Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gothic or Splatterpunk?

There is a certain vastness to the horror genre that seems to have been condensed over the years: a variety of characteristics that were once used, but have since begun to fade away, if not already expunged. In other words, the horror genre has been reduced from fine literature to graphic and violent reading that many people refuse to even glance at. And it's actually kind of sad, though I'm sure many horror fans take pride in their isolation from other genre readers. I have nothing against that style of writing - and do enjoy reading it from time to time - but I would still like to see the genre's origins embraced rather than shunned. Like any other genre, horror has evolved over the years, and in turn, the old ways have become extinct. The vocabulary has been refined, the scenes more detailed and vulgar; there is less left to the readers imagination, and more to nauseate us. I understand this is normal for anything that changes over time. But does it have to? Does evolution always have to include extinction? Can't it just be expansion?

What are the initial thoughts when the word 'horror' is mentioned? Blood, gore, scary monsters or zombies, etc... Graphic, violent imagery and terrifying experiences, for the most part; otherwise known as splatterpunk. There are certain defining characters that are almost always present in the genre: a murderer on the loose, a society of cannibals, supernatural creatures, or paranormal entities. And horror is often combined with other genres - such as thriller, mystery, adventure, fantasy, science fiction - to make it more dynamic and compelling, to attract more readers, to give it depth. But what about romance? Can we interweave a love story amidst all the blood and gore, the psychos and monsters, the violence and terror? No? Horror doesn't need any of that mushy, gushy stuff; then it wouldn't be horror anymore, right? It would be more of a romance story with a hint of blood? Well, I disagree, and this is where we seem to have gone astray over the years. If you look back to the horror genre's origins, you will see a wholly different set of characteristics.

Horror has been around for ages, centuries, millennia even. Evil beings and themes have been terrorizing people in poetry, at bedsides, or around hearthfires since ancient times. Satan, for one, has been a horrific antagonist for well over two thousand years. And the ancient Greeks have had horror stories since their beginnings, as well. They used dragons, hydras, and pythons (all serpents, mind you, which seems to be a common motif in ancient horror) The dragon is mentioned by Homer in the Iliad, which was written around the 8th century BC, and he used other monsters, too, in the Odyssey (Scylla, Charybdis). And take a look at Beowulf; believed to be written sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries, it contains a monster that kills men while they innocently slumber. It, too, even has a dragon at the end. But none of these stories with scary monsters, horror or otherwise, are especially gory and graphic. They tell a captivating tale with a hero's struggle against a terrorizing being. Oh, and a romance. Can't forget that. It's not a descriptive romance, but

Now let's fast forward a few hundred years to the origins of Gothic horror. In 1764, Horace Walpole (writer, architect, politician) published The Castle of Otronto. The story details a tragic death, some skirmishes, and an intertwining love between many characters. Not exactly horrific, right? But it marked the beginning of a new genre, and it heavily influenced the works of esteemed authors such as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker, among others. Of those works, Frankenstein and Dracula are probably the most known horror stories of all time. But if you have ever read them, you would know that they aren't exactly scary. And they certainly don't have a ton of blood and gore and graphic violence. A little sprinkled throughout, but not much. There's more romance in each of those than most romance novels. Okay, not really, but you get my point. What these iconic stories contain is an enigmatic, scary monster that terrorizes the protagonists (and is somehow virtually unknown to the rest of the populace, but we won't get into that), and that is exactly what horror is meant to have.

There's something about a romance between characters that makes the story seem more real. We, as humans, are meant to love. So adding it into a horror story shouldn't make it a mushy romance; just leave out the sexual details. Sure, some authors still combine romance and horror (like vampires falling in love), but it isn't the same as those old classics. They are too sexually detailed and descriptive in the romance department, and all the horror and scariness is drained from it. There's no mystery to the supernatural creature. There's no terror emanating from it. And besides, those stories aren't even classified under horror. In my writings, I am trying to bring back the Gothic style of horror, and hope that it can be accepted. Though I haven't posted any stories with a romance yet, they are still a work in progress, and hope to complete them soon.

Edit: In my haste to get this post published so that I could get to cleaning and packing for a weekend trip, I completely forgot to mention the other style of horror that is somewhat being faded out of existence. It is similar to the Gothic style, just without the romance. Authors such as Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and H. P. Lovecraft mastered this style by creating 'horrors' to scare you, but left out a lot of the bloodshed. For their stories, it was more of the mystery of an unknown creature than the violence it caused, and it is really fun to read about. They accomplished scaring readers without all the gore.

Many of these writers I listed have been major influences on today's horror authors (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, to name a few), but their ways are being forgotten over the years. Again, I'm not against the bloody, gory style that is prominent in today's age, I just wish the older styles remained in existence. And that is why I write what I write; to keep the classics, and their style, alive


  1. Hm? Romance in modern horror writing, you say?

    Challenge -- accepted! Working title: "Love Amongst the Zombies". (It's only a working title; probably will change.)

    As soon as I get my other writing projects out of the way. :-)

  2. I enjoy horror when there is a sense of the unknown sprinkled throughout. I think blood and gore is just way overdone and it doesn't need to be.

    Dean Koontz depicted a psychopathic killer in From The Corner of His Eye in which the killer pushed his new bride from a rail and she plunged 100 feet to her death. It was sudden, unexpected and pretty darned scary to me.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Mark - there's nothing wrong with saving your love from zombies! I have only read one or two books with zombies in it. I know there's more out there, just haven't gotten to them yet. I can imagine it's hard to write about, so if you're serious about it, then good luck to you!

  4. I write paranormal with a touch of horror. :) That's my favorite. Everyone needs a good scare. And I do have some truly creepy scenes in Touch of Death. Zombies will do that.