Thursday, July 7, 2011

Where's the Horror?

Anyone remember "Where's the beef?" It was a Wendy's ad campaign. Well, the question recently has been "Where's the Horror?" It isn't dead in the movies, but is it dead in books?

Answers to that question vary widely. I've had people tell me Horror is a dying genre, while other people say it is thriving. Still others say that it just melded with Fantasy. What's the truth? I've been inclined to think it is still around, but that quite a bit has blurred into Urban Fantasy and similar genres. Looking at the Horror Writers Association (HWA) website, I found a list of new releases by HWA members that clearly indicates Horror is still alive and well. Dean R. Koontz and Stephen King are still in the fray. Koontz finally got more of his "Frankenstein" series out (or I just heard about it--could be either way). Unfortunately, I had decided it wasn't going to happen, so I got rid of the first one. I guess I'll have to start fresh!

Sure, a lot of the HWA releases appear to be anthologies, which means the Horror short story crowd is still going strong. There were also several stand alone novels on the list, though, which I found reassuring. Before I actively started looking into it, I was starting to fear that my insistence that Horror will always be around was unfounded, and that I might be wrong. But I'm feeling a bit better, so I'm willing to stick to my guns.

Why would I say there will always be a need for Horror? Let's look at why people might like a good scare in the first place:

1. Escapism. I once read that more people flock to Horror films during war or other times of high stress. Whether this is true or not, I can't tell you for sure. It makes sense in a way, because it provides a means to escape real life horrors that have no guaranteed happy ending. Most scary films have some type of happy ending, usually including the bad guy getting theirs in the end, and all ending well (though not for all the poor suckers who died before the main character killed the Boogie Man). We can't guarantee the happy ending anywhere else in life, but we can view a Horror film, especially one with unrealistic bad guys, and know it will probably be okay. We also get to see the everyman beating whatever force there is in the film/book, meaning we could possibly do the same thing and overcome outrageous odds. What better way to escape the real life fears one possesses? Plus, a giant man-eating horny toad isn't something we actually have to worry about, so why not dive into this Horror story and forget about our daily stresses?

2. Adrenaline/thrill seeking. Ever noticed that the largest part of the audience in a Horror film or browser in the Horror section of the bookstore tends to be on the younger side? When I worked at various theaters, we had far more teens and twenty-somethings clamoring to get in than those older than that, and the over fifty audience was fairly limited. Why? Adrenaline junkies tend to be younger, too, and who doesn't get a rush of adrenaline from the fight or flight response experienced in a moment of terror? It's far safer to experience that terror via screen or page than it is to jump off a cliff or out of an airplane.

3. Endorphins. I recently read that people crave spicy foods because the tongue reads the sensation as pain and releases those lovely feel good endorphins. If you get a shot of endorphins each time, you crave that experience over and over. I have to wonder if there isn't an element of this in pursuing a scare.

4. Catharsis. You can hate the bad guy as much as you want and root for torture and murder. In fact, it's encouraged. Where else in life can you get to experience that release of pent-up negative emotions without paying some sort of price (like jail time)?

5. Revenge/closure. This works in several ways in the Horror world. It's satisfying when that character you just can't stand gets their face eaten off. Same goes for that stereotype that reminds you of the Superboobs Cheerleader that gave you a hard time in high school, or the Steroids-for-Brains Jock that pulled your underwear up over your head. Beyond that, it's satisfying to see someone who went through something horrific win in the end. Look at "The Last House on the Left." It is fantabulous to see the parents taking revenge when they find out the truth about what happened to their daughter, and who did it. Child molester? Burn him alive. Rapist? Cut off his member and put it in the blender so he can't sew it back on a la Bobbitt. Sociopath? Off with their head! Of course, they have to commit atrocities that we have to sit through first, but that's just the buildup to the ultimate payoff.

6. Coming of age. The ability to get into a horror movie without your parents going with you is a sign that you're all grown up. It's the ritual of adulthood you can't miss. Less painful than putting bones through your pectoral muscles and then pulling on them, right?

7. To get some. What better way to get physically close with your date than to take them to a horror movie? Guys will act less afraid than they are and gals will act more afraid. You didn't actually think the ladies didn't want those snuggles in the dark theater as much as you, did ya' fella's?

I'm sure there are plenty of other reasons people want to see horror movies. Each person is different and has their own reasoning, though we may not know what that is. Whatever the reason(s), it's not going to go away anytime soon. Maybe when we've all been cloned and genetically altered in such a way as to remove those "dangerous" urges within us. Pretty sure the housewives in Stepford wouldn't enjoy a lovely evening of blood and terror.

So while the Horror genre may have been going through some growing pains as we experiment with all the different ways it can be done (true crime, torture porn, psychological, Urban Fantasy, etc.), it certainly won't be disappearing entirely any time in the near future. There will always be an audience for it in one form or another. I feel people have just been trying out new things within Horror and related genres, including the audience, so it has seemed like it fell by the wayside. Not so. There's no need to worry that you won't be able to go enjoy a few scares, a few thrills and a few screams if that's something you want to do.

