Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Noun horror (plural horrors)
1. An intense painful emotion of fear or repugnance.
2. An intense dislike or aversion; an abhorrence.
3. A literary genre, generally of a gothic character.
4. (The horrors, informal) An intense anxiety or a nervous depression.
Horror Fiction Encyclopedic entry
FROM PEOPLE WHO KNOW
For me a horror film or horror novel involves fear, terror, and boundless fascination with some force that is unseen and difficult to define. Almost always, good horror novels and films have to do with the supernatural and the way that it menaces human beings, or works in their lives in mysterious ways. But not always. The remake of The Thing was an excellent horror movie and the source of the horror was an alien who could enter into and take over human form.
---- ANNE O’BRIEN RICE Amongst the finest Horror authors, and writers ever
Merriam Webster gives the following as the primary definition of horror:
Horror: noun. painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay.
While it's certainly all that, I've got a bit of a different take.
If you want to see ice hockey being played, you may trudge to the Nassau Coliseum (if you're an Islanders fan), or Madison Square Garden (for the arch-rival Rangers), to take in the game. At the arena, you'll see fast play. Passing and shooting. Scoring, on most nights. You'll see fans rise to their feet, emotions unchecked, when the home team hits the twine. You may see the crowd agonize if a favorite player or superstar goes down with an injury. You'll see collective tension as a member of the opposing team races in on a breakaway, and a collective sigh of relief if the goal tender makes a save and the puck squirts harmlessly away.
What does this have to do with horror? Go back to the Merriam Webster folks' summation.
Figured out my take?
Horror is the arena. Horror is Maple Leaf Gardens or the old Spectrum in Philadelphia. Horror is where you, as the creator or as the visitor, choose to go to attend the thrill-ride. Like buying tickets to a hockey game. Or like strapping on the blades and the helmet if you're fortunate enough to be on the proactive side of the equation.
When I write, I'm lacing up. I'm taping my stick and sharpening my skates and heading out to the ice to do my thing. And, my thing will be, in part, to bring the pain. To make the fans in the seats uncomfortable. To cause them to hold their collective breath as the bad guy threatens to lower the boom, before, perhaps, letting the goal tender bat away the shot.
Or perhaps letting it tear off his hand...glove and all.
Horror encompasses everything we have in the emotional toolbox of human existence. It's not just the painful and obscene and terrifying. It's the quiet dread, like a fan might feel before facing a favored opponent whose team leads the league and has all sorts of weapons on offense. It's the very rafters of the building. It's the seats upon which we spend all that time on the edge. Horror is all the negatives of our existence, put into black and white and stuffed down our throats, no different than the box scores in the paper the morning after a true whippin' at the hands of another team. Horror is the inescapable. You're there, in the building, trapped in your seat, or mucking about in the corners looking for a shift change. It can be exhilarating, it can be nerve-wracking, it can be heart-stopping. It does not have to be bloody...but sometimes it is. It doesn't have to be violent...but sometimes it is. It doesn't need to stay with you...but when it's good it does, following you around like the lingering afterimage burned into your retinas of a pass taken in full stride and fired into the net in the blink of an eye. Something you stop, examine well after its occurred, and can still find awe-inspiring, or blood-chilling.
Horror is our arena for taking people on the joyride. For others, the arena may be comedy or drama. For those of us who live and breathe the darkness; who seek to mold the unseen and unthinkable into our tools of the trade, horror brings us all together, tears aside our defenses and sends the lowest-common-denominator of our fears hurtling at us on an end-to-end rush.
That it breaks the rules, or occasionally locks the EXIT doors and pins us to our seats as the rafters threaten to crumble in upon us, is just part of the price of admission.
--- JOE MONKS Horror author, and Director
Horror is a feeling. People often want to define horror as the thing that CAUSES that feeling, but that's too vague. The causes for horror are too subjective. What horrifies me may not affect you the same way. Horror is personal.
It's more than simple fear. It's shock. It's revulsion. It's primal. It's so strong that we crave it until we actually experience it. Then we want to get as far away from it as humanly possible.
--- MICHAEL MAY writer and blogger
Like all genres, horror's main function is as a marketing tool: it lets book publishers and movie producers tell you succinctly, through the use of a universally recognised code, what sort of story you'll get if you buy a particular book or see a particular movie. It helps consumers to avoid the wrong kind of narrative surprise - the kind you'd get, say, if you were all keyed up for blood and gore and you found yourself reading a Mills & Boon novel.
Once you get into the specifics of the code, of course, you find that it's more subtle and variegated than you might expect. Horror narratives are distinguished by being - at least potentially - frightening or shocking or disturbing, but within that there are supernatural narratives, there's slasher fiction, there's the sort of cosmic horror of Lovecraft, genre fusions like urban fantasy, and monster movies that (at one extreme )may intentionally be far more cheesy than scary. there's no one, universal thing that both binds these stories together and separates them absolutely from other stories. It becomes a question of weighting and emphasis. Maybe you can still get away with saying that horror tells stories about things that are now or were once thought to be frightening: or maybe you should look at the narrative purpose of horror instead.
Brian Boyd's book "On the Origin of Stories" discusses the possibility that all narratives confer adaptive advantage - that they evolved because they're useful to our development ad our survival. If that's so, then one thing they do is certainly to allow us to test our responses to situations we've never encountered, so that arguably if we *do* then encounter them we don't freeze up from the sheer strangeness of the sensory input. Horror would be an extreme example of that process: it pre-adapts us to the most hideous and appalling events, toughening us mentally and emotionally.
Or maybe it's just fun to get pants-wettingly scared when there's nothing really at stake for us...
--- MIKE CAREY Writer of Hellblazer, Lucifer and far far more.
TWO HORROR AUTHORS in print have said
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. --- H.P. Lovecraft * Supernatural horror in Literature (1927)
Fear is an emotion that makes us blind. How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unpluggin' it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion that makes us blind, the emotion that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.
--- Stephen King, Night Shift, foreword (1978)
And lastly Me
Horror is what humans do to each other, like war, terrorism, racism, and violence.