Occupational Hazards is a column which takes a look at the commonly occurring occupations presents in horror film and television, and the key part these jobs play as the story develops.
Marianne (2019) has recently landed on Netflix, and if you’re on the lookout for a creepy series to get you prepped for the Halloween season, then this eight-party spookfest could be just what you’re looking for.
The story follows Emma, a young and best-selling author who has decided to finish her popular YA horror series about a witch called Marianne, which Emma has had nightmares about since her youth. It quickly becomes apparent that Emma’s decision to call it quits on the book series has angered Marianne, causing her to return to haunt Emma both in her nightmares and the real world.
The truth is, the horror genre loves a tortured writer. Perhaps it’s something about having such a powerful imagination that allows them to be so susceptible to the more unbelievable things in the world. Or sometimes it’s the terrible things that have happened in someone’s past that gives them the passion for writing in later life. Either way, writers crop up a lot in the horror world, and I’ve picked some of my favourites!
Ellison Oswalt in Sinister (2012)
Ellison Oswalt is a true-crime writer who is struggling to emulate the success of his previous book after a string of failures. Ellison tends to insert himself into cases in order to get the best material possible for his book, even if it’s not the best move for the police investigation itself. In a bid to get the inside scoop on a family murder/child disappearance case, Ellison decides to move himself and his family into the house where the murders took place.
Ellison thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he comes across a previously undiscovered box of home movies in the attic, each of which shows the murder of a different family, suggesting a more extensive, linked case for Ellison to focus on for his book. Opting for potential success over passing this information over to the police or, you know, taking his family out of a house that’s linked to multiple murders, Ellison instead continues to investigate and unearths a deity named Bughuul who is behind all the violence.
Ellison does get some help from the police in the form of Deputy So & So, but keeps him at arm’s length and abuses the deputy’s naivety to get the information he needs from him without giving the police too much insider knowledge. However, it’s Ellison’s arrogance and this need to put the success of his book first that ultimately leads to the demise of Ellison’s entire family.
Gale Weathers in the Scream (1996) series
Gale Weathers may be a local news reporter, but after the brutal death of Maureen Prescott, she dives into the true-crime world as well. While her book is hugely popular, it doesn’t earn her any praise when it comes to Maureen’s daughter Sidney, especially considering Gale thinks that the man Sidney pinned the crime on might be innocent. While it seems that Gale is only out for fame and fortune, and perhaps a chance to escape the small town confines of Woodsboro, her heart is in the right place as she tries to push the point that Cotton might be innocent of the brutal murder.
Gale’s inability to leave the case alone and her desire to get the material she needs to write further books is what places her in danger throughout the entire series, and even what leads to her being present for the house party, bloodbath finale in Scream. Despite the fact she and Sidney don’t exactly get along, Gale survives crashing her news van and returns to the house to face off with the killers, even though she could have just made a run for safety. Her bravery and her willingness to stand up to various Ghostface killers throughout the series are the qualities that lead to her becoming such a beloved character.
After writing a successful book about the events of the first film, Gale shows up again in Scream 2 (1997), believing the murders to be linked to the Woodsboro murders. While some characters may not be happy to see her turn up again, she does help the police connect the first set of killings with this new spree, as she points out all the victims have matching names. She may stick her nose in where it’s not wanted, but she gets the job done!
In Scream 4 (2011), Gale has turned to writing fiction, though she is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. When the murders start up again, Gale is keen to get involved, and even though Dewy disagrees, she conducts her own investigation on the side. Again, this leads to her placing herself in precarious situations, and getting injured when she sneaks into a teen party to place hidden cameras. She clearly doesn’t learn from her past mistakes.
Throughout the series Gale survives a van crash, getting shot, getting stabbed, a house exploding, and seeing the love of her life getting almost murdered on multiple occasions. Not only is she a passionate writer, but she’s a kickass final girl.
Paul Sheldon in Misery (1990)
Much like Emma in Marianne, Paul Sheldon has decided to stop writing about his most popular character Misery, and end her book series by killing her off. Paul wants to focus on more serious work instead and writes a new manuscript for a completely different kind of novel.
Unfortunately for Paul, he then crashes his car in the snow and is rescued by a woman called Annie Wilkes. While Annie seems caring and claims to be Paul’s number one fan, she quickly turns on him when she finds out he has killed Misery off in his latest book. Rather than seek medical attention for the injured Paul, Annie decides to keep him locked in her house instead, and forces him to work on a new Misery novel. She burns his latest manuscript and instead suggests he focuses on a way to bring Misery back to life.
Paul then has to write under extreme pressure, including Annie breaking his ankles when she discovers he’s been wandering from his bedroom, in a bid to keep Annie happy and hopefully stay alive.
In the end, Paul’s writing tools are what help him take Annie down. Not only does he burn his new Misery manuscript in front of Annie, he then smashes on the head with his typewriter, and stuffs her mouth full of the burning pages.
