Some Thoughts on Horror

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I can’t remember who I read it from, it may have been Stephen King in Dense Macabre, that horror and comedy were two of the hardest genres to write in. You were in constant danger of the one becoming the other. Of inept horror becoming comedy, or comedy becoming the horror of embarrassing ineptness.

No one minds seeing a poorly executed horror movie with bad acting, it is its own genre. I used to love USA’s Up All Night with Gilbert Gottfried and his commentary of some astoundingly bad films. No one wants to see a failed comedy, we get angry at having wasted our time.

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A horror writer (one that is attempting to shock or frighten) does not want laughter when he wants a scream. And a comedy writer doesn’t want a moan when there should be a chuckle.

I have flirted with trying my hand at horror before. I would probably be a little mild for people’s tastes nowadays. I don’t mind gore, actually quite numb to it, it just doesn’t interest me, it is not horrifying. I think far deeper horror is below the surface of the skin, below even the subcutaneous layer. It is not the doctor dismembering an infant in some dank basement that is the horror – not the deepest horror, but what is it in the doctor that makes the action possible. And how do you make that as difficult as possible for the reader.

Him just being a crazy is boring. He has to be made human, he has to be your father, he has to be you… or someone very close to you. That is why I find those profiler murder porn shows (the fictional or reality-based ones) to be so dull. There is a certain horror to the existence of a John Wayne Gacy or a Dahmer, but only so much because they are so much not us. We tend, as if instinctively, to disassociate ourselves from such individuals. And I don’t think it is an irrational distancing. Although many of the processes by which one becomes a sociopathic killer are the same processes by which many of us also become what we are, there are many distinctive characteristics that makes them wholly separate. To name but one, such killers display an almost complete lack of impulse control – that is how they first start indulging in dark fantasies.

As adults, if you are not already one of them, you are not going to become one of them. Not the lone serial killer type. Now you could possess the make-up to be an Angel of Death in a totalitarian dictatorship.

I think many more of us have that potential than we would care to admit.

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Going back to the original comment about horror and comedy I find that it is obvious why these two genres would be so difficult. They are specifically defined by the eliciting of a specific emotion or reaction, horror in the former and laughter in the latter. It is true that all art seeks to elicit some sort of reaction in the participant. Mystery seeks to build suspense (who did it?). Although I think mystery achieves its aim more by a mechanical means of plot structure.

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Horror and comedy seek to produce all the elements that any other genre attempts to produce, plus a standing order to produce certain specific reactions that define itself as that genre.

That’s pretty demanding.

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