Horror is one of the oldest and most influential genres, but it’s not always portrayed in the best light. How many times have you heard the phrase “I just don’t like those kinds of movies” being used in reference to a horror film? How about “I just don’t think that stuff is all that scary” in reference to a beloved novel? The sad truth is that as a genre – it’s gotten a pretty bad rap.
Today I would like to lend my voice to the countless, misunderstood fans of the macabre as I speak up in defense of the horror genre.
A lot of the arguments that I personally hear against morbid mediums come either from misconceptions or generalizations about the entirety of horror based off of one, small sub-genre. The example that I always like to use when discussing this is the Saw franchise because it illustrates both of those problems so clearly.
When you look at the series as a whole, Saw just screams torture porn. It’s got life or death choices, inventive death apparatuses, and is well remembered for its over the top gore. It’s the horror franchise that practically defined the term torture porn – but it had that reputation for being a gross-out series long before the abundance of gore was incorporated. In fact, if you look at the first Saw film as a complete story by itself, it’s more of a psychological thriller than anything else. It gets inside the minds of its characters, there are lots of ethical questions raised in the viewers, and the gore is more frequently hinted at than shown. This would be a great example of the sort of misconceptions I’m referring to. No one remembers the great story or the social commentary – they focus on gore that was far more downplayed than anyone chooses to acknowledge.
Going back to the entire franchise – it did eventually earn that gory reputation. Three and four in particular were at points, too much for people. Without opening this article up to debate about how much gore is too much, let’s just say that the series pushed that boundary in more than one instance. Even if that is the case – not all horror movies are like that, and this is where the generalizations kick in. Just because the Saw movies were gory and got a lot of attention, doesn’t mean that all horror movies are gross-out flicks, and this is something a lot of opposing people fail to take into consideration.
One of the most wonderful things about this genre is the diverse group of sub-genres that it encompasses. Splatterpunk and torture porn pieces make up for such a small percentage of all the horror out there. There are so many other wonderful kinds of scary stories and have been for such an incredibly long time. Many of the oldest stories, folklore, fables, fairy tales, urban legends, are horror based. Even religious tales use fear to influence the audience.
That’s what it really comes down to, is fear. Fear is arguably the strongest and most primal feeling that we, as humans, experience. Fiction that can harness that kind of power to make its audience experience genuine feelings is some of the most effective fiction that there is. That’s a big part of what captivates a majority of horror fans. Even if the monsters aren’t real, the fear that they inspire definitely is, as are any nightmares or lingering instances of paranoia.
Let’s also take a moment to look at the minority of horror fans who don’t get scared and aren’t in this for the adrenaline rush – because there are a lot of underappreciated narrative merits as well.
More than any other genre, horror has the ability to test the limits of what a character can take. It has the opportunity to push boundaries and to take things to their absolute most extreme – whether this be physical, mental, or sometimes otherworldly in context. Horror has the power to get raw, and it’s under those intense circumstances where characters can be their most surprising, their most rich, and experience their greatest potential for development. So often the characters who survive their horror stories are not the same characters we saw in the beginning because they’ve been pushed to, or past their breaking point. There is limitless potential in that kind of story-telling and horror doesn’t hold back when dealing with those darker issues.
Even if something isn’t directly scary to its audience – doesn’t mean that it isn’t an incredibly successful piece of horror fiction. If it gets under people’s skin, if it gets them wondering about or questioning something they’ve always known, if it lingers in the back of their minds – it has done it’s job in making an impression.
Now, not everything in the genre is perfect. There are countless examples of bad horror fiction and in the years I’ve dedicated my life to this, I have seen more than my fair share of such disasters. The same could be said about anything though. There are bad romance novels. There are poorly planned fantasy films. There’s over the top violence in action games. No genre is perfect – and I’m not here to make the claim that horror is completely without flaw. I’m just here to explain what I see in it, and tell you that if you’ve sworn off the entire genre because of one bad thing, you might want to give it another chance.
This has just skimmed the surface of what I have to say on this topic, and it’s something I could talk about endlessly. It’s something that I hope to talk about again as it’s one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place; just look at the title of my site. For now though, I’d like to hear you talk about it. I’d like to hear what it is that my readers love about the genre and what elements keep them coming back for more scares.
So don’t be shy. You can leave a comment, use the contact form or email me your thoughts directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you and I’m going to be compiling some of the responses I receive over the next couple weeks – so be sure to let me know if and how you’d like to be credited, or if you’d like your answer to remain between us.
Thank you guys for reading and until next time, I wish you the most delicious of nightmares.