Monday, 12 September 2016


“All of us have our individual curses, something that we are uncomfortable with and something that we have to deal with, like me making horror films, perhaps.” - Wes Craven

Remember going to camp and after dinner, when night had fallen and everyone was sitting around the campfire someone would start telling a story? And more often than not that story was a horror story, full of ghosts and vampires, monsters and creepy crawlies, zombies and giant malevolent creatures set on doom death and destruction. Everyone loves a good horror story!

A horror story is one that deliberately scares or frightens the audience, through suspense, violence or shock. H. P. Lovecraft distinguishes two primary varieties in the “Supernatural Horror in Literature”: 1) Physical Fear or the “mundanely gruesome” and 2) the true Supernatural Horror story or the “Weird Tale”. The latter is sometimes called a “dark fantasy”, since the laws of nature must be violated in some way, to make the story “fantastic” or “imaginary”. The following sub-genres are contained within the Horror genre:

Ghost story: A story about spirits of the dead into the realm of the living. There are subgenres: The Traditional Haunting, Poltergeists, The Haunted Place or Object (i.e. the hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining”), or the etching in M. R. James’ “The Mezzotint”, etc. Some would include stories of Revenants such as W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw.” A typical film in this sub-genre is Tobe Hooper’s 1982 film “Poltergeist” or  Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie “TheShining”.

Monster: A story about a monster, creature or mutant that terrorises people. Usually, it fits into the horror genre, for instance, Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Although Shelley’s Frankenstein is often also considered the first science fiction story (biological science reanimating the dead), it does present a monstrous “creature”. Other clear monster stories are of the creatures of folklore and fable: The Vampire, the Ghoul, the Werewolf, the Zombie, etc. Beings such as that depicted in Karl Freund’s 1932 film “The Mummy” with Boris Karloff would also qualify. A very large number of films have been made in this sub-genre, exemplifying people’s delight with being made to feel scared by mythical, monstrous creatures.

Giant monsters: A story about a giant monsters, big enough to destroy buildings is a sub-genre of a sub-genre! Jack Arnold’s 1955 film “Tarantula” is a classic. Some such stories are about two giant monsters fighting each other, a genre known as kaiju in Japan, which is famous for such works after the success of such films and franchises such as Godzilla. Ishirô Honda’s “Mothra vs. Godzilla” of 1964 is a famous example.

Werewolves: Stories about werewolves, humans with the ability to shapeshift into wolves. This is based on many folk-legends around the world and the human fascination with the wolf, a formidable wild animal, made all the scarier perhaps by its resemblance to the familiar and friendly pet, the dog. George Waggner’s 1941 movie “The Wolf Man” is one that has been much imitated and in which Lon Chaney Jr gives a great performance as the monster.

Jiangshi: Stories about jiangshi, the hopping corpses under the control of Taoist priests derived from Chinese literature and folklore. Ma Wu’s 1993 film “Qu mo dao zhang” (Exorcist Master) is a good example.

Vampires: A story about vampires, reanimated bodies that feed on the blood of the living, based on European folklore. Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” (1897) created many of the genre’s conventions. There are huge numbers of films that have translated the Dracula story to the screen, with Christopher Lee being one of the more memorable actors in the title role. Terence Fisher’s 1958 “Horror of Dracula” was one of the first such examples.

Occult stories: Stories that touch upon the adversaries of Good, especially the “Enemies” of the forces of righteousness as expressed in any given religious philosophy. Hence, stories of devils, demons, demonic possession, dark witchcraft, evil sorcerers or warlocks, and figures like the Antichrist would qualify. The nature of such stories presupposes the existence of the side of Good and the existence of a deity to be opposed to the forces of Evil. William Friedkin’s 1973 movie “The Exorcist” was a highly controversial but very popular such film.

Slasher: A horror genre featuring a serial killer or other psychopath as an antagonist, methodically killing a number of protagonists in succession. Dramatic suspense is heightened by the victims' obliviousness of the killer. The victims are typically in isolated settings and often engaged in sexual activity previous to the attacks. The “slasher” kills their victims by stealthily sneaking up on them and then bloodily stabbing and slicing them to death with a sharp object, such as a Chef’s knife. John Carpenter’s 1978 film “Halloween” is a classic in this sub-genre.
Gender roles in slasher films are of particular interest in feminist film theory. which has extensively examined the trope of the “Final Girl”.

Survival Horror: A horror story about a protagonist who is put in a risky and life-threatening situation that he or she must endure, often as a result of things such as zombies or other monsters, and the rest of the plot is how the hero or heroes overcome this. Danny Boyle’s 2002 film “28 DaysLater” is such an example.


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