writing post

Knowing Your Genre, Part 4: Horror

Hello everyone, and this week on the blog we continue with my series of blog posts on literary genres. You can find the other posts by clicking here. Today, we’re going to talk about Horror.

Horror is one of my favorite genres, but it’s also very misunderstood and misinterpreted. Horror is more than gore like Saw or the Final Destination movies. It mostly should be about things that scare the reader and the person who consumes the media. Cat Scully did a wonderful thread on twitter about horror not equating to gore level which I think you should read.

Gore can be a part of horror fiction, of course, but it’s not necessarily scary. Unless you’re deadly scared of your head falling off or exploding, gore will be much more uncomfortable than it will be scary. Gore can be defined as an extreme depiction of the destruction of a body, be that in blood, guts, or anything that comes with it. If you’ve watched any of the movies I mentioned above, you’ve seen it before. That said, every movie that features gore heavily is horror, but not every horror has gore in it.

Horror can be often also more a subplot or a theme than an actual genre. We’ve all read novels or seen movies that have scared us but were not necessarily classified in the horror genre. Alien, for example, is a science fiction movie with heavy horror themes.

Horror, at its core, is about human beings facing what terrifies them. Stephen King has written several books in the most different genres, but all of them can be considered horror because of this one element: at the center of the narrative, there’s fear. Fear is what drives the story forward, be it in the form of a supernatural being, or just a strange new situation.

For that reason, Horror is usually divided in three big subsets in literature: pscyhological horror, paranormal horror and slasher films.

  • Paranormal Horror

In paranormal, we have the most traditional stories: stories of ghosts and monsters and strange happenings in a town no one can explain, but that terrorizes and kills human beings. One of the main elements in horror is death, because death evokes the feeling of unknown, which is usually explored in this genre. The unknown can be more powerful than definitions in this type of narrative, because what could be is scarier than what is.  Of course, this is more of a guideline than a rule, there are narratives that subvert this trope as well.

Paranormal usually involves ghosts, hauntings, witches, spirits, demons, haunted houses, haunted dolls, monsters, and anything that comes in-between. If there is a strong depiction of a monster, or if it’s mentioned in any way, it’s probably a paranormal horror story.

  • Good examples of paranormal horror in books: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco, It by Stephen King, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics.
  • Good examples of paranormal horror in movies: It follows (2014), Babadook (2014), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Conjuring (2013), The Others (2001), Poltergheist (1982), The Witch (2016).

 

  • Psychological Horror

For psychological horror, we have the same elements of the dark, of fear, and all the other things that run inside a person’s mind when we face something beyong our control and something that we don’t understand. Psychological horror, however, puts the audience in a place where nothing out of the ordinary happens — and therefore, it’s all a product of a sick human mind.

These kind of narratives can be one of the most interesting things in the world to follow, since they are the product of what the mind is capable of — playing tricks on you, making you do horrible things, and twisting everything around you. Usually one of the tropes used (and that often is misused) is mental illness as one of the subjects or causes of such occurings, or the main character has just been through a traumatic situation that alters their perception of the world, causing their uneasiness and their fear.  Characters are disturbed, suffer from hallucinations, and are often faced with something incomprehensible to them that feels like madness. And although it doesn’t contain paranormal elements of any kind, it’s just as scary to read.

  • Good examples of psychological horror in books: Misery by Stephen King, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
  • Good examples of psychological horror in movies: Black Swan (2010), The Shining (1980), It Comes At Night (2017), Get Out (2017), Funny Games (1997), Split (2016).

 

  • Slasher

Slasher movies are one of the most well-remembered genres when talking about horror. They usually feature gore, and its plot revolves around a serial killer picking off victims one-by-one. Although slasher movies can seem saturated, there are many great ones that put a new spin on the serial killer genre. They’re often tense, fast-paced, and known for horrible deaths, and we cheer for the main character to survive until the end.

  • Good examples of slasher in books: Final Girls by Riley Sager, There’s Someone Inside your House by Stephanie Perkins.
  • Good examples of slasher in movies: Halloween (1978), Scream (1996), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Friday the 13th (1980)

 

The thing about these categories is that even though they seem clear, an artist may choose to mix them up together. One of the greatest examples I’ve seen lately of this is Babadook, an indie-horror film that has a paranormal monster called the Babadook haunting a house, but it actually works as a depiction of the main character’s depression and PTSD after her husband died.

We also have other subgenres like gothic horror, which a great example is Crimson Peak, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Crimson Peak mixes horror elements of ghosts in the Victorian era. Or even movies that can be considered meta and genre-breaking like Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods, which takes all the tropes we love from horror movies and uses them to make an unforgettable twist.

In a way, horror is a much more popular as a film genre than a book genre, mostly because it’s easier to create the atmosphere of terror with the use of images, or even use the jumpscare, the technique that movies use to make you jump out of the seat where a monster suddenly appears in a scene. In that sense, books are harder to do — which is why everyone takes their hats off for Stephen King, who manages to create a creepy and strange atmosphere in his writing that perfectly translate the elements of horror we love.

In the next post, we’re going to wrap the rest of the genres and end the “Knowing Your Genre” blog series. I hope you’ve enjoyed so far — and if you like being scared, I recommend watching all of the movies I mentioned. They’re some of my favorites, and are excellent in quality.

What’s your favorite horror movie? And do you have any horror books recommendations?

 

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