With Halloween fast approaching, I thought I would write something about horror writing.
Since my earliest memories of television, possibly as early as age 4, I have been enamored with horror in its many forms. I couldn’t get enough of the wolfman, or vampires, zombies, mummies, or any other monster. There was something about these terrifying creatures and people that appealed to my young mind, opening vistas of horror within my imagination. But, why? Why was a presumably normal child drawn to this dark side of the world? What is it about horror that so many people love and choose over the brighter and happier material out there? I’m surely not alone. Many of my friends would rather watch a monster ripping through a hapless crowd rather than the next popular, hum drum romantic comedy.
Why is horror so appealing? The typical answer is that being afraid makes us appreciate being alive, and gives us a safe way to observe death, and therefore internalize that understanding in some way to allow us to cope with the end of our existence.
I’m not convinced this is true. I don’t get afraid. I have no phobias (unless being bored counts). When I watch a really good horror movie, it isn’t the fear it induces that I crave. It goes beyond that. And, perhaps it is a telling thing about my own psyche. My own personal opinion is that it is about control, or in this case, the lack of it.
Yes, death frightens us. But, why? Because we have little to no control over it. It controls us. We know not the day or hour, to borrow a phrase. In fact, religion attempts to provide us with a modicum of “control” over death, giving us a more preferable outcome to a dark nothingness: an afterlife.
Watching something like John Carpenter’s Halloween is a great example of people becoming the victim’s of their loss of control. Michael Meyer’s is not merely a psychotic killer escaped from an sanitarium. That’s what he appears to be at first. But, he quickly becomes a faceless, unstoppable force that refuses to die. He is a horror convention I like to call a “juggernaut,” an unstoppable entity, often faceless, that steamrolls over the victims in its way. Does this sound familiar? It should, because it is a direct metaphor for death, or sickness; an indiscriminate killer.
The same can be said for movies with large monsters destroying cities like Godzilla, or even movies about natural disasters.
Look at any good horror tale and you will often find it is about the protagonist’s loss of control, and usually their death. This helps to explain why the audience will even root for the killer or monster. Because they are in COMPLETE CONTROL. We naturally want our protagonists to succeed. This is why we read to begin with. We love heroes we can relate to, seeing them conquer their obstacles, because we want to be able to do the same in our own lives. So, in a horror movie, we root for the character that is capable of succeeding.
As far as your writing, keep this concept in mind as you craft your horror tale. This is just one of many themes you can use to create a layered and complex tale.
Until next time, write on.