Monday, October 08, 2007


The Bluidie Tryst,
Sir Joseph Noel Patton,
Glasgow Museums.

Maybe it's because All Hallows Eve approaches, but people seem to have horror on their minds.

Both James and Angie define it primarily by the emotion evoked -- though I've read some political parables that would never be classified as Horror which made me feel very afraid.

Further, I was a bit astonished by a couple of reactions to Friday's snippit , ones which suggested the piece evoked the chill of horror.

Of course that may have just been polite perjury/message board hyperbole by kind people. And the piece is, after all, just a short snippit.

Outside of Poe and Lovecraft, I've never read much horror. And I certainly don't watch it.

And don't intend to write it.

But those comments made me wonder where one draws the dividing line between horror and -- to use a current and rather accurate publishing adjective -- something that's merely dark.

I tend to think of horror as a work that contains a randomness of evil on one hand, and relentlessness on the other. One that leaves me, directly or indirectly, with a sense of the inevitable defeat of good things.

Not gore 'n guts and lovingly described visera. Not the looming shadow on the wall. Not even could/would happen-to-me helplessness.

When evil triumphs -- that's true horror.

And that's what will scare me shitless every time.


Robyn said...

I agree with your definitions, especially regarding the 'inevitable defeat of all good things.' Loved Poe, hated Lovecraft, and I have a profound respect for King.

I haven't found any of your Malignity snippets to be horror, at least as I would define it, though I do get a good goosebumpy shiver when I read them. You're very good at atmosphere.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Robyn.
"a profound respect for King" - though I've not read much of King - that's exactly how I would describe my reaction.
I've read the first two books of George R. Martin's trilogy, and though it is classed a s epic fantasy, I would call it horror.

Sam said...

I'm a huge fan of Stephen King - when my sister and I were kids, we would read his books and get scared silly, lol.
I love horror stories - from Poe's 'Tell Tale Heart' to King's 'It'. But what's going on right now in the world scares me Far more than a tale of blood and gore - that's for sure.

Shesawriter said...


I agree too. I also think the best horror leaves room for the imagination. That's why Blair Witch (the movie) worked so well for me because it gave the viewer's own personal "bogeyman" free rein. Nothing scares me more than my own untethered imagination. The unnamed/unseen monster beneath my bed or in that dark closet will always be scarier than Freddy or Jason. At least to me.


SzélsőFa said...

I, too, liked your description of horror, Bernita.
Dark is agreeable, provided that darkness has a proof, a goal PLUS that good finally somehow triumphs over evil:)
While it's fun and a thrilling experience to read some chiling story and about some evil event, reading such stories to an endless amount might cause irrevocable suffering and damage to the fragile mind.
I especially loathe when evil has no purpose and violence has no meaning.
Which, in turn raises the question: is there a justified violence/hatred/evil at all?

King operates with evil, but he attaches meaning to it, which justifies its presence. I am not a big fan of him, but read some of his books nevertheless.

I used to love horror, but turned away from it, based on the reasoning I scrambled above.
Thanks for listening.

Bernita said...

That is a good point, Sam.
When we become aware of the world around us, the true reality of horror sets in.

Tanya, that's why I usually avoid reading horror. Imagination and identification are too easily evoked.

Bernita said...

I think, Szelsofa, we needen't feel any guilt over a hatred for evil things, nor a willingness to do war against them.

SzélsőFa said...

No, no, Bernita, of course. What I was trying to say is that pointless evil is bad, and as far as I'm concerned, we should be avoiding it.
I don't feel hatred towards evil, I'm just trying to get as far from it as possible.

Bernita said...

Of course, Szelsofa.
I'm also inclined to think that pointless evil is very, very stupid.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I don't write horror, but I do write pretty dark fantasy. Violent. Tragic themes. Evil taking the upper hand (and managing to evoke sympathy). At least that's what I go of.

One time I was reading a hard copys of one of my books, proofing for a final edit. I was reading along, not quite realizing I was scaring myself...until the timer turned off the lamp next to my chair.

I about jumped out of my skin.

The pointless evil is a good point. ( know what I mean.) We see far too much of that in today's world.

Ric said...

We love horror. Bernita, I think your snipet gave us a good sample. Rotting bodies, psychic bits, all seem to me to be horror. Anymore, though, I'm not sure labels mean that much.

