Australia's Brett McBean initially became known to most horror readers with his Laymonesque first novel, The Last Motel. It was an excellent debut, but it was McBean's next novel that put him in the forefront of modern horror writers. The Mother is a psychologically complex, riveting story of suspense that breaks all of the rules of suspense fiction. Brett also contributed an outstanding novella to Brian Keene's New Dark Voices 2, called Sins Of The Father. This bold piece of fiction reminded me of the kind of story that Clive Barker might have written back during his Books of Blood years.
Yet Brett McBean is no imitator. He has his own voice and it's one of the strongest in the field. In addition to the previously mentioned pieces, Mr. McBean has written quite a number of exquisite short stories, which have gotten universal acclaim. Many are collected in Tales of Sin and Madness.
A lover of horror movies, McBean delighted us with the following story. We think you'll like it, too.
Oh, join us after the feature and we'll pick Brett's brain a bit.
The moment the meeting ended, I headed straight for the table housing the food and drink. Though I wasn’t hungry for the assortment of biscuits and donuts, my stomach was grumbling, so I reluctantly grabbed an Anzac biscuit. As I took a bite, a crowd started forming around me. A low muttering buzzed around my head as the motley group of strangers indulged in banal small-talk, most seeming to welcome the change of pace after an hour of bearing their souls to their fellow addicts.
A figure sidled up beside me and snatched a Styrofoam cup from the stack next to the large tin of instant coffee. “First time, huh?”
I had swallowed the tasteless bit of biscuit and grudgingly taken another bite before I realised the figure was talking to me. Half-turning, I looked at the man standing next to me. He was taller than me, but younger, by about ten years. The young man was thin to the point of deathly – it looked like someone had stuck a Hoover in his mouth, pressed the ‘on’ button, and proceeded to suck all the air from his body. His cheekbones were shockingly straight and pronounced, like two chiseled L shapes. A junkie for sure.
“Yeah,” I muttered through a mouthful of biscuit. I swallowed. Fought hard not to gag.
“So you’re an eater,” the junkie continued, tipping a couple of spoonfuls of dark brown granules into the cup. He then filled the cup with hot water and without adding any sugar or milk, took a thirsty slug of the instant coffee. “I was friends with an eater. Nasty habit. Are you still seeing movies?”
“Thought so. Wearing a jumper in this heat, I figured you were still exhibiting signs of the addiction. What movie’s currently playing?”
“An old black and white foreign film,” I said, scratching my arms – the woollen fabric was making my skin itch like crazy. “I think it’s Kurosawa, Seven Samurai by the looks of it.”
Frustrated, I tossed back the half-eaten Anzac and tried my luck with a donut. I tasted first the sugar, then the fried dough, and lastly the jam that oozed out like a cut and bleeding heart. It should’ve been delectable, but instead the concoction made my stomach lurch. After months of eating nothing but my peculiar diet, proper food, including sweets, now tasted like damp, mouldy cardboard. I looked for a bin to toss away the foul donut.
“Can’t stomach the real stuff, hey?”
The junkie had followed me.
I groaned internally. I didn’t feel like talking – I had done enough of that tonight. I simply wanted to try to appease my hunger with the free food and drink and then be on my way, back to my apartment and the cravings that’ll inevitably turn up as I lay in bed, trying desperately to sleep.
“I guess not,” I said, turning, trying to smile, but knowing it would’ve come out as a twisted grimace.
The junkie now held two Styrofoam cups. He handed one of them to me. It was full of steaming black liquid.
“My friend, the eater, she used to like coffee. It was the only real bit of nourishment she could stomach.”
“Used to? You mean she was finally able to kick the habit?”
The junkie shook his head. “’Fraid not,” he said. “She died almost six months ago. Binged on Hitchcock DVDs. She had a thing for Hitchcock.”
“They are tasty,” I said, swallowing back some coffee, hoping to drown out the memories of nights dining on Hitch’s lush late 50s period (they tasted like veal and roasted potatoes), and afternoons munching on his early British films (a more hearty taste, like stew and stout).
“Yeah, Sara certainly liked the older films. She reckoned they had a more refined taste – Casablanca was her favourite. Christ, she must’ve eaten at least thirty Casablanca DVDs in the time I knew her. She used to keep a stash of them in the back room of the MovieTime she worked at – she was the night manager at the Bentleigh store for years, and used to host after-hour parties most weekends, which is where I met her – because she was afraid her boyfriend would find out about her eating addiction. Me, I never could get into the eating side of things. I’m more of a...well, I guess you could say I’m not afraid of needles.”
