The Meaning of Horror

You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the definition of Horror, these days, is movies the likes of the Saw franchise, because that’s what has been marketed to us. We see flashes of blood, dismembered body parts and we shake in our boots. However, as someone who loves a truly good horror film and story, I know horror to be so much more. Real horror isn’t just a gore-fest. It’s not just haplessly screaming men and women being mutilated beyond recognition…

Horror has a purpose beyond turning your stomach. A horror, just like any other genre, should have a strong story arc and interesting, motivated characters. A horror should create tension and suspense, it should sit you on the edge of your chair and make you jump; but for me, the real horror is always in the mind. It’s psychological. A good horror should play with your comfort zone and your own personal fears.

With the upcoming re-release of Stephen King’s famous It, we’re about to see a classic horror re-imagined for the modern generations. I’m always skeptical about remakes, especially when the original was so very good! However, I’m quietly hopeful that the directors and in turn, the actors, can carry the ongoing thrill and disturbing sense of horror and foreboding that cemented Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the minds of so many over the years.

Pennywise was the kind of character that made you feel like you’d genuinely have a better chance against Alien. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Alien franchise, but it’s an entirely different breed of Horror. It’s pure survival horror. It’s a simple formulaic monster concept. You don’t want to be eaten, or impregnated with an alien species, so you run. You run for your life! 

With Pennywise, he could be anywhere at any time. Ultimately, he didn’t even have one solid corporeal form. He was the definition, for many, of true horror. A childhood memory stolen and perverted. Something that should be funny and joyous, twisted and turned pure nightmare. He didn’t just instill in you the desire to run for the hills, he made you question your sanity. He made you sit there, trembling, asking yourself on repeat “Is this real? Is this real?”

It’s one thing to be afraid of something you can see and touch. It’s another when the source of your fear is just that little bit more intangible. How do you flee or fight, when you don’t entirely understand? That is the horror.

So the next time you choose a horror movie, or try your hand at a horror story, remember to play with the mind. Put a lone child in a dark room, safe and sound, and their mind will wander, creating horrors the likes of which would drain the colour from your face. The mind is an incredible tool and often, our own greatest enemy. Use it against your readers and have fun with it! You haven’t really succeeded if your audience doesn’t walk away that little bit scarred for life…

Til next time,

Zoey Xolton
www.zoeyxolton.com