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The H Word

Nonfiction

The H Word: “What . . . is this place?”

When I’m watching a horror film, I always know something good is coming when we step off the beaten path. We might be campers who trudge through the snow to a nearby cabin, going to push the door only to find that it creaks open of its own accord, revealing bad taxidermy and dangling fetishes which look disturbingly like they’ve been made from human teeth. We might be a team called in to investigate signs of distress at a remote outpost.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Resuscitating the Heart of Horror

In 1996 Wes Craven saved horror. That’s the abiding narrative anyway: that Scream revived a genre otherwise coding on the table. It’s hard to disagree, and I’m no depreciator of Craven’s vision. Scream was, indeed, an adrenaline shot for a horror corpus bloated by excess and exhausted by endless pacing in the same, diminishing circles.1

Nonfiction

The H Word: Horror in a Country that Is Not Afraid of Death

Years ago, during a holiday trip to the cerrado, my wife—a horror writer—and I—a horror reader—discussed and listed what we personally perceived as Brazilian fears. Our curiosity stemmed from the fact that our country doesn’t have a huge tradition in horror, at least not with the intent of producing a unique set of the genre. It exists, sure, but almost always in a strange limbo between creepy folk tales and Anglo pastiche.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Ambiguity—What Does It Mean?

The first time I considered the effect of ambiguity in horror fiction was while reading Simon Maginn’s excellent 1994 novel Sheep. It tells the story of James and Adele, a young couple who have moved to a small farmhouse in Ty-Gwyneth, Wales, with their young son in order to restart their lives after the accidental drowning death of their infant daughter. The scene that caught my attention opens with the broken family seated around the dinner table.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Visionary Monstrosity and the Epistemological Borders of Human Identity

Horror fiction explores human identity by utilizing monstrosity to envision disconcerting, resilient, and metamorphic aspects of human potential within an unknown universe. Knowledge in horror sometimes focuses on practical and apotropaic matters of survival and defense. Stay out of the fruit cellar. Keep holy water and a wooden stake handy. Don’t pick up cursed dolls.

Nonfiction

The H-Word: When the Final Girl Grows Up

Picture a teenage film student in 1978 (me), who loves horror movies but has grown up wishing that occasionally, just every once in a while, the women would be the ones to defeat the evil and save the day. Alien’s Ripley and Dawn of the Dead’s Fran are still a year in the future; the big fright flicks of the previous ten years have featured women in the traditional roles of passive or victimized wives or mothers, while the men have served as the heroic exorcists, Antichrist investigators, shark hunters, and the ones who nailed the boards up over the windows.

Nonfiction

The H Word: The Missing and the Murdered—True Crime as Content

Death is a business. Some of the highest grossing podcasts are dedicated to covering true crime, and those podcasts are downloaded millions of times each month, and often rank in best of year lists. There are even true crime specific podcast categories that make it easy to select from which hosts, topic, and murder you would like to listen to during your morning’s commute, or as you prepare dinner for your children.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Post-Human Horror

The urgency that pushed many of us into quarantine last March has dissipated considerably. Still, it’s not hard to recall the surge of panic we felt at the unprecedented panic buying and orders to shelter in place. “It’s like the plot of Contagion,” our friends on social media exclaimed. And indeed, despite the spring of 2020 unfolding like nothing any of us had ever experienced, there was something about the start of the pandemic that felt eerily familiar.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Getting Cozy with Horror

Once you reach a certain point in your friendship, Horror grows up and becomes a teenager. It’s no longer the BFF you spent the night with, eating cereal and reading comic books. It’s a young adult with grand ideas, mostly about itself. “I’m a statement about our society,” it explains, breaking your heart. “People watch me because I help exorcise their fears.”

Nonfiction

The H Word: Arnold Is a Survivor Girl

The standard formula for a slasher movie is to find something the culture takes for granted, and then have a killer rampage through it. The iconic slashers find something we rely on and take it away from us. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is about the idyllic suburbs and holiday festivities becoming a playground for a masked killer. Friday the 13th (1980) effectively ruined camping for a generation by putting a dangerous stranger in the woods.