Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Horror! The Horror!

For argument's sake, let's say that nothing scares me more than the bogeyman.  I'd call that kind of fear terror.  So would most horror writers, I believe.  Terror is the fear before the thing.  I've never seen the bogeyman.  Never even heard him.  I have no proof he exists.  But still, he's my biggest fear, got it?  Scares the shit out of me.  I dread nothing more than leaving my closet door ajar after dark because I know I'll feel those two beady eyes staring at me while I'm trying to sleep.  I've read the Stephen King short story.  I know how he works.  

Horror is the disgust that follows.  I can't be horrified until after I see the fucker.  Not until after I know for certain he's in there.  He'll creak the floorboards.  Chuckle.  Whisper my fucking name.  Maybe he'll attempt to tear my head off my shoulders so he can guzzle the subsequent eruption of blood.  I'll see his claws, two elongated shadows, writhe above me in the moonlight.  Then I'll be repulsed.  Horror will exist for me.  If only for a moment.  Until that happens, I can't know horror.  I must have the event first.

An excellent example of the transition from terror to horror comes in the film Jaws.  It's even marked by one of the most famous lines in cinematic history.  "You're gonna need a bigger boat."  Watch Roy Scheider shovel chum before he first sees the shark.  He's a terrified police chief.  Nothing more.  In fact, he only fears the water up until that point.  He has no idea what he's facing.  But as soon as he sees that fucking shark, he knows he's the hunted, and it horrifies him.  The acting is perfect.  Everything about him transforms.  His body language, his vocal inflection.  He personifies how horror stories take you from pure terror into unadulterated repulsion.  40 years later, I haven't seen a better example on film. 
Fear comes on both levels.  The best horror writers know this.  They use mystery and suspense to create both terror and horror.  That's why it fucking pisses me off that some steer away from the label.  Let's call what you write a thriller, OK?  You'll sell more copies, buddy.  People won't think you've written a slasher book.  You wouldn't want that.  They're a joke.  They have no literary value.  Jason Vorhees?  Freddy Krueger?  In print?  Get serious, you asshole!  Even Stephen King's recent releases aren't categorized as horror.  They're Mystery/Suspense/Thriller.  Are they that different from anything he's done?  I don't think so.  His heart of darkness hasn't changed.  Let's re-classify all his work then.  The Shining isn't a fucking horror story anymore.  It's a supernatural thriller.  Bullshit.  You want to experience true horror?  Live with an abusive alcoholic.  Then come and tell me you aren't repulsed after your head careens off the kitchen cabinet because you got bitch-slapped.

I've been told I shouldn't market Crow Creek as a horror novel.  If that's because I failed at creating both terror and horror, fine.  Then I failed as a writer.  I accept that.  I'm not going to mask what I attempted by changing the label.  Losing a child is the worst kind of horror.  Religious hypocrisy is as scary as hell.  Those are the two major themes of Crow Creek.  I'm right where I belong.

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