What drives a person towards one genre or another? Why does someone find more enjoyment in a romance, a thriller, a documentary, or tale of horror while someone else abhors it?
I was thrown into the world of horror early, due to my father’s love of video games and movies and my mother’s belief that mass media didn’t have the power to corrupt a kid’s mind. I watched Child’s Play when I was too young to even remember most of it. I burned through the Goosebumps and Fear Street series before I hit grade 6 and quickly moved on to Peter Straub, Stephen King, and John Saul. I was obsessed with The X-Files, The Outer Limits, Are You Afraid of The Dark? and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
My initial draw to horror was the same most people have: the thrill of being scared, of feeling those ice-cold tingles chase their way up your spine, the hair standing at attention on your arms and scalp, and the paranoia that causes you to see shadowy figures at the corners of your vision. It’s addicting: this safe high you can get from a proper scare. You know you’re safe – you’re in a theatre or in your bed – but your mind races to other possibilities, you start to wonder, you hesitate to hang your feet over the side of your bed or walk home after the movie.
I grew de-sensitized, of course. I am always searching out new authors and directors to give me that old thrill. I am very rarely ever scared by a movie or novel, but I still get a lot of satisfaction out of a well-written tale. One of the main reasons is that, to me, the horror genre is a great exploration into the human psyche. I would argue that this genre, above all others, has the true ability to express the baseness, the failings, and the darkness within a regular person, as well as their strengths.
The horror genre can defy all known realities and set protagonists against any manner of beast and eldritch horror. The challenge to the author is to write a character that reacts realistically, makes decisions that seem sensible – or at least fit the situation, and are still entirely real to the audience. Take David Wong’s John Dies At The End where the protagonists face off against monsters made of freezer meats and a giant flesh god. The situations are ridiculous, crazy, and utterly baffling. As would make sense, the protagonists are afraid. They balk at dealing with such a terrible conflict, but they rise up against it. They also fall in love and they even see the humour in the darkness.
That’s what draws me to horror – the human aspect. For other genres, I believe, it’s a lot easier to imagine what their protagonists are experiencing. Falling in love, heartbreak, going on an adventure, even experiencing tragedy – these are all things that people live through, these are all things most people experience throughout the course of their lives. Things become more difficult to imagine, to portray, when the situation is more unrealistic – such as in the fantasy or sci-fi genre. The difference between those genres and horror is that horror is rooted in fear, in the strange, and in the horrible. The author, or director, not only has to imagine something horrible (either the horror in the mundane or the horror in the preternatural) but also how their characters would – and should – react to the horrors being put to them.
It’s a fascinating look into human psychology. On one side, you get an insight on the author/director’s way of thinking and, on the other, you see the scenario play out and you wonder: how you would have acted in that situation. Would you have survived?
That’s what makes horror such a challenging genre to contribute to. You have to write believable characters, who act in believable ways in the face of the unbelievable, of fear and terror.
On top of this psychological insight, the horror genre offers so much variety. Obviously disregarding motifs that the mass audience gets enamoured with – like the beloved zombie, vampire, and werewolf oh my! – horror offers up the cosmic, the creepy, the haunted, the Gothic, and the tragic. Horror can have elements of love, of mystery, of comedy as well. Overall, it’s amazingly flexible.
And that’s why I love the horror genre.