How To Use Mysterious Locations In Horror Fiction And Comics

2016 Artwork Mysterious settings in the horror genre

Although this is an article about writing horror fiction and making horror comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about computer and video games (again). As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious fairly soon.

Anyway, quite a while ago, I was watching random “let’s play” videos of various horror games on Youtube. Even though all of these games are too modern to really run on my computer or on any games consoles that I own, it’s great to see that the horror genre has had something of a revival in recent years.

One of the interesting things about horror games is that good horror games often revolve around something that isn’t always immediately obvious in genuinely scary horror novels or comics. I am, of course, talking about the fact that many of these horror games are set in mysterious locations that the player has to explore. Even the very earliest well-known survival horror games (like “Resident Evil” and “Alone In The Dark) force the player to explore a mysterious old mansion of some kind.

In fact, one of the things that makes the first three “Silent Hill” games so creepy is that fact that you have to explore two mysterious settings. Not only are you pretty much alone in a mysterious fog-covered town, but that town will occasionally transform into a much rustier and more nightmarish version of itself. So, even if you’ve explored a creepily mysterious location earlier in the game, you’ll probably have to re-explore it later.

So why are mysterious locations so important in the horror genre?

Put simply, it’s because of the tension that these locations create in the minds of the audience. On the one hand, your audience is afraid that something evil might be lurking in the creepy old mansion, the abandoned hospital,the darkened cellar etc… But, on the other hand, they also want to know what’s in there. In other words, they want to explore and to satisfy their curiosity.

It’s this tension between curiosity and caution which makes mysterious locations absolutely perfect settings for horror stories. It’s also why they have turned up again and again in horror stories, films, games, comics etc… since the genre first began.

As such, just including a mysterious location in your horror comic or story isn’t enough. You have to come up with enough innovative details and other things to set it apart from the thousands of other horror stories and comics out there.

For example, stories that include scenes that are set in some kind of afterlife can automatically be a lot creepier for the simple reason that, even though the main characters don’t have to fear death (since they’re already dead), no-one really knows for certain exactly what the afterlife actually looks like (or even if it exists).

So, your audience are automatically going to be extremely curious and – since it’s based on a location that no-one’s really seen (well, apart from people who have had near-death experiences) you have free reign to include all sorts of imaginative horrors in this part of your story or comic.

Likewise, a good way to make mysterious settings fresh and interesting is to blend them with elements from other genres. A brilliant cinematic example of this would probably a terrifying sci-fi movie from the 1990s called “Event Horizon“. Most of this film takes place on a mysterious lost spacecraft that has suddenly and inexplicably returned to within reach of Earth. It’s basically a “haunted house” movie, but in space.

Finally, another way to make mysterious settings scary again is to come up with an innovative new version of a familiar mysterious setting. A good example of this is in a genuinely disturbing comic called “Return To Wonderland” by Raven Gregory et al which ,as the title suggests, is a horror version of “Alice In Wonderland”.

Although this is nothing new (an absolutely excellent computer game from the very early 2000s called “American McGee’s Alice” springs to mind for starters), this comic re-interprets the familiar setting of Wonderland in a very unique and very disturbing way. It’s this contrast between familiar and new stuff that really makes the setting of this comic so horrifying.

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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