It's all about the writing - to quote our favorite agent.

Bernita said...

I'm all for a leaven of violence and sorrow, SS.
Must say I have trouble imagining ever being so engaged with my own writing that I would scare myself - though I certainly experience it when I come across a typo or a mis-spelling, etc.
One could argue the other way, I suppose, that another form/aspect of horror requires an unseen hand, an intelligence behind it. There's a terror in that too.

Maybe I've been watching too much CSI, Ric, but I view rotting bodies as a natural fact of life - revolting, of course, but not true horror by themselves.

raine said...

Interesting distinction, Bernita.
I'd never taken the time to differentiate between the two, but you make a good point (you have a knack for making us stop and THINK, durnit). ;-)
I'm going to be sacrilegious here and admit I'm not a big fan of King's writing, though I respect his talent. But Poe and Lovecraft--oh yes, definitely (not sure what that says, something ELSE to think about...!)

Great post.
(And Happy Thanksgiving, Bernita!).

Dave F. said...

I think that Alfred Hitchcock was a master of horror. He did it with class. Think of "The Birds" as a quintessential horror story because the birds just go crazy for no reason.
However, I take his story "Vertigo" as a journey into the dark recesses of the soul but not into evil. Justice does prevail but at the expense of the protagonist's dreams. Evil does not win.

There is a very modern tendency to "up the blood" level. A classic zombie story can become blood city in the hands of modern writers. Lots of modern literature (and it's worse in movies) is an attempt to sicken the viewer with ever more gut-wrenching viscera exploding all over the pages.

Your excerpt harkens back to that age and style of writing when Poe and Lovecraft wove tales of the undead and stories of evil creatures intent upon evil deeds. Conan Doyle is in that group.
It is well written and dark.
It's not horror in the style of King's Carrie or SAW or even (what I thought was cheesy) Blair Witch.
If I had to pick a movie, it's horror more like Shyamalan's Sixth Sense where we see dead people and we need a brain to really appreciate the story.

I hope I'm not digging a hole here.

As for mechanics of writing, if I write an emotional story, I want to feel myself moved by it. If I write a scary story, I want it to frighten me into leaving the lights on at night. Now I am much more logical and rational than that. However, while I am at the keyboard, I want my emotional response to be real.

Bernita said...

I've never thought about it much,either, Raine.
Yet it has to be more than a sensual wallowing in blood and other gummy details.
I suppose horror is really created in the mind.

Thank you! We had to travel so we celebrated it yesterday with a continual, day-long feast,including boar sauage,venison, duck breast, smoked salmon and prosciutto,smoked goya and other cheeses, pepper jelly,avocado dip, and, and, and...
I ate and ate and ate.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Dave.
I feel if there is an "horror" in the snippit, it evolves from the name on the grave marker.
I think one should work toward upping the blood pressure and that can be accomplished without unnecessary blood letting.

The Anti-Wife said...

Loved your definitions. I can't do horror or gore, but love something that keeps me in suspense.

Bernita said...

Thank you, AW.
I suppose with horror, suspense takes the form of fear we seek to assuage, while suspense in other genres evoke more a sense of anticipation.

Angie said...

revolting, of course, but not true horror by themselves.

I think that's an excellent distinction. A lot of people (particularly movie directors) offer up revulsion and call it horror but I agree that there's a difference. The "Ick! Yuck!" response is very different from the "Aaaaaaaaa!" response, if that makes sense. :) There are a lot of things which are revolting but not really frightening. Revulsion is a lot easier to produce, though -- a bucket of cow intestines and there you go. [wry smile]


writtenwyrdd said...

I think defining horror is rather difficult. Like the sff genres it is full of contradictions and subcategories, lol.

Sometimes the Anita Blake books are categorized as horror, but now I am sometimes finding them in the romance section.

I think Lilly's story has elements of horror, but I would call it fantasy nevertheless.

If it evokes dread or fear of the supernatural, it seems to attract the label horror.

Bernita said...

I agree, Angie, ick is rather unsophisticated, a confusion of shock with awe.

I suppose all definitions are fluid, Written,but you're right. If the paranormal elements are not cozy, then the horror label is often applied.

Vesper said...