I nodded, drank some more coffee. This guy was right – coffee didn’t make me want to retch.
“I’ve been sober for close to a month now. Hardest fucking month of my life. I still miss it. Christ how I miss it. The black inky film running through my veins...” The junkie sighed, chugged back some coffee. “Tape was my drug of choice, especially the horror and action movies of the 80s. They had a real charge to them; they gave me a buzz like you wouldn’t believe.” Junkie smiled, and I was worried his cheekbones would tear open his skin.
“Did you ever try film? I hear that’s the ultimate rush.”
Junkie nodded. “A couple of times. I couldn’t afford film, so it was only on those rare occasions when I managed to score an invite to one of those exclusive parties given by some movie producer that I got to sample some golden glow.”
I had heard about those parties. I had never been to one, but apparently the guests were treated to the finest of films, the cleanest, most pristine prints of Fellini, Bunuel, Scorsese; expensive DVD imports from Japan and Italy; rare laserdiscs and hard-to-find video tapes –both VHS and Beta. Yes, those exclusive parties were supposed to be a cinema junkie’s dream, and just the thought of scoffing down one of those expensive Japanese DVD box-sets of Grindhouse made my heart beat faster and my head swirl.
“I tell ya, film beats all. I mean, tape is fine. It’s the working man’s drug of choice; but film...man, once it’s been boiled down it looks like velvety chocolate – none of the grittiness of tape. But, I’ve given all that up. It was taking over my life. I had to stop. It would’ve killed me otherwise.”
I knew how this junkie felt.
Eating nothing but video tape and DVDs for the past four months, night and day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, had taken its toll on me. I had gained a considerable amount of weight (tape and discs contain a surprising amount of calories), and my toilet habits were irregular at best – and what I pushed out was startling; a weird combination of metallic sludge and lumpy spools.
But, I couldn’t stop.
From the moment I tasted my first DVD (accidentally, while trying to clean some smudges off my copy of The Godfather using my finger), I was hooked. Rather than a nothing taste, or a vaguely metallic tang, the DVD had tasted like succulent rib eye with a red wine and mushroom sauce. And by snapping off a shard and munching on it, the disc had tasted even better. Soon I was raiding my DVD collection, devouring my John Waters box-set in two days (cheap but tasty, like a cheeseburger or pizza); my Chaplin films in a day’s binge (like warm apple pie), and sneaking in midnight snacks of my collection of John Hughes DVDs (surprisingly Italian in flavour).
I also began taking apart my dozens of old videos and munching on the rolls of tape. While they weren’t quite as satisfying as DVDs – they didn’t have the purity of taste and could occasionally taste a little stale – they did last a lot longer and had a flavour all of their own – earthy, robust, like homemade pea soup or meat pie. Some even tasted like popcorn (mostly the 80s action flicks such as Running Man and Cobra).
I couldn’t get enough, couldn’t consume enough movies.
I found an online group of other movie addicts, and discovered the addiction didn’t stop at just eating. There were people who injected film and tape; smoked tape; snorted crushed DVDs and laserdiscs; drank copious amounts of liquefied tape, sometimes following the mug of beer-tape up with shots of film; and wilder party-animals who popped pills made from a combination of everything (they were mostly people who only watched big-budget Hollywood fare at the cinema – not true film connoisseurs). Across the country video store managers hosted clandestine movie parties so addicts could get together and amid a room full of drug paraphernalia, watch movies and indulge their vices. They were the grungier version of the parties hosted by the studio executives.
It was a popular, if at times intense, underground scene, but it finally got too much for me when, starting a few weeks ago, I noticed my skin was beginning to take on a muddy tinge, like my body had been rubbed with dirt, and the texture started feeling odd, like plastic, but still flexible – much like video tape. And then the images started playing behind my eyes, like my brain was plugged into a movie projector – a constant flow of images that appeared suspended in space and made it difficult to differentiate between what was really happening in the world and what was in my head. But most frightening of all was the chest-pain I had felt yesterday. I had gained almost forty kilograms since I started eating DVDs and tape, and it seemed my body had finally had enough. Tucking into Cool Hand Luke for lunch, the taste of eggs and beer on my lips, I started feeling short of breath. My heart had done somersaults, and I felt an ache pulse through my chest.
Panicking, I had dumped the remaining slice of DVD into the bin and vowed to quit consuming movies. I searched online for a support group; found one near my home. Tonight had been my first meeting for recovering movie-holics, and as I stood there finishing off my coffee, I suspected it wouldn’t be my last.
