Why Good Horror Novels Include Comedy

Well, although I’ve talked about the topic of comedy in horror fiction before, I thought that I’d return to it today after I started reading a horror novel from the late 1950s called “The Haunting Of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson (mild SPOILERS ahoy).

Although the novel starts in a fairly sombre, ominous and morose way, and I’d worried that reading it was going to be an extremely miserable experience, there is a surprising amount of comedy in the first half of the novel. Most of this consists of amusingly irreverent dialogue, quirky characters, dark comedy and even some hilariously obscure literary humour (eg: a reference to how Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel “Pamela” is, as I can personally remember from my university days, dull enough to quite literally send the reader to sleep).

Yet, this comedy compliments the novel’s horror elements really well. It slightly tempers the ominous bleakness of the story, whilst also coming across as a disturbing sign that the characters are trying to protect their sanity when faced with the prospect of living in a creepy old house. After the unsettling early parts of the novel, the first moments of humour are brilliantly unexpected and can really catch you off-guard. Not only that, all of the humour seems to be a natural product of the characters and the setting, which allows it to fit in with the rest of the story really well.

But, why is it there in the first place? Why do horror novels often include moments of comedy? After all, the two genres are supposed to be complete opposites.

Well, there are quite a few reasons for this (that I’ve mentioned in previous articles), including how both genres rely on similar techniques, how it adds personality to the story, how the contrast between horror and comedy heightens the impact of both things, how it shows the reader that the author is a fan of the horror genre (to the point where they can joke about it) and because “100% horror 100% of the time” makes the reader feel jaded and less easy to scare.

But, the most important reason is probably to do with the emotional tone of the story. In short, adding a bit of comedy to your horror story tells your reader that they can’t be certain of what to expect. After all, horror stories are traditionally grim, sombre and bleak things that are filled with misery, death and other such things. So, including a bit of comedy tells your reader “Nope. This isn’t one of those stories.” It tells them that this is a different type of horror story.

Although this probably worked better in older horror novels (I mean, I was genuinely surprised that a horror novel from the 1950s could be funny), it is still effective in modern horror novels. If anything, it’s practically a requirement these days. After all, what better way is there to tell a reader that a new horror novel will give them something different from the old ones?

Of course, to do this properly, the comedy in a horror novel has to feel like a natural part of the story. This is easier to do than you might think. In short, if your story has vaguely interesting characters and/or a slightly strange premise, then this can be used for comedy as effectively as it can be used for horror.

A good modern example of this is probably Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables“, where the fact that some of the main characters are 1970s punks means that there is plenty of room for irreverent, crude and/or gross humour that is a really good “fit” with the rest of the story.

Another good modern example is S. L. Grey’s excellent 2011 novel “The Mall“. Although this novel can best be described as what a mixture of “Saw” and “Silent Hill” would look like if it was set in a South African shopping centre and directed by David Lynch, some of the bizarre moments that make this story so unsettling are also used as a vehicle for some utterly brilliant social satire and/or weird humour. Because the humour emerges from things that, when seen another way, would be incredibly disturbing, it is a really good fit with the story.

So, although humour in a horror story needs to feel like it has emerged organically from the characters, story and/or settings, it is an essential ingredient in good horror fiction for the simple reason that it tells the reader that they can’t be entirely certain of what to expect if they keep reading. And, of course, unpredictability is one of the most important parts of effective horror.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why 1980s British Horror Fiction Was So Shocking

Although horror fiction has had something of a resurgence in recent years, it’s interesting to note that (with the exception of the zombie genre) it has mostly gone back to a more traditional focus on atmosphere, suspense, implication, psychological horror etc…

This isn’t a bad thing. These traditional elements have stuck around because they are effective. When brought up to the modern day and placed in modern settings, they can still be extremely disturbing. So, this article isn’t too much of a criticism of modern horror fiction.

On the other hand, when I started to re-read Shaun Hutson’s 1985 splatterpunk monster novel “Breeding Ground” before writing this article, I was reminded at how different it was from modern horror fiction. How much more transgressive it was compared to the scarier, but perhaps not as shocking, horror that you’d typically find in a more modern novel. This is a novel that absolutely revels in grossing the reader out – and you don’t really see this sort of thing that often in modern horror fiction.