After all, it's just a matter of definitions. For me, suggestion could be much stronger than any graphic description of violence. For me, violence in literature or cinema is an unrefined choice for a mediocre public. One's imagination could go to deeper and darker places, steered in the "good" direction by a skilled author.

Scott from Oregon said...

To be honest, supernatural tales and gore don't phase me at all.

I seem to be missing a gene...

Now write a story about having to stand up in court and defend yourself against all accusers...

Or being trapped in a gymnasium with a man with a shotgun, hell bent on accusing all of causing his pained life...

Stories of the human mind being slightly unhinged and irrational (but not too far) are what get to me.

The far-out stuff just makes me giggle.

Bernita said...

Unfortunately, Vesper, writers must wrestle with categories and definitions all the time.
Violence may begin as a phantom in the dark interstices of the mind but it seldom ends there.
Considerer me mediocre, I like to see things blow up now and then and take a quite unrefined delight in a good knock 'em down dran 'em out.

"Stories of the human mind being slightly unhinged and irrational" - one could argue those are just "demons" by a different name, Scott.
I find mental deformity more frightening than any physical disfigurement - perhaps because it is unpredictable and invisible?

spyscribbler said...

I don't know. (I was going to say something after that which almost contradicted that statement, but I just erased it. I think that pretty much says it all about me and understanding genre lines.)

Bernita said...

Speculation is fine, Natasha- even if one thinks immediately of a thousand exceptions to any definition.

Ello said...

Hey Bernita, I wonder if there is a negative connotation to horror now because of the Hollywood "slasher", "exploitation" and "splatter" horror film genres that have completely changed what a horror story used to be and made it into something vile.

Horror has evolved into something else and so what we used to call horror is now dark fantasy.

writtenwyrdd said...

Funny ello, I was just thinking that to me the thing that defines horror is just that. I consider Poe and his ilk more or less fantasists, probably because I cannot abide slasher movies. Alien/Aliens/Alien Resurrection (did I miss one?) were about the horror-iest that I could manage.

James Goodman-Horror Writer said...

I think those definitions are dead on the money.

Scott from Oregon said...

Ahh yes, mental deformity is indeed more frightening, but my point is that I don't find it scary or "horrific" unless it contains enough realism to allow me to truly believe the scenario. Meaning, "The Exorcist" made me giggle, while "The Shawshank Redemption" scared the hell out of me. (A man, falsely accused...)

Bernita said...

Well put, Ello.

Slasher stuff is not my thing either, Written.

Even if they are gut-slippery, James!

Think derision is the only way I could survive watching some of it, Scott.

LadyBronco said...

Lovely painting as always, Bernita.

I love the horror genre. It was King that got me addicted in the first place, and fueled my love of the macabre. And it's not the blood and guts, per se - it's the idea he seems to always insert into his stories that evil is always there - lurking and waiting for some unsuspecting fellow to stumble upon the thing that will set it loose.

Oh yeah.

I wish I knew that I could pull off a story in that genre myself - I think I will have to resign myself to sticking with science fiction.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I define horror more broadly than you do. I believe that horror and fantasy have quite a lot in common, and that part of what gives fantasy it's strength is the horror elements.

Sometimes I separate out "true" horror from "adventure" horror. In true horror there is the destruction of hope, the end of all. In adventure horror the good wins even though it is pitted against monsters. The movie "Alien" was on the true horror side of the issue. "Aliens" on the other hand was adventure horror.

Jon M said...

That is so true and I'm going away to think about that! thanks B you've nudged something I am working on in a truly horrible direction! :-)

Bernita said...

"insert into his stories that evil is always there - lurking and waiting for some unsuspecting fellow to stumble upon the thing that will set it loose."
-- Oooh, Lady B, that is a very nice analysis!

Charles, I suppose that's true,it does come down to good vs. evil -- except that in some genres, the horror is described as merely "conflict."

Jon, I seriously doubt if you infuse horror - that the result will be "horrible."

Vesper said...

Bernita, I somehow think you've taken my comment too personally. I deeply apologise for this.

Bernita said...

Not at all, Vesper.
I largely agree with you that a depiction of violence is not sufficient in itself. Suggestion and implication lead us to true terror.
But I don't think, in defense of genre, that violence should be off-screen and off-page in the literary manner.

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