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Horror

A Companion

by Simon Bacon (Volume editor)
Others X, 278 Pages

Summary

What is Horror?
Horror is an inherently sensational and popular phenomenon. Extreme violence, terrifying monsters and jarring music shock, scare and excite us out of our everyday lives. The horror genre gives shape to the particular anxieties of society but also reveals the fundamental nature of what it is to be human.
This volume provides an introduction to horror in compact and accessible essays, from classics such as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining to contemporary throwbacks like the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things. Beginning with the philosophical and historical background of horror, this book touches upon seminal figures such as Poe, Lovecraft, Quiroga, Jackson, King and Suzuki and engages with the evolution of the genre across old and new media from literature, art and comics to film, gaming and social media. Alongside this is a consideration of established and emerging areas like smart horror (Jordan Peele’s Get Out), queer horror (Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story), eco-horror (Alex Garland’s Annihilation), horror video games (P.T.) and African American horror (Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer: Stories).
This volume provides an invaluable resource for experts, students and general readers alike for further understanding the horror genre and the ways it is developing into the future.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction (Simon Bacon)
  • Part I Approaches to Horror
  • David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014) – The Limits of Knowledge (Murray Leeder)
  • Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) – Inconceivable Horror (Gerry Canavan)
  • Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [REC] (2007) – The Affective Approach to Horror (Xavier Aldana Reyes)
  • Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story (2011–present) – Queer Horror and Performative Pleasure (Darren Elliott-Smith)
  • Part II Media and Mediums of Horror
  • Victor Fresco’s Santa Clarita Diet (2017–present) – Television Horror (Lorna Jowett / Stacey Abbott)
  • Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key (2008–2013) – Horror Comics (Julia Round)
  • Kojima Productions’ P.T. (2014) – The Game of Horror (Christian McCrea)
  • Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ (1982) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) – The Sound of Horror (Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock)
  • Joseph DeLage and Troy Wagner’s Marble Hornets (2009–2014) – New Media Horror (Alexandra Heller-Nicholas)
  • Part III Categories of Contemporary Horror
  • Spierig Brothers’ Jigsaw (2017) – Torture Porn Rebooted? (Steve Jones)
  • Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2018) – Eco-horror (Elizabeth Parker)
  • The Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things (2016–present) – Horror and Nostalgia (Thomas Fahy)
  • Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014) – Science Fiction and Horror (Steffen Hantke)
  • James DeMonaco’s The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Post-millennial Horror (Stacey Abbott)
  • Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) – Smart Horror (Stephanie A. Graves)
  • Part IV National and Cross-Cultural Horror in the Twenty-First Century
  • Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s The League of Gentlemen (1999–2017) – Contemporary Folk Horror (Tracy Fahey)
  • Julia Ducournau’s Raw (2016) – Euro Horror (Ian Olney)
  • Sadako Yamamura and the Ring Cycle (1991–present) – Asian Horror (Katarzyna Ancuta)
  • Mariana Enríquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire (2009/2017) – Argentinian Horror (Cristina Santos)
  • Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer: Stories (2015) – African American Horror (Gina Wisker)
  • Cowboy Smithx’s The Candy Meister (2014) – First Nations Horror (Gail de Vos / Kayla Lar-Son)
  • Prosit Roy’s Pari (2018) – Bollywood Horror (Meheli Sen)
  • Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports (2003–2010) – Transnational Horror (Dana Och)
  • Part V Horror Authors and their Contemporary Afterlives
  • Laeta Kalogridis’ Altered Carbon (2018–present) – Edgar Allan Poe (Dara Downey)
  • Crafteon’s Cosmic Reawakening (2017) – H. P. Lovecraft (Carl H. Sederholm)
  • Damián Szifron’s Relatos salvajes (2014) – Horacio Quiroga (Todd S. Garth)
  • Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl (2012) – Shirley Jackson (Kristopher Woofter)
  • Stephen King’s Full Dark No Stars (2010) – Stephen King (Simon Brown)
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Laurel Plapp and the team at Peter Lang for all their help and assistance along the way, and the invaluable suggestions of Reader #2. And, as always, the never-ending patience of Mrs Mine, Eben and Majki and the support of Mam i Tata Bronk.

