Week 3, History of Horror – Question One

Question 1. King (2010) describes Horror as being defined through three basic elements. Explain, using references, what these three elements are. Think of a horror story you’ve read/watched/heard that makes use of all three of these elements and show how King’s definition is at play in that narrative. 

The first element that describes Horror echoes the current state of society and societal fears and developments. In fact, King (2010) specifically stated that horror is a genre which reflects the anxieties of the periods where there is fairly serious economic/ political strain (p. 5). An example of this can be found in America during the 1960s – 80s, where Horror was affected by current events such as the Civil Rights movement, and birth control pills being available (Hendrix, 2018, p. 2). So, already it is evident that Horror seems to be co-reliant on the societal situation surrounding it. This element can be seen in the television show American Horror Story. The whole seventh season of AHS: Cult takes place in a town which was divided when Donald Trump was elected as president. Characters such as Ally were disturbed by the result and alt-right characters such as Kai were jubilant about it. However, amidst all the political clashes, there were also masked cultists dressed as clowns terrorising the citizens. This idea of clowns scaring people were inspired by real-life incidents relating to when the movie IT was released. Inspired by IT, there were incidents where people dressed up as clowns to intimidate the public. Therefore, without a doubt, Horror and society’s current events go hand-in-hand.

The second element was the importance of allegory in the narrative. Most works of literature can be interpreted to reveal a moral or political hidden meaning. According to King (2010), in the Horror genre, the element of allegory is there only because it is built-in, a given, impossible to escape.” (pg 12). King (2010) used the short story ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson as an example of the outsider character being an allegory (p. 12). This element, as well as the whole idea of a heroic outsider, is also common in AHS, especially the character of Violet in the first season, Murder House. She had depression and as a result of her mental illness she felt isolated from the rest of the world and therefore was always viewed as an outsider. However, what made this interesting to the narrative was that while Violet viewed herself has being an outsider, to the auidence she was a very relatable character – her family has gone through a lot of emotional turmoil and Violet was only doing the best she could to get by day-by-day.

The final element would be the monsters/ freaks of the story. As mentioned previously, horror mirrors societal fears, one way those fears can be portrayed is through the characterisations of the ‘monsters’. According to Carrol (2003), there are monsters which are particular to each genre, for example, dragons are a common monster in the fantasy genre, so, “… a monster or monstrous entity is a necessary condition for horror…” (p. 16). AHS is an anthology, so with every new season, there is a new threat that our characters have to deal with. The fourth season Freak Show, in particular, has very interesting monstrous beings; in this season, circus productions were more accepted and the main character Elsa, always dreamed of becoming famous through her circus. However, rather than having gymnasts, Elsa has ‘monsters’ – a three-breasted woman and conjoined twin sisters are just a few members of her troupe. The purpose of those ‘monstrous characters’ was to convey the message that what you see on the outside is not necessarily what is on the inside. While Elsa’s ‘freak show’ looks deformed and monstrous, at the end of the day, they were the most loveable people ever. Ironically, the true ‘freaks’ and ‘monsters’ turns out to be the people who look normal on the outside, such as Maggie, who had the intention of killing the troupe and sell their bodies for a profit. Not to mention, while the community was blinded by the ‘freak show’ for the majority of the story, they turned a blind eye to the darker powers trying to ruin their lives.

To conclude, all those elements of Horror interlink with each other and complement each other in the narrative. Those elements are also present in the popular television show American Horror Story.

Carrol, N. (2003). The Nature of Horror. In The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart.

King, S. (2010). Danse Macabre.

Hendrix, G. (2018). Paperbacks from Hell.

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