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  1. #1
    Not your mother's dragon RedDragoness's Avatar
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    What is "Scary?"

    This is a topic I've been musing on for quite some time now, and I think this is the place to have a convo about it with like-minded people.

    What, exactly, is "scary?" That is, what makes horror, horror?

    I've been thinking about this in terms of why horror as a genre (or subgenre of SFF) doesn't seem to be taken seriously, and also why I don't seem to get scared that much by what I read and what I watch. I remember going to see the first "Resident Evil" movie when it came out and thinking, "That wasn't horror, that was action." I rarely watch "horror" movies because they're either too schlocky or just not scary. Haunted houses don't scare me. Movies about Satan, the Devil, or demonic possession don't scare me. The first time I watched "Silence of the Lambs," I was 16 and alone in my parents' house at night; I slept fine. Yet, "The Ring" (both versions) scared the living crap out of me, and over the weekend my husband and I watched "Room," which disturbed me enough to keep me from falling asleep that night.

    I think that one of the reasons why horror so often gets overlooked, or not taken seriously, is because it's very premise is to scare people - and what scares one person might not scare another. Purely anecdotally, everyone I know who was raised Catholic (whether they still believe or not) is scared of movies like "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby," but I'm not (I was raised Jewish). Is it because that fear of the Devil was not part of my upbringing? Maybe. Zombies don't scare me and neither do vampires, but the idea of a little girl wreaking deathly revenge from beyond the grave ("The Ring") terrifies me. "The Shining" only scared me when the ghost opened the freezer door for Jack. "Room" was so disturbing because I *am* a mother, with two sons age 4 and 7 1/2, and I related very strongly to that sense of being trapped with them and having to dig into all my patience and creative resources for them and I still feel like I get punished - by society, by my own body - just for having kids. To that point, I think "The Babbadook" was probably my most favorite horror movie to date because it was like watching my own struggles with post-partum depression played out on screen, and it was absolutely horrifying to me to watch some of my own fears and internal battles get personified so on-point.

    And yet, my brother, who is child-free, didn't like "The Babbadook" or find it scary *at all*.

    I recently read H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" for the first time; I've never read Lovecraft before and thought it time I dove in there. I didn't like it. I found it 99% boring and 1% "Well, duh, I knew that was going to happen." Maybe I'm missing something? I do have a collection of Lovecraft's short stories on my e-reader, including "The Call of Cthulu," which I'll get around to at some point. Maybe I just started with the wrong story.

    So, what do you think, fellow horror writers? Is "scary" really that subjective? Or are there things that are sort of universally scary? If the latter, is that why we have things like urban legends? And finally, as horror writers, do you only write what's scary to you, or do you try to write what you think will scare other people?

    I'll leave this post with the famous Stephen King quote. When I write I *try* to go for terror first, and horror second; I try to avoid gross-out, not because I'm against it (and I'm fully not judging anyone who uses it; my favorite TV show of all time is "The Walking Dead") but because I'm just not good at writing it.

    “The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it's when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it's when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It's when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there's nothing there...”
    ~Speculative fiction from dark, dark places~

  2. #2
    cutsie-pie Curlz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedDragoness View Post
    Is "scary" really that subjective? Or are there things that are sort of universally scary? If the latter, is that why we have things like urban legends? And finally, as horror writers, do you only write what's scary to you, or do you try to write what you think will scare other people?