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Simon Bacon

Introduction

Defining Horror

Horror brings to mind a world of extremes: dark and sinister locations, dream-like environments, sudden shocks and surprises, extreme violence and gore, transgressive sexuality, threats to life and limb and, of course, the presence of terrifying monsters. Horror narratives are also typically filled with frightening characters (vampires, mad-scientists, unstoppable killers, aliens, mutated animals), jarring and evocative music (high-pitched and ‘stabbing’ violins, throbbing base-notes, medieval chanting) and mysterious objects (Ouija boards, phones with no signal, esoteric books, cryptic symbolism), which shock, scare and excite us out of our everyday lives.1

However, trying to define and explain the genre of horror itself is actually far more difficult. As described above, we quite often know horror when we encounter it, yet there are different kinds of horror, both in terms of type (violent, supernatural, slasher, etc.) and origin (European, Asian, Indian, etc.). And further, why does the work of certain authors of horror seem to be as important now as it was when it was written ten, fifty, or 100 years ago? How does horror change when it is read in a book, watched on a screen, listened to as music, or engaged with online? Horror then is not one thing but the coming together or over-laying of many.

As horror theorist Brigid Cherry observes, ‘the [horror] genre should perhaps be more accurately thought of as an overlapping and evolving set of “conceptual categories” that are in a constant state of flux’ (2009: 3). This ← 1 | 2 → introduction will outline key approaches to horror to give a sense of these overlapping concepts and how we might understand them. Since the book needs to be selective, it will focus on those theories of horror that have particular relevance to the aim of this volume in describing where the genre is now, in the twenty-first century, and the possible influences on its future.

An oft-quoted starting point is Ann Radcliffe, one of the original Gothic novelists, who saw a clear distinction between terror and horror, where the former can be more akin to the sublime of Edmund Burke and possessing an almost spiritual quality, whereas horror is something of a more mundane experience (Radcliffe 1826: 145–52).2 This definition is not without its problems and, as Kevin Costorphine writes, ‘This famous distinction suggests that horror is merely an affect’ (2018: 4). Yet, as he goes on to note, this does not prevent horror, and horror stories, from allowing for ‘an imaginative engagement with the monstrosity that plagues our existence [which] can allow for an exploration of what this might mean to us, and an establishment of some kind of order’ (2018: 7).

Noël Carroll, in his seminal book Philosophy of Horror (1987), goes a step further by distinguishing between two types of horror, which he calls ‘natural-horror’ and ‘art-horror’. The former is evoked through ecological disaster or acts of terrorism (51) and the latter appears in cultural expressions such as film, art, literature, etc. There is still much of the affective nature of horror in Carroll’s definitions and, whilst he does much to separate the two they are, as seen in the essays later, inevitably entangled. Theorists like Julia Kristeva in the slightly earlier work Powers of Horror (1980) see forms of real-life revulsion, emotional excess, and abjection being configured in ways that provide frameworks for literary and artistic interpretation.3 Kristeva’s theoretical framework is born ← 2 | 3 → from the work of Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger (1966), where the abject and the ‘horror-full’, or horror-inducing, are cultural constructs designed to ‘protect’ society, which suggests a normalizing function to even the most transgressive horror. Therefore, art-horror as an imaginative, societal creation is inherently meaningful, speaking of the fears and anxieties of a particular cultural and historical moment. These are never singular or separate events but part of an ongoing, evolving process that sees subsequent expressions of horror narratives as sharing similar characteristics, features and tropes which can be grouped together under the heading of the horror genre.

