Why horror?

I don’t know about you, but I know there are people who assume that just because people like us like horror films and books that we must necessarily be sick people. That we somehow revel in the suffering of others, that we LIKE to see people on screen or on the page being knifed/dismembered/torn apart in a shower of blood. They question what sort of ‘thrill’ it is that we get out of that kind of ‘entertainment’ – if even they consider it entertainment at all. There are even some, no doubt, who would dearly love to see such things removed entirely from this world.

Well, I have news for those detractors – this world in general, and humanity in particular, is capable of far worse than anything a writer sitting at a computer would ever be able to think up. Just look back through history, and it won’t be too long before you’d come across numerous examples of horrendous cruelty and barbarity, perpetrated by homo sapiens upon their fellow homo sapiens. Take the Inquisition, for instance. If those torturers were around today, we’d call them psychopaths and murderers – and more to the point, they’d be practising their destructive ‘art’, not hypothetically on paper, but on real people. And, it appears, not think twice about what they were doing.

We have, apparently, become more civilised since those days, but people still kill each other, in every city, on every continent, every day. I get tired of reading in the newspaper about the constant round of death and destruction, the intolerance, hatred, belligerence and stupidity of mankind. Also, it seems that a large proportion of our society has sunk into a species of senile vacuity at best, where the things that are worth celebrating have now been marginalised as being irrelevant and that instead puerility is being touted as the new virtue. Plus there’s the horror of the everyday: anti-social behaviour, lack of respect for others, social maladjustment, paedophilia, racism and religious fundamentalism (of ALL varieties, NOT just Islamic). If I didn’t have those avenues of writing, or reading, or being able to watch a film, then all this would, inevitably, get on top of me. I see it as a necessary safety valve , especially if I’m reading others’ stories or watching some gory film.

I detest violence of any sort, but I do still feel anger, and if I bottle it up for too long, I feel that pressure building, and pressure will always seek an outlet. I think, in hindsight, that this kind of anger, and the pressure it inevitably engendered, contributed in large part to the stroke I had thirteen and a half years ago. Yes, I had my painting as an outlet back then, when I was seriously pursuing a career in art, and they tended to reflect to a very large extent the bottled up fury and disgust I felt (the colours I predominantly used were black and blood red – VERY angry). Painting no longer does it for me, however, mostly because I find the fiddly rigmarole of setting things up (plus the actual process of painting) to be such an almighty pain in the rear.

That vexed state of mind is best expressed through the medium of horror, or at least I think so. There are times when I wish I was a musician, but I have zero facility and talent in that direction. I could continue with the art, I suppose, but until I can get a permanent studio and set-up, then it’s a no-go for the reason cited above. So, I am left with the writing, and at least I know I have a modicum of talent with words.

And THAT’S why I write mostly horror – it’s a good platform on which to get out all those urges to go out and commit mayhem, and it’s legal too. So next time someone asks YOU why you write/read/watch horror, as them this: “What would YOU rather me do? Go out and kill someone, depriving a family of their mother/father/daughter/son/sister/brother? OR writing an entirely fictitious story about it, harming no-one?”

(I would also love to know why YOU write/read/horror – could be an interesting exercise in where people find their motivation to lean towards the macabre and blood-soaked…. please leave a comment here!!)

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10 Responses to “Why horror?”

  1. Nice one, Simon.

    Why do I write horror? Because I enjoy it. I love the thrill of being scared (just as I love fairground rides), I love seeing around the corner at the nasty things that lurk there, whilst always knowing that it’s not real (show me real-life stuff and I’ll walk away). The genre does get a bad rep, without question, because there’s a lot of pap generated within it. The problem is, you get pap in any genre but with horror, it’s always easy to go for the gross-out/boobs-out/misogynistic swipe and people are offended by it. Hell, most of the the time, I’m offended by it.

    Then, of course, there’s the stupidity but really, if you get offended by a poorly designed man-in-a-suit alien, then you really need to get a life. Certainly – as I was this past weekend – be annoyed that you’d wasted your time on the trash, but be offended by it? A lot of the time, those stupid films are like the kid brother/sister/cousin at family parties – they make you laugh, because they’re idiots and it’s reassuring to know that they won’t be coming home with you.

    But it’s my genre, it’s where I’ve chosen to reside. For a writer, you won’t find a richer seam – we can write about familial breakdown, we can write about a zombie apocalyse and often in the same piece – where else could you do that? We can examine things that are unpleasant to us, that scare us and coat them in tropes that take the edge off but still allow us to follow the ideas.

    There’s also the fact that, as someone much more famous than me once said, “what makes you think I have the choice [of writing horror]?”.

    Last night, for my VideoVista reviewing duties, I got to watched “Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue” for the first time and it’s a beautiful film, truly wonderous. Take the zombies and gore out and it’d still be a great film, but it wouldn’t have been made would it?

    To defer to the great Cronenberg – “Long live The New Flesh!”

    • It’s that spectrum of response and motivations that fascinates me… in addition to what I wrote above, I also have a fair few inner frustrations that need to be addressed and so, rather than take them out on myself, I write about them (for instance, my latest is about the ingratitude of a son toward his father and the consequences arising therefrom)… it helps to exorcise all these negativities, and in a creative manner…

  2. Thana Niveau Says:

    I didn’t ask to feel at home with horror any more than I asked to like the food or music I like. When I was a kid I had lots of nightmares and I was a timid, skittish little creature. Horror gave me an outlet for all that pent-up angst. It was a way to channel all that fear into something fun. For me it’s always been a way of exorcising my inner demons and if I could take a pill to make my love of horror go away and be “normal” I wouldn’t even consider it. It’s more than something I read, watch or write. It’s more than just a part of who I am. It’s a part of WHAT I am.

