What is it about horror?
Do people love it because it’s a statement about where modern-day society is headed? Is it an expression of our innermost fears and phobias? A way to confront the darkness living deep in the under-mind of the human psyche? Or is it simply because “horror” is exactly what it seems to be: a bunch of hockey mask-wearing boogeymen trying to cut up (and/or eat) frat-boys and hapless co-eds?
It’s a bunch of hockey mask wearing monsters trying to cut up (and/or eat) frat-boys and scantily dressed hapless co-eds, normally right after their victims deliver some epically silly or sarcastic one-liners. Those are quite often some of the best movies and most memorable novels. Blood-soaked fantasy at its finest. I’m speaking of classics like: Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, The Reanimator, The Return of the Living Dead, Class of Nuke Em High, Tremors, Killer Clowns from Outer Space, even Night of the Comet in a pinch. Novels like The Light at the End or Animals by Skipp and Spector, King’s Silver Bullet, The Man in the Maze by Silverberg, and Lumley’s Necroscope novels.
Now. Understandably you’re thinking Those are B-movies and novels that have yet to make it to film! Okay? What’s your point? They still rocked, long before CGI began to reign supreme on the silver screen or digital downloads came to be. That’s because they used an age-old technique of gradually building –then relieving- tension, not only via the tried and true gore n’ guts method, but also by inserting dashes of comedy and (nobody faint) sex. Here’s the thing. Horror is about generating fear and to quote an outstanding work by Frank Herbert: “Fear is the mind-killer”. Add too much fear, and all you’ve got is a pile of body parts and hefty dry-cleaning bill. You have to release the pressure somehow before the next buildup to keep the audience/reader enthralled. You need moments of levity. Breaking the tension created by impending doom with a wisecrack -or even a little “side-boob”- allows a storyteller to build the anxiety back up to even greater heights. It re-engages the audience/reader, allows them to identify with a given character’s situation to greater degrees. It makes them real people, as opposed to simply an actor playing a roll or words on a page.
Don’t believe me? Okay. Let’s explore a few examples.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty years, you’ve probably seen one of the Scream movies.
If you haven’t watched at least the first of the series, I would suggest doing so for two very understandable reasons.
First: It’s rife with comedy. One of the characters -Randy, the horror buff in resident- even goes so far as to attempt educating cast members around him on how to survive a horror flick. (Note: This was first done by a character in the cult classic movie There’s Nothing Out There!) If you get right down to it, “Randy’s Rules” are pretty much based on common sense.
When you’re at a party/gathering and things begin to get strange:
-Don’t separate from the group.
-Don’t go off with a partner somewhere to have sex.
-Don’t get drunk, or worse, high.
If you do one (or more) of these things, it’s like signing your death warrant and virtually assuring you’re going to be the next victim. Let’s be honest: Who among us doesn’t think these very same things while watching a half-blitzed blonde freak out as the killer chops up her Vodka-infused boyfriend in the boat house, or while we read a chapter about how a love-starved guy pooed the scrooch when he let the hot vampire vixen through his bedroom window? It’s more than a bit laughable, since most of us know exactly what’s coming, but we’re still surprised, amazed and (more importantly) entertained when Blondie trips -thereby impaling herself on the killer’s machete-, or Mr. Romantic has to start sleeping in a coffin on the morning after.
Second reason: Neve Campbell.
That brings us to the other topic, which is visual or literary titillation.
Discounting various “adult” novels –some of which equal up to little more than forum letters put to print in quality publications such as Big Honkin’ Soapy-Jugs Magazine (Yes, that is sarcasm)- sex or sexual tension is a tool that can be used effectively to viably progress a story. How? Well, while some characters may very well be right bastards, or even murderous serial killers for that matter, when provided with the correct stimuli they have been known to sometimes shed their self-centered ways and become heroes. Or at least stop going all “Dark Side” for a while. Examples (scoundrel and stimuli) below:
Han and Leia.
Snape and Lilly.
Even the Hulk and Betty.
Now apply the same factors to the “Doomsday horror genre”. Sex/romantic entanglement becomes a way for the characters to decompress between one or more of the following: Aliens invading the world for fun/food/profit, vampires chug-a-lugging folks like martinis, werewolves looking at humans as tasty kibble treats, demons wanting to wear Homo-sapiens like finger puppets, or just your plain ol’, everyday zombie apocalypse where people could be turned into Happy Meals by the shambling dead at any moment.
Another point to be considered –one which yours truly has been screaming from the rooftops for a number of years now- was thankfully pointed out to the entire viewing audience during the “after-show show” of a popular zombie drama. Not using names here, but any fan of the hungry dead knows to which one I refer. The cast member of said show laughed while stating (and I’m paraphrasing here) “It’s the zombie apocalypse! There’d be nothing else to do! Heck, I’m surprised more characters aren’t hooking up an’ bumpin’ ugly at the drop of the hat!”
…That says it all, wouldn’t you agree?
If the modern-day world went swirling there’d be no cable TV, no internet, no movies, no online first-person shooter games, I-pods, smart-phones, or even public utilities like say running water. Everything would be about living day-to-day, basically hand-to-mouth existence in its purest form. If humans managed to survive such cataclysms/events (and that’s a big, big, bloody If), there would be a distinct lack of leisure options. No Superbowl, no Dancing with the Stars, no going out on a Friday night, no nothing. What –other than working/fighting day in and day out to stay alive- would there be to do?
You got it.
The Bedsheet Lambada would be pretty much be the only extracurricular -or pleasurable- activity left.
There are those who treat humor and/or sex in horror-themed fiction as unwarranted fluff, but the three simply go well together. That’s been proven by Ash (The Mighty Bruce Campbell) wielding a chainsaw against Deadites and dropping classic one-liners in Army of Darkness,
Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) smokin’ up the screen with a searing gaze while double-tapping the hopelessly infected in Resident Evil 2,
Steakley’s tale of seductive blood-suckers and the merry (possibly mad) few who call them to account for their many crimes,
and Barker’s hellish masterpiece of desire and pain, scrawled shakily in blood across a bedroom wall.
Funny, sexy horror is here to stay. It causes our pulse to pound, our palms to sweat, quickens the breath, and makes us laugh even as we cringe in fear.
What can we possibly do but lay back and enjoy the ride?