Why is Horror Important?–Part One

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sebastian Dooris

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sebastian Dooris

Horror is probably one of my favorite genres and always has been. When I was a teen, we didn’t have YA. We had Dean Koontz, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker. My parents were thrilled I was reading. I wonder how they would’ve felt had they known what I was reading. Yet, growing up, I couldn’t get enough scary books or horror movies and not much has changed.

Even now, when life is stressful, out of control, or I’ve had a day that’s simply served me my own tail-end on a platter, what’s my favorite outlet? A good scary movie. Not slasher flicks, but horror; terrifying, well-thought stories. In a way, I find this strange, since I dedicate most of my waking hours to making other laugh, empowering them, teaching them and encouraging them.

So why, of all things, would I be drawn to something that could scare the wits out of me?

That’s a great question, and while I have my own opinions, I’ve decided to defer to an expert. Kevin is one of those rare blessings we can uncover with the Internet and social media. Though Kevin and I initially got off on the wrong foot, something akin to, “Kristen, please stop pirating my cable” which was a REAL trick since I live in Texas and he’s all the way in New York, we’ve become fast friends.

I quickly became fascinated by Kevin’s work, his writing, and the way he could explain a genre that’s intrigued me so much for most of my life. There are great writers and there are great teachers. It’s a great treasure to find someone who is BOTH (which is why Kevin will be teaching both days at WANACon).

That, and Stephen King has not fallen for the “free-candy-panel-van trick.” He’s slick that way.

But, I know you will greatly enjoy Kevin, so I am shutting up now and handing the show over to him…


Two summers ago on my family’s annual week-long vacation in the Adirondacks we spent a day in Lake George. After walking the sidewalks, I spied an attraction that of course piqued my curiosity:

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 9.34.02 AM

Obviously, this lover of all things spooky was intrigued. I tried to get my seven year-old daughter to brave the museum with me but she wouldn’t bite. So my wife told me to go ahead and they’d meet me after at a park nearby. I felt a little silly going alone, but several turns into the tour I felt a lot less silly.

And just a bit…disconcerted.


Dare I say…afraid?

I’ll say this, those House of Frankenstein folks did a nice job, especially with a bunch of inanimate wax statues. The lights inside were very dim, but they let me see just enough to feel uneasy, even though I knew I was looking at wax statues. I’d round a blind corner, then a display would light up, startling me. I’d descend a flight of brightly lit, normal-looking stairs, expecting it to be over…turn the corner and once more find “things” shrouded in darkness.

When I finished that tour, the sun shined just a little bit brighter, the air felt warmer and I felt REALLY happy to catch up with my family; simply happy to be alive and healthy and not alone. Even for a guy who’d been writing horror for ten years or so, the experience proved to be a threshold moment: the darkness and disorientation and unpredictability (even though simulated) of that wax museum made me appreciate the light and the warmth and my family just a little bit more.

Anne Radcliffe, one of the first Gothic writers (The Mysteries of Udolpho) might’ve summed my experience up with her thoughts on terror, that it “expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life.”

Anne Radcliffe

Anne Radcliffe

This is partly why I believe Horror is one of the most important literary genres around. We read these stories or watch these movies and as we close the book or as the credits roll, we think: Thank God. Thank that hasn’t happened to ME. And that, of course, this what early Greek tragedians called catharsis: the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

I believe the last part of that definition is the most important, differentiating between horror and what I call exploitation. “Strong or repressed emotions.”

According to award-winning horror critic, editor and writer Douglas Winter: “horror is an emotion.” New York Times Best-Selling Author Ted Dekker once said in an aside at a conference, “Horror is one of the hardest genres to practice. To do it right, you have to be willing to make readers cry.”

But isn’t the world horrible enough? With our news sources glutted with stories of domestic and racial violence, school shootings and terrorism? Do we need the horror genre in a world filled with so much horror?

Yes. Yes, absolutely. In fact, we may need it more than ever.

In his masterwork analyzing the horror genre, Danse Macabre, Stephen King writes:

“Why do you (we) want to make up horrible things when there is so much real horror in the

The answer seems to be that we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones. With the
endless inventiveness of humankind, we grasp the very real elements which are so divisive and
destructive and try to turn them into tools – to dismantle themselves….the dream of horror is
in itself an out-letting and a lancing…and it may well be that the mass media dream of horror
can sometimes become a nationwide’s analyst’s couch.”Danse Macabre, pg. 13

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 10.07.01 AM

When we trace some of the horror tropes, even ones that seem silly, now (like giant bugs or a lumbering Frankenstein) reflect our nation’s anxieties. Through the thirties – during the Great Depression, when thousands of people felt alienated from society because of something they couldn’t control – horror movies focused on monsters cut off from society not because they CHOSE to be that way, but because they were.

Frankenstein is emblematic of this, when the monster – who was made to be what he was – falls victim to angry villagers brandishing torches and pitchforks, simply for being what his creator made him to be.

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 10.20.57 AM

Following this thought, is it any wonder the fifties saw scores of movies about irradiated monster spiders and bugs (during the Cold War and nuclear proliferation and testing) as well as armies of emotionless aliens (nice stand-ins for those un-American Commies) INVADING Earth?

And even movies like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (not its endless remakes) has its place, coming so soon after the Vietnam War, which shattered the “rules” of combat and exposed authorities as unreliable and untrustworthy.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

In Massacre, people are killed in the light of day, which had always been a trusted element of horror up until then: survive until daylight, and you’re safe. Not so in Massacre, which can very easily represent our twisted emotions and radically altered perceptions as a nation after staggering, battered and bloodied, out of Vietnam.

