A time-honored adage amongst writers of the macabre declares, “True horror is timeless.” Things and ideas that scared us centuries ago still retain the same deep-seated dread our ancestors faced: anything threatening us that is beyond our understanding or our control. Whether this be a repulsive creature or a psychological fear of abandonment, loss, or death, certain fears are hard-wired into our collective psyche.
The H Word
It’s well known within the field that horror, in both movies and novels, has a long history of often (perhaps too often, some would argue) being misogynist, relying on extreme rape as a plot device. Although the victims sometimes seek revenge in a one-dimensional pursuit, more frequently it’s used to prove the masculinity of the male protagonist or to offer him a revenge motive. Other times it is simply used for shock value.
Steve Schlozman, a psychiatry professor (known as “the zombie doc” for his ZOMBIE AUTOPSIES: SECRET NOTEBOOKS FROM THE APOCALYPSE), did an experiment to try to understand exactly why people enjoy horror, neurologically. He showed them a picture of a puppy. Then he showed them the image with cat’s eyes Photoshopped onto the puppy. t changed everything.
Science fiction and horror share many of the same genre roots; science fictional motifs wind through horror like strands of DNA, and horror’s tentacles have slithered into many works that are otherwise squarely science fiction. If science fiction is the literature of ideas, and horror is the literature of fear, there’s plenty of room for the two to blend.
Misunderstood monsters—mindless evil or innocent creatures thrust into circumstances beyond their control? If we look at monster history, there are many monsters who harm, damage, or kill because they blood-lust and enjoy it, and because it feeds a hunger that can only be satisfied by the evil they perpetrate on others. But what about those monsters who, in their search for something else—whether it is love, acceptance, or fulfillment—hurt others in the process?
There is safety in numbers, goes the popular adage. While that may be true when considering the likelihood of a car plowing into a group of cyclists, when it comes to life in the big city, living among the masses isn’t going to save you from the Bogeyman. In fact, the masses might have you running for your life.
We’re faced with an eternal conflict. We don’t want to die, but deep down we know it’s inevitable. We also know our loved ones will die, but we don’t want them to come back after they do. Horror helps us come to terms with that, to finally accept it. Through horror we see that, as Lugosi told us in DRACULA, “There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”
It’s likely you already know the scenarios by heart. Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, or Raymond Chandler would. A cynical, world-weary private eye is visited by a mysterious client (female, more often than not) and winds up taking a case that finally shakes up his life enough to make him feel something—only to inevitably remind him why he always felt safer not feeling anything at all.
When it comes to people, most of us know the dead only as waxy, foreign looking shells on display in coffins at the occasional funeral. Our world today has largely divorced us from experiencing the many strange and conflicting feelings that come with being in the presence of the dead. We don’t know that horror as much anymore, no matter how many times we see it on TV, and so I wanted to talk about that today.
Whenever anyone who creates horror fiction says they don’t, it simply confirms me in my commitment to the field. No doubt they have their reasons, but I have mine, which is to support the kind of fiction I’ve loved pretty well ever since I can remember.