One of the best genres yet, in a humble opinion, horror investigates the human psyche and what makes us fear the otherworldly. In a nutshell, horror plays with our emotions much like dramas do. But instead of evoking pleasant feelings, it relies on fear, the uncanny, and the sublime to evoke emotions that we may find unpleasant.
The Horror Classics
From “The Castle of Otranto” all the way to “The Saw,” the genre has evolved over time, for, what used to be considered fearful ages ago, may not be considered scary anymore. Contrary to popular beliefs, the very ideas that horror has dealt with stayed the same to the present day. The fear of unknown situations, people, creatures, and landscapes remains to haunt us to this day.
The Dracula Removal
While set in Transylvania, the story of Count Dracula is removed from the reality of an average Western reader in many ways: temporal, spatial, cultural, and historical. As any academic essay writer will tell you, the very idea of the Count is foreign, as even his figure would be unrecognized in England at the time. The story itself teaches us about alienation, the alien, colonialism, and its subsequent results: counter-colonialism.
Who’s the Monster in Dr. Frankenstein?
At the same time, the story of “Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster” develops the same idea. This time, the monster is a bit closer to a human, as it is borne by human hands. Already here, we see the slow recognition of the dark side of the human psyche and its incorporation into the collective consciousness. The monster emerges and learns how to speak. The horror elements abound.
In addition to the monster itself, it is the monster’s ability to quickly learn how to speak, hide, and provide for himself that is another horror element of the story. Centuries spent to create the “perfect” English society have been decoded by an abomination in the course of the book. The monster finally recognizes its human needs – and asks the same scientist to make him a woman. The story repeats itself, as the ethical questions surrounding AI are the same questions discussed in this book.
One of the biggest questions to be developed by the horror genre is the question of how and where to place the monsters and the fear itself. After all, as the genre evolved, we’ve learned that the real monsters are among us – we just have to recognize them and accept them. Wars, famine induced by the hunger for money of the ruling few in some African states, and the powerful pandemic we hope to have left behind are all horrors in their own right.
Poe’s Notion of Horror
On the other side of the globe, Edgar Allan Poe discusses the same issues but with a different twist. For him, the horror lies within the situation itself. The setting, both temporal and geographical, provides the element of horror. Placed within the setting, the characters ponder on their own thoughts and perception of this space. “Leigeia” and “The Raven” both testify to the same idea.
Many other horror stories are based on similar ideas so that they remove the characters and the reader with them to other realms. The “Postmodern Prometheus” is a story of exploration but with horror elements that culminate when one of the Engineers emerges from his cryo-pod. The story of the unnatural birth of a Frankenstein-like monster by a sterile woman also has horror elements.
Other movies in the genre of Sci-Fi and dealing with space exploration also have horror elements. Poe’s dark castles have become abandoned spaceships on the verge of a known Universe, while the monsters have become more appropriately named ‘life forms’ that appear as blinking dots on a scanner in these horror movies. The crew, usually consisting of many different characters, is isolated from an overpopulated Earth by the eternal silence of open space.
Back on Earth, movies in the horror genre deal with a more developed form of the early horror ideas: those of social disintegration and threats to idealism holding such societies together. And while Dracula attacks the English society, the antagonist in “Saw” attacks the integrity of the human body. The psyche is involved as well, as the very injuries threatening the bodies of victims are forcefully self-inflicted, adding another level that horror works on.
And while horror stories themselves work on multiple levels and discuss multiple ideas all at once for a more compact experience, audiences around the world seem to get accustomed to the ideas themselves and ask for more. What horror truly teaches us is what happens when the very things we hold dear are endangered: society, family members, and ourselves. Far from the sad self-realization of postmodernism, the horror genre sees the man as a part of society, teaching him that real monsters are among us.