I read somewhere once about someone saying to Stephen King that he must have lots of nightmares, given what he writes. His answer? No, he doesn’t have nightmares – because he writes. So that catharsis goes both ways: providing not only a necessary release for the reader, but also – and perhaps more importantly – for the writer, too.


Thanks so much, Kevin! And we eagerly await the rest of this series. Not only is Kevin going to explore more about the purpose of Horror, but he’ll even offer insight on how to write this tough genre well.

No easy task in our spoiled-CGI-jaded world.

What are your thoughts? Do you gravitate to horror when you’re down like I do? What are some of your favorite horror movies? Why did they resonate? How did they speak to you? What is your favorite type of horror? Supernatural? Religious? Slasher? Reality (I.e. serial killers)? Why do you think you gravitate to that particular type of horror?

Are you like me and STILL remember episodes of the Twilight Zone? And this is why you HATE ventriloquist dolls? Or Jaws and still won’t swim in anything that isn’t chlorinated?

I LOVE hearing from you, and I know Kevin will, too. Ask him your questions. Tell him your fears. Comments for guests get double weight in the contest.

Which is…

To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror Channel. His podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is forthcoming November 2013 from Crystal Lake Publishing.


WANACon now has Day One and Day Two for sale separately so you can choose if you only can fit part of the conference. Just a note: A LOT of major authors sacrificed time for no or little pay to pay it forward and offer an affordable and easily accessible conference for those who need one and WANA is extremely grateful to have them.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

Get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE for $149 and all recordings for anything you miss or need to hear again. Sign up today, because seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.


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  1. My kids and I just saw Jaws the other weekend and it still brings me shivers. Spielberg’s a genius. My favorite horror movies are Alien, The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, Paranormal Activity, and so many more. The Exorcist is probably the most terrifying of the lot. How can I forget the shivers I feel whenever the window is open in that bedroom? Every. Single. Time. SHIVERS! Love me Stephen King–he’s a master of the genre. The Shining’s my fave. Aw, man, I could go on but I wouldn’t get anything done today otherwise! Fun post!

  2. Loved this post. I too love science fiction and the old monsters. I am not into gore so Elm Street is not my cup of tea. I love Sleepy Hollow and am a big fan of Defiance. I loved Raymond Burr in the Godzilla movies and actually saw the one before that where it was just the Japanese version. I liked Gorgo, and Ray Hausenhauer effects. I have seen Earth versus the Flying Saucers at least a dozen times, War of the Worlds the same but just the old version with Gene Barry.

  3. My memory is very bad. I was not sure is you had read my book “COMPOSED IN BLOOD”. If you haven’t, I have included a PDF for you to view. Hope you enjoy it.

    Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2013 15:31:10 +0000 To: author101@hotmail.com

  4. I only saw the last ten minutes of Carrie and I was a fruit loop lol. Not too good with horror but I do see that if it is apart from reality enough it is enjoyable. I suppose The Perfect 7 that I’ve just read is on the border of what I would read.

  5. I loved horror movies when I was younger. I still can’t say ‘Candyman’ three times in a dark room! I found though that they became more gross and less scary later (The saw movies) so I stopped watching. My 15 year old daughter renewed my love of them when she begged me to see Insidious, which was more scary jumpy and less gross slash up. We make it a point now to see all the good ones (my version of good) she watches them all and I do mean all! Great post!

  6. Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    Great post by Keven Lucia, Horror Author, guest post on Author Kristen Lamb’s blog

  7. Horror that makes me cringe is a momentary scare, but horror that gets in my head never really leaves. If you can find a universal fear and exploit it you can get in people’s heads. That’s when they fear showers, swimming, or the neighbor across the way who’s wife mysteriously disappeared.

  8. I wrote a blog post on this very subject recently:


  9. I love the horror genre too. Of course, Mr. King is my favorite. No one says come with me on this terror ride from page one like him. And I go willingly. Now, I will check out Kevin’s books because he seems like a writer after my own heart. But I like the kind of horror that makes you think. Not slashers so much. Who scares you more than Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs? He’s scary because he’s so real. I also love Criminal Minds because those serial killers could exist. That’s the kind of stuff that gets me coming back again and again. Thanks for the post! Love it.

    1. Thanks, Stacey. In the coming days I’ll talk a little about the differences between slasher films and “quiet horror” and when fiction invokes terror, horror, or revulsion. Hope you’ll check back!

    • Lanette Kauten on September 25, 2013 at 11:10 am
    • Reply

    Nothing gets to me like psychological horror, which is why I enjoyed the movie, The Shining much more than the book, which was more paranormal. My favorite horror movie is Blair Witch Project because we never saw what was hunting the students.

    1. The original Blair Witch was a masterpiece on shoe-string budgeting. And terrifying if you ever HAVE been lost in the woods at night. Thanks for commenting!

  10. Horror is definitely one of my favorites as well, which is why I’ve been trying so hard to write it. 🙂 When I was (much) younger I was a bit of a wuss, but I would watch shows like “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and read books like the Goosebumps series and they would give me this wonderful little thrill. Later on in life my boyfriend (now husband) introduced me to more, well…horrifying horror. After years of that I’ve become a bit desensitized, but certain excellent stories still give me the shivers and make me feel uncomfortable walking around my own house without every light on. It’s a wonderful sensation, I think, and this post really gets it down to a science…it’s wonderful to be able to give yourself that thrill and afterwards be able to say, “Phew…thank goodness nothing like THAT ever happened to ME!”

