In the second of a two-part episode on the Singapore Writers Festival 2021, Nabilah Said chats with horror writer Wayne Rée about his love of gore and slasher fiction, the supernatural in Southeast Asia, and his opinions on Nickelback. Wayne is part of SWF panel Kill Your Darlings (and Everyone Else) on 14 Nov 2021, alongside writers Yeow Kai Chai and Genevieve Sarah Loh. It takes place at The Projector and SISTIC Live.
Singapore Writers Festival 2021 runs from 5 to 14 November 2021 with the theme “Guilty Pleasures”.
Stream Podcast 97. Also available on Spotify. The podcast transcript is available below.
If you like horror and gore, check out these other SWF events:
R.L. Stine: Beware or Be Scared | 7 Nov Sun, 9pm – 10pm
Bad To The Bone | 13 Nov Sat, 1pm – 2pm
Beware the Smell of Frangipani At Night | 14 Nov Sun, 11:30pm – 12:30pm
Nabilah: Hi everyone! We are with Wayne Rée who is a speculative fiction and horror writer from Singapore. And he’ll be appearing in a panel that’s going to be part of Singapore Writers Fest called Kill Your Darlings (and Everyone Else) – that’s happening on 14 November. So… Oh, hi Wayne!
Wayne: Hi Nabilah!
Nabilah: Tell me about yourself and your relationship with horror, gore, slasher fiction.
Wayne: In terms of horror, I think keeping in theme with this year’s Singapore Writers Festival – I almost feel bad calling it a “guilty pleasure” because I love it so much and I don’t feel guilty about enjoying, slasher fiction in particular, but just the horror sub-genre, I want to think of it as my horror comfort food.
Nabilah: Could you describe your first encounters with these genres?
Wayne: I’m quite sure it was Wes Craven’s first Nightmare on Elm Street. The first slasher fiction movie I have a clear memory of watching… well, the first one was also a Wes Craven one. That was Scream in 1996. The other first that I have a clear memory of is Bride of Chucky. Because I actually brought my girlfriend at the time to watch Bride of Chucky. Which, I suppose sounds like a mistake. But she enjoyed herself, so, I guess everything turned out fine.
I definitely have a clearer memory of my first gory movie. It was Sam Raimi’s first Evil Dead. It was one of those things where, you either knew a friend or a friend of a friend who had a bootleg VHS copy of it. Yeah. And I remember like, a group of friends got together as this whole event for us. We were watching it at one of our friend’s place and (laugh) when we were watching it– it wasn’t like one of those things where you’re watching it and you’re like “oh my God and it’s so gory, it’s so…arrgh!” and you’re flinching and everything. It was more this weird fascination with how like, even though the first one is supposed to be the most straightforward horror of the whole series, it’s still got a certain level of absurdity to it. And it’s almost kind of goofy in how serious it’s taking itself. So it’s schlocky and it’s goofy, and you know, like, the blood is everywhere, but also at the same time it’s not like, “Oh, God!” It’s not traumatising us. It’s more entertaining than anything else. So yeah, I think those were my first couple of touchstones with these genres.
Nabilah: This is a stupid question, maybe, but what’s the difference between gore and slasher? Slasher like, needs someone to be slashing, is it? Is that the difference?
Wayne: No, no, no, believe me, this is far from a stupid question. Slasher films, my understanding is that there has to be a lone killer, or– I say, a lone killer, but there has to be a specific figure that’s killing people. And more often than not, there’s a certain iconic look to the killer. Like, you know, you think of Nightmare on Elm Street, you think of Freddy Krueger. When you think of Halloween, you think of Michael Myers. So that’s slasher and slasher stuff, you know, can get bloody and gory and everything. But when you think of gore, it’s more– it’s not necessarily one specific figure that’s killing people, but it’s definitely heavy on the blood. The definitions kind of blur for a lot of people. Most people just think of it as like, “Oh yeah yeah, that film with lots of blood in it.”
Nabilah: The stereotypical image is like the blood spurting out of like a–
Wayne: And my personal favourite is if the blood looks as least realistic as possible. If it looks like somebody’s thrown paint out of somebody else. So it’s not like– it doesn’t even look like blood. It’s like, “What is that? It looks like jelly.”
Nabilah: Since you do identify as a horror writer, what do you like about these genres? And I wonder, does it unlock something deeper, you think?