Andrew Tudor defines genre as ‘a special kind of subculture, a set of conventions of narrative, setting, characterization, motive, imagery, iconography’ which possesses its own ‘language’ (1991: 5–6). This does not mean that the edges of a genre, or indeed, the ‘ritual or ideological function[s]’ (Altman 1998: 26) it serves are rigid. Ken Gelder notes that one must always be aware of not homogenizing the horror genre and seeing all manifestations of it as performing the same kind of tasks. The ‘field of horror’ is a fractured, many-faceted thing, and critical dispositions not only depend on what is being looked at, and when, but will determine what is being looked at (and what is deemed inappropriate, irrelevant, and so on) in the first place (Gelder 2000: 4). In this sense, the complexity of what can be included within the category of horror is simultaneously simple and complicated. Lists of possible literary works, films, comics, artworks, etc., that can be included within the genre is constantly shifting and not only intersects with other genres but also shifts in relation to its context and audience. Context can refer to something as obvious as where the text was watched/read/played and who with – for instance, watching a horror film alone at night can be very different from that when seeing the same film in a cinema full of horror fans – but also extends to, as noted by Cherry, ‘the social and political anxieties of the cultural moment’ (Cherry 2009: 214).

Cherry also notes how horror films can ‘speak’ to an audience and ‘elicit a range of responses in the viewer, these responses being created through cinematic and aesthetic cues that trigger or tap into psychological states or cognitive processes’ (2009: 214). Further, Cherry sees these affective states – both bodily (Sobchack 2004) and psychological (Aldana Reyes 2016) – as capable of imparting types of ideological messages ‘over and above meeting the basic ← 3 | 4 → desire in the viewer to be scared, the horror genre seems to be a form that is easily adaptable at addressing, and imparting, a range of ideological issues’ (Cherry 2009: 214). This adaptability of horror can lead to many and varied kinds of interpretation and approaches, some of which will be considered next.

Approaches and Types

Interpretative approaches to horror, of which there are many, fall approximately into three categories: psychoanalytic, cognitive and affective. Psychoanalytic interpretations stem from Freudian interpretations and continues through Carl Jung, Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek. While there are limitations to this approach (see Clasen 2010: 114), it is often used to fascinating effect in revealing possible repressed or sublimated meanings in horror texts, which are wholly appropriate in works often founded upon cultural anxieties. Many important feminist and queer interpretations of horror are founded on such an approach, such as Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous Feminine (1993), Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws and Barry Keith Grant’s The Dread of Difference (1996), to name but a few.

Cognitive readings focus more explicitly on the ways in which the text interacts with its audience by way of its conscious, intellectual abilities, to create horror. Through ‘the disturbance of cultural norms, both conceptual and moral, it provides a repertory of symbolism for those times in which the cultural order – albeit at a lower level of generality – has collapsed or is perceived to be in a state of dissolution’ (Carroll 1987: 214). Matt Hills summarizes this as the provocation of emotions, causing ‘fear, disgust, cognitive dissonance, and cognitive reflections on evil’ (Hills 2005: 23), but also points out that the focus on negative reactions in such readings often downplays the pleasurable or comedic aspects of horror.

Affect theory relies on the work of philosophers Gilles Deleuze, Baruch Spinoza, Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson, though the interpretation of horror films may go beyond their work. Hills and Xavier Aldana Reyes see affect theory, or affect studies, as a way of examining the somatic and emotional ← 4 | 5 → responses induced by horror films, but which can, largely, be extended to other works of horror (Hills 2005: 23; Aldana Reyes 2016: 5). This is not just about the normal ‘shocks’ often involved within the genre but extends to all visual and aural aspects of a text. As such it can work as an extension of cognitive interpretations and describe dread, anxiety and foreboding of the unseen, unknowable and inconceivable. Whilst psychoanalytic interpretations approach horror as an artefact produced by a cultural as an expression of its fears and anxieties – if only to diffuse them through comedy, etc. – cognitive and affective ones tend more to focus on the relationship between a text and its audience and the resultant intellectual, emotional and/or bodily responses.