  11. I read your post with fascination. I keep trying to understand why other people like to be scared and like horror when I hate it with a deep hatred. Every time I get scared or wake up from a nightmare, I am adrenaline-sick for at least the next two hours. You all must metabolize adrenaline differently.

    1. I think it’s also important to understand that horror certainly isn’t for everyone. But, as a genre, I think it sometimes gets a little bit of the shaft – mostly because of REALLY BAD movies – when it really CAN say some very important things about us as humans. Unfortunately, like other genres, its practitioners don’t always utilize it to its fullest potential. Thanks for commenting!

  12. I can’t watch horror movies. I project what’s happening onto myself and have a physical reaction to them (the poor people in front of me at the theater get their chairs kicked..oops.) Yet, I have written several scenes that are frightening. I find it easier to write about than to watch and I could relate to this post. Thanks for sharing it!

  13. I have a more touch ‘n go experience with horror. I was okay with The Sixth Sense, 28 Days Later and I Am Legend (though I still turn away at the horrible pet dog scene). But seriously, I have to really be in the mood for horror. As far as reading it goes, I’m more open to that. I actually enjoyed Carrie and would read it again if I wasn’t interested in other books at the moment. I’m curious to read The Shining because I recently spent a few days in Estes Park, CO.

    One thing that I never liked was theme parks that have the Halloween specials. I’ve been to Busch Gardens and Universal during these times, and by the end of the night, I’m exhasted and angry. The next person who jumps out and startles me just might get a real black eye. lol

    1. The Shining is one of my favorite novels. Not so much a fan of the movie, preferred the miniseries instead.

      1. I never saw the movie. I understand that King himself wasn’t too happy with it. I watched the miniseries though. I did enjoy that. 🙂

      • Jason Gallagher on October 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm
      • Reply

      Shea – It’s funny you mentioned those three movies. Those movies are about the limits of my horror experience too. Oh, I’ve seen a few others (Like Blairwitch Project), but not many. I still don’t like to think about the scene when the Terminator in the 2nd movie morphed his hand into a long blade and stabbed it through the gut of some dude.

  14. I’m curious to know the difference between thriller and horror? To me – horror is hack and slash blood baths – Elm Street, Jason, Halloween, The Ring, Saw, etc. I’m not so into those. But I love a good thriller – Kiss The Girls, Silence of the Lambs, Shutter Island, etc.

    1. Lisa, I’m going be talking a lot about that in the next few days. The hack and slash blood baths make up a small segment of what could be considered “horror” – and, if I remember correctly, I don’t think The Ring was really that bloody. But yeah, I’ll be talking a bit about that. I think it’s a shame, really, that folks don’t realize how WIDE a genre horror really is.

  15. I love horror and Stephen King is definitely one of my idols. I agree with Kevin. Horror flicks and books allow us to release stored up emotions. I also love to watch horror especially Syfy flicks which can be campy. I don’t like the recent slasher movies. I did like John Carpenter’s Halloween because it was filled with foreshadowing, not blood and gore. The new ones missed this piece. I write dark paranormal and in my books, I try to elicit those emotions people need to release.

  16. Hey folks – thanks for all the great comments! I’m in between classes at the day job, but when I get a free moment, I’ll wade right in! Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  17. Great article. There is also a fantastic documentary about the fears of the nation (world) though different decades and the horror movies that were successful at these points in time. It’s called, Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue. It features John Carpenter and Roger Corman, among many others in interviews and clips following a chronological history of the horror film. If you are a horror fan, writer, or just have a morbid curiosity, you should definitely check it out. I also look forward to Kevin Lucia’s next post in the series 🙂 BTW, was at that House of Frankenstein’s Wax Museum in Lake George myself some years ago. It has to be the best horror wax museum ever!

    1. Yeah, I was pretty impressed with the place, myself. Thanks for commenting!

  18. I disagree with the catharsis thing. Catharsis was often used to help watchers of a play understand. After reading the Iliad you’re supposed to understand that the anger and stubborness of Achilles led to his own downfall. You’ve followed him through the book and feel as though you learned those things.
    Catharsis in many ways is supposed to let the reader feel as though they just went through all that stuff. It’s not supposed to be an experience of dismantling oneself from what just happened on-stage.
    That being said I’m sure some people feel the release talked about here from horror, but the learning in many ways must have been lost.
    Though I suppose I could be wrong as horror is not an educational genre, it’s a genre about survival.
    Personally I don’t like horror. I don’t feel any release whatsoever (may be the reason for my dislike of the use of ‘catharsis’ here) but instead just feel terrified for the next long while. After IT I didn’t sleep for three nights and when I did start sleeping I’d sometimes wake up screaming. When I watched the Blairwitch Project I became terrified of walking through a dark piece of forest on my way home.
    To me the horror genre causes a great deal of distress.

    Although the more psychological side of the genre doesn’t do that to me … Serial Experiments Lain, American Psycho, The Vampire Lestat are movies/books that scared me because of the psychological aspects and made me really think about stuff in a way I didn’t before.

    Sorry for the rambles x) Feel free to disagree.

    1. More than likely this is a matter of semantics, so there’s plenty of room to move around here, I believe. And yeah – horror is definitely not for everyone. No argument there.

  19. Loved this article! I, too, have been a rabid reader of horror (and mystery, and sci fi and all combinations thereof) since childhood. I was the only 10 year old allowed in the adult section of the library because my mom spoke to the librarian lol. Heck – none of the “kids” books were as interesting! I’ve decided that the joy of reading horror for me is that when I close the book, the horror is gone. It’s controllable. Not like the horror that happens in real life.