    I'll leave this post with the famous Stephen King quote.
    All those questions are well answered by Mr King, who says something of the sort that yes, we all have individual fears but yes, there is such a thing as "universally scary" and what all our fears are based on is chaos. And such answer seems reasonable.
    Basically, the scary things are a disturbance in our neat world, they do away with order and that makes us scared. But everybody lives in their own individual world and although most of us share similarities, there are also differences. There are people who are terrified of baked beans, for no particular reason, go figure. Science has not yet explained that but it exists, it's part of their world.
    If devils and exorcisms are not part of your world then they won't scare you. But something that comes out of nowhere and presents itself as an agent of chaos, will be scary. Ha! You thought no long-haired girls could walk out of the TV and into your living room, but they do! You thought the tv screen is a safe barrier but turned out it wasn't. All those lifelike special effects got ya! For a second your reason was tricked into believing this is possible and there you go, your world is in chaos.
    And here we come to the next thing, the believability of fiction. What scares us in real life can be different from what scares us in fiction. I'm not scared of mummies but that scene in "It" where a character is chased by a mummy was scary because it was well written. I don't believe in the "It" type of monster either, but that book creeped me out when I read it. I can laugh at the poster/cover/movie, but when I open the book and read I'm scared. Reading is like going into another world. And the "It" monster was a very efficient agent of chaos in that world.
    As for writing, I'm sitting on a ghost story at the moment and I don't really believe in ghosts, but I enjoy watching ghost movies. You could say that I'm writing a story that would entertain me, rather than scare me (although it's intended to be fairly scary).

  3. #3
    Not your mother's dragon RedDragoness's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curlz View Post
    As for writing, I'm sitting on a ghost story at the moment and I don't really believe in ghosts, but I enjoy watching ghost movies. You could say that I'm writing a story that would entertain me, rather than scare me (although it's intended to be fairly scary).
    Me, too. I'm working on a ghost story, even though I don't believe in ghosts. I'm writing it in a way that's focusing more on atmosphere, on things that would freak *me* out, and hopefully some other people will gets chills up and down their spines from reading it.

    Fear of baked beans? I *have* to learn more about this! To the Googles! ;-D

    -RD
    ~Speculative fiction from dark, dark places~

  4. #4
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    Phrases differently, but essentially what you guys are saying: things beyond our control. That's scary. That's terror. The thought that something bad is about to happen, be it King's quote about sensing that thing behind you, or witnessing whatever chaos your ghosts will be causing in your stories, or just a worried parent; it's knowing that the unknowable may happen.

  5. #5
    Not your mother's dragon RedDragoness's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ser Michael P View Post
    Phrases differently, but essentially what you guys are saying: things beyond our control. That's scary. That's terror. The thought that something bad is about to happen, be it King's quote about sensing that thing behind you, or witnessing whatever chaos your ghosts will be causing in your stories, or just a worried parent; it's knowing that the unknowable may happen.
    Yes. And that unknowable seems both different and the same for everyone, if that makes sense?
    ~Speculative fiction from dark, dark places~

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW
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    As a reader, in terms of fiction, the unknown. I much prefer a main character who knows/suspects that something bad is going on, but doesn't know what/where/who/why it is, or when it is about to strike. I really don't like narratives that tell the reader stuff the main character(s) don't know. I think that's the antithesis of suspense.

    caw
    Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

    -- Terry Pratchett

  7. #7
    Been Here A While Feidb's Avatar
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    I read and write for the fun of it, not to get scared. I'm way too jaded to get scared anymore. However, I like good icky bug with lots of peril and mystery thrown in. Suspense is good while the heroes try and figure out what's going on. A few jolts along the way (which is what the scares are to me) are good also. The story also has to have the heroes persevere. If they die at the end, that's no payoff for me. A complete waste of time. I'm particular about that.

    Nope, horror (icky bug) isn't scary. Reality can be, but I don't read reality for pleasure. I get enough of that in the news, just to be informed.
    Last edited by Feidb; 05-19-2016 at 01:51 AM.

    Action/Adventure/Thriller
    Icky Bug (Horror)
    Fantasy (D&D plot driven)
    Science Fiction Thriller

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    Rejections as of Dec 10, 2015 = 689
    Good icky bug is a monster that eats half the characters, they say f***k a lot, and there is gratuitous sex that has nothing to do with the plot! LOL.
    Seriously, Treasure Of The Umbrunna (fantasy) Out now!

  8. #8
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    Yeah, old Stevie King pretty much covered plenty in his book, Danse Macabre, of which you might have quoted from. So... 1) Gross-out 2) Horror 3) Terror.

