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One of the assumptions about horror authors who've been churning out novels for the last thirty years is that they've been churning out movies too. After all, in the '80s, Stephen King adaptations were produced as fast as the author could throw a thousand pages together; Dean Koontz had eight movies in the '90's alone (how many can you name without peeking? I deadlocked at three). Clive Barker has been working consistently on his screenplays, with more coming all the time.
It's no question that Jack Ketchum is in the same class of writers. King himself once referred to Ketchum as "the scariest guy in America" and has been championing his work ceaselessly for years now. And yet somehow, none of his books have made it into theaters, no cheesy '80s horror movies, nor any crummy '90s ones laden with half-baked CG effects. How on earth did this happen? Ketchum can't explain it either. "I've had a lot of options on my books in the past -- a half dozen for Off Season alone -- but none got past the option stage," says the author.
Now those options are finally bearing fruit. Three films have been made in three years: The Lost, Red, and The Girl Next Door, which King referred to as "the dark-side-of-the-moon version of Stand by Me." Ketchum confirms that an adaptation of Offspring is in post-production, but while news is flying that Off Season (the novel that launched his writing career and the prequel of Offspring) will be enlightening audiences to the finer points of cannibalism sometime in the near future, the author himself is far from certain about its fate. "It's been purchased, yes, but that doesn't mean it's actually going to happen," he warns. "As you know, there's many a slip 'tween the buy and the clip with movies." He's psyched, however, that The Hitcher scribe, Eric Red, has expressed interest in taking the helm.
So the question lingers: If not then, why now? Ketchum attributes the interest to a number of factors. For one, since he signed up with Leisure Fiction, more copies of his 22 titles are out there than ever before -- which means they get into the hands of more people who are interested in making movies. Also, small press publishers are reprinting Ketchum's earlier titles, and that's attracted the attention of Publishers' Weekly. "My understanding is that film people keep a sharp eye on those capsule reviews," says Ketchum.
Regardless of whatever it was that used to keep Hollywood from breaking down Ketchum's door, it was probably a blessing in disguise. He never got his Carrie, but then again, he also never got his Lawnmower Man. The author has a hard time imagining how his stories would have fared back in the day. "With a few exceptions, like Pumpkinhead and Child's Play, most of the horror movies in '88 were tired old retreads: Halloween IV, Elm Street IV -- Friday the 13th VII, for godsakes! Or else they were self-referencing silliness like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers," he recalls (paging Stacie Ponder for rebuttal...). He maintains that, like them or not, you can't say the same thing about any of the movies made from his books so far. "In fact they tend to stretch the envelope as to what's even considered horror," he posits. "My script for Offspring is more in line with the films of the late '70s and early '80s, and though it's more firmly in the horror genre, hopefully the finished movie will make a similar contribution."
Ketchum notes that the Stephen King bromance certainly hasn't hurt
his exposure either, and that the Internet has allowed him greater
access to his fanbase and vice versa. He stays in touch via MySpace and visits his message board
at least once a week. "I answer questions, accept the compliments and
put up with the abuse. Death threats aside, I always enjoy hearing what
they have to say," he jokes. Occasionally he's found the messages to be
downright illuminating. "One reader, memorably, commented that he or
she thought that all my books were really about loss. Man, I had to
think about that for a while," says Ketchum. "And I'm not at all sure
he wasn't right."
Tracking down interviews with horror icons has provided Tom Blunt with a healthy alternative to obsessively spying on old classmates via Facebook. More interviews abound at his site http://hermitosis.com.