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Meditation On Horror - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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Meditation On Horror [Jul. 30th, 2007|01:14 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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I've been thinking about the nature of horror lately. When I say horror, I mean the fictional genre of crazy terrible shit happening. I don't mean war or the nastiness of humanity when it thinks it can get away with something.

It seems to me that there are two elements that go into a horror book, comic, or movie. One is the unpleasantness, which I see as having three components: suspense, destruction, and death. They would be pretty self-explanatory.

The other element is a nasty ending.

Now, I see two kinds of nasty endings. One is outright bad - the hero being dragged off to certain death, or killed only to fall on the giant red button that insures the monster's destruction, or (worst of all) everybody who could possibly stand in the way of the badness gets killed and the badness heads off to eat some helpless children or a space station or whatever.

The second is less of an outright horror ending. I call it the ellipsis ending, where the audience sees that the bad guy is unkillable, the nightmare isn't over, the monster left babies behind, etc. The (oblivious) survivors aren't in immediate danger, but you know that their personal horror isn't over. Or perhaps their successors in the franchise will have something to battle, and soon.

Now these nasty endings differentiate horror from a newish subgenre called dark fantasy. Stories have been getting dark fantasy labels for a while now. I don't know when it popped up as a concept, but it's been at least a decade if not more. In dark fantasy, the hero kills the bad guy or stops the apocalyptic horror at great cost to herself. But there's a definite ending. There may be future consequences, but the particular story comes to an end.

The thing that triggered my thinking about the differences between horror and dark fantasy is a couple of comic trades I read Friday night and tonight. I'm almost caught up on the 30 Days of Night series and sequels. They're about vampires and there's a lot of tearing of flesh and blood and horrific badness. But I would say it's dark fantasy more than horror because there's hope. Every one of the stories contains triumphant survivors, primed to fight again another day.

In contrast, tonight I just read Night Mary, which involves technology and dream walking and should be the epitome of dark fantasy, but it's much more horrific to me. They have similar levels of gore, but still. The ending implies the subversion of a hero, which will result in the torture of the other hero/victim, which in turn lends itself more to horror than dark fantasy.

The reason I've been thinking about this is that I've realized that, overall, I don't like horror. I don't like the idea of an unwinnable fight. I bugs me and messes up my world view. I recognize that this is, perhaps, a character flaw. I'd like to think of myself as chaotic good, but honestly I'm probably lawful good. I can't really help it. Which isn't to say I don't enjoy a well-made horror flick - I do. I've become especially enamored of zombie movies, while really coming to despise torture porn horror.

It's just that, despite the sorts of dark and scary things I like to read, horror just doesn't ring my bell.

[User Picture]From: yeti_herd
2007-07-30 05:21 am (UTC)
I think I feel similarly about dark fantasy vs. horror. For some reason I can always deal better with gore or violence when they are set in a story that doesn't end in complete despair (the way many horror stories do). The context is definitely important for me.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-07-31 05:53 am (UTC)
Yes, despair is the significant element for me as well.
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[User Picture]From: tagryn
2007-07-30 08:27 am (UTC)
If you haven't seen it yet, try The Return of the Living Dead. A zombie movie but with lots of "dark humor" throughout.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-07-31 05:54 am (UTC)
Did you know, in all of Romero's films, they never once say "brains"?

It's all in "The Return of..." movies where the brain-eating stereotype originated.
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[User Picture]From: infinitehotel
2007-07-30 04:46 pm (UTC)
"Dark fantasy" became a marketing tag when folks discovered the horror boom of the 80's/early 90's was over. (You don't see a lot of bookstores with Horror sections these days and the number of mass market books is small; DF rounds out the SF&F section now.)

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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-07-31 05:56 am (UTC)
Doesn't mean that dark fantasy doesn't exist.

There's a lot of fantasy stuff that's REALLY dark, that I would call a kind of merging between fantasy and horror, without being horror per se. Or, perhaps, without the trademark despair I associate with pure horror.

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[User Picture]From: rmd
2007-07-30 07:47 pm (UTC)
i think with some classical sorts of horror, it's very *very* conservative. there are rules. you transgress. YOU ARE PUNISHED.

like, the EC comics sort of "here's someone who does something bad, and then the forces of horror crush him for it". it's absolute revenge fantasy.

calvinistic, even
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