I threw the empty cup into the bin, sighing at the thought of the job that awaited me when I got home. I had started throwing away my monstrous DVD and video collection today, but there was still well over half left, which amounted to close to five hundred discs and tapes.
My mouth started watering at the thought of all that food.
“I best be getting home,” I said to the junkie. “Gotta throw away the rest of my stash.”
The junkie smiled, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. “I know that pain. I still haven’t fully recovered from getting rid of my junk. Don’t, ah, suppose you want any help?”
My first instinct was to say no; that I hardly knew this guy, and besides, I didn’t want anyone to see me cry as I threw my precious cargo into the bin.
“Make the job a lot quicker. And easier, too. I’ve been there. I know how hard it is.”
I considered his offer and decided that it would be good to have someone helping who understood this addiction. “Sure, why not?” I said. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. You live far away?”
“Only a ten-minute drive.”
“Great. I’ll follow you.”
As we headed for the door, I looked around and noticed the hall was close to empty. Most of the other overeaters, junkies, alcoholics and smokers had left, leaving the scout hall a vacant, echoey shell.
We stepped out into the warm night air. Samurai rode past on horses through a fierce sheet of rain.
“Don’t suppose you have Wild at Heart on video?” Junkie asked, slipping out a lighter and flicking on a flame.
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
“I love that movie. Really gets the blood pumping.”
I nodded. “It is a good one. Although I prefer Blue Velvet. Has a more...unusual flavour to it. Almost French.”
Junkie turned to me and grinned.
I grinned back.
Yes, it was good having another movie buff by my side.
Horror Drive-In: Brett, The Last Motel is obviously influenced by the late, great, Richard Laymon. Was this a conscious decision on your part, or did it just come out that way?
Brett McBean: A bit of both. I was most definitely influenced by Richard Laymon, he was my favourite author growing up (still is my favourite). When writers start out, they usually emulate their favourite writers, and I was no different. My early stories were lame Laymon wannabes, and it wasn't until The Last Motel that I began to find my own voice. When I came up with the idea for The Last Motel, I simply wanted to pay tribute to the kinds of horror movies that I grew up with, those wonderful low-budget flicks from the '70s and early '80s, such as Motel Hell, Friday the 13th and Last House on the Left. But as I began working on the story, it reminded me of a Richard Laymon novel, particularly his early ones, such as The Woods are Dark and Allhallows Eve, and so I also used the novel to pay homage to the great horror writer. So while I didn't intentionally set out to write a Laymonesque novel, his influence was felt throughout the conception and, eventually, the writing, of the novel.
HD-I: What other writers have influenced you?
BM: Like a vast majority of horror writers, Stephen King was a major influence. He was probably my second favourite writer growing up. He has a masterful ability to create fully rounded and memorable characters. And I love how he turns the everyday into something utterly frightening. Another major influence is Jack Ketchum. His no-nonsense writing style, and his emphasis on true-to-life psychological horror really appeals to me. I'm a big fan of true crime, a lot of my stories deal with non-supernatural horrors, so I'm drawn to writers who specialise in that kind of fiction. And Ketchum is the master at taking true crime stories and turning them into terrifying, soul-destroying works of fiction. More recently, Robert McCammon and Joe Lansdale have been big inspirations. They're both marvelous storytellers and exceptional writers.
HD-I: No argument from me about any of those writers. You have good taste.
Anyone that reads Junkies will be unsurprised to learn that you are an enormous movie fan. From our many talks I know that, among other types of films, you love classic horror and slasher movies. Do you draw a lot of inspiration for your writing from them?
BM: Oh absolutely. I'm as big a movie fan as I am literature. Actually, I was a movie fan before getting heavily into reading, in my early teens. So movies were, and still are, a major influence and inspiration in regards to my writing. I've always been a big one for atmosphere both in movies and fiction; a strong sense of place. And the films I grew up watching, that I was strongly drawn to, were heavy with atmosphere, and their locations were often as important as the human actors in the movie (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead immediately spring to mind). I've long had a penchant for stories that take place in essentially one location - for example, the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead, the mall in Dawn of the Dead, the bedroom in Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart (my all-time favourite short story). Hitchcock is another major influence - his love of challenging himself, of imposing restrictions and seeing how much suspense and interest he could generate from a lifeboat full of disparate characters, or a single apartment in which the camera rarely, if at all, leaves, is something I admire and respect greatly. I tend to use limited settings in my own writing, and my favouring of atmosphere and a strong sense of place over plot all stems from my love of film. As does my love of dialogue-heavy prose, and simple, terse writing.