    1. “It’s controllable. Not like the horror that happens in real life.” – I think that’s where a lot of this attraction to the horror genre comes from. I won’t have time to talk about it completely in my series, but anyone interested in a serious examination of the horror genre, definitely check out King’s DANSE MACABRE and Noel Carroll’s THE PHILOSOPHY OF HORROR.

      And as an English teacher – horror is one of the BEST ways to snag those reluctant readers…

  20. I like the horror genre, but I tend to avoid it because it’s not a release for me. The imagery, whether from my own imagination or from the screen, tends to stick with me for a long time. For me, the world gets darker. My husband, on the other hand, _loves_ horror films (but he is a little picky, and wants a good story, not just slash and gore). We tend to process things differently though, he gets over things quickly, where I tend to hold on longer, so who knows, maybe it has to do with different brain chemistry and wiring.

  21. Thanks for this post, Kevin (and Kristen for hosting!). Horror has always been my genre of choice as a writer (and reader/movie watcher) and I’ve watched with dismay as horror became associated with slasher flicks and gore porn. Just like I think all fantasy should have a little magic, I think horror should always have a touch of the supernatural or unexplained to it. It’s unfortunate a lot of horror writers are having to camouflage their work behind a dark fantasy label to avoid the stigma attached to the genre. (Nothing wrong with dark fantasy — I read/write under that umbrella, too, but I consider it misleading when the book is really horror.)

    Hopefully that will change. Certainly, the movies have returned to the supernatural: The Possession, Insidious, Sinister, Paranormal Activity, .REC, Mama, and so on.

    I can say that, for me, writing horror has always been an exercise in hope and in that catharsis and awakening mentioned. As much as I enjoy Granddaddy Lovecraft, the nihilistic, everybody-dies-at-the-end horror isn’t my favorite. (Coming from a reformed protagonist serial killer!) There IS a ton of horror in the world that it becomes hard to process, and it’s easy to feel powerless and, over time, jaded. Well-done horror, by its nature deeply archetypal and symbolic, gives us a chance to face representations of our fear head on, to be part of a battle, and, win or lose, come away with a stronger understanding of what we face. It fights the overwhelming desensitization that comes with bad news overload. And I know I’m a more aware and grateful person because of it, and hopefully not too bad at being scary, either.

    1. “behind a dark fantasy label to avoid the stigma attached to the genre.” – Hit the nail on the head, there. As a much younger writer, it took me a long while to simply “own” the horror writer title. And excellent comments, definitely. Thanks!

  22. For me horror is at it’s finest when you can’t see what’s just around the corner or that thing lurking in the dark. I’m not a fan of gore porn like Saw, I find it tedious and predictable. Give me a hint of the bad stuff and I’m happy, well, edge of my seat happy. For a while after watching Poltergeist I became quite wary of the TV when scheduled programming ended and static filled the screen

    I recently watched The Divide. Horrible, twisted movie that made me feel sick, which was weird as I figured I’d become thoroughly desensitised to horror. The last 20 minutes of Quarantine were nail biting stuff! It’s what you can’t see that’s truly scary.

    1. “It’s what you can’t see that’s truly scary.” Amen to that. Although there ARE times when I DO want to see the monster. Will talk about that in a few days. Thanks for commenting!

  23. Thanks for this Kevin and Kristen! I cut my literary teeth on horror, and grew up King Koontz, and Lovecraft, too. You are right. There simply wasn’t enough horror to read back then.

  24. Reblogged this on a spoonful of snarky and commented:
    I love me some horror stories and this is a great post about why!!

    • melorajohnson on September 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm
    • Reply

    Very interesting. I’ve never been a fan of horror but this article gave me a new perspective on it. Thank you.

  25. I love horror and always have. I started with E.A. Poe and never looked back. I searched out scary stories and was rewarded with a fount writers who understood what will make you leave the lights on all night. Henry James, Alfred Noyes, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Mark Twain, and even Author Cannon Doyle. These writers left a legacy that I’m happy to report has been picked up by modern masters of the macabre, like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Peter Atkins, Dennis Etchison, and Joe Hill.

    Movies are never as scary as reading, alone, in the dark. That said, The Exorcist, for my money, easily the scariest movie of all time, followed by Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho and The Birds. 1408 and The Mist both taken from Stephen King short stories.The Ring, The Ninth Gate and no list would be complete without Night Of The Living Dead.

    This list is far from complete, but these are the folks who have entertained me and molded my sick psyche. They are also the reason I write in the the genre. Horror is fiction, without restraints. Remove the niceties and political correctness from fiction and horror will peer out from under your bed. Don’t forget to check in the closets before you lay your head on that pillow tonight.

    • edwardowenauthor on September 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm
    • Reply

    One more reason to love you, Kristen (I’m up to about 73). By far my favorite genre. Like to throw in “Seven” and “Silence of the Lambs” (NOT about that gag order the judge slapped on Kristen and her relatives- he had no sense of humor) while I’m here. Real monsters are the scariest by far.
    For those who would like a peek into the twisted minds that dwell in this genre, check out Dark Recesses Ezine. Our first issue goes online next Tuesday, October 1st. I would love to get an article from the esteemed Mr Lucia for our January issue. I’d even buy him lunch (after all the candy he’s had to suffer through in the back of Kristen’s van, it’s the least I can do). For those so interested: http://www.darkrecessesezine.com/

    1. Will be talking about Seven in a few days, actually. Thanks for commenting!

    • Melissa Lewicki on September 25, 2013 at 2:05 pm
    • Reply

    No. No horror for me. I don’t like to be scared. Was probably traumatized as a child. My dad would stand around the corner from my room and say “Missie. I am going to pop out and say boo and scare you.” And he did. And I would scream bloody murder. No horror for me. I want fluffy bunnies. And not in stew pots!

