Oh, The Horror! How Horror Fiction Differs from Horror TV and Movies

I’ve already got a confession to make, and it’s the very first line of post. This is actually one of my biggest pet peeves: when people assume horror fiction is the exact same as horror movies. But can I blame them? Both are the horror genre, so why wouldn’t someone assume they were the same?

First, let’s take a look at horror movies. Georges Melies, a French filmmaker, created the very first horror film Manior Du Diable (The Devil’s Castle). It’s about three minutes long, and reminds me of a little bit of Jack the Giant Killer from 1962. Manior Du Diable is a quirky exploration of the magic of camera work and editing at the time, but it’s also a great frame of reference in which to see horror: horror deals with the supernatural, things in which we don’t quite understand, and the unexplained.

But the actual definition of horror is much different. Horror means a very strong feeling of fear, dread, and shock, or anything that causes feelings of fear, dread, and shock (Merriam Webster).

Unlike Manior Du Diable, more contemporary horror classics focus on the later part of the definition: shock. Friday the 13th. The Exorcist. Saw. We cringe in the theater seats at these movies saying, “Oh no. Don’t do that!” and “Oh no, don’t go in there!” We cover our eyes and peek out between our fingers. We see characters getting their limbs torn/ripped/chopped/pulled/blown off. Blood and gore are a cornerstone for many a horror film, in particular the B-movie variety. Some films even go so far as including triggering subject matter, like rape and violation. But most horror movies are going after the same effect: to make the audience jump in their seats, to scare audiences. A lot of thought, time, and care is put into production in order to achieve just the right music, lighting, and make-up effects for the big scary moments and the big reveals in order to make the audience all but pee their pants.

Horror literature seems to take the definition of horror more figuratively, deeply exploring the things we find scary or shocking, things we might not be able to explain, and examines them in depth. Instead of going for the screams, horror writers go more for effect. Where horror film may adopt the literal definition of the word horror (fear, dread, shock), horror literature seems to capture more of the thrill. Part of that could also be a byproduct of the medium. While movies are a more sensory experience with sight and sound, with books, the reader is allowed to imagine as much or as little as what’s on the page. It takes time to read a book, and the mind has more time to come up with possibilities and presumptions about what’s coming. More telling, popular horror literature deals with different subject matter. While a movie’s big focus may be the blood and gore, horror lit still needs to stand on its own two feet as a story. That means strong characters and character development, some element of the fantastic, whether it be a human hell-bent on murder or a vampire, and a bare-bones foundation of a story that is more than a cheap thrill.

I’d argue it goes much deeper still. It comes down to a question: what is the purpose of a horror movie and what is the purpose of a book in the horror genre? In movies, we are given very little time to empathize with our characters before the action begins. Because it isn’t necessary. When a moviegoer pays their money to see a horror flick, they are banking on the promise that they will get a good scare. When a book buyer pays money for a horror book, they pay for a more cerebral experience: they will spend hours with the characters, get to know them, and feel what they feel as the book progresses. In a horror movie, we are watching horrible things happen to the characters. In a horror book, we are experiencing the fantastic, the uncomfortable, right along with them.

I should note that I’m not trying to diss horror films. One of my favorite movies is a horror film (The Thing). And there are many exceptions to the points I’ve brought up here. There are some horror movies that I find downright artful (Let the Right One In and 28 Days Later… come to mind), and go beyond the stereotypical horror genre. And there are certainly horror books where the only purpose is to shock and cause dread to the readers. But I’d argue you’re going to find that those are the few and far between.

The horror genre is more saturated with books like The Shining by Stephen King that, while dealing with horror elements, also deals with Jack Torrance’s fear of succumbing to alcoholism. You care about Jack Torrance as you read The Shining. The Walking Dead, the long-running comic book series and the TV show, doesn’t just deal in zombies. The Walking Dead is about what happens to humanity and how humanity changes in the wake of near-extinction and the constant threat of death. I Am Legend (the book by Richard Matheson, one of my favorite books) is about the loneliness of being the last of your kind. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice has less to do with vampires and more to do with the question of what it means to be mortal. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is not about the monster, but what it means to be human, the power of science, and the power of creating life from death.

From Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein
From Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein

Finally, the most notable difference between horror movies and horror literature has to do with who the bad guy really is. In most horror films, there is a clear line between the protagonists and antagonists. Us vs. Them. Predator vs. Prey. One force hunts the other force down. Horror books, I’d argue, more so examine the darkness that comes from within, and duality of our own nature. We can be both the good guy and the bad guy. We can have good intentions (just as Victor Frankenstein did in bringing back the dead), but instead create a monster of ourselves. What horror literature looks to achieve is to strike empathy within the reader in the most dire and uncomfortable of circumstances, not necessarily to shock or scare, but to say, “Here’s the darkness, let’s go in and look around together.”

