12th February 2020

'Why Horror?' bonus stuff!

In my essay Why Horror?, I asked three friends why exactly they love the genre. What I required were ‘soundbites’, something like the snippets taken from passersby on the news. What I got back were anything but mere soundbites.

I extracted the excerpts I needed for the essay, but asked if they’d mind me posting their answers in full. Their writings are insightful, honest, and generally bloody brilliant. Scroll down to find out for yourself.

If anyone reading this would like to share their own answers, or any other opinion on horror or storytelling in general, say the word. Everyone’s got a platform here. Except assholes. You’re not an asshole, are you?

Thanks to Ewan, Heather, and Mai for their lovely jubbly contributions. Look out for Ewan’s brainiac breakdowns of the horror genre featuring on the site in the future. In the meantime, enjoy Mai’s dark poem The Unkind Stranger in the Writers’ Spotlight section, and keep up with her for updates on more twisted tales. 

Much love!

–GG

EWAN RAYNER

movie expert/analyst

I’ve been considering this question for some time and was recently struck with the closest thing to an answer I’d had so far. It was during a walk and I had decided to venture into an episode of an unknown podcast series (separating the wheat from the chaff with podcasts is equally demanding and rewarding). The title of the episode was ‘The Omen vs. The Witch’ – or ‘The VVitch’ as they insisted – and I was taken with the concept. To top it, the show (‘Soundtrack Showdown’) was solely focused on film scores. This is a topic for which I find great analysis difficult to track down, and one of the most fascinating aspects of cinema to me. So I embarked upon its cross-examination of these two masterworks and got lost in the dissection of instrumentation, uncanny effects achieved through the score, and a general celebration of the technique of synergising the moving image with sound, all to instil horror in the audience.

As I walked, Ave Satani (the theme to The Omen) played through my headphones, and I could barely contain a huge grin at the contrast between the ordinary rows of houses I was passing and the deranged, doom-laden turbulence of this ‘Black Mass’, recalling a similar sense of defiant, almost demonic catharsis as when I first discovered the band Slayer. As I walked to the glacial, striding rhythms and baroque choruses, it struck me that this gratification might be intrinsically linked to the notion of religion itself on a personal basis, not just the spirit of Jerry Goldsmith’s score or Slayer’s maniacal, buzz-saw guitar work and hellish subject matter. It seemed possible that this path I’ve followed into the macabre offerings of film and music might owe to my being raised in a religious setting, my dad being a minister and living in a scenario with a high sense of propriety, as well as a stringent mythology that didn’t add up when I peeked into the regular world.

Growing up with the instilled belief in an all-knowing personality who maintains the world invisibly, but is wired into one’s thoughts, can create a binary opposition of possessing faith, juxtaposed with the ‘othered’ factions entailing anything outside of what you know as a churchgoer. Once adulthood had removed these shutters, or at least made them more transparent, there was – and is – a maladjustment from the ideas of certainty and meaning of before, to the chaotic notion of confronting a potentially godless world. Hearing Ave Satani and revelling in its evil madness suggested to me that the plunge into the horror genre channels unresolved parts of the disconnection between someone’s ‘before’ and ‘now’. After all, the ultimate change is existential, weighing up notions of eternal life with secular rationality and biological transience. This shift is honestly incomprehensible, much like the events depicted in horror fiction seem to its protagonists. When the characters therein drastically need to overcome an unfathomable reality, barely able to conceive of the notion of the monster, supernatural or otherwise, it might echo the fracture and stark terror of shifting from a structured belief system, to what ostensibly appears to be an abyss. Furthermore, in horror there is often an appeal in the threat itself, although it is dualised with the fear-inducing. For example, Barbara Steele’s Asa in Mario Bava’s 1960 Mask of Satan, who exudes sexuality at once with the capacity for violence and evil, or the nightmare setting of Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria comprising some of the most opulent and vividly beautiful lighting and cinematography ever captured, or even in The Witch, when Thomasin, portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy, is so downtrodden by her puritanical family that the satanic offerings and feral sisterhood proposed in the final act are set up as logically preferable, and even elicit support from the audience – certainly this viewer.

HEATHER RAE

horror lover/creator of railways/seriously patient girlfriend

The subject matter is often very interesting, with stories of intricately planned murders, kidnappings, or revenge. I hear about gory killings or depraved abductions in the news and cannot begin to imagine what the victim would have gone through in their final moments, or comprehend what the aggressor’s motivations could possibly be. I think I have a morbid curiosity for the details, and horror gives you a snapshot into what these situations could really be like. You are able to view them in the knowledge that it isn’t happening to you.

I enjoy horror best when ordinary people are put into situations where they feel forced to do something horrific. The family in It Comes at Night, for example, thought they were doing what they had to in order to survive. As the viewer, we get to see the true madness of their actions. Moments like these are repulsive and appalling, but at the same time you can’t say for certain that you wouldn’t act the same way in that situation. I find that thought really interesting and it makes you reflect on what you could be capable of. Not only that, but I get the feeling the writers would do anything to shock you, so there are often amazing twists in amongst the unimaginable things you’re shown these normal people doing.

I like how tense horror films can be. They’re so good at building suspense and dread. Right in the middle of a very tense moment you can go to the toilet or have a break and the tension immediately eases, and you feel relief. When the tension calms it’s like waking up from a nightmare where the horror is suddenly gone, which is a very satisfying feeling. Some films really make you feel like you’ve achieved something just by making it through the entire thing.

MAI KIL

horror writer extraordinaire/awesome air guitarist, despite what she says

We all experience real life horrors, and we all have our inner demons. Horror art allows us to safely explore, process, and have fun with these darker parts of life and ourselves.

Horror also plays an important role in society. As a tickler of the taboo, horror often acts as a platform for raising awareness and opening discussion. Shirley Jackson, for example, is a legendary author from the mid-twentieth century whose controversial stories often challenged social norms, addressing real horrors that can arise from blind conformity and tradition.

We also use horror to protect our children and teach lessons. Pay attention kiddies: if you get too close to the water, the sea witch will eat you. And if you misbehave, a giant goat-demon will come and stuff you in a sack and then beat you with sticks – and maybe also eat you. Parenting 101.

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