    Then he spoke of the archetypes of horror monsters/antagonists, and that we are essentially our own enemy. We're more scared of ourselves than we are of anything else, and many horror monsters are based on these fears. Then there's many other things... Because we're such fragile things that being afraid of ourselves just doesn't cut it.

    There's the fear in Man VS nature, there's the fear of the unknown, old as dirt, and as some of you mentioned, the fear of our reality crashing in on us, the carpet being yanked from under us.

    Plenty of modern day horror focuses on the gross-out, which I feel is short-selling horror audiences today. H. P. Lovecraft of times long-ago did it somewhat better, focusing on the unknown, and how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Cosmic horror. We're never in control. It's Man VS Nature, but nature had already won a million times over millions of years ago.

    In short, I guess there's the specifics that don't scare everyone - Certain aspects of humanity magnified and shown for all to recoil at. And then there's the broad strokes - The unknown, death, nature, man's diminutive stature in the universe... And good horror seeks to incorporate everything, I feel, at different levels for each type of horror.

    I've written a horror novel, and I try to invoke all three... 1) Gross-out 2) Horror 3) Terror. I believe I've more or less succeeded in the first two, but I'm not sure about the third, because the method I use, I feel, is a long-shot, and it might not even the method; Maybe I just lack the skill to bring it out.

    For the gross-out, I have people having their flesh sculpted and their mind warped into monsters at the whim of a comic deity, sometimes in ways breaking certain boundaries (a baby still attached to the mother, who died in a rough C-section that may not even be done by human hands), as well as the usual violence, body horror and buckets of blood and limbs.

    For Horror, I try to invoke it with a sense of danger at every corner, characters who you'd root for (I hope) who could die or be collected and flesh-sculpted at any time. I try to invoke it in the encounters with the endless possibilities of abomination.

    As for Terror, well, I tried my best. Basically, what I did is that I try to take the broad strokes, let the readers know that they, too, are in danger. Common themes involve the darkness, sometimes impenetrable, as well as the looming sense that society could collapse (at the whims of what are practically cosmic Gods with a huge influence on humanity in the novel), and that this collapse can be tied to dangers we take for granted: Greed, contentment, the government/society working against the best interests of the people. The fragility of life. Anyone can die. But like I said, it's hard work, I don't know if it works...
    Last edited by xbriannova; 05-19-2016 at 08:05 AM.

  9. #9
    Mired in the miry mire. leifwright's Avatar
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    For me, even though I don't believe in it cerebrally, the idea of a supernatural being who can possess you is horror. I think I shit my pants when I was a kid and my parents took us to The Exorcist.

    Stephen King is good at turning regular situations into horror: a laundry machine that acquires a demon and starts chewing people up, a writer who gets driven insane by a hotel full of malicious ghosts who want to eat his son, vampires draining an entire New England town, a cemetery that reanimates dead bodies but turns them evil.

    It's not the situations that are horror - just watch any of a number of bad movies based on King books, and you'll see the situations themselves can be quite ludicrous and completely unscary. It's the way the author approaches the situation. Get too explainy and the scary stuff loses its scary. Humans fear what we don't know, and keeping the evil stuff foreboding and just outside the reader's grasp is a good way to instantly build horror.

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by leifwright View Post
    It's not the situations that are horror - just watch any of a number of bad movies based on King books, and you'll see the situations themselves can be quite ludicrous and completely unscary. It's the way the author approaches the situation. Get too explainy and the scary stuff loses its scary. Humans fear what we don't know, and keeping the evil stuff foreboding and just outside the reader's grasp is a good way to instantly build horror.
    I, for one, agree with that analysis. Stare into the darkness too long, and it stares right back at you.

  11. #11
    Cultivate the heart quality. - Ali AW Moderator Jcomp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedDragoness View Post
    So, what do you think, fellow horror writers? Is "scary" really that subjective? Or are there things that are sort of universally scary? If the latter, is that why we have things like urban legends? And finally, as horror writers, do you only write what's scary to you, or do you try to write what you think will scare other people?
    Answering these questions in order:

    Yes, there is a significant element of subjectivity to fear, particularly as it pertains to horror. That said, exploiting a subjective fear can strike certain audience members in ways that may leave others completely untouched.

