What is Horror?

Posted: May 4, 2015 in Blog Tour Hosting, guest post, Recommended Reading
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Welcome to Shaun Allan’s Darker Places tour.


Apparently, and I should actually have guessed, there’s a Wikipedia for Pooh called Winniepedia.  Something like that makes me smile.  It’s a cute play on words, for a start, and Winnie the Pooh can find a place in most people’s hearts.

“I want to be scary,” said Piglet in The Book of Boo.  Now, a walking, talking, clothes wearing pig would be scary in many cases – not least in Orwell’s Animal Farm – but, when said pig is scared of flowers and butterflies, you can’t help but feel for his plight.  He wants to be scary.  He wants to be fierce.

But, what is scary?  Moreover, what is horror?

I had a discussion this morning with a friend of mine.  Does ‘horror’ have to entail zombies and werewolves, or shouldn’t the genre be extended to things which are ‘horrific’?

Generally, of course, when someone says they don’t watch horror films, they refer to things like Nightmare on Elm Street, Cabin Fever, Sinister and the like.  They refer to films with ghoolies and ghosties and all manner of beasties.  They refer to death and gore and musical scores which send shivers down your spine before the first blade strikes or the first bite is bitten.

But, they’d happily watch a film such as Silence of the Lambs, for example.  Nowadays, the line between thriller and horror is blurring.  It’s harder to distinguish one form another and people’s definitions are varied.  We are becoming blasé and numbed to what, a few years  ago, would have had people fainting and vomiting in the cinema or looking under their beds after watching the TV or reading a book.

As horror becomes so much more mainstream and ideas more sparse, we find less things actually scary.  Personally, it’s been years since I was scared or even made nervous by a film or book.  You could argue that’s because I write horror and thriller.  Why would I be scared of little things like ghosts and slashers?  The last (and only, I think) time I felt the need to look behind a chair after watching a film was when I watched The Howling.  Today, the film seems hammy with a side plate of cheese, and with special effects which you find difficult to believe were believable – as much as werewolves are believable.

I was about 15 at the time, I think.  I was watching it in my parent’s living room after they’d gone to bed.  There was only a small lamp to light the room, to my right.  It was a long room with a small dining table at the far end.  The placement of the chair facing the TV meant you had your back to the dining section – and, at around midnight, in semi-darkness, I was ‘nervous’.

I looked behind the chair before I turned the TV off and felt so brave at turning off the lamp and walking to the hall in the dark to go to bed.  If a werewolf had jumped out at me, I’m sure my throat would have been devoured before I’d had chance to pour myself a glass of water to take up.  This doesn’t happen today.  I don’t get scared by horror films.  Many are regurgitated ideas of what’s gone on before and are fairly predictable.

So, what is the genre horror?  Do thrillers count?  I think, thinking about it as I am writing this, the answer is yes and no.  Thrillers do count as horror, but don’t necessarily come under the same genre.  That might not make sense, but it does in my head.  I wouldn’t count Seven as horror as far as the genre is concerned, but I do believe it has horror aspects.  A friend counted Silence of the Lambs on his top ten horror films, and I can see why, though trueblood horror aficionados might disagree.  There’s a lack of people being torn apart by jigsaws.  I don’t recall seeing a werewolf, zombie or ritualistic killer walking, hand in hand with the ghost of a lost child.

But, essentially, it’s still horrific.

I know people who hide behind cushions.  I know people who can’t watch anything which might even slightly be described as ‘horror’ as they’ll have nightmares.  It still works.  It still shocks – just not me.  Perhaps my own writing makes me less shockable.  Perhaps certain aspects of my life do that.  Maybe, but my wife doesn’t scare easily either.

Now, saying all of this, I do love a good horror film.  Mainstream zombies might be (thinking Plants vs Zombies and World War Z), but I thought 28 Days Later was excellent.  I think Twilight and Vampire Diaries et al made popcorn pap of vampires but would happily watch something more Sinister.  Speaking of ‘Sinister’, I enjoyed the film.  I liked Mama and Case 39 and The Others.  I love the original Fright Night for all its cheesiness (and probably because of it) but didn’t like the Colin Farrell remake.  They don’t frighten me and rarely make me jump (I watched The Woman In Black in a packed cinema with lots of squealing and jumping from everyone else…).  They do, however, excite me, have me on the edge of me seat and entice me into the shadows, somewhere I’m very comfortable.  I thought Cabin in the Woods was clever, though it took me a little while to decide if I liked it.  I was literally on the edge of my seat with the original Saw – it had originality and tension and plot, where I thought the sequels were gore porn and showcased multiple ways to kill someone.

Horror is meant to try and scare you (and for many it definitely does) and it’s also meant to twist your stomach and make chills run up your spine.  That much is obvious.  It’s also meant to take you into darker places or darker lives.  Or make you wonder if everything around you is actually as it seems.  Horror is meant to make you wonder if the light is all that bright and make you question what lurks behind your chair.  It doesn’t necessarily have to make you faint or throw up, just enjoy the ride when the lights go out.  It doesn’t need blood or throats ripped out.  The best horror has none of this.  It plays with your mind.

On a final note, I think my almost-four year old is starting early.  She’s now a fan (because of her older sister) of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Ghost videos.  One night recently, when I put her to bed, she told me to sneak up on her mum and whisper ‘I like brains!’…  But she also watches In the Night garden.

Now that’s scary…


Shaun Allan’s Singularity Books is proud to introduce Darker Places!

about DP

darkerplaces_96dpi_100What if you could steal the final moments from the dying? What if you had the darkest secret, but couldn’t think what it might be? What if you entered the forest in the deep of the night. Who is the melting man? And are your neighbours really whom they appear to be?So many questions. To find the answers, you must enter a darker place. Thirteen stories. Thirteen poems. Thirteen more doorways. 

Buy today!


An excerptA review of Darker Placesa guest postabout shaun

ShaunA writer of many prize winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into Sin’s point of view and sense of humour although he can’t, at this point, teleport.

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