Just a Taste

Guest Post by Aubrie L. Nixon

The feeling the Iter gives me is unique. I have tried other drugs, of course, but the Iter is specific with its high. I see things that are unexplainable, things that any sane person would call disgusting. But since I am not sane, I continue to crave the dark and disturbing visions that the Iter gives me.

Some of us don’t survive the Iter. You die flying on a cloud of pure bliss as you fade into oblivion. Those of us who survive our first encounter are treated like kings and queens. We are rich beyond measure and could have anything we could dream of. Riches, cars, clothes, mansions, fame–anything we want, it is ours. It is the least they can offer us. But, after having the Iter, we want nothing but to feel the release and music it brings. We are the Iter’s muses, and we need it as much as it needs us. We are one.

I lie there with black leather pants and a dark lacy bra on. My hair is done in an elegant bun, and I have been painted with enough makeup that I might rival them for their beauty. I cannot feel anything from the neck down. All of the feeling in my body is gone. But for the time being, I can see things as they do. The world is brighter. The colors I can see are vast–more than any human brain can even begin to fathom. The first time I tried the Iter I wanted to cry at the beauty that surrounded me. But of course I couldn’t. I have no control of my body. I can do nothing but stare at the lovely room, and them.

The room is a garden in a large greenhouse near campus. The grassy ground is the most lovely shade of pure emerald green. I can see dew drops on the flower petals that surround me. I lie on a bed of fresh, blood-red roses on a table in the middle of the garden. The trees are of varying heights and colors. Pinks and reds, shades that I dream about when I am not here. The night sky is a dark purple, and the stars shine brighter than even the sun. Their beauty physically hurts.

The mirror on the ceiling shows me the scars on my pale skin. They are of varying colors and age. The ones that mark my stomach are many sizes for different organs. I watch as they place plates and trays around my body, filled with bloodied meats and liquids. I am the main event tonight, the center of everyone’s attention. Therefore, my table is the most exquisite. I watch as the masked ones bring in the guests. They are the Elite, the powerful ones. They have paid more money than I could ever accumulate in a lifetime to be here. They are here to see me, to be able to be next to me. It is the highest honor to be the main event.

The music starts as the Iter takes hold, and I become its puppet. I am surrounded by a dozen of them. They are dressed in finery and expensive jewels. They whisper excitedly as they take in the spread on of the table, and their eyes rake over me hungrily. The chef welcomes them and introduces me: Elana Arravey, 22, of Norse descent. Diet: Sparkling water, strawberries, pineapples, and low protein. The crowd applauds excitedly. The chef murmurs a few words in their language, and then she cuts into me. Blood trickles down my chest as she cuts open my skin. Servants catch my blood in champagne flutes, and pass it out to the ravenous crowd. I feel the chef’s hand inside of my chest, as she reaches inside me, through my sternum, and grabs my heart. I watch as she pulls it from my chest. It pulses with life, blood squirting from the valves, painting the chef’s pale, white hand like fondue. It’s beautiful. She places my heart in a bowl.

The bidding starts at 1 million. I watch in the mirror as the heart is bid on by the room. The pulsing never stops, filling the bowl with my blood. The crowd grows frenzied as the bidding war continues. 2 million, 3, 4, 5 million. We are down to three guests left bidding. 6, 7, 8 million. Two guests. 9, 9.5, 10 million. Going once, twice, three times, sold!

My heart, sold for 10 million dollars. A hush goes over the room. It is rare that a heart goes for 10 million dollars, but it is the first time this organ has been touched. It is a trophy to take someone’s heart for the first time. The one that gets to taste my heart comes to claim his prize. I wish I could see him. I hear the crowd murmur their excitement as the chef takes the bowl from the servers and places my heart on a silver platter. I can hear him lick his lips as he reaches for my heart. I smile as he licks it, the blood dripping from his mouth. Just a taste.

It is over in mere seconds, as the chef whispers words in their language again and places my heart back into my chest. She positions her fingers over my wound, and my flesh magically closes. She motions for the servers to carry me away, into the kitchens. I want to cry out because I know my time on the Iter is coming to an end. My legs start to tingle as it wears off, and before I can ask for more, my world goes dark.

