Halloween is upon us, so what better time could there be to have a discussion on horror. Halloween is something that is becoming much more prevalent (and much more fun) in Australian culture after becoming highly popularised in the United States. Historians agree for the most part that Halloween traces its origins back to the Celtic festival Samhain (end of summer), and has since grown into a popular holiday notable for jack-o-lanterns and crazy costumes. It is a celebration of all things scary, and one that I can see myself getting more involved with every year.
The horror genre is a fascinating genre. The ability to truly scare a person is a hard one to master and requires the creator, using their media of choice, to invoke feelings in a person that they rarely experience and that makes them uncomfortable. Fear, terror and disgust – horror is not a glamorous genre. It invokes feelings that on the surface are unappealing and not what you would wilfully subject yourself to. And yet we do it, time and time again. So why do we do it? What is it about horror that is so entertaining?
I think it has something to do with the fight or flight response, that release of adrenaline and endorphins that comes when you find yourself faced with life threatening situation. Artists who work in the horror genre are often able to create realistic simulations of these life threatening events, with masters of the genre able to trick your mind and body in order to get the same fight or flight response.
I have not always been the biggest fan of the horror genre and I think it’s because I was exposed to so many crap horror movies growing up. In the past few years I have started reading in the horror genre and for me, authors are just able invoke emotions in me that horror movies can rarely achieve. You become much more immersed in a horror story, you grow stronger attachments to the lead characters, you can feel the emotions that the protagonist is going through as he loses the things he loves and becomes trapped by his own fears.
The best stories aren’t particularly gory, gritty or edgy – there are worse things you can do to someone other than killing them and the best stories tellers are keenly aware of this, putting their characters through the grinder by doing things like taking away their humanity or imprisoning them within their own guilt. It’s hard for the author to make a reader fear for the protagonist’s life when they are central to the story, but it is much easier and much more effective for the author to make a reader fear what the protagonist is turning into.