Ok, I have a bit of a confession to make – as much as I absolutely love the horror genre, I often tend to prefer non-scary horror to genuinely scary horror. And, yes, there are a few interesting reasons for this that I’ll explain a bit later.
For example, I’ll gladly play a horror-themed FPS game like “Doom II” or “Left 4 Dead 2”, a gothic horror-themed Hidden Object Game or even a mildly scary vintage survival horror game from the 90s/early 00s (except the “Project Zero”/ “Fatal Frame” games, they’re too terrifying) but I only usually tend to play genuinely scary games about once or twice before giving up in sheer terror.
Likewise, I love gruesome and melodramatic splatterpunk novels but I tend to give “realistic” horror stories a miss. I’ll gladly watch gory zombie movies, over-the-top splatter movies or melodramatic movies with monsters in them but I’ll avoid realistic “psychological” or “supernatural” horror movies like the plague most of the time.
So, why is non-scary horror so great? I mean, surely it should be viewed in the same disdainful way that decaffeinated coffee should be, right?
One of the great things about non-scary horror is that it makes the audience feel like they’re absolute badasses. Yes, even a perpetually-nervous coward like myself can feel like they have nerves of steel when they watch a “horror” movie that isn’t genuinely scary or plays a horror-themed computer game where the protagonist has even more guns than the average American “Tea Party” member does.
As many people have said before, true horror is all about vulnerability, hopelessness and helplessness. Whether it’s someone at the mercy of ghostly forces they don’t understand or someone who isn’t quite alone in the dark, true horror plays on the idea that death (or worse) is around every corner and there is nothing that anyone can do about it.
True horror reminds the audience that they’re insignificant beings on a small planet in a giant universe and that they will all eventually die in one way or another.
Another reason why non-scary horror is better than scary horror is because it focuses more on aesthetics and philosophy. In other words, it provides a “safe” way for us to think about “edgy” topics, watch lots of well-made special effects, read lots of beautifully morbid descriptions and/or look at cool computer graphics.
Basically, non-scary horror is imaginative, exaggerated and fantastical – and it’s really cool as a result of this. Non-scary horror is strange, dream-like and dramatic- it fuels our imaginations rather than haunts them.
Genuinely scary horror on the other hand tends to be as starkly “realistic” as possible – whether in terms of it’s settings or the psychology of it’s characters. It provides us with a nightmarish glimpse at a world that we can all recognise and relate to.
And, when it is at it’s best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) genuinely scary horror movies/novels/games can even temporarily alter how we see the world around us.
If you don’t believe me, try watching a “supernatural” Japanese horror movie alone in the dark – then try walking around the room for a bit. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be scared that something might be lurking in the reflections of every mirror and window nearby.
What I’m trying to say here is that genuinely scary horror adds more fear to our everyday lives, whereas non-scary horror just makes us think “Wow! That movie was cool“.
So, yes, these are just two reasons why horror can sometimes be best when it isn’t actually that scary. But, saying all of this, I can still appreciate genuinely scary horror sometimes – even just because it’s a testament to the power of the written word, computer code and/or film.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