Horror has changed.
Once upon a time, on a dark and story night, horror was Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, or Dracula. Or all three.
When I was a kid, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was on TV one afternoon while my mother was ironing. I was able to stick with it until Lawrence Talbot spied a full moon and, well, you know what came next.
“MOM!” I screeched. “Change the channel.”
She dutifully did so, switching to a soap opera. After a while I calmed down and begged her to go back to the movie. I was fine then, at least until Talbot’s next transformation.
“MOM! Change the channel!”
I loved it. Loved getting scared right to death. And I still do to this day.
When I was in my early teens, I discovered H.P. Lovecraft, and immediately fell in love. The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath remains one of my favourite books. How could you not be scared when the Old Gods were after you? Or when rubbery, foul-smelling, ameboid-shaped abominations poked and prodded you as you descended fitfully to the Dream World and left your sanity behind, one step at a time?
As I started to wonder about writing horror fiction, and I read some horror anthologies and sources such as Nightmare magazine, I started to think about what constitutes horror fiction today. It occurred to me that horror has changed. It’s not so much about monsters in the dark any more. There may well be monsters in the dark, but the real horror is what those humans trapped in the house do to each other while the monsters lurk outside.
The classic modern example is TV’s The Walking Dead, a show brilliant in its writing and acting, but so dark and bleak that I stopped watching around the third season. Yes, there are zombies all about, but even as the world falls apart around their ears, people are still hungry for power, for the chance to one-up each other, and as ever, there are romantic triangles.
The idea, I think, is that when horror exists, we discover some truth about ourselves, something we prefer not to think about, a quality better left unspoken. And man, that’s frightening.