I awake in my bedroom, the alarm blaring like a foghorn. I open my eyes, everything around me blurry from the sleep in my eyes. I sigh as I sit up slowly and place my feet on the cold floor. My body is numb except for the dull ache my chest. I smile at the pain, and start the shower.

aubreyAubrie is 24 years young. She plays mom to a cutest demon topside, and is married to the hottest man in the Air Force. When she isn’t writing she is daydreaming about hot brooding anti-heroes and sassy heroines. She loves Dragon Age, rewatching Game of Thrones and reading all things fantasy. She runs a local YA/NA bookclub with 3 chapters, and over 200 members. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and her thighs thank her graciously for it. If she could have dinner with anyone living or dead it would be Alan Rickman because his voice is the sexiest sound on earth. He could read the dictionary and she would be enthralled. Her current mission in life is to collect creepy taxidermy animals because she finds them cute and hilarious. She resides just outside of Washington DC.

Preorder Aubrie’s debut novel DARKNESS WHISPERS, here. 

A Passing Therapist

30484017-368-k42724“Martin,” I hear the voice say. “Martin.”

I raise my head from the desk.

“I’m here to help.” A man stands in my office doorway, but with my lights, off he’s just a backlit silhouette, his face shrouded in shadow.

“I came as quick as I could,” he says.

“Come in.” I blink hard to dismiss the blur in my eyes. “Turn on the light?”

With a flash my vision returns. I squint, allowing my eyes to adjust to the brightness. I see an older gentleman, dressed in a brilliant white suit.

“Please, take a seat,” I say.

He does.

He’s a slender man with glasses and a trimmed mustache; the only indication of his age is his grey hair. He tilts his head back and looks down his nose at me in an uncomfortable stare.

“What’s with the outfit?” I ask, trying to lighten the mood.

He offers a slight smile. “I just came from a funeral for one of my clients, a sweet gal—decided to take her life.” He shook his head unapprovingly.

“Aren’t you supposed to wear black to a funeral?”

“Most do.” He leans forward in his chair. “Well let’s get down to business, Martin. Tell me what’s troubling you?”

As if by command, I shift my gaze from his face to the papers on my mahogany desk. “What do you mean?”

“Obviously, something is bothering you. As a therapist, it’s my job to help with this sort of thing. Have you been depressed?”

I slouch in my chair, the leather’s high-pitch moan expressing resistance. “I guess so.”

“Good. Honesty is the first step, you know. Have you been stressed?”

Many thoughts are muddled in my mind; I try to dissect them, isolate them, but as I do they fade away. I look around my office at the stacks of files in disarray, strewn across my desk and on the floor. In the corner lay a hoard of fast-food wrappers, mingled with junk mail and empty beer cans—traces of my discretions discarded—or collected.

“Yeah. I’ve been stressed,” I admit.

“About what?”

“It’s this damn lawsuit.” Emotion swells in my gut. My jaw clenches and I look at the ground, at anything but him.

“Go on.”

“It’s not my fault,” I say, louder than I expected. “I was cheated, but I’m the one being sued. I’m on the hook for everything—for nothing.” My voice cracks a little.

“I’m not following you.”

I stand from my seat and slam my fist onto a stack of papers. “I didn’t do anything wrong, but they’re taking everything away from me.” In a burst of rage I fling the stack on my desk, scattering documents across the room, a blanket of white covering the office floor.

He looks away, ignoring my action. He waits a moment before returning his gaze into my eyes. “What do you mean by everything?”

“Everything, you moron. I’ve lost the house, the cars, the boat, the land, the business.” I raise a finger each time I name a possession. “I lost everything.”

“So now you have nothing?”

“Are you patronizing me?” I sit down and cross my arms.

“What about your family?”

I think for a moment, trying to summon their image from the back of my mind but it doesn’t come.

He points to a picture on the wall. “Where’s your wife?”

As I stare at the photograph, a longing grows within me. A youthful man embraces a pretty woman, sitting on a park bench, surrounded by fall foliage, while two small children smile and a dog sits guard. That isn’t me. Not anymore.

The therapist persists like a conscience, “where are your son and daughter?”

They’re usually in the house playing, being loud and bothering me but I hear nothing. I’ve been so busy, so engrossed in my task; for a moment I’ve forgotten. I focus on the faces in the photograph and I remember. “They’re out of town with my sister.”

“Did you lose them?”

“I just told you that they’re out of town with my sister?”

“I’m only referring to what you said about losing everything. Did you lose your family too?” He sits in his chair, almost expressionless, too calm, too peaceful, looking down on me, judging me.

