Lately I’ve been working on a manuscript with some horror elements, just for fun, and it’s got me thinking about horror in general.
Why do I like the genre and what is it in stories that most effectively scares me?
So as I tend to do when I’m attempting to learn about a topic, I wrote down my findings in a post! To start us off, here is a quote I heard on a creepy Podcast called Lore:
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.
And the oldest and strongest kind of fear, is fear of the unkown.
HP Lovecraft, published in his essay in 1927.
What a quote!
To me, even this quote is frightening, if you really think about it.
The oldest emotion?
A feeling we have shared with our ancestors from all around the world, stretching back through thousands upon thousands of years? We are all afraid of the unknown.
As the dude from the Lore podcast so eloquently put it:
We humans are afraid of the dark.
Of the unknown.
We fear what we cannot see.
I totally agree with this.
And I think this can be directly applied to telling horror stories (movies, tv, books, whatever).
My example is every horror movie ever.
The music builds up. The tension builds. The girl stands in front of her bathroom mirror cabinet. The camera shows the empty room behind her. She opens the cabinet. The music swells. Stops.
She closes the cabinet, someone or something is standing right behind her.
The music blares and every single person in the cinema jumps, has a little scream, and then a little laugh.
Well, no, actually.
To me, that's the worst kind of horror.
So to explain my point of view, sure, in that moment that the girl shuts the mirror and we see the monster revealed right behind her we have a rush of adrenaline and have a rush of fear. But then we see the CGI monster behind her in all it’s CGI glory and it starts chasing her around the house, or turns out to be just a dream or whatever, but either way... the magic is gone. The adrenaline disappears.
And there it is. The monster.
Revealed in the light.
And that’s when I calm down. Laugh.
And when I walk away from that movie, I leave it behind.
After all, I saw the monster, revealed in the light. Turns out it wasn’t as scary as I initially thought!
I think this is because nothing, nothing, that anyone can make up (writer, film maker, actor whatever) could ever ever ever be as terrifying as my fear of the unknown in the moment before I see the monster (or read about the monster... whatever).
Nothing revealed in the light can ever match the horror of what is left lying in wait in the dark.
It is also the difference between a jump scare (a moment of fleeting manipulated fear) or true horror.
True horror is an idea that creeps beneath your skin, that unsettles you, that makes you jump in fear hours or even days later, long after the story is over.
When I examine the stories I find truly scary, they all have one thing in common.
They leave elements unvoiced. They leave aspects in the dark. They don’t explain or show everything, because a smart horror storyteller knows that nothing they can ever weave could be as scary as what is left for the reader / viewer to imagine.
I hope that makes sense.
I guess, what I take away from all of this, is that less is more when it comes to horror.
Sometimes over explaining why something is so creepy only makes it less so.
It means the magic wears off.
It’s interesting, but most horror movies present their foe as a thing / being / ghost / witch / monster that wants something. And then they explain the thing that they want.
But what if you never find out what it wants?
What if it doesn’t want anything?
What if it has no purpose?
Now that’s creepy!
Here are some examples of what I consider to be less is more horror stories:
Obviously you do see the monster in a lot of the above, but I still found all of these very scary. And I think in all of these, some aspects of the story were left unexplained, or left to the watcher's imagination. I think that is why they worked so well for me.
Also, I'm sure there is loads more movies too!
I am a huge fan of stories that leave things to the imagination and allow the reader (or watcher) to fill in the gaps themselves.
And that’s not just for horror either, that applies to all stories. To me, that’s just about treating your audience with respect instead of spoon feeding them your story.
Seriously, less is more is my favourite story element!
Does anyone like horror?
Tell me what you think! :)