If a modern horror novel is an ominous piece of classical music that sends a shiver down your spine, this 1980s novel is a heavy metal song turned up to eleven (and, yes, the one and only Iron Maiden are referenced in it too 🙂 ).

So, naturally, this made me think about why 1980s horror fiction – here in Britain especially – was a lot more transgressive than modern horror fiction often is. Here are some of my theories:

1) Historical context: Ok, there’s a lot of stuff here. The first is probably that, unlike the stylised US-influenced popular image of “the 1980s” these days, 1980s Britain was apparently a fairly miserable place to live in.

Although I haven’t studied 1980s history in a gigantic level of detail and didn’t even exist for most of the ’80s, even the comedies from that decade ridicule the general grimness of the country back then.

One of the side-effects of this was that horror authors noticed all of this stuff. They rebelled against it and they used it as a source of horror. They wrote stories set in miserable places where horrible things happen to people who live dreary, precarious and/or second-rate lives because, in a world like that, it wouldn’t be entirely impossible. They satirised the supposed bastions of goodness (eg: politicians, religions, celebrities, the police etc…) that everyone was told to trust in those troubled times. Or, to put it another way, there’s a reason why the genre is called “splatterpunk”. Like old punk music, 1980s horror fiction had a lot to rebel against.

The second is that horror fiction was in a fairly unique position at the time. In mid-1980s Britain, there was a ridiculous moral panic (is there any other type?) about “Video Nasties” – gruesome horror films that had been released on the newfangled VHS format. This led to film censorship being extended to cover videos, with the censors actually becoming stricter. However, thanks to a very enlightened court decision a couple of decades earlier, literature was (and thankfully still is) pretty much a safe haven from official censorship.

Needless to say, there was clearly an appetite for shocking transgressive horror entertainment at the time. Horror authors were in a unique position where they could reflect these changes in the genre in a way that films weren’t allowed to. And, with this added freedom, they were able to write stories that were gorier, grosser and generally more shocking than even the most “extreme” modern horror movies. Of course, since horror movie censorship has been relaxed over the past couple of decades, horror authors have less reason to make their stories as transgressive as they once did.

Thirdly, horror fiction was actually popular back then 🙂 Although I was somewhat late to the party, I remember seeing loads of old 1980s horror novels in charity shops, second-hand bookshops etc.. during the early-mid 2000s. It seemed to be as much of a fixture on 1980s high street shelves as crime thriller fiction is these days. Of course, since there were more horror novels for readers to choose from, there was probably more incentive for horror authors to out-shock the other authors, to provide horror fiction that was scarier, grosser and generally more extreme than the competition.

2) Respectability: One of the cool things about horror fiction in the 1980s was that, like with computer and video games in the 1990s, it wasn’t a “respectable” genre.

This meant that the genre had a lot more freedom. Since it was “trashy” entertainment that was made by and for fans of the genre, it didn’t have to worry about winning mainstream accolades. It could be as high-brow or low-brow as it needed to be in order to provide the kind of experience that readers would enjoy. Everything from the no-nonsense grisly grittiness of Shaun Hutson to the sophisticated dark fantasies of Clive Barker could thrive in this environment.

Because it was seen as “low culture” that fans enjoyed for the sake of enjoying it, it didn’t have to hold back because of what “respectable society” might think. It didn’t really have to advertise itself because horror fans knew an interesting horror novel when they saw one (even when I got into reading horror fiction during the early-mid 2000s, you could always tell that a book was a 1980s horror novel just by looking at the cover). Like modern heavy metal music, 1980s horror fiction was pretty much ignored by the mainstream press, media etc… and could do its own thing in a way that other genres couldn’t.

Of course, these days, horror fiction has had to regain some of it’s former popularity by appealing to more “respectable” audiences. This means that the genre also has to have an eye on things like professional literary critics, reading groups, large publishers, awards and what modern culture thinks is “acceptable” entertainment. But, like with modern videogames trying to gain some of the respectability of cinema by becoming more “cinematic”, this has resulted in major changes – some good, some bad- in the style, techniques etc.. of the modern horror genre.

