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Playing Possum: Matthew Holness's Other Dark Places
Mat Colegate , October 26th, 2018 09:46

Mat Colegate interviews Matthew Holness about his film debut Possum, out this weekend. Learn about how Holness was introduced to the world of horror fiction, the funniness of failure, and then click through to hear Holness talk about his favourite examples of the genre

Welcome Traveller...

For fans of the macabre and hilarious it's doubtful that Matthew Holness needs much of an introduction. As the co-writer and star of, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace he's indelibly linked to a golden period of British comedy, and for horror fans even more so, given the programme's heavy reliance on the genre's tropes and trappings. Featuring as it did everything from poisonous fogs to alien insemination to cosmic broccoli infestations.

Darkplace only lasted one season, but all its principal players – Matt Berry, Richard Ayoade and Alice Lowe, among others – have gone on to bigger things leaving Holness as something of a mystery. There have been three short films – Smutch, A Gun For George, and The Snipist, all highly recommended – but other than that, very few clues as to what path his career would take. All that has changed with the arrival of Possum, Holness' debut feature film adapted from his own short story.

Possum is a masterpiece of psychological horror, focussing on mental breakdown, histories of abuse and a really fucking terrifying spider-like puppet that may or may not be real. (Serious arachnophobes might want to consider sitting this one out). It's creepy, disorientating and dripping with bleak dread. The score by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop does much to push you into the fractured mind of its protagonist, Philip (played with terrifying intensity by Sean Harris),making this a beautifully self-contained piece of work.

It is also not funny. At all.

To celebrate Possum's release, we focussed on the project's literary origins and asked Holness to share his thirteen favourite pieces of horror fiction with us.

What was you introduction to horror fiction?

I had books on horror films. I probably absorbed those more than anything else. I think probably the first book of horror stories I ever read was a Marks and Spencer omnibus, and the one that scared me the most, that is on the list, was 'Carmilla', the [Sheridan] Le Fanu story. Which I still think is probably the greatest vampire story ever written.

A lot of your characters have been writers – in A Gun For George, Smutch and, of course, Darkplace. What is it that attracts you to the idea of writers? Why do you think they’re funny?

What I find funny is failure. A lot of the writers I really like are hard-working professionals but just don't get much literary success. I like stuff that's really well written and I like stuff that's very badly written. No matter how bad certain writers are they have something that will keep me reading. I admire them. I admire the fact that they spend most of their time on their own, and I admire their work ethic.

I think probably I'm a frustrated novelist. I don't frankly have the patience that writers have, so they fascinate me. I think that's partly wish fulfilment as well – wanting to inhabit an author who is prolific and churns these things out.

One writer who I thought was conspicuously absent and who I thought would have been a big influence on the film was Thomas Ligotti.

I do like Thomas Ligotti and he was certainly an influence on the original short story. I had just read The Nightmare Factory around the time and was stunned. Certainly 'The Frolic' was a big influence on Possum. The atmosphere and the subject matter is similar. But he's not an author that I would necessarily say has been a huge influence in that sense. Although he is absolutely fantastic, I find that I can't read more than one or two in a row. I think it's because he's so intense. I can only take one or two stories at a time and then I have to go and find my sanity.

Possum is in selected cinemas on October the 26th