Wayne: I think the wonderful thing about these genres in particular, is that even the most “serious” examples of the genre like– Okay, let’s take for example, John Carpenter’s original Halloween. If you describe that to a person in one sentence, it’s “a guy going to the suburbs and killing people”, which on the surface sounds like absolutely horrifying. But then you see Michael Myers, and he’s got this mask. And there’s– I mean, I used the word “absurd” before but there’ll always be a certain level of absurdity to slasher and gore films. I think the best of them, kind of balance out the seriousness and the absurd. So it’s mortifying, but it’s never like you know, truly horrifying in the way that a lot of things in real life– like if you look at like… Say for example, okay– David Fincher’s film on the Zodiac Killer, Zodiac. That’s much more terrifying to me because that’s inspired by real life. Like there’s no absurd killer in a mask down there. It’s just somebody, it’s a human. It’s not like, you know, an iconic figure in that sense.
So for me, I think that’s what I like about them is that, you know– I’ve heard people say stuff like, you know, people watch horror or they go on rollercoasters, because they want to be scared in a safe environment. It’s the thing where people like to be scared, and they like to be scared in an environment where they’re still secure. And I think that’s what these stories offer. And I think they offer it in a sense, where in a lot of cases, there’ll be the added security of it being absurd to the point where some people might laugh at how absurd it is. And you can see it like– a lot of examples of slasher fiction kind of lean into that. As the series goes on, A Nightmare on Elm Street, you have like Freddy Krueger, he’s making like terrible dad jokes. I think that’s what a lot of people like about the genre is that, you know, they’re frightening, but they also balance that with absurdity and entertainment.
Nabilah: Maybe we can start talking about your other work this because you do describe yourself as a horror writer. So now I’m curious about the kinds of mediums that you work in, because you’ve written stories, such as this upcoming comic prose anthology called Work-Life Balance, which at first I thought was about Singaporeans and how much we love work, but apparently not! It’s about supernatural ghosts, and them having like quite corporate jobs and like– it sounds hilarious. And then you also have a narrative podcast called Ghost Maps. And that just sounds scary. I listened a bit, and then I got a bit scared. With these two so-called more supernatural stories, right, I was just thinking about how Southeast Asian ghosts– Well, firstly, they’re much more scarier than so-called Western horror– is my opinion. And then the other thing is, I think there’s this kind of relationship between ghosts and gore in our region, what do you think about this?
Wayne: Okay, first of all I want to say that I have to stop myself from laughing too loud and deafening anybody who’s listening in when you said that, Southeast Asian horror is way more scary than Western horror, because wow the debates I get into with people about this, I swear.
Wayne: Yes! Believe me, I’m with you on this. I honestly think that Southeast Asian horror is way more frightening. And you know, anybody who disagrees with me, I’m sorry, but it’s true. Southeast Asian horror definitely is quite gory and quite visceral. You know, when you look at the creatures and the spirits that we have – Pontianak and toyols and all that, specifically Pontianak, who is kind of like synonymous with Southeast Asian horror –yes, I feel confident saying their names out loud, because the sun hasn’t set yet. But there’s a certain visceral nature to them and I don’t really touch on it in Work-Life Balance, and in Ghost Maps. I think that has to do with the fact that, just the nature of the stories that I’m telling, and the mediums that I’m using. Ghost Maps is purely audio. I come from a place where I write in prose, so a lot of it is implied for me. When I write in audio, I keep it implied, because that’s my style. Even though when we look at the traditions of orally telling ghost stories in Southeast Asia, they are far more visceral. And I think that’s where it comes from. That’s where this reputation of Southeast Asian horror being gory comes from. And I also think it comes from the fact that these, when they used to tell these stories orally, they come from a time when, I mean, there’s this very set idea of, you know, the no-pun-intended, the kampong spirit. And how the community was so much more close-knit back then. And I think because of that closeness, that’s why the stories are far more visceral. Because it’s in response to that closeness. It’s a response to that intimacy that people had, back then in those communities. And the best horror always is in response to the particular culture that it’s set in.
Nabilah: So in terms of– I’m just thinking about horror and gore and like, you know, even things like Squid Game, it’s quite ironic because, you would think that people don’t want to consume horror and gore at this time where there’s so much of violence in the world. But yet there is an enduring appeal for it. What do you think that stems from?
Wayne: I think it’s two things, and they kind of tied together. I think one is: the real world is way, way more scary than most of these slasher stories or these gory stories. Because it is real. Again, it allows that comfort of being frightened without being terrified by the real world. But also, you look at these genres, and they go back quite a few years. To the extent where it can almost be oddly comforting. Like there’s a familiarity to it, where if you watch a slasher movie, and there are certain tropes, or if you watch a gory movie, there’s certain expectations and it’s almost comforting to know, like, “okay, I’m gonna get lots of fake-looking blood in this”, or “I’m gonna get a whole bunch of people who are running from the killer, and then some idiot’s gonna go, ‘hey, let’s split up’ even though that’s the worst possible thing you could do”. So I think that’s what it is. I think it’s the comfort that these movies offer. It’s that familiarity. It’s the bloodiest safety blanket you can ever have.