3) Novelty: Horror fiction has existed for over a century at the very least. But, transgressive, shocking and/or ultra-gruesome horror fiction only really started to become a thing from the mid-1970s onwards (with James Herbert’s 1974 novel “The Rats” being one of the earliest popular examples). Back then, this type of horror was something new.

It was shocking because it was so different from the horror fiction that had come before it. It was a type of horror fiction that would have been pretty much unthinkable in the 1950s or 1960s. And, as such, it was something that authors were eager to explore and readers were eager to experience. It was the literary equivalent of ID Software releasing the original “Doom” at a time when computer games were mostly cartoonish platform games aimed at children.

Of course, novelty doesn’t last forever. Over time, “shocking for the sake of shocking” lost some of it’s appeal. The readers became jaded and the authors probably wanted to expand their repetoire. So, transgression and shock value went from something that a horror novel could rely on to being just one ingredient of many that horror authors can use. And, with the novelty value lost, authors also felt more free to look back at the older elements of the genre and find ways to bring them up to date.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

What Can A Computer Game Teach Us About Writing Horror Fiction That Focuses On One Type Of Horror?

Although good horror fiction relies on using multiple types of horror to frighten the reader by keeping things unpredictable, there is something to be said for focusing on one type of horror. This was something that I was reminded of by a computer game, of all things.

Although it might be a while until I review it, I’ve been occasionally playing a modern survival horror game called “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” (2018) recently and, unlike many of the survival horror games I played during my youth, it is terrifying. Literal heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping, panicked “I shouldn’t be this scared by a game!” terrifying. Yet, the game mostly focuses on just one type of horror. Suspense.

This is a screenshot from “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” (2018) showing the main character hiding beside a bookshelf. And, yes, I’m using the low graphics settings.

A lot of what I’ve played so far involves sneaking around, hiding and/or constantly worrying that danger is nearby. Yes, the game includes other types of horror (eg: jump scares, gory horror, ominous horror, creepy locations, creepy characters etc..) but the main type of horror here is suspense. Everything from the relative lack of weapons, to the scarcity of save points, to the sound design is designed to create a constant feeling of suspense. And it is terrifying

But, what does any of this have to do with horror fiction?

Well, horror fiction and horror computer games are two very different mediums, but this game can teach us a few things about focusing on one type of horror. The first is that everything in your story should be set up to emphasise that one type of horror. The characters, the premise, the plot and even the writing style need to emphasise this type of horror.

For example, if you’re focusing on psychological horror, then you should think about using things like unreliable narration, settings that will unnerve the reader, characters that don’t seem entirely trustworthy, subtly creepy descriptions etc…

All of these elements may not be directly related to the main plot, but they will help to emphasise the psychological horror elements of your story. They will make the reader feel constantly on edge because everything in your story seems to be a potential source of psychological horror.

The second thing that this game can teach us is that focusing on one type of horror doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include other types of horror. Again, good horror fiction relies on multiple types of horror. If you focus on one type of horror, then you still need to include small amounts of other types of horror too. These don’t have to be the main focus of the story, but they need to be there to keep the reader on their toes.

Not only that, including a brief moment of another type of horror will make it even more dramatic because your reader won’t be expecting it. A great literary example (SPOILERS ahoy!) is Ryu Murakami’s 1997 novel “In The Miso Soup”. This novel mostly focuses on suspenseful horror and character-based horror, so the novel’s one scene of gory horror is considerably more shocking because of its suddenness.

The brutal grisly violence of this scene has much more impact than similar scenes in splatterpunk novels for the simple reason that the reader has got used to other types of horror and isn’t expecting gory horror. So, remember to include other types of horror occasionally.

The third thing that this game can teach us is the value of allusions and knowing your chosen type of horror. Amongst other things, the game possibly seems to take inspiration from 1970s/80s “giallo” horror films. Everything from the style of the settings, the characters, the focus on suspense and even the style of acting made me think of the time, when I was about fourteen or fifteen, I tried to watch Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” on TV and stopped after about half an hour because I was too scared to watch any more.

So, know the type of horror that you are focusing on. Know how and why it works, know what the cliches are (and either play with them or avoid them) and find ways to subtly evoke other things in the genre that may have terrified your audience in the past.

