I DarkEcho/HorrorOnline: Kim Newman (1999)
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KIM NEWMAN:
End of the World Movies, Alternate History, Dr. Terror, Vampires and More

November 1999
By Paula Guran

Kim Newman -- with his long hair, mustache and mutton chop sideburns --could have been the model for Gary Oldman's portrayal of the title character in the film BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. Newman, however, is not otherwise vampiric -- except for the occasional fictional foray. His three highly acclaimed ANNO DRACULA books are alternate history in which Dracula marries Queen Victoria, rules England and makes it fashionable to be a vampire (ANNO DRACULA); is expelled from Britain and becomes the Austro-Hungarian military commander and embroils the world in the Great War (THE BLOODY RED BARON); and, exiled to Italy, is still up to no good in 1959 Rome (JUDGMENT OF TEARS: ANNO DRACULA 1959).

Kim Newman Born in London, Newman was raised in Somerset and, after studying English at the University of Sussex, moved back to London where he mucked about in theatre and cabaret before establishing himself as a film/literary critic and author. Better known in the UK than in the US, Newman's done book and movie reviews for broadcast arts shows, was a regular movie critic on Channel 4 television's early morning program for three years, and also had a continuing gig on Radio One's MARK RADCLIFFE SHOW. He's written a few radio and TV documentaries, radio shows on Hammer Films and Val Lewton and TV programs on the image of the hero and the making of PRINCE OF EGYPT. He endeared himself to many by writing the scripts for the UK's first horror host, Dr Terror, who introduced movies on BBC2. (This job included some minor bits of acting in a series of skits on quiz shows.) Newman's also one of those people who are called upon for quotable sound bites or as a talking head expert.

He's written a bevy of stories, novels, film and book criticism and won a batch of awards (including the Bram Stoker Award, the British Science Fiction Award, The Children of the Night Award, the Fiction Award of the Lord Ruthven Assembly, the International Horror Guild Award -- twice -- and been nominated seven times for the British Fantasy Award, twice for the World Fantasy Award, and three times for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History). Other (non-vampire) novels include the recently published (in the UK ) LIFE'S LOTTERY, BACK IN THE USSA (with Eugene Byrne, 1997), THE QUORUM (1994) JAGO (1992), BAD DREAMS (1990) and THE NIGHT MAYOR (1989).Much of his short fiction has been collected in FAMOUS MONSTERS (1995) AND THE ORIGINAL DR. SHADE AND OTHER STORIES (1994) His short story "Famous Monsters", was included on an information package sent to Mars by a US-Russian probe in 1994.

Non-fiction titles include the BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE COMPANION TO HORROR EDITOR (1996) WILD WEST MOVIES (1990), NIGHTMARE MOVIES: A CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM SINCE 1968 (1988), with Stephen Jones, HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS (1988 and 1998) and, with Neil Gaiman, GHASTLY BEYOND BELIEF: THE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (1985).

His APOCALYPSE MOVIES: END OF THE WORLD CINEMA -- an illustrated survey of how cinema has dealt with the idea of the end of the world from World War II nuclear movies and atomic spy flicks, through 1950s monster movies to World War III, Cold War anxiety and post-Holocaust tales -- will be out in the US, in January 2000. In England the book was published as MILLENNIUM MOVIES. "As it happens, my original title was THE ATOMIC CAFE, and I'm also one of those pedants who believes the millennium arrives on January 1, 2001, I slightly prefer the US. title, which more closely reflects what the book's about --after all, a millennium isn't necessarily a catastrophic end of the world or civilization while an apocalypse is."

bookcover In the first chapter of APOCALYPSE MOVIES, Newman mentions, "The more complicated a civilization becomes, the more fun it is to imagine the whole works going up in flames." How can complete catastrophe be entertaining? "I think the appeal is getting rid of all the boring people in the world. One of the few films that plays with the actual wish-fulfillment fantasy of the end of the world as we know it is the much-misunderstood RED DAWN, which expresses precisely that strange survivalist mix of preparedness and eager anticipation that characterizes popular images of the apocalypse. Except for a few gloomy nuke dramas, not many end of the world stories involve imagining oneself among the many, many dead. In a sense, end of the world dramas are the ultimate Reggie Perrin fantasy (UK pop culture reference -- in a TV serial/book, Reggie is the middle-class man who fakes his death and starts anew), doing away with the old life and starting over again. Also, there's an aesthetic pleasure in ruins (at its most extreme, see the bucolic apocalypse of After London) and a Peter Pan-like joy to playing pirates. There's the selfish fact that we all envy posterity. When we die, we miss the end of the story and that can be infuriating. There's a sense that if we have to go, we'd rather the board were swept clean with us."

