As a writer with more than a tinge of horror in my work, I am contractually* required to post on Halloween about skulls and ghosts and witches and skeletons and ghouls and guys in hockey masks and, um, cauldrons and bats? Things like that?
I’ve always loved the horror genre. Maybe I’ve told this before, but my first horror movie was The Gate, and there’s a scene in it where a kid is hiding in a closet and arms come out of the back wall and grab him (or her…I forget). For years, I slept facing the wall so it couldn’t take me unawares.
I don’t recall reading any R. L. Stine books; my earliest textual exposure was probably the Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark series. As most readers will tell you, the stories themselves weren’t terribly scary–but the artwork was petrifying. The sort of fibrous spiderwebs-and-exposed-muscle style creeps me out even to this day. I’ve heard there’s going to be a movie based on it, and all I have to say is if they don’t get the original artist to at least consult on the visuals, they’ll have failed utterly.
I also read a lot of ghost story anthologies as a kid. Growing up in New England really lends a sort of forest-cloaked, mildewed, run-down creepiness to life, especially since I spent those formative years with a swamp down the road and a swath of woods out back, or at my grandparents’ house where I was convinced there was a skeleton in the downstairs shower. The humidity and the cloud-cover and the looming hills and creaky floors provide a certain atmosphere that tales of blood-filled apples and ghosts prowling the widows’ walks only intensified.
That sort of vague creepiness is still what draws me most. I love the idea of haunted houses, even if most movies tend to present them in the same way every time. Houses with a sort of rudimentary sentience, a malice in their settling walls and dripping basements…
Demons don’t do it for me. Ouija boards, psh. Generic hauntings, meh… I like East Asian style supernatural horror movies more than American ones just because they’re less typical. But give me a good creepy atmosphere, a crumbling old mansion or sanitarium or other rambling building isolated from the rest of the world by acres and acres of hills and trees, and you’ve got me…as long as you don’t fall back on the fricking demons.
When I got older, I moved into Stephen King books, Poe, etc. (Not that much older though — ten, twelve?) And then I started reading Lovecraft — not sure exactly when. That had New England decay down to an art-form, not least because Lovecraft himself was such a fearful, feverishly racist asshat. I don’t know that I picked up on it at the time, but yeah, he translated his aversion and disgust for the people he lived near and the city he was stuck in into some really passionately horrific prose — and I say passionately because while his writing is often dry, you can feel the weight of dread and revulsion in every sentence.
From there, I branched out into Matheson, Barker, Hill, etc. Fantasy was always my first love, though, which is why I don’t write straight-up horror. I like King’s flawed and self-destructive characters, Lovecraft’s isolation and paranoia, Barker’s body-horror and wild monstrosities, ghost stories’ creepy little details… But I never felt the impetus to run a character through a full gauntlet of such things.
Not at the start, anyway.
As I’ve worked on my series, though, I’ve found that each book has me upping the percentage of horror. I’ve pitched book 1 as 95% fantasy, 3% horror, 2% sci-fi; for book 2, I’d say it became 90% fantasy, 8% horror, 2% sci-fi. Book 3 is standing at 80-85% fantasy, 10-12% horror, as the nastiness that’s been partially hidden starts crawling to the surface. At the moment, my concepts of books 4-6 stand at around 60-70% fantasy.
But they would never be marketed as horror. Why? Because I’ve always felt that there’s a distinct dividing line between dark fantasy and horror: on the dark fantasy side, there is magic or some other fantastical method that can be used to directly battle/kill the supernatural, while on the horror side, there’s not. You can’t beat a Lovecraftian entity — you can only hope to banish/seal it away or otherwise survive/escape it. Exorcism stories are a good example of banishments; The Gate is a seal-away; most haunted house movies end in escape, possibly after burning down the structure.
So to me, Buffy and Blade and the like live in dark fantasy universes, because they are empowered to fight back against the horrific elements they face, while Ripley and whoever the people in Event Horizon were live in horror universes — they are never entirely effective against the monsters they face, and often die in the process of banishing/sealing them.
I would call my universe a dark fantasy, high magic one. Monsters, corruption, body-horror, alien intelligences, creepy atmosphere, nightmares and insanity — sure, those are there. But the characters have effective tools to fight all of those things. They just need to figure that out, so they can go from surviving to winning.
Anyway! I was going to talk about specific books and movies, but I’ve rambled long enough already. I will point out some of my faves, though: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski; Duma Key by Stephen King; the Hellblazer comics (because for all his power, John Constantine just keeps digging himself a deeper hole — at least until the DC reboot happened); the Berserk manga; and movies like the original Pulse (Kairo), Into the Mirror, Plus One, Under the Skin, and other creepy character-centric atmospheric mind-fucks.
Oh, and there’s always The SCP Foundation, for all my vaguely scientific creepypasta needs.
So, what kind of spooky shit are you guys into?