That is the pure essence of Horror.
In this post, I want to break down what the Horror genre means in my world.
Let’s begin with the mechanics of “horror”:
It is an ultimate fear and terror that inhibits a person’s body, mind, or soul. It is the knowing and foreboding feeling that a situation will not end with a positive outcome. It is the darkness trying to overcome the light, and the epic battle that ensues. Horror can be strictly psychological or it can be wholly physical. It can be blood, guts, and mutilations or a strict torture of the mind.
Horror is the element that turns sweet dreams into heart-ripping nightmares.
What “horror” is not:
True Horror will never have a happy ending. Even if by the end of a book or movie the evil is vanquished, there will always be a cliffhanger that shows a seed of the evil still exists. The evil is left in hiding to wait for and plan the optimal moment to reveal itself and wreak havoc on a new batch of characters.
Author Chris Musgrave describes horror as:
“Horror to me is total loss of control, the knowledge that what you thought was all in your head really isn’t. It’s the thought that the thing really is in your closet and that monsters are the least of our worries. Horror is that chill at the back of your neck, the whispered voice on the wind when no one’s around and the pants wetting terror when you realise that the most dangerous thing is still in there with you. Horror is not just gore. Horror is not gross out. It sure as shit isn’t sparkly vampires. Horror is insidious. It gets under your skin and turns it inside out.”
Within the realm of literature and film, Horror is a simple genre. It is the genre that instills terror within the audience by any means necessary. However, a book or film does not have to be one straightforward fear fest. The work’s genre can be of a hybrid-genre with Horror and another means:
Dark Fiction: This usually consists of genres like Fantasy, Sci-fi, and / or Speculative that have a heavy element of Horror ingrained.
Gothic: This is a Horror genre classic that has influences of Mystery and / or Romance.
Comedy-Horror: This hybrid pretty much explains itself as the work contains a mix of Horror and Comedic elements.
Weird West: A Western themed work that highlights the elements of Horror, Sci-fi, and / or the speculative.
Horror, as a secluded genre in of itself, can be broken down into the following sub-genres:
Psychological: The focus of this sub-genre takes place more in a character’s head, playing heavily on his or her fears and morals. There may or may not be an element of blood.
Slasher: This is your classic Freddy Krueger / Jason / Michael Myers villain, where the antagonist murders characters through violent and visceral methods. The murder weapon of choice is always a sharp object used to maim or dismember. This sub-genre typically mixes with the splatter sub-genre, but if the actual act of the murder occurs off scene (not visual), then the splatter element is not viable.
Splatter: With this genre, I do not personally consider it to always be hand in hand with the Slasher sub-genre. You can have a Splatter film without having the Slasher element. A good example (and the most disgusting movie in existence) is The Human Centipede… and all of its subsequent segments. Splatter is a horribly gruesome and visceral sub-genre, but the antagonist goal is not to kill the main character(s), but to merely affect the a character’s physical body. This sub-genre relies more heavily on the visual effects of the blood and guts rather than the action of expelling the gore.
Supernatural: This sub-genre highlights the elements that are not of the “natural / human” world. Typically the sub-genre highlights entities from a heaven or hell realm. Such fodder are ghosts, demons, angels, etc.
Monster: This sub-genre focuses on those beings that are from the “natural / human” world, but are either not human or genetically altered humans. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf-man, Toxie, and Kaijus are all considered monsters. The monster may or may not be bent on the destruction of the human world, but the actions of the monster (whether good or evil) do instill the element of fear within humanity.
Extraterrestrial: Any life form that comes from “outer space” that is not considered a human. The extraterrestrial may take on a humanoid form, but genetically they are not a pure human.
Weird: This is a mashup of any non-human entity / life-form that the human mind cannot comprehend or extends to a forbidden knowledge. This sub-genre typically uses a mix of elements of the Supernatural, Monsters, and Extraterrestrial. It can also sprinkle in some of the Splatter and Psychological sub-genres. Every story that H.P Lovecraft wrote would fall into this category. The Call of Cthulhu is a prime example that contains a mixture of the Horror sub-genres: Monster, Extraterrestrial, and Psychological.
Horror can embody a large element in almost every genre within literature and film. hybrid and sub-genres of Horror can be mixed and mashed to create one story of complete and utter terror. And to think, the information in this post is only related to fiction! There is a whole other side to horror within the non-fiction realm through biographies, memoirs, and documentaries. To think of the gruesome memoir that could have been written by the hands of Elizabeth Bathory!
If I have missed a hybrid / sub-genre of Horror that you would like to have noted or if you wish to discuss the definitions of the Horror genre, please let me know in the comments section.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go burn the memory of watching The Human Centipede out of my brain.