The Aesthetics of Genre: Horror

deep-sea-anglerfishWhen it comes to the genre of horror, many Christians have pronounced it ugly, sinful, nasty, and won’t give it the time of day. Others may enjoy the adrenalin rush of a good scare from the safe distance of a book or theater seat, but may not admit it to their church friends. Then there are individuals, like myself, that find the genre of horror useful.

 

I like to read things that make me better, challenge me in someway. Good horror, like good science fiction and fantasy, will do that for me.  That’s not to say that contemporary fiction or YA fiction doesn’t do that either, but good horror has a very special way of challenging a reader on deeper topics. Before you chastise me for not mentioning the Bible, remember that you will find all the known genres, including horror, in that Book of books.

People seldom equate being frightened as useful.Like I pointed out in my last blog entry, being afraid of the right things can be helpful. To me, good horror isn’t about inciting blind fear or terrifying an audience. There is horror like that, and I almost never waste my time on that. Good horror it’s about challenging fear in the right way. This is where aesthetics come in. All genres have aesthetics (linked to definition above), it is what happens when an author’s story collides with a readers expectations, imagination, and world view. These are a few that a great horror story will touch on for me.

  • What is beauty?
  • What makes something beautiful?
  • What is good?
  • What makes something bad?
  • What is evil?
  • What makes something or someone evil?
  • If something looks beautiful, is it automatically good?
  • Can God redeem Evil?
  • Should God redeem Evil?
  • Should those given to Evil be redeemed?
  • If something is ugly to me does that make me the monster?
  • What happens when a human tries to play God (you know mad scientists)?
  • What does it mean to be human?

As frightening as a horror story may appear on first blush, it is my response to it that always interests me. Some of the most frightening stores to me portray Evil as banal or everyday. A good example of this is the bureaucracy of Hell in Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.

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There are several things I find useful in good horror, and it isn’t blood and gore or the fact that a story may give me nightmares for months. In fact, the shock and gore horror is something I rarely care for, much like jump scare scenes in movies. Such tactics are nothing more than a trick at your audience’s expense, tricking an audience is inexcusable.

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All fiction has the ability to challenge and inform. What makes horror so different is it’s ability to challenge specifically the things we fear. When done right, even cause us to evaluate those fears and perhaps strengthen our humanity. For your viewing pleasure, here is a good example of something from a sub-genre of horror. Something that actually hits a little closer to home and current events. The type of horror I find useful (It’s in two parts).

 

 

Would you classify these videos as horror? Why or why not?

 

The next post I do is on the topic of sub-genres of Horror. You might be surprised as to what you find in them.

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8 thoughts on “The Aesthetics of Genre: Horror

  1. I don’t consider this horror. This is science fiction/psychological thriller. My definition of horror has always included the blood and gore and mindless violence.
    The violence in this clip might be mindless, but they have motive, no matter how mistaken. Horror uses violence just to be violent, just to appeal to those who love to be scared.It strives to be repulsive. It plays to the depravity of man and to nothing else.

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    • Thanks for sharing Linda, it is refreshing to talk to someone that is open to learning new things. That is why I’m writing this blog. I compliment you on your bravery. Sparky gave it a shot too.

      You’re talking about splatter and slasher films which is only a small section of the genre. The reason the clip is classified as horror (and it is horror) comes from genre constraints: 1) Heavy atmosphere propelling the story. Isolated neighborhood, strange comet, no electricity, take those away and you have no story, 2)THE trademark monster. Monsters come in all shapes, sizes, and species. 3) The unknown is the predominant source of conflict.

      Sometimes we see someone becoming the monster and descend into the dark (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson and the clip I shared), other times we get to see the monster trying to redeem itself (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Some of my favorite stories are the ones where the monster is more noble than the protagonists and the true victim (King Kong, Frankenstein).

      This clip fits under psychological horror like THE PURGE or its sequel. Another one is LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is not a movie I will ever watch again because that one messed with my head. I don’t like or read all horror, only the horror stories with redeeming value and not all horror is equal or the same.

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  2. I like horror of the Alfred Hitchcock movie type. (He himself referred to it as horror.) Maybe it’s because I like gore left mostly to the imagination, so there’s more of a psychological aspect to the horror than a clear movie visual or a graphic text description in a novel.

    I believe I recently saw the original black and white version of Twilight Zone’s The Monsters on Maple Street–or something similar–and enjoyed it.

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    • The next blog deals with the elements of horror, what elements actually make the horror genre horror. I got a great working definition from one of the faculty here at the University. What’s so awesome is that you recognize there many types or sub-genre’s in horror. I enjoy a lot of Hitchcock’s horror movies and even the TV series. Psycho is still very watchable and I found it unthinkable that anyone should feel the need to have made a remake. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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  3. Reblogged this on The Scriblerians and commented:
    I always considered the twilight zone to be psych thriller, but your definition sheds new light. I like hitchcock as well, recalling “The Birds” and how the horror was left to the imagination, which in some cases can be worse.

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    • Thanks for contributing.

      You are absolutely correct about not needing to show scary things and leaving a lot to human imagination. It is far more thrilling and effective for the audience.

      Another type of horror, sometimes referred to as the Macabre, was very prominent in the Twilight Zone episodes. While some episodes fell under science fiction, others were the type of horror that everyone things of (the gremlin on the plane), but some fell under the macabre which is one type of horror. I’m thinking of the episode of the couple that wouldn’t leave the fortune telling machine at a roadside cafe, or the salesman that had the bet with death. The next blog posting on this topic will be posted at one minute after midnight (Bwahahaha). I offer a working definition that I got from one of the faculty at the University I work at. I think you will find it interesting.

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  4. Seemed more sci-fi to me. The Village…that was a smart horror movie! You made some great points. This is not my genre of choice but anything well written can be enjoyed!

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    • Absolutely correct on well-written things. In the next blog I offer a working definition for the horror genre, but science fiction horror is very much a sub-genre of horror as opposed to straight science fiction. Usually scifi gets classified as horror when you have a monster that plays against personal or cultural fears. Predator 2 and Alien (Sigourney Weaver?) are really good examples of that, but I’m glad you mentioned The Village, that’s a good example too.

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