If done well, subtle allusions to other works in the genre will make the reader feel scared without knowing exactly why and, if done less well, then it’s still a fun little easter egg for fans. A way of saying “I’ve seen this horror movie too. So, you’re going to enjoy this…

Finally, the game can teach us about the value of pacing. In short, less can sometimes be more when focusing on one type of horror. For most of what I’ve played of “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” so far, there isn’t a terrifying murderer in sight. Yes, you’re constantly worried that one might appear, but there are long stretches of time where the nearest murderer is several flights of stairs away. This means that the moments when one does appear and you have to run for your life are considerably more scary.

One of the reasons why horror writers are often advised to use multiple types of horror is because too much of one type of horror will desensitise the reader and make them more difficult to scare. For example, the first gruesome moment in a novel that focuses on gory horror will be shocking. The twentieth one will just be “oh, this again”. This is important to remember if you’re focusing on one type of horror.

So, choose your moments of horror carefully. Be sure that there are more subtle moments of horror between the stronger moments of horror. Give your reader a little bit of a break, so that your more dramatic moments of horror will actually be shocking.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Survive A Horror Publishing Drought

Well, since I’m focusing on the horror genre more than usual this month, I thought that I’d look at a rather dark period in the genre’s history – because it provides some interesting lessons about what to do when no-one seems to want to publish horror fiction.

Anyway, some context. Between the mid-1970s and the early-mid 1990s, horror fiction was apparently an incredibly popular genre. Numerous authors published horror novels and, from the sheer number of old horror novels I found in second-hand shops/charity shops during my teenage years in the ’00s, they were read a lot more widely than they are now.

But, at some point during the 1990s, horror fiction fell out of fashion in publishing. In fact, it’s only within the past decade that modern horror fiction actually seems to be gaining some vague level of popularity again. Even so, finding a dedicated “horror” shelf in bookshops today is more difficult than it used to be – even when horror fiction was at it’s least popular. At best, horror is often lumped in with sci-fi & fantasy these days.

But, despite this, authors from the heyday of horror fiction kept publishing new books when the genre was in decline. So, how did they survive?

1) Related genres: In 1980s Britain, two of the biggest names in horror fiction were Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson. Although there was apparently some antagonism/rivalry between the two authors during the 1980s, they both wrote splatterpunk horror novels during that decade. And, when horror fiction fell out of fashion, both of them dealt with this crisis in a vaguely similar way.

They looked through their own fiction for any other genres hidden in there and focused more on those genres.

For example, Shaun Hutson’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong “gritty realism” element to it. So, during the horror drought of the 1990s/early-mid 2000s, he took this element and used it to write several grim, gritty, ultra-violent crime thrillers instead (eg: “Exit Wounds”, “Deadhead” etc..). Since this genre seems to be eternally popular, Hutson was still able to write stories that were similar in tone to his classic horror fiction at a time when many publishers avoided horror fiction.

On the other hand, Clive Barker’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong dark fantasy element to it. This meant that, when horror fell out of fashion, he was still able to write several novels that included his distinctive interpretation of the fantasy genre (in addition to a couple of general fiction novels) – even though it wasn’t until the 2000s that he was able to reintroduce more horror elements into his fiction (with novels like “Coldheart Canyon” and “Mister B. Gone”).

The lesson in all of this is that, if you write horror, then you’ve probably also got another genre hiding in your fiction too. So, if you find it difficult to publish horror fiction, then focus slightly more on that other genre.

2) Fame:
When I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s, one thing that I’d always see on the shockingly slender “horror” shelves in major bookshops were several Stephen King novels. At the time, this used to really annoy me (since I expected a wider variety of authors). But, in retrospect, this offers a really interesting lesson in how to survive a horror publishing drought.

In short, fame can be extremely useful during a horror drought. Yes, this is probably the most difficult way to survive a horror drought (since you also need a horror boom in order to get that fame in the first place) but it can work. I mean, thanks to numerous film adaptations, regular publications and being a household name, Stephen King was still able to put out new horror fiction during a time when publishers were apparently reluctant to even consider printing stuff in this genre.

Likewise, the next novel I plan to review (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice) was first published in 1998. This is a gothic horror novel about vampires that was published at a time when horror fiction wasn’t a popular genre. How and why did this book get around this obstacle? At a guess, it’s probably due to both the famous 1994 film adaptation of Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire” and the fact that Rice is a very well-known author with a lot of fans. So, yes, fame can be useful during a horror drought.

