Author: Ron Capshaw

William Hjortsberg’s ‘Falling Angel’ Lasting Impact On Horror

            In 1978 William Hjortsberg produced a novel based on one of those ideas so obvious that you wonder why it hadn’t been done before.   The novel was Falling Angel, and Hjortsberg innovatively combined the hard-boiled detective genre with the horror one, or as Stephen King so aptly put it, the result was  if “Raymond Chandler wrote The Exorcist.”

Like skilled horror writers, Hjortsberg grounds the novels in realism.  Harry Angel (every character has a unique and revealing name) is a private eye in 1959 New York who is hired by a bizarre character named Louis Cyphre to find a missing pre-World War II crooner named Johnny Favorite.  Cyphre enigmatically wants to collect on a debt Favorite owed Cyphre for helping the singer with his career.


The Influence And Relevance Of Anno Dracula After 30 Years

The sympathetic portrayal of Dracula as pining for a lost love, and finding her in the reincarnated form of Mina Murray, is so embedded in our culture that it may come as a surprise that this is an invention of screenwriters and not Bram Stoker.

The culmination of this theme is in Francis Ford Coppola’s remarkably unscary Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).  Despite Dracula (Gary Oldman, who does what he can with the script) appearing in numerous terrifying forms—a werewolf, a wingless bat creature—the horror is undercut by the Count’s Victorian gentlemen persona who chastely courts Winona Ryder’s character, Mina Harker.


How William Lindsay Gresham’s Life Delivered Us Nightmare Alley

Noir has not always been confined to rain-swept streets or roadside diners or gangsters on the lam.  The carnival, with its seedy operators who prey on a public desperately wanting to believe the big top clairvoyants can communicate with the dead, has also featured in noir novels.  The most famous of these was Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962).  But in actuality, Bradbury’s novel is more horror than noir and violates one of the cardinal rules of noir, in that the novel has a happy ending.  Good triumphs over evil.

The best example of noir under the big top is, in fact, William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley (1946).  The novel is uber-noir in that, for sheer bleakness and greed, very few noir novels can touch it.  Good doesn’t triumph over evil, and the lasting impression from the book is that the desperate will continue to be fleeced by the amoral grifters.