It’s my pleasure to welcome horror connoisseur, Staci Smith to the great jacking. She is the owner of the web site Fear Dance, where her goal is to unite readers with horror writers they may not have ever known. So stand out of your graves and give a great rigor’d round of applause to Ms. Smith.
JW: Horror. It’s a topic very near and dear to my still-beating heart. I was drawn to frights of all kinds at an early age. It was only a natural progression to discover horror literature as an adult. That discovery was thanks to my idol, Clive Barker and his book The Hellbound Heart. Ever since then I haven’t been able to consume enough horror.
But why? Why is it that we love horror so much? I tend to say that horror is the single most cathartic genre in all of literature. To be scared is primal – it connects you to your core, races your heart, reminds you that you are alive and safe. Or it can cut you to the bone and make you wonder just how safe you really are.
It seems, though, that horror is in one of its transitional periods. Thanks to the likes of Twilight, one of our founding monsters has been confiscated and emasculated. Not that I’m really complaining. The idea that a book managed to get so many people reading (people that might not have in the first place) can only be seen in a positive light. But I would like to have our vampires de-hunked, de-sparkled, and de-angst.
Everyone I know who is not a horror lover, asks me this question. Literally, any time I set down a book, get tickets to a haunted house, turn on My Ghost Story, whatever somebody asks me why I love it so much. I personally think their fascination with why we love it so much is a clue as to why we love it so much…. Namely, it’s one of the few things for which you do not need an answer and no answer you give will do. Basically, I think we love horror because it inherently leaves room for questions. Whether you know who the slasher is or where the ghost came from, you will never truly understand why and so you can continue on the quest for the next great read. That also leaves room for ANYTHING to be horror.
For example: I am scared sh*tless of The Cat in the Hat. Let me be clear, I don’t think it’s subversive in some psycho101/hipster sort of way. I think it’s literally and unquestionably scary. There are so many things wrong with it. He can just walk in the kids’ house without asking, destroy all their stuff, there’s no parental guidance, he smiles the entire time, etc. People might think it’s a kids book, but for all intents and purposes it has the same storyline as a 70’s slasher flick (granted, without the bodycount). I find it deeply disturbing. And maybe that is the crux of my argument, horror can be found anywhere, it’s pervasive, and that lack of definition gives it the ability to be a fluid, all-encompassing experience which is very difficult to find with other genres which may be more rigid in their construction.
In the end horror is not so different from anything else except for how it’s willing to own its damage and we all know the first step to enjoying a problem is admitting you have one. Which – to get back to Twilight – is the problem with these new hunked, sparkled, and angst-ridden vampunks emo’ing around today.
JW: Great points! That’s one of the issues I think other genres suffer from – the inability to own its damage. We all know the results of horror – death or worse. But think about the results of, say, YA Paranormal. Let’s stick with Twilight. The results of those books and films are masses of teens thinking it’s cool to get pregnant or that the only thing that matters is having a boyfriend. Of course, I realize there are people out there that could turn the magic mirror around and say “Yes, but horror shows us it’s okay to kill.” No, it doesn’t. A good horror story will make the reader or viewer afraid of the killer – never what that person to be a part of their life. Horror reminds us of the results of doing bad deeds and how fragile life and sanity can be. But in the end, teenage girls still can think it’s cool to hope to have a vampire impregnate them or get caught in the middle of a war between monsters – just because you’re pretty.
And I’m with you on what is scary. Fear can be found in the most mundane of things. But I also assert there is a beauty to be found in fear. That beauty often goes unsaid, but it’s the one unspoken thread that pulls us toward horror — sexuality in the undoing, sensuality in darkness. That fear of the monster or of the unknown draws us in like a lover. Watch Hellrasier and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Although Pinhead is monstrous, there is something sensual in his proclamation “We have such sites to show you.”
But about Twilight, don’t get me wrong… as I’ve said many times, I’m glad kids are reading. Whether its Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or what – if a book gets kids reading, it’s a good thing. My only problem with Twilight is that I don’t want a generation of people thinking that is horror. It isn’t. Twlight (and so many like it) are paranormal romance that just happened to have absconded with one of the single most iconic horror figures – the vampire. But fear not, we horror writers will reclaim the undead beast as our own again and when we do, terror will rain down from all directions.
SS: Tickled pink you brought up the point of sensuality and most specifically Pinhead. Damn sexy that one is. I heard that Clive Barker still gets love letters for Pinhead. Not from me of course, just heard that somewhere. Anyhoo… going down this line of conversation, maybe the real issue with the whole emo vampire thing is that it teaches people that you can change someone. Clearly that’s the case w/ girls. He may be a blood sucking fiend from hell but if you have a baby and let him save you then at some point he’ll just hang up those fangs and settle down. This is dangerous in a psychological real-world sense and it is also the absolute opposite of the vampire and maybe horror in general. A monster may want to consume you and you might think that’s sexy (or the beginnings of a relationship) but in the end he is what he is and you can either enjoy being consumed or, if you’re lucky, join him and become a monster yourself. Basically, someone wanting you heart and soul isn’t really all that sweet, unless you’re the same at the basest of levels. Maybe that’s what horror is, not being able to change an outcome or monster. And sexy is not wanting to change an outcome or monster – even knowing that it can and most probably will lead to a sh*t show.
Thinking about it this way it really makes you appreciate those freaky Victorians and their gothic novels. All about innocence being lead to the darkside and whatnot. That’s what happens when seeing an ankle can cause a riot, people start running around in their nightgowns communing with hot demons. A question for you – when, why, and/or how do you think horror started to morph into the current focus on bloodshed and gag pranks? I know society and tastes change, but wondering if you thought there was a specific turning point and if maybe books like Twilight, as weak as they may be, could be roads back to popularizing gothic horror? (And to be clear I’m not knocking the entire sport of fork-in-the-eyeball fiction, just wondering when it became the more public face of horror.)