    Yes, certain fears are about as close to "universal" as can be, but it's still difficult to replicate in fiction. Many things that could come off as trite in a story would be frightening in reality.

    I think urban legends exploit certain curiosities we have, and our apparent universal need to constantly be in on some kind of unique or hard to believe story. Horror is a great genre for examining curiosities, mysteries, and things beyond belief, but many urban legends aren't horror-related at all.

    Lastly, I try to write what I think is good, what I think is effective. I don't worry about whether what I write would scare myself or others, I try to write about ideas that I think are interesting--horror just happens to be my favorite genre, and a good place to explore interesting ideas, I think--and try to write characters that are interesting and have somewhat believable responses emotionally and intellectually to the situations I've placed them in. I figure if I do that well enough, then even the readers who aren't scared (which is inevitable--you can't scare everyone) will hopefully still find the story worthwhile. I know I've read my share of horror novels that didn't scare me, but nonetheless impressed me, because they're good stories well-told.

  12. #12
    Not your mother's dragon RedDragoness's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xbriannova View Post

    I've written a horror novel, and I try to invoke all three... 1) Gross-out 2) Horror 3) Terror. I believe I've more or less succeeded in the first two, but I'm not sure about the third, because the method I use, I feel, is a long-shot, and it might not even the method; Maybe I just lack the skill to bring it out.
    Sounds good to me! I'd read your novel.




    Quote Originally Posted by leifwright View Post
    For me, even though I don't believe in it cerebrally, the idea of a supernatural being who can possess you is horror. I think I shit my pants when I was a kid and my parents took us to The Exorcist.

    Stephen King is good at turning regular situations into horror: a laundry machine that acquires a demon and starts chewing people up, a writer who gets driven insane by a hotel full of malicious ghosts who want to eat his son, vampires draining an entire New England town, a cemetery that reanimates dead bodies but turns them evil.

    It's not the situations that are horror - just watch any of a number of bad movies based on King books, and you'll see the situations themselves can be quite ludicrous and completely unscary. It's the way the author approaches the situation. Get too explainy and the scary stuff loses its scary. Humans fear what we don't know, and keeping the evil stuff foreboding and just outside the reader's grasp is a good way to instantly build horror.


    I agree with you, I think that King is particularly adept at taking the everyday, ordinary things we take for granted and bringing out the nightmare versions of them. For example, there are so many versions of a post-apocalyptic world, but what struck me in "The Stand" was the division of "good" and "bad" people; not everyone who followed the old lady to Colorado were really the classic good guys, and the general impression I got of the people in Vegas with Flagg was that there were regular, ordinary people there - and even kids. To me, that speaks to our tendency to make things too black and white, without regard for context. We all want to think of ourselves as heroes, or at least good guys, but what if we wound up following Flagg?

    But yeah, I also agree that he sometimes gets a little...silly. A possessed car? I haven't read "Christine" yet, but the whole premise just doesn't grab me. I liked "Misery" even though I don't usually like stories about writers, because I think it was more about loneliness and helplessness, just like I think "The Shining" is more about isolation and repression than it is about a hotel that drives people mad.
    ~Speculative fiction from dark, dark places~

  13. #13
    Mired in the miry mire. leifwright's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedDragoness View Post
    I agree with you, I think that King is particularly adept at taking the everyday, ordinary things we take for granted and bringing out the nightmare versions of them. For example, there are so many versions of a post-apocalyptic world, but what struck me in "The Stand" was the division of "good" and "bad" people; not everyone who followed the old lady to Colorado were really the classic good guys, and the general impression I got of the people in Vegas with Flagg was that there were regular, ordinary people there - and even kids. To me, that speaks to our tendency to make things too black and white, without regard for context. We all want to think of ourselves as heroes, or at least good guys, but what if we wound up following Flagg?
    I loved Flagg until King resurrected him in the Dark Tower series, which I felt really diminished the power of Flagg, which was not knowing what kind of shit he might do next.

