10.31.2013

The evolution of the horror genre

The literary genre known as horror has gone through some changes as of late and, for those among you who cling to the old traditions, these changes do not bode well. However, before going into that topic, it is best to first offer a brief explanation of what the horror genre is about. At the very core, the genre was designed to instill fear into people, by whatever means were thought necessary. Horror masters of the past were generally inspired in their work as they use subtlety and psychology to maximum effect, though more modern horror works (to be referred to as Hollywood Horror from this point on) rely on more overt attempts to scare.

Older horror classics relied on an understanding of human nature and psychology to instill fear. Bram Stoker's Dracula wasn't terrifying because of the vampire's bite and the effects it had. Dracula instilled fear by the threat of the bite, the possibility of being turned into the monster he has become. He inspired terror not because of what he was, but by presenting himself as what the heroes could become if they allowed themselves to engage in the same base desires that he did. The bite merely acts as the catalyst, the metaphorical key to the lock that people in Victorian society placed upon their darker urges. In fact, classic horror literature relied heavily on the use of fear and anxiety about the darker sides of humanity to scare their audiences.

However, as people became more and more desensitized to violence, fear and anxiety became harder to instill through the written word. As the media started to grow and more people realized the depths and the horrors their fellow human beings were capable of, somehow, the monsters that were Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and Mister Hyde seemed less horrifying. This was the case when the murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper came into the knowledge of the general British public, as the unknown killer had done things that were debased, even by the standards of Shelley's or Stoker's classics.

Two later masters of horror, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, relied more on the fear of the unknown and what lay beyond that threshold. Of the two, Poe was the more subtle master. He is prominently remembered as the master of American horror, tapping into psychological facets only touched upon by his Victorian predecessors. He relied heavily on the consequences of falling victim to things outside one's control, which he expertly combined with the very real threat of death. In contrast, Lovecraft made use of the consequences of humanity seeking knowledge that he should not delve into.





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