HD-I: Didn't you once tell me that you went on a vacation in which you traveled to various horror film settings in the United States?
BM: I certainly did. Being such a massive film buff, when I traveled to the States in 2001, and then again in '03, it wasn't the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas that I was interested in visiting - it was the real-life locations of some of my favourite horror movies (and a couple of non-horror movies, too). It took a fair bit of research online (a difficult task, as there wasn't nearly as much information on the internet regarding the film locations back then), but eventually I found the exact spots where the original Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead and The Evil Dead were filmed. Traveling to Camp Crystal Lake, the gas station and Leatherface's farmhouse, the zombie mall, and the cabin where Ash fought the demons, was a wild and memorable experience. I'll never forget having lunch by the shores of Crystal Lake, or riding up and down the elevator in the department store where Stephen met his grisly demise. I have a bunch of photos on my site, for anyone interested in having a look at my visits to the various locations.
HD-I: Man, too bad you didn't make a documentary about it. That would have been cool.
Speaking of movies, has there been any interest in adapting any of your work to the screen? The Mother in particular could be a phenomenal movie.
BM: There was movie interest in The Mother a few years ago. A Melbourne film-maker optioned the book, wrote a screenplay, and fought hard to raise the funding for the project. But, unfortunately, it never got off the ground. I would dearly love to see my work adapted to the screen. Hopefully one day...
HD-I: Let's talk about the future. I understand you have a new series coming out soon called The Garbage Man. Can you tell our readers a bit about it?
BM: The Garbage Man is a planned ten-volume series of mostly prose novellas (there may be one or two graphic novels in there, as well), with one novella set to be released every year. Basically, the story is about a man named Ed Mullroy, a gruff, hybrid hippie/cowboy small-town garbage collector who, on the side for some extra money (as well as more sinister reasons which readers will learn as the series progresses), collects and then disposes of the bodies of serial killers living in the nearby city and surrounding suburbs. I've had a long fascination with serial killers, who they are and why they do what they do, and so this is my magnum opus on the subject. Throughout the series, we'll not only follow Ed's journey, how he started his morbid side business and his many adventures collecting 'dirty laundry' (the code word for a dead body) over a period of thirty-odd years, but each story will deal with a different serial killer, looking at their crimes and exploring their personality. Each story will also have a real-life Australian crime as its backdrop, so it'll also be a kind of historical snap-shot of my country's recent violent history. The first novella, Dirty Laundry should be out early next year, from Evileye Books.
HD-I: Will these be trade editions?
BM: Yes, trade paperbacks, as well as digital editions for each novella.
I'm not familiar with Evileye Books. Are they a new outfit?
BM: Yeah, they're fairly new on the scene. Their first book, Michael Oliveri's The Pack: Winter Kill, came out late last year. They're a publisher specialising in multi-format series (novellas/graphic novels/comics/digital). At present, they have six series planned for publication (including mine), ranging from a pulp zombie western (from Mark Justice), to a supernatural noir (from John Urbancik). They have a lot of exciting things planned, and I really dig their publishing philosophy of affordable books in many varied formats and embracing technology for maximum exposure.
HD-I: That sounds awesome. How did you get in with these people? Did they contact you?
BM: No, I contacted them. I heard Mike Oliveri talking about his project and the publisher on Pod of Horror a little while back, and curious, went ahead and checked the publisher out. Well, I discovered that not only were they specialising in long-running series, but open for authors to submit a proposal. Well, I had had this idea burning inside me for a long time, a multi-book (ideally novella-length) saga about a garbage man who collects dirty laundry from serial killers... So, I wrote my proposal, sent it off, and shortly thereafter, the publisher contacted me saying he loved the idea. I was chuffed to say the least!
HD-I: Let's see, I know that a trade paperback of your collection, Tales of Sin and Madness, is forthcoming from Thunderstorm Books. Is there anything else readers can look forward to?
BM: The first book in my 'Jungle' novella trilogy, Concrete Jungle, should be out later in the year from Tasmaniac Publications. I also have a lengthy short story in the Evileye Books anthology The Evileye Annual Compendium of Dastardly Plots & Sublime Debauchery, which I believe is due to be released sometime this year. My story is titled Mad Fred and is about the multiple murderer and Jack the Ripper suspect Fred Deeming. I also have a novella due out sometime in the future from Morningstar Books, Buk and Jimmy Go West, which will be a limited edition hardcover. There will also be a new edition of The Last Motel early next year, which I can't talk about too much, but I will say the edition will be something special.
HD-I: Thanks Brett, for the highly unusual story and for your time.