Horror & Dark Fantasy

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The H Word


The H Word: The Melancholy Beauty of Terror

For the longest time, I’d searched for a proper definition of horror. That whole, “defined by emotional response” never sat well for me, and felt lacking as a descriptor. Mostly because people think that emotion should be fear or fright, but at the same time the word horror doesn’t automatically mean fear, does it? Something can be horrible, and yet not scary. Add to the fact that some of the best horror digs in under the skin and does something else, something far more disturbing than simple fear.


The H Word: Scary Stories to Relive in the Dark

I’ve been jobless for two and a half months now, which has caused a spike in mostly-forgotten anxieties. I hate being broke, hate watching my savings dwindle, and hate knowing I’m one bad fall or car accident away from poverty. So like most anxious, broke people, I comfort myself by bingeing crap television. Luckily, Netflix’s algorithms got something right for once, and presented me with HauntedHaunted is a 2018 Netflix original series, featuring non-actors telling true (or truth-y) stories about being haunted.


The H Word: Picture a House

Picture a house. It’s an old house. Stately, with two quarter-moon windows perched above a balcony, or a rundown farmhouse far out in the countryside, overlooking a bent, ancient tree. It’s something with history to it, history that’s not your own, but that doesn’t matter: the keys are in your hand. You own it. You are going to build a life there. You bring your family inside, and fill it with what is yours, and claim every room, every hallway. Except the attic


The H Word: On Cruelty

Growing up, I was a shy, tenderhearted kid. School was not a good place for me, and I remember being astonished by my classmates’ naked viciousness. When a girl’s skirt rode up from the friction of her backpack, people pointed, nudged their friends, grinned at her without saying anything. Someone was sent home once for lice, and that would come to define her for years, a stain that she and every one of her sisters had to carry.


The H Word: Dark Constellations

When John Carpenter and Debra Hill began to sketch out their ideas for Halloween, they dreamed up a list of scares. The creepiest images, the most unsettling scenes they could imagine. A clown with a knife. A gravestone in a bedroom. A pale face emerging slowly from the shadows. A person pinned to a wall by a blade. Or—how about this one?—a woman gets into a car and finds the windshield fogged up. The wipers kick on with no effect.


The H Word: You Really Don’t Want to Do This

Summertown, Tennessee, seems like a nice place to live. Located about an hour southwest of Nashville, it’s a town of less than 1,000 people. Rural two-lane blacktops wind past corn fields and wooded glens. New houses—each on its own acre of green land—can be had for under $250,000. The town has a Buddhist commune (Turtle Hill Sangha), and Wheelin in the Country, an off-road park. Summertown is, in other words, the kind of place that horror writers love to use in their works.


The H Word: Proof of Afterlife

We’ve been fascinated by ghost photography since the 1860s, when Victorian-era photographers began to find evidence (of spirits or of double-exposure) in their work. At the time there was also a fascination with death photography, those utterly heart-breaking and deeply disturbing photographs of dead loved ones propped up for one last picture. Were the bereaved hoping to catch a glimpse of the soul in those photographs? Then, as now, people were looking for proof that ghosts exist. Because if ghosts exist, then the soul does.


The H Word: The Tragedy of La Llorona

Nearly every culture has the lone woman in white. For some, she is a harbinger of death to come. For others, she is a bringer of death herself. And in other cultures, she is a warning to those who stray from societies’ morals. Cursed to exist forever with her shame. To the people of Mexico and the American Southwest, La Llorona—the Wailing Woman—is all these things. Yet she is often portrayed in modern media as a one-note boogeyman (or woman, in this case). Growing up in a Mexican household, I only knew La Llorona as a threat. A way to scare me home before dark: “Hurry home, mijo. You don’t want La Llorona to take you away.”


The H Word: Funny as Hell

I like visceral, bone-chilling horror as much as the next psycho. I relish the intensity of Silence of the Lambs or The Shining, or nail-biters like Halloween or Dean Koontz’s Watchers. But one of my favorite scenes in any suspense movie comes from Pulp Fiction; John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson with a young kid hostage in the back seat of their car. Travolta and Jackson are arguing about something utterly inane, and Travolta turns around, forgetting he has a loaded gun in his hand. He asks the kid for his opinion . . . and accidentally blows his head off. Shocking, completely unexpected, and unspeakably hilarious.


The H Word: It’s Alive!

In 1726, an English woman named Mary Toft became the center of a rather peculiar medical controversy. The pregnant Mary was working in a field with other women when they disturbed a rabbit. It fled from them, and they pursued, but failed to catch it. The incident left such an impression upon Mary that it consumed her thoughts, eventually leading her to miscarry . . . but what emerged from her womb was not a human fetus, but a misshapen rabbit.