Franck Thilliez: “Horror films frightened me, but I absolutely wanted to watch them”

Follower of the horror genre, Franck Thilliez loves being scared. This emotion fascinates him, inspires him and terrifies him. Monsters hidden under the bed, memory loss, paranormal experiences… The writer told us about his biggest fears.

In this month of Halloween, the master of horror is everywhere. We find it on the screens, with the serial adaptation of its bestseller E-syndromeand in our bookstores, with his horrific comic strip The Nightmare Brigade. The writer, behind twenty novels, knows how to scare us. He plays with our deepest fears and takes us into mysterious and dark worlds. Traumatized by his stories, The Pathfinder decided to reverse the trend and confront the author with his own anxieties.

The atmosphere of your books is always very dark. What attracts you to this universe?

Horror is a genre that marked me when I was younger, especially during my adolescence. At this age, we want to confront the thrill. I think it’s part of the stages of life. We want to scare ourselves and show our friends that we are stronger than them. Horrific works terrified me, but I couldn’t stop reading or watching them. There was a kind of attraction-repulsion, and this fascination influenced my career. Unlike many authors, I didn’t always want to write. For me, writing is a way to reproduce what I felt as a teenager. The emotion of fear is tremendous and I wanted to succeed in giving it back to readers.

“I had a lot of nightmares before writing (…), but they disappeared when I started to invent stories. »

There are several reasons. The first goes back to the origins: it is the emotion of danger, the one that has ensured our survival until today. Without it, we would not exist. We have it deep inside us and we need to train it. Then the fear caused by horrific works can be controlled. We start it and we stop it when we want. She triggers a whole bunch of hormones and adrenaline rushes; it’s like a thrill ride. There is a very exciting side. Finally, there is the transgressive aspect: this emotion is linked to the forbidden. These films and books allow us to go into environments that are forbidden to us in real life, without putting ourselves in danger.

Your stories contain a lot of psychological and physical violence. I guess the research and writing phases are intense and immerse you in a particular atmosphere. Do you have more nightmares during this period?

I used to do a lot of that before I wrote – probably because of the horror movies I watched – but when I started making up stories, the bad dreams went away. I think there is a cathartic side: I evacuate dark thoughts through writing. When I do research, I come across various facts that sicken me and make me angry. The fact of transmitting them to my readers relieves me, because I tell myself that they will share my feelings.

“I was very afraid of the dark and of the monster hiding under my bed when I was little. »

It’s quite rare, but a “transfer” can occur during the writing phase. In this case, the writer puts himself in the shoes of his characters and wonders how he would react in their place. For example, I have children, and certain stories of disappearance frighten me. But, in 90% of cases, I manage to keep a distance between what I am and what I write. Similarly, a forensic pathologist performs autopsies all day technically and medically, but occasionally he may find similarities between the victim and someone close to him.

What were you afraid of when you were little?

I was very afraid of the dark and of the monster hiding under my bed. I always checked under my mattress before going to bed. Sometimes I looked multiple times, just to be sure. I was afraid that a werewolf was waiting for me to sleep to come out. The bedroom is supposed to be a safe environment, but it ended up being the place where I was most scared.

The novel E-syndrome by Franck Thilliez has been adapted into a series.©TF1

Between the psychiatric complex in Puzzlethe chasm in Vertigo or even the soundproof room of a psychopath in Mazes, your stories take place in some damn scary places. Which one would you dare spend Halloween night in?

The abyss could give me a real fright, because I’m dizzy. But I think the place that would terrify me the most would be the forest, at night. It has happened to me to walk around and come back a little too late. When it starts to get dark and I’m still stuck between the trees, I panic. It’s absolutely terrifying, because the imagination begins to function: it’s dark, there are noises, you think that a psychopath may be on the prowl…

Labyrinth, The Phantom Memory… Your characters often lose their memory. Is it something that scares you?

Memory loss, illness, death… All of these things scare me and I come across them every day when I do research for my books. death is the very essence of polar. We flirt with very dark subjects. Among them, the question of memory is of particular interest to me. I dig it in all directions. Can we continue to exist as a person if we lose it? Does life have a purpose if we are no longer aware of our past and our own existence? The thought of this all going wrong can only scare me. We lose a part of ourselves, as in Memento. It is unlivable.

You were a computer engineer and you have a scientific mind. Do you nevertheless believe in this invisible world, which would be made up of energies and spirits?

I think there are a lot of things that we don’t know yet. Sometimes I flirt with these subjects in my novels, because I tend to believe in them. I believe in the existence of an invisible world, but I also have a scientific mind that pushes me to ask for concrete evidence.

Very disturbing things have happened in my house, like toys that turn on by themselves at night. I thought about the possibility of a misplaced battery or a button that would have triggered on its own, but I had no explanation.

When I go into a dark cellar, I tell myself that shadows or spirits can lurk there, but that doesn’t really scare me. I think some people are able to hear them because they have more developed senses. There are, of course, charlatans among seers and healers, but I am convinced that the others are sincere.

These practices allow us to get out of our world to explore more reassuring or frightening universes – we all tried to do a Ouija session when we were teenagers. We evolve in a difficult world and it is reassuring to understand what there is after death. When we go to see psychics or play tarot decks, we are not trying to scare ourselves, on the contrary. We try to reassure ourselves by hoping that the domain of the invisible is gentle and benevolent.

There is also the taste of the unknown. Our world is increasingly standardized and science has invaded our lives. We crave mysteries, things we can’t control. The goal is to escape our everyday life.

“Sometimes reality is worse than fiction. »

You were talking about toys that light up by themselves… Have you ever had strange experiences or witnessed paranormal phenomena?

Indeed, when one of my children was very small, his toy started on its own during the night. When I got to his crib, he was looking over him, as if seeing something I couldn’t. It really scared me. I’ve always lived in older houses and there are weird noises at night, like the floorboards creaking. There are rational explanations (piping, chance, half-sleep…), but it can be scary.

What scares you the most: the visible or invisible world?

The visible world, because it is the one that we see and that “really” exists. Every day has its share of horrors. We make up stories thinking they’ll never happen in the real world, but sometimes that happens, and reality becomes worse than fiction. The film Halloween terrorized generations, but these people really existed. So, to answer your question: the visible world is clearly the worst, because we are confronted with it on a daily basis.

Franck Thilliez: “Horror films frightened me, but I absolutely wanted to watch them”