One step, two, the moon hanging low in the hazy distance. Worn wooden steps, caving under long years
of use, creak and then wane. Hinges, held uneven by loosened rust, ache as they fail to hold themselvesfirm. You remind yourself of sense and reason, only to have a feeling bite just below the resolve of your
conviction. A twitch forces your attention to a window, clattering under the assault of a chilling nights wind.
Horror, fear, the horrific fear of the unknown. The unrelenting reminder of own insignificance. H. P.
Lovecraft best captured this with his introduction of Cthulhu. A force not of this world yet with its influence ever present. There is a notion, one I very much agree with, that the trick to a good horror story and in truth a good scare. Is to force us to see ourselves, to see what we so often ignore. Cthulhu,
in my view, is just that. Without thought or intent our actions, and their ramifications, are like Cthulhu, always present, always shaping us and those around us. Lovecraft described Cthulhu as a being which the very act of looking upon it would drive one mad. Is that not what would likely happen to us? Should we ever find the nerve to lift our own mask to see what lurks underneath?
This week, as you may have gathered, I want to talk less about one given movie and more about a genre.
The genre of horror and how it both lures so many while repulsing so many others. I also want to touch
on why I feel there is a draught on original horror. Not to say there is none but why we see so much focus on remakes of old classics instead of feeling the freight and excitement of a scare not yet told.
Now I know I am referencing a writer and not a director when I speak on Lovecraft but it goes without
saying that this genre, this amazing window into own selves, owes a great deal to his work and his imagination.
With some small exceptions almost all of the newest horror movies rely on one if two things; the mystical and jump scares. Many times both. The cursed house, the coursed object. The creepy doll head or a creature coming forth unexpectedly with monstrous features. It is cliché and truly, as I will argue, it is the weakest form of freight. The least creative way of chilling us to our very core.
When the enemy, be it in horror or any other genre, is something nonhuman. It is scary, sure, and with
the suspense that we so love in the horror genre the scariness is amplified. Yet, there still remains a level of separation, a reminder that we as people are the victims. I Know What You Did Last Sumer (1997) took another approach. The approach of Cthulhu, the idea that the horrors they faced were spurred by their own actions and were committed by just another person. It showed both the killers and his victim’s capacity for the darkness we all hold. The teenagers who left a man for dead and that same man, who lived, seeking vengeance. Sadly this movie would fall victim to its own success and a story, which would have been perfect left as it was, was turned into two following movies. The killer no longer a true mystery and
the movie reduced to a long drawn out murder and chase sequence. As is the fate of so many other horror stories which would have been better left as they were.
Now returning to Cthulhu, and Lovecrafts vision for him, the real fright of this other worldly being isn’t so much him himself. Again he doesn’t play a direct and active role, or at least not one the character can overcome or even really perceive. No, what make him so scary is the unknown. This too is something to where many new horror movies fall flat. Think about the most recent horror flick you’ve seen, even if only in a preview. Now ask yourself, can you either tell exactly who the villain is? Perhaps even at least have a pretty well educated guess? That in itself is a problem. Perfect family with no issues takes on new babysitter? One parent objects the other says it’s fine, the new babysitter even seems really cute and nice? I think we have ourselves a killer. Unsuspecting victim walks into a home and, outside their view range but within ours, furniture starts to move? I think a house is haunted.
When we know who the enemy is, when we know the source of the tragedy; sure it can still make us jump and even make us slink behind a friend or sofa. But, like most jump scares and over the top blood baths, it fades from our minds. Many times as quickly as it came in. It has no lasting effect.
So in closing, if you’re writing a horror piece, book or otherwise. If you perhaps know someone who is, or just want a good scare. One that will hold onto your subconscious like a dense fog who’s grip tugs at your unspoken fears. Avoid the newest murderfest or remake of a hunted house. No, instead go find a classic horror you haven’t watched before. Go pick up any of Lovecrafts works. Do this, and learn what real suspense, good writing, and proper use of the unknown can do to your mind.