What is Horror?
SUSPENSE ... is when you hear that a homicidal maniac is on the loose and someone is creeping around outside your house.
TERROR ... is when the maniac has broken in and is chasing you around the house while wielding an axe.
HORROR ... is when one of your arms has just been cut off by that axe and your precious arterial blood is spurting out of the severed stump!
A few words about Horror...
Horror stands apart from all other genres in that it pursues the “worst-case scenario”. This art form ventures into territories all other genres seldom touch. Issues of taste have no relevance. Offensive or not, it will be depicted. Many fantasy stories depict worlds that are desirable to visit. No one in their right mind would want to enter the nightmarish universes of horror.
Horror exists in a world where what you don’t want to happen will happen. There are no rules. Nothing is fair. Horror is "that which should not be". It is where the odds against you cannot be overcome, where you are overwhelmed and finally crushed. It is a universe of penultimate terror, which threatens to completely envelope you.
And just like death itself, no one is immune. It will get you in the end. There is no escape. The bad guy cops it; the good guy cops it. Horror stories rarely conclude in the way one hopes. The downbeat or nasty finale is one of the things that make it truly horrific - something that all horror must be. Horror truthfully reflects the darker side of reality. Horror will have you contemplating your own mortality. Horror informs us that the human psyche is equal parts dark and light.
Horror can connect us to our inner terrors and paranoias, playing psychologically on our most dreaded fears - fear of the dark, of the unknown, of spiders and parasites, infection, drowning, ghouls, premature burial, violation, torture and murder. Horror exposes them as something shared by everyone.
But a horror story is also a fantasy story. Despite all of its trappings of grotesque imagery and its veritable infinity of dark passageways, you will certainly survive even the most extreme horror story, but the best of them will have you contemplating your own sense of identity and existence, among other things.
Horror also works physically. Heart-stopping shocks and graphic, gruesome bloodshed are intrinsic components of all horror. These can be visceral in the extreme. Horror does not cut away or pull punches.
The visual aspects of horror can be disturbingly graphic and very detailed. Explicit and violent imagery adds an undeniably powerful edge to horror fiction and exemplifies the horrific qualities. It’s one thing to describe something that is ghastly to behold and another thing again to actually show it. This is usually the point where horror diverges from all other genres. A thriller or a suspense tale only hints at these things, or mercifully cuts away at the last moment. Horror goes that one step beyond, whether you’re prepared for it or not.
Elements of horror are found in other genres. The femme fatale (vamp) of noir fiction bears more than a passing resemblance to the archetypical vampyress, and other malevolent female demons that manifest in a menagerie of forms within countless horror stories. The psychopathic killer with an especially bloody modus operandi crosses the border between noir and horror. BEMs, evolutionary mutations, predatory aliens and dysfunctional robots often serve as the equivalent of zombies, werewolves and ghouls in the myriad worlds of science fantasy. And the futuristic totalitarian state of many cautionary science fiction tales is clearly an updated and remodelled Hell for the post industrial and sociopolitical world.
One thing remains constant in horror: it is never safe and wholesome. A work of horror that pulls its punches, that does not shock or offend, has lost its integrity. A horror story that does not evoke horror is not a horror story. Horror cannot jettison its distasteful elements for the sake of being seen as respectable. When it comes to horror, someone somewhere will always be offended . . .