Today I’m bringing you a guest post from horror scribe and all round good egg Luke Walker, who talks a little about his new book The Dead Room (which you can find on Amazon in eBook and paperback format) and the thought processes which inspired it. With warning for discussion of sexual assault and violence against women:
Recently, I watched an Australian thriller called Hounds Of Love about a married couple who abduct, psychologically torture, rape and kill teenage girls. It was loosely based on a true story dating from the 1980s and garnered decent reviews. As you can imagine, it was not an easy or pleasant watch. The main thrust was the focus on the attempts of the latest abductee to play her captors against each other and hopefully escape. Inevitably, the violence was horrific and, even after a couple of weeks, I’m still trying to work out if it had a point or goal other than to sexualise a teenage girl in her underwear, who’s tied to a bed and dehumanised by two of the vilest characters I’ve seen in a film.
Similarly to Hounds Of Love, the original Last House On The Left is brutal. Although it’s a more of an endurance test than a film (one I’ve put myself through just twice in the last fifteen years), I still believe the violence in that film is justified because it shows us what we’re truly capable of, what we’ll do for justice and revenge and how little separates us from our civilised, everyday lives and the killers we can become when our families are hurt. Hounds Of Love, in comparison, was simply dispiriting in its treatment of teenage girls resulting in a film that looked great with superb performances but had nothing below the surface. While Last House is a flawed work in several ways, it also knows how to avoid titillation and how to show the true horror in its situation.
The failure of Hounds Of Love isn’t new in horror and thrillers. Women have always been a target of boring monsters in a mask with their knives, intent on nothing more interesting than killing women because they can. Fiction needs to reflect reality – and the sad truth of reality is men beat, hurt and kill women every day. To pretend otherwise (whether in fiction or real life) is, at worst, a disservice to women. At best, it’s just wilful ignorance because opinions aren’t as important as stone-cold facts.
So, where does that leave the writer or the film-maker who wants to portray this, to say something about it without being as graceless and clumsy as any of the countless 1980s horror sequels or as plain ugly as Hounds Of Love. And what about the expectations of horror fans? We watch a Bond film and we expect Bond to have sex, get into a car chase, kill bad guys, make a few puns and save the day. We watch a horror film and we expect people to suffer and to be killed usually violently. There are tropes to every genre, and the writer or film-maker who ignores them runs the risk of failing more than the writer who plays with those tropes or outright breaks them. It’s that fine line between treating the subject with the honesty it deserves and knowing when to pull back. We’re all aware women can’t walk down the street without being verbally abused or attacked. Or leave their drink unattended on a night out. Or be fully comfortable if they’re in a lift with a man they don’t know. Or live without the fear that today’s the day the real-life version of that man in a hockey mask will jump out of the shadows.
And that guy in a hockey mask is everyone from the spiked drink to the car slowing down beside the twelve-year-old kid walking home after school to a rape threat on Twitter to more or less the entirety of the genre I write in.
My book The Dead Room features two women faced with terrible events after the world ends due to a virulent contagion. It would have been dishonest of me to pretend that a collapse in society and law means women would face anything other than a greater level of threat (and being honest with any story I tell is my main focus) from men who don’t care who they hurt, who will take what they want. At the same time, I need to remember that any idiot who can construct a sentence or outline a script can be unpleasant, needlessly violent and artless with the story they’re telling. Anyone can show a teenage girl in a bed, dressed in her underwear and invite the viewer to enjoy her terror, and anyone can gloss over the issue of women being attacked, hurt and killed while you read this or check your phone or close your curtains against the night. Whether or not I’ve failed in my attempts to be responsible with how I portray the violence women face isn’t for me to say. I hope I have succeeded but I don’t get to say I win on that one any more than every other man writing this stuff. Especially so with The Dead Room, it’s for the readers.
It’s for the women who live these lives every day.
Luke Walker has been writing horror, fantasy and dark thrillers for most of his life. The new novels The Dead Room and The Day Of The New Gods are now available along with The Mirror Of The Nameless, Ascent, The Unredeemed, Hometown, Die Laughing (a collection of short horror) and the dark fantasy Dead Sun. Pandemonium will be published by Hellbound Books in 2020. Several of his short stories have been published online and in magazines/books.
Luke welcomes comments at his blog which can be read at www.lukewalkerwriter.com and his Twitter page is @lukewalkerbooks. Sign up to his newsletter at
He is forty-one and lives in England with his wife and two cats where he spends his time writing good books and watching bad films.