“Fiction,” said one Stephen King, “is the truth within the lie.” He also speaks at length on the catharsis of scary stories in his non-fiction examination of the horror genre – Danse Macabre. Or take Hitchcock: “I aim to provide the public with beneficial shocks. Civilization has become so protective that we’re no longer able to get our goose bumps instinctively. The only way to remove numbness and revive our moral equilibrium is to use artificial means to bring about the shock. The best way to achieve that, it seems to me, is through a movie.” From Clive Barker: “Horror fiction shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” Arthur Conan Doyle said that “Where there is no imagination there is no horror,” and John Carpenter: “There are two different stories in horror: internal and external. In external horror films, the evil comes from the outside, the other tribe, this thing in the darkness that we don’t understand. Internal is the human heart.” Or, as said by Dario Argento: “Horror is like a serpent; always shedding its skin, always changing. And it will always come back. It can’t be hidden away like the guilty secrets we try to keep in our subconscious.” Wes Craven reminded us: “Some people ask why people would go into a dark room to be scared. I say they are already scared, and they need to have that fear manipulated and massaged. I think of horror movies as the disturbed dreams of a society.” And HP Lovecraft made the challenge clear: “I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best – one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius if our sight and analysis.”
Given the way that ever-virtue signalling industry awards, elitist critics and plain old-fashioned moral prudes look down on the genre, it is little surprise that horror as a category sometimes feels the need to justify itself.
Horror often leads the way, and horror often breaks rules and taboos – so not all horror stories are defensible. Nor can everything done be justified as if it is some form of higher art.
Some horror is cheap and nasty – others – despite how uncomfortable, gross, or challenging they might be, have elements that higher culture or art should take note of.
Overall, this search for legitimacy is part of a arts-wide campaign to turn entertainment into a form of lecturing.
Frankly, no moral, rational being can give a flying fuck what Hollywood thinks of morality. It is not only absurd but ridiculous to expect them to.
It is precisely at the point that people who earn their money playing make believe started viewing themselves as pastors that the value, impact and quality of both entertainment and pastors plummeted to primordial ooze levels.
Here is what I like about horror…
There was nothing more fun, as a kid, than to secretly get your hands on something “really, really bad” that you were not supposed to watch and then to turn of the lights and close all the curtains and watch something with the sheer childlike anticipation of having your guts ripped out of you by effective scary scenes on a screen.
There was something more exhilarating about that than the best martial arts movie or the highest budget special effects of any era. It was more sublime than multiple academy award winning performances. More fun than a hundred million comedies.
And most kids in most places love scary stories. Watching them, having them, collecting them, trading them, was in itself a subversive activity – mini declarations of independence. Freedom of thought – if nothing else – and the willingness to expose the eyes, mind, heart and soul to shocks and dangers. If more kids empowered themselves this way, they wouldn’t be such spineless, sensitive, aspiring mental health condition sufferers, ambitious non-violent terrorist and cultural deconstructionists in college – and neither would their mothers.
I tell horror and dark stories for no high purpose. I do it because I like it. Because I remember the thrill of those stories and I get a kick out of delivering those thrills. If it upsets a lefty social justice zombie or a foaming at the mouth right-wing pastor, those are just bonuses. I don’t give a fuck about the awards, the critics, industry group wanks, self-congratulatory echo chambers.
My bosses are the viewers and readers who, just like me, sought stuff that touched a nerve, took me scary and exhilarating places, shocked the hell out of me or generally let me shit myself. Everything else is puerile sophistry.
Entertainers should focus on entertaining and do better to deliver exceptional stories and stop strutting around like ‘celebs’ who are somehow exalted or more enlightened than everyone else. Besides their activism is stuck in outdated struggles that no longer even reflect the shifting realities on the ground.
I tell these stories because I like to scare the sheer dark white hell out of people. Look for spiritual incantations, political parroting or moral posturing elsewhere. If you like stories, speak to me.
Having said all that – nowhere else is the battle between good and evil so clearly presented.
So if anything, I’d argue that horror is the most ideologically conservative of genres. But it only has this power if it doesn’t preach. That’s not its job.