Aloha from Hell
Lots of Halloween, Buffy & free horror-comix downloads!
This is not the monthly newsletter that you were promised. Life got in the way, as it so often does, and when I wasn’t in the sea I was hard at work over the summer finalising the second draft of the project that’s taken up most of my creative bandwidth since September 2021. That draft is now with readers for feedback and I’ve freed up a little room again to do other things, so expect IF YOU GO AWAY to appear more frequently until at least the end of the year.
I’m P M Buchan, a transgressive writer whose work has been featured in Kerrang!, Rue Morgue Magazine, Fortean Times and Famous Monsters of Filmland. IF YOU GO AWAY is a newsletter about my creative process, self-mythologising, dissecting what went wrong with the catalogue of failures throughout my writing career, plus my life, because I’m first and foremost a flawed human like you, trying to live in a world designed to crush the human spirit.
This newsletter contains mostly a post-mortem on Every Generation A Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts by Evan Ross Katz, which sent me into an uncharacteristic slump of depression, and a time-limited link to download my horror-comix anthology HANGOVER. I had planned to include an extended interview today with one of the UK’s most notorious satanists, but I’m still waiting for clarification on a few points and didn’t want to delay further, so look out for that in the next newsletter that I send.
I turned 40 this year and after a lot of soul-searching about what was missing in my life, the obvious answer was to attend more horror events, so that’s what I’ve been doing. At the beginning of October I spent an excellent weekend at Alton Towers, probably the UK’s biggest theme park, enjoying the general ambience, the large array of pumpkins and general Halloween-town vibe.
Alton Towers with my best daughter
I’d never really been on any rollercoasters before this point, due to a paralysing timidity in my youth, so I tried to rectify that over the course of the weekend. I started on the Runaway Mine Train, which was a lot of wholesome family fun and appealed even to my own equally-timid children. After that I agreed to get in line for the Smiler without thinking about it very much. Apparently the Smiler is the world’s first 14-inversion rollercoaster, travelling at a speed of 85 kilometres per hour. I’d never gone upside down on a rollercoaster before, so this was something of a shock to me. Even the queue was like being herded through the caged walls of a slaughterhouse, and I found out after going on it that in 2015 there was an accident that ended with two riders in the front row having to have their legs amputated. I was happy to survive the experience, but I’m not sure I’d say that I enjoyed it.
What I did enjoy, however, was the Wicker Man, which was the UK’s first new wooden rollercoaster to have been built in 22 years and travels at 70 kilometres per hour. Wicker Man is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I went on it late at night, which meant that the flaming effigy at the heart of the rollercoaster was lit up against the night sky and the experience was one of complete exhilaration. I would 100% recommend it if you ever get the chance. I also took part in three brilliant scare mazes and an audio horror experience at Alton Towers, none of which were interesting enough to be worth writing about, but which were a great way to belatedly celebrate a fortieth birthday.
Following the joy that was Alton Towers, a couple of weeks later I took a trip to FEAR at Avon Valley Scream Park, which was made up of five scare mazes, a fire show and a live exorcism performance. I had a fantastic night and the whole thing made me very happy, but the takeaway message for me was that horror experiences in the UK tend not to be scary enough for my tastes, no matter how much I try to go with the flow and suspend disbelief. The exorcism performance was a great idea, sat around a bed watching a priest try to cast out the devil, but the performers were too young to be convincing, there was a general lack of Latin, contortions, or even vomiting or gore, and I sat in the wrong seat and spoiled one of the only surprises by spotting the hidden harness before everyone else…
This could be love at FEAR Scream Park
Of the five scare mazes, the clear winner was The Core, which you had to wear massive waterproof wellies and waders for, before being put into groups of 12, given two malfunctioning torches and set loose, wading through knee-high sewer water in a flooded mine. The immersive nature of the water and being chased by ghouls in the dark really contributed to the sensation and raised the bar for scare mazes. Another maze specialised in splitting you up so that you enter in a group but leave alone. There were various points where I found myself crawling headfirst through tiny tunnels and I knew that if one of the actors were to grab me at that point in the dark I’d die with fear, but they never did, so it was a fun and unique but generally mild experience.
If you can recommend any genuinely scary horror or Halloween experiences in the UK for me to visit next year, please leave a message in the comments. I’m beginning to think that there’s nowhere in England that’s going to offer the kind of scare that I need, other than Twitter, but I’m looking for wholesome cathartic terror, not career-ending witch hunts.
I recently finished reading Into Every Generation A Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts by Evan Ross Katz, an “oral history and exploration of the cultural impact of Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. If you have no interest in Buffy or how we evaluate pop culture, you should probably to the next section break. Buffy and friends grew up, finished school and attended university on UK television in parallel with me, which made their adventures particularly meaningful to me during a formative period of my life. I’ve rewatched Buffy more times than I can count and love it unreservedly, faults and all. Into Every Generation, however, I enjoyed but did not love unreservedly. Mostly, it reinforced my suspicion that I’m growing to hate what passes for modern cultural discourse.
Into Every Generation has a lot going for it. The author, Evan Ross Katz, clearly loves the subject and can draw upon many years of engagement with the people who contributed to Buffy’s success, on and off-screen. Some of the strongest material in the book is Katz’ lionising of actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, who almost certainly didn’t get the credit that she was due as the eponymous star of the series and who comes across in almost every single piece of testimony in the book as a dedicated, hard-working star whose dedication to her craft helped to prop up and support the show’s success more than had previously been hinted at.