“I don’t know, maybe.”

I wait for a reply but there is nothing, only silence—no sound of breathing, no clock ticking. I look at the timepiece; it is still. Batteries must’ve died. The therapist remains silent. I have to fill the void with something, anything.

“Cathy and I have been struggling for awhile now. It’s this lawsuit. It’s destroyed us; it’s destroyed me.” There. An admission, maybe he’ll ease up.

But he doesn’t. His eyes continue to peer, to condemn. So I let it out. “Okay. I’ve probably lost all of them, is that what you want to hear? I don’t know. Maybe I don’t care. She was probably only in it for the money and that’s all gone. And the kids never liked me anyways.” It’s his turn to talk.

“It sounds to me like you’re saddened because of your loss of everything, but everything to you means everything material. It appears you’re trying to minimize the pain of what you’ve really lost.”

“Now you’re not making sense.” I cross my arms.

“Perhaps not.” He leans forward in his chair, looking–peering–into my soul. “So what are you going to do about the depression?”

“Do? What can I do? Aren’t you here to help me? Give me some pills, some advice. Tell me what to do.”

“I don’t prescribe medicine. I’m only here to help you realize as gently as possible.”

“Realize what?” I ask but I don’t mean to. I’m not sure why I continue to play his games.

“You’ve lost everything.”

“I know!” I stand, slamming both hands down hard on the desktop. “Haven’t you been listening to me?”

He doesn’t flinch. “You’ve lost Cathy.”

It hits me like cold water. He’s not really a therapist. He’s here for something else.

“Are you her attorney? Does she want a divorce?”

“Martin, I’m a therapist but not the kind you might think. Cathy’s thought about a divorce, but that doesn’t really matter now.” His gaze shifts away from mine for the first time since we’ve been talking. He’s looking at my desk.

“Why?” I ask. “Because of the lawsuit? Am I going to prison? Are you with the FBI?”

He shakes his head, seemingly surprised with the inquisition. “Unfortunately Martin, your depression will be your prison.”

“If you’re really a therapist, then help me. Please, help me.” The emotion in my voice surprises me. I struggle to hold back tears. He was right. My depression has me bound.

“I’m trying to help you, son.” His eyes look at my desk again. I follow his gaze, looking at my side. Turning my head a little, wiping the tears from my eyes, I see a pistol resting on the desk. I look back at the therapist who offers a soft smile as he nods his head.

“You want to know what I’m going to do about my depression? Maybe I should kill myself and break free from the prison.” I reach for the gun, its handle moist. I look at my hand covered in blood and notice the crimson puddle on my desk, spilling onto the floor.

“Martin,” he says, “I’m trying to help you realize that you already did.”

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.

Light and Dark: You Need Both

At its root, art is designed to influence people’s emotions. It is especially poignant when the art leads the viewer/reader down a path of emotions they may not have trod before. I’m not saying that some people have never felt remorse or anger or pure bliss. No, it’s the combination of emotions that can strike in black-and-whiteunexpected and brilliant ways.

In the Netflix series, Daredevil, the character of the Kingpin is, shall we say, a little disturbed. We get a glimpse into his past when he buys a painting that is all white. A few different shades, and some texture, but for all intents and purposes, it’s white. Later we find out that it reminds him of white wall in his childhood home. It brought him comfort in a dark and twisted way. Because what’s not light and fluffy about killing your dad for beating your mom when you’re ten?

I’ve thought a lot about this painting and the Kingpin and light and dark. A photographer will tell you that to have a good picture, you need both light and dark. It is the contrast that brings out the small details and uncovers the wonders that lay waiting to be captured in our world.

So how can this work? This white painting.

Look at it from your vantage point. You’re the reader/viewer of the story. You get to see the whole picture, and not just the white painting. With that scope, the Kingpin himself is inserted into the equation, and we easily find the contrast between light and dark. Innocent—the wall—and guilty—the man who will do anything to keep his father’s abusive memory at bay. Comfort—the white—and dissatisfaction—his feelings of ineptitude.

When you are creating art, in our case writing a story, remember to keep contrasts vivid. The light will shy from the dark, and the dark will run from the light. But in the end they will clash, and one will win. The story you want to tell will determine which is more powerful, and all too often, the characters must slosh through a swamp of grays before they find which is their destiny. Don’t be afraid to give your characters dark secrets, insurmountable conflicts and/or a point of view that might not be popular. But also, don’t be afraid to let them experience both light and dark before they become something new.