Today's chapter of Adventures in Cluelessness finds our hero, the erstwhile newby author penning his first horror novel without exactly understanding what 'horror' is. For your edification, I refer you to Nature's Way. As noted elsewhere, this one more or less wrote itself while I watched helplessly as a spectator - but that's a story for another day. What's relevant to this topic is that at the time my understanding of horror was more or less limited to cheesy undead flicks and chainsaw epics. As you might surmise, horror is not one of my favorite subject matters. So I was both surprised and disturbed by what was flowing out of me onto the computer. It was only later, at one of the many fine writers' workshops at Windycon, that I learned the facts and began to appreciate the potential for this much maligned genre.
So what is horror? To paraphrase V. I. Lenin, "The purpose of horror is to horrify". Horror can be described as any work which evokes strong negative reactions - fear, revulsion, hate, disgust - in the audience. In essence, horror is the conceptual opposite or humor or romance. "The purpose of horror is to horrify". Like any literary form, horror can be subdivided into 'high' and 'low' concept: deep psychological terror on the one hand vs wallowing in blood on the other. Unfortunately, since the major outlets for horror - movies and mass market paperbacks - have reduced the form to its lowest common denominator to appeal to the broadest possible market, horror has become something of a trash genre.
Horror has been stereotyped into broad themes over the years - Frankenstein and the Wolf Man in the 30s, giant bugs in the 50s, the mad slasher/chainsaw epics of the 80s and the endless zombie plague of today. Sad to say, as spinoff follows sequel follows ripoff, the mental constriction this produces has forced the wordsmiths to delve ever deeper into shock value - blood and gore - to make the same weary retreads seem new. (This is why, for example. aliens in sci fi movies are always slimy and drooling - goo is another form of gore.)
It is all too easy to turn up ones nose at the thought of penning yet another stereotyped epic which this poor, beleagured genre does not need. However, because Hollywood and the hack wordsmiths have bastardized the genre so thoroughly, there is plenty of room for the discerning author to mine fresh chills even from what, on the surface, looks like an unpromising field. In this regard, such varied works as "Titanic', 'Fail Safe', and 'The Terminator' - all of which evoke a relentless, unstoppable doom approaching - may be considered horror. Any author who can't come up with chills and screams from historical events, modern geopolitics or technology projections - without explosions and wallowing in ichor - should hang up his keyboard.
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