What are your thoughts on the Horror genre, in any medium? If you're a fan, what is your reason for enjoying a bit of Horror? What are your favorites?


  1. HORAY, you changed your thing so I can commment! horrrray!

  2. I did! Someone emailed me to let me know some people couldn't comment and let me know what the trouble was.

  3. Wow, Shannon, what a post! I must admit: I do love horror. However, I'm a weenie and cannot--CAN NOT-- watch it alone. If I do, I can't go to bed that night without some sort of comic relief. And when I actually get INTO bed, I take a flying leap, because I'm terrified the Thing underneath will grab my feet and pull me into some crazed monster underworld.

    That said, one of my favorite scary flicks is Ghost Ship. Love the music, the concept. And the way everyone dies in the beginning--AWESOME. The Ring scared the poo outta me, as did Paranormal Activity. I've tried to read horror, but oh my goodness, that's, like, ten times worse! Imagination is really something else, isn't it?

  4. I like horror quite a lot. I blog about it and I my professional writing are horror RPGs.

    Horror gives me the chance to confront fears, real or imagined; actually I'll go as far as to say all fears are imagined it how much do we go along with them.

    I like the stories you can tell with horror, the conflict and the range of human emotions.

    Plus it is all just really fun.
    Everyone like a good scare now and then.

  5. A well written post, glad I can comment again,


  6. Alyssia, I'm becoming wimpier about horror, and a really good horror movie or book MUST be followed by some manner of comedy. If it isn't, I do my rounds to make sure the house is all locked up, turn out the lights and then book it upstairs until I can get the next light on. Then I have to go in my kids' dark rooms and make sure all is well in there. Sometimes it feels like my spine is trying to outrun the rest of me.

    I was just thinking of Ghost Ship the other day! It was a sound that made me think of the cable at the beginning. I even told my husband that's what it reminded me of. That is a classic start to a movie. Swift and shocking. Perfect!

    Tim, I agree with everything you said. It's good to have your fears shoved in your face to confront every little once in awhile. I'd even go so far as to say it can help diminish them a bit, seeing them in that context (or if it's really good, it can only get worse).

    Yvonne, I'm glad it's working again. I've been having nothing but trouble on Blogger lately.

  7. I will admit, I am a total wimp when it comes to horror. It just freaks. me. out. The only horror movies I've seen were the ones my sister forced me to see. "Laura, you haven't seen this? WE ARE WATCHING IT." And they were...not my cup of tea, to put it lightly. ;)

  8. I have always been and will always be a massive horror fan. Love it, love it, love it!

    I am also a horror writer. I think a lot of horror is drifting into fantasy and the boom in 'dark fantasy' to try and sell more books, but there will always be that true horror cult following.

    Horror will never die; it's just hiding in the wardrobe!

  9. I do love a bit of horror. I think though, that it can be very easy to let horror slip into urban fantasy, especially as a writer wants to find ways for their hero to believably oppose a supernatural threat.

    There's also the issue that a lot of the traditional horror tropes; vampires, werewolves, ghosts, have become very prominent in urban fantasy, so the usual go-to stories are evolving past pure horror.

  10. I love horror, and I write horror. As long as I can remember, people have been proclaiming its death. It hasn't died yet.

    While I like the trend to include traditional horror tropes in paranormal fiction and urban fantasy, I think these treatments tend to be more horror light than horror proper.

    If you're looking for good recent horror, I can't recommend Sarah Langan's book Audrey's Door strongly enough. It is hardcore and super scary.

  11. Great post Shannon. I'm with Elizabeth - I love and write horror, and hope it never does die down. I'm writing in the YA field, and it's interesting to see the differences between YA and adult in terms of "the line"



  12. Laura, a good friend of mine absolutely can't stand/deal with horror and she was stuck with me and another friend who just loved it. I never make her go, though! I just have to remind myself not to mention it around her, either, because hearing about it freaks her out.

    Angeline, love it, and so true! Or it's hiding under the bed.

    Paul, very true. I read enough UF that I need to watch for it and make sure it isn't creeping into the horror, since I write both. I think the exposure in UF makes the previously go-to critters less frightening and therefore out of bounds, which may have something to do with the influx of alien horror-type stories.

    Elizabeth, thank you for the book rec! I'm adding it to my list. I haven't had a good scare in awhile.

    Rach, true and interesting. Especially in light of the big controversy over the article (?) saying there was too much violence, brutality, what-have-you, in YA and where the line needs to be drawn.

  13. My thoughts on horror is that I hope it isn't dead because the story I'm working on is a YA realistic horror with a twist of history :) That being said horror scares me so bad but I'm finding out I love it too.

  14. Shelley, I think part of the fun of horror is the scare, or else it would be boring!