3) Smaller presses and/or self-publishing: Although mainstream publishing’s interest in the horror genre can vary over time, there is always going to be an audience for it. As such, smaller presses can help to keep the horror genre alive during publishing droughts. Not to mention that, these days, self-publishing is much easier than it probably was during the 1990s/early-mid 2000s too.

For example, even though horror fiction was probably slightly more popular during the late 2000s, one of my enduring memories of that time period was seeing books from a slightly lesser-known publisher/imprint called Abaddon Books on the horror shelves of major bookshops.

Although this smaller press only really seemed to last a couple of years, they mostly published horror novels (with collections like the awesome zombie-themed “Tomes Of The Dead” collection) and it was really really cool to actually see new horror novels in bookshops back then.

So, yes, smaller presses and/or self-publishing can certainly be an option whenever the mainstream publishing industry loses interest in the horror genre.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why Horror Writers Shouldn’t Just Read Horror Fiction

If you’re interested in writing horror fiction, you’ve probably heard the old piece of advice about how you shouldn’t just read horror fiction (and, yes, reading regularly is an important part of being a writer).

Anyway, deciding to have a horror marathon for this month’s book reviews reminded me of this advice. Especially since my reaction to focusing on horror novels rather than my usual mixture of genres (eg: sci-fi, detective, historical, urban fantasy/dark fantasy, thriller and horror fiction) was a bit different than I’d expected. So, I thought that I’d offer a few reasons why horror writers shouldn’t just read horror fiction.

1) It’ll make your stories more interesting: This has been said before by many other people, but it’s one of the main reasons why horror writers shouldn’t just read horror fiction.

In short, many of the best horror stories often take inspiration from outside of the horror genre. They’re frightening, creepy, unpredictable, compelling or dramatic because they also borrow elements from other genres.

For example, one of the scariest horror novels I’ve read in recent months is Nick Cutter’s “The Deep“. Whilst this novel uses a lot of horror genre techniques to great effect, it’s also interesting and unsettling because of the sci-fi elements that it includes.

Yes, sci-fi and horror are hardly a new combination (for a reverse example, read “Blood Music” by Greg Bear – a sci-fi novel with some horror elements) , but it adds a lot more potential and possibilities to a horror story than just the traditional settings of old buildings, gloomy streets etc…

Another example is the novel I’m reading at the moment, “Lifeblood” by P.N.Elrod (the sequel to Elrod’s “Bloodlist). Although this novel isn’t really particularly scary, it’s a really cool blend of the vampire genre and the hardboiled detective fiction of the 1920s-50s (eg: Chandler, Hammett, Spillane etc..). This alone makes it much more creative and interesting than the average vampire novel.

In short, if you want to make your horror novel more interesting, then you need to read other genres. Not only that, reading other genres will also teach you techniques that you might not learn from horror fiction alone. For example, if you want to learn how to write suspense and/or fast-paced scenes, then read thriller novels. If you want to learn how to add atmosphere, then read historical fiction. If you want to learn how to make modern technology terrifying, read dystopian sci-fi etc….

2) Variety is the spice of life: In short, I’d expected this month’s horror marathon to be easy. After all, I read a lot of horror fiction when I was younger. But, it is proving to be a bit more of a challenge than I’d initially expected.

Whilst I still enjoy horror fiction and hope to continue the marathon, reading so much of it in such a short space of time has made me aware of the limitations of just reading one genre. Some things become easier to predict, it’s easier to feel jaded and you start seeing the same types of characters/situations again and again. After a while, it makes you crave some variety.

I mean, one of the reasons why I’m currently reading a detective novel that only has a vague connection to the horror genre is because, out of the three vampire novels I’d thought about reading, P.N.Elrod’s “Lifeblood” seemed the most different from a typical horror novel. I needed a short break.

But, why? Simply put, horror fiction “works” by surprising the reader. It works because it is so different to many other genres. But, if you just read horror fiction, then it becomes ordinary, mundane, humdrum…. So, taking a break and reading something different can make the horror genre feel fresh again when you return to it. In short, reading other stuff reminds you of why the horror genre is so awesome.

