Monday, October 31, 2011

Three Flavors of Horror

Well, pickles, Halloween is here at last. What to do, what to say? I'm not dressed suitably for a human sacrifice and people keep saying I'm too old to trick-or-treat, so it's back to the ol' blog. Today is the last day of the celebrated Coffin Hop. I've met a bunch of wonderful authors (and their wonderful stories) along the way. Hopefully you have too. If you haven't, it's not too late. (And see the details of my contest below).

I know we should all be halfway to a sugar overdose by now, but before it gets too close to the witching hour (especially since I, in my infinite insanity, am doing NaNoWriMo this year) I want to take a moment to discuss my favorite flavors of horror.

Now some of you might be thinking, "How can horror have flavors? Horror is just horror; it isn't ice cream." That's where you're wrong, pickles (presuming that you were in fact thinking that). Horror IS like ice cream. It isn't just one giant all-consuming umbrella. It comes in flavors. Sit down to watch Psycho, The Company of Wolves and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and you're in for three very different viewing experiences. And yet, all three of these movies are classified as horror.

Before we get started, allow me to explain what I mean by horror. Funnily enough, if you were to ask three different people to define horror, you would probably get three different answers. At it's most basic, it can be defined by "that which frightens us." But fear, like love, is very subjective. Different people are frightened by different things. With this subjectivity in mind, I'm going to define horror as "that which can frighten its audience, regardless of age or genre, by exploring a dark idea." And now my three favorite flavors.

1. The Spooky Supernatural: In short, ghosts. I love ghost stories. Henry James's The Turn of the Screw is one of my favorite books, and the blueprint for how to write a truly ambiguous, psychologically agonizing ghost story. Suggestion, subtlety, and the mysteries of life and death are all at play here. They say the best horror tales are those in which the supernatural elements can be read literally and as a metaphor for real life horrors. Most people believe in ghosts to a certain extent (even if they think they don't), because everyone is haunted by the inevitabilty and omnipresence of death. To live is to accept the fact that we all die and that's what lies at the heart of ghost stories.

2. The Grim Reality: That which, unfortunately, can and does happen. At a very early age, I developed a morbid interest in true crime that continues to this day. As a kid, I used to stay up late to watch Investigative Reports with Bill Curtis on A&E. Once, when talking about the Zodiac killer (who I became acquainted with at the ripe old age of nine), I almost slipped and called him "my favorite serial killer." All I meant was that it's the case I find most interesting, but favorite was the only word that came to mind. I'm not the only one. Shows, movies and books about serial killers, both real and fictional, keep popping up like whack-a-moles on the boardwalk. Clearly, there's a demand. My only explanation for this is that this very real horror scares us so much we can't help but to desire to understand it. If we surround ourselves with it, we think we can protect ourselves against it.

3. The Childhood Nightmare: This is my favorite. If you were to ask me which movie scared me the most as a child, I would have to say Pinocchio. Disney's Pinocchio. It was a toss-up for awhile between Pinocchio and Dumbo, but in the end, I have to give it to Pinoke. I forget when I saw it the first time, but I was very young (five or six). I remember seeing the donkey transformation scene on the big screen. At the moment when Lampwick's hands turn into hooves, I was sure I was going to die. It wasn't make believe; it was really happening. Didn't anybody else hear him screaming? Not long after, I received a VHS of Pinocchio as a present. I put it in the attic without even taking the plastic off. Such was my fear of this movie. I'm 24now and I've seen a bunch of horror movies. The Exorcist didn't keep me up at night and I fell asleep during The Ring, but that scene still disturbs me. I own Pinocchio on DVD and it's one I watch a lot, but I usually mute it for those few awful minutes. It feels real to me. A lot of people have a movie like Pinocchio in their past. I know the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang did a number on a lot of kids. These scenes and characters harken back to the idea of the Boogeyman or the perennial monster in the closet, a fear that hits us in childhood and has the ability to render us children whenever it strikes, no matter how old we are. Pinocchio is not technically a horror movie, but it's relentlessly dark. None of the villains are captured; they're merely escaped. None of the donkeys turn back into boys. Hearing Lampwick call for his mother to no avail hits home every time I watch it and makes me feel like a kid again. Scary business, indeed.

Here is the scene if you're feeling brave.

Well, pickles, there's a Halloween feast for you. What kind of horror, if any, pushes your buttons? What childhood film scarred you for life? Leave it in the comments. Tomorrow I'm going to put the names of all Coffin Hop commenters into a hat and those three will get copies of Dark Moon Digest Presents Ghosts!, which coincidentally has a story by me in it. Happy Halloween and Happy Hopping to you Coffin Hoppers!


  1. I like your categories here! It's true, there are so many different varieties of horror. I did a post a while back about different horror genres, but there are so many and they can blend together. My favorite horror involves the supernatural. I don't think there was ever a kiddie movie that freaked me out... but I do remember being freaked out by the crypt keeper in Tales from the Crypt. I had nightmares about that guy popping up on every TV in the house and being unable to turn it off.

  2. Nightmare on Elm Street. The first one. Freddy was practically unseen in that movie, and it was more psychologically thrilling than gory. The fact that the kids were all fighting against not the killer, but his vehicle to them (sleep) and that it was a physical inevitability... THAT was a scary movie for me!