Directed by J. F. Crook, the Horror Cafe was a single episode, unscripted television program which aired in 1990, that brought together a half-dozen of the most notable names in horror fiction at the time. The event was hosted by Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Books of Blood), with novelist Lisa Tuttle (Familiar Spirit), Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Haunted Palace), Peter Atkins (Morning Star, Hellraiser II), John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) and author Ramsey Campbell (The Hungry Moon, The Influence).
The premise of the show and focus of the conversation was to create “the ultimate horror movie for the end of the Millennium,” this and many other topics, including the importance of art and the nature of horror, are all brought under discussion amidst the backdrop of a German expressionist studio.
The episode is excellent, but, as Zachary Paul of Bloody Disgusting remarks, “What a shame this didn’t become an ongoing series of specials. Each episode could’ve highlighted a different group of creative minds given a unique brief to inspire their ideal horror movie.” That is certainly something I should very much like to see today.
The entire program can be viewed online here: Horror Cafe (1990)
Carpenter: We’re all going to that uncertain end of darkness. I think that’s everybody’s fear.
Barker: The thing that scares me is banality. The banality of the culture we actually live in.
Peter Atkins: To experience it [fear] and walk away from the theatre or close the book actually puts us back in a position of control. We actually control that fear. So, the fear that in real-life we have no control over—whether its fear of the unknown, fear of dissolution, fear of whatever anybody says—whenever that experience is turned into a fiction, whether its cinematic or literary, in some sense, its a saving grace that it is a fiction, that we can walk out, that we can close it. It gives us back that control.
Carpenter [to Barker]: When you’re talking about society, you’re anesthetized. The movie that changed my life was a film called ‘It Came From Outer Space,’ 1952—Harry Essex wrote the scrip, Jack Arnold directed it. 3D. Glasses on. This meteor comes screaming out of the night sky and blows up in my four year-old face. And I felt something. And I got up and I was shrieking in terror. But I’ve gotta tell you, a couple of seconds later, it was the greatest, because I felt such a high. I survived the meteor hitting me right in the face. It came out of the screen. Blew up in my face. I wanted to do that. I wanted to experience that because I was alive. It told me I was alive.
Corman: It was earlier suggested that what we’re doing is giving a negative experience, I don’t think it’s in any way a negative experience, I think it’s a positive, and very helpful, experience. Both on the basis of what John said and also if you go into a Freudian interpretation—I don’t want to go too deeply into that—
Barker : Freud’s under the table.
Corman: Right—where he should stay, at least for the moment.
Carpenter: I think you have to appeal to a universal emotion in people. Not their thoughts but their emotions. You have to get down to their feelings. And it has to be universal. It has to work in India. It has to work in the United States. It has to work in Great Britain. It has to work everywhere, emotionally. A big monster, that’s scary, it walks through that door, we all react the same way.
Campbell: Do we?
Carpenter: The thing in the pit [from The Hungry Moon] in your story, the thing that’s down there, if it was real, and it came out, I guarantee you, everybody at this table, we’d all run away from it.
Campbell: I wouldn’t. I wrote it!