3) Your horror story needs other stuff: If you’ve read horror fiction, then you’ll know that it isn’t 100% horror 100% of the time. Yes, more scary stuff than usual happens in a horror novel, but this isn’t 100% of the novel.

Even the most frightening horror novel will also include things like humour, drama, suspense, romance etc.. in addition to scary characters, monsters and/or situations. But, why? Well, a horror story is still a story. It can’t just be a random collection of frightening moments. In order to “work”, a horror story needs to tell a story. And stories usually include non-horror elements too. Because real life does.

There’s also the fact that good horror relies on clever pacing. It relies on the contrast between frightening and non-frightening moments. It relies on making the reader care about the characters (via characterisation, drama etc..). I could go on for a while, but horror stories need non-horror elements. And you’ll learn how to write these well by reading a wide range of novels.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Your Horror Stories Re-Readable

Well, since I seem to be re-reading a few horror novels this month, I thought that I’d talk about re-readability today. After all, a horror story is at it’s most frightening when the reader encounters it for the first time. They don’t know what to expect, so they are more likely to feel shock or nervousness. Fear of the unknown is, after all, one of the most powerful types of fear out there.

But, if you want people to re-read your horror story, then what can you do? Here are a few basic tips.

1) Shock tactics: This is the crudest and least reliable way to get readers to come back to your horror story, but it can work sometimes.

This technique involves including something so shocking that it will linger in the reader’s memory long after they have forgotten everything else about your story. Whilst this will put some readers off from ever re-reading your novel, it may also spur morbid nostalgia in some other readers and make them want to re-read the story years later to see if it is as shocking as they remember.

Again, this is a very crude way of adding re-readability and it will probably backfire with a portion of your audience. But, don’t underestimate the value of “Is this really as shocking as I remember?

2) Atmosphere: A more sophisticated way to make your horror story re-readable is to include things that don’t rely on startling or shocking the reader. In other words, things like atmosphere, creepy background details, thematic elements, unseen horrors and stuff like that.

If you are able to create an ominous sense of dread, then this is probably going to “work” even when your reader already knows how the story’s plot will turn out.

This is why, despite some fairly dated elements, the vintage horror fiction of H.P.Lovecraft not only has an enduring fanbase but has also inspired many other horror writers too. Instead of relying on cheap shocks, Lovecraft tends to focus more on things that are creepy no matter how many times you read them (eg: psychological horror, unseen monsters, atmospheric descriptions etc..).

Likewise, if you create a suitably original, atmospheric and creepy fictional location for your story, then this place is going to linger in your audience’s imaginations. And, with the courage that comes from knowing how a story ends, your reader might even get nostalgic about this place.

A good videogame-based example of this are the first three “Silent Hill” games. Not only do these three game have an incredibly unsettling atmosphere that remains scary no matter how many times you play them, but the nightmarish locations are so creative that you’ll probably want to re-visit Silent Hill every now and then just out of morbid nostalgia.

3) Hidden depths: An even more sophisticated way to make your horror story re-readable is to add hidden depths to it. To add themes, subtext, humour etc… that only really becomes obvious when the reader already knows what to expect. In other words, put something behind the scares and shocks that your reader will only notice when they return to your story more well-prepared for it.

A great example of this is Chuck Palahniuk’s short story “Guts”. This is, upon first reading, an incredibly gross story that will make even the most jaded horror fans grimace and wince with horrified revulsion. It is a story with an inventively grotesque final act that you can’t un-read. It is the kind of story where having the fortitude to finish a first reading of it is probably something worth bragging about.

Yet, when I re-read it a year or two later, I found it hilarious. Because I knew what to expect, I didn’t feel shocked by the story’s events. So, all of the dark comedy hiding in the background was a lot more obvious than it had been the first time round. The immature stupidity of the characters, the common theme between the story’s three acts and the exaggerated nature of the story’s events are extremely funny. But, you’ll probably only notice this when you re-read the story.

So, yes, hiding a lot of interesting stuff behind your horror story’s more obviously frightening or disturbing elements can be a great way to give your readers some “added value” when they re-read your story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Horror Movies Vs. Horror Novels – A Ramble

Well, since I seem to be going through more of a horror genre phase than usual, I thought that I’d compare horror movies and horror novels today (albeit with more of a focus on books, because this is what I’ve had more recent experience with and am more interested in at the moment).

