Friday, February 10, 2012

Opinion:Is horror in trouble?

I was poking around a few blogs the other day, and I came across one (not naming names) that was decrying the end of horror as we know it. According to this blog writer, thanks to books like Twilight, and TV shows like True Blood or The Walking Dead our monsters are no longer monsters, but sad, soggy glittery reflections of what they once were.

See, the problem with this argument is that A/ you need to believe Twilight is horror, and B/ you're concentrating only on the mainstream.

A version of this argument has actually been raised on this blog before by Tom, and I completely agree with him that Twilight is insipid, boring and uninspiring, and that the "paranormal" phenomena it sparked has been detrimental to our general ability to source horror fiction in our local book store. I also agree with Tom (and the original blog author) that the vampire, in all it's creepy sexual glory, was de-fanged by Stephenie Meyer and the wannabes who followed her lead.

However the original blog author I wanted to discuss took this a step further and basically suggested this was a sign that horror was dead. This is what I contest. They suggested that Stephen King's latest book was "mainstream," that The Walking Dead failed because it stated that the zombies were "people too" and that shows like True Blood are the standard fair for horror cinema and TV now.

I'll start with the Twilight issue. I do have a genuine concern that Twilight has tampered with vampires so much that it will be difficult for young audiences to ever accept them as anything other than glittery heartthrobs. However, Stephenie Meyer isn't writing horror, and neither she, nor her audience, are under any illusions that she is. That's why this paranormal banner was created, because these books take monsters and typical horror elements and romanticise them for teens and 40-something stay at home mums. Is it encroaching on horror's turf? It sure as hell is, several of our nearest book stores are lacking a horror section completely while the paranormal section takes up several aisles. However, I highly doubt our beloved horror writers are about to give up the ghost and start churning out paranormal fiction, nor are the paranormal readers ever going to pick up a horror book, because let's face it, it is not their cup of tea.

So while we're discussing authors, let's get onto the Stephen King thing. Stephen King is a favourite author of mine, and his horror books are hard to beat, but he is not, nor has he ever been, strictly a horror novelist. Every short story book I've read of his has been a collection of horror, science fiction, fantasy and general fiction. The Green Mile and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption are phenomenal tales, but horror they ain't. The Gunslinger is one of the most prolific series in existence, and it ain't horror either. Sure he's best known for his horror, and he doesn't hide the fact that he delights in horror (and hates Twilight yippeee!) but that doesn't mean that his release of a thriller is proof that horror fiction is in it's death spiral.

Onto The Walking Dead. Now, I haven't seen the latest series, and I never finished the graphic novels because, personally, I never thought they were that great. However, I've just spent the past year learning everything there is to know about zombies and film and literature (and am about to launch into a Phd in the subject) and I can assure you the whole OMFG THEY'RE JUST LIKE US bit is crucial to the success of the zombie. The basic fear of zombies is very similar to the sci-fi fear of robots taking over, it relies heavily on the uncanny valley and the connection we share. If they were simply zombie cats or lions or even dinosaurs, no one would give a shit. But your dear old granny, the one who baked you pies and sang to you every night, coming back and trying to tear your flesh from your bones? TERRIFYING! Films have begun to take this a little too far (see: Warm Bodies) and are destroying the subtle complexity of the relationship between zombie and human, but it's a concept that has always been around. It was present in the zombie films of the 1920s and 1930s, and Romero (i.e. The Grandfather/Godfather of zombies) had characters often stating things like "they're us," and who could forget the end credits scene in Night of the Living Dead?

Finally, True Blood. I watched the first two seasons and it was enjoyable enough, but I got a little bored of the whole thing myself. However, once again, I don't think anyone is suggesting it's a horror TV show. Horror themes, yes, horror genre, no. This isn't new, TV, film and literature has been borrowing from horror's playpen of monsters and creating comedies, dramas or romances for decades. Popular though this style may be right now, there are also countless bone-chilling, stomach-churning, heart-racing films, books and TV shows being released right now. TV is a difficult one, but I've heard good things about American Horror Story (how much horror it contains I'm not sure), and shows like Dead Set show that it can be done. As for film, sure they may not be playing at your generic cinema multi-plex, but there are horror films being released every week that will scare the pants off cinema-goers. Martyrs, The Woman, Insidious, Trollhunter, Paranormal Activity, and Helldriver are all films I've seen recently that I enjoyed the crap out of. Meanwhile, new authors like John Ajvide Lindqvist are hitting home runs over and over with their phenomenal new takes on the horror genre. If anything, there seems to be an increase of horror available, perhaps thanks to the rise of cheap video recorders and YouTube.

Monsters have never belonged purely to the realm of horror, they frequent fantasy, science fiction and now "paranormal" and romance. Books like Twilight may have pushed horror further into the outskirts, but let's be honest, horror is used to that location. It has surged forth and become more prominent and popular from time to time, but the best horror has always been made in the shadow of the mainstream. In a place where film-makers, authors and artists have the freedom to manipulate, torment and twist their work into creation. For every Twilight made, there is also a Daybreakers. For every Warm Bodies, there is a Helldriver and a REC. For every bizarre desire to remake Evil Dead, or Carrie there are countless original films coming into existence. It's all a matter of knowing where to look, and loving horror enough to search. Also, maybe (just maybe) we should start telling our book stores how much we hate that they no longer have a horror section. Maybe if we start showing outward enthusiasm for the genre, the businesses will respond by supplying to our demand.


  1. You're right, this argument doesn't stack up - horror probably cycles on and out the mainstream, but in terms of fiction it always does well in the small presses.

    Some people also seem to think that:
    supernatural = horror
    but that's wrong as feckin' Twilight proves.

  2. Exactly, people seem to have trouble distinguishing horror themes or tropes from the horror genre. No one, anywhere in the world, actually thinks Twilight is horror. At least, I hope to God no one does!

  3. I do find it 'horrific' in a sense though..!