Joe Hill's heavenly ode to devilish urges
Published Sunday, March 28, 2010 7:14AM EDT
Isn't it funny how the nicest authors can pen a story that leaves us crying for our mommies at night out of pure, bone-chilling fright?
Horror author Joe Hill fills that strange bill oh-so-nicely.
With his big, brown eyes and easy-going laughter, Hill looks out of the window of a downtown Toronto high-rise and spies a window washer at his job on a dark, windy, rainy day.
"Now there's a job full of real horror for you," he chuckles.
"Imagine the nerve it would take to do that? Imagine what goes on in that guy's mind out there clinging to that rope and board for dear life.
"I ought to write something about a window washer one day," Hill grins, penning a note to himself with his fidgety hands.
For now, it's a tale of good gone evil that brings Hill to Toronto.
Hill has humanity nailed in his new supernatural thriller, "Horns." But, be forewarned. This tale of evil and redemption is no ordinary ride with the devil.
Ignatius Perrish, Hill's cursed anti-hero, awakens one day to an awful fright. Demonic horns have sprouted from his head. Yet no one notices his strange transformation.
Perrish runs to his doctor for help. "You patients," the physician shrugs. "All you care about is yourselves!"
Waiting-room patients suddenly confess their nastiest urges to the horned stranger.
"I want to burn mommy until she's all gone," says one bratty child.
The novel's bizarre opening leaves readers to believe the worst about this mystery man. His small-town neighbours certainly do. To them, Perrish is an unpunished criminal guilty of his girlfriend's murder. For that alone he should rot in hell.
The real horror here, however, lies in dark truths that go unspoken between people. Hill weaves these secret thoughts together with ease, delivering a suspenseful take on human guilt from the devil's point of view.
"I flayed about for two years before I figured out what I was doing with this story. They call it the second book problem. It's very common," Hill, 37, told CTV.ca.
His first novel, 2007's "Heart-Shaped Box," reached No. 8 on the New York Times bestseller list. And his debut short-story collection, 2005's "20th Century Ghosts," won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection.
Both works were written under his pen name. Hill made that move to separate himself from his father and horror-fiction master, Stephen King.
"To be honest I've never thought of ‘Heart-Shaped Box' as my first novel. I wrote four earlier books and was never able to sell them. So, I ended up with this 10-year apprenticeship," says Hill.
"I built up a good decade of daydreams. I was kind of like Steve Carell in ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin," he laughs.
"Then the time came to write my next book. I never planned it. Outlines are the tools of the devil," Hill smiles. "But, ‘Horns' wasn't easy. Writing never is."
'A little perverted, a little scary'
Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest," Hill's hero discovers that all his friends have been working against him. That approach let Hill play with great camp, scare the crap out of readers and peel his characters down to their sick, twisted cores.
"What I love about ‘Horns' is that it's a little perverted, a little scary and funny. It also asks some tough questions," says Hill.
"What if all the people you loved didn't love you? What if everyone was secretly betraying you? These questions were like candy to me as I was writing," says Hill.
They also point to the insecurities that drive good people to do very bad things in life.
"Even the best of us have a dark side," says Hill. "We've all done things we wish we could take back. These moments when someone makes a critical error of moral judgment were like rocket fuel for me as I wrote."
Yet, Hill avoids any cheesy moralizing.
"With all the religious aspects here this thing could have wound up like a wretched ‘Highway to Heaven' episode," Hill laughs.
"There are some characters here who do run into the business end of the devil's pitchfork and deserve it," says Hill. "But, even the worst offenders can be understood. Despite their flaws they are still very forgivable."
Just like that little girl who wants to torch her mother alive, says Hills.
"Even children can flash to a brutal thought now and then," he says. "How man six-year-olds have seen a butterfly at the window and then splat! They give it a merciless end with their cute little hands."
"Horns" may camp up the connections between beauty, love, goodness and evil at times. But, Hill's tale of revenge wields a broader, confident aim.
"Good and evil are never black and white," says Hill. "If there is any hope for us to understand one another in today's world we have to examine these moments of evil without any judgment, forgive and just let them go."