      • edwardowenauthor on September 25, 2013 at 2:12 pm
      • Reply

      Chicken! … in a stew pot 3:)

    • edwardowenauthor on September 25, 2013 at 2:10 pm
    • Reply

    Reblogging this on Friday. I’m not lazy … I prefer ‘efficient time manager’ … and it’s far better than anything I was going to write. Thanks. 🙂

  26. These are all great comments – gotta slip home from work, so I’ll check back when I get there. Thanks again for commenting, and definitely check back tomorrow!

    • Laurie A Will on September 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm
    • Reply

    I love horror movies and stories. I cut my teeth on Stephen King and Clive Baker. I can’t wait until my boys get a little older and I can watch with them. There’s one movie that I can’t even remember the name of that I watched as a kid and the images still creep me out. There were dolls with moving heads, and blinking eyes. I think there was a whole room of these dolls with heads that turned and blink all by themselves. I don’t know why, but it creeped me out. Overall they I prefer horror movies and books that can actually scare me. I don’t care for the new movement that seems to focus on disgusting people instead. I don’t mind seeing disgusting images in a horror movie, but I want to be scared too. Not just disgusted.

    1. It’s interesting you mention that about disgust, because I’ll be talking about that in a few days – the differences between terror, horror, and revulsion (disgust). Thing is, if revulsion serves a purpose – transgression, inversion, violation of the natural order – we have a story. If the entire is simply a vehicle to deliver said revulsion, than you have The Human Centipede….

        • Laurie A Will on September 25, 2013 at 7:20 pm
        • Reply

        Kevin, I will look forward to reading your next post. It’s funny I usually like the revulsion to serve a purpose, but sometimes I just got to watch something to see how bad it gets. I was looking at the descriptions and reviews of The Human Centipede. I am tempted to watch…

  27. Hi Kristen, like you I read all the horror I could and more because I’m some years north of your age. Horror as Stephen King describes it in Danse Macabre is the truth. And there’s one more thing, we can out the book down and pick up Little Women. There are some that stick with you like Come Closer by Sara Gran but most horror can be put down and we can move on to the next story.

    1. Exactly – because, as King also says in Danse Macabre, we are God’s Liars (who tell the truth). Thanks for commenting!

  28. I love horror. I was ravenous for it when I was a kid. I guess it felt a little illicit – parents had control over bedtime and tv time but if you hid under the covers with a torch (cliche but true), you could escape into whatever worlds you wanted. And the ‘rents would not have approved of some of the weird worlds the young me went to at night with Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Brian Lumley and assorted others – thrills and chills complemented by the fact I was doing something I shouldn’t in the dark (which is probably why my eyes are so bad – but it was worth it).

    Some do think that nowadays we have become a bit desensitised. If you let yourself feel the upset at every piece of bad news on the news, how would you even get on with your day? But we still want to *feel*. Maybe love of horror comes from this – fear is so easy to feel and thrilling to experience in fiction and it’s ok to enjoy it. You can care about characters and get lost in a story but, afterwards, you can close the book and everything is ok – you can leave the house of wax and enjoy the sunshine more for having been there.

    The news meanwhile… Someone I know was tortured, raped and murdered. What macabre news that made. Unlike the news that wasn’t connected directly to me, I couldn’t switch it off. It pulled me into the despair of wondering how people can do such terrible things to other people. It made me think that every piece of news is that personal to the people connected to it directly and all of a sudden every piece of bad news had that intensity. So here, King’s question has relevance: “Why do you (we) want to make up horrible things when there is so much real horror in the world?” It’s because the real horror in the world makes you want to escape the world; not be a part of the world; hate the world. Make-belief allows you to experience horror without the hurt. I appreciate the idea of the lancing, the deconstruction of the human condition – a consideration of everything horrible that we can explore without it breaking us.

    1. Excellent. And this would totally make a great line in a nonfic about horror:

      “…you can leave the house of wax and enjoy the sunshine more for having been there…”

      Thanks for commenting!

  29. Working on a horror piece myself. I love King and Lovecraft and ghost stories still scare the crap out of me. It sparks the imagination in unexpected ways and though I don’t really like being scared, there is an addictive quality to it.

    1. ” It sparks the imagination in unexpected ways ” – I think that’s just more proof of horror’s staying power, and also how wide a genre it can be. Horror is the ghost story, it can be dark fantasy, there’s gothic/quiet/literary horror, pulp fiction Bradbury’s tales of the fantastic…it’s magic, really. Wish I could paste the last three pages of Danse Macabre in here, because King touches on the point very eloquently.

      1. I agree. I’m writing Gothic horror myself.

    • dex on September 25, 2013 at 4:41 pm
    • Reply

    I love everything about this post. Excellent. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve spoken to friends about the value of horror often, and I even have a post on my own blog addressing the same issue scheduled to publish in a couple of weeks. (I swear. I’m not making that up.)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  30. Great points, Kevin! Mathair is a lifelong horror junkie and had me watching the greats before I was four. For me, it was always about the adrenaline, but once I was older and matured, the stories were what captivated me. But, I always found that I related to the monster, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, because I took the time to take in their perspectives of being an outcast. So, I try to take that into consideration every time I see a flick, or read a book. Don’t know if anyone else does that, though. Awesome post!

    1. Thanks! And this:

      ” it was always about the adrenaline, but once I was older and matured, the stories were what captivated me.”

      I experienced something similar when I got married and then when I had kids, because then I became afraid of very DIFFERENT things. Those fear had more texture, and really changed my reading AND writing habits…as we’ll see here in the next few days.

