A different kind of horror

Every few hours or so, somebody will talk about how horror as a genre is dead.  You don’t see it in bookstores anymore, nobody’s buying it, blah, blah, blah… Whenever I hear this I like to say something that sums up the argument nicely, “You’re right.  Horror is dead, provided you ignore all the ways it isn’t.”

The problem, as far as I see it, is the word.  Horror.  Look at it a second.  It’s not a genre; it’s an emotion.  It’s something you feel deep in your gut.  In the eighties, somebody got the bright idea to slap the word on bookspines (usually in dripping, bloody letters) and suddenly we had a horror genre. 

Nowadays, publishers don’t use those dripping letters, so people think the genre is dead.  Forget that books like The Road are getting critical acclaim and dominating the best seller lists.  Who cares if it’s a horrific post-apocalyptic tale brimming with terrifying scenarios.  It doesn’t have those dripping letters or a werewolf on the cover, so it doesn’t count.

Look, I’m not trying to blow smoke about how horror should be art or anything like that.  I’m just saying that if anything’s going to kill horror, it’s the constant attempts to pigeonhole it.  It doesn’t need to fit into a tiny mold for easy consumption.  You can find it everywhere.  All you have to do is open your eyes and look around a little.  You might find it in some unexpected places.

Here’s an example: this past weekend I rented the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Now, this drama about a dance contest during the Great Depression isn’t just a look at a time when winning $1500 from a dance marathon was seen as the answer to everybody’s problems.  It’s also a terrifying look at human nature and the lengths we’ll go to in order to entertain and be entertained.  Watching it, you can see where Stephen King got the idea for The Long Walk.  I had trouble finishing the movie, because it really is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen.

So what about you?  What are some of things you consider horror that others might not?  No, American Idol doesn’t count.  I want to know, so chime in.

4 thoughts on “A different kind of horror

  1. Hell, I was beginning to think nobody else had ever seen that movie.
    I’m old and saw it as a teen. I need to watch it again.

  2. Seriously? Drug abuse. Like from a first person, psychological terror point of view. It’s the idea that something as simple and small as a pill or packet of powder can conquer your life, can turn you into a bad person that’s willing to do bad things, to yourself and to your loved ones and to complete strangers, and that this stuff is fairly common and easy to find; it scares the shit out of me. You ever have someone you know get into drugs? Watching them change slowly, over years, into a stranger, someone you fear, it’s a glacial kind of horror.

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