I ended up thinking about this topic because, after spending quite a few months reading novels and watching very few films, I finally watched another horror movie (which I probably won’t review fully) the night before I prepared this article.

What can I say? I’d had an extremely stressful day and needed to relax, it was also technically Halloween (yes, I write the first drafts of these articles very far in advance) and the book I’m planning to review tomorrow is a short horror novella. So, for the first time in many months, I watched a horror movie.

If anyone is curious, the film in question was a fairly good one from 2011 called “The Cabin In The Woods“. It’s a clever twist on the monster/slasher genre, which contains a lot of comedy and also stars Chris Hemsworth and Bradley Whitford too. For a modern film, it’s also refreshingly short at an efficient 91-5 minutes in length too. Despite some of the criticisms I’ll make in this article, it’s still a fairly good film. I should probably also point out that this article may contain some SPOILERS for it (and for “Relics” by Shaun Hutson) though.

Anyway, the first thing I noticed after reading several horror novels during the past year is that the film was a bit “lighter” that I’d expected. Everything seemed to lack the intensity that I’d come to expect from a horror novel. The characters seemed more stylised than I’d expected, the moments of gruesome horror seemed more brief and tame than I’d expected and the story also lacked some of the depth/immersion that I’d come to expect from reading horror novels.

So, if you want really intense visceral horror, then horror novels have the advantage here. Not only do horror novels have a lot more space to develop their characters (which makes the audience care about them more), but they also have the space to focus a lot more on things like atmosphere and descriptions too. They also don’t have to pass a film censor either. As such, moments of horror can be more intense and more prolonged than in a horror movie.

Add to this the fact that monster-based scenes and gruesome scenes in horror novels don’t have to rely on special effects (and even the best effects in horror movies often only “work” when shown relatively briefly) and the score at the moment is: Horror novels 1 – Horror movies 0.

However, the film did do something that books can’t always do, it was relaxing. It was a way for me to turn off my brain for about 90 minutes and forget my troubles. Not only that, the general “lightness” of the film when compared to books was also a bonus for the simple reason that it made the film’s moments of dark comedy even funnier. In addition to all of this, some types of dark comedy – such as slapstick humour and rapid-fire dialogue – work better on the screen too. So, the score is one all at the moment.

But, one area where horror novels are way ahead of horror movies is originality. When “The Cabin In The Woods” was released, it was touted as a radically original twist on a stale genre. And, yes, it does do some fairly clever and original stuff. But, the film’s “surprising” ending is the type of thing that was done in a much more effective (and scary) way in a a 1980s Shaun Hutson novel I’d re-read recently.

Not to mention that this level of originality seems to be a lot more common in horror novels than it does in horror movies. Even just looking at horror novels from this decade, you can see this fairly easily.

Whether it’s S.L.Grey’s “The Mall“, a 2011 novel that blends “Silent Hill”-style horror and hilarious dystopian fiction in a South African shopping centre. Whether it’s Edgar Cantero’s 2018 novel “Meddling Kids“, which is a Lovecraftian parody of “Scooby Doo”.

Whether it’s Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables“, which is a punk novel with some really innovative monsters. Whether it is Dana Fredsti’s “Ashley Parker” trilogy (2012-13), which are like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but with zombies“. I could go on for a while, but horror novels are more original more often than horror movies usually are.

So, Horror novels 2 – Horror movies 1.

On the other hand, horror movies get all of the fame. If you talk about a well-known horror movie, people will usually know what you are talking about. Likewise, since they tend to get advertised a lot more heavily than horror novels do, it’s easier to find horror movies than it is to find horror novels.

Add to this the fact that, these days, the horror genre is probably in better health on the screen than it is on the page (yes, modern horror novels do exist, but horror novels are nowhere near as popular as they apparently were in the 1980s) and it’s two all at the moment.

I could go on for a while, but I guess that they are both very different things with very different goals and sets of conventions, techniques etc… So, I guess that it’s best to say that if you want originality, depth and intensity, then read a horror novel. But, if you want to relax and to enjoy something that you can easily have conversations with other people about, then watch a horror movie.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