The end of the world comes in our various mythologies -- and therefore in the cinema/literature of paranoia -- from pestilence, war, natural or supernatural disaster and invention/new technology. "You can psychoanalyze a society through its popular fictions, and this century has more than demonstrated that. Whatever you're worried about, there's a horror story to make it explicit. One of the reasons I was fascinated by end of the world stories is that these tend to be the most date-tied of all sub-genres: by their very nature, these stories are about the end of our world and so are set mostly in the very near future which means that even five years later the likes of Strange Days look like time capsules. At its most simplistic, this means we get apocalypses of fashion: nuclear war, pollution, eco-doom, fascist tyranny, conformity, genegineered crops, global warming, whatever. If it's in the news, you can come up with a societal breakdown from it."

Nowadays, Newman sees "a revival of extreme religion, which means that there's a sub-genre of end-of-the-world visions coming from within various nut groups (there's a scattering of fundamentalist Christian looniness apocalypses around, though the best of the batch -- the Rapture -- is more interesting) and even more fictions that examine the neuroses that inform these groups. Once we've got past Y2K -- a far less pleasing acronym than MM -- and its very few quickie apocalypses, I foresee a bunch of bioengineering paranoia stories. Also, given the post-Cold War resurgence of 'conventional war', I'd expect eventually a wave of novels set in near-future wartorn Europe or America."

His personal favorites among end of the world movies include Dr STRANGELOVE, DALEKS INVASION EARTH 2150 AD, THE QUATERMASS SERIES, MARS ATTACKS, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, THE SACRIFICE and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. Newman also thinks THE POSTMAN was "rather underrated."

In his ANNO DRACULA and its sequels, Newman deals with a different type of fear. He combines alternate reality with horror tropes and come up with something both unique and effective. "I wanted to make Dracula a fearsome monster again, and tried to reconfigure him as a creature who would be a threat on a global scale in the 20th century," he explains. "Also, I wanted a canvas that would enable me to encompass the whole of the vampire sub-genre, spreading a cloak over all possible approaches to the subject.

book cover Newman's most recent novel is LIFE'S LOTTERY in which he experiments with an adult "choose your own adventure" where readers can explore many possible lives of the protagonist. "LIFE'S LOTTERY is an accessible experiment (in the UK, it's got more mainstream attention than anything else I've ever written). I'm wary of outstaying the welcome of the ANNO DRACULA books, and much as I love doing them I don't want to devote myself exclusively to them. I do want to write a variety of types of books, and I hope that they'll all be of interest, albeit to different but overlapping groups of people. It may well be that the touchstone of all my work is satire, as much in ANNO DRACULA as the BACK IN THE USSA [co-written with Eugene Byrne] stories (which have quite similar approaches -- they've both done versions of APOCALYPSE NOW) and even in 'straighter' items like LIFE'S LOTTERY. I guess I also write almost exclusively about alternate realities, but don't we all. The worlds of P.G. Wodehouse or Ernest Hemingway are every bit as alternate as those of Philip K, Dick or H.P. Lovecraft." (Try a sample of LIFE'S LOTTERY online.)

The author has just finished a novel called AN ENGLISH GHOST STORY, which, he says is "just what it sounds like." At the moment of this interview (November 10, 1999) he was at work on a story called "The Other Side of Midnight" -- a follow-up to his award-winning "Coppola's Dracula'" and "Andy Warhol's Dracula." You can read "Coppola's Dracula" at Infinity Plus (along with novelette "The McCarthy Witch Hunt"and short story "The Pierce-Arrow Stalled, and ...". is online at Information about this opus can be found at the Alternate History Pages along with the first two chapters,

THE WASHINGTON POST offers the first chapter of THE BLOODY RED BARON. And Dr. Shade's Laboratoryis the Official Kim Newman Web Site.

Kim Newman & Friend

Taken on the set of DR. TERROR PRESENTS (BBC1, 1996) for which Newman wrote the script an in which he appeared as an actor. Mr. Bloody is the bloke on the left with the chainsaw.


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