Sunday, September 23, 2012

All About Horror: What Makes Us Afraid?

I've been so busy over at the Nonconsumerist and with all my other projects lately that I haven't had a whole lot of time to write, much less blog about writing.  The stars are starting to line up for me in a way that suggests my "muse" will be back soon.  Usually I go through waves; I'll be doing a lot of journalism one week, then do a bunch of RPing -- and, after the roleplaying bug kicks in, I find myself really itching to get back on my own stories.

Well, anyway, in the meanwhile, it's starting to look like Fall outside.  And that means Halloween is coming soon, which is officially exciting.  It's my favorite holiday!  Anyway, yesterday I was working on an upcoming piece for Ravenous Monster and got myself totally worked up thinking about the holiday, which of course gave me a pretty big craving for some horror movies.

Today I watched three old favorites:  The Faculty, Jeepers Creepers and Pet Sematery.  I've seen all of them and enjoyed each one tremendously in high school, and found them all standing up to the test of time.  Of course, I really wanted to find something new to watch, but the first few movies I tried to watch were all pretty terrible, which didn't fill me with a whole lot of confidence about finding a new film. 

There's this pretty persistent rumor out there that horror is a dead genre (no pun intended) and I'd always resisted that, but there's maybe more truth to that than I'd realized.  And who killed horror?  Well...horror-writers, or directors, it seems like. 

Horror is an easy thing to do poorly.  The line between amazing horror and terrible, cheesy horror is so thin and hard to pin down -- so much a "you'll know it when you see it" type of thing -- that people who think they're doing everything right can make it completely awful.  And then you throw in the fact that it's perceived as easy to make and nobody takes it seriously anyway, so the barriers to entry are lower than they should be. 

Even with that, though, the fact remains that so very few new things are happening in the genre.  It seems like there's nothing new under the sun:  serial killer, zombie, ghost, monster, demon.  Everything seems tired.  Everything seems like the result of a convention:  "I should fear this, because somebody's guts just flew across the screen." 

Surely there's something new that can happen in the horror genre?  Surely somebody out there can think up something more interesting? 

The real question is:  What are we scared of? The same things we've always been scared of, or something new?  How do we present old fears in a new way?  How do we figure out the real pulse of new fears so that we can really understand them and exploit those anxieties to make thrilling fiction?

This isn't just a question for horror writers.  It's a question for all writers.  Fear, anxiety, is at the core of everything we do.  Execution changes, but the conflict -- the fear -- is at the center of everything.  You can twist the same basic uneasiness into a film of nearly any genre.

So -- an open question for you reader-folks.  I'll be back, once I've watched a few more films and thought up a few more solutions, but in the meanwhile, I want to know what you think.  

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