After his rescue, Paul’s next book is doing well, though Paul is just content that he’s been able to write a book he is completely happy with for a change, instead of being stuck writing another Misery novel. While his agent tries to push him towards writing an account of his time in Annie’s house, he turns the offer down. Along with finally writing the fiction that makes him happy, he’s not interested in a cash-grabbing autobiography that would only bring him more trauma.
Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980)
I’m sure every writer dreams of just being able to escape from the real world for a few months and do nothing but focus on writing. To be honest, the setup of The Shining sounds pretty sweet; it’s just a shame that the hotel turns out to be extremely haunted.
Jack Torrance has landed a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel and drags his wife and son into the mountains for a few months of solitude. There’s not much upkeep needed on the hotel, and so the idea is Jack will have plenty of time to write. The problem is that the hotel is haunted, with the previous caretaker murdering his entire family before he killed himself, so the job doesn’t exactly have the best track record.
Jack slowly succumbs to the evil power of the hotel, and his writing goes nowhere, even though his wife sees him working away at his typewriter frequently. Jack also has arguments with his family about them disturbing him when he’s working, leading to a fraught family atmosphere.
It’s Wendy’s discovery of what Jack has really been writing all this time – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – that leads to the whole thing coming to a head. All Jack’s been doing for weeks is typing the same phrase over and over again, in different paragraph arrangements, and Wendy realises he has tipped over the edge.
The Overlook Hotel preys on weak people and pulls them under its influence to do its bidding. Jack is already struggling after losing his job as a teacher, dealing with alcohol problems, and having previous incidents of violence towards his son. His desire to distance himself from the world and get some time away from it all to focus on his writing leads to him placing himself right where the Overlook wants him. His need for this solitude also allows him to cut himself off from his family pretty quickly, meaning that Wendy doesn’t notice anything is going wrong with Jack until it’s much too late.
Mike Enslin in 1408 (2007)
Mike Enslin is a disinterested true-horror writer, who spends his time travelling around the country and staying at spooky locations, despite the fact he doesn’t believe in ghosts. While he has written a novel in the past, which a fan brings to a signing event, he seems to have left his past work behind, as well as struggling with the death of his young daughter and the separation from his wife.
Mike receives an invitation to The Dolphin to stay in room 1408, which intrigues him. After trying to book a room, and being refused, Mike does a little research into the room and is quite excited about what he finds. Mike admits he would love nothing more than to experience something supernatural, but as he’s never seen a ghost himself, he’s not usually optimistic about his road trips. Room 1408 is proving intriguing, however.
Once he gets to The Dolphin, room 1408 does not mess about with making his life a total misery. While the room never actually hurts anyone itself, it plans to drive to occupant mad and lead them to kill themselves as a result. Mike manages to last an hour in the hotel before the timer on the bedside clock resets and he’s told he can relive that hour over and over, and use the “express checkout” feature.
Mike writes because that’s what he knows, and he’s chosen to write about the supernatural because there’s no shortage of material, but he’s clearly disconnected from his work. He tells his fan that he’s not going to write any more books like his first novel, and instead throws himself into distracting himself from the trauma in his life. He’s so drawn to 1408 because it seems different from the supposedly haunted places he has encountered in the past, and he’s keen to have a real experience and perhaps some purpose in his life again. Much like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, the room knows a prime victim when it sees it, and lures Mike into its clutches, abusing his love for his wife and his grief over his daughter to make the experience much worse for him. What can I say; Stephen King loves an evil hotel vs a writer situation.
Bill Denbrough in IT (1990)
Bill Denbrough is the leader of the Losers Club in IT and is shown as a talented writer from a young age. He frequently regales the other Losers with his stories, as well as keeping the group for falling apart as they face off against Pennywise with one of his rousing speeches. Being a good writer is a crucial skill for Bill, who suffers from a terrible stutter as a child. Not only does writing allow him to communicate without any barriers, but the other Losers notice that Bill never stutters when he reads his stories to them.
Bill ends up as a successful writer in his later years, and while he has forgotten most of the events which transpired in Derry, he has clearly retained a bit of the trauma, as he writes terrifying horror novels as an adult.
It’s also Bill’s passion for writing that leads Beverly think the famous “Your hair is winter fire” postcard is from him, rather than Ben, creating a love triangle that lasts well into adulthood.
Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote (1984)
Right, I know Murder, She Wrote isn’t horror, but there are multiple murders in every single episode, so I’m counting it as genre-adjacent. Jessica was a school teacher, but when she retired, she became a detective novelist. Her books are extremely popular, and she continues to produce new books as the series progresses.
