Horror & Dark Fantasy



The H Word


The H Word: Better Living Through Horror

About a decade ago, my friend drove me through what remains of Pilgrim State Hospital, an area filled with derelict structures that look as inviting as prisons. One structure, a cylindrical brick building, stands in an otherwise empty field, like a watchful creature waiting to pounce. The structures fascinated me as much as they intimidated me. As someone with mental illness, my relationship with the landscape was an odd one. It is not inconceivable that in a time before antidepressants I could have ended up in those buildings back when they operated.


The H Word: Horror, Through Colored Lenses

I was halfway through the first draft of “One Hand in The Coffin” (Strange Horizons) when I discovered what my story was really about. It had just turned midnight on July twenty-third, the anniversary of my cousin’s murder, and one of the main characters had his name. The horror wasn’t the possessed therapy puppet. It was a society that demands multiple jobs from a single mother to make ends meet. It was the lack of access to mental health services in black and brown communities. It was loss and hopelessness. The puppet just gave it all a name.


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.


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 […]


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.