I was leisurely browsing the blogosphere yesterday when I stumbled across a post, Deliver us from another Vampire Tale, that made me think quite long and hard about what on earth has become of our literary and cinematic horror industries.
Once upon a time, horror stories were thought-provoking, fear-inspiring and heart-pumping tales, rich with detailed characters and clever plots. They took their readers on intimate journeys of the human psyche, exploring the very complex and fascinating nature of fear. What do we fear? Why do we fear? What does fear drive us to do? How do we handle fear’s ultimatums? Yes, the horrors of yesterday involved monsters and gruesome creatures but they were about more than just lingerie-clad high school girls running and screaming. They were intelligent and insightful tales, with as much depth and intellectual substance as a Dickens or Thoreau novel.
Sadly however, it seems that the horror genre has dramatically deteriorated upon the turn of the twenty-first century. Authors and cinematographers have bastardized what was once a thrilling genre, consequently morphing horror into a cheap, shallow and unintelligent class of fiction. The focus, instead of being on the excitingly interesting and multifaceted concept of human fear, is far too often placed on producing quick, cheap thrills. Girls in underwear, men with knives, a haunting soundtrack and a handful of moments that make you jump for no other reason that the shower curtain fluttered in the wind. Horror, in my humble, grammatically correct opinion, has become stupid.
Now, I don’t mean to be just another Twilight hater, but seriously… why? Why, why, why? Why did the captivating, thrilling notion of vampires have to be so thoroughly destroyed by what has become a shallow, tween obsession with sparkling boys? The Twilight saga, I know, is meant to be more of a romance novel than a horror story but I cannot help but begrudge it for its impact on vampiric fiction. Vampires used to be a terrifying but fascinating species embedded within the myths and legends of human history. They date back centuries, originally appearing in eighteenth century poetry before becoming a prominent feature of Gothic fiction. The very celebrated Lord Byron, for example, included the vampire in a passage in his epic poem, The Giaour:
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
Perhaps it’s just me, perhaps I’m being unfair, but I honestly cannot see how today’s petty tales of high school vampires can even be considered within the same league as the fictional works of Byron and Stoker.
However, I must concede that there are one or two modern horrors that prove themselves to be more than just bangs and screams… I just wish that they were the majority instead of the rare. Shutter Island, for example, is a psychological thriller starring Leonardo Di Caprio that is almost entirely a game of the mind. Set on an island mental facility, this very clever film takes its viewers on an expedition into insanity, quite shockingly illustrating the very delicate nature of the human mind and the very real possibility that we may all be in various stages of our own psychosis.
Martin Scorcese does an impeccable job of this film but sadly, it’s one of only very few horror films worth watching. And it causes me even greater pain to say that I have yet to find a twenty-first century horror novel that does anything more than disgust me. What has happened?
I’ve been talking with the author of Deliver us from Vampire Tales and it seems that I’m not the only one completely disillusioned by the modern take on horror and thriller fiction. What are your thoughts? Am I completely off-base, unaware of an entire world of recent horror fiction that shames even Frankenstein? Or are you as much in want of a deliciously intelligent, complex and insightful tale of the human psyche but sadly unable to find such a fine-sounding specimen of literature?