    Quote Originally Posted by RedDragoness View Post
    But yeah, I also agree that he sometimes gets a little...silly. A possessed car? I haven't read "Christine" yet, but the whole premise just doesn't grab me. I liked "Misery" even though I don't usually like stories about writers, because I think it was more about loneliness and helplessness, just like I think "The Shining" is more about isolation and repression than it is about a hotel that drives people mad.
    I think Christine the movie was ridiculous. The novel? Scary as hell.

  14. #14
    Count the Electrons R.Barrows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    As a reader, in terms of fiction, the unknown. I much prefer a main character who knows/suspects that something bad is going on, but doesn't know what/where/who/why it is, or when it is about to strike. I really don't like narratives that tell the reader stuff the main character(s) don't know. I think that's the antithesis of suspense.

    caw
    I'm of the same opinion. It's the not knowing. And in terms of writing that 'not knowing' it's generally not explaining to the reader or giving inferences that will make it obvious. Play on the unknown. Hint at it and dance around it. Define only the character's POV as it strikes. Leave everything else up for grabs and leave the reader in the dark as to the actual motives/mechanism/methods of the antagonist. Only at the end might they know, but maybe not even then. Implications in the dark.

  15. #15
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    gerald's game audio book when she is like "you are not real" in a panicked whisper fricking freaked me the f out for sure.

    what is really scary it like reading about the zodiac because he could be out there and he knows I am reading about him

    lol

  16. #16
    figuring it all out Jimmy's Avatar
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    To paraphrase what has been said I think the basis of horror lies in not being able to compute something. Judging is the automatic (often inaccurate) method we use to make sense of the world around us - she's hot, he's a moron etc - but when we can't even subscribe split-second values onto something then we are stricken with a kind of unease that, if stoked right, can escalate into terror.

    It's definitely subjective but I think The Ring (Ringu) is a great example of a quality scary film. The movie's monster (Sadako) doesn't really show her face, we understand the basics of her tale but not all of it and, most clever of all, it turns something most of us watch everyday into a portal for the monster. It is a great amalgamation of the threat and the mystery which I think makes the video tape genuinely eerie instead of naff which it could have easily been in the wrong hands.

    Well, obviously I'm a fan! There is something fun about describing what gets under your skin.

  17. #17
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    I got a lesson in what scares me the other day while thinking about the different first person action video games I've played recently.

    When it comes to fighting other humans, machines, monsters (like vampires and werewolves), or aliens, I can get right up in their face and knife them to death without being bothered one bit. In a zombie game, though, I need a sniper rifle and a fifty foot tower to even consider playing. If I get a character killed by any of those other things... eh, no big deal. Restart and try again. If I get a character killed by zombies, I have a visceral physical reaction to their death and even feelings of guilt. In both cases, the death is of a fictional character composed of pixels who springs back to life when I reload my saved game, but when the cause is zombies it's so much worse. Sometimes I have to put down the controller and do something else.

    I guess the only real takeaway from this, or most posts here, is that fear is a highly personal thing. The big common fear (or source of "horror" in the literary sense) according to H. P. Lovecraft is the fear of the unknown, but when it comes to specifics no two people will be scared by the same thing.

  18. #18
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    This reminds me of a pair of rejection letters I got for a horror short story:

    The first raved about it. He said it was terrifying, reminding him of Edgar Allen Poe. The only reason he passed was because it was too long in word count for the publication.
    The second rejection letter said it was the biggest yawn-fest he'd ever read (bit in a nice and professional manner).

    Same story. Two different editors. Two vastly different reactions.

  19. #19
    Learning to read more, post less
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    I don't read horror because I expect to be scared. How can something in a novel scare me? Especially when I know it can't possibly happen to me. I read horror because the characters are scared, just like you would be in their place. I care what happens to the characters in horror, just as I care about what happens to the characters in any other genre. Horror is just one more way of revealing the human condition, of teaching us about people. Horror does this extremely well, which is why it most certainly IS taken seriously. It's one of only a couple of genres that crosses all boundaries, and is even accepted by the literary community. It's taken extremely seriously.