Katz packs the pages of Into Every Generation with revealing interviews with former cast members, screenwriters and costume designers, giving fascinating insight into contractual problems that led to certain characters being dropped as regulars, conflict with the studio, and at times uncovering the truth behind strained relationships off camera. Almost everybody interviewed hints at the ways that there were people working behind the scenes to turn female cast members against each other. It’s referenced by enough different people that you can feel confident that these aren’t hollow accusations, but because of Katz’ respect for his heroines, he rarely pushes anybody to say more than they feel comfortable with, which results in in the creation of a book filled with insinuations but too much ambiguity to be sure who was and wasn’t culpable.
This is a book that skirts the line between presenting information and expecting the reader by default to agree with the author. The first example comes in the discussion of the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer film, when Katz references star Kristy Swanson defending Donald Trump frequently on Twitter in 2019, more than twenty years after the original film was released. I don’t see what relevance Kristy Swanson’s political affiliation has to the legacy of a film in which she was cast as a cheerleader with teen-model good-looks and gymnastic athleticism, other than that in 2022 our tribal identities online are so often predicated on letting the political affiliations of artists dictate whether we publicly support them or not.
Into Every Generation seems to oscillate between a celebration of Buffy’s legacy and an interrogation into how happy the cast were behind the scenes. I love the cast for the enduring happiness that their work has brought to me and agree that they should be empowered to speak about the full spectrum of their experience in making the show, but this juxtaposition within a single book of cultural celebration alongside investigation into trauma creates a dissonance that I found really jarring.
The treatment of Joss Whedon in the book exemplifies this dissonance. There’s a section devoted to highlighting the purposeful efforts of a largely straight creative team to do justice to a relationship between two women and to depict it on screen with authenticity at a time when that wasn’t really happening elsewhere on mainstream US television. Cumulatively, the book builds a body of evidence that Whedon was the driving force behind most of the innovation, as demonstrated by the fact that multiple actors state that they were given no agency to ad-lib, such was the expectation that they stick strictly to the script as written. Katz builds a picture of Whedon’s brilliance as a storyteller, but does so within a book the majority of which is dedicated to drawing attention the casual cruelty and abuse of power that Whedon wielded within his personal relationships.
I loved reading about the reality of Marc Blucas, Amber Benson and Emma Caulfield’s work, but other stars including Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz and Eliza Dushku had no participation in the book and their absence leaves huge gaps that are hinted at in quotes from the other actors but leave so many more questions than answers. Nicholas Brendon is quoted liberally but treated more-or-less as damaged goods, included with what feel like disclaimers and apologies that Katz had to acknowledge his contributions even if they’ve been overshadowed by his personal life.
Ultimately, Into Every Generation feels like a book that applies 2020s values to a 1990s television series. It poses as an investigation into the cultural legacy of a show but can’t seem to get beyond wrestling with the achievements and shortcomings of individuals. Katz seems happy for the reader to attribute responsibility for abusive behaviour to a small number of named and recognisable individuals for transgressions back-stage, with all roads leading back to Joss Whedon. To me, his implied culpability feels like it exonerates everyone else who enabled and profited from his behaviour, as if only an auteur and the leading cast members were responsible for the working environment on set.
The act of articulating my thoughts about Into Every Generation sent me into an uncharacteristic slump into depression. I realised that I bought the book wanting to celebrate the achievements of the people who came together to create a pop-culture blockbuster that changed my life and instead I learned that the cost of making it was lifelong trauma for many of the people involved. I hope to never read a book like this one again. Maybe if we stopped celebrating the notion of “fandom” and ended the practice of putting artists on pedestals we wouldn’t enable so much bad behaviour and people wouldn’t have so far to fall from the dizzy heights of our unrealistic expectations of them.
Somehow I feel like I missed this review by Kelly Gaines of Comic Bastards in 2018 for my horror comix anthology HANGOVER, but it’s one of my favourite things that I’ve ever read: “HANGOVER is not one storyline, but an anthology of strange, disturbing, and darkly hilarious short comics. It’s the funny pages for anyone interested in cannibalism, Satan, and things that go bump in the night… There’s something satisfying about reading work from writers who are boldly unafraid to take risks, roll the dice, and put their raw creativity on display. I’m sure this publication has broken some mothers hearts, but it’s all worth it for the excitement of not knowing what horrifying concept you might find on the next page. Pick it up, get spooky, and keep HANGOVER far away from children, animals, and easily influenced teenagers. If you are a child, animal, or easily influenced teenager, I’m morally obligated to tell you not to read this.”
Thanks Kelly. I loved discovering this review so much that for subscribers to IF YOU GO AWAY I’m going to include a time-limited link to download a PDF of HANGOVER so that you can make your mind up for yourself. I do miss writing comics, but I don’t miss the schoolyard community aspect of it online that around every corner there’s someone who’s never left their bedroom or had to compromise in their lives, waiting to school you about the right answer to complex moral issues.
Because of the general Halloween vibe of this newsletter, I nearly shared my Halloween playlist again (updated, obvs), but then I realised that nearly every newsletter that I send out includes a link to one collection of horror-punk or another, so instead here’s a collection of some of the songs I listened to this year.
The New Black is filled with mostly new tracks by Pale Waves, MOTHICA, Metric, WARGASM and Nova Twins, plus some classics that I can’t stop listening to. Check it out. This is the sound of my 2022.
We’re done for now. I shook off my depression, but can’t help wondering if I fell asleep while we held a referendum on whether we’re allowed to enjoy art by bad people or not. This desperate drive to separate art from the artist doesn’t sit well with me.
I’m heading to Patron’s Day at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle this weekend. Maybe I’ll see you there?
P M Buchan