  31. Thanks Kevin (and Kristen) for this insightful post! I’m currently writing a horror novel and have been questioning myself for the past few months why I’m doing this. Just today I was speaking to a friend (who has published a beautiful, heart-warming memoir) why I’m insistent about putting such negativity into the world. My conclusions at the end of the two hour discussion had to do with exploring truth and reality, creations of the mind and going deep into the darkness, perhaps to drive out fear or repressions and surface to the light. Some of my research has been horrifying and on occasion it even makes me want to vomit, but in spite of this I still feel driven to continue. Writing a horror novel also takes me back to books and films that I enjoyed, which probably explains why this genre has chosen me. When I was a teenager I was always attracted to reading mysteries, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, and any ghost story I could get my hands on. Ghost stories at sleepovers were a must, or the sleepover was just boring. As for television and cinema, Amityville Horror, The Twilight Zone (TV), The Exorcist, and The Shining. More contemporary films include The Others, Sixth Sense, and TV programs about the paranormal. Your post reassured me that I don’t need to worry I’m putting more shit in the world and that possibly what I am writing is important – for myself and for readers of horror. So thank you! Perhaps it’s not so coincidental this blog post came my way today.

    1. “exploring truth and reality, creations of the mind and going deep into the darkness, perhaps to drive out fear or repressions and surface to the light.”

      AMEN. Don’t step back from that, ever. We horror folks “get” you, for sure…

      1. Yes, exorcizing demons is bloody difficult but crucially important work! Thanks again, and I look forward to Part 2!

  32. Hi Kristen and Kevin,
    As so many others here have commented, I also have loved horror stories and movies since I was a kid (many, many moons ago, full moons of course). I remember the first time I read one of Lovecraft’s stories – At the Mountains of Madness – I actually felt the short hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Loved that stuff!!

    And although I love both horror and sci-fi, I have found myself gravitating more toward horror in my own writing. Not the slasher or zombie bunk, but the good old-fashioned “things that go bump in the night.” Matter of fact, on my website at http://www.aakemp.com I offer a free ebook download of some of my short horror and sci-fi stories, a few of which have seen publication.

    Thanks for this great post. I love reading them, Kristen, as well as those of your guests like this one.

  33. Horror has always played an important role in my life. House was haunted growing up. Still is. Stephen King was the first horror novelist I ever read at 14. Koontz, John Saul. And movies? Forgiddaboudit. Then with recent TV Shows — American Horror Story, The Walking Dead — I believe horror is more recognized for it’s importance. The characters. Main characters overcoming truly large obstacles and changing by the end … (and I don’t mean into zombies — although, that does happen, too). I find that reading Horror keeps me turning pages, where other genres just don’t keep me engaged. I even appreciate B-horror films. I have Netflix — so luckily, B-Horror films are in surplus there, lol. They say there is nothing new under the sun. To me, there is — because someone’s rendition of a zombie/vampire/slasher/etc story is their own. I don’t mind “knowing” some of the “facts” behind the horror going in. Maybe that’s just me?

    1. Thanks for coming over, Phil! And yeah – I have a soft spot for those B-movies, myself. Oh, and by the way…this Phil Tomosso guy’s got some writing chops, too…

  34. Great post, Kevin! I’ve been an avid horror fan since I can remember. Books, movies, whatever I could get to give me an adrenaline rush. I love being scared, but being in control of it too. I don’t mind blood, gore, paranormal, or a good twisted scare.Though I wouldn’t admit to some of the movies I’ve seen. Really bad B rated ones. *Cringe* Some of my favorite authors are Ketchum, Keene, Laymon, and Little. I also read a lot of true crime books.

    I hate to admit that I’m sometimes into the more disturbing options. Then again, I haven’t attempted watching the human centipede yet. I’ve gotten as far as almost pushing the watch button before chickening out. The horror books I don’t like are when the monsters, whether human or not, aren’t believable. If they don’t have a good realistic reason for doing what they’re doing, then I usually am not a fan. The most disturbing movie and book for me was The Girl Next Door. Ketchum is the king at making you cringe. Talk about horror.

    I look forward to checking out your books!!

    1. Christine – thanks! Ironically, I’ll be talking a little bit about The Human Centipede in a day or so. And Ketchum can write that stuff and have it MEAN something. He’s also a great guy – never would expect him to be a horror writer. Keene is also a favorite of mine. I hate zombies, but I LOVE THE RISING.

  35. I only like to read or watch horror at Halloween, and then only psychological thrillers. My favorite horror movie I think is still Signs, because it has such a good story in between the jump scenes. Last year I explored Lovecraft and his ilk, and this year I’m thinking of trying out some more Daphne DuMaurier. And see if Henry James wrote anything else like Turn of the Screw. I don’t want blood and guts and profanity–I want the normal person quietly living their life, and noticing that one little thing that’s slightly off. That’s what creeps me out.

  36. “I want the normal person quietly living their life, and noticing that one little thing that’s slightly off. That’s what creeps me out.”

    In that case, I HIGHLY recommend checking out the late Charles L. Grant. He spawned a movement in horror called “quiet horror.” Definitely worth looking into.

  37. I adore this post! I live for that pump of adrenaline from a scary movie or book, which is why my writing almost always leans toward horror and paranormal. To me, fear of the unknown is much scarier than a guy with a machete (unless he’s coming after me). The unknown lets your imagination insert whatever dark horror terrifies you the most.

    The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is my favorite horror novel. I read it when I was a kid and loved every second of it. My favorite horror movies include The Ring, The Shining, The Exorcist, and I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting.

