What is horror?

Like you don’t know.

Which is why a lot of us horror fans are a bit frustrated these days. See, horror ain’t horror no mo’. It’s diluted, become something else: deep sociopoliticalanthropological ambiguities resting on atavistic urges deep within super-id-and-conscience alienations; lots of made-up monsters no one ever heard of, or campy takes on new ones; rot and smell and body fluids and vomiting and ooze and S&M. That’s supposed to be scary.

It’s not. It’s annoying. Or disgusting. Doesn’t raise a single chill.

The last horror story I read that actually made me turn on the lights and look out the window was F. Paul Wilson’s Nightworld. Nothing much since, although Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs elicited similar responses (that Harris guy can spin a phrase or two). Now, admittedly, I may have missed some recent good ‘uns, what with the death of libraries and book shops, but most everything I’ve seen lately falls within the atavistic urge/disgusting category. It’s like horror writers have forgotten what’s scary.

Let’s remind them.

Definition first: “A painful and intense fear,” according to Merriam’s, which I think an exquisite way of putting it. Problem is, that applies to a whole bunch of other things, like the government and traffic and American Idol, none of which is actually Horror (although you can make a case for Idol). Those things evoke only a sense of horror, which ain’t the same thing at all. There’s remedies: you can vote differently, avoid driving in DC (recommended), or watching Idol (highly recommended).

Horror, itself, has no remedies.

Real horror occurs in the moments prior to the liberal spreading of body fluids, the fangs sinking in necks, and the zombie feeding frenzy. Something approaches through the misty woods, there’s a footstep on the stairs, a coffin creaks open—that’s when you lose bladder control, your knees give out, and you sink helplessly to the ground. Please God, no, this isn’t happening, this can’t be real, this is a joke, I’m asleep so wake up! WAKE UP!…right there, at that moment of denial, in the grips of an unfulfilled hope: horror.

One of the scariest moments I ever read was in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine: Lavinia, terrified, finally gets inside her house and locks the door and she’s safe, safe. Whew. Then, behind her, a man clears his throat…

Painful and intense fear.

Let’s see more of that.

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One Response to What is horror?

  1. Cat Connor says:

    I look forward to be horrified. 🙂