The thing about Jessica’s hometown, Cabot Cove, is it’s quite the hotbed for murder. The police aren’t exactly skilled at solving this sudden onslaught of homicide, as it’s not something they’ve really had to deal with before, and so they go to Jessica in the hopes of some advice. Jessica’s imagination and her love for crime novels allow her brain to work in a way that the other residents of Cabot Cove aren’t equipped with. She knows how killers and criminals think, and can spot something that seems off a mile away. Also, the fact that she is very rarely seen as a threat by the suspects she speaks to means she can often get them to confess to their crimes before they realise what is happening.
Jessica is often dismissed by other police forces, as she travels around the world and encounters murder wherever she goes. However, once they see her in action, there is no denying how excellent her crime-solving skills are, and she’s always involved in bagging the bad guy in the end.
Steven Crain in The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Sure, a traumatic childhood could ruin the rest of your life, or you could use it as the basis of a book and make a lot of money from it. Or maybe it could do both! Steven Crain from the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House shares more than a few traits with Mike from 1408, in that he’s made a lot of money from writing about the paranormal but doesn’t actually believe in it.
In the short time that the Crain family lived in Hill House a lot of spooky shit went down. And while other members of the family were subject to quite a lot of it, Steven managed to avoid most of it or was able to explain the rest of it away. So while it’s incredibly clear that Hill House was super haunted, Steven is still a bit of a sceptic.
Ghosts aside, Steve still experienced a massive trauma at Hill House, where his mother died. When his writing career isn’t going particularly well as an adult, he decides to write about what he knows and writes a book about what happened to the Crain family in Hill House. While he runs the idea past his family before he goes any further with it, they’re all quite upset at him using their trauma for profit. They’re also unhappy with the way he portrays their mother in the story, making her appear crazy when really she was under the terrible influence of the house.
Steven is definitely only in the haunting book business for the money, telling his sister that he’ll be able to buy a house with the money he’s been offered in advance. He also tells another ghost believer that “I’ll need to take liberties. I always do,” when it comes to writing about her apparent haunting, so he’s not even a very good non-fiction writer either. He is in the writing game for fame and fortune and is quite willing to turn his back on his family to do so.
His complete scepticism at what happened at Hill House when he was a child, and his firm belief that he has written a realistic account of what happened during their time there, means when spooky stuff starts happening to him as an adult, it’s even harder for Steven to accept it.
Ben Mears in Salem’s Lot (1979)
In the last author from the Stephen King universe, we’re going to look at, we have Ben Mears from the spooky vampire TV miniseries Salem’s Lot. Ben is a successful author who grew up in Salem’s Lot, and after years away writing and enjoying his fame, he decides to return to his hometown at the worst possible time.
Ben wants to write a book about the Marsten House, a creepy house that sits on a hilltop and looks over the town, where a lot of spooky stuff has happened. When Ben tries to rent the house, so he can really embed himself in the material, he finds it has already been sold to Richard Straker, who is also opening an antique store in the town.
Ben’s interest in the house and his desire to write about it means he can’t help but stick his nose in when it comes to both the house and Straker himself. Unfortunately for Ben, Straker’s master is the powerful vampire Mr Barlow, and Straker has been sent ahead to the town to prepare for the vampire’s arrival. Once Barlow shows up, people start getting turned into vampires all over the place, and Ben finds himself right in the middle of a fierce battle for survival.
Ben’s return to town also allows him to reconnect with characters such as his old teacher. So when people start dying, Ben is keen to stick around, not only to uncover the mystery of what’s going on but also to help out his friends.
Unlike other authors in this list, who have been so consumed by their need to finish their book that it ends up killing them, Ben quickly ditches his new book idea in favour of ridding the town of vampires. In fact, Ben and a teenage boy called Mark are the only people that seem to survive a fire that sweeps through the town and destroys the Marsten house.
Sidney Prescott in Scream 4 (2011)
Let’s return to the Scream universe and look at Sidney Prescott’s life as an author in Scream 4. Despite all the hassle that Sidney gave Gale in the previous movies, Sidney has also decided to tell her story in the form of an autobiographical book. Out of Darkness is a self-help book that deals with how Sidney overcame everything that happened to her ten years previously. The last time we saw Sidney, she was living out in the middle of nowhere, having pretty much cut herself off from her friends and family, so it’s nice to see her back in civilisation.
In fact, it’s Sidney’s book tour that brings her back to Woodsboro in the first place. While she’s keen to make a swift exit after an appearance in a local bookstore, a bunch of planted evidence in her car, as well as the recent murders of two teenagers means that Sidney is asked to stay in town while the investigation takes place.
The new Ghostface clearly knows Sidney’s schedule pretty well, as they plan the first murders the day before she hits town, and know that the killings starting up again right as she returns will look pretty suspicious. The killer also knows that there is probably very little chance of Sidney returning to Woodsboro any other way, and so fully exploits the fact she will be in town for a limited time and end up trapping her.
Sidney choosing to release a book on the topic at all, and on the 10th anniversary no less, also rockets her to the top of the suspect list when the murders start back up again.