Of course, not everyone experiences such texts in the same way, which can complicate readings if not taken into consideration. Such problematics can be seen to apply when looking at horror texts from other countries and/or cultures. The cultural milieu is the vitalizing component of art-horror, which affects the kinds of artworks produced as well as audience responses. This is ever more important in an age of increasing globalization and the continuing influence of Hollywood, not just through its aggressive production and marketing initiatives – including the prevalence of remakes of non-Hollywood ‘foreign’ films – but also through its historical links to the construction of the horror genre itself (Och and Stryer 2014: 1).

Indeed, affected by what might be termed the over-Hollywoodization of film, horror film has shown a greater dependence on CGI (computer-generated imagery) and expensive special effects. This has often led to an over-dependence on what might be called the ‘trappings of horror’ – a bland repetition of genre tropes and characters – and an associated self-awareness that sees a knowing, if not necessarily inventive, referencing of earlier texts in the genre. Costorphine sees this as an example of what he calls the postmodern mode, which ‘can potentially serve to remove any sense of genuine dread’ (2018: 16). This approach, while creating an extremely ‘slick’ or highly produced surface texture to horror films, often also sees them lacking in narrative intricacy, or forms of conceptual or existential dread that can resonate with an audience. Darryl Jones calls this category Unhorror, which

A good example of this is the ongoing Underworld series of films (2003–present), where the vampires are largely young and good looking, the werewolf (lycan) transformations flash flawlessly before our eyes and the hybrid monsters get increasingly larger and outrageous with each installment.

In contrast to this is the appearance of what is being labelled by some as Smart Horror or Elevated Horror,4 which emphasizes the more cerebral aspects of horror, without losing the shocks and jumps that have always been central to the genre. This often sees a return to the centrality of stories and plot to the horror genre and a deeper sense of the cultural concerns of the audience/reader and the anxieties of the times they live in, rather than a pandering to what is often seen as instant sensations and quick monetary returns. The film Get Out (2017) is a good example of this type of horror, as discussed later in this volume.

Horror, then, is an ever-transforming, repeating and re-inventing genre that continuously refers to the past as it evolves into the future. Revealing our darkest fears and anxieties whilst trying to restore a sense of order to a world that seems to imminently on the verge of destruction and spinning out of control.

The Shape and Aims of this Volume

This companion is made up of twenty-eight essays which focus on important approaches, mediums, categories, cultural contexts, and seminal authors and filmmakers within the horror genre to examine what horror is now, in the twenty-first century, and how it has been influenced by the past. Each essay uses ← 6 | 7 → a contemporary example (e.g. novel, comic, or film) as a lens to looks at the wider implications of its chosen topic as a way not only to examine certain aspects within that subject but to purposely focus on its implications in the present.

The volume begins with ‘Approaches to Horror’, which highlights some selected ways of interpreting art-horror texts. Essays examine the ideas and philosophies behind some of the most popular recent horror narratives, that of seen and unseen dread and the horror that cannot be understood or dispelled (‘The Limits of Knowledge’ and ‘Inconceivable Horror’). These are followed by considerations of two ways of engaging with and experiencing of contemporary horror (‘The Affective Approach to Horror’ and ‘Performative/Queer Horror’), which describe how bodily responses and queer positioning can re-create horror and its possible meanings in ever new forms.

Biographical notes

Simon Bacon (Volume editor)

Simon Bacon has published many articles on vampires, monstrosity, science fiction and media studies and has co-edited books on various subjects including Undead Memory: Vampires and Human Memory in Popular Culture (2014), Seductive Concepts: Perspectives on Sins, Vices and Virtues (2014), Little Horrors: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Anomalous Children and the Construction of Monstrosity (2016), To Boldly Go: Essays on Gender and Identity in the Star Trek Universe (2017), Growing Up with Vampires: Essays on the Undead in Children’s Media (2018) and The Gothic (2018). He has published two monographs, Becoming Vampire: Difference and the Vampire in Popular Culture (2016) and Dracula as Absolute Other: The Troubling and Distracting Specter of Stoker's Vampire on Screen (2019), and is currently working on his third, Eco-Vampires: The Vampire as Environmentalist and Undead Eco-activist.

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