Why “horror”?

©2022 Michael Raven

File under: #ThingsIThinkTooHardAbout

In all earnestness I ask this question:

What exactly is “horror” as a genre?

Is it the most appropriate genre to shove things into just because the work is unsettling in some fashion? Or because the author has established themselves by one or two movies/titles as having written something spooky? Is spooky even horror? What about macabre? Or, the perennial favorite: gothic? How about slasher/gross-out? Is tons of ketchup really horror? Is vampire urban romance horror just because some Twilight-emulating bloodsucker is in the tale? Or is that really romantic fantasy? Is suspense synonymous with horror? Are unsolved murders tales potentially horror?

I’m trying to dig deep into this as I think more about the whether or not I want to pursue a horror novel, especially when (as I think about it), I’m not clear on what these delineations are. I mean, are we just lumping everything into horror that seems to “fit”. Is that kind of lazy on our part to classify things as literature, romance, scifi/fantasy, westerns, horror…

I mean… The Dark Tower series is lumped in with horror oftentimes. But it seems more fantasy or science fiction or western than it seems all that horrifying. That’s just a single example.

14 thoughts on “Why “horror”?

    1. It’s goes with my general confusion about why people need to put things into ever smaller boxes and just how they justify those labels slapped onto the boxes — because not all of it seems to fit or make sense.

      If you can’t tell, I’m still bent out of shape about “goblincore”, “ravencore” and those kinds of fashions. LOL.

      I might need a life.

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  1. Horror is like metal music. So many subdivisions, experimental branch-offs and needless categorization. I covered both professionally and after a while, you start throwing your hands up in the air. There are so many diverse, sometimes crazed voices trying to make their mark with publicists toting them with annoying superlatives as “alchemists” and “heroes.” Branding is important for marketing purposes, but horror gets as wonky as metal. The onslaught of recent garbage Amityville movies alone, i.e. Amityville Cop, The Amityville Moon, Amityville Uprising, Amityville Harvest, Amityville Awakening, Amityville Cult, Amityville Playhouse, Amityville Hex, Amityville Scarecrow… WTF?

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    1. Too much hand-wringing.

      Then again, I’m trying to figure out why people are saying Heilung is metal. I don’t get this fetish for categorization today’s society has for everything.

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      1. LOL, right? It’s partial elitism and partial hipsterism. People want to feel special, particularly in the underground for knowing and liking their “own thing” which hasn’t crossed into the mainstream. I’ll never forget us bitching back in the day when Metallica broke. They were OUR band, LMAO! It’s a silly syndrome, but it also comes down to leaving your mark and having a following that understands you as an artist, musician, filmmaker.

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        1. LOL. I never felt that way, although I had plenty of friends who did — I was the one making mix tapes TRYING to get people to listen to bands like the Cure, Replacements, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, etc. I always got the “this will never go mainstream” yada yada yada… And it killed me when someone came back to me years later to ask me if I’d ever heard of this up and coming band called Echo and The Bunnymen (or fill in the blank).

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          1. The Dark Tower (in my opinion) is not ‘horror’. Horror, nowadays, is probably synonymous with gore and the idea of creating that feeling of repulsion in us. Give me old-fashioned ‘terror’ any day – so much better when the thought is planted rather than the visual. Perhaps people have just become numbed to it all. Sub genres I think are all about people trying to cling on to something that they perceive as unique to them, and I know exactly what you mean regarding bands that you were into during their formative years. Sometimes I feel for younger generations as there remains that desire to shock but, for us oldies, very little seems genuinely new – remember the reaction with glam rock/punk/new wave happened!

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            1. “Just admit it, Ted”.

              “Shocking enough is nothing shocks anymore”.

              Very little is shocking. I recall the satanic panic quite vividly. And when my mother saw her first punk on television she extracted a promise to never look like that. You just don’t make preteen kids naked those promises 🤣.

              I was always more of a sharing kind of person than a hoarding kind. And shock is only effective the first two or three times. Then it becomes yawn worthy, which is why I never understood Marilyn Manson’s appeal. Been there, done that.

              Repulsion is okay, but cheap. I would rather find myself screaming in terror. That’s where the red meat is. The Lovecraftian short story “The Space Eaters” (forgetting author at the moment) did more to keep me up at night than “Friday the 13th” ever did.

              I want something that terrifies me on a visceral level.

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            2. Thanks again for this, Michael, this is a great, and disturbing, story very much in the ways I was alluding to previously. One of the things that I thought worked really well was how the characters tried to explain the inexplicable and describe the indescribable in terms of human understanding.
              Really enjoyed this.

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            3. I’m glad you did. Shortly after the demise of my goth band, the singer, his new guitarist and I got together just to jam for funsies overnight once. After about midnight (to let the rest of the household sleep) we settled down and started talking about the scariest stories we knew. Micah (the guitarist) and I agreed that this is the one that still gave us spinal shivers for that reason: no matter how hard he tried, the protagonist could not explain what happened and that made it all the more terrifying as a result.

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