Question: 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.
King (2010) describes at length that horror has three main elements; the cyclical nature of its popularity, the use of hidden meanings, and the monster. I believe that these three elements are strongly shown in Junji Itou’s Uzumaki, which ran from 1998 to 1999 in a weekly manga magazine.
Itou describes that he took inspiration for the use of the spiral shape from seeing it represented positively in media. In a 2006 interview, he stated “Usually spiral patterns mark character’s cheeks in Japanese comedy cartoons, representing an effect of warmth.” It is easy to see the spiral in other places in Japanese media, such as the long running anime Naruto (1999-present), as his headband has a spiral on his headband and his family name is Uzumaki, which translates to spiral. Seeing the spiral shape rise to popularity, Itou took it upon himself to “[use it] in horror if I drew it a different way.” And that he did, with the usual representation of long, flowing hair being literally twisted into something evil in chapter six, Medusa where the main characters hair takes on a life of its own and attempts to kill against her will. Although Uzumaki doesn’t seem to take direct inspiration from political and economic events, as King describes, Itou certainly drew from influences in his own culture.
Itou has spoken about how he wanted to find the meaning of the spiral through his writings in Uzumaki. He became fascinated with it as it seemed to symbolise infinity. He translated that in the story to mean the inevitable destruction and dilapidation of the town. As each chapter progresses, the spiral takes over the town a little more, encroaching on the people who live there and eventually the whole town turning into one spiralling terraced house. Each time the spiral pattern appears, it somehow represents the endlessness of the curse of the town, and how it is simultaneously beginning and ending (Itou, 1999). Here we can see how Itou took inspiration from H. P. Lovecraft in terms of cosmic existentialism and inevitability. With no real reason behind the curse, nor any way to stop or avoid it, Itou mimics Lovecraft’s tone perfectly.
And finally, the monster. Whereas it would be easy to say that the spiral is the monster of the story, there are also smaller monsters throughout the story. From the school mate who transforms into a grotesque human-snail hybrid, to the boy with a spring in his torso, to the babies in the hospital and of course the iconic spiral that consumes a girl in the third chapter, The Scar. Itou makes great use of monsters in his works, but especially in Uzumaki he is able to make multiple monsters out of one over arcing monster; the spiral. Itou is very good at making monsters where the reader wouldn’t expect it – such as the inner ear of a woman driven crazy by her husband’s death, or something even so simple as smoke. Itou is able to twist these more mundane things into something truly monstrous.
King, S. (2010). Danse Macabre. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Studio Pierott (1999-present). Naruto. Japan
Itou, J. (1998-1999). Uzumaki. Japan: Shogakukan