Why write horror? Why not the socially more accepted Science Fiction or Fantasy, in which the reader experiences wonder and the heights of imagination? Why not the even safer Mystery or Western? Literary forms so conventionalized you don’t have to worry about stepping on toes. Go to even greater lengths and write “mainstream” fiction, in which you can just report the obvious and not stimulate much of anything new.
But the horror fan is another creature altogether. This person, surprisingly more often female than male (60/40), seeks out stimulation to the Limbic System, the fight-or-flight center of the brain. Not in trauma-inducing volumes but in a slow IV drip with occasional lightning bolt zaps known as horror fiction. Why? Are these people deranged? I think not. If anything, the other seems more likely. Unlike your Mystery novel junkie or Romantic Comedy self-medicator, the horror fan can handle a much more rigorous course. Like the adrenaline-junkie who sky-dives or bungy-jumps, the horror fan is looking for the next challenge. If you don’t believe me, simply read some Victorian horror fiction and see what frightened our great-grand-fathers. Pretty tame by today’s standard. And that is because unlike other genres, horror pushes that envelope in a constant evolution. The Western or Mystery doesn’t evolve on an emotional level. Horror changes. And change scares some people.
The horror thrill is an attempt to tame the untameable, to tap into the Great God Pan (to use a Machenism). This frisson is close to sexual arousal, fueling the accusations of degenerate misconduct. Sex frightens some people; horror likewise. But horror need not explore these fears directly. Can you imagine a more asexual character than H. P. Lovecraft? And yet his fiction is a Freudian smorgasbord of tentacles, old families cross-breeding with non-humans and other sex taboos.
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