In the sex den (most call it the “downstairs performance space”) underneath New York City’s Cornelia Street Café, it takes me a minute to realize that the bright, cheerful blonde handing out programs is also the doyenne of the evening, a writer of “erotic horror” tales about killer dildos and sexually psychic teens. Polly Frost is, in person, downright sunny. Later, she tells me she’s fifty-one. If that’s true, I want to know what kind of virgin blood she’s been sipping.
At these events, Frost prefers to have actors read her pieces. Tonight’s first story, “Deep Inside,” is read by an experienced actress who doesn’t use her real name because she also does children’s theater. “You may have heard about the dildos I sell,” she purrs in the voice of a villainess on the old Batman TV show. “Every few years, rumors start up — and soon the blind items are showing up in the
gossip rags. Which are in turn soon destroyed by skeptics and scientists, who prove that — like Sasquatch or aliens — no such thing is possible.” But sure enough, “miraculous dildos do exist. I know. Together with my partner, Marita, I make them. And I sell them. They make the person being fucked feel like she, or he, is being fucked by a real cock.” It’s no spoiler to reveal that this dildo mojo turns into some bad voodoo. Or that the story’s ending elicits all manner of gasps.
A longtime journalist and PG-rated essayist, Frost started writing erotic horror specifically for such reading events. And until her literary agent finds a publisher for her collection, that’s where you’ll have to hear them. In the publishing world, erotic horror is evidently not quite as easy a sell as
it was in the glory days of the 1980s, when Stephen was King, Anne Rice was queen and the even-sexier stuff easily rode their coattails. (Specific sales figures are not available for the genre, but publishers say the general horror market is currently “soft.”)
Still, the niche popularity of erotic horror writers such as Poppy Z. Brite, Clive Barker and Laurell K. Hamilton remains undead. And Frost’s stories — including such tales as “Viagra Babies,” which reads like
Michael Crichton on ecstasy — occupy a niche of their own. First, there are no vampires. (“Vampires need a rest,” says Frost.) Second, her style does not match the stereotype of erotic horror as humorless goth porn, with book covers like blacklight paintings on velvet.
Instead, Frost’s stories are as satirical as they are scary. In “Deep Inside,” for example, we see what happens when an L.A. player gets way too full of himself: “Sucking his own dick had made him lose his nerve,” Frost writes. “His rat pack screwed him out of his West Hollywood hotel. Invitations to A-list movie biz parties dried up. Soon he was living in a one-bedroom co-op, devoting most of his time to stalking and threatening us.”
The next story read that night, “I Feel Your Feelings,” reaches right into the gothic sex den of my own soul. It’s about an teen who “picks up” the feelings of those around her, including lust. “Normally, no matter how much I try to keep my focus, the clamor from other kids’ needs and minds eventually gets to me,” she says. “And then my need to attend to them and relieve their distress gets out of hand. That’s how I’m forever winding up in the parking lot blowing some guy, or in the girls’ locker room fingering a cheerleader till she gets off.” Frost might use camp as a technique, but her stories — underneath their feverish, quivering skin — are all real demons, true heart.
Armed with this revelation, I pay Frost the highest compliment possible: her stories remind me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Remarkably and tragically, she has seen it maybe once. Her immediate inspiration comes from the fact that “all the sex has been taken out of horror movies!” she says. “I go to see Van Helsing, and it’s very proficient, but it’s a Disney ride, totally devoid of sexual interest — which is unthinkable! It’s like taking the fangs out of a vampire.”
It makes sense that her teen tale hits home: Frost says sex and horror begin their unholy coupling when we hit puberty. We feel shadowy urges we can’t explain; we feel our bodies changing out of our control. Frost, who was born in southern California, was not spared this mutation: she recalls feeling like she woke up one morning having basically doubled in height. One popular girl paid attention to her, only to announce later: “I’m not your friend. I just felt sorry for you.” Says Frost: “I still can’t walk into a cafeteria without going, ‘Aaugh! Where am I gonna sit?'”
But what made Frost different-bad in high school makes her distinctive now. “A lot of the people who really like my stuff are young enough to be my kids, but I identify a lot with that generation because I always loved the things that are big influences on them now: Japanese action movies, comic books," she says. "I was taking samurai lessons long before Uma.”
Read more about Polly Frost here.
Read more about erotic-horror fiction here.