Friday, February 09, 2007

Horror is the new Black

Apparently Horror is back with a vengeance so don’t go saying bloody Mary in a dark bathroom mirror anytime soon. Or so implies the UK’s Independent Online in their article “Why horror writing will be big in 2007,” in interesting piece that looks at the resurgence of Horror as a viable market.

The article discusses the Horror genre from its fall due to glut in the ‘80s to its rising popularity in today’s market. Here in the States, books like David Wellington’s Monster Island and Monster Nation have done exceedingly well as have Max Brooks’ more comedic horror pieces The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. And one has only to look at the top five movie releases to see Horror is once again making the big bucks, a trend that is being reflected in a receptive publishing world. It is no surprise then that 2007 will see the release of some well-hyped horror novels from Joe Hill’s Heart-shaped Box (the author was recently outed as Stephen King’s son) to Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts (already being eagerly fought over by Hollywood).*

Despite this new upsurge in Horror love, many of these books are being released under the heading of General Fiction in the UK in an attempt to gather a wider audience. As I mentioned in my interview with writer Joe Nassise (author of the novel, Heretic, Book One in the Templar Chronicles), I (as well as many others out there) tend to equate Horror novels with Horror movies—more specifically the Horror movies that lend themselves to Torture Porn (see: Hostel, Touristas, Saw, etc). While I’m all for a good scare and something to get the heart racing, I don’t want to read a novel where the gratuitous violence becomes desensitizing. When I mentioned this to Joe he kindly pointed out that this was a rather skewed view:

“To me, horror is anything that evokes a feeling of dread or fear. This means that many books that are not marketed as horror certainly have some horrific elements to them. Conversely, it also means that horror novels have a tremendous amount of room to live and breathe in and equating them with the dull and many times plotless slasher films of the last two decades doesn't give them the credit they deserve.

Certainly horror has its share of gore and guts, but it also has the lyrical symphony that is the writings of people like Peter Straub and Caitlin Kiernan, the evocative descriptions of Glen Hirschberg and Thomas Liggotti, the action and adventure of Tim Lebbon and Chris Golden. And I could go on in this vein for hours. A few years ago Alice Seibold won the Bram Stoker Award, one of horror fictions two highest literary honors, for her novel THE LOVELY BONES, in which a dead girl narrates the disintegration of her family following her rape and murder. Aside from the fact that the book is narrated by a ghost, there isn't a single element of the supernatural in the entire work, yet it was clearly seen as horror for the feelings it evokes.”

The sentiment is echoed by Will Elliot, author of The Pilo Family Circus (currently unavailable in the US), when he says, “I find more is possible in a story when the rules of reality can be disregarded. Writing in, I guess you could call it magic realism, makes it possible to hold up a warped mirror to our world and laugh at the strange shapes reflected in it. That way fiction can be a complete escape from our world or, if you want, you can analyse the reflections and try to apply them, extracting some kind of relevant meaning.”

This “meaning,” according to the Independent, may stem from our fear of terrorism in the world at large or our apathy to it. Are we looking for an escape from the realism of today’s world or just something to give us the jolt of adrenaline to keep on going? While the answer may be different for different people I think the presence of escapism plays an integral part.

We have become a society that embraces the escape whether through reading, gaming or watching TV. Harry Potter made it socially acceptable for adults to enjoy a child’s world filled with wizards and witches and the cult success of Buffy (as well as the rise of Geek Chic) played into the need within us all to indulge our imaginations. It is fine for a “grown up” to discuss whether or not Snape is evil or proudly admit that they followed a certain Vampire Slayer before she was “popular” and Whedon became a name synonymous with kick-ass girl power. We can embrace what drove our inner child to create fantasy worlds and outrageous tales while still holding down a nine-to-five job and fighting for the American Dream.

And what is Horror but an indulgence in our primal fears (the anti-American Dream if you will) that there is someone lurking around the corner or under the bed, while allowing us to control the outcome whether by flipping to the last few pages, setting the book down or fast-forwarding the movie? With the ability to somewhat control the outcome and know that the story comes with an endpoint, we can embrace the fear, even revel in it. We can be chased by serial killers, see ghostly figures in the mirror and run from demon possession—live beyond our physical capabilities—for a few hours a time between checking email and making dinner for the kids.

Will Horror continue to be embraced? I don’t see anything stopping it. The presence of Paranormal Romance and the strength of titles falling under the Urban Fantasy setting show that Horror in its varied forms has been around for awhile and it just needs more strong stories and inventive writers to keep it strong.

Your thoughts?

Tomorrow: Watch me rip Steve Jones a new one for sneeringly lumping all Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy under what he derogatorily labels “Para Porn,” and discuss how tagging that bit (British slang connotations totally applicable) on at the end weakened the discussion of the blossoming Horror genre as a whole. I would love to incorporate your thoughts as well.

*Also mentioned in the article is Charlie Houston’s Already Dead, a novel previously released in the US in 2005 (after receiving a starred review from PW). Its follow-up, No Dominion, became available here in December 2006.


jgodsey said...

indeed, the flood of Horror/dark fantasy tv shows on WB/CW these last few years - only Supernatural seemed to be work a damn - and now the Scifi Channel has put on the Dresden files from the Books, and Special Unit 2 which seriously resembles Nick Perotta's novels, and in march Lifetime is starting a series based on Tanya Huff's Dark Fantasy novels - and CBS is trying Demons with Ron's an invasion.

lady t said...

Horror has it's cycles but interest does increase during times of strife and uncertainty;a good book on this subject is David J. Skal's The Monster Show.

Skal's a great speaker as well;saw him at a Fangoria convention a few years ago and he gave an excellant lecture on this subject(that I wished more people stayed to hear rather than autograph hunt!).

With Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy shooting new life into the Horror veins(a lovely image,I know) and the state of the world today,we're in for some fear factor fun for awhile.

Michele said...

Enjoyed the post and it gave me a few things to think about. But I had a good laugh over this:

"so don’t go saying bloody Mary in a dark bathroom mirror anytime soon"

Good to know I wasn't the only silly kid scaring herself witless in a dark bathroom!

Maya Reynolds said...

BSC: Hi! Glad to see this interesting post.

I was a huge horror fan as a child (still am) and have come to realize that reading horror was a way of coping with a sometimes scary childhood.

Each time I did or read something that frightened me, I gained a sense of mastery. "I handled that; I can handle anything."

Of course, it was a false sense of security, but it helped me through some difficult times, much like Dumbo's feather.

These days, I read more erotic paranormals and urban fantasies than straight horror, but I'm always up for a good horror story.

Will look forward to the continuing discussion.

Matt Todd said...

Hooray for Will Eliott!!!

If anyone in the US gets a chance to read his novel, The Pilo Family Circus, do it. It's brilliant!!

It won a new award down here is Australia, which promotes young unpublished (as yet) Australian authors...

And it happens to be brilliant. But I think I already mentioned that...