    But, come on. I've been shot twice, I've been in situation I should not have lived through, but a horror story is supposed to scare me? No, it isn't. It's supposed to make me afraid for the characters, just as all fiction does, and it's supposed to teach me something about the human condition, just as all good fiction does, but it doesn't scare me.

    If you want to scare me with fiction, it better be like reading the morning news, and it needs to tell me something that not only might happen, but that probably will. Even that isn't going to make me hide in my closet, but it will make me wonder if there's anything I can do about it.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by RedDragoness View Post
    “The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out...The Horror...Terror..”
    I kinda perceive that King leaves a major aspect out of his usual adroit, pithy summary here: 'dread'. No mention of it at all? It's odd for him to overlook such a thing. His buddy Peter Straub talks about 'dread' in 'Floating Dragon'. And it's ..well, I'll stop there. Who am I to chide Stephen King?

    But for a fuller analysis of emotions specifically in cinema audiences, an apt reference book for such theories is this:
    'Films and Feelings' by Raymond Durgnat

    It will tell you a whole bunch of things about what happens in our minds as we absorb imagery.

    Quote Originally Posted by RedDragoness View Post
    I think that one of the reasons why horror so often gets overlooked, or not taken seriously,
    This is a complex question with many answers. In a sense, horror as we know it has only been around since Gothic Romance was invented in the Victorian era. Historically, horror was never part of traditional entertainment. (Really, almost no genre goes back as far as comedy or tragedy. Adventure, sea tales, romances, and war stories might be the only ones which do).

    But horror --the way we generally think of horror-- has no real presence in stage history or opera; the Greek playwrights rarely featured it; it was not part of the oral tradition of Homer or the other epics.

    At a stretch, you might say that there are some horror elements in the folksy Greek myths (such as 'Medusa') but the story structure of all those myths is still that of 'adventure yarn'. This was the situation for centuries, for most of western civilization. Both horror and sci-fi writings made only occasional appearances; they were nothing compared to the popularity of drama, tragedy, and comedy.

    There were phenomenon like the early 'phantasmogoria' in France and the Grand Guignol (also in France). But horror really arrived in England with the onset of leisure reading for the masses in the 1800s; and the decrease of things like armadas and civil wars which used to be in the forefront of daily life.

    It accompanied the increase in abandoned castles, ruins, and empty mansions in the landscape after wars began to occur less frequently. It was concomitant with the rise of modern medicine which placed all that which was 'unclean' (disease-spreading) away from towns and populations. (Yes, every culture has 'ghost stories' and spirituality; but without the rise of the gothic landscape; ghosts were not always associated with 'horror').


    In America, horror was mostly absent for most of our cultural history. Hawthorn and Poe; and then Ambrose Bierce. They were the only names in the forefront, for quite a long time.

    In cinema, despite the career of guys like Tod Browning and the production of iconic horror flicks at Universal (Frankenstein w/ Karloff; Dracula w/ Lugosi) horror & SF movies were always considered embarrassing and unworthy in Hollywood practically all the way up to the 1960s. Actors didn't want to star in such films; it was viewed as a recourse for stars who's careers were failing in some way. That only gradually begin to change.

    And yes, it was Stephen King who did a lot to turn all this around. He really deserves a lot of credit for turning horror into a major commercial entertainment industry. But you could still say that horror belongs to the realm of the sensational, the zone of 'low emotions'; rather than 'higher emotion'. This isn't a diss; just an observation. Horror has always been relegated to a lesser role in the arts; and this wasn't due to any schism or secret conspiracy on the part of society to keep anyone down. As entertainment it simply needed a gestation period to become fully-fledged and popular. Tastes had to change in order for the market to develop. Nothing wrong with that.
    Last edited by dinky_dau; 11-12-2016 at 02:02 AM.

