Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Many Faces of Horror...

In view of Halloween's rapid approach, and the current call for horror submissions at Mocha, I thought I'd do a post on horror fiction.

We all know horror takes many forms, appealing (and, disconcerting) in different ways to different people.  Eden Royce's anthology "In The Bloodstream" included many different paths through the dark; many different approaches to fear.  Some of the stories drew from ancient mythologies, others from modern movie-type horror, others from childhood fear and others still dealt with the living nightmare of not knowing where dark delusion ends and reality begins.

That last one is perhaps the most compelling kind of horror.  Trapped in a dark place, not knowing its parameters, desperately seeking any way out.  Sometimes, not knowing if you're asleep and dreaming...or, in hell.   It's a primal kind of fear, and often one that forces us to confront our most deeply-buried sins.  Maybe that's the most effective kind of horror; the kind that marries our inner demons to a maze of dark corridors in which we find ourselves trapped.  I tried to do something along those lines with my short story "Hellshift," in which the protagonist feels he's trapped in a nightmare, unsure of his own sanity and facing an unseen external enemy whose nature he doesn't understand. The monster out in the dark may be real or imaginary, but it's like the ghost of his own sin come to haunt him, and there's no place to run.

The writing that goes into Hollywood horror is, I'm sorry to say, growing sadly formulized.  The trend right now is demonic possession, which appeals more to the audience's desire for easy answers than anything else.

This evening, I braved the stubbornly lingering summer heat to catch a glimpse of this new bit of Euro horror:  "As Above, Below."  (I'm guessing it's not doing too well, since I had the theatre all to myself.)  Basically, the premise is "Indiana Jones Meets the Blair Witch Project."  Yes, yet another "live-action" mockumentary look at horror, where the camera joggles all over the place as screaming characters run through dark tunnels pursued by unseen horrors.  This time, the dark tunnels in question are the famous catacombs of Paris.  Which, according to this film, are actually a gateway into Hell.  (Satan's subway?)   The characters, trapped in the catacombs while hunting mysterious ancient relics pertaining to afterlife mythology, find themselves confronted in the dark corners of their labyrinthine subterranean prison by the ghosts of their innermost guilty secrets.  Obviously not the first time this has been done, and it's overdone in places, including the main character having to swim through a river of blood.  But, the all-too-familiar primal horror of claustrophobic dark tunnels coupled with the deep dark specters of guilt we all fear does make an effective combination.

Overall, maybe the most basic recipe for horror is:  Take a dark place, pour in the primal fear of the unknown, fold in a few repressed personal secrets for flavoring, sprinkle in the right number of surprise "ahas" just to spice it up a bit, and bake well with suspense.  Don't oversoak with blood, and you should get a fairly tasty treat.

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