Oh Horror, what happened to you?

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.

The Shining   Dracula Novel   Frankenstein

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?

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22 thoughts on “Oh Horror, what happened to you?

  1. You are totally right, good modern day horror films are few and far between. The thing is, there are actually plenty of good horror films out there being made today it’s just that most of them are indie films or foreign films that do no get a lot of recognition therefor no one ever hears about them.

  2. Great post! You know how I feel….made it amply evident in Deliver us from Vampire Tales. I am absolutely sick of the fawning and syrupy genre of current horrors where our monsters double up as anti-heroes who are heroes! Whatever! I mean the whole concept of bloodsucking creature who does mush is bbbbbbbbboooooorrrrrrrrrriiiiinggggg! There is a dire need for complex, intellectually intelligent and stirring horror/thriller writing!

  3. I’ve never been a fan of horror films or stories. I get nightmares real easy. I am, however, more of a fan of horror elements like vampires and zombies, etc. There’s only one horror movie that I can call myself a fan of and that’s Shutter Island as well, moreso because I’m a fan director Martin Scorcesse.

    I don’t like horror films because they like to overuse gore and violence for the sake of gore and violence. It needs context. And to be honest, excessive gore even in context is still horrifying to me (ie: the elevator full of blood in The Shining)

    • I agree – I’m not a fan of gore. I am a fan of a good horror story though, but my standards are high. I think if a film relies heavily on gore and violence, then it’s trying to make up for a lack of intellectual substance.
      Thanks for your reading and sharing your thoughts!

  4. I totally agree! I don’t know if you meant the twenty-first century in relation to others, but I think the best HORROR movies were from the twentieth century. All the Stephen King movies/books were fantastically horrifying! The scariest (of what I’ve seen) being Pet Sematary. Granted, there have been some freaky 21st century horror movies. Most are terrible though. I watched a Friday the 13th movie, made in 2009: by far, the most predictable and dumb “horror” film. Where is Stephen King when you need him?

  5. Skipping through all the lovely clichés that would so nicely fit—it is an unadulterated dreadfulness in and of itself how the genre of the horror/macabre has evolved over the years. As an author, this is my genre, and I have to say that publishing companies are not the least bit interested in what some have termed the horror-of-yesteryear. Bram Stoker, Bryon, Mary Shelley—all celebrated authors in their own rights would find it rather thorny in this era to publish. Quite frankly, the new horror sickens me with putrid smelling plots and rancid characters without the enriched superiority as their fore bearers.

    My shelves will forever be stocked with H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Weird Tales, Sheridan Le Fanu and many others.

    • Oh thank you for your thoughtful and, might I add, descriptive comment! I completely agree – publishers don’t seem to understand that stories of Byron’s and Stoker’s calibre will become timeless classics whereas the pitiful horror tales of this day and age will come, sell and then fade into oblivion within a matter of years. I wish you all the best with your horror publishing endeavours and hope to soon find a refreshing read in the horror aisle!

      • I could not agree more with your saying “…sell and then fade into oblivion within a matter of years.” That to me seems a relatively adequate calculation. With the dribbling nonsense that has come out in the past few years in this particular genre—I must hold out hope that there are others in this world that sincerely miss the traditional horror, and show fiercely their great contempt for what is being passed off under a guise.

        Thank you extremely for the well wishes. It will be my blog of the day when my acceptance letter arrives; no doubt.

  6. I am just theorizing, as I have not done in-depth research here, but… The 19th and 20th century horror seems to reflect a fear of others/foreigners and of technology/science. I think the popularity of 21st century supernatural romance speaks to a fear of losing deep personal connections with one another. After all, romance is all about establishing a deep personal connection to another human being (or vampire or werewolf or demon or whatever) and having a supernatural obstacle to overcome presents a challenge to establishing such a connection. Scary monsters then become friends and lovers.

    • Wow, I’ve never thought of it that way! There does seem to be a bit of a trend of that sort and I’m wondering whether overcoming the supernatural obstacles that stand in the way of connection is somewhat metaphorical of today’s technology standing in the way. How fascinating! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Pingback: Dracula by Bram Stoker « PurpleBooky

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