Horror & Dark Fantasy

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The H Word

Nonfiction

The H Word: Victims and Volunteers

“My kind of horror is not horror anymore,” an aging Boris Karloff laments in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 film Targets. And judging by the rest of the movie—which concerns a mass-murdering sniper taking aim at the patrons of a drive-in as they watch a revival screening of one of Karloff’s films—he’s not wrong. “Between 1968 and 1976, all the films that redefined the horror movie were made,” Roy Olson of Booklist observes in his review of Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value, the book that first introduced me to Targets.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Perfect Possession

Truth is more horrible than fiction. The complex and mysterious ritualism of the Catholic Church has always fascinated horror writers, regardless of their personal convictions: the Irish Protestant Bram Stoker (Dracula) fell back on Latin orthodoxy to inter the undead, and the non-denominational demi-Buddhist James Wan (The Conjuring) idealized a Roman Catholic couple to expel […]

Nonfiction

The H Word: The Haunted Boundaries of House and Body

Haunted houses are places associated with endings—the end of a life, the end of a family. I wrote a story about haunting once. Called “The Knife Orchard,” it was based on a piece of family history when my mother, as a little girl and just come back from Sunday school, saw her mother being threatened with a knife. By her father. My grandparents. One was Irish Catholic, one an Irish Protestant. The problem was Sunday school; the knife a solution to going back.

Nonfiction

The H Word: An Empathy of Fear

“I think I’m going to faint,” I whispered. My best friend nodded sympathetically, his face radiating concern. “Try not to knock over the popcorn,” he whispered back. We were in a movie theatre, back when one could visit such outlandish things, and the first Saw was playing. I was more terrified than my normal baseline of “extremely” and a loss of consciousness seemed not only likely, but imminent.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Universal Scare, Local Fear

Nigeria in the ’90s had just bounced back from a bloody civil war, and was attempting to transition from a turbulent period of military rule into a democratic government. This period of huge economic uncertainty, freewheeling oppression and ethnic distrust made it effortless to suspect one’s neighbour—or “village people” in Nigerian parlance—of having an occult hand in one’s degeneration.

Nonfiction

The H Word: The Rational Vs the Irrational

When I was in first grade—we’re talking 1970 here—I was excited to discover that the high school drama club was going to put on a play called The Ghoul Friend. I was already a dyed-in-the-wool horror geek by this time, and I pestered my parents until they agreed to let me go. I don’t remember much about the plot after all these years, but I remember there were lots of cool monsters . . . and at the end the actors took off their masks to reveal they were all humans in disguise.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Horror in Strange Times

But did I really want to teach a horror class at a time like this? Did my students, who were being abruptly forced to leave campus and move back home, really want to continue to think about Horror as a genre? They would have all sorts of real-life horrors on their mind. Some of them would get sick, some would lose friends and family members. Why study Horror in the face of disaster?

Nonfiction

The H Word: Formative Frights

I like to ask people about their childhood fears because I was a fearful child. At five, I avoided the TV room for a week after glimpsing something with a face like gobs of wet clay groping its way up a staircase. Only years and nightmares later did I learn this was Martin Landau’s entirely sympathetic mutant in the Outer Limits episode “The Man Who Was Never Born.” When I was nine, I was freaked out by faces more awful than Landau’s lumpy one.

Nonfiction

The H Word: The Horror of Solitude

Is it worse to be lonely in a crowded room or lonely in an empty one? Perhaps you have an immediate response to this, one you’ve pondered before now. It’s certainly not a new question, but the truth is that most of us have never had much of a chance to really know for sure. Even those who pride themselves on being introverted are often forced to spend a tremendous amount of time with other people. The average life, in fact, tends to be arranged around interaction.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Mental Health, Ableism, and the Horror Genre

Our genre isn’t known for its warm and compassionate embrace of disability. From physical disfigurement to mental illness, those with disabilities are an all-too-convenient Other to demonize. The current battle for greater inclusion in the genres continues to shed light on those stories and voices that have been excluded. As we look beyond race, gender, and sexuality for inclusion and representation, ability is vital for us to reexamine.