Thursday, June 03, 2004

"I never drink... wine." 

Johanna Draper Carlson asks, "What is horror?"

John Jakala
says, "Hmm. If only there were a comics blogger knowledgeable about the horror genre who could stop by and help us out."

(The cow says, "moo!")

Jakala was probably talking about Rick, but when has that ever stopped me from sticking my nose in?

My overly verbose post:

Matt Maxwell: Horror is Science Fiction without the science. For instance, if "Walking Dead" had a story turn where the zombies were revealed to be the byproduct of a virus from outer space and that there was a team of researchers who'd found a vaccine in time to save humanity, then it would seem far more science fiction than horror.

Me: I can't buy that, because that can just as easily be turned around on sci-fi. For instance, in Night of the Living Dead, the reasoning for the dead rising up to consume the living is explained as radiation trailed into the atmosphere by a falling satellite. In Day of the Dead, much of the movie is spent on the debate between the half-mad scientific mind in the Last Bunker, Dr. Logan, and the half-mad military wing. Dr. Logan is intent on training the zombies and figuring out what makes them tick. He even gives some passable explanations for the zombies' peculiar nature (the impulse to eat flesh, etc) to the main character and, by extension, to the audience.

Does that make NotLD or DotD sci-fi? HELL no. It just gives the audience a quickie reason, some back story, and gets right back to the horror. Being horror has nothing to do with explanation or premise or McGuffin and everything to do with mood and underlying theme.

(For a long time I thought sci-fi was just fantasy or horror with scientific trappings -- witness Star Wars or Aliens, as you cited, respectively -- but that's nonsense. Each of these genres may borrow from the other, since the three are more closely related than any other genre is, but they are all seperate and distinct entities.)

Sure, a lot of horror doesn't rise above genre conventions; the bad horror crap prefers to wallow in the conventions rather than utilize them as tools to get to something deeper. TWD does a great job of going farther and deeper, using horror conventions to highlight the beast in men and women; crap like the Scream trilogy is all ABOUT the conventions and navel gazing, and as an example of the genre is completely worthless.

What really, really, REALLY ticks me off in the discussion of any genre fiction (and this is not pointing fingers here, I'm just chatting), but especially those of horror and superhero, is when someone looks at an exemplary piece of work from either one -- say, Silence of the Lambs or Dark Knight Returns -- and says "oh, that's not just some HORROR film, that's a good psychological thriller," or "that's not a superhero comic! That's a commentary on blah blah blah blah." These people apparently refuse to recognize that horror (or superhero) works produce a hell of a lot of crap, JUST LIKE ANY OTHER GENRE, but the genre itself CAN be deep and CAN explore meaningful themes, in the right hands. Yes, those "surpass the genre" stories are rare, but that's what makes them special. If excellent storytelling were easy, everyone would be doing it.

[ /rant ]

Nor can I buy that horror is defined by its ability to inspire fear, as... another person said and I forget who it was. Sorry. :)

Yeah, a lot of horror exists specifically to illicit primal fear reactions (Texas Chainsaw Massacre is pretty much an onslaught, so relentless that the viewers' nerves are entirely frayed by the time credits roll, and Halloween is a much more subtle exercise in evoking fear), but there's plenty of room for dread, misery, and introspection. Pretty much no direct fear is inspired in Anne River Siddon's (I'm almost positive I spelled her name wrong) House Next Door; the book's overwhelming mood is impending dread, worked up to gothic proportions.

I think horror is, at its root, an exploration and examination of the baser side of humanity. Selfishness, greed, arrogance, and man's basic inhumanity to man (to bring out the eldest of chestnunts.) What's a vampire or a cannibal but a person who benefits off the misery and pain of others, and does so willingly? What's a werewolf but an unchained id let loose to wreak all the damage societal and moral restraints keep locked down? What's a ghost but lingering guilt, or rage, or regret, or sorrow, that a person just simply CANNOT let go? What's a zombie apocalypse scenario but an interesting and colorful way to strip away the excess garbage of everyday life to show how people TRULY interact with one another?

(People eat the latter up by the truckload, by the way. What else do you think the TV show Survivor is?)

So, ah. That's what horror is, to me. I hope that answers the question posed.

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