Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

So, now that normalcy is back, I can address the second part of my blog post I started way back here on the Horror genre.

Funny, that word “normalcy”. See, that’s where real horror rears its ugly head. When blessed normalcy is destroyed, it opens tiny breaches in the walls of our lives that let the horrors in. Anyone can tell a gross-out story that’s more like a wrecking ball smashing into the house–yes, it hurts, but unless you’re blind, you can see it coming (and if you are blind, you can probably hear it coming). REAL horror is slow, the cracks in the foundation where water seeps in and undermines the wall that will bring it down without warning. We’re left picking through the pieces, trying to make sense of what happened and not being able to reassemble even a fraction to recreate the life as it was “before” the horror.

Some post-apoc stories address this in a way that embraces Horror – a future of no-holds-barred version of humanity, where civilization and the things we take for granted are memories. Only those willing and able to exert force against others stand a chance for survival, and even then it’s the slimmest line between who wears the white hat, and who wears the black. Anarchy descends, confrontations become brutal and bloody over the dwindling resources. The lucky ones die first.

There’s another kind of aspect with that concept of “normalcy” that has a very odd highlighting event: Chernobyl. While I grew up with it in the news from half a globe away, others faced it as their horrifying reality. Chernobyl still sits among the world’s concerns after decades, not just because of the extensive political corruption, cover-ups, incompetency and lies. No, the real horror ran a lot deeper, faced by those who responded to the disaster and those who lived in what is now known as the “Exclusion Zone”.

For the first responders, they were just doing their jobs, putting out the fires caused by the explosion, all the while being assaulted by a ghost – incapable of being seen, being heard, being felt – that had very real teeth. The bodies of these men began to betray them with that insidious poison, robbing these strong men of their ability, their dignity, even the comfort of human touch, exchanging it all for intense pain and suffering only death can remove it. THAT is horror.

And the normalcy of the people who lived around there, who may or may not have known about the explosion that rendered the countryside unlivable. Those in Pripyat were forced to leave, and leave everything behind, being reassured that they would return in a little while. Others, the people who only knew their farms and patches of land found themselves approached by the soldiers either ripping them from their homes, unable to even take their pets (to be razed, hauled away and buried, with literally nothing but the underlayer of dirt left behind. I will not mention what happened to the pets.) or who warned them of that invisible threat. They couldn’t understand why they couldn’t drink their cow’s milk, eat their hens’ eggs, or the potatoes grown in their gardens. A scientific concept becomes a beast, a vampire that drains the blood of normalcy from a people innocent of any involvement in its cause.

HBO’s Chernobyl has gotten incredibly high ratings for its depiction of the events surrounding the disaster, and while it wasn’t a “horror” show (like that horrid other movie that tried to capitalize on the creepiness of an entirely empty city) it captured that helplessness in the face of such a threat, as innocent people paid for the sins of their government’s corruption and lies. Wolves, politicians, soldiers – all these things the people could see coming, but the threat of radiation… Few armors could keep such a beast at bay, and no weapon – except time – can remove its threat.

THAT is real horror.

In preparation for a project I have been wanting to write, I have delved into good articles and books on the subject of Horror. As in, “what makes horror ‘horror’?” Obviously, there’s a lot of debate on the subject, and elements that some say are absolutely integral to some aren’t even mentioned by others. But horror isn’t all subjective.

What I found was 1) on a personal level, it’s easy to find something horrifying but difficult to quantify why, and 2) we all have different fears so that fear we tap into for our writing may not be shared by another (think “public speaking”).

The only way I was going to write anything meaningful on the subject would be to relate it to myself. What do I fear and how can I make that palpable? These are aspects, not one defining element of Horror, but when taken as a whole comprise a terrifying situation. I’ll be going over a few different aspects over several posts, so welcome, and enjoy the ride.

Utter helplessness.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that we’ve all experienced utter helplessness at some point in our lives, either over our own selves or for others. You hear it all the time from parents when their children are sick or dying, “I felt so helpless.” There are people whose entire lives are there to help others: think first responders, military, doctors, etc. When faced with a situation where none of the skills or tools that they can employ will do a damn thing… that kind of dread of utter helplessness. In horror when you set the “monster” up as being impervious to the tools and weapons we have, give it a desire to keep going, to not stop, to churn up everything in its path and nothing has any effect on it… Horror. Yup.

Normalcy Eroded.

Every one of us has an expectation of normalcy in our lives, be it a routine, the people we encounter. But what would happen if that gentle little old man passed you with a smile, and that grin was filled with shiny black pointed teeth. Or the attractive soccer mom who leans closer to you and whispers, “Privileged one, the prince of darkness will fill your womb.” You might question your own sanity – did you see what you really thought you saw? Hear what you thought heard? And when you ask the soccer mom what she said she denies she said anything at all? Those moments of unsettling encounters, very brief, almost dismissible by you and rationalization by some third party you trust over what you REALLY saw or heard… until it’s too late, of course, and instead of little hints of it here and there, a full-blown invasion of the supernatural and normalcy-killers spilling over into our world.

Smallness.

This ties in somewhat with the utter helplessness as above, as it describes that sense of the “what can one person do?” mentality. H. P. Lovecraft’s works sometimes hit on the idea that man senses his miniscule existence in the vastness of space, which crushes him into death or insanity.

Unknown-Unknowable.

Another realm belonging to Lovecraftian fiction, the fear of the unknown, and encounters with the unknowable result in much the same – insanity and/or death. Brushes with alien, supernatural, looking into forbidden books of knowledge. This is really what makes a horror story that much better, when the entity causing all the chaos remains an unknown quantity. When you give it a face, it tends to go to the side of unintentional humor (Freddy Krueger and Chucky come to mind. I never thought they were all that scary to begin with, and over the decades they look more and more ridiculous. I did have a lot of fun watching them at sleepovers and laughing my head off). Keep something totally in the dark all the time, and you keep it in the realm of the psychological. Not so easy to walk away from that horror.

Lovecraft Horror

Oh, there’s so much more to go on this, and I will continue next week. Until then, is there anything you have discovered to be an essential element of horror?