    I’m looking forward to more posts on this topic!

    1. I love The Haunting of Hill House! One of my favorites, also.

  38. Reblogged this on Bibliomancy and commented:
    Excellent post on why we need horror.

  39. I LOVE horror. The first paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson-man there is nothing like it.

    “…silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

    I have goosebumps. And you have to love Mr. King. The Shining is the most perfect ghost story ever written–don’t argue. When my oldest daughter was a baby, we lived in Bangor, Maine. One day I walked to the drug store with her in a back-pack carrier. While we were in line, the man behind us said, “That’s the way to travel. I need to get me one of those.” I turned around and it was Stephen King. (No. 1 rule of living in Bangor is to be cool when you see Stephen King). I simply smiled, but I’ve been trying for almost 20 years to figure out how to use that as a book blurb. Well-he said it to me-sort of…no?

    Great post.

    1. Don’t worry, I’m not arguing with any of this….

      • Laurie A Will on September 25, 2013 at 8:44 pm
      • Reply

      Lisa, Thank you for reminding me. I thought my first taste of horror was from Stephen King, but it may have been Shirley Jackson,The Haunting of Hill House. I loved it and what a great opening.

  40. aaahhh yes.. Shutter, Legend of Hell house, The Changeling, The haunting, the original not the remake, The Fog, Halloween (contrary to popular belief theres not a single gore scene in the movie), The last man on earth and so many others I could spend two days listing them LOL. thanks for the post.

  41. So then what does it mean if you don’t really like the horror genre?

    1. Not all genres are for everyone. No rule says we need to like them all, thank goodness. I know I have my preferences.

      1. Aw, no deeper meaning? XD

        1. Stephanie, I think a lot of horror readers and writers would state that liking the horror genre has a lot to do with the way we’re “wired,” and that really, we couldn’t read or write anything else. I know early on in my MFA I tried to write some “literary” stories because I was initially worried about what my Creative Writing profs would react to my horror, but nothing clicked. Everything I tried fell flat on the page without some sort of speculative element. In some ways, I feel like the horror genre chose ME, instead of the other way around. And as Kristen said – everyone has their own preferences, and I’m certainly not arguing that horror is SUPERIOR to any other genre, just to make the case that it’s not inferior, and is of far more substance than folks give it credit for. Regardless, thanks for reading!

          1. “about HOW my Creative Writing profs would react”

  42. I remember the librarian asking ten-year-old me once if my mother knew what I was reading – I was checking out an armful of Stephen King books at the time, having outgrown RL Stine and Christopher Pike a couple years earlier. I said I guessed she did and went on my way. Horror’s always been one of my favourite genres to read, but I can’t handle watching it – not sure why, maybe I’m able to disassociate myself from the written word more than the image on the screen. Supernatural is my favourite sub-genre, but ghost stories are the ones that keep me up at night. Can’t wait for the follow-up, I’d like to know how to insert a few horror elements into my WIP. Great post!

    1. “Horror’s always been one of my favourite genres to read, but I can’t handle watching it – not sure why, maybe I’m able to disassociate myself from the written word more than the image on the screen.” – Ironically this is the same for me, because eventually most horror movies cave and go for the visual, which makes sense, in a way. It’s a visual medium. How long can you hold out teasing the audience with suspense?

      The best 75% of a horror movie I’ve ever seen was Event Horizon. For most of that movie, I sat twitching in my seat. Unfortunately at the end, they turned on the buckets of blood, and that’s when became just like any other horror movie.

  43. Having grown up in a violent country, splattery horror just leaves me cold. I found The Others fascinating though – with the light on 🙂
    I’m probably not the only one who can cope with a lot more in a book than on film – What Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen, but I have more control over how redly my imagination illustrates the black and white.

    • mitzireinbold on September 26, 2013 at 5:52 am
    • Reply

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, to Kevin and Kristen. Some people question my sanity when I say I read and write horror. Maybe it’s theirs that’s in doubt. I’ve been writing horror and dark fantasy since I could write and went to romance after joining RWA. I’m now back to horror, too. It’s what I write.

    And you helped me with a minor decision for the day. My DH is having his second cardia cath of the week today. He went through anaphylactic shock, was on a ventilator and in MICU. It’s been a week from hell. But I don’t care how big it is, I’m taking Dr. Sleep in with me today (I get King’s books in hard cover as soon as they’re out).. I will transfer my anxieties to the written page. I will let a master writer transport me into a horror story while I wait.

    I will be posting this link on http://www.facebook.com/MitziFlyteAuthor just like all of Kristen’s other blogs.

    Again: Thank you for the validation. I am looking forward to more blogs from Kevin.

  44. No. Uh uh. I’d rather stare at a wall than watch a horror movie and I’d rather read a calculus textbook than a horror novel. I’ve tried both a few times, and I cope better with books than movies because I can dissociate more easily with text, but, no. I’m not willingly putting myself through that anymore. One horror movie, ahem, haunted me with nightmares for a year afterward.

  45. Finally, someone who loves what I love about horror, the sheer, unadultered tension of being scared witless by what is unseen, unknown and ultimately unexplainable. Kevin really hones in on what it is about true horror, not gross guts horror, that has made it a fascinating genre to read and to write. It is a chance to become, once again, that frightened child, afraid of dark spaces, and wake up at the end to the adult who turns on the light and scares away, at least temporarily, the boogie man. Kristen, I’m exactly like you when it comes to destressing. Give me The Changeling or A Haunting of HIll house, or lately, Insidious, The Orphan(truly a terrifying and sad one for mothers to watch) among others. King has long been my favorite but I will have to read some of Kevin’s work now.