Nabilah: On that note, right, within the slasher, horror genre where you say there’s still a lot of absurdity and things. Do you feel that there are some responsibilities still, that you have to think about as a writer?
Wayne: Oh, definitely. I think this is true for all genres, but specifically for genres, where you’re dealing with certain levels of violence as well, you don’t want the violence to be gratuitous. I mean, on the most basic level, that’s just terrible storytelling. But what you want to do is all these stories, you want to focus on the human side of things, you want to focus on the core human emotion of things. When you’re writing a slasher fiction, the violence itself, no matter how extreme you make it, that should always be secondary to that human emotion. Whether that human emotion is just plain fear, you know, or anything else, that has to be genuine. And that has to be the core of your stories. And this is why I haven’t started writing slasher or gore fiction, because for those genres, in particular– for most other genres, when, let’s say science fiction, you have to juggle world building and those human emotions. For slasher and gore fiction, you have to juggle that one added element where you’re not just juggling the seriousness and the violence of it with the human emotions, but also juggling like, the absurdity as well. How do you figure that out? And like, where on that scale of more absurd and more serious do you want to be? And how much of the absurdity do you put in, how much of the violence is in there. So there’s a lot to juggle in there. But I think as long as you have that core human emotion, that core genuine emotion in there, then I think you’re on the right path.
Nabilah: Being a writer in these genres, right, are the basics of storytelling still as important? So like character building, relationship building, all these other things?
Wayne: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, you can play around with stuff like that. But I think at the end of the day, you know, character building is one of the most important things in storytelling. But also, I feel like, when you’re looking at particular stories, I think what you want to do is also look at the strength of each medium. If you’re writing in prose, let the reader’s imagination do half the work for you. Because when you tap into their imagination, you’re making it more personal for them. And if you leave enough up to them, they’ll make your story way more terrifying than you even intended. But if you’re looking at the more visual mediums as well, then you have to think to yourself, how do you want to temper this? How do you wanna– how much do you actually want to show before the violence itself starts getting more gratuitous than you want it to be? But also at the same time, with visual mediums you can also take advantage of the absurdity down there. And I think you can play that up a little bit more as well. Yeah, always think of the medium that you’re using as well.
Nabilah: Okay. I’ve a surprise question.
Nabilah: Since SWF’s theme is “Guilty Pleasure”, right, do you have a guilty pleasure, whether literary or otherwise?
Wayne: Wow! Oh man, my main guilty pleasure probably lies in music. And I’m probably going to lose a lot of credibility here. But–
Wayne: Nickelback’s How You Remind Me. I love that song so much. I’m going to tell this story and she’s going to be embarrassed by it. But like my fiancée, the first time she kissed me was to shut me up because I was singing Nickelback. It is the song that when I do karaoke with my friends, I can’t sit down when I’m singing it. I have to stand up. If the karaoke place has one of those stand-up mics, I will grab it. I will do the voice. I will do hand gestures– y’all can see this because it’s a podcast, but my hands’ will be like “yeah!!!”. Fist up in the air and everything and I can do– “never–” how’s the line– (sings) “Never made it as a wise man…”. So I’ll do the voice and everything. Like–
Wayne: –in terms of my guilty pleasures. I still remember like, because the organisers of SWF asked me, you know, “do you have a guilty pleasure song?” I regret copping out and saying that it was Seal’s Kiss From A Rose. Because I feel absolutely no guilt about loving Kiss From A Rose. But I feel just a little bit dirty about how much I love Nickelback. Just a little bit. Yes.
Nabilah: Because everyone hates on Nickelback right?
Wayne: No, they hate on Nickelback– and I feel that, you know, it’s a guilty pleasure, yes, but I also feel it’s terribly unfair because they’re not like, they’re not the worst band in the world. Arguably they’re not great, but you know, they’re far worse bands out there.
Nabilah: Thanks so much for sharing about your work in horror and slasher and gore and all those amazing things.
Wayne: It was absolutely my pleasure. Thank you very much.
Catch Wayne Rée at the panel Kill Your Darlings (and Everyone Else) on 14 Nov 2021, alongside writers Yeow Kai Chai and Genevieve Sarah Loh. More on Wayne and his involvement in SWF here. Singapore Writers Festival 2021 takes place from 5 to 14 November 2021.
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About the author(s)
Nabilah Said is an award-winning playwright, editor and cultural commentator. She is also an artist who works with text across various artforms and formats. Her plays have been staged in Singapore and London, including ANGKAT, which won Best Original Script at the 2020 Life Theatre Awards. Nabilah is the former editor of ArtsEquator.