Billy Martin is a Trans writer who has worked across many genres, from biographies of Courtney Love to non fiction books about spirituality, but it was his novels during the ’90s written as Poppy Z Brite that made an indelible impression on the queer horror scene.
As a writer, Poppy Z Brite took the lost and the depraved, the vicious, the misguided, the outsider, the deviant, and the freak by the hand, They lead some home, some to the sadistic salvation they would discover in the extreme ecstasy and pain to be had from “violating the sanctity of a dead boy’s ass,” abandoned baby vampires into violent pansexual father/son fuck-fests and bringing others towards the relative safety found in the “transubstantiation of culinary delights” and I loved every fucking word.
As a 16 year-old boy, growing up gay in a small backwater, their novels became for me a beacon of hope – or despair, depending on whatever disposition you favoured – breaking through the monotony of my teenage years. Each of their books were connected by one fundamental thread – their characters were for the most par,t gender queer, avenging resurrected photographers, dirt-poor chartreuse-soaked teenagers, gentle mystics, grunge musicians, vampires and necrophiliac cannibals in love.
They effortlessly, exquisitely took the mantle of the masculine and offered a unique fetishism of the gay male – beautiful descriptions of hard-core gay sex, lurid descriptions of violence, and prose as elegant as anything Shirley Jackson or Oliver Onions ever put on paper overlapped seamlessly.
Their wordplay was pictorial in its depravity, think B-movies or quasi-horror cum skin-flicks with an intellectual bent and you’re not even halfway there. Their oeuvre connotes the absurd, the sexual, and the Grand Guignol in a sometimes serious and sometimes even light-hearted fashion. They had an ear for macabre whip-smart dialogue, frames of reference encompassing everything from The Church of The Subgenius to Nine Inch Nails and serial killers in love.
For highlights of their work, we’ve decided to omit the media tie-in novelisations, their Courtney Love biography, and their restaurant books. The focal point will be on the author’s earlier gothic literature.
This vampire-themed debut by Poppy Z Brite follows Nothing, an orphan-baby-vampire, growing up different in a soul-crushing backwater who one day decides to find out about his real parents. Investigations into his ancestry lead him to The French Quarter in New Orleans, where he crosses paths with a trio of dangerous vampires. Steve and Ghost are residents of Missing Mile – Steve is a rage-filled musician and Ghost is a fey mystic. Pretty soon both are drawn into the vampire’s plans and a fight for survival begins.
Trevor is a gifted (albeit traumatised following the gruesome murders of his entire family years earlier) young illustrator leaving an orphanage/foster home for the first time and trying to make his way in the world. Zack is a snarky, promiscuous, Edward Scissorhands-lookalike and gifted computer hacker. He needs to get out of Dodge when the men in dark suits come knocking. His escape collides with Trevor’s journey and both end up helping each other out. They enter into a creepy liminal space known as Birdland.
The most controversial novel by Poppy Z Brite, Exquisite Corpse (yes, it really rivals American Psycho) had them dropped from their publisher because of the book’s graphic content. The taunting, teasing, thrilling, and torturous narrative trajectory of Exquisite Corpse had maniacs salivating on the frontlines of the lunatic fringe. This jumps back and forth between the first and third person and incorporates murder, torture, cannibalism, vivisection, incest and suicide. Imagine if Dennis Nilsen and Jeffery Dahmer met and fell in love.
Did this article revive your appetite for the horror genre? Then you should check out this list of queer horror movies we’ve put together.
For more musings on outsider artists and filmmakers, make sure to follow Alan Kelly on social media.
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