Horror has one goal: to disturb. To remind us that we don’t have all the answers. To explode our illusions of being in control.
There may be monsters or the supernatural, but there doesn’t have to be.
There may be blood, gore, and guts, but there doesn’t have to be.
There may be psycho killers running around with axes, but again, it’s not necessary.
Horror can be, and often is, scary, but more important is a lingering feeling of unease, a delicious sensation of being unsettled.
The best horror takes place in our living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. The best horror shatters the comfortable little worlds we’ve constructed for ourselves. It pulls back the veil and reveal the things in the shadows. Horror helps us understand exactly how insignificant we are in a vast, unknowable universe.
It reminds us that we are animals, and sometimes we are monsters. It reminds us that we’re all going to die, and there’s no telling what comes after that.
If you close the book feeling shaken, disturbed, upended, then it has done its job. A horror story doesn’t have to deliver the kind of scare that makes you turn all the lights on in the middle of the night, although that’s cool too. The best horror gets inside your brain and gnaws at it.
I recently read a book called The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara. There was nothing supernatural in it, no psycho killers. It was about a doctor who accompanies an anthropological expedition to a remote island and discovers a remarkable tribe of people. And it was one of the most disturbing books I’d read in a long time.
Was it horror? I’d say so. It was the best kind of horror, in fact, the kind of horror you don’t see coming. The kind that leaves you shaken and uncomfortable, wondering what was that?
Why do we like horror then? Even more importantly, why do we need horror?
Horror strips away our complacency. It enables us to explore the things we try to hide from ourselves, our fears, our desires, our obsessions and madnesses–but in a safe place.
If science fiction is a playground for ideas, for imagining what if, then horror is a playground for emotions. When it’s over, we can close the book, turn on the lights, and know that everything is all right.
And yet, is it? We wonder.