What Makes Horror
A Crash Through the Dark and Scary
First of all, apologies for the gap in posts. I had some stuff to do. Secondly: I do not like horror, it confuses and stresses me out but I got a request, so.
Here we go!
Warning: As Horror Is Quite A Graphic Genre, I must advise Viewer Discretion because the gifs I’m using are not pretty
Repeat: THIS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.
DO NOT READ UNTIL YOU SEE JACK SPARROW IF, LIKE ME, YOU ARE SQUEAMISH.
Alright, the three bigs rules of horror are:
- Raise those Stakes
- Something inhuman has got to be there.
- There Can Be No Happy Ending, Only Bittersweet or Horrid.
Raising the Stakes:
This is a basic rule of storytelling, but there has to be stakes. If there’s nothing at stake, there’s no story, or at least not an interesting one. In horror, they are raised to 110 because oftentimes, they are life and death.
In Bird Box, Netflix’s fairly popular horror film, the stakes are raised because she’s pregnant and later, a mother to two children. Instead of focusing on the big stakes, Bird Box focuses on a small group and makes the stakes feel small and personal. It’s not about the world that was destroyed, it’s about the people and the groups that survive together.
It’s done much better in A Quiet Place, not gonna lie. Everything feels intimate and small and when people die, it hurts because the stakes are built around a family that loves and cares about each other so deeply, they are willing to die for each other.
Of course, raising the stakes often means making the enemy impossible/hard to kill which leads into my next point where all the graphic and gross stuff is:
Horror, in of itself, serves to excite and terrify, to get the heart pumping and leaving you terrified to make noises outside and give you a new appreciation for the silent floors in your school library because you could contentedly survive off of crackers there.
Lovecraft played into the terrifying world of the unknown, while others played closer to home: serial killers, monsters clothed in our own skin that we could never even begin to suspect. (Modern culture does have an odd fixation with serial killer and while it’s proved profitable for the genre of horror, I am not a psychologist and don’t know why)
Monsters and things that aren’t quite human add this level of sheer terror. Humans are incredibly stupidly fragile; only in large groups and with ingenuity were we able to dominate the world around us. Predators hunted us through our early years alongside our hominid cousins, as proven by teeth marks in human bones found in predation pits of:
- Cave Lions
- Cave Bears
- Big ASS birds
- Modern Bears
- Other Hominids
Yeah, we had a lot of enemies that like jumping us. Some of which would look terrifyingly similar to us. So seeing an inhuman, or close to human thing ripping humans apart is terrifying and initiates a rush of adrenaline.
Here is your Jack Sparrow, thank you for putting up with me.
The Ending is Never Happy.
Happy endings usually don’t happen after you watch 3-10 people get ripped apart. If the ending is more positive, it lands on a hopeful note. The heroes have children and name them after the friends they lost. They find their refuge, but they can’t live like they used to. They decide to fight, even though it’s going to kill them.
Otherwise, everyone is dead. No happy ending.
Brief Analysis: Dracula and Jaws: How they work as Horror.
Unlike many modern horror stories, Dracula, arguably the most famous horror monster, is a slow burn and the stakes are about revenge more than anything else. You still get the horror of the fact that Dracula eats pretty ladies for dinner, but it builds up so much throughout the story, as a reader, you’re constantly scouring for ways to warn the characters. It’s so creepy that it evolves into terror.
Dracula is a Gothic Horror where it’s not so much the blood and the gore that are terrifying, it’s the atmosphere and how hopeless everything feels that make it horror.
The Ending is bittersweet, with the main two characters marrying and having a son named after their friend that Dracula killed.
On the other hand, one of the more unfortunate horrification of something comes from Jaws.
The shark is portrayed as a blood-thirsty, hungry machine that “eats and makes little baby sharks.” It’s shown to be powerful and able to take down massive boats and rips docks out of place. The stakes are the lives of the bathers and the livelihoods of the people in the beach town of Amity Island
The horror comes from the sheer strength of the shark. It’s dead inside, it’s a killer, it’s too big to beat.
The ending is bittersweet here too. Sure, the shark is dead, but a little boy is dead, the salt of the earth captain died horribly and great whites reputations are destroyed forever in the court of public opinion.
Here’s some other happy things:
Thank you for Reading and happy writing!