  3. Carol Weekes Says:

    I love writing horror because, not only is it exciting/thrilling, but it also allows you to look at the world through the fresh eyes that a child does again – to see everything in full detail, with the starkness and reality that are actually out there. Horror fiction, be it the reading or writing of it allows (me anyway) to explore my thoughts and feelings on many different levels and topics. Horror is an integral part of life; it is an intense emotion that all of us feel at one time or another. And there’s the fun part of Horror, as others here have already stated. Reading or writing a good piece of horror is akin to stepping into the roller coaster, feeling your gut muscles tighten as the coaster grips the track and ascends, feeling that scream working its way towards your mouth as you reach the peak of tension, and letting that scream rip as you take the plunge.

    Anyone who tries to accuse the Horror writer or reader of being ‘sick’ must lead a monotonous life, a life where they’ve never felt the urge to do a bungee jump, have never felt the inevitable ‘pull’ to peek over the edge of a steep precipice, have never wondered what waits around that dim corner (and the delicious kind of thrill IN that kind of wondering). They are stunted, and frankly, hypocritical because they’re closing themselves off to the reality of life. Everything has an opposite; in order to know joy, one must also know horror or despair; in order to know light, one must acknowledge darkness, etc., etc. etc.

    I think Horror writers are some of the nicest, kindest, most healthy and well-adjusted people I have ever known and met, and it is an honour to count myself among them.

    I write Horror because it is fun, real, intense, honest, deeply analytical, emotional, thrilling, and I couldn’t imagine life without it. That’s about it.

    And I really enjoy your columns, Simon!

    • Thanks for the comment and the compliments, Carol – they’re greatly appreciated!! It’s intensely gratifying to know that people are responding to what I post here… 🙂

  4. I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately, mainly because I didn’t choose to write horror, it just turned out to be part of my job and I found it an interesting challenge. As it turned out, people found the stories interesting too. I still enjoy writing the odd horror tale, but it isn’t the only genre I work in.

    • I also write the occasional contemporary fantasy tale, for when the quieter side of me needs to be expressed…. unfortunately, there’s a lot of stuff out there that gets me riled so inevitably that ends up being the fuel that propels my writing… and that, again inevitably, turns out to be horror… c’est la vie, I guess…. 😀

  5. Andrew Murray Says:

    I’ve always loved being scared but at a safe level. reading a really creepy ghost story late at night is a great joy. walking down a dark alley & hearing approaching footsteps behind you isnt. im more fond of the supernatural, because writers really have to convince the reader that the fantastic can exist. the level & quality of the prose is astonishing. think of Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman & hundreds more. just the way horror writers describe a city street in winter or a tired overgrown garden is quite different to writers working in other genres. plus theres an almost poetic quality to some passages that is amazing & beautiful to. plus suspense & a menacing atmosphere can really hold a tight grip on you & keep u reading non stop till the early hours. On a personal level, I’ve never been too bothered if people think im weird. its like music, everyones got there different taste. i like metal/punk music & people say ‘ah its crap, its just noise’ & i just shrug & say well i like it and i dont force it on you so just let me enjoy it ok? Another point is I’d rather read about werewolves or ghosts etc rather than the realistic crime novels that get all the publicity. a bit like all the hard hitting crime shows on TV. far too many of them feature women getting beaten & raped for stupid reasons. that horror is in the newspaper, i dont want to read a torture novel. although ive read plenty of graphic horror, which dosent bother me at all, the supernatural is more enjoyable because it is creepier but isnt just ugly & depressing

    • Some good points there, Andrew…. I once read somewhere that, according to scientific research, being scared occasionally is actually GOOD for the cardiovascular system – unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read that, it was in something like Omni magazine or New Scientist or similar… I think that it gives the heart a workout in a different way to a normal exercise regime… but I also think it’s probably also a gentically evolved response, inherited from the days when nasty toothy things really DID chase after unwary humans… 🙂

  6. Moon, what do you mean ‘people like us’ … there is no one like you, and I can only hope no one like me!

    You know what I like about horror? Its fantasy… I mean.. its not real, the things happening are not, and will not ever happen. That is to say, I personally do not find it arrousing to see a group of american cheerleaders slowly get picked off …

    I do have a big problem when I watch horror movies… well 2 really.. I laugh at really innapropriate times… so seeing the stripper zombie in the opening titles of zombieland… (was that technically horror?) and secondly I am getting squimish in my old age. But somehow that adds to it. Five years ago I wouldn’t even flitch watching Texas, or something of that ilk. But then I was bought up on the Living Dead movies so I guess thats why I can’t take them seriously.

    But for books, its exactly the same, its exploring something ‘other’, that is if the writer can stop himself from detailing his own fantasies… its the one thing that does bug me in books. I am not a prude, but honestly its not nessasary to devote pages to your heroine falling into the arms of the stranger she is strangly drawn to.. is it the dangerous air, the aggrogence? Whatever! Horror allows for more freedom for the author, you can explore and create and colour to your hearts content. More so that the fantasy genre, because lets face it, you are going to get compared to a couple of brilliant minds and if its even somewhat similar… so I am guessing your going to expend energy avoiding it.

    Horror is wonderful and thrilling, and guilty and heart-stopping… its new, fresh, old and comfortable and safe. Because use like no one has been mugged for a paper back, your not liable to be killed reading a good horror .. but you may be walking in the wrong part of town, at the wrong time of day where the wrong pair of jeans!

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