Friday, September 30, 2011

Horror at the Core of the Human Soul

October is upon us, which means we're staring down a full month of horror.  Great thing for us horror aficionados.  Ah, horror!  How you make my heart thud unnecessarily fast when I'm watching a movie or reading a book.  I know I'm personally not in danger, but that doesn't make me less squeamish or jumpy at all the right parts.

Amnityville, © Doug Kerr

But aside from the obvious - gore and blood and sudden violence - we think of when we're reminded of the genre, I'd like to delve into horrors of a different kind.  Those that really make you feel it in your gut, sometimes long after the fact.  And sometimes it even takes a while before the real horror of what you saw or read really sinks in.  That's the best kind of horror to me.

Right now, I'm reading HORNS, by Joe Hill, which is a great way to break in the month of October.  It's a fantastically disturbing horror novel, very well written, and in fact one of the best I've read in a long time.  But the disturbing parts aren't shock horror.  No, they're the inner workings of the minds of supporting characters, and they're disturbing because reading it, you feel it hits way too close to home for comfort.  After all, it would be more than a little shocking to discover what people actually thought about you, especially people you loved and trusted.  Downright awful when you find out just how little they think of you.

HORNS, © Joe Hill, used by permission.

I think most people would jump at the chance to be able to catch a glimpse of the minds of those around them, to see what they're really thinking about us no matter what they say.  But for every awesome thought we discover someone has about us, I'm afraid we'd find several hurtful and hate-filled ones.  Now maybe I'm just too much of a cynic, but humankind's seeming inability to keep their inner monologue of snark, angst, and downright nastiness from surfacing everywhere from real life to social media makes me think I'm not that far from the mark.  The novelty would soon wear off into the horror of what you've seen and the dread of what you know is still to come.

I've always enjoyed psychological horror over any other type.  When you get right down to it, it's much scarier than anything physical.  But to get it to really sink in, sometimes you gotta look it in the eye a little longer, stare it down and really let it get to you.  Let it affect you how it wants, not how you let it affect you.  Sometimes it takes you places you don't want to go, places you didn't know even existed within the human soul.

Isn't that what defines horror, after all?  Isn't it simply that which unpleasantly jolts the human psyche?  Blood and gore scratch the surface with a physical reaction, but psychological horror jolts the human soul.  It's easy to imagine a long list of that which horrifies us the most, but I'm betting at the top of that list are things that bare your soul to the public eye, that which lays back all the layers of protection and pares away the falsely modest confessions and admissions and really digs to the heart of the matter.  If there were no governor on the mechanism that allows us to open our souls to others, this world would be a dark place indeed.

The Death Penalty, ©

It won't be completely bad, however.  That's where hope comes in.  Like Pandora's box, all things bad are countered by one small thing - hope.  You hope you're right.  You hope things will turn out alright.  You hope you haven't gone too far to take it all back.  Sometimes you have, but regardless of the depth of the situation, there's always hope.  Take away that and your recipe for true horror is complete.


  1. Great post. And glad you're enjoying Horns. It's a superb read.