Week Three: History of Horror

Question Number 3:
Carroll (2003) and King (2010) discuss how the “monster” is really a defining feature of a horror story. Using references, explain in your own words how a monster in horror differentiates from monsters in other popular genres.

Carroll believes that ‘In works of horror, the humans regard the monsters they meet as abnormal, as disturbances of the natural order.'[1] His point here revolves around the idea of sympathy, and for humans to really sympathize with or understand an organism, animal or creature, they must – on some level – relate to it. The idea of having the monster be ‘abnormal’, a ‘disturbance of the natural order’ is to have it be different, unrelatable and hence unsympathizable. Carrol expands upon this theme of relatability by saying “one indicator of that which differentiates works of horror proper from monster stories in general is the affective responses of the positive human characters in the stories to the monsters that beleaguer them.”[2] Here Carroll is saying that creatures and monsters from other genres are different to creatures and monsters in the horror genre because they can invoke positive responses from the human character – presumptively because of their relatability – wherein horror it’s more likely the creature will invoke negative reactions, often in the form of fear or repulsion. Examples of non-horrifying ‘monsters’ and creatures can be found all throughout popular culture, in films like Star Wars and Lord of The Rings, and again in television shows like Star Trek or Grimm.

The idea that monsters and creatures look and act in different ways across different genres is something which King also supports [3]. In relation to fear, repulsion, relatability and sympathy – with Stephan King’s creatures and monsters – there are many examples. Pennywise is a good example as to why a lack of relatability is so important. There’s already a mindset among some people that clowns are scary and Pennywise’s character plays off of that. Relating back to Carroll’s quote of monsters needing to be ‘abnormal’ or ‘disturbances of nature’, clowns certainly fit the prior. Pennywise’s supernatural qualities, in addition to his clownish appearance complete the set and have him check all the boxes when it comes to becoming a monster, the ‘defining feature’ of a horror story. In addition to Pennywise, Cujo is a prime example as to how fear and repulsion are important for removing sympathy and introducing characters or monsters as horror-like. In Cujo, the family dog is bitten by a bat and infected by rabies; across the span of the novel Cujo’s appearance descends into a creature-like figure as he becomes drenched in sweat, blood, grime, froth and mucus. This appearance (repulsion), coupled with the dog’s new aggressive behavior (fear), detaches his once docile character from the story and reintroduces him as a character befitting a horror tale.

Genres in today’s world are used more as tags or vague guidelines and don’t seem to be as accurate as their classifications may imply. Examples of note would be that action & adventure games are usually lacking in the adventure department, an RPG game is anything with statistics or a skill tree, if it has crafting it’s a survival game, there are comedy shows which aren’t funny, kid’s shows for adults, boring thrillers and horror movies which are just action flicks or above average thrillers. There are many discrepancies in the music industry as well, with bands rocking mislabeled genres. The fact that Carroll and King have gone out of their way to write about what horror means to them – as a genre – is really telling of their dedication to their craft and their love for horror’s defining features. And while I respect that, I still don’t believe that you can always decipher a film’s genre until watching it – as both trailers and tags can be misleading, intentionally or not.

 

References:

[1]Carroll, N. (2003). The philosophy of horror: Or, paradoxes of the heart. https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4908672-dt-content-rid-10061418_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/The_Philosophy_of_Horror_Or%2C_Paradoxes_of_the_Hear…_—-_%281_The_Nature_of_Horror%29.pdf

[2] King, S. (2010) Danse Macabre.  https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4908672-dt-content-rid-10075160_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Stephen%20King%20Danse%20Macabre%20reading.pdf

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