it. Tim Burton's films have never been completely serious. My feeling is, if people are going to judge the film on the trailer, then they're missing out on a very fun and creepy film.

  2. And as for your work. Well!! I enjoy how you put a healthy amount of creepy and humor in your books and audios. The Stuff of Nightmares and the Dead Shoes in particular were delightfully terrifying. Even moreso with Tom Baker's narration :-)

  3. Camp Travesty Revisted... hmmm? Has that title been used on a book yet?

  4. Thanks, Bret! Great support from you, as ever! And I'm so looking forward to the DS movie. I'd love to see Brenda and Effie done in just that style - imagine!

  5. I can!! I think it would be brillaint to see Whitby all dark and eerie in a Tim Burton style.