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW Phantasmagoria's Avatar
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    I think King is a master of the genre (though I will admit he's done some ridiculous stuff, and not every risk he takes with storytelling pays off); there are several reasons why his stuff works more often than not, but it works for *me* because of his combination of crafting characters you can really empathize with, and drawing from a well of universal fears. For instance: Pet Sematary is one of my favorite horror novels of all time, and it's because he really distills in writing the fear of death and facing one's mortality. I have to confront my OWN fear of death every time I read that book, because he pulls me in and makes me feel it. Dolores Claiborne has no supernatural elements at all but it's terrifying because of the abusive alcoholic father figure (which is why the older The Shining movie works so well IMHO). And a non-King example- Rosemary's Baby: that works for me because it's a slow-burn suspenseful story about a woman losing control of her body to her husband and the medical establishment, to society at large, during a pregnancy, just as much as it is about the demonic nature of the child she's carrying.

    I mean, obviously some people dig horror where there's no deeper meaning or allegory at work, but for readers like me, that's where the genre is particularly rich and rewarding. Getting to confront our own fears and existential dreads in a controlled, vicarious kind of way through a character's journey...

  22. #22
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I'll echo what others have said; scary is subjective. What scares me might not scare you, and vice versa. I think the people we are, and the life experiences we've had, help shape our fears and that translates to horror fiction, at least to a point (things can always evolve).

    But the diversity of tastes is good, helps to keep things from getting stale.

  23. #23
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin phyrebrat's Avatar
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    In addition to the above points on subjectivity (and that for me, blood and gore is not 'scary') and the sense of creeping dread being germane to good horror, I'd add that a lack of a full explanation really sends a good story into the phenomenal category.

    For example, in M.R James' Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad, the nearest we get to an explanation of the events is that the protagonist - a conceited young scholarly man who does not accept anything beyond the bounds of empirical science - gets his 'faith' tested. He blows a whistle, the entity stalks him. Imagine if there had been a great exposition on the history of the whistle and why blowing it would be ill-advised. Perhaps the story of the owner who cursed it, and why they did; to know it, would diminish its appeal. So many of Lovecraft's stories work in this way, too.

    Danielewski's House of Leaves is deeply chilling in an existential way. It would be half the book if there were an explanation of why the house has unbounded, non-Euclydian physics.

    There's a Stephen King book that gets absolutely hammered with hate called From a Buick 8 but it's one of my favourites of his. The premise is so bizarre, and so unfettered, yet even so, placing it in the mundane day-to-day life of the State Trooper HQ without any explanation (notwithtanding the connections it has to the Low Men and the Dark Tower mythos) lends it a credibility and thereby when you empathise with the characters and what they witness, is truly chilling. Especially when we are used to seeing things come from the car, and towards the end we find out what happens when someone goes in! I can't say it would have the same kick if the physics were explained - in any event it would then become a sci-fi IMO.

    pH
    Last edited by phyrebrat; 03-27-2017 at 06:15 PM. Reason: Terrible typos!

  24. #24
    Heckuva good sport frimble3's Avatar
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    And, everybody's reaction is different: A story about an abusive parent chasing a child with an axe, say. For one survivor of violent abuse, this might be so triggery as to be unreadable; for another, it might lead to an eye-roll, and a "Big deal, my dad used a machete!"
    I do not like gooey gorefests. I can read about vampires and werewolves all day long. Explaining the horror tends to diminish it, but I prefer stories where there's some reason for why the location/victim was chosen, even if it's 'she opened the wrong book' or 'they thought no-one knew of their evil deeds'. Totally random events are somewhat annoying.

  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW kneedeepinthedoomed's Avatar
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    Nobody mentioned the original Alien? Being locked in a metal thing in the middle of space with the perfect sadist killer organism and having to escape by using nothing but your wits and an improvised flame thrower is pretty scary.

    I guess this type of terror thrives on the impossibility to escape from something that could happen, and will probably happen because we saw it happen to others or heard the screams on the radio. A seemingly inevitable domino effect - "you're next".

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