  46. Thanks, Karen. Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of the quieter, more literary stuff, although I DO enjoy pulp horror as well. The big thing for me – as I’ll be talking about – is that for horror to MEAN something (even gore) it must SAY something about the human condition.

  47. Great post. I have always loved horror and so has my husband. My theory is that people who love the genre are thrill-seekers in the same way as adrenaline junkies who do extreme sports. I am now writing a thriller novel, and lately my husband has been suffering from severe anxiety. My recent blog post discusses what happens when thrill-seekers like us encounter real anxiety and adrenaline gets out of control. Hope you don’t mind me putting in a link – your readers might be interested. http://creakydoorwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/stress-anxiety-and-thriller-writer.html

  48. What a great article! Now it all makes perfect sense, especially since I turn to horror a lot… my life is kind of scary sometimes. I also agree that horror is so much better than slasher movies, they just turn my stomach.

    • Rachel Thompson on September 26, 2013 at 9:35 am
    • Reply

    The state of the world is truly horrific. Maybe Horror helps people deal with what they can’t face but I see that as a big problem for society. Entertainment generally and this form especially lends its self to willful blindness. The real monsters are now and always were the sociopaths that run big businesses, military and governments. Humanity really is going over a cliff but oh how entertaining that is. Wake up people, Jesus won’t save you. We must save ourselves… Hard to do with our collective heads buried in the mud of cheap-thrill entertainment. The impact of Horror and an psychological communication device has long gone to the wayside.

  49. You wrote about my favorite genre!! I occasionally have the nightmare, but they’re always fodder for stories, so that helps. Instead of having heart palpitations when I wake (well, maybe I still do, lol), I reach for a pen. I think psychological get to the heart of things more than slasher. I read wide in the genre, short stories and novel alike always absorbing, learning what I can. Thanks for these posts, they made my day!!

  50. Saw your comments on how the antagonists in horror films relate to things in real life that scared people (alien invaders equating to Communists, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Vietnam War, etc).

    Do you have any thoughts on more modern horror films and what they might relate to? The only one I can think of off the top of my head is “Super 8” and it being a nostalgia piece for the world before 9/11 and people being afraid to let their kids out of the house (two separate issues). Perhaps the murderous colonel hunting for the escaped alien stands in for the NSA, Patriot Act, etc.?

    (But what about the alien itself?)

    1. Matt – I’m not sure how much Super 8 really is a horror film, past what you mentioned as being a nostalgia piece, Spielberg’s “love letter” to genre films. This would take some study, but one thing I’ve picked up a lot in my reading is a slightly diminishing (or greatly, depending what you read) fear of supernatural threats (desecration of the soul/spirit) and an increasing in stories revolving more around desecration of the body; ie, “body horror” which, depending on the film, does give SOME validity to slasher films. I’ll be playing with that a little in the next post.

      And yeah, I think those themes you mention are definitely there in Super 8. (One of my fav films, BTW).

  51. I’m fascinated by the link between society and the horror films of the era. I know there are some classic Twilight Zone episodes that wouldn’t scare my kids in the least, and some would terrify them. What is the difference?

    I once carried Stephen King’s bags when I worked as a bellman. Great tipper. We talked baseball. He had two bags chock-full of steno pads with hand-written notes. How I wish he’d dropped one and didn’t notice …

    The flicks that get me are “Christine,” because I once had an old car that loved me, and “Cujo,” because it’s real-life, this-could-happen horror.

    And lastly, as advanced as technology is, no computer-generated image is a match for the horror words from masters like King can inflict on your imagination.

    1. Eli, I agree. And the TWZ episodes – I think the ones that really work that those psychological “pressure points” (Steve King again, DANSE MACABRE), that really impact my students (We have “Twilight Zone” Friday every week, in which we watch and analyze an episode of the TWZ). The sci fi ones fall a little flat with the because the out of date SFX. Episodes like “Living Doll” or “The Dummy” or “The Hitchhiker” or “I Am The Night, Color Me Black” really get them because those kinds of episodes really work those pressure points, whereas “Walking Distance” or “The Trumpet” or “In Praise of Pip” really engages their emotions.

      1. Wow. Note to self: caffeine before posting replies…

    • akismet-29794b4c3af9d3489a170d14760587fd on September 27, 2013 at 10:18 pm
    • Reply

    To be honest I am not a fan of the horror genre. I don’t like being scared and although I love some movies/TV series that tend toward the genre I probably wouldn’t call them horror. (Supernatural/6th Sense etc)
    Despite this I thought this was a great article on the merits of the genre. I had never really thought about how horror movies reflected the undercurrents of society at the time. I look forward to the future posts and who knows? I might experiment with a short story or two…

      • dex on September 28, 2013 at 12:46 pm
      • Reply

      You bring up a good point, though. I don’t think horror is about being scared as much as it’s about dealing with our fears, frustrations and stress is what is ultimately a safe environment.

  52. I am a horror writer as well, and enjoy your incredible insight on these topics, very Stephen King-ish, and have taken the liberty of reposting your article on my blog. Look forward to the continuing remarks and insight. http://www.supenaturalsnackbar.wordpress.com

  53. When I was much younger and still in school, we had “movie” nights and organized to watch bunches of horror movies. The “coolest” was to stay in the living room as long as possible without peeing in your pants or bursting out in tears.
    I survived some quite bad horror movies – a few quite good Stephen King movies – and the Exorcist, which still gives me the creeps after all those years.
    I do prefer reading Horror instead of watching it. I figure my own fantasy veils the worst to protect my undies. LOL

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